“I’d given up on you,” my mother-in-law exclaimed, placing the first of many uninvited hands on my still-flat stomach. “You should make a sibling right after so this one won’t be all alone in the world.”
“We’ll see,” I murmured while thinking: Please stop groping my belly.
And thus began the intrusions, the presumptions, and downright ignorance that plagued the time when the miracle of life grew inside me.
“What religion will you raise it?” “Aren’t are you getting rid of your cats?” “When are you quitting your job?”
Once considered a capable, independent 30-year-old, overnight I morphed into a delicate creature, incapable of decision-making or physical labor of any kind. What did I know? This was my first baby. And I needed to be taught how to do it the Right Way.
I instantly crossed some invisible line by instituting a clothing request of, “No pink if it’s a girl, no camo for a boy,” that was met with laughter.
“That won’t fly in this family,” they said.
“You can buy what you want,” I maintained. “But I can’t guarantee I’ll put it on the baby.”
“Oooooo, with mood swings like that maybe she is carrying a girl.”
Right then I should have added a few clothing rules for myself. Over subsequent months I was frequently gifted – or rather given hand-me-downs from decades earlier – dresses that could’ve been mistaken for wallpaper. The shapeless bags of musty cloth dwarfed my petite frame to the tune of, “You’ll grow into it.”
Then came the punishments, as if it were sacrilege to withhold the gender from all who inquired. Guessing games ensued based on where my body fattened and whether my personality changed. I’d often waddled away from demands to lie down and allow my wedding ring to be suspended on a string and swung over my burgeoning belly.
I was quizzed regularly on my cravings, then poo-pooed with, “You’re not eating that, are you?” I always failed to mention enough healthy selections. Of course “healthy” depended on one’s opinion, which ranged from an apple a day being sufficient, to nothing but an unprocessed, organic, sugar-free, caffeine-free, Earth-mother-in-a-hippie-commune diet.
Even complete strangers expressed their thoughts without reserve.
“You should have a girl,” an elderly Yenta and her potent perfume intruded on one of the last pre-baby date nights. “There are too many men in this world. They’re no good.”
“I’ll do my best,” I replied, already well into the seventh month and unsure of how I’d magically affect the gender. Perhaps a good talk with my husband’s sperm would do the trick for the inevitable “next time.”
The Yenta was right about one thing. Females voiced their advice unendingly, but the men expected me to swallow their commands with a “yessir” and a smile on my face.
“Why didn’t you invite your third cousins to the baby shower?” my grandfather asked as I arrived to my baby shower.
“A lot of people weren’t invited, Pop. We wanted to keep it small.”
“You should call them up and apologize.”
I imagined the conversation. Hello obscure relative! I’m your father’s cousin’s granddaughter. No the other cousin…no the other granddaughter. Yeah, I’m that one. The last time you saw me I wore diapers. Anyway, I’ve got a bun in the oven and I’m calling to apologize for not inviting you to the baby shower.
There were no doors held open. No free pass to the front of the bathroom line. Sympathy came in the form of, “Wait until you have your second kid,” under the assumption I’d want another one. Or could have another one at my so-called advanced maternal age. The wall of expectations grew while my fuse had been lit and burned dangerously close to its explosive end; my true pregnancy glow.
When word got out that I needed a Cesarean section, or what I referred to as the “get out of labor free” pass, you’d think that somebody had died. Sobs brimmed forth for the life-changing experience I was going to miss. Nobody believed that I had absolutely zero interest in giving birth to a breeched baby. “The doctors just want your money!” they’d shout before warning me about the difficulties I’d surely face breastfeeding and bonding with my baby.
The day came, during an unusually warm November. I’d already been scolded for pulling myself up into my husband’s truck without a step stool, then taking a nice long walk through the hospital parking lot instead of requesting valet and a wheelchair like an invalid. Scrubbed up and strapped into monitors, it was go time…
…or at least it would have been go time if my entire family didn’t sneak in to the otherwise clean prep room to say one last farewell. This is what it must feel like going to one’s own funeral, I thought. The best apology I could offer the nurse who had the unpleasant task of ushering my audience out was, “They need to be trained.”
After the surgery, I looked down at the most beautiful grumpy face in my arms. She wore a frown on her mouth and a worry line on her brow. She looked pissed off, like she spent those last nine months hearing the very same nonsense, though she accepted the warm consolation of my body with soft chirps of appreciation.
All too soon our quiet, peaceful company was interrupted with a parade of pink balloons and pink bags decorated with pink ribbons filled with pink dresses, pink booties, and other pink nonsense.
“All girls love to wear pink,” my mother-in-law insisted, holding a neon magenta outfit up against the baby.
She let out her first screeching cry.
I smiled. “That’s my girl.”