Roxana had always known, inexplicably, that she would have no trouble being pregnant, that there would be no morning sickness, no excessive weight gain, no moodiness. She knew she’d have no difficulty becoming pregnant, either. In fact, she’d never doubted that it would be easy to find a man whom she wished to make her pregnant. Not that she was particularly beautiful, or constantly surrounded by admirers; rather, she just felt secure, somehow, that when the right person came along she would know. The only thing she’d never been sure of was that she wanted to be a mother.
And, indeed, many of her predictions had come to pass. She had met Edward at a cocktail party for the medical devices firm at which she worked. He was a biochemical engineer who worked in development; she was in sales. She couldn’t say she knew right away that he was the man she’d unquestioningly believed would some day show up, but time passed, years passed, and he proved himself the right person. He wanted children, knew it with a definitiveness she had to trust, and so, though she’d made sure he was aware of her ambivalence on the subject, after several years of marriage, she had allowed herself to be convinced that procreation was the next logical step in their development as functioning members of society. It was selfish not to have children, he told her. Whatever other purpose we serve during our lifetimes, our biological imperative is to assist in prolonging man’s reign over the animal kingdom.
She found it strange to hear Edward speaking in this sequence of clichés. True, he was a scientist, wholly committed to evolution, and in fact had protested her replacement of the Darwin symbol on their shared car with the Flying Spaghetti Monster she’d recently ordered on the internet. He was also unaccustomed to presenting what she felt was, in essence, a sales pitch—that was her territory. Still, she loved him, and she was willing to defer to his judgment if he believed strongly enough in her capacity for maternal bliss to allow her own hesitation to be subsumed in his certainty. Besides, if she trusted her own sense that the process, for her, would be less taxing than it had been for so many others, then maybe there wasn’t so much to worry about.
Her menstrual cycle had always been perfectly timely and reliable, accompanied by a minimum of discomfort—some uterine cramps, mild water retention—and followed, precisely ten days later, by a slight pain in one ovary or the other, to inform her that one delicate, microscopic egg was beginning its journey into her fallopian tubes. Left, right, left, right. She was having her period during the final, decisive conversation with Edward, and as soon as she felt a pain in her ovary (left, this time), she showed Edward her diaphragm, snug in its case, and led him to bed. They made love twice a day for the next three days, morning and night, and afterward she hugged her knees to her chest for a few minutes, to ease the strenuous travel for Edward’s sperm.
It would have been nice, she thought, if baby-making sex were somehow different than regular sex, but other than a certain wistful look in Edward’s eyes, she couldn’t say anything out of the ordinary had occurred. Each had satisfied the other in the pleasantly perfunctory way natural to any marriage more than a couple of years old; there was no magical spark of conception apparent to either of them. Yet Roxana was unsurprised to note, fifteen days after the last official attempt, the absence of her regularly scheduled monthly event.
Don’t get too excited, she told Edward, after three more days had passed.
You’ve never been a day late in your life, he said. He picked her up and swung her around but put her down quickly.
You’re not feeling sick, are you? I wouldn’t want to make you dizzy.
I’m fine. We shouldn’t celebrate before we know anything for sure.
She scheduled a doctor’s appointment a week later. Though she was tempted to confer with friends to find the best obstetrician available, she felt reluctant to share the prospect of her news with anyone besides Edward. Thankfully, she remembered some of the names her friends had mentioned during their own children’s gestations, and one of the doctors had an available slot. She only had to wait two more weeks to confirm her self-diagnosis.
I’d say you’re about five weeks along, the doctor told her. Does that sound about right?
Exactly, she said.
He gave her a series of handouts meant to prepare her for what was pending. Lists of what not to eat—she’d known to avoid soft cheeses and sushi, but she hadn’t realized foods made with raw eggs were off-limits, which meant that a certain restaurant with stellar crème brûlée would have to be avoided. She would also have to give up herbal tea, something she hadn’t expected but supposed she could live without. A developmental timeline, complete with pictures of tiny fetuses in various stages of growth. A chart of anticipated symptoms, which she read with curiosity but without even an inkling of fear: heartburn, constipation, hemorrhoids, swelling of the ankles, nosebleeds, shortness of breath. She thanked the doctor and scheduled a follow-up appointment.
