The saga of Danny and Jessa comes to a close. Thanks to everyone who's stuck with me and special thanks to Lizzy Bennet, whose input has made this a much better and fuller story than I expected.
Week 33 - the baby was as big as celery, which I found hard to believe. I had, as of my last doctor’s appointment, I had gained twenty-seven pounds and was now a DD cup, which Danny enjoyed. My belly was big enough to have its own zip code.
I had gotten used to being pregnant, to the invasive nature of being pregnant. When you’re pregnant, your body ceases to be your own. You lose all sense of shyness and privacy. You have to. I had to pee in specimen jars like a parolee being tested. If I saw stirrups, I stripped down and spread my legs. When I was first pregnant, I flinched when they took my blood and Danny had to hold my hand. At my last appointment, I’m pretty sure the UPS man took my blood in a closet. The little hotel guest inside me took over my life; why not let the maintenance staff do its job?
I woke up every morning and just looked at myself naked. We were less than two months away and it was really hitting me. I was having a baby - and soon. It wasn’t a clump of cells, a fetus anymore. It was a baby. A real baby, with a brain and bones and everything.
We had had an ultrasound this morning. The technician squirted the goo onto my stomach.
“Damn, that’s cold. I’m going to invent goo warmer and make a mint.” ” She just smiled and said, ‘you say that every time.’
She waved the wand over my stomach and we saw the baby sucking its thumb and looking at us, I thought. This was our baby. Danny didn’t speak for a while, he just stared in amazement. I could see him tearing up and squeezed his hand. “You OK, honey?”
He smiled. I couldn’t tell what was behind it. He squeezed my hand and croaked, “I’m fine. I love you, Jessa. That’s our baby,” and he kissed me.
We finished up the sonogram and I got dressed again. I would have loved to spend the whole day just rubbing my belly and thinking, but I had to get to work. The firm gave you three months paid leave for pregnancy and I planned to work until I went into labor. I wanted every second with my baby.
I had to head to a client meeting downtown by the courthouse. It was on the big condo project. Jake and Rachel were meeting me.
I took the cold bottle of water that I now carried everywhere and held it against my neck. It was forty-five degrees out but I was sweating. Apparently, my metabolic rate was going up which made me sweat. I was holding the bottle against my neck and walking when all of sudden, I felt a bump and heard a woman say, “Shit,” in a British accent.
“I am so sorry,” I said, looking up at her. She was at least 5’10” tall and wearing black jeans and a black wool coat, on which was now spattered coffee, the cup of which was now on the ground. “I wasn’t watching where it was going.”
She looked at my belly and smiled, “It’s quite alright.”
“No, it isn’t. I’ve ruined your coat,” I said, reaching into my bag and taking $20 out of my wallet. “Here, take this to get it cleaned,” I said, forcing the money into her hand.
She took it and gave it back. “I appreciate the offer, but you really don’t have to. Accidents happen.”
“Well, the least you could let me do is buy you another cup of coffee. I won’t take no for an answer.”
She rolled her eyes at me. “If you insist,” she said. “It’s just over there,” pointing at a shop called ‘The Jumping Bean.’
We walked and I stared at the drying coffee on her coat. She didn’t seem upset but I couldn’t handle the silence. “I’m Jessica, by the way. Jessica Silverman,” I said, offering my hand.
She was the first woman in a long while who didn’t look me up and down. She put out her hand, “Esme Entwistle.” The shop was interesting, concert posters up. Weird indie folk playing. Legitimately weird, and not the focus grouped, preplanned weird that came from corporate in Seattle. It smelled like coffee. And spelt bread.
The barista smiled and said, “You back for a second cup already, Esme? You got a problem.” Clearly, she was a regular.
She laughed, a throaty laugh that reminded me of Tea Leoni. “Not quite, Juwan. Jennifer…”
“Jessica,” I interjected.
“Sorry, Jessica here bumped me and wouldn’t let me go without buying me another one.”
“Yes, sorry again. Whatever she wants, Juwan. Please.” He smiled and made her a double shot cappuccino. I smelled the beans roasting and sighed. Eight months in and I still wanted caffeine. I ordered a green tea and stared morosely at it. I said, “This place is great. I’ve never been here. How do you know about it?” A woman came in, looked at my cup and gave me a judgmental look. I smiled tightly and said, ‘green tea.’ Stupid bitch.
She was standing at the counter, putting some brown sugar in her coffee. “I work nearby,” she said, looking at her watch. “I’m a reporter. At the Reporter.” She looked bored.
I wanted to ask her about it, and tell her how I was a reporter too, sort of, but thought better. I was the pregnant woman who had spilled her coffee and made her take a new one. She wasn’t interested in conversation but I couldn’t let her go. I wanted her to like me. All I could come up with was, “Are you from the North?”
She smiled, “Excuse me?”
“Your accent. It sounds Mancunian.” I had camp counselors from all over England and the ones from London would mock the ones from the North as ‘savages.’
That worked. She smiled and said, “You’re one of the few Americans who can tell the difference. What about you? What do you do?”
“I’m an attorney. Litigation. Mostly construction and real estate.” I pointed at her coffee and smiled. “You should probably take a sip of that to stay awake.”
“Probably,” she said. “Well, anyway, I should get back to the office,” she said. “Thank you for the coffee.” Then she paused, “do you have a card? In case I ever need comment on a real estate story. Or working mums.” I smiled at ‘mums,’ it sounded so classy. I handed her a card, hoping that it wasn’t idle chatter. Then, she said, with an eye roll, “I suppose I should let you know that we have, the paper that is has, a podcast. The Weekly Briefing, shite name in my opinion, available on iTunes and Stitcher and what not.” She laughed, held up her cup and said, ‘well, now, if anyone asks what I’ve done for promotion, I can answer truthfully. Cheers.”
“Cheers,” I said as she walked out the door. I took another sip of my tea and, when no one was watching, threw it away. I hated green tea.
Jake and Rachel were supposed to meet me in the lobby of the client’s building before we went upstairs. When I got there, Jake was waiting in the lobby, with a rolling case of files. “Hey, Jess,” he said.
“Good morning, Jake. Did you bring all of the financials, all the paperwork showing the delays?” This was a high-end condo project. Most of the suits were about overselling, but a few buyers raised the issue of delays. One of our defenses was that the project had been subject to unavoidable delays due to a strike in Italy. The buyers of the condos expected not just marble, but a specific marble from a specific quarry in Italy. Every so often, I thought how patently absurd it was. There were people who needed legal assistance - people on death row, abused women, people, like Michelle and Amanda and that couple from Spain, who were discriminated because of who they loved and who they were - and I was arguing over multimillion dollar apartments and marble.
He smiled, “It’s all in here. Plus, I put together a PowerPoint to show the major points. I figured the client is not going to read 200 pages…”
I smiled. As much as he was Golden Boy, he was a great attorney and dedicated to the case. I would have done a PowerPoint too, when I was his age. I laughed, “You’re right. Thanks. Good job, Jake.” I looked around, “Where’s Rachel?” He shrugged.
We waited ten minutes and she still hadn’t shown up. I sighed, “email her and tell her to meet us upstairs.”
We went upstairs and were waiting in the conference room, when Rachel came in - fifteen minutes late. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I was at Brendan’s yesterday and my alarm didn’t go off and then I had...”
I held up my hand. “Do you have the files I told you to bring?”
She rummaged through her litigation case and pulled out a file. “Here it is,” she said, with a smile.
“Did you make copies for the client?” She had been told to make clients.
“Go to the desk and ask if there’s a copier you can use.” She was driving me crazy. I hated that she couldn’t remember something so simple and that she didn’t seem bothered. I had been doing my best and was slowly realizing that this was who she was.
Luckily, the client was delayed on a call so that we were still waiting when Rachel came back with the copies.
I took her aside and said, “Rachel, come on. The alarm? And copies?”
“I, uh….I mean I know I screwed up, but it’s OK. He’s not ready yet.”
“It is not OK, Rachel. It’s a problem. The fact that, in this particular instance, there’s no consequence,” and I paused, “with the client doesn’t mean it’s not a problem.” Thumper gave me a big kick and I winced.
“Are you OK?” she said, with genuine concern.
“I’m fine,” I said, and she interrupted me with, ‘how was the doctor today?’ I regretted letting her know. I needed to set boundaries. Jake didn’t know that I was at the doctor, I didn’t think, and even if he did, he didn’t ask.
“Fine, Rachel. But, next time there is no next time. This can’t happen again. And someone else won’t be so nice. Understood?” She nodded, looking like a kicked dog. “Good. Let’s go in and show them what we’ve got.” I put my hand on her shoulder, “it’s over. Do better next time, OK? Maybe make lists.” She looked down. Jake, to his credit, looked off in the distance, his face bearing no emotion whatsoever.
When all was said and done, the meeting went well. The client was impressed with our presentation. He wasn’t happy but clients never are. The best you can hope for is not upset and we got that.
