The last time I heard your heart beat was also the first time I heard it: a strange, fluttery hum that echoed in my skull. I was lying on crinkly paper, alone in a dimly lit room with two doctors (men aren’t allowed into the ultrasound room in China) and the screen was tilted away from me.
I’ve never seen you, but I imagine you tow-headed and chubby cheeked — Dutch inheritance courtesy of your dad.
You would be four this year.
In my head, you are a boy. I don’t know why. A mother’s intuition? An absurd wish for something I was always callously ambivalent about?
I think I’ve always wanted kids, but I’m not certain. I think about want in a very “big picture” sense toward Life, rooted in the belief that that’s what you’re supposed to do when you “grow up.”
Meet someone, fall (hopefully) in love, get married, have kids, and a 2-car garage. You know, the white picket fence, Stepford dream.
I think I want it, and some small part of me does. There’s comfort and solidarity in sharing a dream with someone. As human beings, we crave companionship and love; that’s why this dream lives on. But Reality and Fantasy aren’t correlated. And while a small part of me thinks about children and family and a 9–5 stability, the larger part of me, the actual me, doesn’t.
The realistic and dominant part of me isn’t family-oriented, isn’t interested in the picket fence or things that tie us to any one place or person. I am pragmatic and cold, calculating and temperamental. I am aware enough about my short-comings to know that I would not make a good mother because I am, quite simply and honestly, not interested in being one.
So, imagine my surprise when you came along. My little bean.
I want to say you’ve been real to me since the moment I saw those two lines on that white stick. That while I was scared, I was also incredibly excited. I want to say that my world shifted until all that mattered was you. That I imagined you to be a precocious little thing, sucking on your thumb constantly the way I did, or so I’ve been told, till I was five.
I’d like to say that I thought you would have gotten your father’s gentle kindness and my wild rebellion. That you would have inherited both our senses of humour and sarcasm (poor thing), and that you’d be a cookie monster, just like your father.
But the truth is, when those two lines appeared, I was shocked into disbelief.
I took the test eight more times, and it was that last time that I finally cried.
That’s how your dad found me. Hunched in our bathroom, bawling. I remember forcing myself to cry, to feel something, anything… because all I was, was numb. Being pregnant at 21, felt, to me, an awful lot like being crushed under a building in an earthquake. My world came crashing down around me.
Abortion is a tricky thing to talk about. It comes with a sentence of pre-judgment. Black and white boxes bent out of shape to fit shades of grey. Pro-life or pro-choice. Yes or no. Simplistic redactions to a complicated situation, full of opinions about a body that somehow, no longer belongs to you.
There are so many facets to this truth and to this story.
1. It’s taken me five years to face you. Or, at least, the memory of you.
2. I wanted you.
If I’m being honest, a part of me really did. I don’t regret a lot of things in life. I’m too practical for that. Things that can’t be changed, that have no solutions are things that I easily put out of my head.
But there’s a part of me that wishes to turn back time and go back to that moment. I would’ve liked to have paused for a little bit longer, thought through to what I wanted instead of letting your dad, or my mom, talk me out of you.
3. I didn’t want you.
I wanted to live my life. I was just starting my career, I’d just turned 21, and honestly, your father and I had been having problems in our relationship, arguing over the fact that I wanted to party and he wanted to stay home, all the time. He was older, more mature, and I guess, ready to be in love. I was a rebellious kid intent on playing house but incapable of handling the boredom that came with it.
I didn’t understand then the way your father loved me. He knew we couldn’t keep you because we weren’t ready, and for a long time after, a part of me hated him for that. For being right. Hated him because it’s easier to blame someone else than to accept guilt for your part in the problem.
You weren’t the catalyst, in the end; you became the excuse I needed to get out.
The difference between adult love and teenage infatuation, though, is that he kept trying. Unfortunately, it’s hard to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you.
I was selfish and immature and careless with love, life and, mostly, myself.
For years, I pushed the memory of you down. Sealed you tight inside a box marked, “do not touch,” because that’s what I do. I shut down, I compartmentalize, and I run.
I run and I hide until I’m ready to face whatever monster I’m running from. The difference a few years, and therapy, can make on your view of things.
I’m tired of punishing myself for letting you go. Of being guilty for not feeling guiltier. For the sense of relief I felt. For being sad. For the incomprehensibly mixed emotions I’ve carried. The tears that I’ve cried and the numbness that enveloped me, and the life I’ve managed to live because you didn’t.
The truth is, I am thankful and sorry all at once.
You would be four this year, and I want you to know that you are real to me. You have always been real to me — two lines that changed my life, irrevocably. An infinite pool of sadness I will never be able to stop feeling sorry about. The thing is, I don’t think I have to. You are not some thing or some one that I have to get over.
You exist in the periphery of my life, teaching me, reminding me, keeping me strong. You made me a mother, even if it’s not in the literal sense. Motherhood changes people, and you changed me.
Every so often, I think about you. I daydream about who you are, who you’ll grow up to be and I imagine you running bare-foot through the sand, cannon-balling into a lake, unafraid, up in heaven.
I mourn you, but another facet to this truth, is that I am not sad I let you go. I would’ve resented you had I kept you. I would rather feel guilty for being a bad person by letting you go, then by being a bad mother and screwing up your life and your perspective of the world by keeping you.
I don’t know if I believe in reincarnation, but I hope that the angels are taking care of you.
And I hope that one day, God willing, you’ll come back to me, and I’ll give you everything you deserve, everything that I know now about how to be a good person, because of you.