At home, Edward sat at the kitchen table and read the handouts with an intensity that made her understand why his social life as a student had been limited. He looked up every so often to ask her questions: was she feeling at all nauseous? No. Was she experiencing any cravings? No. Cramping? No. Finally, he finished reading and pushed the papers aside.
Are you excited? he asked.
She shrugged. She had never had reason to lie to Edward and saw no reason to start now. I find all of this interesting, but I can’t say I’m excited yet, no.
He looked worried. Do you have regrets?
No, she said, taking his hand. We decided on this together. This is what we both chose.
I just want to be sure of that. I would hate to think I’d pushed you to do something you didn’t want.
Not at all. But we’re different people. It’s something we’ve always prided ourselves on, remember? I’ll let you handle the excitement for now. I’ll just focus on staying healthy. Excitement will come.
I hope so, he said, and smiled as widely as she’d ever seen him smile. I wish you felt like I did right now. I feel like I’m going to explode from within.
Well, don’t. I’m the one who needs to prepare for an explosion.
The weeks passed with little incident. Roxana had correctly anticipated the lack of morning sickness, but that was logical—she had a very stable and contented stomach and was rarely nauseous, rarely had the flu, had hardly ever been sick at all. She continued jogging to stay in shape, and though her visits to the doctor confirmed that she was gaining the minimum required amount of weight, the expansion of her waistline was barely discernible. She eschewed maternity clothes for larger shirts, new bras, and pants with loose waistbands and a touch of Lycra in the fabric, and so, for a long time, no one noticed the changes in her body except Edward. And Edward, it seemed, was finding the changes quite satisfactory. His fascination with her newly rounded breasts was almost discomfiting.
Does this mean you thought they were too small before?
You know I’ve always thought they were perfect, he said, plucking at a nipple as if it were a harp string. But the novelty is fun, isn’t it?
She supposed it was. Her nipples had certainly increased in sensitivity, and the harp-string plucking resonated within her body, sending a lovely note through her that resounded in her clitoris. They were having sex more frequently than usual, a welcome though unanticipated development, and to the extent that she was starting to believe that something was growing inside her, she had the uncanny sense that it was happy about this turn of events as well.
She and Edward had also decided that the baby would remain an it, rather than a he or she. The doctor had given her the option of having an early ultrasound at twelve weeks to confirm her due date and to check the health of the baby, or a later one at twenty weeks, at which point they could determine the baby’s sex. They had opted for the earlier date. Edward accompanied her to the hospital and had sympathetically squirmed along with her when the nurse rubbed cold jelly on her still nearly flat stomach. However, Edward could not join her in the irrational sense she had that the baby disliked the experience of the ultrasound itself. The pictures told her nothing except that there was, in fact, a clump of cells in her uterus that had not been there previously, but the doctor informed them that there were no immediate health problems and that the assessment of her due date had been accurate. They were also relieved to hear that an amniocentesis would not be necessary.
We can schedule another ultrasound if you’d like to see the baby when it’s further along, the doctor told them, and though Edward brightened at the idea, she told the doctor she’d prefer not to have another if she didn’t have to.
It’s entirely up to you, the doctor said. Just be sure to check in if anything unusual happens.
Once they had returned to the comfort of their living room, both seated at opposite ends of their plush beige sofa, Edward asked why she’d turned the doctor down. I wouldn’t have minded seeing a few more pictures of it, when it gets bigger.
This is going to sound strange, she said, but I have the feeling the baby doesn’t want us to see it. Him. Her. Whatever.
She expected Edward to be disappointed by this statement, its imprecision, its utter lack of rationality, but instead he moved closer to her on the sofa.
Does this mean you’re—I don’t know—communicating with the baby, somehow? Talking to it?
That’s not entirely accurate. But I’m starting to have this odd sensation that I know what it wants. She moved even closer to him. For example, she said, I know that it likes—it really likes—when we do this. And she kissed him, pulling him onto her.
I knew this baby was a good idea, he said.
And so the time continued to pass, pleasurably, for the most part. Edward was attentive and solicitous, as if he expected Roxana to suddenly weaken and become the type of expectant mother he’d envisioned. She, however, felt unchanged. The continuing shifts in her body were predictable, progressing right along the lines the pamphlets had warned her to anticipate. At week fifteen she felt the first stirrings within her, though it was less like the fluttering of butterfly wings, as others had described it to her, and more like the occasional poking of stingless wasps, as she described it to Edward. He began placing his hand on her stomach frequently, hoping to feel something himself, but she told him it was too early.
