I was terrified of motherhood. After all, what had I accomplished up ’til the age of 25: left high school early; dropped out of the small college vocational nursing program I let my mother push me into, three months ahead of graduation; transferred to a traditional university where I changed my major three times and flew so far under the radar I made less than 5 friends during undergrad and even less mentor connections; was fired from or quit a dozen or so underwhelming jobs during and after a mediocre college career; and made a marriage to a man whose financial stability made it possible for my whimsical and undisciplined behavior to continue. I was without aim.
And then I became pregnant almost 6 weeks to the day of my 24th birthday when I’d sat across the table from my husband, a single birthday candle flickering on top of the cake between us, whispering the words a baby in response to his question of what I wanted for a gift.
We’d been married 3 years, had just relocated to Colorado for his promotion, built a modest savings, and moved into a charming townhouse in the foothills. Our 4-year plan was on track. That night, at dinner, we decided I would go off birth control and we would get me pregnant. A month later I was pregnant and in 5 months, I lost the baby.
I had been sick, in and out of the hospital for weeks with debilitating morning noon and night sickness, and was just getting over the hyperemesis hump when a routine ultrasound — the third one, in fact — revealed there was no heartbeat, no viable pregnancy. Fetal demise.
We found out on a Friday, scheduled the surgery for the following Monday to clear my uterus of what days earlier had been viable, and hunkered down in despair for a long weekend. I tasked him with calling our families. Tell them I won’t talk about it, not now, not ever again. It was another half-done thing in a line of half-done things outlining my early 20’s.
Devastated, I retreated into the life I knew prior to prenatal fatigue, all-day nausea, and baby death. Except there were reminders of my failed attempt at maternity: a new 4-door Honda station wagon in the driveway replaced my old red VW with the tricky clutch; a 2nd bedroom bare except for paint color samples and fabric swatches scattered across a twin bed in the corner; a pregnancy calendar hung by a wide yellow ribbon on a wall in the kitchen with hearts drawn around fetal development milestones and my due date; a Lamaze save-the-date postcard stuck to the fridge door. I couldn’t go back; I didn’t want to go forward.
I dove into my entry-level editorial gig. For the first time in my young adult life, I became an ambitious employee — staying late at the office, taking on additional responsibility. If I couldn’t have a baby, I would have a career. Tossed out the parent magazines for ones on furniture and design. If I couldn’t decorate a nursery, I would turn our new home into something sterile and chic — sharp lines, floating shelves, a large white sofa and tile everywhere. No place for a baby. No place for a baby.
Except there were those long walks at the park by the empty playground. The little cries in the bathroom stall at work between meetings. The feel of my once-toned-now-soft belly with the small dimple in the center where a little seed had grown and then stopped growing and was then scraped out. The pity, the silence.
Almost a year from when we decided to have a baby, I spent the weekend with an old friend and her 2-year old son. On the drive home from the airport, I told my husband I wanted to try again for a baby. A month later, my period was late.
I dreamed of her face the entire pregnancy — brown, soft, heart-shaped. I pictured her body growing longer, taking up more and more space, tiny feet pushing into my ribs, and I sang to her — brown little baby, little brown baby — until she relaxed those limbs inside me. I went for walks in the mountains, my top pulled up and tied under my breasts so the sun’s heat would shine on her through my belly skin. I danced with her, hands clutching my belly, so she would have my rhythm. And I worried I would mess things up, whether I had enough space in my heart to welcome a new person – a whole new person I’d helped to create. How much love does a baby need? A person? Would I repeat the same mistakes my mom made with me, and me with her. Then she was born, determined, eyes wide open searching, and something broke open and poured light into a still small space inside me.
I am grateful I was chosen to be hers. I pray my love outnumbers my mistakes. I pray I help her to be brave. And I pray each day for beauty — not that she possesses beauty, but that she finds some small thing of beauty even when there is no desire for it. Especially on those days.