On October 4th I had a karaoke “bachelorette party.” We ate sushi and drank mezcal like it was water and I bought a pack of cigarettes that I didn’t remember buying the next day. On the 6th I went with my friend Tom to see the Bangles in front-row seats at City Winery, where we drank prosecco and red wine and I ate a cheese and meat plate pretty much by myself.* The Bangles were even more amazing than I assumed they would be; they are a living advertisement for doing what you love and probably also for living the good life in California. They played Hero Takes a Fall, their cover of September Gurls, and, as an encore, Walk Like An Egyptian, which was one of those “I didn’t even realize this was on my bucket list!” moments, even though I was disappointed to learn that they don’t whistle. They go “doot doot doot doot.” I smoked the last of the cigarettes that I’d bought on Saturday on the walk home from the C train. The next morning my period was a full week late, so I took a pregnancy test and waited two minutes for the result. It showed up just as Keith was walking out the door to go to work. I thought of asking him to wait but then thought probably I should take a few more tests before involving him in my worries. The x had been faint, and the test had been in my drawer for forever.
When something’s too intense and mindfucking to approach head-on I usually find some pressing way to distract myself, and lucky for me that day I had a coffee date with a UK editor and a drinks date with a friend from the Internet, neither of whom I’d met before, plus assorted work and wedding-related errands all over the city. But as I went about my day I managed to buy and take two more pregnancy tests. The first was in a Starbucks bathroom and someone was banging on the door even before I’d finished peeing, so I put it in my purse before it registered a result, and when I took it out later to read it it said “ERROR” (I’d shelled out for the fancy digital kind). The second was in a tiny nail salon bathroom and, mindful of the previous ERROR, I kept it level on the back of the toilet sat with it, mindlessly noodling with my phone until it was ready to read. This one said “3-4 WEEKS PREGNANT.” I left the nail salon and walked out onto 25th Street, pregnant. In 15 minutes I was supposed to meet Keith at Macy’s to look at some wedding rings that were on sale and convince him that despite the sale we really did not want Macy’s wedding rings, so I walked up 7th Avenue, in the rush hour crush of that awful stretch, in the last of the day’s sunlight, thinking — as far as I can remember — zero thoughts but a long, slow, perpetual refrain of “Whaaaaat theeeee fuuuuuuuuuuck?”
It’s hard to explain how thrilled and horrified and also just numb and weird I felt that day. On the one hand, I have been thinking in abstract terms about having a baby for forever. I am weirdly well-versed in the literature of birth, inspired half by feminism and half by a taste for sensationalistic body horror. I also have long revered the work of Ayun Halliday, whose East Village Inky zine has always made having kids as an artist on a budget seem more ‘madcap adventure’ than ‘depression-stoking death trap.’ But in my late 20s, when my work was going especially badly/nonexistently and I was spending most of my days in a rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood surrounded by fancy, very carefree-seeming moms and babies, I thought about having a baby all the time in a really gross, jealous way. I developed a dismissive attitude, rooted in and coupled with envy, about a kind of idealized domesticity that in my dumb brain was totally disassociated from the hard terrifying realities of childbirth and parenthood. I thought of having children the way my Friendship character Amy does — as a prize you’re awarded when you’ve attained other totems of adulthood and stability. I thought that’s what babies were to other people, anyway. To the extent that I, at 28, thought that I wanted to have a baby, what I really wanted was to be one of those people: rich, stable, settled-down, stylish people who ate in the Oysters/Kale Salad/Skirt Steak/Deconstructed Classic Dessert restaurants in our neighborhood whenever they felt like it, with their perfect 6 month olds snoozing in a $900 stroller alongside their table.
In the intervening years, I stopped living in an imagined fantasy future and got busier inhabiting the life I was actually living, and I gradually became better at various aspects of living that real life. Also, my friends began to have babies, and I experienced their joy and worry firsthand. It was nothing like what I’d imagined. I realized that no one, not even the shallowest person imaginable, would go through what parents go through in order to follow the rules or produce a badge of bourgie success. I watched my friends fall in love with their kids. I loved their kids. I got better at letting myself love other people and accept their love (gross, sappy, but undoubtedly true — this, for me, was the “prize” at the end of the obstacle course that I encountered in my late 20s and early 30s.)
On the other hand, WHAT THE FUCK. Ok, sure, I wasn’t young, and I wasn’t (completely) broke, and I was about to get married to my favorite possible human- on paper, the circumstances seemed, while not 100% ideal, vastly more ideal than they’d ever been at any point during my previous 17 years of potential-pregnancy. But still, was I grown-up enough to be in charge of having a baby, who would go on to become a child, who would be my child FOREVER? I love being alone. (LOVE IT.) I want to write more books. I want to make Emily Books a bigger, more profitable, enduring business. And I still haven’t figured out how to write books and make enough money to live in the city that has non-negotiably become the only home I can imagine, as readers of literally anything I’ve ever written already know. Why would I throw into my own path the biggest possible obstacle to achieving any of those goals? Why would I just let my body make that decision for me, when it was clearly such a terrifying and bad one?
I spotted Keith across the street, standing outside Macy’s, and had that nice moment of recognizing someone you love among all of the random people in the crowd, and seeing them before they see you. We went inside the store and looked at the rings, which looked like wedding rings, but couldn’t get anyone to help us try them on or whatever so I convinced Keith that we should go to Catbird, where we later found perfect (comparably inexpensive) rings. On the sidewalk outside Macy’s, he asked me how my day’d been and I told him, I don’t remember how, that I was pregnant. I also don’t remember what he said, though I think he said “Really?” a few times because he genuinely thought that I was fucking with him. But once he realized that I wasn’t kidding I just remember his face, like, I had never in my life made anyone so happy before. We probably kissed. The sidewalk was still crowded. I was like “Ok, come on,” and we started walking towards the subway. He tried to get me to let him carry my purse, which was not heavy. We wound through the maze of tunnels and waited on the packed platform and got on the subway with everyone else, all the other people who were doing totally ordinary, totally extraordinary things that day and every moment of all of our lives.
*a very nice nurse midwife who has had this conversation a lot later had to reassure me that at that point the “baby” is as big as the period at the end of this sentence and can basically go one of two ways — implant in the cushy wall of your uterus or nah –and so alcohol etc. can’t damage it. Phew!