Probably around week eighteen, she told him.
I’m not sure I can wait that long.
You’ll have to. The baby will tell us when it’s time. She playfully slapped his hand away from her abdomen, but secretly she hoped he would accept her sense of the timeline and let her be. At least during the day; at night she wanted him as much as she ever had, though she wasn’t always sure she was reaching for him of her own volition.
Luckily, Edward was so enamored of the idea that she was communicating with their baby that any reference to its desires quelled his curiosities. She resolved not to rely overly on the baby as an excuse, but there was a certain truth to what she told him; though she couldn’t be sure how she knew what the baby wanted—it wasn’t speaking to her, exactly—it was always clear to her what she should do.
One thing was certain: the baby did not like doctors. Because she was healthy, it was easy to put off routine visits, though she knew this could not go on indefinitely. In addition, the baby’s dislike of doctors apparently extended to its wish to manipulate the circumstances of its birth, so Roxana met with a midwife about home delivery.
We don’t often recommend that mothers give birth at home, the midwife told her. It’s best to have a doctor on hand, in case of complications, you see.
I’m committed to this, Roxana said, though she had not yet informed Edward of this decision. We live only moments away from a hospital. I’m sure if there were problems that someone could come in time. Besides, I’m confident that nothing will go wrong.
The midwife looked worried. It’s better to be cautious, she said.
I insist, Roxana said, and, to appease the midwife, added, I have complete faith in you.
The midwife shrugged. If that’s what you want, the midwife said. You’ll have to sign a number of releases.
I’m happy to. She got out a pen. She could tell Edward about it later.
One morning, during week twenty, Roxana awoke feeling strange. The wasp-banging had ceased, replaced with a series of movements she could only describe as shivering. It was irrational to think the baby was cold; she knew from the pamphlets and from books she had taken out of the library that her uterus was perfectly warm and cozy. Edward woke as she was lying with both hands on her stomach, trying to ascertain whether the internal shivering translated to anything she could feel externally, something she could share with Edward.
What is it? he asked. Kicking? Finally?
Not exactly. She took his hand and put it on her stomach, pleased that he had eschewed the habit of touching without asking.
I don’t feel anything.
I can’t feel it from the outside either. She tried to explain the shivering, but it was hard to describe.
Do you think everything’s okay? Should we call the doctor?
No! It came out more forcefully than she had intended. Everything is fine. It’ll kick when it wants to kick.
They both got out of bed. Are you going to tell your boss today? Edward asked, as he began to dress for work.
Maybe tomorrow, she said. I might take the day off today.
Good idea. You could use the rest—I’m surprised you haven’t been more tired.
She knew her lack of symptoms perplexed Edward, but it wasn’t in her nature to manufacture pain or discomfort to calm his nerves. And she felt fine, really, but she thought it might be nice to have the day to herself. Or was that what the baby thought? She couldn’t be sure.
She crawled back under the covers and napped until Edward left for work, and then she went to the bathroom. Thankfully, her stomach had not yet expanded to the point where she couldn’t see her underwear when she sat down to urinate. Her large white underwear; the sexier, silkier underthings she preferred were tucked in a drawer, to be returned to in the future, a future she had difficulty picturing, a future in which her protruding stomach was replaced with a Baby Bjorn, one lump for another. Such ugly white underwear—but not pristinely white. She peered closer at the crotch and saw what appeared to be dark red stains.
Her stomach—her real stomach, shrunken and pushed upward by the presence of the baby—lurched as she realized the possibility existed that her lack of fear had been improper. More than that: the possibility existed that something was seriously wrong, and though it did not make her feel particularly maternal toward the growing—hopefully growing—clump of cells, she knew that she would not be unaffected if something bad were to happen. Not to mention that Edward would be devastated.
And then she felt a shiver, a different kind of shiver than the one she’d felt that morning, and a feeling of peace came over her. The baby was letting her know that it was fine, and she would have to trust it as she had trusted it before. She looked more closely at the stains on her underwear. They didn’t look like blood, though the color was a close match, just a shade darker than her menstrual blood. She reached down to see if she could scratch a sample of the stain, and to her surprise, it fluttered out of her grasp and fell to the floor. Using her thumb and forefinger, she pinched at another stain, and this one clung to her finger. She raised her finger closer to her eyes and examined what appeared to be a small scale. As she tilted her finger back and forth, the scale caught the bathroom light and glinted with a faint iridescence.
