This isn’t about how we feel down the road. This is about that first split second when we realize that everything we know is about to change for good.
I remember being in my twenties when my mother told me that, while she wasn’t comfortable calling me an “accident”, she does have first hand proof that contraceptive foam isn’t 100% effective. By the time I came along, Mom already had grave doubts about the viability of her marriage. I suspect that I am the product of apathy sex—the kind a woman has with her husband because refusing means an argument and there’s at least a chance he’ll fall asleep afterward and give her an hour of peace.
I wonder, sometimes, what went through her mind when she realized she was going to have her third child. Before she was obliged to gush about it to her parents and her friends, did she—maybe just once—secretly pray for a miscarriage? I never asked. I suspect that shortly after I post this I’ll get a phone call from my Mom telling me what a blessing I am (thanks, in advance, Mom). But this isn’t about how we feel down the road, this is about that first split second when we realize that everything we know is about to change for good.
If you believe those EPT commercials, the woman is supposed to come bounding out of the bathroom with a giddy smile on her face and leap into her husband’s arms. Instinctively, you know these commercials are a lie when you realize this woman is fully clothed. She’s just been urinating on a stick and she looks like she’s on her way to an H&M photo shoot. In a realistic ad, she would come stumbling into the bedroom with her pants at her ankles wearing only one shoe. On a side note, why is the guy waiting in the living room? One of the many benefits of marriage is built-in permission to sit and talk with your spouse while they take a dump.
In my case, I was on the counter watching Karen try not to pee all over her hand. It was one of those rare moments in my life where I was possessed of absolute clarity. I was entirely and completely there in the moment with one, singular thought going through my mind: “If it comes out positive, you absolutely cannot look horrified.”
About thirty seconds after the tell-tale-tinkle stopped, Karen looked up and showed me those two, unmistakable vertical lines. Before I could even check my look in the mirror, she burst into a hot mess of projectile tears. In the TV commercial, these are delicate tears of joy about the miracle of life. In my bathroom, not so much. More like an uncontrolled emotional outburst, the fine print of which was “What have we done?” We spent the next hour lying on our bed, assuring each other that everything was going to be all right.
In retrospect, this seems like a terribly inappropriate response for a couple that was actually trying to get pregnant. We weren’t exactly having buyer’s remorse or dreading the idea of bringing a child into the world—we genuinely wanted this to happen. But, at the same time, we knew that our old life had just run out of gas at the railroad crossing and a freight train was on the way through. (I can’t read that last sentence without seeing Evil Diesel bearing down on Bertie the Bus as Thomas and Percy race to save him … my metaphoric vocabulary has been forever hijacked by cartoons).
In the unlikely event that my son should one day read this, I’m sure I’ll fall all over myself to reassure him that being his father has been the one of the most amazing and defining events of my life (I have to say “one of the most amazing events” in case my daughter eventually reads this.) But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there was a painful trade involved in bringing him into the world.
It’s not that I didn’t eventually have my Hallmark moment, but it came later—the first time I felt my son turn over in Karen’s belly. But, for me, the genuine first moment was melancholy and conflicted and I am inclined to think that’s a good thing, a necessary thing. In the end, all we have to offer our kids is the life we had before they came into the world; our accumulated experiences, wisdom and beliefs. Missing your old life means you had a life worth missing. As I lay on that bed and told my newly pregnant wife that it was all going to be all right, I like to think I was paying my respects to everything that I knew I was giving up. I was, in my own way, mourning my old life.
Sometimes I still do.