When my husband and I decided to try to get pregnant, we were a month into the pandemic, I was $120 deep in Sims 4 expansion packs, and he was spending a lot of time whittling a medieval village from foam board.
It seemed like the right time to have a baby.
The operative word that night was try. It took me several attempts to pass my driver’s test. Three to finish my undergrad. I didn’t get married until I was 33. I’ve tried to learn the piano on four separate occasions in adulthood, and still, all I can produce is one jaunty circus tune. I’ve been learning German for years, and while I understand my husband’s family with general ease, I still speak with the vocabulary of a socially neglected kindergartner.
I’m not someone for whom things generally happen immediately. What I’m saying is, I was not expecting to get pregnant that very night.
Right around that time, a Swedish contraception company went viral for running a campaign that showed a myriad of women’s reactions to pregnancy test results. There was a woman delighted, lit up with a pre-maternal glow while cradling the pregnancy test like she birthed it. There was a woman in a very expensive-looking silk robe staring forlornly at her hands beside the caption, “It can mean anything from relief to frustration.”
In the few weeks between the conversation about trying, and my positive test, I imagined that on the spectrum of Swedish contraception women, I would be squarely in the camp of relief. It would be in a year’s time, maybe two, given my “geriatric” status, as designated by the board at the American College of Obstetricians, Gynecologists & Hurtful Labelers, and I would be simply awash with the gratitude of bearing new life. I wasn’t sure what our “pregnancy journey” would look like, but the mommy blogs I consumed in those weeks suggested that at the end of it, should I be so lucky to conceive, I wouldn’t wear the expensive silk robe of frustration. I would be so relieved I would cradle that urine-covered stick alarmingly close to my face, and I would glow.
I have always wanted to be a mother. When, in first grade, Mrs. Peasley asked us to draw what we wanted to be one day, I wrote “pregnant” and drew a picture of myself sporting a giant swollen belly on my back. Despite raising questions about early reproductive education and deeply alarming my parents, the drawing serves as long-standing evidence that I have always, always wanted this.
So why then, did I impulsively pee on the stick, alone in the bathroom instead of together with my husband as promised, and immediately slip into a 45-minute catatonic panic state where I sat in a running shower listening to the Armchair Expert episode with Ricky Gervais?
Not even Swedish marketing geniuses could have predicted how I felt when, during an ad for Hello Fresh, I peeked through water-pruned fingers at the results. Positive. Positive and no glow! No silk robe even. Just blinding, room-spinning, completely nude, panic.
I’m not actually equipped do this, right? To raise another human being. In a pandemic. I have no idea how a 401K works, I’m not entirely sure my car’s registration is current, and I’m geriatric, didn’t that mean we had more time? I can’t even play the piano!
And then came guilt. I have friends who waited years to become parents. Who have given their life savings, their sanity, for the mere hope of what I was holding in my shaking, ungrateful old lady hands. And then I threw up.
In retrospect, this was my first lesson in motherhood, managing the anxiety of knowing that time needs no consent or approval to shift you headlong into whatever is coming next, and that there is no room for expectation. Barreling from couplehood into a family, from scheduled induction to emergency c-section, pivoting from breast to bottle, cereal to solids, crib to bed. Letting go of the concept of ready and all its related guilts. For me, motherhood has been characterized by the conflicting desperation to hold on (what is it about cleaning out baby pajamas that is so emotional?) and relinquishing control of what’s next.
Because after all, wasn’t it yesterday that Daisy was born, screaming and perfect? Won’t it feel like tomorrow that she’s grown and gone, leaving her father and I to fill our empty nest with the Sims 12 and a foam board world?