It didn’t make sense, yet she was unconcerned. It obviously wasn’t blood, so there was no need to call the doctor, especially when the baby continued to send signals that it was fine, that she needn’t worry. She rubbed the scale—if that’s what it was—between her fingers. Its texture was almost leathery at first, but then it crumbled between her fingers, evaporating into dust and leaving only a dotting of glitter on her fingertips. It was quite beautiful, really. She saw no reason to tell Edward about it. Deep within her belly, she sensed that the baby approved.
By week twenty-five Roxana was showing enough that it became necessary to tell the manager of her department that she would be need to take maternity leave. Her co-workers asked why she had taken so long to reveal her condition, but she fended them off with tales of her nervousness about being pregnant, over the state of the pregnancy, of her worries about becoming a parent, and they cooed in sympathy even as she suspected they had long been discussing the issue behind her back. It didn’t matter. Though she valued the honesty of her relationship with Edward, her feelings about the importance of truthfulness did not extend to her co-workers, with whom she had never been close. There were rumblings of their desire to throw her a shower, which she quickly staunched. She had everything she needed, she told them, and though that was untrue as well, she sensed that the baby was uninterested in anything that did not come from its parents.
The baby was also starting to become much more active. She could feel it poking her—in her ribs, in her back, so low in her abdomen that she almost thought it might be trying to come out. Edward actually giggled the first time he felt her stomach move, a sound she’d never heard from him before and might never hear again. He viewed the movements as unassailable signs of health, and his belief that everything was progressing normally was buttressed by her reports of a clean bill of health from the doctor.
These reports didn’t exist, of course. Though Edward had initially been understanding of her claim that the baby disliked doctors—detested would be a better word, at this stage—he had insisted that Roxana schedule monthly visits. Just to be on the safe side, he said. She had acquiesced on the condition that she be permitted to go on her own, and he had accepted the compromise. She rationalized her fabrications, reasoning that they weren’t lies, exactly. The baby was in perfect health, and there was no cause to expose it to undue stress when it so capably was able to inform her of what it wanted.
And a large part of what it continued to want, apparently, was for Roxana and Edward to make love. This had the convenient effect of keeping Edward from asking too many questions; what questions he had could be silenced with a kiss, an invitation. He expressed some concern that the frequency and strenuousness of their relations might harm the baby, but she assured him that it was perfectly normal for pregnant women to have stronger urges than they might have had previously, and this seemed to assuage his fears.
Keeping Edward sated also had the beneficial effect of keeping him from realizing that what he was feeling when he touched the taut, stretched skin of her abdomen was not necessarily what he was supposed to be feeling. Though she wasn’t entirely sure what was poking her, she knew one thing: it was not feet. Unless, that is, the baby had more than two of them. She supposed she should be grateful that this was her first pregnancy, since Edward surely would have realized that something was unusual if he’d had much experience with pregnancies before.
However, he’d never been particularly interested in other people’s pregnancies, or even other people’s children; he was fixated on the prospect of his own child, not children in general.
Roxana knew that the poking-that-was-not-feet should worry her, but instead she found it oddly calming, as she’d found nearly everything that had to do with this baby. There was something about the idea of this child being unusual in some way that made it easier to accept the idea that, one day, it would have to come out of her and she would have to care for it. She’d never been able to picture herself holding a baby, a downy-skinned soft-skulled fuzzy-headed helpless thing, and the more apparent it became that she would be unlikely to do so, the better she felt.
She sensed, too, that the baby had intuited her acceptance of their shared peculiar circumstances. It moved its limbs, if that’s what they were, more freely, and though she knew it should not have been possible, she often felt as if some appendage were snaking past her cervix, into the vaginal canal. It was not an entirely uncomfortable feeling.
