We called our babysitter a few hours ago to see if she might be able to watch the kids this Friday night so that my husband and I could go and enjoy some of our good friends performing live music - outstanding live music - at the indie bar where my husband and I first met nine years ago. It will be a tremendous show, the first performance for one of these two bands in three years. We would love so much to be there. My husband and I share a huge passion for live music; it's one of the first things that brought us together.
Unfortunately our babysitting options are limited right now, with one grandparent out of the country traveling and another grandparent struck down with the flu. Our babysitter Mary* is a brilliant and talented 24 year old college student who routinely garners awards and scholarships for her outstanding work, and we've been so lucky and blessed to have her in our lives over the past three years. Fortunately for her (and unfortunately for us) Mary is about to graduate from her university with honors and has already been offered a nearly full-time job which she begins next week.
Mary called a few moments ago to let me know that she was very sorry but she has other plans on Friday. Of course, we totally understood.
As I sat back down on the couch reflecting on Friday night and the fact that we will not be able to attend the show after all, I listened to the cheerful shouting of my boys in the bathtub being bathed by their dad. I felt a little old and a little trapped.
There are probably thousands of 35 and 36 year old American couples right now planning their Friday nights, and maybe most of them are like us - going to be home sitting in front of a movie On Demand instead of out at a bar listening to music with friends, because we have three beautiful children who can't be left alone.
Some of those 35 and 36 year olds however are probably not parents yet, and some may not even want to have children. Within that vast pool of mid-30s couples there have got to be thousands of folks who will actually be AT their local pubs on Friday night, sharing a pitcher, playing pool, hanging out, gossiping and even kissing in a dark corner.
Not long ago, that would have been us! How did it all change so fast?
Well let me tell you...
It happened one Saturday in November.
I remember the day vividly. November 5th, 2004 was a crisp, cool and extremely sunny. For weeks my fiance and I had looked forward to a special conference taking place at a prestigious 100+ year old hotel in our town... our Bay Area alma mater was putting on a day of lectures here in southern California hosted by university professors and it happened to be taking place at this really beautiful hotel near to our home. We were both enthusiastic about attending.
As alumni we were offered a special conference rate and had our choice of which lectures to attend. We chose to attend two - one on sustainability and climate change, and the other on stem cell research. The talks were interspersed with a luncheon and late-afternoon cocktail party.
We ran into a few old college friends throughout the day, happily sharing the news of our September engagement. "You look radiant!" one told me, and I blushed as I showed off my lovely new engagement ring which had just been sized to fit my hand. I remember watching the facets of the rows of tiny diamonds sparkle in the bright sunlight, then looking over at my fiance and thinking to myself that I was the happiest and luckiest girl in the world.
We'd been engaged nearly two months and were deep in the throes of planning a July wedding, investigating venues and trying to match our ideals (simple, homey, warm, connected to nature) with the ideals of our families (200+ guests to invite, the yearning for a church wedding, a formal reception). We'd managed to settle upon a few key details... we would be married by a dear friend expert in Buddhism (I'm not sure we've ever told him that we planned to have him officiate!) and we would follow along in the tradition of my husband's parents by holding our wedding reception in his grandmother's lavish back yard.
I really loved my fiance and after more than two years together I was beyond elated when he got down on one knee and proposed to me. (Another story for another time...) Picking out the ring together, planning our future and our honeymoon, every day was starting to feel like a dream come true.
So that Saturday as we mingled with other alumni at the conference and I watched the light dance and sparkle on my hand, I was truly aglow with pride and joy.
We were crossing the main street in front of the hotel, standing at the corner waiting for the stoplight to change, on our way back to our car. Chatting amiably about our honeymoon plan to go to Spain, with my husband telling me about his old friend in Barcelona that we would definitely want to see while there. In a total non sequitur I added, "You know I think I'm going to take a pregnancy test when I get home, my period is pretty late."
"Oh yeah? Isn't it always a little late?"
"Yeah I know, it's no big deal. I'll just take the test to relax about it, and watch, then it will start like ten minutes later. So anyway, what other cities should we try to see beyond Barcelona?"
And that was it. Neither of us thought about it at all, we got so wrapped up in our honeymoon planning that I almost forgot to take the pregnancy test. We started to cook dinner, and then I remembered.
"Be right back," I said.