We left the meeting and hailed a cab. “Would one of you mind scooching in? It’s, uh….” They both smiled, looking at me like I was an invalid old lady. ‘Hey,” I thought, ‘I was running ten miles. Eight months ago.’ Jake looked at the two of us in back and said, ‘I think I’ll sit up front.’
We were in the cab back and I said, “Jake, I meant to tell you before. Great job today. The client really liked the PowerPoint.”
He smiled, “Thanks. Hey, Rach, good point on the delays. The client seemed really impressed.” I smiled, admiring his generosity in a situation where he could have said nothing and been fine.
She smiled and then gave me a hangdog look, “Thanks.”
“We’re a good team, the three of us,” I said, half-meaning it. “Tomorrow, I want to take you guys to lunch. If you don’t mind being seen with an old lady,” I said, with a smile. They both accepted and I remembered back to when I was their age. Victoria took me to lunch. I was grateful for the face time but was so nervous the whole time, thinking before I spoke and eating unusually slowly. I assumed that she came back and told everyone she thought I was developmentally challenged.
I was sitting in my office doing work when Robin came in. “How did it go today?”
I sighed, motioning to a chair. “What the hell am I going to do with her?”
She rolled her eyes, “What now?”
I started to describe what she did and then stopped. “I just wonder if she gives a shit or not.”
Robin smiled. “That’s the wrong question. It’s not whether she gives a shit. It’s, ‘Is she capable of giving a shit?’ Or ‘if she does, can she do anything about it?’”
“And?” I said, holding my water bottle to my neck. Robin looked at me, the way she did whenever I did it. “Fucking hormones. What do you think?”
“I like Kimmy and all, but yeah. I don’t know.”
“So, what do I do? If I tell Mike she’s not cutting it, do I look bad?”
“Maybe, but if she fucks up the case, you look a lot worse.”
“That won’t happen,” I said. “I’m not giving her the real shit to do.”
“So, who’s picking up the slack? You or Jake?” She wasn’t really asking, just pointing out the obvious.
“Fuuuck. I have to figure this out. Do we stop the lunches?” To be honest, I had come to dread lunches with Rachel. I couldn’t speak freely and always felt like she was watching me.
Robin smiled, “It’s your call.”
“Thanks,” I said. “Make me the bad guy.” I laughed, “Yeah, we’re done. I tried. I failed.”
“You didn’t fail. She is who she is. Not everyone can do the job. They all can’t be us.”
“That’s probably not all bad,” I laughed.
Robin picked my stuffed Bucky the Badger off my bookshelf, and started sitting it on my desk. “How was the doctor?”
“Fine. Everything is,” and I knocked on the desk. “Fine. Moving along.” She looked at me. “Yeah, I’m superstitious. I’m up twenty-seven pounds…’
“Stop it. You’ll lose it. Bet Dan loves your tits though.”
“Oh, ick, Robin,” I laughed.
“Oh, ick,” she said, mocking me. “I bet Dan is always burying his face in them and motorboating you. I would, if I were into that kind of thing.” I needed this. I needed a good, disgusting NSFW conversation. I could always count on Robin.
“You wish,” I said, laughing. “My fucking back is killing me. Like I thought maybe the belly and the tits would balance each other out. But, nope, just means my whole back hurts.”
She smiled, “you’ll be fine, Jess. With everything.”
“Here’s hoping,” I said, holding the water bottle up.
Week 35 - Thumper was as big as pineapple.
It was Saturday morning. Jill was bringing Sarah in for our monthly visit.
“You sure you’re up to it?” Jill said on the phone that Friday.
“I’m fine, Jill. I’m a big fat pregnant lady, but I’m not an invalid,” I said, laughing. “I go to work every day and everything.” I was sitting on the couch in a t shirt that showed the bottom half of my belly and a pair of sweats. Once I got home, I no longer cared what I looked like. I was going to be comfortable. Sometimes, for laughs, Danny would put his drink on my belly. I actually found it funny. We couldn’t have sex very often so this was what passed for intimacy - being a coffee table.
She laughed, “You’re sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure. I look forward to it. Does Sarah?” I was wondering when she’d stop wanting to see me and just hang with her friends.
She said, “Yes. She is totally into it.”
“She’s not just placating me because I’m pregnant?” Pregnancy had made me, as Danny said, ‘more neurotic, scary as that is.’
“Are you kidding, Jess? She loves you. She’d come in every weekend if you’d let her.”
I wasn’t sure I believed her. “Sorry, I’m just getting nuts lately,” I said, putting my hand on my belly.
She laughed. “I totally get it. How’s it going?”
“My hips hurt like hell.”
I interrupted. “My body getting ready. I get it. But, it still sucks.”
“How’s my brother?”
I debated asking her what she thought about his response at the doctor, about him asking what it felt like, but decided not to. He kept Jill at arm’s length, he always had, and it wasn’t for me to push them together. Besides, it would probably only drive them apart. “He’s fine. How’s Yoram?”
“Good,” she said. “My brother’s being good?”
I laughed. “He’s being great. He comes to all the appointments, rubs my feet, does everything he’s supposed to.”
“And her honor?”
I laughed. “Oh stop. She’s fine. I spoke to her the other day.”
She said, “You have no idea how excited she is for this. She loves you.”
I blurted out, “yeah, so your brother never tires of pointing out.” I regretted it the minute that I said it. I was twirling my hair around my finger. Lately, I was mesmerized by the way it would curl then unravel. I didn’t think I had pregnancy brain, but that pregnancy ate my brain. Soon, I’d be swatting at balls of yarn like a cat..
“Oh, god, is he still on that?”
I thought about it and decided that she had seen it first hand, so it was different than the doctor. Yeah, it was a cop out. “Not as much, but yeah. I don’t know what to do.”
“She likes women better. And she loves you. You’re her buddy,” she teased.
“Why don’t you share THAT with him? That’ll make him feel great,” I said. Then, I got serious. “I wish I could make him feel better about it. I really do.” I really did. I hated the way his shoulders would slump and then he would tense up whenever she called.
“I know. I know. Once you have the kid, you won’t have time for existential angst.”
“Great,” I said, drawing out the word. I smiled and touched my belly. Soon, I’d be done being pregnant. I’d be mommy. Me and my baby. “Anyway, I can’t wait to see you guys tomorrow.”
“You’re sure Sarah’s into it?”
She laughed, “Yes. Stop. She can’t wait to go shopping with you. Softie.”
“She’s my niece. It’s not just because we go shopping, is it?”
She laughed, “I’m done dignifying that. See you tomorrow. Love you.”
“Love you too, Jill. And I’m pregnant, you have to humor me.”
“No, I don’t, Jess. Bye, Jess.” She hung up and I went to Dan’s dresser. I began organizing his t shirts, first by those with logos and those without. Then by team and then by color. OK, it sounds nuts but it wasn’t. Last week, I had started nesting in earnest.
Last Saturday, Dan came home from basketball. I was in the bedroom and he walked in.
“What’s up? What happened?” he said, pointing to the bed, on which I had laid out all of my clothes.
I pointed to the various piles. “These are my sixes, these are my eights,” and I took a deep breath, “these are my tens.”
He smiled, “Uh huh. And?”
“I’m organizing them. That way, as I lose the weight, everything will be together. It makes sense.”
He kissed me on the nose. “Nesting?”
“You’re nesting. It’s totally normal. I get it.”
He smiled. “I’ve been reading up. Plus,” and then he stopped and got a look on his face. Lately, I saw that look more and more. Like he wanted to say something about I don’t know what. Melissa. Jill. How it used to be. Or maybe I was just crazy. He continued, “I’ve just been reading,” he said, with a small smile. Then he kissed me. “With your OCD and nesting, I’m afraid.”
“Stop it,” I said, putting my hands on my way too big hips. “I just like being organized.”
“It’s cute,” he said, grabbing me and pulling me close, well as close as possible. He kissed me deeply. “I love you Jessa.”
“I love you too. What brought that on?”
He went around me (which now required a navigator), lifted my shirt and put his hands on my bare belly, linking his fingers together. “I just do. And I love watching you be pregnant. Is that weird?”
I thought about it. I loved the way he’d put his hands on my belly and help me up. The way he’d play with my hair and kiss my belly with little kisses. The way he’d wipe my tears when I cried during a movie (hormones). I loved being pregnant and loved the way he was during it. “Not at all.”
“Good,” he said. We just stood there for awhile, not saying anything.
Saturday morning, 10 AM.
“You sure you’re OK?” Danny asked, as he tied his sneakers. “I don’t have to go.”
“Would you stop? I’ll be fine,” I said. “It’s Sarah.” I felt a pain in my abdomen, like I was menstruating. It was Braxton-Hicks contractions. The first time it happened, I freaked. I called Sammie, who said, ‘it’s probably just Braxton-Hicks, but call your OB.’ I went to see Dr. Andopolis, who examined me and said my cervix looked fine. She told me that I could expect these for a while. ‘Great,’ I thought. I asked when I’d know they were for real and she smiled and said, ‘you’ll know. They’ll hurt like hell and, once they start, they don’t stop.’ She said it to make feel better. I didn’t.
