When I was 23 weeks pregnant, a package arrived. I sliced through the tape with purple scissors to reveal its contents: Two fitted sheets. They were white with watercolor dollops of indigo blue. They were for the crib. They were for my baby.
I am aware every second that I am pregnant. Still, this package surprised me. Pregnancy means a different way to move, to eat, to dress. I know how to do those things. Every day, I move. I eat. I dress. I can manage to live, so I can manage to live while pregnant.
But I have a block. I struggle to picture all that — moving, eating, dressing — leading to a baby. A family member to prepare for.
Maybe that sounds strange. I’m 35. I know how babies begin. After all, I have a three-year-old and five-year-old in my house with whom I was also pregnant. But I’ve been pregnant other times, too. And I never met those children. For me, the connection between pregnancy and person is tenuous.
Maybe that’s why I wondered at the sheets. It’s probably also why I had such a hard time picking them out. It’s not that I don’t know what I like. However, when I stared at my MacBook screen, at the images on Amazon, I somehow couldn’t picture it. My brain couldn’t understand how the sheets would work. How they would go in a crib that a baby — my baby — would sleep in. I pinned. I made a Google Slide. It was right there in front of me, but I couldn’t see it. Finally, I understood. I couldn’t do this at the dining room table; I needed to be someplace else.
This pandemic year, most of us have learned a thing or two about our coping mechanisms.
I’ve learned that one of mine is to shut down. When things are too much, I disengage. At least directly. I scroll. I read. I learn. And, emotionally, I numb out.
This isn’t particularly unusual. It’s not even particularly dysfunctional. Avoidance gets a bad wrap. The word “avoid” appears 455 times in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Even in a 947 page guide, that’s plenty to go around. Nevertheless, the American Psychological Association admits that avoidance can sometimes be wise. Sometimes things really are too much. There are real limits to what the mind and body can process on their own.
If you walk down my street, in 10 minutes you’ll end up at the Mississippi River.
If you head south along the river, it won’t be long before you arrive at the Bdote Minisota. Many Dakota people consider this spot, where the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers meet, a sacred place of creation. When you go there, this belief makes perfect sense. With sweeping vistas and sandstone bluffs, it feels like exactly the kind of place that the world would begin. I could perceive it as a college geography student, before I learned the confluence’s proper name.
At its best, hope is like the waters that make up the Bdote: Generative. But hope isn’t quite that way for me, at least when it comes to pregnancy. Hope is a risky proposition because it is difficult to access hope without also conjuring its inverse. When I think of a baby, I also think of not-a-baby and all the ways I could end up there instead. Salted water next to a steep cliff.
But the right place can help. In the right place, hope makes sense. Guardrails keep out the ghosts. So I dose myself. I am pregnant everywhere I go; Yet I expect a baby only in certain places.
That day with the sheets, when I was 23 weeks pregnant, I picked up my laptop.
I opened the nursery door. We had moved since my sons were babies, but we brought the recliner in which I had nursed them to the new house. I eased into it. The recliner had been my grandmother’s at her assisted living facility. It was the right size for both of us. It held me in all the best ways. And suddenly I could picture myself nursing another baby boy. That milky newborn smell. The velvety head. The soft, soft skin. The snuffly sighs. It all had a weight to it. I clicked Buy Now. My baby kicked.
And then I stood up. I closed the door. Pregnancy is a thing I can carry. But hope? I can only visit there.