This story is by Marie B Inglee and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Bridget poured herself another cup of coffee and sat down at her dining room table. Lord, she was tired. It seemed like she never fully recharged. Here it was, 4 pm and while others were dreaming of their evening cocktail, she was trying to infuse enough caffeine to keep her going. 43 years old, she felt like she was 73. Rubbing her hand on the table that her parents had bought at an auction in Vermont, memories came flooding back. Carrying it and the chairs down the mountain, happy to be bringing some of Vermont to their suburban home outside of New York City. Well crafted and quite heavy, they wrestled it onto the top of their station wagon and lashed down with more rope than she had ever been allowed as a child.
Memories of endless breakfasts, birthdays, and scrabble games played at this table flitted through her mind. Originally covered in oilcloth, her mother then covered the table with plastics in a checkerboard pattern of red or blue, constantly being replaced because of cigarette burns and ketchup stains. She had claimed the table when her parents died, keeping it uncovered and polished with a shine. Pulling herself from her reverie, she saw that her coffee cup and her packet of hormone replacement therapy pills were the only things on it. Her children were older now and rarely took the time for a family gathering at the table. Yet memories flowed through the grain of the wood. Outsiders looking at the nearly empty table would not see what it truly contained.
The front door flew open and her daughter Lynn banged in with it. Rummaging through the cupboards and fridge, she said, “I have 15 minutes before play practice!” Running up the stairs to her room for her makeup, exuding energy from every pore. The energy that Bridget wished she could muster. Sighing, she gathered her things together and headed out the door with her daughter bouncing alongside her. As a single parent, it felt as if she had full responsibility for everything and everyone in life. Working full time during the day, part time at night, running a household full of pets, children’s schedules, and her volunteer activities, she modeled the lifestyle of organized chaos that she and her children orbited in.
The next day, Bridget sat at the table with her coffee and realized that it was the only time in the day that she gave herself permission to connect with her body and thoughts. Inhaling the rich coffee aroma and quieting her mind, a random thought hit her like a bolt of lightning. “I feel just like I did when I was pregnant with my other children!” Grabbing the packet of pills, she reassures herself that she has skipped none, and then laughs at herself. These are not birth control pills. However, the idea lingers.
On her way to her next job, she stopped and picked up a pregnancy test. She wondered what the clerk was thinking when she checked out. That night, before bed, she looked at the + sign in horror. The next day she ran to the store for 3 different brands of tests. She no longer cared what others thought of her purchase. All the tests showed positive results. She was pregnant!
Shaking with panic, she called the Dr’s office and reported the news. Her doctor was out of town. His coworker got on the line and said “It’s ok, false positives happen with the hormones, and your bloodwork says that there is no way in heck you could be pregnant.” He made an appointment for her reluctantly.
Two days later, she lay on the bed in the ultrasound room, anxiously watching the screen as a prospective little human appeared. She screamed at the doctor saying “if I’m not pregnant, what the heck is THAT?” The room was utterly silent.
Karma in life form.
Conceived in passion between herself and someone else’s husband. Her ex-sister-in-law’s husband, to be exact.
Mike had told her she mattered, was pretty, and that he wanted her. His words poured soothing balm on the bruises from the recent shattering of her marriage. She justified it to herself and others by saying, “I know it is wrong, but I love him.” What she actually loved was that he said he loved her. She didn’t truly know him. Here was another chance to prove she was worthy of love, life, and breath. It was why she ran around frantically, making everyone happy. She felt the continual compulsion of proving herself to others in order to justify her very existence. Their feedback was the constantly changing definition of her self worth.
She had believed the doctors when they said she absolutely could not conceive. Now she was carrying a child who would be both a sibling and cousin to Lynn. How she had sat in haughty judgment of people who got themselves in this sort of predicament! “How could he/she have let this happen?” she frequently said. Now she was saying it about herself.
“We have a problem,” she told Mike the next day. “I swear to God they said that I could not get pregnant, yet here we are!” “Get rid of it,” was his reply. “I will pay for it and come with you, but this child should not see the light of day.”
She sought counseling, trying to decide what to do. “How do YOU feel about it?” the counselor asked. She was both numb and frantic. How could she decide? She went back to the doctor. He told her that her child had a high chance of disability as she had been on hormones, was of advanced age and hadn’t taken the usual vitamins and care early on. “An even better reason to get rid of this child,” stated Mike. She was in the moral dilemma of her life. She had spent her whole life taking care of and teaching people who were considered disabled. How could she then turn around and silence a beating heart within her for the same reason?
She sits in the rocking chair in her bedroom and cries constantly. Her college-age daughter asks “Are you dying?” She tells her the truth. Relieved that her mother is not terminally ill, she promises to help in any way that she can.
She is going to need help. She also thinks about how everyone is going to know her secrets and sins now. Bridget’s mother carried a set of twins who both died eventually and never mentioned again. She didn’t even know about the lost babies until her parents had died and she went through their papers. She has become her mother, carrying a secret that she doesn’t want to be revealed.
Yet, Bridget knows deep in her heart that she wants to keep this baby. For the first time in her life, she realizes she is making a decision that is based on conscious and intentional long-term goals; forging a path through the wilderness for her and her children. This baby has peeled away her masks and forced her to dig deep into discovering her true values.
Mike becomes more frantic. “I’ll ruin you by proving you insane.”
How can she prove to him that his child is worthy of life? She has reverted to her habit of demonstrating worthiness, even though it has failed her time after time. Bridget schedules genetic testing. They removed amniotic fluid from her womb on the anniversary of her wedding to Mike’s brother The results come back on her oldest daughter’s birthday. She carries a genetically normal male. A son! She sighs with relief. He is due to be born on the date of her father’s death.
And so, Bridget moves forward and feels the fluttering in her belly that signals the child is growing. At the next ultrasound, her son waves to her. She sits at the dining room table and writes out plans and hopes and dreams of their future together. She imagines the memories that they will create here.
The doctor calls and says “your bloodwork shows there is something wrong.” Two days later, she lies on the bed in the ultrasound room, anxiously watching the screen as her son appears. The room goes utterly silent. Her child lies perfectly motionless in her womb. His heart has stopped.
She planned for him to be “born”, since she had not miscarried and her womb showed signs of infection. It likely occurred because of the test proving him worthy of life. On the date of her father’s birthday, her son enters a world that he was never meant to be part of after all. Grief, guilt, and suicidal thoughts immobilize Bridget. She breaks up with Mike and detaches from life. Little blue booties now sit on the dining room table as a reminder of the gift of her forever child, her anniversary child, who came and left with a flutter and a wave.