This novel that I’m working on has gone through many iterations. I originally wrote it in 2008 for National Novel Writing Month, and I’ve spent a lot of time and effort tweaking it since then. This is the original opening, which no longer even exists. I think all the characters are still part of the current (end?) product, but the scene bit the dust somewhere in the edits I made after comments from my writers’ group. I hope you enjoy reading it, even though it’s kind of a mess.
“Do you have any children?”
Ugh. I hate that question. Is there ever a point when it is socially acceptable to ask such a thing? The questioner, a slim redhead who could not be more than thirty years old, had run through a series of other, more appropriate questions already. She knew I worked, and what I did. I had hoped it would cut off the kid question. Sometimes it worked. You tell people that you have a demanding full time job, and they just assume you are a “career woman” rather than a “mommy.” Despite the leaps and bounds towards equality for women, people still seemed to draw this distinction.
But mostly, I had hoped people had learned that asking others about their reproduction was a private question. We had plenty of relatives who did not know what we were going through. Why did this woman feel like she had the right to know?
“Uh, no,” I stammered. “We do not have any yet.”
“You should hurry up!” she squealed. “Having kids is the best thing that can happen to you. I have two.” And then she placed a hand on her belly. “Well, two and a half.”
And then I noticed that she was holding a glass of ginger ale, rather than the cocktail most of the partygoers held. She was still so thin that her belly curved in rather than out, and yet she was blabbing the news to a near-stranger.
I cringed inside, wishing I was anywhere but stuck talking to this woman. Nothing in the world pained me like talking to newly pregnant women who were telling everyone. She had probably peed on a stick that morning. And already shouting to the world that another baby was on the way.
Some women in my position are put off by new babies. Others cringe whenever they see the protruding belly that screams, “Baby on Board.” But for me it was the optimists. The women who are one day late, and get a positive test, and tell everyone they know. I had been them, once. I had lost my first pregnancy at twelve weeks. I had seen my baby, watched his heart beat on the ultrasound screen. I told everyone I knew, I even told strangers on the street. I was so excited to let the world know that I was finally having a child. And then he was gone. Because I had been so naïve, like this woman at the party, I had had to deal with questions about my baby for months. My son, Daniel, who was “chromosomally normal” according to his post-mortem exam. A few months later, when I became pregnant again, we told no one, deciding to be more cautious this time. And when I lost that baby too, only six weeks along, there had been no one to tell, and no questions.
I smiled tightly at the redhead who had made me think of the worst times of my life. I clung furiously to my martini, taking a few sips as I glanced around the room, trying to find my husband. He was talking to his boss, hopefully thanking him for throwing such a nice party and telling him that we had to leave unexpectedly. When Ben caught my eye, he excused himself and began making his way across the room to me.
He took my elbow. “Hey, El. Hello, Laura.” This to the redhead. “Sorry to pull my wife away, but we need to be getting home.”
The redhead smiled and waved her fingers at us as we maneuvered our way out of the party. I felt a rush of relief to be away from her and her questions. And her pregnancy.
“Are you okay?” Ben asked gently.
“I have been better.”
“I should not have made you come.”
“It was an important company function,” I said automatically.
It really was not an important function, just a start of the semester party to welcome the faculty of Ben’s department back from the summer. But I hated to be absent from these get-togethers. People asked questions, and I hated questions.
“And you would have had to explain why I was not here,” I added.
“I could have just said you were sick.”
In a way, I was. I had failed another pregnancy test, the third since we had started IFV again after the second miscarriage. While I was not physically sick, I was heartsick. Now we had to decide whether to move forward, whether to keep up the poking and prodding and needles and…invasion. Or whether we could be happy without a child, after all these years working for one.
“I am sorry,” I said. “She was going on and on about her third pregnancy, and I could not take it. Not after everything.”
Ben squeezed my hand. “No need to apologize. I understand.”
He had been so good to me through this whole mess. I felt like a complete reproductive failure. It meant everything to me that he stuck with me, and held my hand, and gave me my shots. We moved through this as a team. And I could not do this without a team.