MONTH 1: CHECKING THE OBVIOUS, Shoppers’ Drug Mart, Aisle 4
It’s not like you don’t know. Something has blown your breasts to the PSI of a birthday balloon, your body forgot to bleed. Still, you run to the drugstore to back your suspicion with a pink-taxed, twenty-dollar white stick.
Below the Durex, Lifestyles, and Trojans with ribs and knobs for extra pleasure, the pink and white rectangular boxes are lined up. You crouch to make yourself smaller more than to read the fine print and examine the choices. Some are $16, some $25. Evidence of pregnancy shows up as two pink lines, one blue circle, a martini glass with a red slash through it. Take your pick. Some boxes have two tests, and you wonder who would ever take this chance twice.
Someone is coming down the aisle. You grab the cheapest box, conceal at your side and walk past a woman in black tights and a cocktail dress and blazer. She is the before, you are the after. You don’t glance around to see if she stops in front of the condoms. At the till, a boy on the brink of manhood rings through the order and puts your box in a near-translucent white bag that showcases your purchase to the public—the same plastic used back when you were 15, buying tampons without your mom.
At home, you boil spaghetti and simmer a tomato basil sauce accompaniment while you wait for the two pink lines to show up. They do.
Like the extra Turkish Lira, Jordanian Dinar, and Egyptian Pound you glued into a travel journal years ago, you consider keeping the little white stick as a keepsake of a moment that seems as ludicrous as the conscious decision to travel those countries as a single woman. This was a conscious decision, right? Everyone said it would take a year. It took two weeks and you are not ready. You conclude the stick would be an unsanitary addition to your scrapbook. There are other ways to remember this moment, such as a dinner plate of overcooked spaghetti slathered in burned tomato sauce, scraped from the bottom of a pot.
MONTH 2: MOVIE NIGHT, Your couch
“I need grocery money,” says Lucille to Richard in The Rocket. On screen, the story has taken a turn. Finally, the legendary Maurice Richard has started to hear his name on the lips of every fan. Now he is playing, coaching, being interviewed, travelling North America by train. Hardly ever home. Financially supporting the three children sitting at the breakfast table with bowls of porridge at their chins and a wife who stands at the stove.
The camera pans, following Lucille to the front door to see Richard off like all good wives do on TV before their husbands leave them behind. She accepts the bills he hands her, tucking them into the front pocket of her apron.
Your throat tightens. You feel thrust from your own life, from adventure, from your dreams. It will be you and the dependents hanging out, agreeing to servitude, feeding mouths while, watching a partner come and go, loving unconditionally. And they call this instinct?
Month 3: THE ANNOUNCEMENT, The dining room
As the oldest child of three, you are the first to make your parents grandparents. When the it is deemed “safe” to tell, you invite the family for dinner. You make a game of it, creating trivia cue cards with a picture of a baby in a womb, but not your womb, to break the news. You can tell your father suspects something before you say anything because his forehead has become shiny and his eyes are bright. You celebrate with lemon tart dessert.
Once your parents know, it is “safe” to tell your friends. You contemplate the timing of the news at every coffee and lunch date over the next three months. You don’t want the public attention this news can sometimes attract, so you wait until their mouths are full of sandwich or a sip of hot coffee so their reaction can be somewhat stifled by having a full mouth. You wonder if you are supposed to be more excited about becoming a mother.
Month 4: SELFLESSNESS TRAINING, Your bedroom
You hear the sticky seal around the front door leave the frame, and the gentle fall of the dead bolt into place.
The girl held tight to the candle stick. She wore a dressing gown and slippers, and looked like she’d recently…
He kicks off his shoes. Thump. Thump.
The girl held tight to the candle stick. She wore a dressing gown and slippers, and looked like she’d…
Steps come around the corner into the kitchen.
The girl held tight to the candle stick. You move your eyes across the page, pretending to read.
He enters the bedroom.
You say “Hey” nonchalantly and don’t look up from the open pages of the book.
“How’s the book?” he asks, getting undressed.
“How was drinks?”
You are not envious. You are not hurt.
You look up and into his eyes for the first time, assessing his state. They droop at the corners when they are tired, but by his composure, you judge the pint numbers to have stayed reasonable.
“Where did you guys end up?”
“Just that little neighbourhood pub by Charlie’s place. Scruffy Fellows.”
