just got off the phone with the nurse from Dr. Lowens
office. I picked up the old brown Trimline phone thats
been in this retreat cabin of my mothers forever, and
a womans voice asked for me and I said, This is she, and
the voice said, Its Becky from Dr. Lowens office.
And I said, Uh-huh. Then Becky said, The result from the latest
test was positive, and I said, Positive? And she said, Yes,
you are no longer borderline pregnant.
longer borderline pregnant? I thought I might fall over. I looked
out the window at the leaves of the poplar trees shimmering
in the breeze. My eyes settled on a vulture falling from the
sky in a perfect spiral. He was flapping then gliding, flapping
then gliding as he descended, and I thought to myself: I will
remember this moment and that vulture for the rest of my life.
I thought to myself: That vulture is a sign. A part of me is
then the nurse said, Hello? And I said, Yes, I am here. Are
you sure I am pregnant? And she said, Yes. And I said, Really?
Areyou sure? Youre not going call me back in two hours
and say you made a mistake? She said, No. And I said, Well,
how do you know? She sighed. It was a ridiculous question, but
since she had been telling me for a week that after three blood
draws they still couldnt tell if I was really pregnant,
I felt justified. So I pushed. Well, what do you know today
that you didnt yesterday? And she said, The HCG levels
are definitely going up. HCG levels? Yes, in the last twenty-four
hours the pregnancy hormone count has risen from 700 to over
2,300, and that usually means a healthy, robust beginning.
then I had what could only be the first twinges of the maternal
instinct. Healthy and robust? A huge smile spread across my
face. Thats my baby! And then it was as if the synapses
in my brain sending exploratory signals to my uterus finally
made contact. Aye, mate, is it a go down there? Yes, yes, Captain,
were full steam ahead!
was convinced that getting off the phone would exponentially
increase my chances of reverting to not-pregnant, but I released
Becky anyway and stumbled over to the bathroom, where Glen,
my life partner and father of our soon-to-be-born baby, was
shaving. I looked into his eyes and tried to keep myself from
screaming and jumping up and down. We did it, I said. He grinned.
Well, I guess that puts the whole motility question to rest.
And I said, I guess it does. Then I wrapped my arms around him
and buried my face in his chest, and he wrapped his arms around
me and rested his chin on the top of my head.
was in ecstatic bliss for about ninety seconds, and then it
hit me: an avalanche of dread that took my breath away. Pregnant?
A baby? What have I done? I looked at Glen. He was going through
his own reality check, which brought me even closer to the brink
of total hysteria. But then, before I could burst into tears
and run screaming out of the room, he pulled me into his arms.
You are going to be a fantastic mother, he said to me, to my
fear. His love overwhelmed me, and I started to cry big, wet
tears onto his favorite black shirt.
going to have a baby.
the last fifteen years I have told everyonefriends, family,
hairdressers, editors, cabdrivers, doctors, and anyone else
who would listenthat I wanted a baby. I want to have
a baby, I would say with urgency or a wistful longing, or
both. And I meant what I said, I really did, I just had no idea
what I was talking about. I had almost no actual experience
of babies, so the object of my wanting was abstract, the display
of it ritualized. I want to have a baby was something
I said, a statement that evoked a trajectory, a general direction
for my life.
truth is, I was wracked with ambivalence. I had the usual questions:
When, with whom, and how the hell was I going to afford it?
But there was something else, too, a question commonif
not always consciousto women of my generation, women raised
to view motherhood with more than a little suspicion. Can I
survive having a baby? Will I lose myselfmy body, my mind,
my optionsand be left trapped, resentful, and irretrievably
overwhelmed? If I have a baby, we wonder silently to ourselves,
will I die?
compound matters, I had a tempestuous relationship with my mother,
and feared the inevitable kickback sure to follow such a final
and dramatic departure from daughterhood. What if, instead of
joy and excitement, my mother felt threatened by the baby, and
pushed even further into the margins of my life? What if, then,
out of jealousy and her own discontent, she launched covert
or not-so-covert strikes against my irrefutable separateness,
now symbolized so completely by becoming a mother myself?
