“Enjoy every moment!” Nope. I refuse.
In the IT world, large software development projects happen in stages. The first stage is a blueprint, sketched out hastily on a whiteboard. The second stage is in development, where developers actually write the code. The third stage is integration, where the new, fresh code is blended into existing, working code to make sure there are no compatibility issues. In integration, code can break, compatibility can break, and whole parts of software functions can be rewritten without consequence. It’s not code in the real world. It’s still on the scratch pad. The third stage is QA, quality assurance, where the software is tested even more rigorously to make sure it doesn’t break anything and that it works as it should with all the other systems the company has.
The last stage is when the code is released out into the world. At this point, the code lives in a sacred area called production. The process of releasing this code is called pushing to prod. Live code, such as what you see when you go to Amazon.com or the system your bank uses to allow you to withdraw money, is in prod. There can’t be any mistakes in prod, and production can’t break, because real people use it to do real things.
For this reason, developers are very superstitious and protective of code going live. One of the main superstitions, borne out of logic, is that you never push to prod on Friday, no matter what. All kinds of things can break, and no one wants to spend a weekend fixing them. Usually developers will also try not to jinx this code by talking it up or being overly optimistic about it. They are pushing something that is warm and live and fragile out into the world, something that has the potential to soar or fail spectacularly in front of thousands of users.
I have been getting ready for my own push to prod. The development of a baby is much harder and much scarier than developing software, and there are many more moving parts that have to work together in order for a baby to be born, God willing, healthy. Even though it’s a process I have almost no control over, other than not eating sushi and going to the doctor when I need to, I am terrified of doing anything to compromise it. For this reason, I am scared to post anything, either on the blog, or on Facebook, or anywhere in public where it might catch the dreaded evil eye. Writing, taking pictures of my belly, baby showers, all have come harder for me than most of the women I see online, baring their bellies with ease, preparing nurseries, making fun gender reveal videos.
But at the same time, not writing about her seems ingenue, like I’m hiding part of my life. Being pregnant has split me in two. One half of my mind is always on the baby,tucked safely in the back of my consciousness, no matter what I’m doing. I can’t do anything without thinking about the baby. She is always there, with me, even when she is not kicking, and it seems ridiculous to think that I can nonchalantly write about a book I’m reading, a restaurant I visited, a class I’m taking, without also shouting it from the rooftops, “Oh by the way, GUESS WHAT THERE IS SOMETHING GROWING INSIDE OF ME! SHE’S 35 WEEKS OLD TODAY! BABY! BABY! BABY!”
But when I do start to write about it, I think that maybe I shouldn’t, since she will want to control her own life narrative. How much of this experience is mine, and how much is hers? There is no answer on Google.
So I start, and then stop writing. But when I stop writing, the wolves come. The wolves are invisible, audible only to writers. When writers stop writing, they start slowly going mad because the wolves start howling, why aren’t you writing? Why aren’t you writing
I think, panicked, about all the memories that are already floating away from me, like butterflies I’ve released and have failed to capture in my writer’s net of experiences- the feeling of the roiling, unpredictable first trimester nausea, the days when I could only drink lemon water that Mr. B carefully mixed out every morning in the hot, hazy summer kitchen, the second trimester days where I felt like a tidal wave was pushing me backwards, unable to even stand from exhaustion, the current sensation of Mr. B bending down every day to gently put on the socks I can no longer reach. Every memory I don’t capture on paper now, now, NOW, is gone forever – a writer’s greatest fear.
So I start writing, but then I stop again, because I run into the internet and real life. Every time I bring up pregnancy, people who have been through it have unsolicited advice, which, for some reason, makes me more irrationally angry than when people offer advice on, say, my MBA experiences, or cooking. I don’t want advice. I’m just sharing my life experiences, curating them, pinning them down and putting them on pins under glass. It’s something I’ve always been doing and can’t stop, because then the wolves come.
