When you do-not-no-matter-what want a baby. When you just can’t be having a baby. When every ounce of you screams, “No!” When that happens, you wait for the blood to come. You watch for the blood to come. You pray for the blood to come. You look for it every time you pee. You look for it with every wipe of the paper. You watch for it to swirl and mix with the water in the shower as it runs down your leg. You wait for it to stain the sheets as you sleep. You wait and your belly begins to pooch and your breasts get tender and you are so tired and just want to punch everyone who looks at you — and you tell yourself that sometimes you get like this before the blood comes. Sometimes you do. Except this time you know that a seed is rooting into your uterus and stopping the blood from coming. You know it the way you just somehow know things. But still you wait because the blood could still come. Of course it will come with more pain. And more blood. But it still could come. There have been so many times when your body rejected a baby — before it even qualified as a baby — so many times when you were waiting to be a mother. Times when your body spit the baby back out, telling you it wasn’t right yet. Not the right time to be a mother. Now though, you are a mother, and you don’t want to be any more of a mother than you already are. And you feel bad for wishing ill on some tiny soon-to-be-person living inside of you…but what if it’s you or that itty-bitty little promise of a person? What if you just physically can’t do this? A mother who doesn’t want her baby. Your life is a contradiction. You feel like you’re turning to sand — you are so tired and so raw from the day to day with three kids already. What if you emotionally just can’t do this? You feel like you are turning to stone — you have nothing left inside you to give, to care. What if you just can’t do this? You just can’t.
You nurse number three, your own little Boo, who still isn’t weaned. Who you don’t want to wean yet. She’s just 18 months. Just a baby herself. She looks up at you with those eyes — those big, clear blue eyes. Those are her daddy’s eyes. Those eyes are why you have three babies…four babies…three babies.
You whisper to her as she nurses. “I want you to be the baby for longer. I’m sorry you won’t be the baby for longer.” She smiles at you and makes the kiss noise she just learned and is so proud of. Kiss kiss, says your baby. And you kiss her twice back on the forehead.
Before you found out about your condition, you were trying to persuade Boo to nurse less. Now though, now you let her nurse as often and as vigorously as she wants to. You’re hoping that her constant — and painful — attention to your nipples will send a message to your uterus that it is far too soon to be thinking about making another baby.
You try to convince your body to reabsorb that lentil-sized bit of tissue that is wreaking havoc in your life. How hard could it be? Just re-absorb the energy. This becomes a mantra for you. A meditation exercise if you ever got a chance to meditate. Meditation for you is taking a moment to lean your head against the refrigerator before you dig around inside for what to feed your horde. Meditation is you leaning there, forehead against a magnet free spot, saying, “Just do it, body. Just vanish it. Just vanish it.” You can’t bear to call the act anything more graphic than that. A vanishing. As if it was never there. You think about nature. Nature should know what to do. A mama hamster that has a litter she can’t support — she eats them. She needs their energy — so she eats them. You don’t want to eat your baby, but couldn’t your uterus just break it down and pass the bits back into your body?
Every day you feel the nausea getting stronger and stronger. That’s how it is with your babies. The nausea means your body is making the necessary hormones. The nausea means it’s a healthy, thriving little parasite. The nausea means there won’t be a miscarriage.
You feel it taking root as you keep yourself from throwing up every time you smell meat or body odor, coffee or cigarettes. The smell of everything overwhelms you. You are always amazed by that. The way a smell can crawl up your nose like a physical thing. The way you can feel a smell when you’re pregnant. Your ability to smell a rotten apple or an over-ripe person as soon as you walk into a room — that, like the nausea, tells you something. It tells you that this baby is healthy — growing & thriving, and you don’t know how to feel about that.
You tell The Dad about it. You waited as long as you could wait. Maybe you should have kept waiting. He is pissed. He says cruel things that you weren’t prepared for. “How could you do this? I can’t believe you did this. What were you thinking? Is it even mine?” Even after all these years his cruelty can still take you by surprise. His kindness can also take you by surprise. You never know what to expect from The Dad, and you are generally surprised. He says he is against abortion, in theory. He tells you that. But he leaves it dangling. The Dad leaves everything dangling — life, your relationship, birth control….
