He sat there and blinked. We were in the mall food court because he was working a second job at Macy's and I couldn't wait until he got home so I could share the news. "Is it mine?" He finally asked, half-serious. The cloud I had been floating on dissipated instantly. We had been trying to conceive for the previous three months. We both had Masters degrees and jobs that seemed stable enough so I figured we could safely become a family of three. Then came a weekend out of town for a wedding, a hotel room and a glass of wine (beer for him). I figured nothing would come of it. Four weeks later I realized that my period was five days late. Could it be? The last time my period was late it had been a false alarm. This time a dark plus sign appeared almost immediately in the window of the pregnancy test stick. I had to hold onto the bathroom counter for support. Now I was spilling the news of our success over a shared a plate of teriyaki chicken and rice.
"I have to digest this." He loosened his tie.
"Um, we were trying, remember?" This was not going according to my plan. He was supposed to proudly grinning not looking as though he was developing a nervous twitch.
"I''ll see you when I get home" Then he went back to work, shellshocked.
He later explained that he had been conditioned to panic upon being told he was about to be a father.
We didn't have the dynamic I wanted us to have while I was pregnant. I wanted what the movies said I should have. I wanted to come home to a house filled with flowers. I wanted breakfast in bed. I wanted unsolicited foot and back rubs. What I got instead was his confusion. His confusion about what he should do, or feel. Yes, he rubbed my feet. Yes, he eventually grew to love rubbing my belly once he could feel the baby move. Yes, he massaged my back while I was in labor. But it still felt like he treated this pregnancy, this baby, as abstract. He's a very concrete thinker so I'm sure that abstract feeling was incredibly discomfiting.
"She wants to give birth on the kitchen table."
That's how my husband would tell people that I wanted a homebirth. He was joking but that joke revealed his deep stereotype about homebirth. It conjured birth scenes straight out of Little House on the Prairie, complete with requests for him to go "boil some water." I never laughed at that joke. The majority of our friends are not hip to homebirth. They did not understand why anyone would choose not to birth in a hospital. But I tend to do things differently.
The last time I saw my friend, Nkwa, was at my wedding in 2005. She was the first of my friends to become a mother. I hadn't seen her in quite a few years, in fact, not since, well maybe once in the time I'd left the island where we both grew up. Now she was wearing a pink, frilly number celebrating with me at my wedding. She was her usual goofy self. She jumped into the pictures that were supposed to be "family only" with a big grin and her fingers forming a peace sign. I didn't mind. She was always bold like that.
A few days later she called my hotel room. She talked about her children. She had her oldest son, Kareem, sing for me over the phone. I think he'd won an award for singing either at church or at school. At the time I was a little nervous in talking to her. I hadn't really talked to her since we were teenagers and our lives had gone in very different directions. I'd left the island, gone to college and now had gotten married. She'd had her first child at age 16 and by age 25 had had three more. At the time I wasn't even in the planning stages for children at all. I'd squarely decided that 27 was the age I ought to start and I had two more years. One of the last things she told me before we hung up was that she was proud of me. She felt I'd done things the right way. She meant I'd waited to get married first and also completed my education before even thinking of having kids. I don't remember what I said next. But I remember feeling kind of embarrassed. I'd hoped that she didn't think that I felt I was better than her. We never spoke again after that call.
Two years later my mother called to tell me that Nkwa had died. Some perverse, effed up sequence of events led to her dying in a hospital from some unexpected illness. She was only 27.
I'm weird with grief. I almost never cry at first. It's usually days later when I fully feel the brunt of it and the tears come flowing out. This time it happened at the end of a yoga class. I was sitting in a semi-lotus, releasing, breathing and lifting her into the light. And then it all came out. Rivers of tears. Tears for the memories of our times together. Tears for the regret of not having spent more time together. Tears for what she doesn't get to do anymore -- see her children grow into adulthood.
The first time I saw my son, Ethan, crawl, my heart jumped. I was sitting at my computer desk while he played on the floor next to my chair. Suddenly he was crawling purposefully toward the surge protector under the desk. I knew in that moment my baby was growing up. I was so proud to see how he'd figured out something as complex as crawling all within a few days of just trying really hard. Trying so hard to move around on his own that he would grow frustrated and cry for me as if to say, "Mama, help me." I would but not before letting him try for himself first.
The defeats in life are what scare me about his growing up. He won't only have small, manageable ones but he'll encounter the large, scary, don't-know-how-to-handle-this kind of defeat. I won't always be able to pick him up when he calls out for me. I guess my job as a mother is to not just pick him up when I can, but to help him pick himself up and so he can keep going.