Danny looked worried. “Are you OK? It’s not…”
I waddled over and kissed him. “For the tenth time, it’s a Braxton-Hicks. Fuck Braxton and fuck Hicks. Go. Nothing will happen but keep your phone on loud, OK?”
He smiled. “I will.” He would. He was good that way. “Do not push yourself. If you get tired, sit. If you’re hungry, eat. You and Sarah get together and you lose all sense…”
I laughed. “Who’s 14? Me or her?”
“I just want to make sure you and Thump are OK.” He leaned down to my belly, lifted my t shirt and kissed my belly. Then he said, “Take good care of mommy, Thump.” He paused. “No kick,” he said, with a frown. “Try and get some rest today. We have dinner with Larry and Meeka today.” Larry had a new girlfriend. We had gone out with them once. She was perfectly nice but I felt like she was staying a safe distance from me, like if she came closer, she’d get pregnant.
“I know. Go have fun. Say hi to the guys for me. Love you.” He said, ‘I love you too’ and left. As the door closed, I thought for a second about how it used to be. How I always assumed that it would be me going with the guys while Jess was pregnant. Then, I thought about it. I didn’t miss it at all. I liked being pregnant (overall). I liked being a woman. I liked being me.
I went into the bedroom and looked in my closet. I thought about pants and a sweater, but decided to go with my blue and white dress. It was a v neck, which meant that guys were forever staring at my cleavage which was, to be fair, visible from space. I shimmied my tights up my legs and then pulled the dress over my head and belly. I brushed my hair and put on my makeup. I went over to the full length mirror and checked myself out. “We look good, Thump. It’s all you, sweetie.” Yeah, I was nauseating. And I didn’t care.
An hour later, Sarah and Jill came. “Ohmigod, look at you, Jess. You look gorgeous,” Jill said.
“I look like a parade float,” I said, giving them kisses. “Hey, Sarah. That outfit is really cute. Is that from when we went to the place in Brooklyn?”
She was wearing a black skirt and blue top, with boots. She smiled, “The top and the boots are. I bought the skirt with Em at the Westchester,” a mall in, well, Westchester.
“It is really great. You look great.” I went to ask her about Emily’s crush, and stopped myself. She had told me on the phone how Emily had a crush on a ninth grader, Charlie, who told someone that he might be interested. I almost said something and realized that Jill was there. Sarah would have said nothing and then given me a headache about it later. “So, what are you up to today, Jill?”
She smiled. “You mean I’m not coming with?” Sarah looked at me in abject horror. Jill laughed. “I’m kidding Sarah. I told you already I’m meeting Hannah for lunch. Relax.” She turned to her. “I’m trusting you to make sure Aunt Jess doesn’t push herself.”
“Jesus, Jill. You and your brother.” I took Sarah’s arm in my mine. “I will be fine. We will be fine. Go. Say hi to Hannah for me,” I said, giving her a kiss. “Now shoo. We have stuff to do.” Jill left and Sarah stood there.
“So, what do you want to do today?”
Sarah looked scared. “Are you OK?”
“Are you OK,” she said, fidgeting with her feet, the way Jess used to. “I mean are we OK going?”
“Yes, Sarah. We are totally fine. Your mom and Danny are just overprotective.”
I exhaled loudly. “Yes, Sarah. I promise. If I get tired, I will let you know.” I smiled, “Don’t be like them,” which made her smile. “So what do you want to do today?”
To my complete lack of surprise, she said, “can we go walk around Soho?”
“Of course, Sarah. Can I tell you how happy I am that you’re here?”
“Ick,” she said, smiling. “Don’t get all gross on me.” I felt better. She wanted to be here.
We walked along the streets in Soho, looking in the windows. We went past one store and I saw a gorgeous black slip dress in the window. I tried to imagine myself in it, in a pair of 4” heels and couldn’t. I must have sighed because Sarah said, “are you OK?”
“It’s nothing,” I said, looking at the dress.
“That’s a really pretty dress. You’d look great in it.”
I smiled at her. “Thanks, Sarah. Not any time soon.”
“You can do it, Aunt Jess. You did it before. You’ll do it again.” Her cheerleading made me feel better, loved. She mimicked me in Miami. “Remember, my parents were bananas,” she said, moving her hand around.
I giggled. “Yeah, yeah. Thanks Sarah.”
“I’m serious. I’ll babysit so you can work out.”
I went to give her a kiss and stopped, so she wouldn’t be embarrassed in front of people she didn’t know. I gave her hug instead, which was acceptably embarrassing. “Thanks Sarah. I appreciate that.”
“I mean it.”
I smiled. “I know you do. Thank you.” I looked at the dress and thought that, if nothing else, I had support. I still wanted the dress though. “So what’s up with Em and Charlie?”
She rolled her eyes. “She’s being ridiculous. I told her what you said.” I said that she should lay back, let him come to her. Even like this, I remembered what it was like to be a 15 year old boy, how you only wanted the girls that ignored you. And how they only wanted the guys who ignored them. “And she still keeps going over to him and touching his arm and everything. She’s stupid.”
I smiled at her indignation. She loved her friend and I think she was afraid that she’d lose her. I remembered how Laura and her friends were like electrons, forever drawn together until a new guy came on the scene to draw one of them away. “I get it.”
“Oh, can we go to that store next to the Strand?”
“Forbidden Planet?” It was a comic-book and sci-fi store. I couldn’t imagine why she wanted to go. “Sure. Why?”
“You can’t tell mom.”
I smiled. “Why can’t I tell mom?”
“Promise you won’t,” she said, putting her hands on her hips, which only made it funnier.
I stifled a giggle. “I promise. Who is he?”
She looked down and blushed. “I could like that stuff.”
“Sure you could,” I teased. “But you don’t. Who is he?”
“His name is Sam. He’s in the tenth grade….”
“Oooh, an older man.”
“I’m sorry I said anything. I could get this from mom.”
“Ouch,” I said. “Point taken. You don’t have to be mean about it,” I joked, which got a smile. “Anyway, sorry. So tell me about Sam.” Sam was a tenth grader. He was into comics, graphic novels and anime and Sarah, like girls from time immemorial, wanted to learn about what he liked. I remembered Lindsay Steinmetz, a girl in eighth grade, who started liking the Knicks because my friend Mike did. It didn’t work. He thought she was fat. I looked at my belly and felt sudden empathy for Lindsay.
We went to Forbidden Planet and she looked around. Her expression was somewhere between confusion and disgust. She picked up an anime book and started flipping through. “Ick,” she said, putting the book back onto the shelves with two fingers. “Why is he into this? The girls are gross looking.”
I shrugged. Even before, I was never into comic books. “Guys. I imagine he’d feel the same way in Forever 21.”
“Whatever.” She was a little better with the graphic novels, at least the ones that weren’t filled with women with big tits and skimpy outfits. “Which ones do you think he’s into?” I thought, ‘probably the ones with big tits and skimpy outfits.’ We bought the newest most popular ones and walked to lunch.
“Just play it cool,” I said. “Like, when it’s totally organic, say, ‘oh, did you read the new American Gods? And then talk about it. But, don’t go up to him and say, ‘I got the new American Gods.’”
“I know, Aunt Jess,” she said, in an exasperated tone. I hoped that she did. I felt a Braxton-Hicks and leaned against a wall. She looked nervous. “Are you OK? Should I call mom?”
“I’m fine, Sarah. It’s totally normal. It’s false labor.” She didn’t look placated. “I went to the doctor. She told me it was fine. OK?”
“I’m just worried for you,” she said. “You’re my favorite aunt.”
I gave her a kiss on the cheek, embarrassment be damned. “Thank you Sarah.”
“Are you scared?”
“The baby. Having the baby. They showed us movies in health. It looks scary.”
I took her hand and we walked. “It is. Remember that.”
This was a running joke between us. She used to ask me what it felt like. I told her, ‘nothing you need to know about until after grad school.’ “Yeah yeah yeah. I’m serious. Are you scared?”
I was scared. I was scared that something would happen, that I would lose the baby. I was scared that would something would go wrong in labor. I was scared that the baby would have issues. And that I wouldn’t be a good mom. “Kinda. But I don’t have much of a choice.”
“It’ll be OK,” she said. “I can’t wait for my cousin.”
I smiled. “They can’t wait for you either Sarah.” I smiled, touching my belly. Whatever else happened, this child would be loved.
Week 37 - Thumper was as big as romaine lettuce.
3 AM, I woke up. I had to pee. If you needed a 3 AM wake up call, you could depend on me. I was up every morning now at 3 AM to pee. I scooched to the side of the bed, dropped my legs to the floor as quietly as I could - no need to wake Danny too - and waddled off to the bathroom. I closed the door and turned on the light, dimming it as low as I could and sat down to pee.