This wasn't the first pregnancy test I had taken in my life. I was twenty eight years old, and my cycle could be erratic. So it really wasn't a big deal to me, especially since I suffered from debilitating endometriosis. My OB/GYN had told me just 6 weeks earlier that it might be very difficult for me to achieve and maintain a pregnancy due to my condition... "Only time will tell," he said. "You never know with these things. Some people have terrible endometriosis and get pregnant easily. Others have a minor case and are infertile. You never know what will happen."
So on November 5, 2004 it wasn't so unusual for me to take a pregnancy test completely convinced that it would be - as usual - negative. I had even taken to purchasing the generic store brand of test because I didn't want to waste any more money than necessary simply convincing myself that yes, my period was indeed on its way.
Except that this time, it wasn't.
I waited the obligatory two minutes and returned to check the test, completely stunned to find that there were not one, but TWO blue lines filling the plastic window. Momentarily confused, I checked the package to make sure I was reading it correctly. "Oh. My. God."
All I could think of that moment was my fiance, cooking our dinner in the next room. Who had been my boyfriend, only two months before. It had taken over two years for him to propose and on the night when he finally did, and I accepted with tears and laughter, we had sat on the back porch for hours under the stars making plans for our future. We'd agreed that we both wanted to have three children and also that we wanted to wait for a while after getting married before starting to try for children. Our plan was to start 'trying' for a baby when I was 31... in three years.
Three years, not six weeks.
Yet before I could even open my mouth to speak the words, "I'm pregnant", I knew beyond a doubt that I would keep the baby. This was a baby created in love with the man I loved and who had asked me to marry him. I was 28 years old with a stable job, health benefits, and a warm and supportive family living in the same town. I had always wanted children, and this was the first time I had ever fallen pregnant. It was an unexpected miracle, a blessing straight from God.
At the same time, I felt terrified. I did not want ever, for a single second, to worry that my fiance would feel trapped into having children before he was ready. 'Instant Family' was not part of the plan we had made together. It wasn't part of the relationship we had built. I decided that the only honorable thing to do would be to offer him a way out. I needed assurance that he was making his own choices based upon his heart and dreams, not due to a sudden life-changing surprise.
"Honey," I came into the kitchen.
"Uh-huh?" Stirring the pot. "What, babe?"
"What?" He dropped the spoon he'd been stirring with.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I think so. It's the only positive test I've ever had."
"Let me see it."
Both of us were pale and wide-eyed. He followed me into the bathroom of our house and stared with me at the small plastic window with the slashes of blue like lightening bolts hurtling through our lives. "Oh. Wow."
Unlike the lovely day spent at the conference, that evening flew by in a blur. We took two more pregnancy tests until they were lined carefully along the bathroom counter, POSITIVE POSITIVE POSITIVE. We sat side by side on our bed, holding hands and staring into the future, and spoke quietly and deeply.
"I am going to have this baby," I gently told my fiance, "because I love you and I have always wanted to be a mother - and I am old enough and in a good financial position to take care of a child even on my own. However, I want to release you from our engagement if you would like to be released, because I don't want you to feel trapped into becoming a father before you are ready."
Decent and warm-hearted, he responded in less than a millisecond. "No way," he replied. "I love you and I asked you to marry me because I want to spend the rest of my life with you. We always said we wanted three children. I just didn't think it would happen so fast."
"I know. Me neither."
"Wow. I'm going to be a dad. I'm someone's father!"
"We're going to have a baby!"
We held each other and cried.
My mother sometimes reminds me of a simple Yiddish saying she learned as a child: "Man plans and God laughs". God may have been laughing at us that day, but it was a rich and beautiful kind of laughter filled with treasures and miracles.
For six weeks we'd planned a summertime wedding on July 9, 2005. Instead we married quietly and privately at the end of November at City Hall in San Francisco. We returned to our home and town eager to attend our first prenatal appointment to hear our baby's heartbeat together... and were stunned to learn its due date: July 9, 2005. "There are no accidents in life," my now-husband smiled broadly. "This baby has been waiting for us. He or she is truly meant to be with us."
And that is how it happened that six-and-a-half years (and three healthy children) later my husband and I will be sitting home holding hands on the couch this Friday night rather than listening to our friends do magical things with their guitars, drums and voices in a dark and smoky room... because we were once blessed with such an unexpected, life-changing, awe-inspiring gift. Fertility.
*Name changed to protect the privacy of the person in question