My husband, Alex, and I were just out of college when we hooked up—our first "date" was a night out dancing with friends. When we married five years later, the romance still felt young. We took picnics to the beach near our rented house in Venice, California, and shared barbecue dinners with friends. Being married was fun.
Then, a little over a year after our wedding, my mother died. We moved back East to be nearer to our families and bought our first home, in rural New Jersey. Away from our friends, living in the middle of nowhere, having dinner discussions about the mortgage and broken things around the house that we had no idea how to fix, our sweet affair seemed to vanish. I wasn't a kid anymore. Suddenly, I was a grown-up woman with a husband.
And then I got pregnant.
From the moment I saw that blue line on the stick (which I greeted with the rather immature exclamation "Holy crap—I'm pregnant!"), romance was in the air again. The knowledge that we'd been successful in this bizarre science experiment with our bodies excited us, and the strange novelty of being pregnant brought a lovely newness to the relationship. I was sick as a dog during the first trimester—I'd burst into tears each morning before work, wondering how I could possibly make it through another day of intense nausea. But emotionally I was walking on air. I was one of those lucky women who have a great response to pregnancy hormones, and I felt calmer and more content than I had since I was a little girl. My good mood was contagious, and even throughout the sickness, Alex and I joked and teased and flirted like we had in the good old days.
During the second trimester, with the sickness gone and good hormones raging through me as if I were a teenager, our mutual crush was revived. That time felt like the months between our engagement and our wedding. Giddy with anticipation and thrilled with the commitment we'd made to each other, we began a nightly tradition of lying together on the couch after dinner so Alex could place his hand firmly on my belly and enjoy what we dubbed the baby's "after-dinner dance." Snuggled up close to him, I could feel the three of us becoming a family.
Finding out we were having a boy threw us for a loop. While we were both overjoyed at the ultrasound, a few days later during a candlelit dinner, I admitted to Alex that I was completely freaked out to know I had a penis living inside my body. I'd always thought I wanted a boy, but when the time came the idea seemed so foreign. My sister and my sister-in-law both had girls. I was a girl. I wondered if I'd know what to do with a boy. Alex cleared his throat, and I waited for his reassuring words.
No turning back
"I'm nervous about having a boy, too," he said. He confessed that he questioned whether he would know how to be a good father to a boy, since he'd had a difficult relationship with his dad.
We confided to each other moments of thinking "This is it—there's no turning back" that were utterly terrifying. For me, the phrase "the end of life as we know it" would come to mind in times of panic about the baby's well-being. What if something was horribly wrong? Alex, normally a world-class worrier (he was raised by a woman who routinely says "See you tomorrow, hopefully"), was oddly relaxed about the baby's health. This drove me a little crazy, as if I had to do the worrying for both of us. When I expressed my frustration over being the only one fretting, Alex assured me that the moment our son popped out, he would start obsessing over the day the kid would get behind the wheel of a car. It seemed like a fair deal.
We also quickly agreed on a name. This was reassuring. Although I knew rationally that liking the same name didn't guarantee that we'd agree on bedtimes or sugar intake, there was something comforting about starting off parenting without a big fight. When my water broke at 3 a.m. on my due date, we were nervous and elated, much like on our wedding day. We drove to the hospital holding hands. We were a team—invincible. Of course, the labor and delivery, not to mention the first ten months of our baby's life, showed us that we were far from invincible, and we sometimes wondered whether we were up to it all. Looking back, it's as if life has a strange way of preparing you for the things ahead. If we hadn't spent those nine months becoming best friends again, the challenges of our baby's first year might have felt impossible. But on that July morning, with not a cloud in the sky, we forged ahead into the great unknown, hoping it would be all right, and confident that, no matter what, we'd get through it together.
Sarah Trillin is a clinical social worker and mother who lives in rural New Jersey.