You were there recently. You were one of the carefree ones at the pool table with a beer in hand, wearing a garbage bag because you chose to walk there in the rain.
You are not envious. You are not hurt.
“Nice. Lots of people there?”
“There was a pretty full house.”
He moves from his night stand to the drawers at the end of the bed to put his clothes away. The skulls on his black hoodie and rips in his jeans belong to a life you are no longer living. (Your ripped jeans don’t fit anymore, and may not fit ever again.) This new responsibility separates you and him like never before. Your eyes sting. You tell yourself not to do that and lift your book to the space in front of your face.
“Did you guys meet up with anybody else?”
“Me and Charlie, and then Doug and Drew and their girlfriends showed up later.”
“How was your night?” he inquires, folding his jeans into a drawer.
You had fun. You had fun.
“Fine. Just read.”
“Hey, check this out,” he says walking to your side of the bed.
He puts the black fabric of his hoodie to his nose, and then moves it towards yours.
“Smell,” he instructs.
You bow your head to the material.
“What do you smell?”
“Bar,” you say.
“No smoke,” he corrects. “I never touched a cigarette all night.”
“So?” you hear yourself say, willingly acerbic.
You remind him that was the deal. “I’m not going to give you a pat on the back for sticking with the deal,” you say. “I have a responsibility to the baby to look after myself. You have to look after yourself too.”
“Charlie said he needs more friends like me,” he continues, walking back to the drawers to put away the ‘clean’ hoodie. “You know, ones who are a good influence.”
“He’s probably right,” you agree, softening, reaching for the bedside lamp.
He crawls into bed and lowers the blankets. It smells like someone has just opened a keg-room door.
You will not throw up. You will not throw up.
“Thanks for not smoking,” you say into the darkness.
You wait for him to thank you for staying home by yourself to incubate, but he is already snoring.
Month 5: PREPARING TO LOVE A BABY, Your head
You thank your sister in-law for dropping off a book with the title: What to Expect When You’re Expecting. It is a pregnancy guide with a woman on the front cover who looks forlorn and uncomfortable, sitting in a wooden rocking chair in what looks like a mumu made from a set of curtains that once hung in an old folks’ home.
You want nothing to do with her and put the book on a bottom shelf in your library.
Month 6: HOW ARE YOU FEELING? A Christmas party
It’s Christmas. You are at a party where the clinking of cocktails seems louder than usual and for some reason is making you angry; what an oversight to have had unprotected sex in September instead of January, you think. And you thought feeling the outcast was grade school territory only and would never haunt you again. Though you have never been a lush of a drinker, you could have never foreseen how difficult it would be to talk to people who have been drinking and act interested. Your capacity for fun has been stifled and you want your husband to feel what you are feeling (for once) and so you ask him in the car on the drive over if he will join you in drinking water tonight.
You keep your cool when every person you know notices your belly and wants to touch it. When they ask “How are you feeling?” you resist the urge to body slam them and hold your tongue before you remind them you are not feeble or dying from an acute illness. You long for people to see you how they once did, and ask you “How’s it going?” or “What’s up?” You find your husband in the crowd so you feel less lonely, but you see he has not honoured your ask. You leave him behind without saying a word and drive yourself home.
Month 7: PREPPING FOR “UNEMPLOYMENT”, Your office desk
You go to work with the top button of your pants open and fly down. This is the only way they fit.
A friend has lent you something called a “bellyband”; a giant piece of elastic fabric that stretches over your belly and over the top of your pants, keeping them from falling to your ankles. As someone who still wears “pieces” from your high school wardrobe, it seems ludicrous to buy maternity clothes that you will wear for only nine months and then have no use for.
Someone has told you to check the number of hours you have worked to make sure you qualify for E.I. You find out maternity leave is just a fancy word for money people get when they have lost their jobs. You think about striking a deal with your boss so you can bring the baby to work. You don’t feel like the type of woman who can’t wait to stay home.
You think of a friend who admitted to getting pregnant with a second soon after the first so she could stay home another year. “Mothers in the States only get three months of leave, if they are lucky,” she tells you. You decide you feel lucky.
You read the “Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978” in What to Expect When You’re Expecting one night when you can’t sleep. The Act amends a piece of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. At first, you are irritated that they had to render an amendment. Shouldn’t a pregnant women’s rights have always been obvious? You are cynical, but read on. In the amendment, “pregnancy” seems interchangeable with “medical disability”. …women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes… “Affected” by pregnancy or childbirth? You decide you never need to know what the Act didn’t say before 1978.
