Issue 18 / Summer 2019 / Abortion Ban Protest Special Issue
Maybe while I was shitting, my IUD came out, which is something that can happen. Maybe my body decided, against my brain, my rational self, that it didn’t want this foreign object shoved inside of it. Maybe, as if that decision is unnatural, my body expelled something it knows it did not produce.
And so my boyfriend and I make a baby. Or we make some cells. And those cells, without me knowing, become a baby, my baby. Maybe it is too late to eject said cells, or I no longer have that choice. Maybe we decide we’ll keep them, pretend it is the logical option. And so, my baby begins to grow, as if it wasn’t already forming all those parts pro-lifers will cite as some kind of rationale for maintaining the growth. Do they know a uterus can grow teeth and fingernails all on its own? They do not understand what my body is capable of, how my organs could try to reproduce without any outside help or intervention. I will tell my baby of this power if I am able to remember what I used to believe my body held before it held her.
The decision to keep her will wreck my boyfriend and me. We will feel guilt and shame and innumerable emotions you are not supposed to feel, in case they transmit to the baby. My baby will, unfortunately, know these emotions. She may be more susceptible to depression, anxiety, and a host of other complications because of what I feel. What my boyfriend feels that I then feel. We are dangerous, beautiful mirrors, reflecting the best and now so often the worst.
She will already have genes connected to addiction (me), and anxiety and depression (my boyfriend), and she will grow within a potentially broken home, but I choose to imagine her life with both of ours still intact. I prefer having this baby with him, instead of without. There is the very real possibility he would leave because we are too young for this. Or he would desperately want to leave and would spend his days wishing he had left before he knew her face and laugh, before she knew his. So, I choose to imagine my baby with me and her father, trying to love each other as much as we feel we must love her.
As she is growing, my baby will hear late nights. She will hear voices too tired to fight, yet still fighting. My boyfriend, who does want children, will be torn between happiness and a willingness to try, and fear at what will become of me, who does not really want children. I will feel terrible thinking of all the people this world seems unable to afford. I can barely give a dollar to people who stand on corners in need. I will watch climate change ruin this planet and know that I brought a child into this world. This world already filled with children in need of parents and money and love. I will think my own child should never have been produced, that perhaps even I should never have been produced. I will try my best to quell this feeling. I will try to hide it from my baby and I will take it out on my boyfriend. I will whisper, “You’re wanted, you’re wanted, you’re wanted,” while rubbing my swelling body. I will not be sure if this is directed at her, at myself, or at both of us.
I will be terrified my baby will hate me, or I her, but more the former. I will be worried I will not be patient enough, already impatient with the ones I love. I will worry I wasn’t cut out for this. Worry she will have to be cut out of me in a way I do not want. Worry no one will survive when we are finished. Worry her beginning will only bring endings.
I will lose the ability to stomach eggs and pickles, or the smell of them. I will have an uncommon desire for pita chips and strawberry smoothies. I will delay graduation and postpone school indefinitely. I will get a job, likely something on my feet, which in turn will outgrow all the shoes I own.
My boyfriend and I will start saving for her entire life. He will forgo his own plans of going back to school to get a PhD and become a psychologist and will decide that when he completes his military service, he will stay on to make more money than he would in a PhD program. We will be tired all the time, as if the baby were already crying.
My boyfriend will look for extra ways to make cash, scrimping more than we already do. He will try to get out of his lease, so we can move into a small place, or into my current apartment, to split rent and provide more space for baby. He will not be able to get out of it, so there will be many nights of just me and baby when he works nightshifts. I will start to read my books aloud, so she will know my voice and the books I like. I will stop reading my own writing aloud, so she will not know how I feel on bad days. I will watch only uplifting TV that does not make me sad, because she often makes me devastatingly sad.
My boyfriend will stay with me as much as he can, even contemplating proposal and looking for rings despite not feeling ready. However, our relationship will suffer. If we are still intact when baby is born, she will feel the tense air between us. A hand on the back will feel unfamiliar, making either of us jump when the other tries to reach out. Loving gestures will become as alien as my body.
As my body grows, I will shun all physical attention. I will not know how to separate my baby from myself, and initially attempt to work off whatever weight she begins to create, despite it being necessary and a part of her own body. I will not feel like a human being most days. I will lose my appetite and then eat unhealthy for weeks, deciding my weight and body are uncontrollable, a situation to be embraced. It will be difficult to eat healthily when I feel so bad.
In August, when my boyfriend’s lease is up, we will move into a small two-bedroom, costing about 900 dollars. We will paint her room a light blue in the attempt to keep her, but mostly ourselves, calm. The apartment will crowd with clothes that no longer fit me and books we can’t find the energy to read, including a growing collection about parenting.
My boyfriend will learn, from psychology textbooks, all about parenting, facts I learned in college and forgot. They will, when he reads them to baby and me, sound clinical at best. They will feel wrong. We will worry about attachment styles, how to discipline, and what to feed her.