I looked at my stomach, which now dwarfed my feet and was lined with stretch marks. I had gained twenty-nine pounds, which scared me. I knew a lot of it was baby weight but I was afraid I’d never lose it. Danny said that he would do whatever I needed to help me - let me go to the gym, hire a trainer, whatever - but I noticed, when I went out, that you saw a lot more moms and couples pushing infants in a stroller than you saw dads alone. I looked at my belly button, which had popped a few weeks ago. If the bun was in the oven, the timer was popping. I rubbed my belly and started singing, in a low voice, ‘hey, little baby, I’m your mommy. I’m your mommy. I’m your mommy. Hey, little baby, I’m your mommy and I. Love. You.’ I had no idea where the tune came from or the words, but I knew that I was the mommy and I loved this baby. I had an all-consuming love. A pure, all consuming, almost scary love. I wiped myself and looked at myself in the mirror. My eyes had bags beneath them. My hair was a mess and I was wearing an old t shirt, the nighties having been switched for comfort a long time ago. People had switched from ‘you look beautiful’ to ‘how are you holding up’ a while ago. I rubbed my belly and waddled back to bed. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the light leaking under the bedroom door from the living room. I came out to see Danny sitting on the couch, staring ahead.
“Hey,” I said, standing in the doorway. “What’s up?”
He looked at me, his eyes red. “Did I wake you?”
“No, of course not. I had to pee.” This was normal. The baby had dropped down in my pelvis. Dr. Andopolis told me last week that, ‘this little one is getting ready to say hello.’ I laughed and told her, ‘this little one is like a bowling ball. A men’s ball. I think it’s going to say ‘AMF’ on it.’ “What’s up?” I said, sitting down on the couch next to him. I leaned my head on his shoulder. He started twirling my hair around his fingers. I remembered how he used to do that, when he was me. It seemed strange to see my husband do it now.
“It’s...I….” and his voice started to crack.
I put my hand on his and started rubbing. “What? Danny. What? What’s wrong?”
“I...I just feel like..I feel like...I’m missing something and I should be the one who...and….”
“What do you mean missing something?”
“I mean, I don’t know. Lately, I’ve been thinking about everything. How did we get here? Why did this happen?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. It did. Are you sorry it happened?”
He said, “No. Of course not. You are beautiful and smart and I know this is right…”
“I mean, after nine months, if you took labor, it would only be fair,” I tried to joke.
He sort of smiled. “Funny. I mean I don’t know why, but like two weeks ago, I started thinking about it. A lot. Like I’m missing something I wasn’t supposed to miss.” He kept twirling my hair around his finger. Twirling and un-twirling it.
“Danny. You’re not missing anything. This is our baby. You and me. 50/50. You’ve been here through everything. You’re going to be in the delivery room. You won’t miss anything. If you want, I’ll kick you in the nuts to simulate the pain. Michelle and Sammie will too, if that will help.”
He rubbed his eyes. “I’m serious. You’re giving this baby life, as stupid as it sounds.” I wanted to say that I didn’t think it was stupid, but the most amazing thing I could imagine. But that would have hurt him more. “And I’m not. And for 33 years, I was supposed to. And now I’m not.”
I smiled. “Maybe for 33 years, you weren’t. Maybe I was supposed to and maybe that’s why this happened.” I had never articulated that. “Maybe this was the right way and it just took a little while to get there. Are you not happy as you? Is that what this is about?”
“I’m happy,” he said in a flat tone.
“Happy as us or happy as Dan?” It had been a long time since we had spoken about it. We were just Danny and Jessa. Us. “There’s no right or wrong answer here. Seriously.”
“I’m happy with us and with me. I guess it’s just scaring me. I keep waiting…”
“For the other shoe to drop?”
He smiled. “Yeah. I don’t know. I’m just scared. This,” and he rubbed my belly, “is coming soon. We’ve said we’re mommy and daddy but we’re going to be it. Mommy and daddy. You and me and baby makes three and I guess it’s been hitting me. I’m going to be someone’s daddy and I never thought that it would happen.”
I smiled. “And I’m going to be someone’s mommy. Wasn’t exactly on my radar either, you know.”
“I know. But I guess I never thought about it. You’ve had nine months to get used to it, to being a mommy. Me, it’s binary. One day, I won’t be daddy. Then, the next day, I will be. I guess it hit me.”
“Are you sorry it’s me?” I said. “And I’m asking, not fishing.”
He smiled, kissed me and then kissed my belly. But then he paused for a minute. “No. This is right. You were meant to be the mommy, not me” which made me stop for a second. I was back to where we started. Did she always think of me like that? I started to breathe heavily, to freak out. Intellectually, I knew how ridiculous it was. I was a woman, a pregnant woman. I liked being a pregnant woman - mostly. I was ready to be a mother, to be a mommy, but to hear it articulated from Danny hurt.
“Jessa?” he said. I waved my hand in his face, to say ‘stop’. “Jessa? Are you OK?” He stood up and I laid down on my side. “Are you OK? Please. Please. Please say something. Anything.”
I took one last deep breath and sat my Weeble self up. “I’m fine, Danny.”
“I am such piece of shit,” he said. “I am such an absolute piece of shit,” and he started hitting himself with a pillow.
“No you aren’t.” He was, sort of. You don’t do that to a woman in her last month.
“You freaked out because I said you were meant to be the mommy.” I looked down and he said, “don’t lie.”
I decided not to lie. “You’re right. It freaked me out. Maybe it’s stupid after all this, but it did. Like it makes me wonder about everything all over again.”
“Me too,” he said, rubbing tears from his eyes.
That was not what I expected. I expected him to validate me, to tell me it wasn’t about that. “Huh? What do you mean?”
He leaned back and said, “Lean back into my arms.” I did and he put his arms around me, well as much as he could, resting his hands on my belly. “Like I said, I’ve been thinking about it. A lot. I look at pregnant women and I think, ‘why?’”
I looked back up at him, smiled and said, “When a man loves a woman….”
He didn’t laugh. “That’s not what I meant. I meant that I wonder why this happened. Did I make this happen?”
I rested my hands on my belly; it soothed me. “How could you have made this happen?”
“I mean, like was there something wrong with me as a woman that made this happen? Like the universe made this happen because I was, I don’t know, defective or something as a woman.”
I put my hands on his thighs and pushed myself up. I turned and looked at him. “You were not defective as a woman. You were great as a woman. Why would you think you were defective?”
He looked at my stomach, then nervously looked me in the eye. “I didn’t like babies the way you did. I don’t get along with the Barbies the way you do. I wasn’t pretty and sweet…”
“Don’t say it.” I could feel myself getting short of breath again. I paused, hands on belly and took a deep breath. “You were absolutely beautiful. Who am I? I’m you.”
“You’re me better,” he mumbled.
“I’m me different. Not better. Different. You were beautiful and caring and you were everything that I wanted in a woman. If you were defective, what did that make me? Huh? Was I defective because I chose you?” I forced myself to smile. “Think about the answer first.”
“You weren’t defective. I was,” and he started to cry. I maneuvered myself to hold him. “I was defective. I couldn’t do all the woman stuff that I was supposed to and this happened. Whatever it is that did this knew that I was defective and it made me this….”
I said, “so men are defective? You’re being punished by being a man?” I stopped and looked at swollen ankles, which were now indistinguishable from my calves. I shifted myself to minimize my back pain and thought about everything at work. ‘If you’re being punished, Danny, I could go for some of that punishment.’ “Are you unhappy the way you are?”
“I am, I guess…” he sniffled.
“So, is it me who’s being punished? Was I not good at being a man? Was I defective as a man?”
“No,” he sniffled. “You aren’t. You’re perfect the way you are, the way you were.”
I laughed. “I have that on tape now,” and then I pushed him off my shoulder and looked into his eyes. “So are you. We’re both perfect the way we are. Or perfectly imperfect,” which got a smile. “I have no idea how this happened. But I know we’re not being punished. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’m scared shitless about everything.”
“Me too,” he said, with a smile.
“Good. It means you’re paying attention. But I know this isn’t punishment, although you’re welcome to labor, if you want. Lamaze class scared me.” It had. We called it ‘everything that can go wrong’ class. He laughed and I continued, “we are who we are. You were the best woman I knew” and we both looked at each other and then at my belly and smiled. “And you’re the best man I know.” He gave me a small smile and said, ‘thanks.’ “And you are going to be the best daddy I know, because I’m going to make you be. Got it?”
He smiled, “Got it.” He leaned back again and I leaned back, his arms around me again. “When I said that you were meant to be the mommy, I meant it. I hear you singing to it, talking to it and I know that this is the way it’s supposed to be. I never thought you weren’t a man before y’know all this. I guess I was just feeling selfish. Like I was missing out on something I wasn’t supposed to miss.”
“You weren’t selfish. You were scared. I’m scared too.”
“Still, sorry,” he said, with a smile. “We’re going to be OK, right?”
I smiled. “I hope so.” He looked concerned. “We’ll probably fuck it up. ‘They fuck you up, your mom and dad, they don’t mean to, but they do. They give you all the shit they had and add some special just for you.’ Philip Larkin,” I said.
He had no idea who Philip Larkin was, but it didn’t matter. It made him laugh, which was the goal. “Hopefully, we fuck up differently than they did,” he said.
I laughed. “That’s the goal. Give Thump new and different issues. Are you OK?” He nodded. “For real, are you OK?”
