|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
As she grieved, Kuczynski faced a dilemma: the service was the same day as her regular skin-rejuvenating session with her plastic surgeon. Appointments were hard to get and she didn't dare skip one. So she decided to squeeze in a little microdermabrasion between the funeral and a tribute afterward at a Manhattan restaurant.
What happened next was not pretty. After the funeral, Kuczynski sped across town to her doctor, who blasted her skin with crystals that swept away dead cells. Then she asked for a quick injection of Restylane, a mucouslike substance that she hoped would plump up her upper lip. The needle had barely been withdrawn when Kuczynski felt a strange mass on her face. Her lip was so grotesquely swollen (eventually reaching the size of a yam) that she missed the tribute and barely left home for the next five days.
We had the money to pay. My husband is a very successful investor; I have made a healthy income for a writer. We were lucky in that we could afford to do what most infertile couples cannot. The questions for us were philosophical. I suppose I could have decided that it was my destiny to remain childless, that it was somehow meant to be. But I hate the phrase “meant to be,” loaded with its small, smug assumptions, its apathy and fake stoicism. I believe that where things can be fixed, they should be fixed. In our case, reproductive technology could make it relatively easy for us to have our biological child.
And, at that moment, having a biologically related child felt necessary. What began as wistful longing in my 20s had blistered into a mad desire that seemed to defy logic. The compulsion to create our own bloodline seemed medieval, and I knew we could enjoy our marriage — our lives — without a child. Yet I couldn’t argue myself out of my desire. A child with our genes would be a part of us. My husband’s face would be mirrored in our child’s face, proof that our love not only existed, but could be recreated beyond us. Die without having created a life, and die two deaths: the death of yourself, and the death of the immense opportunity that is a child.
Later in the fall, Cathy went to Las Vegas with her husband, who was attending a conference. I took the news badly. My tiny child — now that there was a sex, an identity, I could think of him as a child — was out there in Vegas at a craps table. I worried about the flight and whether the pressure would harm him. The thought crossed my mind to ask Cathy if it was really necessary to go, but I knew I couldn’t. I had given her my baby, and I would have to give her my trust as well. I hated giving up control, but experience had proved that I had even less control over my own uterus, and trying to exercise any measure of authority over Cathy would cause both of us only grief. At the very least, Cathy’s body was more reliable than mine. This was the pitiable truth I had to embrace.
And that wasn’t always easy. When Cathy and I went for doctor’s visits, she gave me the clearest sonogram picture to take home. I would drive back to New York, scan the image and send it out to family members and close friends — except that I would crop Cathy’s and the clinic’s names out of the frame. Even though they knew I wasn’t the pregnant one, I didn’t want them to be confused — who is this Cathy person? Where is Abington, Pa.? And for the forgetful ones: Why is Alexandra having her baby there? But more important, I wanted them to see my profile in the picture, not her name. It was immature, puerile, like a seventh-grade girl blacking out her nemesis’ picture in the yearbook. I wanted her identity to disappear and mine to take its place.
AS THE MONTHS PASSED, something curious happened: The bigger Cathy was, the more I realized that I was glad — practically euphoric — I was not pregnant. I was in a daze of anticipation, but I was also secretly, curiously, perpetually relieved, unburdened from the sheer physicality of pregnancy. If I could have carried a child to term, I would have. But I carried my 10-pound dog in a BabyBjörn-like harness on hikes, and after an hour my back ached.
Cathy was getting bigger, and the constraints on her grew. I, on the other hand, was happy to exploit my last few months of nonmotherhood by white-water rafting down Level 10 rapids on the Colorado River, racing down a mountain at 60 miles per hour at ski-racing camp, drinking bourbon and going to the Super Bowl.
I had several friends around my age — 37 and up — who were pregnant with their first children at this time, and I was amazed at how their feet swelled like loaves of bread. They were haggard. They seemed sallow and tired, and they let their hair go gray. I decided to call all of us Gummies — grown-up mommies — with the implication that some of us were so old we could have dentures.
I would soon be a Gummy. I just didn’t have to do the hard part. I had the natal equivalent of a hall pass, a free ride, an automatic upgrade to first class. According to the expectations that govern modern womanhood, I should have been moaning to a shrink or to my girlfriends over cosmos about my inadequacies. But I tried hard not to see myself as a failure. I allowed myself the anguish of the moment when Cathy was playing my piano, and after that I vowed, not entirely successfully, to refuse more self-punishment. I had been through so much — so much death and sorrow — that the gift of Cathy carrying my baby, shouldering the burden of the pregnancy, transferring all the fear of failure to her shoulders, was liberating.
She treated me with warmth and respect. She called me Mama with cheer and affection in her voice. After a doctor’s appointment in Pennsylvania, we went shopping at a local mall and stopped for lunch at the Cheesecake Factory. Sipping cold water made the baby wiggle. Whenever Cathy took a sip, she would press my hand to her belly.
“His butt is right there,” she would tell me. She wasn’t condescending. She wasn’t pushy. I owed her so much, and yet it was she who sent me a birthday present — a ceramic candle holder that glowed with the words “Happy Birthday” when a candle was lighted inside — when she was four months pregnant. And when the baby was born, she was the one who had thought to bring a gift for me to the hospital: a statuette of a mother, father and child holding one another.
I embodied several facets of femininity. She could be seen as the fertile, glowing mother-to-be as well as the hemorrhoidal, flatulent, lumpen pregnant woman. I could be the erotic, perennially sensual nullipara, the childbirth virgin, and yet I was also the dried-up crone with a uterus full of twigs. She got rosy cheeks and huge, shiny stretch marks. I went to Bikram yoga and was embarrassed to tell the receptionist — in front of the pregnant 20-something yogini in short shorts — to pull me out of class in case my baby was about to be born out of another woman’s body.
I imagined that Cathy rested peacefully, conscious that something was being manufactured inside her. Meanwhile, I began a silent, steady freakout, fearing that I might miss the birth of the person who would most likely be my only child. What if Cathy went into labor in the middle of the night? One of the doormen in my New York City apartment building stoked my anxiety by telling me that his wife went into labor and gave birth 15 minutes later. My baby was two hours away! What if it was the middle of the night and the garage where I kept my car was locked?