Early on in the pregnancy the thought occurred to me that it would be so very good-husbandly of me to set aside for nine months my cocktail-hour whisky, my dinner red wine, my happy-hour bar beers, in solidarity with Kelly.
So one night I poured myself an especially big glass of wine (in case it was to be my last) and asked her. She looked at me in surprise, then suspicion, then dismissed the thought.
“No need for both of us to suffer,” she said.
So I don’t, thank god.
Luckily for both of us, her abstention hasn’t fazed her. She misses wine, true, but quitting booze hasn’t been half as difficult as curtailing her caffeine consumption. Still, for awhile there, I was struck by guilt, and not so much for pouring myself scotch as she pours herself milk, but for actually buying the booze. Due to tight finances and a miserly streak, I’m fairly strident about egalitarian consumerism, and I was racking up wine and the occasional bottle of tequila on our paltry bank account and Kelly was getting nothing out of it.
So I drew up a list: Booze vs. Baby.
It has occurred to me that you may think that all this silliness about cats and cravings and Caveman Literature reviews and hairy, fungus-ridden girls is just that: silly; that I’m making light of a serious issue and time in my life because I’m afraid, or still in denial, or seeking refuge in an adolescent attitude of flippant irreverence.
And, certainly, as a teenager and young man, the irreverence, the flippancy, the coolness, the casual response, the caustic glance, the witty reply, the insouciant confidence, the raucous laugh, the easy shrug, the raise of the eyebrows, the Teflon skin, the fuck off, the fuck it, the “whatever,” the “really?”, the “that’s dumb,” came to me easily (as it does to most adolescents, undoubtedly and unfortunately).
As completely inappropriate as that insufferable attitude is in an adult, especially an adult about to bear a child; as much as I have outgrown it; as much as I realize that taking things lightly is often a way of evasion, avoidance, and escape; I still happily and wholeheartedly subscribe to Oscar Wilde’s philosophy that “we should treat all the trivial things of life very seriously, and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality.”
My good friend Marc and Kelly and I were on a hike, talking about children. Marc didn’t know Kelly is pregnant. He was going off:
“When I think of children I think of screaming infants, of financial burden, of the rest of your life being dedicated solely to them. How is that appealing? I honestly don’t get it. I had to ask Sabrina why people have children, why she wants to have children. I wanted her to explain to me what I’m missing.”
“What’s she say?”
“That she hates me.”
“But then I think of my cat,” he goes on. “And I love my cat. When Sabrina told me she wanted a cat, I was like, alright, sure, a cat, woo-hoo. But now? Now, I love my cat. I love him. Never knew I’d love something like that. Sometimes I think that he’s gotten outside and I go into fucking palpitations.”
Kelly and I looked at each other and smiled.
I’ll admit that before Kelly got pregnant I didn’t much question the dominant cultural portrayal of pregnant women as captive to raging hormones, irrational impulses, and unpredictable food cravings. So I was surprised and, for both our sakes, quite pleased that Kelly has almost entirely avoided the former two elements. The ravenous bit, well, there might be some truth in that.
But let me put this in context here.
When we lived in a small village in rural Paraguay for our Peace Corps assignment, we’d go out and visit local families. We had a policy of only doing so well after lunch, because when we visited at lunch we were considered guests of honor and were served the best they could offer, and often the best they could offer was mondongo.
Black, then white, a rorschach universe, all topsy-turvy inkblot turbulence, hard to tell what the hell is happening, the perspective zooming in and out, then suddenly an arm! a perfect little arm, glowing and ghostly translucent, the humerus bone bright white, all five fingers perfectly distinguishable, then black again, the amorphous frame flickering like phosphorescence, warping and throbbing (the frame the uterus, the speckled black mass the placenta, the blacker mass the amniotic fluid), the nurse-technician saying “see, that’s where the umbilical cord enters the navel” and Kelly and I nodding, hmmmm, yes, if you say so, and then out of the black a face! just a face, and not a cute baby face but a hideous evil-doll face, with an unnaturally round lidless eye glaring straight at us, then the angle shifts (mercifully) to a “birds-eye” view, the skull a beaming white circle with a neat slash through the middle of the encompassed space (the separation between the brain’s hemispheres), then a shift again, the face again, but flatter, less terrible, and Kelly says “the face looks like a turtle ” and I say “or like an skeleton” and the nurse “yeah, there’s not much flesh yet” and then the whole body in profile, with a hand flailing about, on and on, this strange, voyeuristic investigation lasting twenty, thirty minutes, before, finally, she finds an angle through the baby’s legs and points out a pair of glowing marks: labia.
There’s a commonly held assumption that women will know more about babies because they’re women. In fact, this isn’t even a commonly held assumption, it’s regarded as damn near gospel truth–even if a woman has never birthed a child or held a child, breeding is structured into her genetic code, and she instinctually, innately knows more than a man.
(Kelly’s reaction to this: “Of course we know more. That’s what we do. Aren’t you just supposed to eat your children?”)
And of course, this is true, for the most part.
I say “for the most part” because I’m a man, and worse yet a Brodie man, which means I tend to hold intellectual knowledge in higher regard than emotional or instinctual knowledge, and thus I’m not entirely convinced that the existence of ovaries grants one all the requisite ways of knowing even as base a subject as the furthering of one’s species. Which is a long way of saying: even if Kelly has a leg up on me because she’s blessed with double-X chromosomes, neither of us knew shit about pregnancy or birthing or babying, and perhaps by going to the library and getting some books on the subject, I’d be able to match her primal wisdom with my bookish intellectual knowledge.
The women cry. No, that’s not entirely true: occasionally they’ll squeal with joy. But that’s not entirely fair either: one of my best girlfriends said—and this may have been the most genuine happiest response we’ve gotten—“I’m so, so happy for you. You’ll have such a beautiful baby.” She said it quietly and convincingly. And then she cried.
The men, well, they take news of our pregnancy differently.