He smiled and I knew it was real. “Yeah. I am. We’re almost there,” he said. “You and me. Parents. Mommy and daddy,” and he kissed the back of my neck.
“Mmm hmmm. Mommy and daddy.” Suddenly, a picture of me breastfeeding our baby came into my mind. Me on the couch, while Danny watched. I pictured myself smiling beatifically. I knew the reality was more Sammie looking miserable while she tried to get Charlotte to latch on at 3 AM, the glow of a rerun of ‘Friends’ lighting her face, but I wanted my fantasy for now. I had had enough reality lately.
Week 39 - Thumper was a pumpkin. A big pumpkin. A big pumpkin that was sitting so low on my pelvis that it hurt to sit. And stand. And that gave me sharp stabbing pains - lightning crotch they called it. Whatever they called, it hurt.
Robin and I were going to lunch. I was wearing black stretch pants and a shirt that could charitably called a dress shirt. Basically, I went with the bare minimum that could pass for work clothes. No one said anything, but I felt like everyone was staring at me.
I was meeting Robin for lunch, but first I had to pee. I always had to pee. I went into the bathroom. Victoria came in after me. “Hey, Jess. How are you feeling?”
“Pregnant,” I joked. “Very pregnant.”
“How much more?” she asked, with a smile.
“I’m 39 weeks.” I looked down at my belly. “Any day now, kiddo.” Thankfully, she spared me her labor story.
I went into the stall and sat down. As I peed, I felt something drop out. I wiped myself and stood up. “Oh fuck,” I said.
From the next stall, Victoria said, “Are you OK?”
“Can I ask you something Victoria? I apologize in advance.”
I heard her stand up and the toilet flush. She knocked on the stall door and I opened it. I had no choice. She looked down at the bowl and said, “You lost your mucus plug.” I started to hyperventilate. She put her arm around and led me to a bench. “Calm down. You’re going to be OK. I lost mine at my mother-in-law’s. Think about that,” she said. “I had to say something to Mark in front of her.”
“Should I go to the hospital?” I had read the books and websites. Intellectually, I knew that losing your plug didn’t mean you were in labor. That it could be another week, at least. And, saying that, all intellectuality went out the window. And left me with, “should I go to the hospital?”
She laughed. “Don’t go on a long car trip, but you should be OK.”
“Sorry. I must sound like an idiot.”
“You sound like you're having your first kid,” she said. “Don’t worry about it. Keep me in the loop.”
I walked over to Robin’s office. She looked at me and said, “is everything OK?”
I debated not saying anything. Robin didn’t have kids and didn’t want them. On the other hand, she was always interested in me, in my pregnancy. She asked detailed questions about it, about my doctor’s appointments. On the other, other hand, it was gross. On the third other hand, she was my friend. “It’s gross…”
“Lost your mucus plug?”
“How did you know?”
“I have a uterus, Jess. I may not be using it for storage, but I have one.”
I laughed, grateful for her crassness. “That’s an image. Maybe after I give birth, I’ll store old clothes up there. It’s big enough.”
“Are you OK?”
“Victoria said it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. And I haven’t felt anything else. But, it’s really gross. It’s like…”
She held up her hand. “Stop. We’re going to lunch. What do you want?”
I smiled, thinking of things that looked like a bloody mucus plug. “Oysters and steak tartare?”
“My sister said her placenta looked like London Broil.”
“I don’t know but I couldn’t eat meat in front of her for like a year after that.”
In the end, we went for salad. Lunch was fine and we talked about work, but the whole time, I kept looking for other signs that I was in labor. I coughed and thought it was contractions. I snissed, and thought my water broke. I had to imagine that I looked like a crazy woman.
By the end of the day, I had no other signs, so I went home. I normally took the subway but figured my luck the train would break down and I’d go into labor on the train. It was a trite sitcom plot but it sure as hell wouldn’t be my life.
I walked in the door and Danny was there. He got up and kissed me. “Hey sweetie, how was work?”
“Fine. The usual. I lost my mucus plug in the bathroom,” I said, as I walked to the bathroom to pee. For the sixth time.
He followed me in. “What?”
“I lost my mucus plug,” I said, as I wiped myself. I started to get undressed. I took my t shirt and sweats off the bed. I had gotten to the point where I would wear the same thing for a couple of days. I didn’t have it in me to be care about being stylish. I went into the bathroom again to take off my makeup. ‘Sorry, Danny,’ I thought. ‘I’m not your hot sexy wife. Not for now.’ “I’m fine. Nothing else happened.”
“What did it feel like?”
That was weird. “It plopped out. It’s nasty looking. Like…”
He smiled. “Mucus?”
I smiled, “Yup.” I sat down on the bed, my back supported by a bolster pillow. “That feels good.” Danny began massaging my feet. “You’re the best, Danny.”
“Please, Jessa. Hey, baby,” he said to my stomach. “Are you planning on coming soon?”
I felt a sharp kick. “I think he just said yes.” I started to tear up. “Holy shit. This is going to happen, isn’t it?”
Danny smiled. “Yup.”
I start to breathe shallow breaths. “Soon? Really soon?”
Danny kept smiling. “Yes, it is. I’m going to be a daddy.”
“And I’m going to be a mommy.” I started to take off my shirt and pants.
“Uh, Jessa,” he said.
I smiled. “Come spoon me,” I said. “Please.”
He took off his shirt and pants and laid next to me. I could feel his warmth against my bare skin and his hands on my belly. He kissed the back of my neck, with little butterfly kisses. I realized that our days of just laying here like this, in the early evening, were numbered and I couldn’t wait. At some point, I fell asleep until…
“Ow!” I yelled. I felt a sharp pain. I knew this wasn’t Braxton-Hicks.
“What?” Danny said, startled from his sleep.
“I think,” and I took a deep breath, “I am in labor.”
“Oh shit,” he said.
I smiled, putting on my pants and t shirt. “Oh shit? That’s the best you have?”
He fumbled around, putting back on his clothes. He smiled. “Sorry.”
“I’m teasing,” I said. “I’m going to sit on the couch, in case.” I figured one contraction was no big deal. Why I thought sitting on the couch made sense was another issue.
It wasn’t. However, the three in the next hour were. After the third, Danny said, “OK, let’s go. You’re in labor for real.”
“I know you are,” he said, lifting me up. “You’re great. You’re beautiful. And you’re in labor.”
I won’t bore you with labor. I will simply say that it is not beautiful. It is not magical. It is painful. Horribly, horribly painful. Unfathomably painful. You’re up all night, sweating while it feels like someone is twisting a wrench around your abdomen. And you can’t eat. Or drink. You can have lollipops and ice chips. If I never see another ice chip, I’ll be fine.
After 36 hours, I was moaning, “why did I want this?” I thought how I always wondered what it would be like. Now I knew.
Danny said, “come on. You can do this, Jessa. You’re beautiful. Can I tell you how beautiful you look?”
I was pushing, hard. “Can I tell you fuck off?” He just grinned, the bastard. I could feel the sweat dripping in my eyes as I looked down at my hospital gown, my legs spread wide in the stirrups. I was not beautiful, not by a long shot.
“Come on, Jessica,” Dr. Andopolis said. “I see the baby crowning. You can do it. One more big push.” I summoned every ounce of strength I had and pushed. “Here it comes. I have the head.” I looked down and saw my baby’s head and started to cry. “Come on Jessica, we’re almost there. You can do it.” I pushed again. “Here it comes. Here it comes. Here he is.”
I started to cry. “He?”
Danny teared up. “He. We have a boy. A son.” He kissed me.
Dr. Andopolis said, “Ten fingers, ten toes, one penis. It’s a boy,” she said, as she suctioned out his mouth. He let out a cry. My son. They cleaned him up and put him on my chest. “I think he wants his mommy,” the nurse said.
“Hey,” I said. “Hey, Zach.” It just popped into my head.
Danny smiled. “Zach? Not Harris or Ian?”
I smiled, looking down at his little body, at his ten perfect little toes and fingers. At his little legs and arms. And at his perfect little face, his eyes barely open. “Nope. He’s a Zach, Zachary. What do you think?” I said, as I put my finger on his hand and it opened slightly. “He likes it.”
Danny came over and kissed me again, then the baby. “Zachary Silverman. I like it. Hi, Zach, I’m daddy.” The nurse took the baby and cleaned, weighed and measured him. At 8:30 AM on Saturday March 17, 2018 at Cornell Hospital, a baby boy was born. He was eight pounds, nine ounces, 21 inches long and he was perfect.
We went to the recovery room and I pulled down my gown and put my baby to my breast. It took him a couple of seconds but he latched on. Danny and I sat transfixed, watching him suckle. I was feeding my baby, giving him life. I had fed him for nine months, but now I could watch him. I looked over at Danny, who was tearing up. “Are you OK?”
He smiled. “I’ve never been more OK. You’re mommy. No ifs, ands or buts. If I ever wondered if this was right, this is right.”