So for now, I work on essays about pregnancy in private, in ink, in development, away from production, because I still want to remember this strange, wonderful, terrible experience before it floats away from my memory, this fragile, when I spend my days exhausted, waddling, frustrated with anticipation, and my nights tossing and turning to get comfortable on the three pillows that now occupy my side of the bed.
I’m almost nine months pregnant, and it’s the night before the big push to prod. And then we’ll see what happens.
Two weeks ago at 3:45 in the morning, Mr. B’s phone rang. I heard it in my sleep. This the call, I thought mechanically, automatically. We’d been waiting for it, but not wanting it, for the past month. It was his mom, and it meant that his grandmother had succumbed to the heart problems that had been plaguing her for the past thirty years and reduced the warmth of her life to a series of emotionless medical statistics in cardiac intensive care units across Philadelphia for the past month.
I held Mr. B’s hand in the darkness as he fumbled for the phone, and in those three seconds between when the phone rang and when he answered it with someone else’s voice, I felt like he and I I had turned forty years old and the weight of the world descended on us in the early morning gloom. The baby kicked her quiet early-morning kicks, breaking up the silence of our small space. Mr. B got up. He was going to drive with his family to his grandfather to spend time with him before the funeral, four, five people trying to fill the space one person had created through over fifty years of marriage. He didn’t say a word, putting on his shirt methodically. I went downstairs to make him bagels and oatmeal and tea, anything hot, as if that would solve everything, wondering what I would do if he died, how I would fill the him-shaped space in my life. It was still 4:03 am.
Three hours before his grandmother’s funeral, my mom called me. “We’re going to the hospital,” she said. “Your grandfather called himself an ambulance because he was having strong chest pains.” My grandfather had open-heart surgery the following week. Before his triple bypass, all of my family was uneasy. We are not quick to turn to superstition, but when we do, we turn hard. The night before his surgery, I lay quietly in bed, just me, my beluga-sized pregnancy pillow, and whatever room Mr. B still had to sleep on, and I waited for the world to shatter.
I imagined my grandfather in his hospital room with just machines for company, beeping coldly. I imagined that the night before his surgery would be the last time I would see him alive. I imagined him all alone, over 80, in the operating room, under anesthesia, and my heart crumpled into a ball, sending out weak, helpless waves of empathy that couldn’t reach him. I tried to go to sleep on my own but the world weighed heavily on me, mortality lurking at the corners of the peaceful room in the suburbs. I listened to Mr. B. He was breathing the even, slow breath of dreamers, his lanky shoulder blade rising and falling, rising and falling, steady like a wave, and I closed my eyes, confident that everything was still alright.
When I made my wedding vows, these are not the moments I was thinking of. I wasn’t thinking that we would have to go to countless hospital rooms, to funerals, to dimly-lit restaurants where friends were crying because their own worlds were ending. I wasn’t thinking we would sleep on urine-stained mattresses in Jerusalem or that we would sleep separately for months in different cities.
When I made my vows, I just was afraid I was lying when I said I loved Mr. B, and I was terrified he would find out. Because, I thought, love is big and grand and patient and kind and all of that, and every second of every day that I didn’t feel that exact feeling, it meant that I didn’t love Mr. B and this whole thing was just a huge fraud.
But that’s not what love is. Love is not a big, grand man with a trumpet following you around with confetti and champagne. Love is small and quiet and takes time. Love is not the creation of something that’s not there out of nothing. It means creating a space in the other person for yourself, to the point where, if the other person is gone, you are not yourself anymore. Love wedges itself into the cracks of your personality until you’re not sure where yours ends and the other person’s begins. Love is not something that happens to you, or at least something that happened to me.
We built it together. We build it each time I make soup, even though I hate cooking, or each time he peels my pomegranates for me, even though peeling a pomegranate is one of the most pain-in-the-ass activities ever. We build it when we fight but don’t call each other names, or do call each other names but then apologize. We build it when we do things together, and it keeps us when we are separate.
