The idea originated in the narrow aisle between the racks of men’s long sleeve knits and children’s clothing. I’d been Pinteresting creative pregnancy announcement ideas for months and the ones toward which I always gravitated were the various incarnations of the shoe lineup. If you’re half as obsessive as I am about all things baby, you’ve seen the straight version: dad’s loafers, mom’s heels, and a gender-appropriate pair of pastel baby booties. I couldn’t exactly justify spending $22 on genuine baby Chucks for a fetus, but nonetheless I eagerly imagined staging a queer take on the aforementioned announcement with a lineup of Converse.
So you can imagine that I was nothing short of thrilled when I spotted the tiny denim soft-soled high tops among the rainbow of worn Crocs and dozen pairs of scuffed Dora sneakers on the thrift store shelf. Blue with a red stripe and bright white laces, I knew that these were the ones. I swiped them before the shoes caught the eye of another bargain-hunting mom (moms with actual children with actual feet requiring actual shoes). So what if The Embryo was little more than a minuscule webbed amphibian? Uteri-inhabiting embryos need shoes too! I justified. I just couldn’t resist. $2.99 spent and the deal was done: Just shy of seven gestational weeks old, The Embryo was the proud owner of its first pair of kicks.
That photo of three pairs of Converse all in a row went on to inspire my own version of the shoe lineup pregnancy announcement, which I put together one weekend still not entirely convinced that this embryo-fetus-baby thing was a real thing that was really happening. Come to find out, indeed, this is a real thing that is really happening, a fact that became wholly apparent upon slipping the announcements into envelopes and then, addressed to various family members, into the mailbox. Eek.
PartnerA told her parents about the The Embryo early on. She was eager to tell the world. I, ever-cautious, was not.
It goes without saying that I have a rather complicated history with my family. Many years of therapy later, I want to believe (and I usually do believe) that my parents did the best that they could with the hands that they’d been dealt. My father has some undiagnosed neurological/psychological-something going on that manifests itself in OCD-like tendencies and explosive, violent rages of which child-me was often on the receiving end. Usually verbal degradation and threats of physical attack, but sometimes open palms and clenched fists too. My mother, meanwhile, rebounded from her abusive marriage with my father by hooking up with another abusive guy who turned out to be ten times worse. Child protection services. Restraining orders. Supervised visitation. Mandated child support payments that never arrived. Family aside, I have my own issues too. Long story short, by high school I’d collected a list of professionally-imparted labels, the gist of which is that I live with an intense combination of anxiety and sensory processing disorders. (As an adult, there’s also been talk among my doctor, a psychiatrist and my current therapist about possible high-end ASD as well, although I’ve not chosen to be officially tested [yet?].) As a teenager, I was often told to “try harder”. “It’s easy,” I was regularly advised by well-meaning but ultimately deeply harmful individuals. Everything was easy. Not feeling scared all of the time? Just try harder! Feeling calm is easy! I truly believed that I was having so much difficulty in life because I wasn’t trying hard enough. After all, these things with which I struggled so immensely were easy. That’s what everyone kept telling me.
Oh yeah, and the icing on the cake? I was gay and my family was very much not okay with that. Because what I really needed as a teenager was one more thing to contend with, because things weren’t complicated enough as they were. /sarcasm
Fast forward to the present. I’m in therapy. I’m more self-aware and more supported than ever by generous, ever-forgiving friends. I have a job. I have a house. I have a relationship. Life is plodding along, as it does, and then… Winter 2013: The Embryo.
It isn’t that I don’t want to be a parent. It also isn’t that I do. This isn’t to say that I’m not excited for the future and I’m not thrilled with every ultrasound image, because I am. I am. I’m also deeply scared. Please hear me out. And please hear me out as non-judgmentally as you can.
My entire life since conception has been one big traumatic trigger. While PartnerA was itching to announce the presence of The Embryo to her immediate family two weeks in, I decided right away that I preferred that my family not be involved until absolutely necessary. (Grade school? High school? College?) I decided on 12 weeks gestation for the announcement and then I put it out of my mind and went about my business.
Except that it was never really out of my mind. It’s kind of incredible how much of one’s thoughts an Embryo-Turned-Fetus can consume. We announced the news to PartnerA’s people relatively early on. All the while, I dreaded having to involve my family. When one is going to be a parent to a child, one inevitably reflects on one’s own parents and childhood. You can imagine how frightening it is to reflect on what I’m now reflecting on. Some days I’m inexplicably enraged. Some days I’m defeated and tearful. Some days I have debilitating anxiety attacks. Some days I’m convinced that I’m a hopeless, worthless excuse for a human being and I’ll screw up and I’ll traumatize the child and it will hate me and it will run to its “real” mommy and PartnerA and the baby will abandon me and live happily ever after far, far away. And I’ll be alone. Because that’s what I deserve. I’ve spent months with my therapist desperately trying to convince myself that I as a parent am not my parents. But I’ve never been a parent, so I really don’t know, do I, who I am as a parent? What if I am my parents? That prospect TERRIFIES me.
