Her name is April, and she’s beautiful. Curly wisps of brown hair spring from her head, she has a button nose that scrunches when she grins and her legs are long and lean, just like her daddy’s. She runs, not walks, everywhere, loves to show off her baby doll collection and when she giggles her white wings bounce up and down, sending clouds of tiny feathers floating to the ground. She is the proud president of the Welcome Committee, and greets all of the newcomers to the Baby Ward with a warm embrace and a loving smile, taking their hand and leading them to the playroom, saying, “You’re really going to love it here…” At least that’s how she is in my dreams, my sweet April, and I can’t wait to hold her in my arms.
Steve met me in the city one hot Saturday morning; I had been helping a friend pick out her wedding dress, not realizing that down the street from the dress shop thousands of New Yorkers, gay and straight, were gathering to celebrate the Pride Parade and the legalization of gay marriage in the state of New York. “Come on, it’ll be fun!” I pleaded to him, “I’ll meet you on the corner of 23rd and 6th.” We found ourselves on one of the busiest corners of the parade, and climbed the scaffolding so that we could engage in some serious people watching. It was an afternoon full of excitement, love, pure joy and inclusion, and I watched with particular interest the straight couples pushing their young ones through the crowd in strollers. What a wonderful way to raise a child, I thought to myself, showing them by example what it means to love your neighbor. I said so to Steve, who agreed but gave me the look I had been getting from him a lot that summer: Babe, don’t get too excited.
On the ride home that afternoon on the subway, I sat next to a young mom carrying her baby in a Baby Bjorn-like front carrier while Steve held on to the bar in front of me. The baby, who couldn’t have been more than 6 months old, was excitedly hitting me on the shoulder and grabbing for my glasses. I smiled back at the little guy, making those funny faces that we all make to small children. We got off at Union Square to transfer to the Q, and Steve and I got separated as we fought through the funnel that led to the stairs. It wasn’t until I felt his hand grab mine and lead me to the side wall that I gave him a good look, noticing that he didn’t seem well. He was breathing really heavy, beads of sweat forming at his brow and he looked me deep in the eyes.
“Oh my God, are you ok?” I asked frantically, thinking he was suffering from a heat stroke.
Ready for what?? “You’re scaring me, what’s going on?”
“Jackie, I’m ready to have a baby.”
A month later, I sat in our small bathroom watching the clock tick through seconds like they were decades and counting the alternating black and white tiles on the floor. I could only breathe in short spurts, and I felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest. I could hear Steve pacing the hallway on the other side of the door. I should have left for work fifteen minutes ago, but work could wait. This was the day I had marked in my calendar with one word: test. I closed my eyes tight, saying one of those prayers that don’t actually contain words just fleeting thoughts, and had an overwhelming sensation wash over me: there’s no going back now. If you keep your eyes closed, you can be lost in this moment for as long as you want. The minute you open them, your life will change forever. I don’t have a good track record of listening to myself, so I opened them…
I clamored to the doorknob, threw open the door and met Steve face-to-face in the narrow hallway. “I’m pregnant!”
The next few days were a blur of blood tests and Google searches - “Early pregnancy stomach ache”, “Pregnant coffee restriction” and “How to raise hormone levels”, among many others. My blood tests had indicated that my hormone levels were really low, too low. My doctor suggested we be “cautiously optimistic,” a phrase that still sends chills down my spine. I was convinced this was just a small hurdle, something that we would look back on in 9 months with a chuckle and say how silly we were to be so worried. Steve and I spent our evenings whispering gleefully about names, nursery colors and stroller preferences. We had started a family, and our hearts were already filling to the brim with love.
A few days later I received the news from a nurse via phone call as I huddled in the elevator bank of my office building’s 12th floor - a follow-up blood test showed that now all of my hormone levels were really low, too low. It wasn’t looking good, and she said I should expect to miscarry within the next few days. “The embryo.” My baby. Our baby. I still remember the grey tiles speckled with black dust and the sound of the service elevator opening and closing behind me. The next day was August 5th, 2011, what I consider to be the worst day of my life.
The traumatic experience that millions of us have gone through is simplified to two questions on medical intake forms: How many times have you been pregnant? Twice. How many children do you have? One.
Steve has a beautiful tattoo on his shoulder: Omnia Causa Fiunt. Everything happens for a reason. Once you accept that into your life, you allow yourself the freedom to heal. I’ve spent exactly two years pouring over in my mind the “reasons” that “everything” happened the way they did. Those reasons are endless, and I have to trust in God’s plan. That doesn’t make it any less painful.
A few times a week, as I’m changing Josie’s diaper she will stare up to the far corner of her room with a clear and alert look in her eyes. Sometimes she waves, sometimes she giggles and sometimes she reaches her fingertips out as if to touch something. A Guardian Angel, perhaps.
Every once in a while as I’m quietly sitting by myself in the living room, one of Josie’s toys that plays a soft, hypnotic version of Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” will spontaneously turn itself on. I always smile and close my eyes. That’s my favorite song too, April.