I will call my mother every other day in tears or close to them. My new job will not provide health insurance, or the insurance offered will view my baby as a pre-existing condition. The way being a woman is a pre-existing condition.
My mother will move 2000 miles and find a small apartment near us so she can help with my baby. We will pick her up at the airport where she will meet both my bump and my boyfriend for the first time. We will all start crying. My boyfriend will put his arm around me and for once, I will lean into him. A few hours later we will try to restore intimacy, the motion that initiated this baby, and I will not be able to continue without being reminded of the consequences. Then feel shitty that I think of my baby as a consequence.
My father will send me money to help with buying baby clothes and the medical expenses involved with creating a living thing. I will feel permanently indebted to him. I will recognize that my baby’s grandfather can take better care of her monetarily than her own parents. We will be lucky to have so much help in that regard, but it will not feel like enough, like we are not enough, will never be enough.
We will worry about how to explain my baby to extended family, and what to call her when we do. What to call her when she is born. My boyfriend will want to name her something beautiful, like Eliza, and I will want to name her something that allows for shortening and gender neutrality, like Ambrose. I am the only one, of everyone we speak to, who likes this name.
When she is finally born, she will be two weeks late, just like I was. The birth will not be a c-section, even though I want one. I will get an epidural, and luckily not experience any excessive tearing. I will be crying the entire time. I will be too embarrassed to moan, thinking of all the shows that feature women pretending to give birth, and will settle on swearing. I will speak viciously to my boyfriend, saying things I held back in fights, things I did not mean but would sometimes think. My boyfriend will take it while holding my hand, but he will later worry for weeks if I meant any of it. It will hurt for a very long time.
I will experience post-partum depression and need a lot of assistance. My baby will, like my sisters, have colic. She will keep us up to the point we start working better at night and barely stay awake in the day. My boyfriend will be endlessly gentle with her, and in watching this, I will feel a little bit of the love I thought we’d lost. He will receive three weeks off after her birth and then return to work. When he leaves, and then keeps leaving, I will feel stranded and abandoned. I will accidentally read articles about women who drowned their babies because they wouldn’t stop crying. Because they were so tired their brains could not think of any other solution.
I will understand. I will hate myself for this understanding. I will call my boyfriend and mother constantly, often hanging up before they pick up, too embarrassed to admit these feelings. I will be on a ledge at every moment for the following months.
And then she will say her first word, which will be “duck” (or maybe “dook”?) at six months. We will take this as a sign of her supreme intelligence and continue to read to her as a way to get her to sleep, calm down, or sit still for longer periods of time. She will begin to sleep better. We will all begin sleeping better.
We will start giving her more interesting foods, like cheerios, that we will enjoy trying to toss into each other’s mouths. We will start to feel like a family as the three of us sit at the table together.
We will need to enroll her in daycare, so I can start working again. It will feel like we are breaking up just as we had started coming back together. Dropping her off will feel like I am leaving her alone in the woods, instead of in a playroom with other toddlers. We will need to start looking for preschools. We will suddenly need to decide if this neighborhood is the best neighborhood to raise a child in, before realizing it is the only neighborhood we can afford.
If she survives being a baby, being a child, being an adolescent, as many babies do and many babies don’t, she will be beautiful and often sad. We will feel lucky she is alive, and simultaneously regretful of her timing every day of our lives. Sometimes she will notice this. If she is still alive when she leaves us for other things like college, where she will need to take out loans and go into debt at 18, we will not know how to feel. We will be middle aged with nothing to move toward. My boyfriend will be 46 and I will be 44. We will have remedial jobs we don’t really like and feel the push of needing money and having no time. How can we go back to school or apply to internships at jobs that require increasing experience and no pay, when we need to pay for tuition of a thoughtful young woman who deserves every chance she can take? We will feel like we are taking away her chances, limiting her opportunities every day.
We will have a child in a world that does not support or protect children like it should. We will have two bodies, our own and our child’s, that we now must protect. We will have innumerable days we regret what we did, where we replay our lives from before her, trying to pinpoint the moment of consummation, trying to rewind to before we met. We will silently hold this against each other. I will feel, and be, permanently trapped, never able to relinquish motherhood. No one would forgive me for leaving my child.
If she does not make it through childhood, if she does not look both ways while crossing the road one day and a driver is trying to send a text to his family, we will be ruined in a different way. We will likely break up, or divorce if marriage ever happened, or we will simply never speak again. We will mourn and lose every part of ourselves that made us light and alive. I will believe I willed this onto my child. I will believe it is my fault, because the universe knew I doubted her and doubted my love for her. I will take this blame and build it up. It will spread within my body and I will waste away without her.
Leona Vander Molen received her MFA at Eastern Washington University, where she served as Managing Editor of Willow Springs. Her work has appeared in Punch Drunk Press and Lilac City Fairy Tales Anthology Vol. 4, among others. Her current goals are to pet more cats and stop global warming. This essay was a part of her thesis work.