I smiled. “I’m mommy.” I didn’t have time to think about what it meant. I was mommy. I was Zach’s mommy. I had a little boy. I was a mother of a little boy. “You’re daddy. Are you ready?”
He smiled. “Nope. You?”
I laughed and saw Zach’s little body move up and down. “Not at all. But I know that there’s no one I’d rather be totally unprepared with but you.”
He kissed me on the lips and we watched Zach. Poor kid. He had no idea what he was in for.
One month later -
I was walking Zach to his weekly pediatrician visit. It was about 75 degrees and sunny and I was grateful to be walking the ten blocks. Basically, these visits forced me out of the apartment and I needed it.
I spent way too much time in the apartment since he was born. For the first ten days after we came home from the hospital, we had a nurse. It was Evelyn’s present to me (‘you’ll have plenty of time to take care of him yourself, Jessica. Don’t be ridiculous.’ It was one of the few things about which she and my mother were in complete agreement). After the first few days, Danny went back to work. When the nurse left, it was just me and Zach. My mother came over once a week but it was a lot to drive in every day. That and her parking in a lot would have killed my father. Sammie came over a couple of weekends, but it wasn’t easy coming from Brooklyn with a rambunctious toddler. Don’t get me wrong. I loved Charlotte. She was a sweet little girl. I was ‘JeJe’ and Zach was ‘baby,’ said with emphasis. She would come over and stare at Zach. I would say ‘make nice,’ and, if we were in luck, she would pet him. If we weren’t as lucky, she’d put her hand on him and press him like she was ironing out wrinkles. Then, she would climb on my furniture and open cabinets, while Sammie or Jon chased her. Still, I appreciated the company.
Zach was waking up every two to three hours and I hadn’t started expressing yet. It was stupid, but I wanted to be the only one to feed him. I had given him life for nine months and I wasn’t ready to give that up yet. Plus, I had read that this would strengthen our bond. If I thought about it, it was strange. I’m going to bond you to me by being the only one who feeds you. Then I thought it worked for my mother and generations of mothers, so who was I to question it? After the first week and a half, when I’d hear Zach cry, I’d look over at Danny, who would halfway stir and fall back asleep. And I wanted to kill him and then kick myself for not expressing. Then, I’d get up and trudge into the living room and look at my squalling baby. And I’d melt. ‘Hey, Zachy, mommy’s here,’ and I’d pick him up. The downside to this was that I had no energy. I’d try to go out once a day, but a lot of time I could barely get myself up and get Zach ready.
We went to the pediatrician and everything was great. He was 9 pounds 9 ounces and he was in the ninetieth percentile for height and weight. My big, strong boy. It was ridiculous, the way we waited to see what percentile he was in, like it was a test. From what I could tell, babies in New York were either tenth percentile or ninetieth. While I wasn’t a statistician, I knew the majority had to be in the middle of the curve. I wondered where these kids were - somewhere in the Midwest?
We finished at the doctor’s and I looked down at Zach in the carriage. “Whaddya say, Zachy? Treat mommy to Starbucks?” He gave me what I decided was a smile and we walked back home. I looked down at myself, with my barely combed hair, in my glasses, big t shirt stained with spit up and pee and my yoga pants and laughed a little at how I got here. I couldn’t, wouldn’t shower unless someone was there to watch Zach. It was ridiculous. He wasn’t getting into any trouble and I could take the baby monitor into the shower. But I couldn’t do it. I was too worried. So, I’d spend my days looking like hell and, if I had the energy, shower when Danny came home. A lot of days, I didn’t even have that. Danny would kiss me and tell me I looked beautiful. I think he felt guilty, but I’d take it.
We lived in a mixed use neighborhood, so our Starbucks had as many office workers as residents using it. I went to the counter and ordered a ‘non-fat vanilla skim latte.’ I wanted a mochaccino and a cake pop but was trying to lose the baby weight. At least, it was caffeine, sweet caffeine. I lost 12 pounds just after he was born, between the baby and the placenta and all, and had lost another 5 since then. I wanted to lose another fourteen, and get back to where I was. As promised, Laura brought over the jog stroller after the bris, but most days, I was too tired to move, much less go for a run. Every day, the stroller stood in the corner, taunting me. This weekend, I decided, I would do it. I’d put Zach in it and we’d go for a run. Of course, I said that last weekend. But this weekend, I meant it. I needed to lose the weight before I went back to work.
I got my coffee and went to sit outside for as long as Zach would let me. I sipped my drink with one hand and gently rocked the carriage with the other. It was 2 in the afternoon, so there was a gaggle of 20-something girls there, all in their cute spring dresses in their 3” heels with their perfect breasts and legs and asses. I wanted to kill them. It didn’t help that nursing had brought me to an H cup. I’d look at myself in the mirror and think, ‘I look like a stripper. I have big fake-looking stripper tits,’ and start to cry. I tried to cover them as much as possible, but you couldn’t miss them. They were huge. At least, Danny was smart. When Sammie was nursing, Jon took one of her bras and put it on his head to show how big the cup was. He meant it as a joke. I learned that you could choke a man with just a bra and his own tongue.
They were sitting at a table over and started giggling. I was sure that they were laughing about something at work or something some guy said, but sleep deprivation and a lack of continuous adult contact had made me a little (OK, a lot) crazy.
All of a sudden, I felt someone behind me. “Fuck them,” the voice said. “Fuck them and their perfect asses.”
I turned around to see an Asian woman with a carriage. She was dressed like me, with the same disheveled hair and tired eyes. “Tell me about it,” I said, with a smile. “Jessica Silverman,” I patted the chair next to mine.
“Sabrina Chen,” she said, with a smile. “Look at them. Look at them looking at us.”
I looked over at them. “Hey girls, fuck you,” which got a laugh. I looked in her carriage, and saw a little blob, bundled in pink. “She’s beautiful. How old?”
“Jade Alexandra just turned eighteen days,” she said, cooing. It was funny. If people asked, you gave the full name and you counted in days, then weeks, then months. I wondered if my mother would say, ‘Jessica Renee just turned 422 months!’ She looked over at Zach “And how old is this handsome boy?”
“Zachary Seth just turned one month yesterday. We just had his checkup and he is perfect,” I cooed and he gurgled. I imagine, to a passerby, we sounded like idiots and I didn’t care. I was mommy and this was the way mommy spoke to her baby. I just had to break the habit around adults. So far, it had just been family and friends. Sammie would just shake her head and smile, saying, ‘I am totally dropping the ball compared to you, Jess.’ My parents didn’t care. They weren’t listening to me at all, just fighting over Zach.
Just then, Zach started to cry, his hungry cry. I looked at Sabrina and said, “Do you mind?” I didn’t have to specify what.
She laughed and said, “Go for it.” Then, she looked over at the girls and said, with a mean laugh, ‘“That’s right, girls. Get a good look. This is your future.” And, for a little while, I felt less alone.
Six months - I had been back to work for three months already.
From the bedroom, I could hear Celia, the nanny, playing with, and singing to, Zach. She was from St. Kitts and was the friend of Sammie’s nanny.
I came out of the bedroom and said, “Hey Zachy!” He gave me a big smile, with the three teeth he had just begun cutting. I turned to Celia and said, “so what are you guys doing today?”
She said, “we are going to see Zach’s friend Jordan today.” His friend. Every time she said that, I had to laugh. He was six months old. You’d put him with another infant and they’d stare at each other. Basically, his ‘friends’ were the children for whom Celia’s friends cared. As a result, all of his friends had, as Sammie had told me would happen, ‘nannies from St. Kitts. Maybe one of the other islands, if that. But, St. Kitts.’ Sebastian’s nanny was from Poland and, as a result, we basically had to force the two nannies to get together. Michelle wanted to hire a friend of Celia’s, but Amanda said she, ‘felt guilty having a woman of color working for them.’ So, they went Polish. On a day off, I had gone to the park and observed. The island nannies’ kids played with each other, and only each other. The Indian nannies’ kids played with each other and only each other. The Polish nannies’ kids were the same. And none of them played with the kids whose moms stayed at home. When I pointed this out to my mother, she shrugged and said, ‘why do you think you were friends with Ashley and Allie? I liked their moms.’
“That sounds great,” I said. “Have a good time.” I leaned down and gave him a kiss. “Mommy loves you Zach. Be a good boy,” and I headed out the door.
“Wait,” Celia said, handing me a bag. “You almost forgot your pump.” I picked it up and was surprised she said anything, to be honest. We had begun food a couple of months ago - cereal, then fruit - and I think she couldn’t understand why we were still giving him the bottle. I went back and forth. He was eating up a storm but the books said it was good to keep breastfeeding for a while longer. Plus, I liked the closeness - most of the time. We had a pediatrician appointment soon. I’d ask Dr. Berlin what she thought.
When I got to the office, I did my morning ritual. I’d get my coffee, go to my office and kiss my fingers and touch the picture of Danny and Zach at the swings in the park. ‘Good morning, my guys,” I’d say and then go to work.