On the same day you find out you have more than enough hours to qualify for maternity leave, you have a familiar pre-pregnancy sensation in the front of your legs and abdomen. You need to throw up but cannot. You call the doctor, but she is unavailable. Your husband picks you up in a hurry in the back alley behind your office building downtown and drives you to the nearest hospital where they tell you they have no maternity department. You throw up in the parking lot before you crawl into the back seat and decide where to go. You wonder if your baby is done with you and your doubts about motherhood.
At work the next day, one of your colleagues tells you she had similar symptoms and that there is a flu going around. It has never been more clear to you than this moment that this baby is not a guarantee.
MONTH 8: THE LAST HOLIDAY, Hotel room in San Pedro, Belize
Preparing for the beach, you tie your bikini top around your rib cage, swing the pieces of material around to the front to lift them over your breasts. You adjust one cup, stretching the material around the outside of one breast, and then move to stretch it over the other. An obscene amount of cleavage springs forward. A double-size sheet on a king-size bed.
The bikini top that was modestly sexy last year is pornographic this year. Suddenly, the zits that have sprung from nowhere on your face, the swelling of a varicose vein on the back of your leg, and the size of your ankles are enough to call it a day.
MONTH 9: SUBURBIA UNLEASHED, a local coffee shop
You decide your view of motherhood needs a reboot before the baby comes and you go to the local coffee shop to look for some courage, or at the very least, the faces of mothers who are enjoying this journey. While you stand in a lineup to order your non-dairy, half-sweet, extra hot latte, you watch three women sitting in close range, packed tight around a table with strollers, purses and stuffed diaper bags scattered about them. They look happy. They also look like they might have had to choose feeding the baby over a shower today.
One woman bounces her baby, another breast feeds under an apron around her neck, and another talks in what appears to be a nonstop fashion, like she has recorded days of pent up conversation and finally got a chance to press play. You look away so to not get caught staring.
Out of nowhere, a snapshot of your mother’s life—a conveyor belt of grocery shopping trips, driving long distances into the city to dance class, stepping over piles of laundry, a meal made in a time window early in the day goes cold on the stove, a central vac hose snaking its way down the main hallway—brings tears to your eyes. You look back at the three women gathered. Is this chat and syrup laden coffee the highlight of the day?
You give your order to the barista.
“His stool changes colour, I find,” you hear one of the mothers say. “I never know what I’m going to get!” And they all laugh, open mouthed.
“I know!” another exclaims excitedly. “So, are you tired?”
“Not too bad,” replies another. He’s up every hour and feeds for an hour, it seems. I should probably be sleeping right now, while he sleeps,” she continues. “But I just can’t seem to nap during the day.”
No shit. Who naps during the day? you think.
“It will get better eventually,” reassures one mother adjusting her chunky child on her lap and stuffing a nipple into his mouth. “Once my guy was about 20 pounds, he was sleeping for longer stretches.”
You hand over a five-dollar bill to the barista and ask, “Can I get that to go?”
THE BEGINNING, private hospital room with seven people you don’t know at your feet
Two pink stripes appeared on a white stick the same day the geese hurried out of your town in a scattered “V” nine months ago. Now, they are back.
After much pushing and teeth gritting, and then the signing of a contract on a clipboard that says you agree to a giant scar in your abdomen area, your daughter (surprise! everyone was certain she was a he because you were ‘carrying high’, and the string with your husband’s wedding ring swung side to side in a very scientific test) appears from behind a white sheet that hides the bottom half of your body at 9:30 at night—about the same time of day you decided to show up over 31 years ago.
Month 10: BOARDROOMS AND BOTTLES, downtown Edmonton
You write down committee meeting notes with your right hand and rock the bucket seat with your left. When your daughter is done with the bottle you pull it out of her mouth and turn your attention away from your colleagues towards her, smiling and talking to her, this blue-eyed blond who looks nothing like you, but is somehow yours. It is still sinking in, she is yours to take care of. When Mother’s Day rolls around, you forget you are one of the ones being thanked. You examine the bite mark on her chin left there by an untrained playmate. When you replay the scene, the muscles in your face drop again like they did when the scene unfolded in front of you and a sharp emotion rises in your chest. You breathe through the thought that she will one day be independent of you, but you never will be of her.