A tiny gray-and-orange onesie and leggings paired with a little fox hat hangs in my closet in front of my husband’s dress shirts. The tag tells me it’s for babies anywhere from zero to three months, and it’s the only baby outfit I have, which makes sense. My child isn’t here yet. Every time I pass the outfit, I touch it. Sometimes I smile at it, and sometimes I pick it up and spread it on the floor to talk about names with my husband. I hang it in that spot in the closet because I need a reminder that not everything about becoming a mom has to be overwhelming. On an especially bad day of morning sickness recently, I took some bibs with me to put in my car for my commute to work. I patted them and held the soft fuzzy part between my fingers. After only a couple of months into the pregnancy, I find that I needed to keep symbols of my unborn child to remind me to pray, and it’s helped when I’ve been unable to subdue my fears.
People have encouraged me to journal about pregnancy so that one day I may share with my child all my precious hopes and cute stories from the months preceding birth.
I’ve never been good at cute.
Telling your kid that you mulled over aborting it isn’t exactly what all those pregnancy books and good friends probably had in mind.
At times, I think about how I could still get an abortion. This could be over, if I really wanted it to be.
I feel terrible for that, but I’ve decided not to worry much about having homicidal thoughts toward that blueberry-sized cluster of cells that has been turning me into a sluggish, exhausted, moody, and uncomfortable person.
I know that I never would go through with it. My husband would be devastated and it would probably create some serious marital problems for us. I would feel so guilty that I’d lose the ability to look anyone in my family in the face because it would solidify, once and for all, my boundless self-absorption. It would potentially alarm them about my descent to mental illness, too. After all, I’m the one who was on the phone with them weeping at the prospect of housing a barren womb after multiple doctors’ visits and tests led me to believe that what seemed so natural for so much of the human race would prove difficult for me. I was the one who took that ovulation test stick happy face and said, “Let’s go.” It was I who was already tossing and turning in sweaty sheets—already a month pregnant—praying myself to sleep, asking that God give me a child.
Yet I’ve thought of killing this little gift.
Having a baby can be appealing when you’re happily linked, working a steady job, and physically fit. It can also feel like one of the most terrifying threats to all that stability and freedom. I am under no illusion that pregnancy or motherhood will be all kittens and bubbles. I’ve looked for inspiring models of motherhood, and I hate to say that I don’t know a lot of mothers whose lives I’ve ever wanted, no matter how much I like them as people and see them as fantastic caregivers. It worries me. Mothers repeatedly assure me that I may change all my plans as soon as the baby is born, and I may find myself happy to focus the majority of my attention on raising my child. All other goals will take to the backburner.
When I think about becoming that kind of mother, I cry big, lonely sobs that fall onto the carpet because I wish I could be naïve enough to ignorantly embrace one of the biggest and most discomforting changes of my life with a little more grace.
At the close of only the first month of pregnancy, I had to trade my favorite big breakfasts of homemade tacos and black coffee for matzo crackers, soda water, and a banana. I was eating less and somehow getting bigger from bloating and unwanted natural breast augmentation. Immediately, running became miserable. I’ve read about women who can still run long distances during their pregnancies, and I can rarely make it past one and a half miles on the dawn of my third month.
I’ve always had a poor body image, and all of a sudden my diet and exercise routine had come under attack. I’d grown rather used to the benefits of having a small- to average-size bust like athletic comfort and flexibility in trying fashion trends. I was never the kind of girl interested in push-up bras. In junior high and high school, I used to find the latest bra styles in Victoria’s Secret and humiliate my mother when I would bring them to the salespeople and impishly ask them what would happen if the air bubbles or gel packs leaked. Now my boobs have been hijacked for milk production, and I don’t find that it adds to my sex appeal like some women in their first trimesters do. Overall, it decreases my functionality, and I can’t do a thing about it. When I realized that I wouldn’t be able to wear any of my fitted button-ups or work dresses for at least a year and a half, I nearly torched my closet.