I was buried in work, with barely time to go downstairs, get a salad and eat at my desk. Around 4, the alarm on my phone went off and I closed my office door, so that I could pump. When I came back, they sent around a memo saying that, if my office door was closed, everyone had to knock, no exceptions. The women in the firm knew why, and the moms, those who had had kids while they were here, would smile. The younger men knew not to say anything. It was the older men, the ones who made the decisions, who worried me. One of the senior people, Jerry, had knocked on my door. When I said, ‘give me fifteen minutes,’ he said, in a tone somewhere between mortified and disgusted, ‘oh yeah, that’s right. Come find me.’ They all had kids but, like sausage or a vacation at a resort, didn’t want to know how things got done.
I attached the pump to both breasts (I had done a double pump, so as to take as little time as possible), and watched it suction my nipples. The first couple of times, I was transfixed, like watching two invisible hands milk me roughly. Now, I hardly noticed and went out about my work. I had, as Evelyn had predicted, become much better at multitasking. After 15 minutes, I’d disconnect and put the milk in the mini-fridge in my office. I didn’t need to buy it. I could’ve stored it in the office fridge but decided $150 was money well spent not to call attention to it too much. I didn’t need the smirks of the junior guys and the disgust of the senior people.
Ten months - Saturday morning
“Baaaaaaaaaaaaaah,” I heard, from the living room. Zach had started babbling. He and I would have whole conversations. He’d speak gibberish and I’d say, ‘is that so? Well, I disagree. I think you would be better off investing in index funds,’ or ‘I don’t get why everyone likes ‘Game of Thrones’ so much either.’ He was learning to talk, he may as well learn correctly, I figured.
I looked at the clock - 5:49 AM. “Fuuuuck,” I said, moving one leg off the bed, in preparation to get up.
Danny said, “Relax. I’ve got this. Go back to sleep.”
“You sure?” I don’t why I asked. He was offering. Why was I giving him an out?
“Yes,” he said, kissing me. “I’ve got this. Go back to sleep.”
I listened as he walked into the living room. “Hey, monkey,” he said. “What’s up? Decided to see the sun rise?” I fell back asleep, quickly.
I woke up and looked at the clock - 8:45. ‘Shit,’ I thought. ‘I should relieve Dan.’ From the living room, I heard Danny singing. ‘Ah ah baby. Zachy is a super boy. And mommy loves you. And daddy loves you. And grandma Barbara loves you. And grandpa Dave, he really loves you, even more than he loves mommy, which is saying a lot,’ which made me smile. And he continued through the list, naming his parents and our siblings ‘and cousin Sarah really loves you. And Yoni loves you, although he wouldn’t say that out loud. And Tucker, well, he loves you even if he doesn’t always show that.’ I heard him blow on Zach’s belly which made him laugh.
I came out in my t shirt and sweats, and saw them on the floor, Zach in Danny’s lap with a book open. “How are the two loves of my life?” I gave each of them a kiss. “Did daddy behave himself, Zachy?”
Danny smiled, “we are doing great. We are reading about...surprise, surprise, trucks.” Zach was all boy. We had truck pajamas. We had books about trucks. He would bounce up and down in his stroller if we saw any kind of truck.
“Thanks for letting me sleep.”
“Please,” Danny said. “We had a great time. We ate breakfast. Oatmeal and strained pears. Then we went out…”
“Did you put on his snowsuit?”
“No, he went naked, but I wore a snowsuit. Yes,” Danny said, rolling his eyes. “I put on his snowsuit and then we went for a walk. We went to the dog run, where we saw the big doggies. Right, Zach?” And then he barked. “And then we went by the construction site on 59th.” A client of the firm’s was building a 50-story residential tower to the virulent protests of the neighborhood, who said, ‘it would block out sun to the playground.’ That was fun litigation. I got to be on the side of blocking light to children. Then Danny continued, “and we saw the crane, which lifts,” and he threw Zachy into the air, “things up. And then we got bagels and Zachy flirted with the girl behind the counter.” There was a 22 year old girl behind the counter who always said, ‘hey, blue eyes’ to Zach. He looked like me, with dark hair and big blue eyes. He was about 20 pounds now, tall and solid like Danny. He was the handsomest baby, if I did say so, and a perfect combination of the two of us.
I joked, “did you get her to throw in cream cheese for free, Zachy?” Then, I kissed Danny, “thanks honey. You’re a pretty good dad, you know.”
He picked me up and twirled me. “Look at the crane, Zachy.” Then, he kissed me lightly on the lips. “Not so bad yourself.”
12 months. Well, 12 months in a week.
Mike had called me into his office. He hadn’t said why.
“Hey, Mike. What’s up?” I said, leaning on his desk.
He took a deep breath. “Sit down, Jess.” He looked grim.
“Is everything OK, Mike?” I hoped there was nothing wrong with him. “Everything OK with your mom?” She was 85 and had had the flu recently. Not to be morbid, but at that age, you get nervous.
“She’s fine, thanks for asking. I don’t know how else to say this, but I wanted you to know before the email went out…” ‘Please, please, please,’ I thought. ‘Let him be screwing with me.’ “They’re announcing the new partners today.”
“And?” OK, Mike, here’s where the big smile comes in.
It didn’t. “You have to know that, if it was up to me, you’d be partner.”
I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. “But, I’m not.”
“No,” he said, looking despondent. If he was expecting me to comfort him, it wasn’t happening.
“Did anyone make it?”
“Your friend Robin, and,” and he took a deep breath, “Jeff.”
OK, Jess, do not say anything stupid here. Do not say how it’s bullshit. How you work longer hours and bring in business. And don’t spend an hour a day on your fantasy football team. Don’t say that. “Oh,” was all I said. “Can I ask why?” Is it because I have a uterus? Because I put it to use? Because I had the gall to breastfeed my child and close my office door for 15 minutes, once a day?
“The vote just didn’t go your way.”
I stared at him and willed myself not to cry or yell. That would just play into what they wanted. “Am I being fired?” Part of me hoped for it. I’d get a severance package and could move on.
He looked shocked. “Oh god, no! As long as I’m here, you will always have a job.” A job, not a career though. Not a future. I could service the partners. In six years, I could report to Jake. Yippee. “Off the record, why do you even want this?”
“Excuse me?” I was mentally keeping notes and would write them down as soon as I left. If this went south, I would be prepared.
He realized that he fucked up. “No no no. I mean you have your writing and your, whaddya call it, podcast appearances.” I had begun appearing on the Reporter’s podcast. Originally, it was because of a real estate matter, but had expanded into commentary every other week on politics.
“Is that it? Is it the politics that’s bothering them?” I thought about how Ted, the managing partner, had been a finance chairman for several candidates.
“No,” he said. “It’s just not your year.”
“Mike, I billed 2200 last year. And 2400 the year before. And brought in new business. Be honest with me. You owe me that much. If it wasn’t this year, will it ever be?”
He looked at the floor, the wall, the window. Anywhere but me. “If you want to take the rest of the day, go ahead.”
I looked him in the eye. “No, Mike, I have work to do. And regardless of this,” and I waved my hand around. “I take care of my clients. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to get to work. OK?” I stood up and he said, ‘if it was up to me.’
I walked back to my office and closed the door. I didn’t cry. I didn’t scream. I looked at the picture of Zach, Danny and me, this one at the Bronx Zoo. I could say that I realized what was truly important, but I didn’t. Not at that moment. At that moment, all I could do was seethe.
I buried my head in work. At 1 PM, my Outlook popped up. ‘Fuck you,’ read the subject line. Well, it actually read, ‘Congratulations,’ but sometimes you read between the lines. I read the text, choking when it said, ‘Jeff lives in Westchester with his loving wife Tracey and their two children, Emily and Sean.’ Yup, Jeff lives with his wife. Jeff, the partner, lives with his wife. Jessica, the associate, the perpetual associate, lives with her husband. I walked out to my office to go congratulate Robin and ran into Jeff. “Hey, Jeff, congratulations.” I couldn’t say, ‘you deserve it.’ I wasn’t that big a person.
“Uh, thanks,” he said. “I appreciate it.” You could tell he wanted to say something else. Some bullshit like ‘we’re a team.’ Thankfully, he didn’t.
I walked into Robin’s office and gave her a hug and kiss. “Howdy, partner!” I was truly and unreservedly happy for her. She deserved it.
“Hey, thanks. Fucking Jeff. That’s fucking bullshit. You deserved it.”
“Thanks but stop. This is your day. Enjoy it. So, are you still going to go to lunch with me, now that you’re all important?” I needled her.
She smiled, “Stop. I mean, now you can’t eat until I finish…”
I smiled, “Until you finish, huh? What am I, Gib?”
She laughed then sighed. “Then, he’d go hungry. Seriously though...”
“Seriously, stop. I am totally happy for you. Let me take you to lunch tomorrow to celebrate.” I just couldn’t do it today.
She smiled. “If you insist.”
I walked around the office and felt like everyone was staring at me. Then, I thought, ‘snap out of it. They thought about it for 15 seconds, and most of that was to think what it meant for their own chances.’ And I went back to work. OK, I spent a couple of hours on parenting websites, on Bucky’s 5th Quarter, a Wisconsin football blog and on HuffPo, rereading my old articles. I was better than this. I could do more. So, why was I so upset?
