Posted in Make Him a Balloon, Nonfiction

Congratulations! … Or Something Like It.

This isn’t noble, this pregnancy. You aren’t at all saccharine about the sanctity of human life. This embryo is matter-of-fact, with its bulbous head, translucent eye-coverings, webbed feet and pre-hands. Its growth: an inevitability, your refusal to squelch it, a foregone conclusion.

You were startled when your family suggested you have it removed, startled and frightened and offended.

The child is not a goiter.

But for those first few days, they convinced you to imagine it. You Googled clinics, read up on procedures, tried to envision yourself, tilted horizontally alone, in a room where the only sound is the deafening whir of eradication. Could you close your ears to it? Could you stare at the ceiling and will your eyes to roll two overlapping circles there, a Venn Diagram of options to list the practical pros people had offered you (freedom being chief among them) and to ignore the giant Con:

You want a child, this child.

Perhaps not now and, now, not with him. But the child itself has been a latent and long-held desire.

You didn’t know you wanted children until you turned 25 and suddenly had the urge to brush your fingers along every freshly cut head of boy-toddler hair you encountered. You didn’t know until you were strolling through Target and found yourself involuntarily fondling the fabric of navy blue onesies. You didn’t know until you called your mother one day, after teaching an insolent class of freshmen, and you were crying when you told her that your need to nurture something had staggered you, that every few steps across campus that day, a wave of debilitating maternal longing accosted you.

You asked her what to do if this happened again.

Let yourself feel it. Then let it pass.

You did this. Of course you did this. Because being in a long-distance relationship, with little intention of relocating, is a lot like being involved with an inmate. The sporadicity with which you see each other trains you not to plan for a family. You live independently, shouldering your own burdens, until those small respites where you find yourselves together: helpful, willing, hastily amorous.

This has always been fine, in varying degrees, for both of you. Now you wonder if it’s because you never loved each other all that much to begin with, not enough to be unselfish for one another on a daily basis. But that’s not an idea you can spend much time entertaining now.

What you always held firm, in the back of  your mind, was that if you ever wound up unexpectedly with child, you’d accept your lot with aplomb. You’d absorb whatever judgment, however loud or silent, and you’d gestate that life. It seemed a resolve you could afford. You’re educated and old, by childbearing standards (five more years and you’d be classified as of “advanced maternal age,” all your pregnancies doomed to “high risk). You own things: furniture, a small personal library, a car; you have your own housing. You possess the beginnings of a career, however tenuous and uninsured.

You are well on your way to feeling entirely adult.

These days, you wonder why you let anyone insist you that you could very well be doomed (to pennilessness or public assistance or post-partum depression–perhaps all). From the vantage of a month, you marvel that you even imagined other options.

This thing inside you, twinging and pulsing, is yours. The only option you ever thought you’d need to consider, at this point in life, was how to help your body hold onto it, all nine months, and expel it healthily.

Of course, when this was all just matter in the back of your mind, you never imagined how you might feel. Sure, you’ve openly wept scrolling people’s shower registries at Babies R Us. And yes, your heart has literally skipped beats when a child with uncertain footing absently touched his tiny palm to your leg to steady himself.

But these things happen, on average, once or twice a year. They do not mother-readiness make. And in all your sentimentality about eventual child-rearing–someday, in the sweet by and by–you did not believe you’d be alone from the very outset.

Now, you simply feel rejected and unwanted. When you pass children’s clothes, toddlers’ haircuts, seven-year-olds, your heart sinks. When a commercial for Pull-Ups bleeds onto your television screen, you want to vomit. When people congratulate you, your tongue cleaves to the roof of your mouth, rather than responding with thanks.

These are sensations you try urgently to quell, before they’re passed on, like so much vitamin B or folic acid, to the embryo. You can’t escape your loved ones’ immediate skepticism. You can’t forget how easily your erstwhile love refused to father. You still marvel that he doesn’t call.

You’re terrified of your first prenatal appointment. You’re worried something’s wrong with it–and if something is, it’s because you’re so unprepared. It’s because you don’t understand love. It’s because you eat so poorly. It’s because of those days you absorbed others’ doubts. It’s because you Googled abortion clinics. It’s because you imagined a life without it. It’s because your heart keeps calling your ex an asshole. It’s because you should’ve chosen a more secure line of work.

It’s because you weren’t happy, when people congratulated you.

You should’ve waited the requisite three months before telling anyone. Perhaps by then, you’d have worked through these cold and dark caverns. Maybe then, you’d be smiling, well past your preoccupation with people’s opinions, far beyond any unhappiness at all.

But you know that isn’t your nature. Your life has always been about measured melancholy; your pregnancy will not be much different. Even so, you are slowly finding it in yourself to evenly say, “Thank you,” when you are congratulated.

You are capable. You know you will not likely fail. You know that your capacity to love is an iceberg, and because most only see its tip, they are entitled to their concerns–both for you and your unborn.

But you are a wondrous well, of beauty and fury and caprice. When anyone is gracious enough to congratulate you, remember that.