My therapist reminds me week after week that one of the major reasons my childhood was so traumatic was because my childhood involved violence around me and toward me. In contrast, I have never been violent toward other people. Never. It would be practically unheard of to suddenly become so in my 30s. Many parents have issues of various sorts. Some parents have anxiety disorders. But living with a well-managed anxiety disorder does not an abusive parent make. I’m in therapy. I’m self-aware. I’m well-supported. I have stability. And I’m not in this alone. Intention and effort go a long way with children, don’t they? Why am I so convinced that I’ll be an incompetent parent? Why does my past continue to haunt me? Why do the voices of everyone who ever called me crazy still echo in my head?
I’m scared that I don’t know what to do because the only parents I’ve ever experienced were mine. What if I don’t know how to be loving? Nurturing? Selfless? And practically, I’ve never held a newborn. I’ve never changed a diaper. I’ve never dealt with a baby with a fever or a tantruming toddler in the grocery store or poop in the bathtub or vomit at 3:00 AM. I’ve never been able to function without adequate sleep. Are disposable or cloth diapers better? Co-sleep or crib? How long is breastfeeding a thing? When do you introduce solid foods? What if the kid chokes? Do babies sleep on their backs or bellies? What on earth is ‘tummy time’? How do you teach a kid to talk? To walk? To use the toilet? And later to read and write? To ride a bike? To be polite? To share? What if it’s a boy and, uh, penis? Is there a ‘So You Know Nothing About Penises 101’ wikiHow or something?! Seriously though, how do you learn these things?! What if I don’t know how?! What if I harm my child irreparably because I don’t know, well, anything about children?! Like what if there’s this one vital thing that everyone in the world knows — like you’re not supposed to feed babies bananas or something — and I do it because I don’t have a clue?! What then?!?!?!
So in the midst of all of this inward freaking out, I’ve had to exist outwardly in the real world too. And sure enough, time passed and too quickly 12 weeks gestation rolled around. And sure enough, my family members received their announcement cards.
My brother didn’t respond immediately. Eventually he sent me a brief e-mail the gist of which was ‘Congratulations!’ One sentence via e-mail? Thanks for the effort, bro.
My grandparents, who have always been my fiercest advocates and strongest supporters, were nothing short of thrilled at the news. They are amazing. So amazing that they have a photo of PartnerA and me together in a frame in their house. They e-mailed me right away to say that they were excited. Whereas PartnerA’s family’s questions have mostly been prying, offensive inquiries about the genetic makeup of the fetus, my grandparents’ “I’m full of questions!” was followed by, “What room will belong to the baby? What colors are you using to decorate the room? What do you need?” Have I mentioned that my grandparents are amazing?
I have to say, my mother’s enthusiasm, too, was a pleasant surprise. Coincidentally, she called when I was once again standing in the narrow aisle between the racks of men’s long sleeve knits and children’s clothing looking at a rainbow of worn Crocs and dozen pairs of scuffed Dora sneakers on the thrift store shelf. Weeks before, I’d chosen the mini high tops from this shelf. Now, my phone rang, and while her reaction was markedly more subdued than PartnerA’s mother’s minutes of screaming, my mother was clearly very excited. Again, in contrast to PartnerA’s parents, there were no questions about the who’s and how’s of it. How is PartnerA feeling? Is The Fetus healthy? What do we need by way of baby stuff? Are we going to find out if it’s a boy or a girl? What names are we thinking about? (I told her that in all seriousness, PartnerA’s mother has drafted a list of her preferred names for PartnerA and me to consider for our child. Boundaries much?) Even though Bingo is not my mother’s first grandchild, her enthusiasm thrilled me. Later I would tell my therapist that in that moment on the phone with my mother, I really felt like I had finally done something right in life. In my 30s, and here I am, still trying to please my mother. Why? Because despite the drama, all we’ve been through, I love her.
I suppose that that’s the most important thing, right? Love? All parents have issues. All parents screw up sometimes. But so long as your kid makes it to adulthood with the understanding that you were well-intentioned, so long as your kid becomes a reasonably well-adjusted and self-sufficient contributing member of society, so long as your grown kid loves you, you probably did okay. I’ll probably do okay, huh? And I’m not in this alone. PartnerA and I will do okay. Right?