Love means going on a business trip and thinking, “This is a great city, but why isn’t he here, enjoying the view with me? He would have loved this little store that sells tea.” It means waking up every day and thanking God he is still there, alive, breathing, mine.
When Mr. B’s other grandmother died three months into our marriage, I was heartbroken for him and for the woman she had been. When his grandmother died two weeks ago, I became heartbroken for his grandfather, because, after six years, I have finally begun to understand what it is to build love with someone, to carve space inside yourself for someone else, and then to have them leave. I saw ourselves, fifty years later, floating ghosts, soul-less, the love we had built into the other person, draining out, leaving a bottomless world void of meaning.
As he sat in the kitchen at 4:05, ashen, unshaven, drinking his tea, I looked at him, but I didn’t say anything. I could tell he felt the same way. I could tell he was thinking about the ghosts. I moved to the toaster and quietly cut his bagel in half, turning the setting up to 5, the way he liked it.
Before I was pregnant, I had a lot of great ideas about how I’d do pregnancy.
First, I would surprise Mr. B with a positive pregnancy test and something cute and clever I’d seen on Pinterest, like maybe a bunch of balloons with the test tied to them, or a t-shirt with “Best Dad” on it, and his eyes would light up and we would toast to our success and then casually go about our business.
In reality, what happened was that by the time we decided we wanted kids, we were desperately yearning for them. Wanting to have kids is not something other people can impose on you by constantly nagging you about when you’re going to have kids. It’s not something that happens overnight. But when it does and you’re ready for it, it is the most pressing, urgent feeling in the world.
For me, what happened was that everything that used to be interesting to me became boring. We booked tickets to Hong Kong and I thought, great, another vacation, just the two of us, alone together. Sitting in coffee shops reading alone slipped from fun indulgence to mindless luxury. Watching other peoples’ children grow up on Facebook became painful. Despite the fact that I had a successful career, was in school and active in the tech community, my life seemed dull, uneventful, like I was growing older for no apparent reason, without a purpose. It was like being in a Woody Allen movie.
We were really intensely ready and trying to read any and all signs that might mean the start of something new. I stared at the two faint pink lines on the pregnancy test, squinting. Was this really a positive test? It seemed so normal and innocuous on the counter. I called Mr. B in. “Hey, I think this is positive,” I said, as if hoping he could interpret it better than me.
He walked in eating a banana, carefully avoiding all of my sample specimens laid out on the counter. “I don’t know,” he said, “maybe you should take another test.” I took another test. Same faint pink double-line. But no certainty. I started Googling. Well, not so much Googling as opening an anonymous browser, starting up a VPN proxy, and using DuckDuckGo, because, privacy. “It says we should buy an electronic test,” I said. What kind of mother was I, buying pharmacy brand? Mr. B went to get cash from the ATM, in case the test came up on our credit card statement, and bought three.
It said pregnant.
“Congratulations?” I said to Mr. B.
Even though our bathroom at this point looked like the beginnings of a meth lab, I still didn’t believe it. How can a simple pharmacy test determine the rest of your life?
I waited with Mr. B and the doctor’s office, feeling completely unpregnant.
A kind woman asked me the last date of my cycle and told me I was due in January. “Congratulations,” she said, handing me a Toys R Us catalog. “Wait, you’re not going to test me?” I said, incredulous. “You did take a pregnancy test at home, right?’ “yeah, but isn’t there something more official you can do?” I asked her. She looked at me like I was insane. “We can take the same test here, but it will charge to your insurance.” “And there’s nothing else?” “No, congratulations again,” she said, shooing me out of the office.
“What a scam,” I told Mr. B. “We can’t tell my parents yet, then. I’m still pretty sure I’m not pregnant.”
Two weeks later, while we were taking a morning walk, I threw up on the sidewalk. “That’s definitely pregnancy,” Mr. B said. “Or cancer,” I said, wiping the prenatal vitamin spitup off my chin.
