A baby was the thing we were trying to keep out. A baby was a consequence. A fuckup. Or it had been until recently, when, like a joke that slowly becomes sincere, I started imagining myself pregnant in a nightgown. Strangely, I never imagined the baby. Only me, a mother. How it might change me or wake me up. Make me better.
I had a hunch I was pregnant when we rode our bikes to the book fair on a Sunday in mid-September. We were taking wide turns through backstreets — the air perfect, the sun just out — and suddenly I stopped in the middle of the road, unable to keep pedaling. “Hey!” I called after Dustin and he looked back from his bike and gestured over his shoulder for me to keep going.
“We’re almost there,” he said, “come on,” and rode off without asking me if I was okay. I hated him. I got off my bike, shaking my head, and spite-walked beside it along the side of the road. I’d just agreed to marry Dustin the week before, which made every interaction between us extra-meaningful. I wasn’t just calling after him on my bike today, I was facing a lifetime of it. And now I had this hunch, a feeling — call it a woman’s intuition — centered in my tits, which at first simply ached and now were full-on itching, like an allergic reaction to all of this. I was sure, scared of how sure I was.
He came back. “What’s up?”
“I don’t know,” I lied, really crying then. “It’s fine.” But I knew. I had no proof, no test, just this body that I’d presided over for 29 years, a mystery still.
That night, after the book fair and a day of avoiding the subject, I walked to meet my friends at a bar in the neighborhood. I found Halle and Sara and Lindsay at the end of the bar. We’d all been friends since our early twenties, and had coached each other through countless bad jobs and disappointing non-relationships. I couldn’t wait to freak out at them.
“So, guys,” I said, once we all had our drinks. “I don’t know really when my period was due but I think it’s late…I think I’m pregnant.” I had an imaginary flashlight under my chin. “And my boobs hurt!” I expected a chorus of gasps but they seemed unfazed.
“Well, did you take a test?” Halle asked now, a fair question.
“No,” I said. “I will.” I knew she understood why I hadn’t done it yet. There was something appealing about the not-knowing, about living in suspense, trading worst-case scenarios, watching our friends react, watching ourselves react. How many nights had we spent huddled in the corner of this same bar, convinced we were pregnant even when it wasn’t possible? “I mean, yeah, he wore a condom but you never know—” Was there some excitement there underneath the performance of panic? “I’d have to get a new job. Or move home and live with my mom?” It was a way of checking in on your life, on what you’d be willing to lose if everything changed. Didn’t everything changing hold some appeal?
I’d been with Dustin for three years then, and the subject of babies felt more dangerous than ever. We rarely broached the subject directly but more and more I would do things like hand him my phone in the dark of our bedroom with a daring “Look at this baby!” Secretly wishing that one of them would be so cute that he’d sit up in bed, look into my eyes, and say, Let’s do it. Let’s have a child together.