Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
A Space for Hope

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I look down between my thighs. One red drop hits the surface of the water.

Photo by Arthur Osipyan. See more of Arthur's work at Instagram.com/@arty_nyc.

It spreads into a perfect circle, shimmering as it moves. Another drop falls, forming an imperfect ring that floats inside the first. I put my palm flat against my stomach and press, hard and firm.

The house beyond the bathroom door is quiet. My son is at preschool, my husband at work, and I feel suddenly—and intensely—alone.

Five days earlier I peed in a little plastic cup, dipped the tip of a white stick in for exactly five seconds — one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi — and watched as a light pink shadow emerged next to the bright pink control line in the window. My period was only one day late. Still, I thought of the women in online forums responding to posted pictures of pregnancy tests with barely visible lines: "A line is a line! Congratulations!"

In the bathroom I flipped my test over and wrote "13 dpo" alongside the date, then stuck it in the bathroom drawer.

Before I went to bed that night, I opened the drawer and held the test up to the light. A line is a line, I thought. A line is a line.

~

I took my first pregnancy test at sixteen. In the hall bathroom at my boyfriend's house, I unwrapped the test with shaking hands, reading and re-reading the instructions as he stood outside of the door, silent and hovering. I had four younger siblings and was aware, through the jokes that my mom and dad exchanged, that pregnancies in my family were rarely planned.

Hiding the evidence from my boyfriend's mother, I wrapped the test in a wad of toilet paper before I threw it in the trash, then folded the plastic packaging up with the box and shoved it in my purse. I'd figure out how to dispose of it later. Taking a deep breath, I opened the bathroom door and gave a curt headshake, mouthing "No." We were in the clear.

The anxiety of pregnancy followed me into adulthood and lingered into my late twenties, even when my husband and I were intentional in our attempts to get pregnant, even when I was sitting on our porch, eight months pregnant, my hands resting on my swollen belly as I skimmed posts on BabyCenter about diapers and colic and swaddling and what to pack in a hospital bag. I was excited about our first baby, but I was also scared. I would be responsible for another human being, and that responsibility would exist, in some form, for the rest of my life. The enormity of it was at times overwhelming and intimidating.

When I was trying to get pregnant with our second child and every month produced another negative test, the idea of an unplanned pregnancy began to seem absurd. My disappointment was complicated by my first successful pregnancy. My love for my son was deep and unwavering. When I was with him—when I saw his smile and heard his laugh, when I held him tight or sat next to him with a story he asked me to read—it was more than enough. It was everything I would ever need.

But there was a piece of me—however small—that hoped, desperately, for another child. Each month a little more of me got chipped away, that small piece growing larger, bit by fragmented bit. The negative test that brought relief at sixteen was crushing at thirty-four.

~

When I was 25 years old, several years before my first pregnancy, I went to see my gynecologist for an annual exam. The doctor palpated my lower abdomen, her cold hands slowing as she pressed — harder in some spots, more gentle in others — her eyes focusing on the wall next to the exam table where I reclined with my feet resting in stirrups, the paper crinkling under my bare backside.

 

In the follow-up appointment after the surgery, she was direct with me and my husband. "Plan to get pregnant sooner rather than later. You need to be done with children by the time you're 35."

 

"I'd like to schedule an ultrasound," she'd said, as she pulled her hand back and I propped myself up on my elbows. "What is the ultrasound for?" I asked, attempting to ignore my immediate suspicions. "There is a mass," she answered, "and we need to see what it is. Try not to worry." The following week, I went in for the scan, the warm gel coating my belly as the sonographer moved the wand slowly over the skin above my pelvis, stopping every few minutes to draw green lines and record numbers next to them.

The doctor was matter of fact in her delivery of the news. "Fibroids," she said. "We need to take them out." I didn't have to ask her what a fibroid was. My maternal grandmother, my mother, and my aunt had them, too — firm tumors that grow in and around the uterus, usually benign.

The following year, my husband and I moved to a different state, and I found a new gynecologist. Faced with the possibility of a debt we couldn't pay off, I had forgone the surgery recommended the year before.

After the doctor performed an exam and reviewed the results of my latest ultrasound, she said that surgery was not optional, and she scheduled an abdominal myomectomy--a procedure similar to a Cesarean section that would allow her to remove the fibroids. She was concerned about them getting larger than they already were, which could complicate fertility later on. Until that point, I hadn't questioned whether or not I would be able to get pregnant when the time came, when I decided I was ready.

In the follow-up appointment after the surgery, she was direct with me and my husband. "Plan to get pregnant sooner rather than later. You need to be done with children by the time you're 35."

~

We were sharing a bottle of wine the night my husband and I decided to try for our first baby. We sat on the couch, facing each other and taking sips of merlot between periods of silent consideration. My husband was hesitant. I was more sure. We talked it through, the logistics and the emotions and the way our lives would change with the addition of a child.

It had been two years since the myomectomy, and I had just turned 28. Coming from a big family, I wanted more than one child — definitely two, preferably three. We'll see how we feel, I said to my husband.

That night we made a toast, and we agreed to stop using birth control. We didn't know what to expect or how long it might take, but two months later, on the day of my missed period, two pink lines popped up on a test within one minute. Nine months after that, our son, Beck, was born.

For the first two years of our son's life, my husband and I shook our heads when friends and relatives asked about us having another baby, both of us remembering the colic and the reflux and the crying and the sleep deprivation of the infant stage. We talked about a second child in vague future terms, something we both wanted, just not quite yet. But when my son turned two, I started to feel more ready, the pressure of my body's ticking clock more present with each passing year, the idea of a baby and a sibling for my son a kind of sentimental notion turned to yearning. My husband wanted to wait, and we agreed we wouldn't move forward with a pregnancy unless we were both sure.

