This essay originally appeared in The Guardian on July 8, 2016.
The first sign we had that I was pregnant again was a home test. I peed on the plastic wand and then attempted to putter casually about the kitchen for three minutes as I waited for the result. When I finally looked, the second pink line – the one that confirms pregnancy – was so faint I didn’t see it at first; it only caught my eye as I moved to toss the test into the trash.
I strode into the living room and told my husband: “It seems that we’re having a baby.”
We’d been here once before. Two years ago, on a similarly unremarkable evening, two thin pink stripes rocked our world. When we went to bed that night we lay awake for hours, holding hands and making plans for the future: baby names, new living arrangements, family trips. We were exhilarated and we were terrified, but it never occurred to us to doubt that in a scant nine months we would be snuggling our newborn.
A month later, on Christmas Eve, we went in for an early ultrasound, but no fuzzy, humanoid form appeared on the screen. Instead, there was only a dense, dark blotch – a black hole where there should have been an embryo. I was miscarrying, the doctor said. I began to bleed a few days later and, by the new year, my brief encounter with pregnancy was over.
When I got pregnant again, the very idea of a baby seemed tenuous – I was never quite sure it was really happening. Whenever I mentioned “the baby” I immediately knocked on wood; I am not superstitious, but I felt the need to announce to myself and anyone listening that I wasn’t getting too cocky, not taking anything for granted. As my jeans started to grow too tight, I simply wore them unbuttoned with long shirts to cover the waistline – I didn’t want to buy maternity pants only to have them become suddenly useless, a reminder that I had again expected too much. We put off announcing our news until close to the 20th week, just in case.
A friend whose wife has gone through several miscarriages still announces each new pregnancy in the early stages. Joy, he reasons, is joy, no matter what comes next. My head admires his stance, but my gut can’t follow suit.
My principal fear, however, was not of another miscarriage. Yes, a second lost pregnancy would have been gut-wrenching, but I was far more afraid of the undeniable apathy that was smothering all my more tender emotions. I was just not emotionally prepared to commit to the joy of “expecting”. I did that once, and got burned.
I began to wonder if somehow my heart had been too scarred, rendered too callous. I envisioned a future in which my baby arrived and I felt only distant admiration for her bright eyes and miniature fingers. When people learned I was pregnant and remarked, “You must be so excited,” I probably struck them as strange and cold, pausing a beat too long before answering, “Of course,” in a flat tone.
The pregnancy progressed despite my ambivalent emotions, and my detachment first showed signs of softening about halfway through, when my sister insisted I assemble a baby registry. Alongside the utilitarian bottle warmers and diaper bags, I picked an impossibly tiny bathrobe decorated with an appliquéd bear.
Suddenly, I couldn’t help but picture my future daughter, wrapped in the terrycloth after a bath, warm and heavy in my arms. Then the first baby gifts started to arrive, and it was hard to look at the stroller in the corner without anticipating its coming passenger.
My daughter arrived eight weeks ago, and it is safe to say there is nothing distant about my affection for her. The awe I feel at her beauty is lodged deep in my chest; the worry when she lets out a tiny cough is a thin knife in my stomach. I couldn’t say if I feel the right way, if I experienced that textbook wave of transformative love. But when I wrap her up in that little robe after a bath and she drifts off to sleep warm and smiling, the tenderness in my chest is almost physical. It’s the feeling of scars fading.