Origin Story

Last week, my son, Henry, turned four. Before he was here, before he was even conceived, he was my obsession. I hit 27 and itched all over to be pregnant. Because that was the next step. Marriage, job, cross-country move, house, baby. I would like to say that my biological clock was chiming with some evolutionary imperative to make Life, to mark up a tabula rasa with all the wisdom that was lovingly bestowed on me or wrenched from my own lived experience. All of that is more or less true, but the nut of my baby fever was boredom. I'm not a terribly ambitious person, but I'm not comfortable with stasis. I come alive when something is on the horizon that requires me to plan accordingly. The promise of a baby would scratch all those planning itches. So I became hyper-fixated, which, coupled with getting off antidepressants, set off all the attendant neuroses. My petulant pessimism convinced me that I was barren, that I would miscarry, that I would conceive a child with a severe disability. My head went round and round like this until one morning, steeling myself for another one-line strip, I got two. For a little while, I sloughed off the anxiety and allowed a tenuous happiness to wash over me. But the problem with being a chronic pessimist is that eventually, experience bears out one of your many worst fears, and then the naysayers in your head feel validated. Then came the blood.

Faint pink smears on a square of toilet paper and I was histrionic and hysterical. Sort of outside of myself, repeating, But I wanted this so badly, as if the wanting it should have proved to the universe that I deserved it. I wasn't grieving the loss of any thing. How could I? I had no frame of reference, wouldn't dare compare the feel of holding friends’ babies or caring for infant siblings with actually being a mother. At this point, I think I was mourning the delusion that I could will my desire into reality. Like all good control freaks, my unconscious mind---my lizard brain, perhaps---was sure that my vigilant and incessant worrying would somehow protect the fragile thing inside me, that sleepless nights and tense muscles would hold it fast to the wall of my uterus.

I awoke the next morning hopeful that the bleeding had subsided but was defeated at the toilet, where I slipped the saddest, most sorrowful of maxi pads into my underwear. My GYN checked me out, said it didn't look good. She instructed that when I began to pass tissue and when the discomfort progressed from mild to severe cramping, I should call her. So I drove home and soaked through a pad and onto my jeans. With my husband out of town, I asked a very good friend to keep me company, to sit with me on Tissue Watch, as I maybe waited to birth pass the promise of my first child. In retrospect, there should have been fewer tears and more cigars.

I spent the remainder of my husband’s business trip moping around the house, vacillating between self-pity and self-loathing because I had friends who had gone through this, and all had been much further along in their pregnancies. When we got the positive test result, we'd decided not tell friends or family until I'd passed the 12-week mark. This seemed prudent and reasoned, as if losing it before then would be so much worse if we'd shouted the news from the rooftops. I understand now how stupid that is, the folly of believing that staying guarded would protect me from pain when things didn't work out. I was still wrecked; the only difference was that no one knew it.

I made the long commute to work one morning and managed to mostly put it out of my mind. I let my thoughts drift with the music, daydreamed while driving on autopilot in that scary way where you awaken periodically with no memory of passing a certain exit or mile marker. The AM radio station played a Bob Dylan cover of "You Belong to Me," and I finally articulated what I'd lost: something that was mine, physically and psychically, in a way I could only previously relate to my own mom, now effectively gone. I was losing an imagined motherhood, some abstraction of maternity that, until my own child surfaced to color it with our new, shared experiences, was rooted in my own memories of childhood and the feeling of belonging to someone.

It's a weird thing to mourn a son before he's born and a mother before she's passed.

So I waited for my body to catch up with the GYN's diagnosis, working in bed while I incubated a doomed thing. But the tissue and the pain didn't come. For a week I bled, felt the telltale bloat and sore, puffy pulpiness of a bad period. I saw the GYN again, this time thankfully with my husband. She inserted the ungodly probe to take a look at my insides and directed our attention to a gray, grainy screen and the well bottom that was apparently my uterus. She indicated some dark spots at the top of the screen, which looked very much at home in the alien landscape. These spots were pockets of "old blood," and as she adjusted the probe and the angles of view, more spots were visible. Next she pointed to a marble stuck to the bottom right wall of the well. This, she explained, was the yolk sac and inside, the embryo. About six weeks along, she determined. She drew on the screen with her pinky a faint but discernible line — the fetal pole — and circled a pulsing valve that resembled the open/close/open/close of fish lips out of water. Surrounded by dark clouds of old blood, the embryo remained intact. If the blood were to dislodge the sac from the uterine wall, I would miscarry. But if not, all would be fine. She suggested we remain guarded, a caveat I could now openly scoff at, but sent us home with an 80 percent chance of a complete and successful pregnancy. I imagined the tadpole inside me looking out a bay window, lazily watching a stormy sky floating, benign, overhead.

Last week I watched what was once a continuous flow of bright red blood devour a frosting-laden piece of Dora the Explorer cake. He fidgeted unconsciously while cramming bites of yellow cake into his bow-lipped mouth, which is also my mouth. The marble that held fast to my interior wall, watching storm clouds float overhead, wears size 4 muscle shirts, homemade superhero capes, and pink tights. I'm thankful he held on, got to experience a shift in the weather so that he could shed his tiny clothes and jump into the fountain at Peninsula Park, shrieking at the cold and armed only with his favorite Spiderman underwear. I'm thankful that, for a brief time, he belongs to me, and that he will pass on that sense of belonging once given to me.