Each year, for her annual “well-woman” visit, Jan still sees the very same doctor who delivered me. I am always surprised to learn that Doc Baker, of “Little House” fame, is not part of his practice. I’m also always alarmed when I realize that it’s obviously legal to practice medicine well into your 100s. But anyway, much like Jan, I am loyal to my long-time gynecologist, Dr. A. Because I generally see Dr. A roughly once a year, and because these visits inevitably conjure thoughts of child-bearing, I often find myself taking stock of my life while there.
I first met Dr. A in 1996, when I was young, innocent and still hopeful that I’d get married and become a mother before the chances of having a kid with Down’s Syndrome octupled. In the early years of my relationship with Dr. A, I didn’t really pay much attention to pregnant women surrounding me in his waiting room. Their lives were about to suck, as far as I was concerned, and I was just glad I wasn’t them.
I remember once Dr. A walked into the exam room and apologized for being late.
“I had to tell a patient she wasn’t pregnant,” he said.
“Wow. PHEW! Right? Dodged a bullet with that one!” I replied, feeling incredibly relieved on behalf of the unknown patient in question.
“You know,” he informed me, “Some people actually WANT to get pregnant.”
A few second passed as I attempted to process this news.
COME ON! You expect me to believe that?! Sheesh.
Actively wanting to be pregnant was such a foreign concept to me at the time that I literally could not fathom such a possibility.
It’s not that I didn’t or don’t like kids. I happen to be quite fond of them and some are even fond of me as well. It’s just that the whole thing scared the bejesus out of me. Pregnancy and childbirth and breastfeeding filled me with an almost unbearable sense of anxiety. I certainly did not see anything beautiful about pregnancy, between the weight gain and the excessive gas and the puking and the “cankles” and the pooping on the delivery room table. I knew about post-partum depression and the toll kids could take on a marriage. I envisioned my theoretical husband losing all interest in me and my 400-pound body, turning instead to his nubile, boob-implanted secretary whose name was always Tiffany or Heather. I knew there were no fewer than 10 bazillion things that could go wrong. And I really, really, really questioned my own parenting ability. What if my child turned out like me?! I shuddered to think. How could I risk doing that to someone?
People told me that I was going to be a great mother one day, and that my lack of enthusiasm was just the fear talking. I hoped this was true, because what kind of horrible, selfish, sociopathic person didn’t want kids? Jan told me repeatedly that if it was such a horrible ordeal, no one would do it. I wasn’t convinced that she herself would have done it if she’d known what a disappointment I’d turn out to be, so this was not particularly comforting.
But the tide began to turn on October 23, 2004. That was the day Sloth dragged me to Bumblefuck, Michigan, where a litter of champion-sired Wheaten terrier puppies had been born six weeks earlier. I agreed to go ONLY because Sloth promised me we’d just be surveying the options. I can’t believe I fell for that bullshit. Once a Wheaten puppy licks your face, you’re doomed.
Ollie could not have been a bigger pain in the ass. There were many, many times (usually after the destruction of a pair of costly shoes and/or the eighth indoor pee incident of the day) I really wasn’t sure I could keep him. But at the same time, I felt a kind of love for Ollie I had never before experienced. No matter what he did, ate, tore up or peed on, I could not stay mad at him. When other dogs stole his toys or refused to play with him, I wanted to cry. When other dogs sniffed his nether regions, I was ecstatic that he’d made friends. When he was sick, I drove him by myself to the vet, through the ghettos of South Philly, without batting an eyelash. I went out of my way to patronize supermarkets that carried Frosty Paws. I told endless stories about the cute things he’d done. I truly believed he was the cutest dog in the history of dogs. I created an email address for him (firstname.lastname@example.org); he corresponded with Jan, Dave, Howie and Jamie on a regular basis. I’m only a little embarrassed to admit that I threw him a first birthday party. He and his canine friends – Howie, LuLu and Dolly – all wore little hats. I’m in no way equating a dog to a human baby, but the point is, for the first time, I finally started to get it. There was a reason everyone did it. There was a flip-side.
A few months after we adopted Ollie, my friend DB called to tell me she was pregnant. I expected to feel the same way I had for many years when friends shared news like this: Oh well. Another one bites the dust. I was shocked to feel something completely unfamiliar to me instead: happiness for her, and a faint hint of jealousy.
Friday morning at Dr. A’s office, I saw an attractive couple come out of the exam room holding a sonogram print-out. They admired the image for a few minutes and then attempted to find a time slot during which they could both be available for some high-tech, supersonic follow-up test. They pulled out their Blackberries and took turns posing different dates, unable to agree on anything until long after the baby’s due date.
At first I found this mockable. Then I picked up some of the helpful pamphlets for expectant mothers and read about such fascinating things as chorionic villus sampling, second trimester terminations, the potentially lethal H.E.L.L.P Syndrome, cord blood, eclampsia, gestational diabetes, and a host of other issues not all that relevant to someone who was not weeks away from giving birth.
What a relief, I thought. I am SO glad I’m not dealing with all this stuff.
But suddenly I found myself getting teary.
What the hell? Eek. I guess the smell of my aging, rotting eggs is irritating my eyes.
Of course, that wasn’t exactly the allergen. It was this realization: I still worry a lot about all the scary things. But I worry more that I’ll never have a real reason to worry about them.