When I look back on all that time I spent wanting a baby when I thought I couldn’t have one, I see that I did the same thing I always do: I look to the next steps worried about getting the program started so that I can manage my life. It’s a kind of Machiavellian power trip that I envision will allow me to beat fortune into submission.
By now, I should know better. Most of the objectives I’ve had for myself haven’t worked out according to my five-year plan, despite my GPA, apologies, work ethic, or attempted virtue. I’m not sure why I still hold onto thinking that I need control. Maybe that’s how the prospect of “choice” can seem so alluring to someone as privileged as I am.
I fought tears when I first saw the tiny heartbeat pumping on the ultrasound screen because that obvious thriving life astounded me, which is why I was surprised that I was thinking about how I might still be done with it all.
With my legs still in the stirrups, the technician assuring me that I was perfectly healthy, I thought, “It’s not too late. Everything could still go back to normal.”
But I knew it couldn’t. Even if I forgot about it for a while, I’d remember it someday, and I’d feel remorseful. More important, I’d continue living the hopeful lie that I have control over my life.
On the monitor, that little clump’s heart kept beating, flashing black and white.
Seeing that it was comfortable relieved me. At least the baby was getting something out of this, even if I felt like hell, I thought. I’d never seen any part of me look so well or so calm.
A feeling beyond sentiment settled over me, covering the anxiety and liability of a life carrying on, a part of me protected from my strategizing. It looked so good.
Making decisions about how to spend my time or money, fitting into my ideal size, or working my dream job shape my life. But all these things don’t dictate my future or form the whole of my identity, no matter how much I wish they did.
More than being bad at “cute,” I’m far worse at trusting that God has a plan good enough to meet my standards—let alone surpass them. This hang-up has made me a really difficult and ungrateful person far too long for someone who claims the victory of Christ in her life. Somehow, I have to learn that, regardless of the baby, I can’t be the sole ruler of my life without suffering from being disappointed on a regular basis. This I have learned after years of trying to treat life like a simple binary equation and consistently finding myself inflexible and overwhelmed.
I don’t want to have this child to feel fulfilled as a woman because I don’t need motherhood to be happy. I also don’t want to have this child because I feel obligated not to get rid of it, either. I choose to continue the pregnancy for so many reasons, but the one that heartens me most at this point is the challenge of releasing my death grip on the unstable constitution of my identity, be it my physical appearance, occupation, relationships, or expectations of the future. That is not to say that I am interested in letting myself pack on exorbitant amounts of weight or tossing up my hands when it comes to developing a career outside the home. I’m invested in allowing things to change and growing through them, even on the bad days when all I see in my immediate future seems kind of revolting to me.
Already, I’ve had waking nightmares about breastfeeding, envisioning myself cradling an eight-pound mosquito whose needle proboscis pierces my chest and sucks the life from me. I cringe when I think about having to share myself with someone so dependent.
The craziest part of it all is that despite this ill-timed dread of losing control or freedom, every day I worry about the baby being safe. I really don’t want to mess this up. Somehow, that hummingbird heartbeat of 170 beats per minutes is priceless to me.
In the afternoons when I’m driving home from work, I play my favorite songs from old tapes. My morning sickness lasts all day, but there’s usually a break between 2 and 6 p.m. when I don’t feel so nauseous. That’s when I think about how it feels nice to ride together in the car. It’s hot, so I roll down the windows and stick my hands out to feel the air between my fingers. I turn up the volume and think, “This is good.” I’m not imagining driving with a baby in the backseat or being free from the burden of growing a life. I think about the little baby riding shotgun right now, sitting just under my lap belt, under my skirt, and under my skin so deep inside me that I can’t find it on my own, and I’m glad it’s there.
I wrote this in 2014 during the first trimester of pregnancy with my daughter. For the record, I love my child. This means I’ll never lie to her about how difficult it was to have her and how much my life has changed since her conception. My life would be easier without her but not necessarily better.