Marni Asplund-Campbell, editor
A Delicate Condition
A Hope Invisible
[p.23] Today is Friday. On Wednesday of this week I heard the first proof positive that Mark and I are going to have a baby. A faint, fast heartbeat that seemed related more to the static of the Doppler device than the human race. Yet, as the volume ebbed and jerked with his movement, the reality of this five-inch person assuaged four months of wonder, fear, and disbelief. I haven’t written in over half a year. I spent the end of the summer and the early fall trying to define some sort of future for myself. I was promoted quickly through Crate and Barrel, allowing myself to be groomed for upper management. I would alternately reach for retail power only to pull back and contemplate education and literary greatness. The want for a baby vacillated with equal intensity. Mark wanted to wait, but was softening. I was aching to be pregnant (ignorant fool that I was) but attempting to talk myself into establishing some order in my personal life first. I felt this urgency because I imagined that it would take months to get pregnant. I had heard so many horror stories about infertility and had always felt this nagging guilt about waiting so long. I thought that one had to prepare the ground like planting a crop, or maybe just practice a while. We were hardly teenagers in someone’s back seat. Mark snorted at my physiological naivete, either the connection was made or it wasn’t, age and target practice had little to do with it. We became a tad lax on the condom use, anyway. The first month we even approximated ovulation, my notions of agriculture were trashed and I felt a lot like a teenager after all.
I knew almost immediately that I was pregnant. The body changes were sudden and dramatic. The doctor called to confirm the test right in the middle of my six-month review at work, almost at the moment that I was being guaranteed a management position the next month. [p.24]My reaction surprised me. After at least five years of wistfully wishing and dreaming and drooling over babies, I felt an unexplainable darkness. I envisioned myself on a time-line and for the first time sensed with palpable clarity my own mortality.
This pregnancy has been a strange, lonely experience. Even as I sit here, a pillow propped behind my curving back and my stomach bulging around the edge of the table, there is an unreality about this transition that is unnerving. I can feel the constant creeping and stretching of this new life. I can see the taut skin on my abdomen quiver like a drum when it kicks. Every time I think that surely this stomach can get no bigger, it does. Yet when I hold babies or stare at them or wonder about them, there is a gap in my understanding that my imagination tries vainly to fill. I still can’t fathom how this unseen movement is going to emerge somehow as my baby, my child. I know how to care for children, but have always given them back, most of the time gladly. I can give love but have never sensed utter dependency from another human being. It is difficult for me to imagine how something can be part of me and yet separate only to become separate but still connected. I want this baby to be a true, happy child. Greta Garbo died last week with an epitaph, I want to be alone. I sit here beating with two lives and I want to scream, Don’t leave me alone. But alone I must write. And alone this baby will decide whether or not he will be true or happy.
And amid all these swirling worries, I am intolerably impatient. Ten months is a lifetime. I feel that I have created a generation of mental babies in the time it has taken to produce one physical one. I have fourteen weeks left, not including the probable two-week, first-baby tease. What a contrast the second pregnancy must be to the first. The little personality may be different, but the calmness of knowing at least generally what to expect must be comforting. The wait would have a tested limit, the finale would be a remembered anticipation.
Give or take a week or two, I am about one month away from giving birth. It could happen anytime I suppose, although in spite of my enor-[p.25]mous size, none of the pre-labor signs have taken place. I know that the baby hasn’t engaged in my pelvis yet because I still have feet in my lungs. Either that or he is thirty inches long, which I doubt. The past month has been good. My spirits are up and amazingly my energy level is higher than at any point in the pregnancy. I feel more confident about the reality of being a mother; I feel hopeful in my ability to be productive amidst the transition. …
I have twelve more days until my due date, whatever that means. My stomach is my center. My brain, my heart, and self have become a squirming, swelling planet. I feel completely disassociated from any sense of humanness. I am merely a container, a reservoir, a fixture that is controlled by forces completely arbitrary. I am one of those demigoddesses who is raped by Zeus in the form of raindrops or something and is never quite sure what has happened. This conception has a father but the result is still as mystifying. Who is this creature who has grown tyrannical in its power? I am ruled by an object larger than anything else in my body. Perhaps it has swallowed all of my organs to make room for itself. Perhaps I feel so tired and empty because there is nothing left inside for me to exist. It may be the baby’s heart that beats for both of us. I wonder if I will wither and die like a shed skin when this new being chooses its freedom. I don’t remember what it is like to be small and light and one. Ironically, since sharing my body, I have never been so alone or isolated. I am connected to a process over which I have no control. I am moved upon by the gods and stand witness to a miracle that can never be truly shared. With my vision I am separate; I feel truth that has no language, a hope invisible.
I still cannot grasp the reality of my situation. I have read and browsed and stared at pictures, trying to attach an infant’s figure to the slow rolling lumps in my abdomen, but I cannot. I look at children in the street and think, I’m not ready, or I can be a good mother, or Help. My ambivalence is moody and I cry a lot. Mark attempts strength and won’t discuss his feelings in order to save me anxiety. He has told me this. He doesn’t understand that his stoic, almost cold demeanor only heightens my barriers. I see myself as ill or bizarre or weak because only I wonder if I truly want this baby. Only I worry about a marriage [p.26]plagued with doubt. Only I dream of a cabin and a computer far away from anyone or anywhere. Mark pats my head gently and coos words of comfort while impassively going about life as if he were the last fiber of rationality in our relationship. I am banging, foaming waves, and he is as placid as a pond. Only his eyes betray repressed tension. He pushes back fear like his foot smashing garbage farther down in the can, making room for more. How much can he contain? I can hold the secrets of life in my womb, I can hold the most ancient of sorrows and pain. Can he understand or assimilate or even be aware of any of this? I wish he would talk to me. I wish I were not the single fragile half that I am perceived to be. I wish he would let me prove myself strong enough to listen to his private insanity. I wish he would treat me like his companion and lover and not the hormone-wracked vessel of his child. I could then sense my own identity amid this symbiotic waiting. I could know that somewhere in my body is a part that has not been swallowed, a shred that is still glowing with an intensity undimmed by fatigue and hysteria and anger. A thin shining self that is as clear and lucid as the muse it protects. Quietly, behind the baby, behind my endless complaints, part of me waits for another birth. My voice lies ready to speak.