Published on October 15th, 2018 | by Lakshmi Iyer2
HOW TO MAKE A FAMILY
You want a baby. Babies. Your husband agrees, albeit begrudgingly. But month after month your hopes surge and fall.
You see a reproductive endocrinologist. Medicines line the little table by your bedside. You pop pills, take shots and mark time differently. You look at this detour as a way of making your grandfather’s words true: if genetics wouldn’t give you twins, maybe Clomid would. (It didn’t.)
Loneliness is a cruel thing. It makes you brittle. A master at disguises. You smile when you can’t speak. You shrink from your real life friends and make many online. The anonymity of the screen teaches you to channel your grief so it finds expression without touching you. A walk around the neighborhood becomes an obstacle course. Strollers and parks become minefields. Friends with children become unbearable.
Somewhere the light breaks into the fog. You understand that this cannot go on forever. You grieve. You let go. You imagine living childfree.
Then someone you know adopts a child and you start all over again. You research agencies. You fill out reams of paperwork. You get clearances from the FBI and the police. You get everyone who knows you to write reference letters. You labor over a profile that markets you and your husband to the woman who may one day decide to place her child with you. You start another blog, compartmentalize this part of your life from your real life. You do not share anything for fear of jinxes.
Then it happens. You are matched. You experience pregnancy vicariously. You research heartbeat rates. You become an expert on pregnancy, week by week. You know all about Braxton Hicks and ligament pain. You are all but pregnant yourself.
The adoption fails. Your heart breaks. You sob until there are no tears left. Your husband is stoic. You think about donor eggs and surrogacy and a little part of your brain smarts. You realize there a line you do not want to cross. A personal line in the sand.
You go about your life. You reconcile, again, to being childfree. You focus on getting your MBA. You focus on your job. You tell yourself to fake it until you make it.
Then it happens again.
The phone rings late on a Thursday night. Someone you know from the failed adoption calls you about a situation. A mother to twin girls wants to place her children for adoption. Would you be interested?
The hope that is a sliver flares and soars. You listen, take notes, and turn to your husband after a good amount of time. He dismisses what you are saying. He says he has had enough. He is unwilling to put himself through this again. You lie back, spent, unable to articulate what this means to you. You make one last plea and he agrees to let you send the adoption profile out.
You work on your profile one more time. You send it away a little past midnight. You go back to checking your phone obsessively. The hours and days inch past slowly. You meet the mother over Skype. You learn she liked you a day later. You may be parents you hear. The iridescent joy of the previous years has disappeared, leaving in place a pale reflection. You hug the news to yourself. You permit yourself a smile when you think no one is looking. You put a safeguard in your heart and in your communications. You refuse to think of yourself as a mother just yet.
You learn you are a mother in the air as your flight circles to land. You dash off pictures of your 10-month-old babies to your family and friends.
Joy imbues everything with a soft glow. It coats your life with music and song. It lifts you up and holds you in its capable grip. You float along for the first year capturing videos of the first steps, first solid meal, and first haircut. You invite over a hundred people for their first birthday and take over a thousand pictures.
You juggle full-time work, part-time school and all-the-time parenting with the strength of one who has known what the other life feels like. You wake at the crack of dawn, cook, pack, and get the twins ready before you leave for work. You spend your day at work, writing code, trying not to fall asleep. You negotiate part-time hours, flexible hours and work-from-home hours. Your little ones reach home after a long day and you find their lunch boxes untouched. You feed them with the ferocity of a mama bear and bathe and get them to bed and then get started on your dinner. You retire from the kitchen way past ten, way too tired to sleep. You write, you read, and get to bed right around the time the twins wake up screaming from nightmares. You run on low fuel and pure exhilaration the first year.
One night before bed, you check your email and there it is, the message from your children’s other mother. You go back to your computer and write a really long response telling her everything about her children, your children. You give her details. You tell her the names of their teachers, their best friends, and their favorite foods. You send pictures of their bedroom, their toys, their bathroom.
You feel relieved. You are also surprised. After just one month of parenting your children, you crave to know everything about them. You feel a strange connection to this land they sprang from. Your immigrant soul finally finds roots. This is now home.
In the years since you transplanted yourself into alien soil, you floundered, you made do, you approximated, you led a hyphenated life. Babies have a way of anchoring lives, of physically mooring you to the land you are now a citizen of. They smudge the hyphen a bit, melding your identities and creating a new one. A mother, a nurturer.
Life goes on, until one day you are late. A niggle at the back of your brain tells you that something is off. You have never been late ever, not in the years of hoping and praying and trying, not under meds and medical intervention. You call your mom and ask about pre-menopause. Your she mentions pregnancy and you yell at her. According to the app on your phone, you are a week late. Your husband thinks you are crazy for even suggesting you should get a pregnancy test.
You are pregnant.
You expect to feel elation. All those years of imagining fail you now. You feel nothing. Actually, that is not true. You feel dread. There is nothing to tell you how to feel when your family is already complete. A family you have worked very hard to build.
You make an appointment with the OBGYN and fully expect to miscarry. Your body does not let you down. You spot. Tiny specks at first, then proper smears. You are not sure if you should be relieved or disappointed. You are lost, unmoored from everything. Six weeks go by. Your HCG doubles. You gain weight. At six weeks, six days you go for an ultrasound.
One sac. One beating heart. 133 bpm.
You tell one more person. The other mother of your children. She is excited for you. She reassures you that all will be well. You want her to be on your side. You feel guilty in some way for having reneged on an unvoiced promise. The arrival of a new child in your life presents you with conflicting emotions. You look at the children who made you a mother and wonder how this new child will affect all of your lives.
The months go by. You finally awaken from your state of denial and truly look at yourself. You fall in love. You fall in love with this swelling vessel holding life. You hug your tummy as you fall asleep each night murmuring prayers. You turn to the divine, for who else is capable of miracles?
Your mother throws you a traditional Hindu baby shower. You are surprised by an American one from your girlfriends. Your children are excited at the prospect of a baby sister. Your husband finally agrees that this might be happening, and that the two of you actually created life. You hold each other at night and marvel at the wonder.
Your last child is born by C-section on a Thursday morning. You declare her arrival on Facebook and are inundated with good wishes.
In the weeks that follow, you post pictures of your three daughters. Older twins sitting on the sofa, the weeks old baby on their laps. The father of your children striding ahead with the baby on his shoulder, the younger ones following him in their pretty paavadais in the parking lot of the local temple. You post pictures of the twins doting on the youngest and your heart swells with pride.
You navigate parenting the way you navigate everything else. You network, you gather resources, you read. You practice what you want your children to follow. You yell. You slip from the pedestal you put yourself on. You get up and dust yourself off. You struggle. You feel guilty. You promise yourself that tomorrow will be a new day. You accept that you are a visible family.
One day, in a near-empty restaurant you notice the other family looking at yours. They turn in unison, looking you up and down, right to left and back. They are trying to reconcile the story of you, the story of your family. You hold the mom’s eyes, just a moment, before you sit down with your husband and daughters. Imagine telling her the story, the whole, long thing.