My ex-husband calls me at three in the afternoon. My first thought is that something is wrong.
“I wanted you to hear it first – Kelly is pregnant.
My breath gets stuck in my throat and my lower jaw tightens, preventing any sort of intelligible and audible reaction.
“We just told the boys. It’s early, so we’re not telling anyone yet.
He and his wife, Kelly, are in Kona, Hawaii. On the same island where he proposed to me 20 years earlier. They are both there with our children – mine and his, our sons. They delayed the trip until December 26th so I could spend Christmas with the boys before they took them away for 10 days.
I had the feeling that they had practiced in vitro fertilization. The boys had told me that Kelly had gone to the doctor two or three times several Saturday afternoons for urgent and mysterious appointments.
What brings newly married couples to the doctor on a Saturday morning for more than one outpatient procedure in the span of two months? Dental implants? Colonoscopy?
It makes sense that she wants her own children. She’s 12 years younger than me, after all. It makes sense that he wants children with her. I saw the way he looks at her – this is the way he looks at me.
I hear the buzz of my air conditioner turning on while it waits for me to say something. But all I can think of is how Kelly’s pregnancy is going to impact my already fragile and often awkward relationship with the two of them. I just want to hang up and pretend we’ve lost the connection, but I can feel her apprehension growing as I fall silent. The calm on the line between us is ironically strong.
I want to, but I can’t for the life of me remember what the standard answer here is. My mind races, trying to find some basic manners.
“Congratulations,” I said at last. I’m afraid that doesn’t sound sincere.
The point is, when I thought they were doing IVF, I hoped it wouldn’t be successful. I’ve never told anyone this before, but it’s the truth. I didn’t want them to have a baby because that would mean they had their own family – separate from me. Since our divorce five years ago, I sometimes have the impression that my children are loaned to them, enough to complete their little pictures of greeting cards.
But with a baby, they will have their own legitimate family. A family from which I could be totally excluded. A family my own children might prefer.
Existentially, this idea creates a whirlwind of panic in my stomach. If I’m no longer his wife and I’m not the only mother of his children, so who am I?
With a baby, they will have their own legitimate family. A family from which I could be totally excluded. A family my own children might prefer.
I feel my heart harden after I hang up. The wounds of our divorce are still tender when it comes to her.
Kelly is someone I have known for over 20 years. She was invited to our wedding 18 years ago. In her wedding video message to us, she states, through bursts of laughter, that she has always put our relationship on a pedestal and that she “wants everything we have.”
For about a year after the divorce, I wanted to carry this video with me and show it to everyone and say, “Look! This is what I’m dealing with. “
But I don’t want to slander her anymore; it’s starting to sound like a cheap ploy for sympathy. Most of the time, I would really like to forget that they are married. But this news makes forgetting impossible.
The next morning, I’m overwhelmed with the urge to call my sons and see what they think. Maybe they hate the idea of another sibling, maybe they’re also afraid of what will happen to our family if their dad and Kelly have a child of their own. I call my oldest son’s cell phone at 10:30 am, convincing myself that they are probably still on California time.
When he answers, I clear my throat, forcing myself to ask him how he feels about having a baby sister or brother. But he blurted out: “Papa and Kelly left this morning; they are not back yet.
I’m fine like a balloon in my chest and threatening to burst out of my ears.
How irresponsible. How dare they let a 10 year old be the head of an 8 year old?
“The left? What do you mean, left? Where did they go?”
I imagine my ex and Kelly hiking on a volcano or having breakfast on the deck of a private boat, drinking mimosas and watching the sunrise.
“I think they went to the hospital.”
I take a fresh breath. Now there is a throbbing knot in my stomach.
“Why, what happened?”
“I don’t know, something about the baby.”
I hang up and dial my ex-husband’s number without thinking about it. A number that I memorized for better or for worse; he’s still my emergency contact.
He answers on the first ring.
The familiar sound of fear in his voice makes blood rush to my head, blushing my cheeks.
“Hey, I just talked to the boys. What happened?”
I try to keep my voice even.
“It’s Laura,” he said to someone on the other end of the phone.
I imagine him pacing, covering the phone lightly and turning to her as he speaks. I imagine him lying next to him in a thin, faded fabric hospital gown on the paper-covered examination room bed.
“She has cramps. It started last night.
I hear the words come out of my mouth, but I’m completely disconnected from my body like I’m in a brown-out.
“A little,” he said. “But it’s painful and it hasn’t slowed down.”
I switched to “Dr. Cathcart ‘fashion now (my dad, the HIV doctor). Channeling it, I know what questions to ask, I know the power of a smooth, steady tone.
“Not really, the doctor said maybe it was a bladder infection or something?”
Her voice sounds so desperate.
I realize that as soon as my son told me something was wrong that morning, something moved inside me, something that I still don’t have an explanation for.
A vivid memory then invaded my consciousness, bringing with it a sudden wave of calm. I can feel my whole body relax. My eyes soften and fill with hot, rare tears.
I switch to the voice I use when reading a bedtime story to our kids.
“Do you remember when I was pregnant the first time?” I had the same thing, remember? It was a bladder infection. Very common at this early stage. I’m sure that’s what it is. Will not harm the baby. Totally treatable. “
“Hey, that’s right!” He seems all muffled now. I imagine he does this thing again, lightly covering the phone with his hand and turning his head towards her.
“Laura said we had that too,” he told her. “She says it’s probably a bladder infection. She says it’s going to be okay, totally normal.
“Really?” Her voice is small, very distant. “How long did this last?”
“Not long,” I said loudly enough for her to hear him in case he put me on speakerphone.
“Tell him not to worry.
I am shocked to find that tears flowed from my eyes and are now flowing freely down my cheeks.
“Tell him everything will be fine.”
“She says everything will be fine, Kelly. She says not to worry.
And just like that, I find out how I really feel for him and Kelly to have this baby. I thought I wanted their attempt at becoming family to be a major and heartbreaking failure. I thought I wanted to feel the feeling of sufficient superiority that came from knowing that I was the only person who would ever bear her child.
I close my eyes and scan my body, looking for that fiery retribution that has taken up residence near my heart in recent years. I quickly sort memory after the painful recollection of my feelings of “comparison and hopelessness” after the divorce, trying to bring up feelings of contempt and a desire to see them both unhappy. But I realize that as soon as my son told me something was wrong that morning, something moved inside me, something that I still don’t have an explanation for.
I want their baby to be okay. And this awareness leads to another, which surprises me. It doesn’t matter what happens to me if Kelly and my ex-husband have a family of their own. Without even realizing it, this unborn child dispelled my egotistical fear of being moved and replaced it with something much easier to metabolize – forgiveness.
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