Decades of goofy movies, soft-focus television, and throwaway books have set certain, frankly simplistic notions of motherhood into stone – a specific, and not altogether realistic, version of the journey from “couple” to “family.” But that journey varies wildly from person to person, as do the emotions conjured up by it, and candid details are often left entirely.
So Meaghan O’Connell’s And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready (new in paperback from Little, Brown) is a particularly valuable memoir, in which O’Connell, a young woman with unsteady work in a new marriage, finds herself pregnant before she’s really ready – or maybe she is? In this excerpt, O’Connell spends a night out with friends worried about a late period, and prepares herself for the worst/best:
FROM “BABY FEVER” I woke up the next morning feeling hungover from the one beer I’d drunk, and when I went to the bathroom I found blood in my underwear. So Lindsay was right, I thought. It was just stress after all. I put in a tampon and went for a run in the park. Later that night I felt for the tampon string, yanked it out, went to wrap it up in toilet paper, and saw that it was blank, not a trace of blood. Confused, I put in another one and went to sleep. In the morning, still nothing. This had never happened before. My period had never started to say something and then taken it back. Where was the rest of it? I waited and waited. This was new. This was unprecedented. This was some coy shit. * By Wednesday my period still hadn’t come back, and I was getting no real work done. I was fed up with myself. I couldn’t live in the uncertainty any longer. I stood up from my desk and went out the door. I headed down the block in twilight just as people with day jobs who got out at a decent hour were pouring out of the subway stations. Dustin would be home at seven from his book-marketing job and would be up late working after we had dinner. Our life did not look like I thought it would when we had a baby, someday, that was for sure. We didn’t own a home, or a car. I didn’t even have health insurance. We lived in a railroad apartment; there were doorways but no doors, just one long, narrow rectangle. The bathroom had no sink, the ceiling was caving in, and the linoleum on the kitchen floor peeled up in more than one place. There was no extra room where a baby could live; there were no rooms at all, really. I was not a writer-writer. I was editing a personal-finance blog part-time for a thousand dollars a month and living off dumb-luck money I’d gotten when an internet company I worked for when I was twenty-four was acquired by Yahoo. I crossed the street to the drugstore. It felt foolish to say, Let’s have a baby! Imagine the optimism. I had wanted a baby the way you want things you can’t have, dreams you know you won’t pursue, or not yet. Like, One day, when we open a restaurant, or One day, when we live in an Airstream trailer, or One day, when we make artisanal caramels on a goat farm. Dustin and I had a lot of these. I was ashamed to want ababy, to be that sort of woman. And, worse, to want to bring a child into our barely established lives. I went through the automatic door of the drugstore, down the fluorescent-lit aisles. I grabbed the most expensive test I could find—$23.99 and digital, advertised as error-proof. I do not intellectually subscribe to the idea that expense is a reliable indicator of quality, but I suppose that when it comes down to it, my gut is ruled by the illusions of capitalism. PREGNANT NOT PREGNANT It wasn’t just the phrasing that made me want it to say yes. Pregnant meant new and different; pregnant meant we were fucked but maybe in a redeeming way. Pregnant meant throwing up our hands, giving ourselves over to fate, doing something crazy. It seemed romantic, reckless, wild, like packing up all our stuff and going on a long trip with no itinerary. For twenty years. No, for forever. * When Dustin got home from work I gestured toward the pink box on our bed (Know five days sooner!) then walked away, embarrassed, feeling a sort of pregnancy-test impostor syndrome. Like, Who am I to be taking this? It looked like a set piece in someone else’s life. “Ooh, hoo-hoo,” he said, kissing me hello. I tried not to smile. I tried to conjure some dread. “I’ll take it in the morning,” I announced. “Supposedly that’s when it’s most accurate “Really?” “Yeah. You know. When your pee is the most . . . potent.” Dustin gave me a funny look and shrugged. I wanted to prolong the ambiguity for reasons I couldn’t quite articulate, like when you want dessert but don’t order it at a restaurant—self-denial as reflex. I was all worked up, dying to know but also wanting to spend one more night as not-a-mother. Excerpted from “And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready” by Meaghan O’Connell. Available now from Little, Brown and Company. All rights reserved.