My body had its own plans, forging ahead with no regard for what either of us wanted. The month after my son turned three, I had an MRI for severe back pain that also revealed "innumerable fibroids." They were back.

Before scheduling another surgical procedure to remove the fibroids, my husband and I discussed our reservations. He was concerned about pushing my body too far and compromising my health. I shared his fears. "Am I being selfish?" I asked him. "Am I being fair to you, to Beck? There's always risk, always the chance that something could go wrong. What if my back pain gets worse when--if I get pregnant? What if I have this surgery and I can't get pregnant anyway and this is all for nothing? What if my body is trying to tell me to stop?"

What if, what if, what if…

But I couldn't bring myself to choose the permanent solution and get a hysterectomy. Even though I had already had a successful pregnancy, even though I had my son, even though I wanted to be rid of the weight and indecision, I couldn't imagine the possibility of never carrying another child.

During the procedure, the doctor took out what he could, preserving the lining of my uterus in hopes that I would be able to conceive. In the follow-up appointment, he handed me the notes from the surgery and reminded me that I should start trying to conceive as soon as possible. My chances of conception were around thirty percent.

~

I open the drawer in the vanity next to the toilet and take out a pad. I tear the wrapper, peel the liner away from the adhesive, and smooth the pad into my underwear.

A numbness creeps through my limbs as I pick up the phone and call my husband. "I got my period," I tell him when he answers.

"I'm sorry," he says and is silent for a moment. I know he is searching for the words to comfort me. But he can't find them.

"I'll be home soon," he says softly. I nod, forgetting he can't see me.

Turning, I look down at the water and the floating red rings. Then I reach down and flush.

~

My husband sits across from me on the couch. I have a pillow pressed against my stomach, a shield and a comfort.

 

"I don't ever want Beck to think he's not enough or you to think that you're not enough, that our family isn't enough," I say into his shoulder. "Because I'm so thankful for you."

 

I talk to him about the wedding we attended a few weeks ago, where I listened to the other moms talk about the challenges of more than one child. "I feel guilty," I tell him. "but it made me sad. I was sitting there, listening to them talk about having more than one kid. I know it's hard, I do. Being a mom is hard. But a part of me… and I know it's selfish. I just… I just think about…" My voice is wavering.

"How you would love to have more." He finishes the sentence for me. It's not a question. It's an understanding.

I nod, looking down to hide my crinkled forehead and my tears. He stands and pulls me from the couch, lifts me up and carries me into our bedroom. I have my arms and legs wrapped around him, and I untangle my limbs as he sets me down on the bed. He smooths my hair back, pulls me close, and holds me until the tears subside.

"I don't ever want Beck to think he's not enough or you to think that you're not enough, that our family isn't enough," I say into his shoulder. "Because I'm so thankful for you."

"I know," he says, "I know."

"But I want another baby, I do. It's this need. I don't know where it comes from. I just don't know." He tightens his arms around me in acknowledgement.

We stay there for a while longer, two bodies pressed together in solid, familiar comfort.

~

One night after bedtime stories, I lie next to my son and watch his eyes grow cloudy with the haze of sleep. He looks younger this way — not four years old, not a boy, but a baby.

I watch his breathing slow, his eyes close, and I place my hand on my stomach, recalling the flutters and movements when he was inside me — knees and elbows and feet.

The day he was born, I lay flat on my back in an operating room with my husband standing next to me. The doctors cut me open, lifting my son up and out into the world. When they placed him on my chest, I raised my hand to touch his head, gently tracing his cheek and the top of his ear with my thumb.

In the early days of motherhood, all leaking milk and swollen breasts and sleepless nights, I would feel at peace when we were lying chest to chest, his head tucked under my chin.

As he started to become more aware, to grow and sit and stand on his own, he didn't want to be held. He squirmed away from my arms, sliding down from my lap, seeking me out when he was tired or sad or needed a brief moment of reassurance before crawling away or running to get a toy or explore the kitchen cabinet full of Tupperware that he pulled out and scattered across the floor. I would sometimes long for him to be small again, to hold him to my chest, his breathing measured and calm. But mostly I enjoyed watching him explore the world, his curiosity and joy contagious.

As I look at him now, I think about the question he hasn't asked in a while:

"Mama, do I have a brudder or a sister?"

"Not yet," I always tell him. "Maybe one day."

Tonight, I cradle the place where he used to be. Tonight, it is a space of possibility, of what might yet be. The family I hoped for and pictured might never exist. Every day, I try to come to terms with that. Some days, it feels okay. Other days are steeped in sadness.

I know the odds, but at least for tonight, I still have space for hope.

~

My fever rises to 103 on New Year's Eve, and I spend the next week sleeping or walking to and from the kitchen to make tea and soup. I'm lying in bed on a Tuesday night when I sit up and count the days on my fingers, ticking off the symptoms in my head. I think It's just the flu but decide it can't hurt to take a test.

In the bathroom, I fight the urge to look before the three minutes are up and lose. In the window of the test are two clear pink lines.

When I hold it out to my husband, he nods and says with a small smile, "That's a line." We meet each other's gaze, my hesitance mirrored by his own, not yet trusting this is true.

That night we lie in bed together, my husband's solid presence behind me. I put my palm flat against my stomach and press, gentle and firm.

And I tell myself it's true.

And I tell myself it's real.

And I allow myself to imagine what might be.


Lyndsay Knowles is an emerging nonfiction writer whose work has been published in You and Me Magazine. She teaches English at a community college and lives in Western North Carolina with her husband, son, and daughter.


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Photo by Arthur Osipyan. See more of Arthur's work at Instagram.com/@arty_nyc.


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