Birth control. What happened there? After Boo was born, just like with the other two, the doctor asked you, “What are you going to do for birth control?” She handed you a list of methods with explanations. You took the list. You researched all of the methods. Every single one of them had scary side-effects. You don’t like scary side-effects. You tried to talk to The Dad about it. He left it dangling. “Rhythm Method,” was on the list. You know this method. Your Catholic mom had six kids on this method. Scary side-effect. But you were smarter than that, right? You knew better. You planned three pregnancies by knowing your cycle and knowing your ovulation. You wouldn’t fuck this up.
You fucked this up.
Soon the rest of the world would know you fucked this up. You are already on food stamps. You look at yourself the way you fear others will look at you. You look at yourself the way your wealthy conservative Republican sister will look at you — as you have seen people like her look at poor people. People like your sister think there are two reasons poor people have kids — because they are too stupid to use birth control or because they want to rip off the government and collect more support. That’s what they will say, “She can’t take care of the ones she has.”
“Three is the new two,” you read somewhere. But that is for people who can afford them. You chose to have three, telling yourself that you grew up poor — it wasn’t so bad. As long as there is enough love. But four is still four as far as you know. These days people choose not to afford a bunch of kids. And here you are, already a drain on the system; you and your kids are using too many resources as it is. Now one more? You dread being big enough that people will notice you walking down the street, three in tow — another in the belly. How awful will that be? You know it will be awful. How could it be anything but awful?
You don’t plan on always being poor. Or, at least, you didn’t. You thought you would go back to school as soon as Boo was old enough. You just had to wait a little bit longer. Now, even longer. Will you go back? You wonder. The community college seems that much further away. Your one-day-I-will-have-a-degree has moved to a seemingly impossible place where it may never be discovered.
The muck sucks at your ankles as the water rises to your knees. You feel the murkiness closing in. “I could just lie down. I could just lie down in the water and embrace the inevitable,” you think. It is a waking thought. A thought that is neither in the dream world nor in the real world but somewhere in between. The thought makes sense when you think it but slips away with the grey light of morning. Moments later, fully awake, you crave the clarity you felt when the thought made sense.
Your two boys, Little-man and the Bean, fight like the irritable puppies they are. They can feel the stress between you and The Dad. They react to the electricity and uncertainty that buzz without noise in the air as you and The Dad each wallow in your respective anguish. Little-man is seven. The Bean is four. You know they will hate you when they find out about this. Boo, too. Or maybe not the Bean. He loves babies. But Little-man and Boo are sure to be crushed. Another item for the list of dread.
You watch The Dad struggle with this. Being a dad has never been natural for him. He likes the playing with the kids part of it, but he doesn’t like being responsible. He wants to be the kid. He wants to be the center of the universe. He doesn’t want to have to worry about things like work and money and food. He resents you for bringing these things into his life.
You feel like The Dad has every right to blame you. You told him it was okay to come inside you. You told him this because you knew you had already ovulated that month. You knew that you did. You felt it. What you didn’t know was that your body decided to have a second ovulation a week later. What you didn’t know is that it is common for women in their forties to ovulate more than once a month. Like a wholesale of eggs, eggs with an impending expiration date. Priced to move! Two for one! You felt the cramping when it happened, and you thought, “Oh fuck what was that?” Then you went to sleep and dreamed about a doctor telling you you were pregnant. “How could you know?” you asked your dream doctor. “It just happened.”
That dream, that dream and the fact that you were raised by a rabid Catholic are the reasons you can’t take matters into your own hands and just end it. You can’t. You know people will think you should — but you just can’t. You think back to the pamphlets your mom would make you read when you were little:
Today I got my fingernails.
Now I have a pancreas.
Today my mother killed me.
