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When I sat down for a little break, I noticed some little flashes appearing in the peripheral vision of my right eye. My memory immediately recalled information about preeclampsia, headache, and flashes. Where had I read that? Email? Book? Blog? Nowhere? Was I making up symptoms because of stress? Better safe than sorry.
He couldn’t hear me over the running water.
I heard the water turn off and a very panicked Ryan ran into the living room. I explained to him what I thought was happening.
“Let’s Google it,” he suggested.
Google came up with exactly what I remembered reading. In regards to what to do when experiencing such symptoms, it suggested calling the doctor. I called the nurse line and impatiently waited for the on-call nurse to call back, telling myself it was reasonable that there was no one at my beck and call on a Saturday night. Ryan said he was going to keep at the dishes, but didn’t move.
“Chuck Jones is spinning in his grave,” I said absentmindedly as the remake of How the Grinch Stole Christmas played on the TV.
A few minutes later, the phone rang out its “Electric Avenue” ring tone, which seemed a lot less fun and cute all of a sudden, and the nurse on the other end gave us her advice.
“Well, get your shoes on,” Ryan said. “I’ll warm up the car.” He almost went outside shoeless until I stopped him.
We only let the car warm up a few minutes, so it was still pretty cold when we got in. The car made a painful squealing noise backing up. I didn’t know if it was the car in the cold or the snow beneath the tires. Eventually all we could hear was the blowing of the vents and the soft murmur of talk radio, just low enough that you couldn’t quite hear what the reporters were talking about.
I didn’t want to be a parent. I wasn’t ready. Not mature. Not patient. Not selfless. It hit me that it was too late. No matter what, my life, as I knew it, was over. No more sleeping in. No more just up and leaving the house any time I wanted. No more money (not that we had an abundance or anything). No more living on my own schedule. Now I’d be in charge of a baby. No more choices. It was either do all these things associated with caring for a baby, or it would die. Or Ryan would die, trying to do it on his own. And then I’d eventually die anyway from guilt. Waking up at all hours of the night. Screaming. Crying. Poo. Constantly trapped in the house. $25 for each can of formula. $139 a week for day care. $11 for a pack of diapers. At a changing every two to three hours, that came to 50 to 60 diapers a week. Over 200 in a month. Wanna lie on the couch and watch a crappy movie? Nope. Gotta rock the baby to sleep. Wanna go to the bar with the girls? Nope. No sitter with such short notice. Wanna buy a new pair of shoes? Nope. Extra money goes toward baby clothes and baby toys.
And how could I possibly do all this anyway? I can’t remember to send back my Netflix DVDs. I’ve had a disc from the fifth season of The Sopranos for months. Not to mention that I now own Saw II because I lost it somewhere in my house. I hate doing dishes and let the sink fill up until I have to wash a fork to use one. I never make my bed. I stay late at work every day. I’d rather go to a dive bar and drink cheap, light beer until I end up karaoke-ing to a Stevie Wonder song than stay home reading The Hungry Caterpillar. I have a 1998 Oldsmobile 88 and student loan officers are tracking me down like mafia hit men. And Ryan? Sure, he’s sweet and smart and has a nice ass and everything, but he had just put an empty Coke can on the counter, which two frickin’ feet away from the recycling container.
What if we do make it through the newborn stage? It’s not as if someone sweeps in, as if to say, “Good job. I’m the real parent. I’ll take this off your hands.” 18 years. According to my mother, 30 years plus. It’s not temporary. It’s the biggest commitment anyone could ever possibly make. Marriages can end in divorce. Mortgages can be paid off or foreclosed on. Tattoos can be laser removed.
And every year, every month, every day, and every second you spend with your baby or your child can influence what kind of person they turn out to be, what kind of memories will fill their minds. You can’t predict what a child will take to heart. You can tell them a thousand times that doing drugs is bad, and wind up finding a giant bong made out of a plastic dinosaur in their closet. Tell them over and over that education is important, and they end up skipping their PSATs to go to a Vandals concert. But off-handedly make one remark about how you wish you were as thin as Heidi Klum, and she develops an eating disorder. Or blow off one softball game to work late, and she ends up being a workaholic. You could have millions of happy memories of camping or going to the park or visiting the grandparents. What if the only visit they vividly remember is the one you and Dad got into a huge screaming fight in the car over confusing directions? Out of all the times they get in trouble, what if they only remember the one time you lost your temper and spanked them?
That’s just the damage I could do to another person. What about others? What happens if she comes home from school crying because some little punk was mean to her? Tom Hutchinson teased me relentlessly in sixth grade about my glasses, my hair (I couldn’t do the 80s bangs with any skill), and because I used a “professor word.” I couldn’t get away from his skinny, pimply face. I came home crying almost every day, and I remember my mother sitting on the edge of my bed, telling me to ignore him. Just ignore him and he’ll pick on someone else. I remember because she had pain in her eyes, just the same as my own, because some little fuck was messing with her baby and it hurt her. There wasn’t anything she could do. What if her friends turn on her in elementary school? What if she’s bad at sports or terrible in math or speaks with a stutter? What if a boyfriend treats her badly? What if she’s molested? What if she’s abducted? What if she’s raped? Murdered?
I wanted to go back in time and change our minds. I never stopped taking the pill. I didn’t want to be pregnant. And I didn’t want to have a baby.
Once at the hospital, we got checked in and before we knew it, I was secured to a table with blue and pink straps that also held a fetal monitor. People came in and out, asking questions, checking the monitor, inflating the blood pressure band, and unapologetically lifting my hospital gown. Blood pressure was fine. Headache was gone. Flashes gone. Urine okay. Baby heartbeat good. Not dilated. No preeclampsia. No induction.
The medical staffers left us to gather our things and for me to dress. I went to the small bathroom to find my clothing.
“You know,” Ryan said, “I was kind of hoping they’d induce you tonight. Is that bad or what?”
“Why? That labor is supposed to be worse than normal.”
“Oh. I didn’t know that.” He paused. “I just am ready, that’s all. And I hate seeing you so uncomfortable every day.”
I pulled on my stretchy pants. “You’re ready?”
“Yeah. You’ve had nine months to get to know the baby. I want to meet her.”
I didn’t answer. Instead I felt guilty for all the horrible thoughts bouncing off each other in my head. What depraved pregnant woman could think such things? There was a living being inside of me. It was a miracle; a blessing. Think of all the women unable to conceive who would do anything to be in your place. Think of your daughter having a horrible mother who doesn’t want her. I started crying.
“Are you crying? What is it?” Ryan opened the bathroom door and put his arms around me.
I composed myself somewhat after a few seconds. “You know how everyone always says the moment you give birth and lay eyes on your baby, you feel this incredible, unconditional love?”
“What if I don’t?”
“What are you talking about,” he said, starting to sway me back and forth.
“That book—What to Expect. It said that sometimes it takes weeks for mothers to bond and to feel that. What if that’s me? What if it never happens?”
“It’ll happen. It’ll happen. Don’t stress out about that kind of stuff. You will be a great mother.”
“What if I change my mind?” The tears started again.
“Honey.” He just smoothed my hair. “Come on. Let’s go home.”
The car ride home was a lot shorter. We pulled into our driveway and watched as a rabbit bounded across the yard in the yellow glow of the headlights on the snow. It disappeared into the dormant lilac bushes. Ryan spoke as I started to unlatch the door.
“You’ll love her.”
I wasn’t convinced.