The backseat of a car, a great playlist, a side street in Brooklyn. We only did it once. Sometimes you find yourself caught in a classic American narrative.
Except we weren’t teenagers. And the final outcome was far from a mistake. What I should cop to now, before any further writing, is that in the back seat of that car in those early morning hours, with a couple of supplies from Amazon, we were two women trying to get pregnant.
And we did. The single try.
As a reader, you might find yourself feeling shocked at the odds - how is it possible? Without medical intervention? Is that possible?
Carrie and I had gotten married a year earlier. We had chatted about this family idea, Carrie and I, but only kind of. But then one night, we were out to dinner with our friend, and had decided to ask if he would, you know, donate his sperm, possibly, so that we could, maybe, try to have a baby. Perhaps we were testing the waters, maybe we thought it would take more conversation, but he said yes, quickly, and his “yes” pulled us farther down the path. And because this is New York, and his Williamsburg apartment is small and we didn’t want to bother his boyfriend, here we were, “doing it” in the back of a car.
All this, the strangeness of it, didn’t fully hit me until later that morning. I was managing a location shoot for the Scorsese’s HBO show, VINYL, and they were putting in old phone booths up and down the street. Sixties Mustangs and Cougars were parked bumper-to-bumper, and they were rebuilding the awning and sign for Max’s Kansas City. A man walked by and stopped to express his shock, “That’s exactly what it looked like. I can’t believe this, it’s like we are there - then." He was really spooked. I told him it was television, and he told me that he had gone to Max’s several times, and that he had been Robert Mapplethorpe’s boyfriend - the guy that Robert left Patti Smith for.
He was a remarkable-looking man. The charisma for stealing Robert away still active in his presence. I couldn’t help myself. I told him: I just tried to get my wife pregnant. He hugged me, thrilled. We have come somewhere. Past, present, future. The three elements of time standing in one spot.
Within our relationship, I’m the girlier one, the one in the mirror trying to look pretty. Yet I am (clearly) not the one who got pregnant. Carrie got pregnant. My wife who hasn’t worn a dress in 20 years, keeps her hair short, and is more masculine than the men I work with. She reads men’s blogs. She was a drummer in a punk band for years. I want to look like Rihanna. She wishes she could hug Rihanna. Because pregnancy is defining for womanhood, the people I know who fit into her gender category are not the ones - generally speaking - to get pregnant. It defies who they are. It upsets the categories.
Everyone asks me, why didn’t you get pregnant? This is the question that positions me against the world. This is where I am an outlier. I didn’t want to get pregnant. This is not what I say, because when people ask, they are watching me so intently, searching for an answer they expect. And for my part, I’ve made up so many answers that I’ve learned that for a woman who looks like me there isn't one.
I’ve mothered so many. Teenagers flock to me, I love the theater of small children, and I love talking gibberish with a baby, but a child will change your life on every level. Forever, you must consider someone else before you act. A noble task. I’m certain it will clean my soul in ways I do not know. And yet, I hesitate. I want to go to New Zealand. By myself. Maybe live there.
So, if I’m telling the truth, I wasn’t 100 percent into Carrie getting pregnant, either. Maybe that was why I was so completely and totally shocked when it happened. Not unlike a teenage boy. I even teased her, when she showed me the positive pregnancy test: I said, “It’s not mine!”
I was so proud of that joke.
And then came the guilt. Our close friends of the same persuasion who have tried to get pregnant have not had it so easy. I would say that most have struggled, and so at first we hid our story. For our friends, from that first “let’s have a baby” decision, years will pass, an enormous amount of frustration builds, people cry on the daily in desperation, and so often, there is ceaseless medical intervention. It’s painful and expensive. A tedious, difficult, clinical process. The only upswing is that I imagine when someone does finally get pregnant, the difficulty forces the cream to the top of the experience and everything is far sweeter, and maybe for a lifetime.
In some ways, I’m convinced it was because I wasn’t sure about getting pregnant that it happened after a single try. My lesson was: What if it happens? What will I do? Whereas, for those who want it so badly, their lesson is: What if it doesn’t happen? What will I do? We all come to the same place. How to be grateful for exactly what we have at the moment we have it. To be grateful for all the folds in the story. This being the hardest feeling to find, and rest in.
Our birthing class is what got me all the way there. The woman teaching it explained at the top of a long day that there was absolutely nothing she likes to talk about more than babies and giving birth. Her passion was infectious. Perfect, I thought. I will borrow this. And her articulation was beautiful. Not woo woo, nothing too nostalgically hippie, nothing inauthentic.
She stood there, at her whiteboard, and explained just how at a moment in time, pre-designed, the cervix will melt away. I was simply stunned by this. Overtaken. What the body knows, and is not telling us. This is what it means to dilate. It will go from a locked door to the mouth of the river. It's that opening that has me. I keep thinking about it on loop. The opening of life.
We practiced and Carrie held the wall. I rubbed her back with long, hard strokes. For me, how to be that marathon trainer, the one standing by to give her water at each milestone, assure her of her accomplishment, and tell her it won’t be long until it is over. A role I am thrilled to play.
My guess is Carrie will be quiet during childbirth, she will go inside. That’s who she is when pain is acute and unceasing. If she does go quiet, such quietness will underscore the strongest truth about this whole story. We are subjects of it. It is not our subject. So clear will it be when she gives birth, with me as her witness.
Paula Gilovich is a writer, producer and delighted, awe-struck mother. In recent years, she served as the co-creator of the wellness programming for the Further Future festival, and simultaneously, she served as the ambassador for Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and the Director of Content + Production at ABC Home. There, she programmed and hosted a TED-style conversation and special event series with guests that included Oprah, Brené Brown, Mark Ruffalo, Rufus Wainwright, Hillary Clinton, Yoko Ono, Arianna Huffington, Bill McKibben and many more. She produced two exhibits of Thich Nhat Hanh’s legacy calligraphies, and she produced several events surrounding his last visit to New York City. As a writer, she has contributed to The New York Times, The Stranger, Allure and other publications nationwide.