“But what if I don’t have to let the water keep rising?” you think. “What if I did this, and then went on with my life, being the best mom to Little-man, the Bean, and Boo? Being a better mom because there isn’t one more?”
You can’t do it. You can’t help thinking this baby could be a miracle waiting to happen. What if the whole world becomes a better place for its birth? You call this your Madonna complex, your Sarah Connor complex. You can’t help but think of your unborn baby as a possible solution to the puzzle. You cannot dismiss the possibility no matter how grandiose and improbable it may seem.
You wish you could ask for help. You wish you could confide in someone that you don’t think you can handle this. That it is all too much for you. That you feel like you are about to fall through the ice and drown. You wish you knew if they would encourage you to terminate it, this random someone. But what if they suspected you think about it, every ten minutes you think about it? What if they suspected that and told you how awful you are — what a terrible person you are — that you don’t even deserve the three you already have.
So you don’t tell them.
You don’t tell your sisters. You don’t tell your friends. You don’t tell the cashiers at the grocery store or complete strangers in the elevator.
You actually have a therapist. Someone you are supposed to tell these kinds of things to. And you try to tell your therapist. But she is excited for you. How could she be excited for you? “You are such a good mother,” she tells you. Your therapist is a grandmother. There are pictures of her grandchildren on her desk. She tells you about them sometimes when you talk to her about your kids. Maybe grandmothers are just programmed to be excited about babies. You don’t tell your grandmotherly therapist that you think about getting rid of your baby. That you think about it a lot. You don’t want her to be disappointed in you. You want her to keep thinking you are a good mother.
You hire a midwife. She does not know you. She probably assumes you are happy to be pregnant. You try to tell her about your stress and your concerns, but you worry that she, too, might judge you. Mostly, you tell her everything is going well. Mostly you stick to the physicality of it all. “Yes, I am eating lots of protein. Yes, I am drinking plenty of water. Doing my Kegels. Not drinking. Not smoking.” You think midwives probably must be at least as baby-happy as grandmothers. Plus, you have hired her to bring a baby into the world — even though that is not what you want. The whole situation is laughable but not in the least bit funny.
You dream about blood. Blood and bunnies. You often dream about bunnies. Growing up, you raised bunnies when your dad decided they would be a lucrative source of meat. You have a sort of The Silence of the Lambs association with this childhood experience. So you dream about bunnies. But the blood in the dream is your own blood. The blood of a miscarried pregnancy.
You wake up to a disturbing lack of blood. You hoped it was a sign — like the dream that told you you were pregnant. Surely this dream means something as well. When the blood is still missing, you do not dismiss the validity of the dream, merely your own interpretation of it.
“What am I supposed to learn from all this,” you wonder in your more Zen moments. “Surely there is a reason for it.” You remind yourself, that in theory, Jesus was an unplanned pregnancy — at least for Mary.
You decide it is time to tell Little-man and the Bean about their impending sibling. You take them to the brew pub where you and The Dad met. You both used to work there a million years ago. He was so adorable back then. He trained you your first day there. It felt more like a first date. He was such a goofy, playful puppy.
When it all fell apart, he blamed you. He didn’t want to grow up. You made him grow up. You were the one who wanted to get married. You were the one who wanted to get a bigger — more expensive — place. You were the one who wanted to have kids. The Dad went along with it, but he didn’t want to. “Why did he agree then?” you wonder. You ask this of your friends, your sisters. “If he didn’t want to, why did he?” You don’t know. The Dad and you are so different that you cannot fathom why he does things he does not want to do. You do not do things you do not want to do. Maybe this is why this pregnancy is so fucking hard for you. You do not want to do it. But here it is, not listening to what you want.
So you find yourself having to take the kids out to a public place and ply them with chicken nuggets and ice cream so they won’t hate you when you when you say, “Guess what?” You wonder if maybe you should have done this before telling The Dad. Maybe you should have given him a bag of pot and a blow job and then said, “Guess what?”
