Even when I wasn’t sure I wanted to marry the person I was dating, I knew I wanted to have children—someday, with someone. It seemed like the right thing to do—and at times, the easy thing. If I got pregnant, I thought, I could forget all the disappointments of my own life and trot along a predetermined path, fulfilling my biological destiny. I’d recently witnessed two friends in terrible marriages get pregnant, after which everything was suddenly “fine.” I knew that for them, pregnancy was just a distraction, as it would have been for me. But I understood their thinking. I, too, had stood there, looking at the neat rows of colors, thinking I could drop a pill and let it roll under the dresser. I loved Gills-and-Fins too much to be that dishonest. Still, I wished the universe would take hold in me and make something happen that would pull me out of the terrible spiral I was in. We would just have the baby and live, no time to feel alone.
It hadn’t escaped my notice that having a baby, like marriage, was an instant guarantee of social approval. I wondered what it would be like to see the excitement on the faces of the people to whom I told my news. I was convinced that everyone would love me more if I were pregnant.
Gills-and-Fins’ best friend’s wife got pregnant while we were dating. She announced it at her thirtieth birthday party, which was a couple of months before mine. When two thirty-year-old women are in the same room, and one of them announces she’s pregnant, the pregnant one is suddenly beatified. She gets hugs and kisses and congratulations. She glows. The non-pregnant woman doesn’t even feel like a woman. She feels dead, a pile of ashes. You could blow her away. She gives a vacuous smile and hollow congratulations and pretends that she is happy for the pregnant woman, but the reality is she doesn’t have any emotion left to be happy with because she is too focused on feeling worthless.
I had to tell myself, sternly, not to cry that night, because I knew crying would be a socially inappropriate reaction. I’d have to explain myself, which I did not want to do. I drank a beer and turned my brain off, although even when I stopped thinking about it, there was something visceral, an ache, that I still felt. And I felt angry, irrationally angry, at everyone I ever dated. Especially at Joe, for wasting thirteen months of my childbearing years. Even at Gills-and-Fins, for no logical reason I could discern.
Just the week before, at the grocery store, my roommate Tim had given me a five-pound bag of potatoes to hold, and I had instinctively started to rock them. Actually, it was more like bouncing them, which I later learned is called “dandling.” When I realized what I was doing, I dropped the bag out of sheer horror.
“What the fuck did you do?” Tim asked.
“Uh—I don’t know,” I said.
He shook his head. “Jesus. I give you one job.”
My record with potatoes in general hadn’t been good. While preparing the last meal involving potatoes, Tim had taken the knife away from me because he said the way I chopped potatoes was “terrifying” to him and that I was likely to sever a finger. “No wonder you’re not married. You have no domestic skills at all,” he had informed me.
What kind of sick woman dandles a bag of potatoes? I didn’t want to want to be a mother, but it was obvious that I was fighting uselessly against some force of nature. I railed in my journal:
Fuck you, Nature, with your oxytocin and your luteinizing hormones and whatever other tricks of the endocrine system you employ to try and control my behavior! I know you’re trying to get me pregnant, and it won’t work! Go pick on some unsuspecting, cowlike woman with large, accommodating hips and the I.Q. of a pecan. I don’t need this bullshit.
I was very proud of myself. I was pretty sure Nature wouldn’t be bothering me anymore, not after that blast.
The endless parade of happy couples and families continued to pass by me as I sat with my cold, kernelly popcorn, mustering up some anemic cheers. Rah, rah, reproduction. Everyone seemed to be getting pregnant. I emailed my friend Kathy to tell her that whenever the next pregnancy was announced at work, I planned to indulge in self-pity and spend the day in bed with Fudgie the Whale. I meant a Fudgie the Whale cake, which I would eat, but typing the misleading sentence conjured up disturbing images of me giving birth to a bastard Carvel creation. I tried to think of what to name my offspring. Fudgie the Bastard? Illegitipuss? The Misbegotten Chipster? It sounded like a great list. I pitched it to McSweeney’s, but it turns out they don’t appreciate the obvious hilarity of a Cookiepuss conceived out of wedlock.
I soon figured out that like marriage, becoming a mother isn’t in any way merit-based. Almost any woman could get pregnant. Given concerns about overpopulation, I wondered, shouldn’t people be celebrated for not reproducing? Congratulations on your consistent condom usage; here’s a cake and some presents. Or, Good job with the Ortho-Tricyclen; here’s a free trip to Hawaii.
Maybe, I thought, I was such a bloodless, steely-minded intellectual that there wasn’t even enough humanity in my body to nurture a developing fetus.
My womb was probably as dusty and inhospitable as old library shelves.