I've been afraid to write about this for a long time.
First of all, I work freelance. Essentially, this means I'm always looking for a new job. I know that someone might read what I'm about to write and not want to hire me, especially as what I'm about to write does not put me in the best light.
But I also know -- or learned, after some Googling -- that this is one of those things that people really don't talk about. And I like talking about the things that people don't talk about. Because whenever I admit that my life is not shiny and wrinkle-free, I feel better, and I suspect you might too.
So, here we go:
Two years ago, The Swedes came to visit.
The Swedes are my Canadian friend -- lets call her Ella -- and her Swedish husband -- lets call him Sven. No, Ivar. Ingvar? Yes, I am looking through the Ikea catalogue. Anyway, Ella and Ingvar live in Stockholm, and during the 2010 Christmas holidays, they, and their six-month old son, Nils, came to stay with my husband Tony and I. We were pretty nervous, as we'd never had a baby in our house before. Also, one of our favourite parts of the Christmas holidays is sleeping in, and as far as we'd heard, this is not an activity at which babies excel.
But Nils was sleep trained. This meant he went to bed from 7:30 p.m. until 7:30 a.m., while the rest of us stayed up and talked and ate cake. More importantly, he was the coolest baby I'd ever met. By the time we woke up, his parents would be in the kitchen, preparing bagels, and Nils would be chilling on the kitchen floor like a tiny Buddha, while our dog Ruble stood guard. And before you say it, yes, I know not all babies are like that. But I never thought any of them could be like that.
That might be when it began.
I used to shudder at the idea of parenthood. But at some point over the last two years, I couldn't tell you when, Tony and I went from being mystified at why anyone would trade in their sleep, their freedom and their sanity for a small person running around their house, screaming and breaking things... to "trying." We started "trying." God, I hate that term. There is nothing less romantic or erotic than getting busy with the end goal of producing something that wears poopy diapers. But the more our friends had kids, the more we saw how much joy and wonder came with the deal, and love -- lots and lots and lots of love. And we wanted it for ourselves.
We watched in awe as a friend was patient and even encouraging with his screaming, wailing five-year old, pretty much the opposite of how our parents were with either of us. We turned into swooning teenagers when, for whatever reason, as soon as most of our friends' children could speak, they asked for Tony. And we still talk about meeting Tony's cousin's daughter, Alexa, when she was a few days old. Her father handed her over, and she stared at us with such wide-open purity that we felt like she'd landed on our souls.
We drank the baby Kool-aid. We smoked the parental crack.
I also spent most of my life believing that if you're trying to get a bun in the oven, you just ditch the birth control and nine months later, a baby shows up. It starts in high school, where they get you believing you can get pregnant by holding hands. I think you get where I'm going with this. Also, "trying" is really, well, trying. Anyone who thinks it's "the fun part" has never had to turn it into work -- relentless, scheduled, no-matter-how-tired-you-are, get-up-at-5:30a.m.-before-you-go-to-work, work, which is then charted on graph according to basal body temperature.
So. Still trying. Not achieving. And meanwhile, the entire world has gotten pregnant. My childhood friends. Our upstairs neighbour. Every single woman at the Jean Talon Market. Yes, I'm in my mid 30s, so you might tell me that this is the sort of thing I should have expected. But I didn't expect it. And I never imagined, in my wildest nightmares, that I would then become the type of person who, upon receiving an email from a friend I've known since we were 12, announcing that she's expecting, would not call her bursting with congratulations, but rather would shut my laptop and crumple into a heap of jealousy and self-pity. It's infuriating. Why can't I just be happy that a dear friend has been given the gift of life? We haven't been trying for that long -- some people go at it for five years, or longer. Some people never get a kid.
But none of that helps. Someone gets pregnant, and I turn into a human fire hydrant, as if there are only a finite amount of children in this world, and someone may have just horned in on my lot.
* * *
Ella the Canadian Swede had always been open with me about how difficult it was to get pregnant the first time, and how horrible she felt when someone showed her an ultrasound or, worse, got their kid to ask if she was knocked up. She and Ingvar were coming to visit in September, along with Nils and Nils' one-year old baby brother. I couldn't wait to see them -- to have their wise, calm energy around for a few days, to be comforted by Ella's words, and to meet the new Swede. Then, in August, Ella wrote me an email.
"I need to tell you something," she said, "and I know this is going to be hard."
Yup. A third little Swede is on its way.
Ella is one of my favourite people on earth, and still I crumpled. My oldest friend, Michelle, who went through three years of "trying" and seven unsuccessful rounds of IUI, recently described the feeling perfectly: a huge, heavy sadness, of seeing someone else get this huge thing that you want. It almost takes your breath away. And then, you feel like an asshole.
I was terrified at how I'd feel seeing Ella's swollen belly. I was sure I'd have to run into another room every five minutes to get a hold of myself. I knew I wouldn't be able to put on a convincing happy face, and that she'd see right through me, and then our friendship would be over and I'd feel even more rotten but it SERVED HER RIGHT FOR GOING AND GETTING PREGNANT, AGAIN.
And now, I didn't even have her to talk about it with.
The day of their visit came. The taxi pulled up in front of our house, and I opened the door, my stomach in my throat. Ella greeted me on the doorstep and handed me a small, warm blob.
"Could you hold this?" she asked, and rushed back to of a pile of luggage the size of a small house.
The blob examined my face carefully. He looked down at Ruble. Then he smiled, revealing four teeth.
Like the Grinch, my heart grew two sizes. The darkness was gone. I was won over.
In the end, their visit was far too short. I loved getting home from work and having Nils, now two years old, yell "Nata!" when I walked in the door. I loved that "The Blob" took over as the new king of the kitchen floor, greeting us with his little James Brown shrieks. And I loved having our friends around, staying up late, talking about life, and eating cake. Most of the time I forgot that Ella was pregnant, and when I remembered, I was truly, genuinely happy for her. Sure, the sadness was still there, but not in a bowling-ball-in-the-stomach kind of way. I don't know why, or how any of this works. But that's what happened.
Ella told me about a woman she'd met who'd had three miscarriages. She told me about another woman who was 38 years old, had polycystic ovarian syndrome ("We're talking baseball-sized cysts!") and who'd had unprotected sex once and was due in two weeks. In other words, she reminded me of how very much all of this baby stuff comes down to luck. For a week after they left, I stopped obsessing. I stopped panicking. I felt lighter than I had in a long time.
Then, I got an email from an old friend. "Good News!" the subject line read.
I wish I could tell you that I took a deep breath, picked up the phone and gave her a cheerful, heartfelt, congratulatory phone call.
But then what would I have to write about?