mothers make us, because they map our emotional terrain before
we even know we are capable of having an emotional terrain,
they know just where to stick the dynamite. With a few small
power playsa skeptical comment, the withholding of approval
or praisea mother can devastate a daughter. Decades of
subtle undermining can stunt a daughter, or so monopolize her
energy that she in effect stunts herself. Muted, fearful, riddled
with self-doubt, she can remain trapped in daughterhood forever,
the one place she feels confident she knows the rules.
was not the only daughter in a dyad of this kind. When I looked
around, I saw them everywhere: in my extended family, at my
lectures on college campuses, on line at Target, on their own
show on TV. Childless and codependent, the daughter did some
macabre human version of dying on the vine. The mother kept
the reality of her own mortality at bay by thwarting her daughters
every attempt to psychologically leave the nest.
seemed that these mothers did not realize that they had to give
adulthood to their daughters by stepping down, stepping back,
stepping away, and letting the daughter take center stage. These
mothers did not seem to know, with all their potions and philosophies,
their desires to rehabilitate ancient scripts of gender and
identity, that there is a natural order, and that natural order
involves passing the scepter to offspring with unconditional
love and pride.
pay the price.
as a writer I do my best research on the lives of others, at
least once a week I sat conversingover tea, on subway
platforms, at the farmers market, in ornate, fancy hotel
lobbiesabout motherhood with women who either had done
the deed and lived to tell, or who were surveying the same terrain
spoke to single moms and partnered moms, and moms who lost their
children to disease. I spoke to stay-at-home moms, working moms,
CEO moms, moms on welfare. One mom I met conceived through in
vitro fertilization at age forty-five. Another orchestrated
different sperm donors over several pregnancies. One got
pregnant at eighteen and spent the rest of her life trying
to recover. I spent an afternoon talking with a poor mom who
relied on faith to provide for her sixth child on the way. I
spent several years talking to middle-class moms who couldnt
figure out how to support the two kids they had been raising
talked to men, too, about the joys and risks of parenthood,
but my time with them was different. It wasnt punctuated
with anecdotes, or even held together by narrative. Men explored
the topic of my pregnancy with meaningful glances and gentle
touches of assurance to the small of my back. They encouraged
me with knowing nods and unwavering attention, sometimes silently
offering themselves, other times letting me know they wished
it could be them.
gave me narrative and men gave me alchemy, their approbation
running like a current into my womb.
life was full of these elucidating encounters, but strangely,
none of them seemed to bring me any closer to what I said I
wanted. Unconsciously, I longed to give birth to a child. Consciously,I
managed the risk of actually having one by viewing it as one
option among many, a wonderful possibility to peruse at will.
Like choosing which coast to live on or what apartment to take,
I would consider potential outcomes and make my best, informed
I am a woman of privilege, a product of the womens movement,
and a student of cultural relativism, I believed that neither
choice would be inherently better than the other. Each had pluses
and minuses, and so it would not be the choice itself, but howI
interpreted the choice that would make the difference. Los Angeles
or New York? High floor or great location? To baby or not to
it was like trying to steer a boat with a banana. I had no idea
what was going on, no clue whatsoever. I didnt know that
I was already in the water, that the tide was coming in fast,
and that I had no option other than to be taken out to sea.
I didnt know that the longing, fear, and ambivalence were
part of the pregnancy, the birth, and everything that came after.
I didnt know that the showdown between the ideas of my
mothers generation and my own was inescapable, and slated
to play out personally in our relationship. I didnt know
that those fifteen years constituted my real first trimester,
and all that time my baby was coming toward me, and I was moving
toward my baby.
I did know is that I had mothered or tried to mother every single
human being who had crossed my pathincluding the son of
my former partner of six yearsto the point of absurdity,
exhaustion, and everything in between. What I did know is that
one year in a stunning turquoise lagoon in Mexico, I had a vision
of two babies, my babies, and at the very moment their copper
faces smiled at me in my minds eye, two tiny silver fish
leapt out of the ocean, inches from my lips. What I did know
is that even though I doubted my ability to mother, partner,
work, evolve, and serve, all in one lifetime, some part of this
flesh body I call me was being pulled toward birth: my babys
and my own.
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