At the thirty-week mark, the baby began making a new request: it wanted her to spend more time in the water. Her weight gain had remained minimal, so, despite the fact that she felt awkward, it was still feasible for her to take a bath. Their bathroom had a deep tub, and she filled it with bath salts and soapsuds and luxuriated in the water’s velvety warmth. In spite of the tub’s depth, her belly still peeked out above the suds, leaving the patch of exposed skin just above what used to be her belly button a bit cold. She sensed the baby scooting downward, as if it could feel the warmth of the water from within her. And then she felt it moving further, felt the curious appendage winding its way downward, further and further until it almost seemed to be tickling her outsides. But that wasn’t possible.
She heard rather than saw a splash of water—her belly was in the way—and then a spray of soap bubbles floated into the air. She sat up quickly, expecting to feel the appendage slithering its way back into her, but instead she felt a continued downward movement. Brushing aside the soap bubbles, she looked between her legs to see a thin red tentacle waving underneath the water.
The more Roxana learned, the harder it became to keep what she knew from Edward. She didn’t want him to be shocked when the baby came; she wanted him to love it, as she was beginning to believe she would come to do, but the baby was adamant that she remain silent. She needed to continue to trust that it knew what it was doing, as hard as that might seem to believe. All would be revealed in time.
As it turned out, she didn’t have long to wait. At week thirty-five, the tentacles—there was no justification for pretending that they were anything else, not anymore—wriggled frantically, and she knew that the baby wanted her to seduce Edward yet again. She had occasionally wondered what prompted the baby’s urgings, or what prompted the baby to summon her own urges, but she knew there must be a reason. Maybe the baby needed sperm in order to grow; it wouldn’t be the strangest thing, under the circumstances.
That night, they maneuvered around the mass of her belly and began to make love. She was hungrier for Edward than she could remember, or perhaps the baby was; it didn’t matter. She clutched at his back, pushing him deeper and deeper into her.
Edward gently pushed her hair out of her face. I’m trying, honey, he said, but we’ve got some logistical impediments to deal with here.
I know, she said, but even as she spoke she could feel something moving, a tentacle descending, and the sensation that the inside of her vagina was expanding, stretching.
Edward began to lift himself off of her, but he stopped. What is it? she asked. What’s wrong?
Something’s happening, he said. I don’t understand.
Roxana suspected she knew, but she didn’t know what to say. Edward tried again to pull away from her but stopped again. He reached down and then quickly jerked his hand away. He began to breathe in short gasps.
Honey? Are you okay?
Now he was nearly hyperventilating.
Calm down. It’s going to be okay. For the first time, she wished that her enormous belly would disappear, if only so she could confirm her suspicions. Then she remembered that she had a hand-mirror in the drawer of her night-table. She stretched as far as she could to reach it. Edward’s breathing was starting to regulate itself, though inhaling seemed to be an effort he was struggling to maintain.
Close your eyes, she told Edward, and he complied without question. She turned on the light and positioned the mirror so she could see the angle where Edward’s body joined with hers. A slim red tentacle had wound its way around the shaft of his penis.
In the past, she had accepted that the baby would communicate its needs to her, and she would comply. Now, she decided, it was time for the baby to return the favor. And with the mere thought, the tentacle unwound itself and disappeared back inside her. Edward slumped off of her and lay back on the bed, eyes still closed.
I need to tell you some things, she said.
Edward’s eyes remained closed through the entire conversation, which was actually less a conversation than a monologue. She ended with an apology. I never meant to lie to you, she said, it’s just that everything that’s been happening just seemed—I don’t know—natural, somehow. I was supposed to trust that you would understand, though I know that sounds ridiculous right now.
Edward opened his eyes and turned to look at her, and it was as if she could see the scientist and the father doing battle in his irises. He didn’t speak for some time. Finally, he said, You’re convinced that we’re doing the right thing?
You’re sure that this—baby—whatever it is—it’s healthy?
And it’s ours? It’s something we made?
I’m sure of it. It needs us. Both of us.
This is something you’re okay with?
She didn’t know what to say. It’s hard to explain, she said. You know that I had reservations about whether I wanted to be a mother, whether I would be a good mother. I’m beginning to think that maybe I’m just not cut out for traditional motherhood. But this—this is something else. This is something that, for whatever reason, I can do. Be a parent to. Whatever that means. The question is, can you?
He breathed deeply before answering. The thing is, he said, I think I’ve known for some time that something was different. With us. And the baby. The way you say you know what the baby wants—in some way I’ve known too, I think. It’s just that because it’s not physically connected to me, I haven’t had to listen. All I’ve had to do is trust it, and you.