Just like you were surprised by The Dad’s enraged reaction to the news, you are surprised when Little-man and the Bean are not at all phased. “Okay,” they say. And that is that.
You tell two out of three of your sisters. Your younger sister, the conservative Republican, can be cruel. You cannot bring yourself to gamble with cruelty. Your two older sisters give you hugs and encouragement over hundreds of miles of phone line. “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle,” says the Catholic one. “The Universe doesn’t give you more than you can carry,” says the Pagan one. “Don’t tell Mom,” you tell them. “Don’t tell Sissy.” You wish there was a way that no one ever had to know about this.
Four sisters flanked by two brothers. You are the fourth in your family. What if you become the crappy mother to your fourth child that your mother was to you? What if that is the way it works?
After enough weeks it becomes too late for you to do anything but wait for the inevitable. Once you can feel it moving inside of you, you can no longer think about the A-word. You no longer have the strength to look down that path. Not that you had the strength to begin with. Strength is something other people have, you think. Like “time” and “composure.” Things other people have. Less kids — that’s another thing other people have, you think.
You feel like you are inviting badness into your life every time you mutter “the little fucker” to yourself and every time you regret not killing it when you had the chance — every time you think about it just disappearing from your life and how easy that would make everything. You can’t help fantasizing though because everything just seems so hard now. So fucking monumentally stressful.
And your body that you were anxious to have as your own again — where is it now? And the days you were anxious to have as your own again? How many more years before that happens now? Five? More? With number three you kept thinking, “Just get through the toddler years this one last time and there won’t be any more toddler years to deal with. Just get through the breastfeeding one last time. Then I won’t have to worry about what I do to my own body — it will be mine again.” But now you sink into despair, realizing it will be even longer. Another baby to soothe to sleep. Another toddler to watch with an eagle eye. Another toilet training. Another kid’s meal to buy if you can actually afford to go out ever again.
Then you realize that the three you have barely fit into the car you own.
Another baby means a minivan.
Which means a whole new identity crisis. More than once in your life you have said you would never own a minivan. No S.U.V.’s. No minivans for you. You were punk rock, and you said you would never own a minivan.
Now you have to own a minivan.
And how the fuck are you going to afford a minivan? Remember when you could just zip around the country in your dark green economy car, you and your border collie named John-cougar, no cares in the world? That seems like a lifetime ago…four lifetimes ago. How the fuck are you going to afford gas for a minivan? Dreams of buying a house, having a yard, getting a puppy. Dreams that other people so easily live seem so impossible to you — especially now. Where did it all go wrong? Wrong choices at every turn. The wrong school. The wrong career. The wrong guy. The wrong method of birth control. It all piles up, and it all topples over right on top of you, too many boxes full of should-haves balanced on a three-legged TV tray.
You have the blood dream again. So much blood. But the little fucker is still there in the morning. Kicking and scratching and tickling.
All of a sudden you can’t deal with the kids you have. How are you going to handle one more? They all want your attention. They all want to touch you. They all need to be right next to you. You turn around and three little bodies bounce around you like spastic planets in the solar system of you. They just want to be loved, and it makes you want to get in your car and drive. Drive right off a bridge. How are you going to handle one more? There’s no one else to take care of them. Even if The Dad wanted to — you can’t believe he is capable. You are alone. Even though you can barely tolerate having them near you, you can’t stand the idea of them being alone. You think about strapping them into that river-bound car with you. “They would have to be asleep,” you think, imaging the barrage of questions the Bean would be asking as you broke through the railing and plunged toward the icy water. “How would I get them to sleep?” Other mothers have done it, God knows. You used to be horrified by the stories of mothers killing babies. Now you feel sympathy for those moms who didn’t know what else to do. There is something comforting about the idea — all of you together forever in that moment. But then you think of how terrified they would feel when their mama drives them off a bridge. You know you could never do that. Extinguish three — four — bright lights…just to escape your own darkness. You can’t do that.