I didn’t believe I was pregnant until I heard the heartbeat at my first official appointment. Then I squinted my eyes hard to stop the tech from seeing me cry with relief and awe.
The second thing I thought I would do is write a cute post on my blog that many bloggers do, starting with a coy allusion to “BIG CHANGES” and then maybe a picture of Mr. B and me and our shoes and another tiny pair, like they always do on all the lifestyle blogs. But for the first 17 weeks, I was too exhausted to even read the news. I was throwing up every other day, figuring out a new job, driving to class three times a week, and then slithering onto my couch and trying to gestate quietly without the room spinning. I never realized I could get this used to throwing up.
“How are you feeling,” everyone asked, and I tried to come up with a viable metaphor, but there is none. For me, the first trimester was like being hungover every day. Starting with the possibility of throwing up, followed by faint waves of nausea where you have to be prepared to dart to the bathroom at any time. One week, I could only eat chicken nuggets. Another week, it was Lifeway Kefir. A third week, only a specific cereal brand. Every day was like walking through quicksand: enormous and unimaginable.
Mr. B handmade me water with lemon juice mixed in for three months because I couldn’t drink regular water. He drove to the store on almost a daily basis because I couldn’t get off the couch. And if I didn’t eat, even though I wanted to, bad things happened. When I showed up at my parents’, not having eaten for three hours, and my mom didn’t have food I could eat, I broke down and cried. When Mr. B tried to dash out to the grocery store, I sat down at his foot and held his leg and cried, because I was worried he wouldn’t get a chance to eat first.
Every time I sat down to blog, I became drained, exhausted, and stupid. There was nothing interesting going on in my life, and nothing public worth sharing without giving it all away. Everything I’d written before seemed dumb and every analogy or allusion I could possibly write seemed trite, already written about pregnancy before.
And, there was no way I could write a cute post with a baby announcement, because of the third thing I’d thought about pregnancy, which is that I was constantly terrified. I thought I would do when I was pregnant is be happy that I was pregnant, and just become really nice and mellow. And there are some moments where I am. But mostly, I am anxious. Not terrified, but anxious. Anxious that the baby is developing fine. Anxious that the baby getting enough nutrition. Anxious that I am not in situations where I could expose the baby to harm.
Only chill American moms who aren’t anxious can write posts with cute baby clothes and baby plans looking out to 9 months ahead. Russian Jewish moms who are genetically imprinted to remember pogroms, cholera, the Mongols, Eastern European family heath histories and other tiny tragedies of every day life cannot be this blasé about babies.
In addition to the fears I knew from my own every day life, I was terrified of things I had read on the forums. “Don’t read the forums,” Mr. B said, but the forums were mostly helpful. Just sometimes, people would announce that they had had a loss at 7 weeks, 12 weeks, 13 weeks, and just when I thought I was safe, I saw their messages. I constantly checked myself between checkups for signs that my baby was ok, that it was growing and healthy. Every time I threw up, I breathed a sigh of relief afterwards because it meant everything was fine.
When I stopped throwing up and before I started feeling baby movements, I tried to read big fantasy books to keep my mind busy. Blogging about a process that was so fraught with terrifying potential avenues, that was so new and fragile, seemed like tempting fate, and it still does, but I’m getting to the point where I can’t not write, because writing is also my life.
When I did want to write, I was worried about privacy. I saw hundreds of naked babies on Instagram and Facebook, and didn’t want that to be me. Where do those baby pictures go when Instagram dies and Facebook becomes dismantled? Where does my privacy end and where does my child’s begin? I don’t know, and as someone who likes to document her life, it makes me worried. But I also didn’t want to not share, because it felt like was living life with a gag across my mouth. I’m trying to toe the middle line. (Maybe I’ll repost pictures of those Instagram babies as a compromise.)
So anyway, surprise blog post ending, I’m pregnant, and there is no certainty to anything about being pregnant like there was in every other part of my life, and it’s scary. But I am certain (knock on wood, tie the red bracelet, spit over your shoulder) that we are having a healthy, happy daughter in January and I could not be looking forward this part of my life more.
