We Are Mothers

Episode 2 essay


The Unexpected
by Juliet Koskoff

I was on a mission. I walked through Duane Reade, located the family planning
aisle, picked up a box that claimed ninety-nine percent accuracy, and placed it on the
check-out counter.
“Good luck!” chirped the salesgirl as she handed me my package.
“Thanks?” I murmured. Good luck it should be positive? Or good luck it should
be negative? I hurried home, a block and a half to my apartment, up to the eleventh
floor. My hands shook as I peed on the pink plastic wand. I didn’t have to wait the two
minutes to check for the obvious plus sign. I knew.
It was positive.
I had always imagined I’d be a mother someday. When I was younger, I
assumed I would get married by thirty. I would have my first child at thirty-two, and a
second two years later. But my twenties passed, and my early thirties, and I was still
single. While my peers were enrolling their children in gymnastics, I started to consider
skipping marriage and having a child on my own. I thought if I am still single at
thirty-five …, and then thirty-six, and thirty-seven. I signed up for the Single Mothers
By Choice newsletter and came close to attending a meeting. I perused online sperm
banks as if they were dating sites: “6’2', a musician and Jewish!” read one potential
donor’s profile. Inspired by Angelina Jolie, I researched adoption policies in different
countries and airfare to Kenya. All the while I was dating men who were not father
material. There was the recently divorced NYU professor who already had a family, the
sommelier who had moved back in with his mother, and the forty-year-old ultimate
frisbee player. I quietly hoped that a condom would break and I would have a baby to
raise on my own. But that was before I met Larry.
He was not 6’2” or musical, but he was Jewish, and smart and kind, dependable
and quirky. On our first date he pulled out a magic trick, levitating a match above a
deck of cards. He asked me out again before the night was through. Our second date
was six hours long, talking and exploring the Botanical Gardens. With Larry, I felt a
sense of confidence and peace I never experienced with a man before. We met in April,
and after driving up the California coast that September, I knew I wouldn’t be single for
long. I still had the fantasy of a romantic proposal followed by wedding dress shopping
with my mom. We would have a beautiful ceremony by the water with plenty of
Champagne and an exotic honeymoon in Hawaii. Then we would have children.
We had only been dating for eight months when I had a dizzy spell at Macy’s. I
was holiday shopping and chalked it up to being overwhelmed with the crowd and my
usual PMS. Although my period was not late, I noticed an unusual discharge and when
I got home I Googled the symptoms. A week later my period still hadn’t come. I could
no longer be in denial. When the stick came up positive, all of my plans with Larry
I texted him to come over after work and waited four very long hours, not
knowing what to do with myself. “I have something to tell you,” I blurted as soon as I
opened the door.
“Something good?" he asked
"I don't know,” I answered.
Maybe I was looking pale, because he guessed, ”Are you pregnant?"
I burst out sobbing. He walked over to me, held me, and told me it would be
alright. Whatever happened, it would be alright.
That night I didn't sleep. I hoped that in the morning I would discover it wasn’t
true and there was no pregnancy. I hoped that the baby growing inside me would go
A few days later a doctor confirmed the test. She looked at my teary reaction
and gave me the name of a couples counselor and an abortion clinic.
I wanted time with Larry, time to travel, time for me to get my scuba license and
go diving with him, time to get to know each other. Although at thirty-nine there was
the the fear that I might have trouble getting pregnant again, I didn’t want a baby. We
could make it go away.
Larry met me at the Upper East Side therapist my OB had recommended. I had
been in counseling before, he had not. It was all new and uncomfortable to him. Ever
supportive, he told me he would endorse whatever decision I made, but I needed to
know what he wanted to do. This pregnancy was his surprise too. After much
prodding, he admitted he wanted me to keep the baby. He was ready, or would be. I
said I would be too.
The holidays were full of secrets, and I started to get excited. The baby would
be born at the end of August. After seven nephews, I wanted a girl. I hoped she would
be born a Leo. Virgos are known to be persnickety. We talked about having a small
wedding that summer. He would move in to my bigger one-bedroom apartment and
the baby would sleep in our room until we figured things out. We talked about names:
Veronica, Adelaide. I liked Delilah on behalf of my grandmother Dotty. I started feeling
nauseous and crampy and tired and bloated. I looked at maternity clothes, even
though I was told I was too early to need them. I obsessed over cribs and changing
tables and a bigger apartment with room for a nursery.
That January was cold and I had to wear layers as I walked to my first
ultrasound. Larry was at work so I would be hearing our daughter’s heartbeat by
myself. As I peeled off my long underwear, the perky technician chatted about wanting
children of her own one day. “My husband wants them soon,” she said “But I want to
wait until I’m at least thirty.” I sat on the table with the wand between my legs.
“How far along did you say you were?”
“I think about eight weeks.”
“Hum,” and she moved the wand around a bit before pausing. Her smile faded.
She looked tenderly at me. There was no heartbeat. The baby was not going to survive.
She sent in the doctor, another young woman, who started to talk.
“One in five pregnancies end in miscarriage,” the doctor explained. “It’s the
body's way of preventing an unstable fetus from growing."
. She talked at me about DNCs or waiting and letting it come by itself. I couldn’t
process any of it.
I called Larry at work. I never called Larry.
”There won’t be a baby,” I sobbed.
Larry came over that night and cried with me. A few days later I started to
bleed. I bled and bled for six weeks. I had wanted her to go away, and she did. I knew
it was not my fault, that sips of wine and discussions of abortion had not caused my
miscarriage. But I felt responsible and I mourned her. I mourned all of the plans and
dreams I had about her.
Larry and I got married that summer, on the water with plenty of Champagne.
We went scuba diving in Maui for our honeymoon, and then started trying to get
pregnant again. After the accidental pregnancy I assumed it would be easy this time. I
was wrong. After six months of trying on our own, we sought out a fertility professional.
A middle-aged doctor in a yarmulke gave me a complete examination before giving his
expert opinion.
“I don’t see anything wrong with you,” he said “except you’re forty, and have
forty-year-old eggs.” He told me that women over forty have only a five percent chance
of conceiving each month.
We tried to stay positive, researched treatment options, and decided to start
with IUI, or intrauterine insemination. I waited to get my period and then had to make
morning trips uptown to the fertility center for an ultrasound of my uterus to check the
progress of my eggs, or follicles. When they detected that I was ovulating, I had to go
back to the center and lay on an exam room table while, under bright lights, the doctor
inseminated me with my husband’s sperm, like impregnating a cow. We waited two
weeks and took a pregnancy test. It was negative. The next month I spent a thousand
dollars on a hormone that I had to inject nightly into my fleshy stomach to create more
follicles. I was inseminated again, and waited another two weeks to discover that I was
again not pregnant.
We needed to take a break from baby making and planned a trip to Paris. When
we returned we would start the next step, IVF. I tried one more round of IUI prior to the
trip. My expectations were low. Two weeks later I peed on another pink plastic wand. I
didn’t feel pregnant but I didn’t want want to be waiting for my period in Paris. Larry
was at the computer when I waved the obvious plus sign in front of his eyes. “I thought
you said it wasn’t going to happen this month!” he said, bemused.
Between anxiety, morning sickness, and jet lag, it was hard to enjoy France.
When we returned I changed the IVF consultation to an ultrasound. Larry was there to
listen to the healthy heartbeat of our creation, then the size of a lima bean. Thirty-one
anxious weeks later, I gave birth to a beautiful baby, a boy, and brought him home to
our one-bedroom apartment.
It might not have been what I expected it to be, or even what I thought I wanted,
but at forty-one things seemed to have finally worked out--in their own way.