The Dad has decided it is time to move on. You watch as he shops for a better situation. Whenever you try to confront him, he assures you that it is your fault and tells you he never wanted to be a father. He tells you you are smothering him when you ask him to come home — ask him to help you with his kids. He looks at you with disgust and disappears for days.
You try to be a good mother. You wash the dishes. You handle the knives. You try not to think about plunging them into your own abdomen.
You daydream that he will realize how special you are — how strong you are — beg your forgiveness with a bouquet of tulips…but you see yourself in the mirror and you only see a big, fat idiot.
This baby in your belly is bottomless pit — an inescapable prison.
You search your life. The history of you. Searching for the evil thing you did that put you here. Pregnant with the fourth child of a man who breaks your heart over and over again while blaming you. A man who makes you believe it is your fault every time he destroys you. A man who refuses to support his family and resents you when you try to get that desperately needed support. A man you cannot say “no” to no matter how much your insides scream at you to tell him to just fuck the fuck off.
“I’m sorry, baby,” you whisper to the persistent movement in your belly. The seemingly nonstop kicks and flutters, stretches and ticklings that are fast to remind you — as if you could ever forget — there is a baby in there. A baby you wouldn’t hate and resent so much if only you had the support and love he won’t give you. You hate him so much at this moment. You cannot find anything good about him. But you know that will change when he waltzes back through the door telling you he is sorry and, somehow, knowing how to make you laugh.
You wonder, if you lost the baby, if you got your bloody martyrdom — a horrid, painful bloodbath of a miscarriage, preterm birth, whatever — something so goddamned awful it was life threatening to you as well…would he fight not to lose you?
You realize that you have failed at the one thing you thought you weren’t completely inept at doing. There is a baby inside you, and you don’t care if it lives or dies. You wish for its death even. Fantasize about it. What kind of mother does that? In just three months, you will have a child born to you. A child you do not want. What kind of mother does this make you? You realize you have already failed at being a mother to your unborn child.
Next you wonder how you can be a good mom to the three you have when you are a failure of a mother to your unborn.
You find yourself having to pretend to be interested in your own pregnancy when others ask about it. You don’t want people to think you’re a monster. Somehow you manage to hide just how horrified you are by your current state.
Your own body disgusts you. You think about when you could still fit into those little jeans and those short skirts. What will the abuse of a fourth pregnancy do to your already lost body? Before this you already had a saggy belly. Your breasts seem to hang lower every kid you have. You keep thinking you will somehow get that pre-baby body back. But you won’t. Every kid you carry is a brick added to the wall that hides your now dead beauty and youth. You know you are supposed to be eating, but you have no desire to eat. You look in the mirror and all you can see is how stretched out you are. All you want to do is drink a bottle of whiskey. When you are hungry, you resent your hunger and try to ignore it — until it turns into violent nausea — forcing you to eat or to feel even worse.
You have another dream about your unborn baby. He looks like a creepy baby Jesus. The baby Jesus that looks like a miniature person instead of a baby — with a proportional head and limbs. That is the baby Jesus that is always holding his fingers, two up and two down, in the stained glass window of your childhood. Jesus fingers, your sisters would call it. “Watch out, I’ll getcha with my Jesus fingers,” you would taunt each other and squeal once you were safely away from the sanctity of the church. Your baby has Jesus fingers and you can feel him inside you. Butterfly touches with Jesus fingers on the inside of you. “Gotcha,” you think.
In a rare turn of events, The Dad wants to talk to you — to talk about that thing which he will not call a “relationship.” He comes to you, telling you about how he feels he is sacrificing life experience to be a father — to be a husband. He wants to be free to do what he wants and doesn’t think it’s fair that he has to be faithful to you.
