I’m a cofounder of The Scintilla Project, along with my friends Onyi and Dominique, two whip-smart and artfully snarky women with beautiful hair. This is my response to one of the Day 10 prompts, Write about spending time with a baby or child under the age of two. The challenge: if you’re a parent, do not talk about your own child.We believe that your stories make you who you are and we’re asking you to share yours. Interested? Sign up at scintillaproject.com and follow us at @ScintillaHQ.
This time my story is the candy center inside the shell of someone else’s story. Bear with me.
I truly suck at making new friends. (You guys, we are going to have to brainstorm on the issue of me and new-in-town friendmaking as soon as Scintilla is done.) People kind of need to hammer at me for a while until I let them in, and most people do not want to make that kind of effort, which I completely understand. That is a lot of work to put in with someone when you don’t even know if they’re worth it. (No, not all friends are.) But I have boundless gratitude for people who put in the effort, whether we’re friends or good friends or would-be sisters who have never had to go through that room-sharing closet-stealing diary-reading bullshit.
Beth put in the effort. She was the head of the English department at the private school where I taught after I left the reservation. She was from Back East too, and by a few weeks into the school year we were heading out for dinners and talking talking talking. It was a kind of friendship I had missed so much and for so long. I still remember the day she came into my empty classroom during lunch, closed the door behind her, and said, “Well. I’m pregnant.”
Beth was in a relationship, but the father of the baby was going through some stuff. He made efforts to be there for her, but she needed someone more reliable at the time. I was already pretty sure that I didn’t want to be a parent, but people love to tell you that will change when you get older. Beth’s pregnancy was the only one I’ve ever observed at this proximity as an adult, and so part of me wondered if it would stoke a baby-fire within me. If it did, how would I tell Myron, who was also uninterested in parenting? But Beth needed me, and there was no way I would say no to her when she asked me to be her birth coach.
It is a strange thing to go through this process when you are not the parent. I think I was the only one in our class who wasn’t a sperm-donating partner to the pregnant lady in question. While Beth grappled with grading research papers for her students, extracurricular obligations, and writing recommendations for her graduating seniors, she also weighed the chances that she might end up raising her child as a single parent. The one thing that never wavered was her commitment to what would be best for the baby, even while so many other things were in flux. I had admired Beth throughout the school year for many other reasons, but her dedication to motherhood surpassed everything else. I was in awe of her.
When the time came, Beth had a c-section and I never ended up using my coaching skills to remind her to breathe. Noah was a gorgeous baby, and Beth was radiant. I’d thought she was devoted to him before he was born, but it was nothing compared to what it was like after she met him, saw his face, let him grasp her finger. I heard the echoes of every person who’d ever told me that I would change my mind about wanting a child of my own, from people much wiser than I ever was.
The birth took place just before the end of the school year. Soon Beth would be taking Noah back to her home state, where she had family to help support her. One day I went to her house to visit, and she asked me to watch him for a few minutes so that she could get some time to herself. This was not my first baby experience—I had held Noah before, and other babies too, for that matter. But this was the first time as an adult that I had been all alone with someone else’s child for more than a few minutes. His beauty was undeniable—he was a perfect blend of his parents, serene and unbothered, his eyes slowly blinking and his mouth opening for a yawn. I looked into his eyes, allowed him to investigate me, held him and put him in his bouncy seat and held him again. I searched myself for baby fever symptoms and found none.
I was proud of my friend. I was overjoyed that her son was in the world, hopeful for him and confident that he could have had no better mother than Beth. And that was all.
I know. I know. It is surely different when it’s your own. And it’s not the kind of decision you make at once, just because you hold one particular baby at one particular time in your life. But it was probably one of the first times I felt deeply at peace with the idea of remaining childfree, a desire I felt for the first time sometime around age eight. Before then, I wondered if the line about changing my mind might actually come true. Instead, I felt the rightness of skipping this particular adventure, the way I will skip skydiving and traveling to Australia and fugu and NASCAR and so many books whose back-cover blurbs intrigue me. I am not the kind of person who needs to experience it all. Few people really are, no matter what their life lists may say. Being okay with what your heart and mind need is sometimes a process of many years and lessons, especially when it’s different from the accepted norm. But occasionally it is as loud and clear as a church bell, and you can feel it vibrate within you. For me it radiated outward from Noah’s tiny swaddled body in my arms.