P.S. Don’t believe the sunshiney-happy-belly-rubbing pregnancies people tell you about in social media. Social media, especially Pinterest, was invented by Americans.
As you may know if you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time by now, I’m not normal. I mean, not normal in the regular sense, but also in the sense that I don’t enjoy the things that most women enjoy: manicures, massages, and understanding how to wear clothes. I also suck at cooking.
As I was growing up, my nonability to know how to turn on a stove was an evergreen source of disappointment for my mom, who enjoys dressing up, wearing makeup, and doing all of the stuff women are supposed to know how to do so they don’t call their mom sobbing two weeks after living in an apartment on their own because they’re not sure how to boil water for eggs.
My mom was always proud of me for my academic accomplishments and the fact that I wrote my own sequel to Star Wars when I was 12, but she held out in her heart of hearts that one day, I would turn girly. She dressed me in dresses, but despite her best attempts, all of the ribbons would be dirty after twenty minutes, not because I was playing outside, but because I’d either picked up an ink pen, or gotten some glue on it, or ate something that dripped. She carefully put ribbons in my hair, all of which would be lost after a couple hours. For my fourth birthday, I got a doll, but my neighbor got a huge red interesting fire truck. I cried when he left with it. I was a terrible lady.
As I grew older, I strayed even further away from what was considered the realm of normal for ladies. I tried to wear ChapStick in 7th grade but had to give that up because it smelled too good and I’d tried to eat it.
These days, I’m a little better about convincing society that I am, in fact, female, but I don’t always succeed. For example, My mom is still always game for talking about the latest shoes she bought, how her new purse looks, and what she’ll be making for dinner. I want to talk about pogroms.
This year, I figured I would finally repay her for all the tzuris I inflicted during my youth by doing that thing daughters are supposed to do for their moms on Mother’s Day. I signed her up for a spa day/massage.
If you recall my previous post about getting a massage, you may remember that it included the sentence “Finally, after an hour, the torture was over.” So obviously this time around I was very excited to get a massage again. I hid the terror from my mom.
“Mom, guess what,” I said over Skype one day.
“You’re having a baby?!” she said.
“No, I said. Not at the present moment.”
No response on the other end. Then, a sad emoji.
“Even better,” I said.
“There’s nothing better than that,” she said.
“We’re going for a massage,” I said.
“!!!” she wrote.
“Yes, that’s right,” I said, feeling like a hero.
“How much did you pay,” she demanded.
“Doesn’t matter,”I said.
“Yes it does. I won’t be able to relax. Let me pay you for it. It’s expensive, isn’t it?”
“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “Aren’t you excited?”
“Kind of,” she said. Another pause. “Do I have to be naked?”
“Kind of,” I said.
A long pause. Then typing again.
“I’m worried,” she wrote.
“It’ll be fun !!! And relaxing !!!!” I said. Never trust someone who uses seven exclamation points.
The appointed day came, and we drove to the massage place. “Happy Mother’s Day,” I warbled enthusiastically. My mom had a look like she was going to the Hunger Games as a contestant. “It’ll be fine,” I said. “Just tell them which areas to focus on and relax.”
We came in, undressed, changed. Robed, we walked into The Butterfly Room, where other women were waiting for their massages. Some reading fashion magazines. Some were eating crackers and cheese. Some were quietly sipping fizzy water. All of them looked like they had been getting massages for years.
My mom fidgeted nervously with her gown and put her hands in her lap. I examined my toes. When was the last time I’d gotten a pedicure? Had it been a month ago? The big toe paint was chipping-had anyone noticed? It seemed like it was too dark to notice, but if they had, they were probably judging me. What does it say about a woman when she has a chipped toe pedicure? Does it say that she just got a new job and is taking a full courseload? Yes, that’s what it says. No, you idiot, it says she’s lazy and might have graduated from licking ChapStick but hasn’t gone too far.
