A little over a year ago, I wrote an essay about being a young widow. A childless, young widow. About how I might never get to have kids because the man I was once engaged to — the man I thought I’d be raising a family with — had died before we got to walk down the aisle. Meanwhile, I worried that my physical plant was already shutting down, and it felt like growing my own baby might not be in the cards for me. There are many ways to start a family, of course, but I was thinking about how my guts were functioning. Constantly.
Maybe that’s because I used to work for a Jewish nonprofit called Uprooted, which supports individuals who are walking the path of fertility struggles. Uprooted’s work is noble, and I got into it because of my friends, who had all bravely confronted those issues for so many years while I stood by, feeling powerless. It didn’t occur to me until later exactly how much those experiences shaped me, and how they added to my fear, the older I got, that I might never conceive a child of my own.
When I published that essay, I was in a very serious relationship. To his credit, my then-boyfriend and I talked through the ins and outs of the piece, what it would be like for him to have it published, and how he felt about me being so excruciatingly public about my painful — and valid — concerns. He posted it on Facebook the minute it was published (as is often the case, before I even see it’s up). “Proud Boyfriend,” he declared. What a guy!
In the year since, that proud boyfriend has become my proud husband. Honestly, between the dating, and the setbacks, and the heartbreak, and the decade of being a widow, it never actually occurred to me that I’d end up getting married. That I’d find someone to marry, someone worth marrying, who also felt that even with all of my baggage (filled with mental anguish and unfulfilled dreams!), I was worth marrying, too. But we did get married, and it was awesome!
My husband and I, before the wedding, had already started conversations about how I’d spent half my life on birth control, ultimately deciding not to renew my prescription when it ran out.
People asked questions. Like they do. Where will you honeymoon? How do you split up the household chores? Do you want kids? Are you already pregnant? (That particular friend could get away with that question, but like… don’t try this one at home.)
A few weeks after the wedding, I felt awful. Queasy and uneasy and the rest of it. I went to a drug store that nobody I know goes to by my office, bought a box of pregnancy tests, and took it home. My husband was waiting for me, an anxious, twitchy grin on his face. We were both sweating and giggling.
I took the test and let it sit for the prescribed amount of time.
“Listen, if this is real, and we got married two weeks ago, then this is a human who really wanted to exist,” I said to him.
The timer was up, so we looked.
“Unreal,” I said. “I am pregnant. On basically the first try.”
I could hear my heartbeat audibly in the room and placed a few fingers on my neck to check that it wasn’t as dire as I felt like it sounded.
“Wow,” he said. “I love you. This is going to be awesome.”
And then we sunk back into the couch, holding hands. Eventually, we ate dinner, and I progressed through weeks of eating mostly noodles, with the occasional salad.
While this was happening, an app was telling me every day that this protohuman was the size of a poppy seed or a paperclip or a chocolate truffle or whatever, and articles were telling me to budget tens of thousands of dollars for baby nurses and organic glass spoons made in an allergen-free factory on a mountaintop in the Andes, and I gagged because my coworker was eating a hot dog and he noticed but GOD FORBID YOU TELL PEOPLE YOU’RE PREGNANT AT 8 WEEKS BECAUSE YOU MIGHT MISCARRY AND THEN PEOPLE WILL HAVE TO TALK ABOUT HOW LIKE 20% OF PREGNANCIES END IN MISCARRIAGE AND THAT’S TOO SAD SO DON’T TELL ANYBODY UNTIL YOU’RE “IN THE CLEAR” WHICH IS A TERRIBLE PHRASE, and I was still writing wedding thank you notes (sorry friends, they’re coming, I really do appreciate you and your gifts), and I accidentally told a few friends that I was queasy when I thought I was texting my husband so now they knew, which was a relief but I’d violated the rules and also hadn’t told my parents yet, and I started feeling terrified that this baby will suffer medically, because I have suffered medically and I’ve sat with those who’ve reallllly suffered medically, and I will love a sick baby or a healthy baby but I don’t want this new human to have the deck stacked against it from day 1, and I ran into one of my closest friends who struggled the most with infertility, and she eyeballed my husband and my little band-aided elbow crook from my blood test at the obstetrician’s office and there was an ultrasound picture in my purse but I couldn’t tell her yet, and I had to do my job, meet deadlines, travel, do my chores, carry the CSA home and cook the damn veggies while telling everyone “I’m fine” and “being married is lovely” which is all true except now we’re growing another person and my feet itch and my toes hurt and my pants feel weird and I have to go to bed at 8 p.m. some nights and I can’t eat sushi and I can’t drink though it should be noted that I do not miss alcohol one bit.
How could this all be true? How could my life change like this so suddenly? And how come so many of my friends had to struggle for years and years and I was just given this gift by science and nature and genetics and whatever else? What would all of my struggling friends think? Would it hurt their feelings? Would they be able to feel joy for me? And if not, shouldn’t I be able to be okay with that? (I am, that part’s easy.)
And what about my other struggling friends? The ones who have given up on dating, or were widowed young like me, or aren’t sure how to shoulder the financial responsibility of single (or partnered) parenthood for themselves and their families? The ones who really want to be married and have a family, and still hold out hope, but aren’t there yet even though they feel like a ticking fertility time bomb?
But then I remember what I wrote last year. That none of this is actually sudden. That I’ve struggled in my way, and waited longer than I ever thought I’d have to, and that nobody has complete control over their own timeline, as much as us planners would like to hope. That I am holding space for the joy and the sorrow. And I’m growing a human.
If things continue to progress after today (the 14-week mark, yo, and miscarriages no longer have to constantly threaten your happy little worldview after 13 weeks!), I — we — will get to raise this one. And if not, we’ll get to raise another one — somehow. And if not even that, I’ve learned so much from being in this time in my life, experiencing the weird and wild miracle of life from a different angle, and nothing can take that away.
Top image via Getty Images/Oppenheim Bernhard. Wedding photo via B. A. Van Sise.