I went home and Zach greeted me at the door, with his little push mower, the kind with the balls that popped around as he pushed. He was really starting to walk and, with his motor, could really zoom around the playground. I had lost three pounds just chasing after him. He gave me a big smile. “Hey, Zach,” I said, scooping him up and kissing him. “How did it go today, Celia?”
She was already putting on her coat. “Terrific. We saw Jordan today.” As the Passover Haggadah said, ma’nishtana? Why is this day different from all other days. “Mr. Zach and Jordan went up and down the halls at Jordan’s.”
“That’s great. He napped? Ate well?”
She came over and gave him a big hug, and he gave her a big smile. “He was terrific.” The smile he gave her bothered me. “I will see you in the morning,” she said, hugging him again. I was happy. She really seemed to care for him.
Danny came home and we ate dinner. I gave Zach his bath, watching him take his plastic tub cups and fill them up and dump them. I dried him off and then Danny put him to bed, reading ‘Mike Milligan and his Steam Shovel.’ Ellen, Dan’s boss’ wife, had bought him it when he was born and had written, ‘may it be the first of many that you share’ on the inside.
Danny came to bed. I was there reading. “So what happened today?”
“I didn’t make partner,” I said, moving towards him.
He took me in his arms. “I am so sorry. You deserved it.”
I started to cry, the tears I hadn’t cried all day. “It is so fucking unfair. It...is...not...fair. Robin made it….Jeff made it. Fucking Jeff made it,” and I bawled. Danny rubbed my back, and just said, ‘let it out, Jessa.’ I alternated crying and ranting. “This is such fucking bullshit.”
“What did Mike say?”
“I’d always have a job,” I said, through gritted teeth. “That and he asked why did I even want it?”
Danny put his hands on my shoulders and said, “why do you want it?”
“Are you fucking serious? I’ve spent ten years working towards this and you fucking ask me that? Are you fucking kidding me? What? I should stay home like fucking Tracey, is that it?”
“No, Jessa. That is not it. Not at all. And I’ll accept it only because I know you’re pissed. What I mean is, why this? Why do you want to be partner there? Didn’t you once say, ‘it’s like a pie eating contest where first prize is more pie? Why do you want more pie?”
I laughed. “I hate when you listen to me.”
“I’m serious,” he said. “Maybe this is your chance. You’ve said how much you hate your job. How you hate arguing about whether hedge fund assholes have marble and defending blocking sunlight. I know you think this is bullshit, and it is, but maybe this is a sign. What would you do if you could do anything?”
“That’s not an option,” I sniffled.
He smiled. “Why not? I’m not saying quit tomorrow, but if we make a plan and save, maybe it can be in a year, if not sooner. So what? So we won’t go on an expensive vacation? We’ll be OK. I do OK. We have savings. My parents have funded college.” Marty had made a big scene after the bris about that. My father just smiled and said, ‘that’s great. Zachary’s a lucky boy.’ “But what would you do? You can do anything. I’ve always believed that. Now, let’s do it! We’ll make a plan and we’ll do it. OK?”
I started to cry, but was smiling at the same time.
13 months - Zach and Dan had been at the playground for a couple of hours now.
I had been feeling under the weather lately, and Danny had offered to take him. Actually, he commanded me to relax, saying that I had been pushing myself too hard at work, ‘although god knows why.’ The litigation continued over the tower on 59th, even though ground had been broken. Part of the problem with our neighborhood was its high concentration of lawyers, retired ones to be exact. They were my worst nightmare, brains plus time. I spent more time in court fighting nuisance complaints than I had ever wanted, even though we always won. Well, the client won. I didn’t care, not the way that I used to.
I heard the door open and Zach yell, ‘mama!’ On the one hand, I loved hearing him say that, most of the time. He came staggering towards me, with a stiff-legged gait. He had begun walking at 11 and a half months. My aunt Helene told me, ‘it’s overrated, Jess. Knock him down and tie his legs together, if you have to.’ Sometimes, I regretted not listening. “Hey, guys, how was the park?”
Danny laid down on the couch, on his back with his hand over his forehead. “Tiring,” he said, with a smile. Zach toddled over and Danny laid him on his chest, Zach’s head resting near his heart. “We saw Jordan and Jade and Liam. Daddy doesn’t like Liam’s daddy.” Liam’s daddy was hyper-competitive and forever comparing the two boys, on everything including height. It galled him that Zach was taller. I used to tell him that we stretched Zach at night. “But we had fun, right Zach?” Zach responded, ‘dada,’ in an emphatic tone that we decided meant yes. “How about you? How are you feeling?”
“I think I figured out what’s bothering me,” I said, with a smile.
“What?” he said, as Zach moved to be put down. He wandered over to his toy corner (also known as my living room) and picked up blocks.
I took something out of my pocket. “This,” I said, with a smile. It was a positive pregnancy test. “I missed my last period and…” He got up off the couch, kissed me and lifted me up.
I knelt down next to Zachy. “Guess what? You are going to be a big brother…”
And nine months later, he was. To Emma Riley Silverman. 7 pounds 6 ounces and 19 ½ inches long.
At the hospital, Danny put his finger on her hand. “Hey Emma, I’m your daddy.” And with that, a love affair was born. Unlike my mother, I was happy with it.
Seven years later ----
“Eyes on the ball, Sebastian. Not on me. The ball. Stop looking at me. Come on. Come on.”
“Ma,” he yelled, as I blew past him for a layup. “Aunt Jess is being mean!”
Michelle looked over from the grill, where she was making lunch. We were at their weekend place in Rhode Island. “Seb, she’s not being mean. Listen to her. She’s trying to help. She’s a great player. Not as good as me, mind you....”
I made a talking motion with my hand. “Talk is cheap, Shell. Put up or shut up.”
I heard Amanda say, ‘Excuse me, Dan, but our wives are being, well, themselves. I need to take over the grill.’ Then, she said, ‘I’m not treating either of you when you pull something.’
Michelle looked at Zach and said, “OK, Zach, you and me against Seb and your mom. You’re Nkilitina and I’m Porzingis,” the Knicks’ point guard and center. “We’re winning the title, like they did.”
“Seb,” I said, in a stage whisper, “your mom can’t go to her left. Never could. Never will.” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Danny and Amanda roll their eyes and get back to the grill.
We were playing to 21, and we were up 18-15, when Emma and Maddie, Amanda and Michelle’s seven year old daughter, came out; yes, we had our second at the same time too. Emma said, “Mommy, can I get a pink streak in my hair like Sarah?”
“What?” I said, as Zach went past me for a pull-up jump shot. ‘Hey, no fair,’ I said, to his big grin. Little wiseass. “No, you cannot. You’re seven.”
Just then, Sarah came out. She was a senior at Brown, majoring in economics and semiotics. Yoram joked, ‘the first generation works its fingers to the bone. The second gets educated and innovates. The third studies the study of studying.’ She had come down, ‘to spend time with my favorite cousins.’ “It’s fine, Aunt Jess. It’s not like mine. It totally washes out.”
I looked at her and said, “if it doesn’t, I am holding you personally responsible.”
She smiled, “Trust me. Come on girls.” And she walked off, her two acolytes following her. I trusted her. I was proud of her. She had really grown into a beautiful, confident young woman. She had avoided the eating disorders that had plagued all the women in her family. Whenever she visited, she and I would go for long runs and just talk about life. I knew when she lost her virginity to, all of people, Jordan Glick. She smiled and said, ‘it’s not small, but god it’s not good either.’
Me? Six months after Emma was born, I walked into Mike’s office and gave my notice. While I was pregnant with Emma, I wrote an article about Trump’s asinine ban on transgender military personnel. I looked at these people who had devoted their lives to protecting my family and how they were being forced out for being who they were. And I thought about all the couples who were harassed, who had to travel overseas, to live their lives and have children. And I thought about how I didn’t want to fight over pieces on an overpriced Monopoly board anymore. So, I called my friend Michael from law school, who was on the board of Lambda Legal. He hired me as a senior staff attorney on their transgender rights initiative, even as he laughed at the pay cut I happily took. My first day at work, I sat at my desk and laughed to myself about everything that brought me there.
Danny and I sat on the deck on lounge chairs, watching the sun go down and holding hands. I looked over at him, the little flecks of gray that had begun appearing at his temples and the way he still looked good, even as his body got a little thicker, and I smiled. With each passing day, the memory of Dan and Jess was fading, like an old picture in a photo album. I couldn’t even remember the last time that we had talked about it, them. They were less and less us and more like your grandparents or a favorite teacher. You remember specific events and the lessons you learned, even as you forget the day-to-day.
I took a sip of my wine and thought, ‘who am I?’ I am Jessica Renee Silverman. I am a happily married, forty-three year old mother of two wonderful children who drive me crazy sometimes. I’m ten pounds heavier than I’d like to be, and color my hair more and more. I get up every day and hope that one day I’ll be successful enough at my job to make it irrelevant. I have good friends and a family that loves me. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.
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