So you do? Trust us?
I have some thinking to do, he said. I need a little time.
Well, there isn’t much time left. We need to get ready.
I know. Just give me the weekend.
It seemed only fair—she’d had so much time to mentally prepare, and he’d had none. She spent as much time out of the house that weekend as she could, taking walks, exchanging only the briefest pleasantries with Edward but trying to give him time to think, by himself. He seemed to be spending a lot of time out of the house as well, but she noticed that occasionally, when he was home, he stayed in the room that they had intended to serve as the nursery with music turned up so loud she could hardly think. She hoped he wasn’t mourning the loss of his fantasy child. She hoped she—she and the baby, really—hadn’t hurt him that much.
On Sunday night she was napping in her bedroom when Edward came in and woke her.
I need you to see something, he said.
Is everything okay?
Just trust me.
He was only asking of her what she’d asked from him, so how could she refuse?
He took her hand and led her to the nursery, opened the door. Inside was a room completely transformed. Edward had painted the walls a foamy green and had rigged an electronic light machine to display underwater scenes on the walls—starfish, sea horses, dolphins, kelp. She heard a tinkling sound and looked up to see a mobile of floating angelfish circling around and around. The corners of the room were filled with stuffed animals and toys—plastic replicas of iguanas and lizards, brightly colored boa constrictors, Against the wall nearest the door was a changing table, and against the far wall were two large aquariums: one filled with water and lined with turquoise stones and algae and lit by a fluorescent lamp; the other lined with pebbles and sand and covered with a black device. She walked to the device and placed her hand above it, feeling the heat that emanated from within.
I didn’t know what to get, Edward said, so I figured I’d prepare for at least a couple of possibilities. It was time to get prepared for something, anyway.
She didn’t know what to say, but she felt her eyes starting to tear.
There’s a lot more fish stuff than snake stuff out there, he said. I’d never realized. I hope the baby’s not offended if, you know, depending on what it is and all that.
She hadn’t married Edward for his ability to articulate his feelings verbally. Besides, the room said everything she needed to hear. She hugged him as best as she could, her belly pressed up against him, and the baby squirmed, as if reaching out to them.
Roxana’s due date arrived, and with it came gentle pulsations within her uterus, followed shortly thereafter by a gush of amniotic fluid, which landed in the bathtub where she’d been waiting. There had been enough surprises; everything now was expected.
Call the midwife, she told Edward.
Are you sure that’s a good idea?
I don’t know if we need her, but just to be safe. You’ll have to talk to her. We don’t want her causing any problems.
The midwife arrived two hours later. Roxana and Edward had covered the bed with plastic sheets, and Roxana lay in bed waiting while Edward led the midwife into the living room and spoke with her in a low voice. She couldn’t hear what he was saying, but she knew he would take care of everything.
The midwife came into the bedroom and began to set up her supplies. How are you doing? she asked.
Very well, Roxana said.
Are you in a lot of pain? How far apart are the contractions?
It was hard to say—she wasn’t experiencing the type of contractions described in the books she’d read. I’m not sure, she said. I’m not feeling any pain. The pulsations had strengthened, but she couldn’t say they hurt, exactly.
Let me examine you, the midwife said, and Roxana spread her knees as far apart as they would go. You’re coming right along. It won’t be long now.
It was only another hour before Roxana felt something entering the birth canal. It wasn’t tentacles this time, though she couldn’t be sure what it was—it didn’t feel like a head, though she supposed she couldn’t know that for sure, having never done this before. Still, there was no pain, only a sudden feeling of openness, and then the disorienting feeling that her vagina had become a slide and something was falling out.
She looked up to find that Edward had elbowed the midwife out of the way and had caught their baby himself, swaddling it in a blanket before the midwife had a chance to get a good look at it.
What’s going on here? the midwife asked.
You can go now, Edward said.
I don’t understand. I need to examine the baby, I need to see—
It’s okay, Roxana said. Just go.
Well, I never, the midwife said.
I’m sure you haven’t, Edward said, and held the baby away from view until the midwife left. Then he placed the package on Roxana’s chest and sat on the bed next to her.
Welcome to the world, little one, she said, and two tentacles snaked out of the blanket, one wrapping itself around Roxana’s finger and one twisting around Edward’s. Welcome home.