Your head spins. You cannot believe you have to listen to this as your belly swells in front of him with a child you spend every day wishing away. You snap. You feel crazy enough to tell him the truth. You tell him that you cannot bring yourself to sympathize with his problems. You tell him how trivial he sounds to you. Sacrifice? You are pregnant with an unwanted child. Your body is carrying almost fifty extra pounds. Sacrifice? After four pregnancies — four bouts of breastfeeding, your body will never be the same. You feel like every man will find you repulsive. You feel emotionally and physically like you are at your limit. Sacrifice? You spend your day fixing meals, then cleaning up after those meals, doing dishes, sweeping floors, cleaning up spills, changing wet pants, doing laundry, shopping for food, figuring out how you can afford to keep feeding your kids, then fixing another goddamned meal. Sacrifice? You gave up your career — your aspirations. All you want to do is write, draw, create, talk to other grown-ups in a grown-up place, be dazzling and be brilliant, but instead you spend your days arguing with small children. You want to travel and see the world, but you have no money and soon four kids. Four little anchors. Fucking sacrifice. And you can’t even have a drink to escape the pain of it. You certainly can’t get drunk and pretend you’re young and single again.
Strangely, your tirade seems to have an effect on The Dad. Strangely, he offers you a shoulder to cry on and stops trying to convince you of his misery. For now.
You lose your already limited capability to cope.
You think, I don’t want to be pregnant. I don’t want to be pregnant. I don’t want to be pregnant. This cannot be happening. Oh god I don’t want to be pregnant. All day long. It’s all you can think.
Sensing your inevitable inability to be a good mother to it — your inability to love it — the baby twists and kicks and makes you believe you have a uterus full of ferrets. Angry hateful ferrets. You hate feeling the movement in your body. You wince when it stretches and flops. You want to throw up. You want to run away from yourself and the baby inside you. Your baby already hates you, you know it. How could it not? Your baby is already a loss. You will give birth to a deficit of love. A succubus of anger. How can anything good come of this?
Slowly, as the end looms nearby, you realize that things maybe could be okay. Maybe. Like when strangers are nice to you, holding the door for you, saying, “Are these all yours! Such pretty children! Such sweet children!” Why are they being nice to you? You wonder, but they are. They are being nice. Not cruel. Not horrible. Not judging.
Like when you open those weekly emails from the excited-to-be-having-a-baby website that you subscribed to because you wanted to pretend you were. Every week when you open the email, Little-man and the Bean climb all over you to see what the baby looks like this week. “What food is the baby?” asks Little-man because the email always lets you know what size your baby is with the example of a fruit or vegetable. “Is the baby a watermelon this week?” asks the Bean because he loves watermelon.
Or like when the midwife comes, and you lie down to listen to the heartbeat. Boo always insists on being there. She wants to help measure the baby. She wants to hear the heartbeat. She wants to touch your belly and hear about the baby. “Such a good, big sister,” the midwife says. You can’t help but think the same thing. Maybe it won’t be awful. Maybe it won’t be the end of the world.
You somehow find peace and silently accept the fate that awaits you. You hope the baby will somehow forgive you. You hope your other three will somehow forgive you. You hope the world will somehow forgive you. You wonder if you will ever be able to forgive yourself.
What will happen will happen. Maybe that’s all that peace is after all. Accepting the inevitable. Making sandwiches, wiping butts, getting up in the night to change a wet diaper, not throwing yourself out a window.
You touch your belly, you feel a foot, a butt, a small determined person. You start to wonder what that person will look like. What will they be like? Thoughtful like Little-man? Wild like the Bean? Passionate like Boo? All of that? The synopsis? The final chapter — this one better be the final chapter. You are pretty sure you will never have sex again.
Soon there will be four. Four elements of you.
Week 41 and 3 days:
Your body finally expels the little fucker. After 28 hours of labor and two hours of pushing. A posterior baby who puts up a struggle, refusing to come out to meet the mother who dreamed of his death. But you do not give up. You are determined to get him out of your body. And finally you do as your bottom turns inside out with all of the pushing. And finally there is blood. Blood, urine, meconium — a uterine soup that spills from your body. Motherhood.
You hold him close to your chest as you sob and as you laugh. A third boy. It is finally over. It is just beginning. Again. Motherhood.