As I was stuck in these thoughts, my mom’s mind was obviously on the torture ahead of her. On occasion, a shadow would dart past the lounge, come in, and take a woman to her massage.My mom’s head turned each time.
“Have some crackers,” I told my mom, as casually as I could to lighten the mood. We were having so much fun!
I tried to calm her down by engaging in our favorite pasttime: gossip. “Did you hear what A is doing?” I said quietly.
“No,” my mom said with a gleam in her eye, temporarily forgetting that she was about to be flayed.
The other women looked at us and quietly went back to their magazines.
“Well, she did x and y and Z said that she shouldn’t be doing it…can you believe that,” I said.
“No,” my mom said with glee and outrage in a tone that was more fitting for a colosseum-style execution than the Butterfly Room. “I bet A doesn’t feel great about that!”
Then she remembered where she was. “How long do we have to wait,” she whispered in Russian. All the distinctly non-Russian women looked at us like we were escapees from the looney bin.
“A couple more minutes,” I said. We were having such a great experience!
A male voice echoed down the hall, past the lounge. My mom stiffened. “You said there wouldn’t be male masseuses.” I lied, but hoped it was a true lie. “We won’t have a guy,” I said.
Two distinctly Russian women came in. “Vicki?” one called. The other called my mom’s name. “Are we going separately?” My mom said in Russian. “Don’t leave me alone with these monsters,” her tone said. “I thought we were going together?”
“No, maybe we can work something out, ” I said in Russian. I had neglected to request a together massage, because I didn’t know you could do such things.
The Russian women switched to Russian. “Are you Russian?” they asked us. “Yes,” I whispered with relief. Ah, their expressions said. These are our people. “We can get you a couples’ massage room,” one said. “Yes, yes, please,” I said, and my mom nodded. After a minute, we were escorted into parallel rooms, the door left open between them.
“Strip down and get under the blanket,” the women said, and left. This was all old hat to me. “I have to take my robe off?” my mom said. “yes, but they’ll be careful about it,” I said, lying down. There was some shuffling, and then silence.
After a minute in the darkness, my mom’s muffled voice said from under the blanket, said, “I feel weird. This is weird.”
“Shhh,” I said. “Enjoy the experience. Enjoy the quiet.”
“I’m worried,” she said, and then the women came in.
The massage was great, as a good massage is. Very relaxing. Lots of oil. Lots of pressure points. The whole time, though, I was thinking, hoping that my mom was enjoying the experience. I was hoping that when it was over, I would ask her how it was, and it would be a Hallmark card moment. “It’s everything I ever dreamed spending time with my daughter would be,” my mom would say, and then some sappy music from the 80s would filter through the speakers as we hugged and reaffirmed our bonding experience.
Instead, when it was over, we shuffled to the dressing room.
“I wonder how much those Russian women get paid,” she said.
“Probably a lot,” I said. “But probably more if they do it outside this place, because one of them just slipped me her business card and told me to call her if I ever wanted an in-home massage.”
We shared a laugh about sketchy Russian businesses.
“How was it,” I asked, hoping against hope, that she would have loved it.
“It was weird,” she said. “Really weird. I’m just not used to people doing things for me like that.”
“So you liked it,” I said hopefully, hoping I had made it a good Mother’s Day for her. Wilson Philips would start at any moment now. A woman’s voice would come in a voiceover, “Vicki, making sure her mother gets a Mother’s Day treat. The best daughter and gifter of female bonding experiences in the world.”
“It was weird,” she said. “But I’m spending my Mother’s Day with my daughter, and that’s the biggest gift. ” (I added that last part in my mind because Russian moms will never talk like they’re in a life-affirming sitcom.)
And that’s when I understood several things. First, I will never understand how to be a woman. Second, I now understand where my fear of massages comes from. And third, next Mother’s Day me and my mom are going somewhere where we can just talk about how sketchy Russian businesses are , how much they charge for an hour’s worth of services, and how we can’t believe A did X to Z yesterday.