babies, continued

This is a draft from 2016. A few details have changed since then (we moved away from New York, I finished nursing school) but other things remain the same, namely, my ambivalence surrounding having kids.

Our life is the kind that a baby would, on the surface, barely disrupt. Weekends are usually about cooking elaborate meals and polishing off a bottle of wine with the tv shows we're woefully behind on. We have a dog, so our schedule is already regimented in the way that disallows habitual late nights out or impromptu anything. Most galling of all, we live in Queens with a second bedroom. All of the big pieces are there.

This is by design. The thought behind a lot of our choices has always been kids, someday. But the urgency to manifest those kids never comes. Instead of a nursery, I bought a bar cart. Instead of not trying not to, I got back on birth control.

I admit to being a planner, someone who likes things to line up just so before making a big decision. I delight in spending months tweaking itineraries for the next trip or paint colors for our new kitchen. Sometimes I think this is the paralyzing force behind the baby indecision. I am obviously averse to unknown quantities. And yet, I got married at 24. Outside of New York, lots of people get married at that age. But here, it is absolutely anathema. By these standards, I am very reckless! Or just a dumdum from Indiana.

When I consider a life that is just me and my husband and some dogs, I don't see anything sad or worrisome. When I look at mommy blogs out of curiosity, I can admire the cute kids without a knot forming in my stomach. On my yearly viewing of Little Women, I don't wish for daughters (but I do wish for sisters). There are only two things that make me reconsider. One is whenever I go see a performance of literally anything, I get a glint in my eye and think it'd be nice to have a kid to take. The second is my mom.

I suspect that every year I don't have a baby I am carving an ever-widening hole into my mom's heart. I've never been pressured by her to have a kid, but I know it's her hope for me. If we're shopping and we pass children's clothes, she'll sigh a little at the tiny shoes and hats. She tells me about her coworkers' grandchildren, or how her group of friends all think they won't get grandkids. A small part of me feels there is a debt between us, unspoken, that is only paid with a baby.

I read a lot of stories about infertility. I'm 30 now and I've never had a scare, so I sometimes wonder if my ambivalence stems from a subconscious suspicion that I may not be able to have a baby. Am I guarding myself from the profound pain of infertility, or do I truly feel that my life will be whole without a child? Is this compartmentalization, or a sincere wish to be childfree?

For now, I have the protection of having a plan. I'm still in school, and that's a convenient enough excuse. Blessedly, when I say this to friends or family, no one scolds me for trying to plan around kids, fool's errand that it is. Besides, by New York standards, I am still way ahead of the curve. 

 

the unknown

There is a standard sort of exam in microbiology classes called The Unknown. You're handed a numbered tube containing bacteria and instructed to identify it. You get a list of possibilities, but that's it. The path, the method--that's all you.

At the start of my lab, the idea of such a test, frankly, terrified me. I hate open-endedness. Doubt. When all possibilities lay open to me, I freeze, unable to commit to anything. But over the length of the course we were given tools, procedures. A logic took root: if this, then that. Flame the loop. Gram negative or positive? Does it use oxygen, and how much? Flame the loop again.

The Unknown is a test of research, technique, and patience. Results are not immediate; most tests require a sample to be incubated for 48 hours. You can't work too far ahead either--which tests you perform next depend on the results of the test you're doing now. And sloppy technique can set you back 48 hours with inscrutable results. 

So you make a key based on your research. You find out what makes each bacteria different--sometimes it's only a single test, sometimes it's ten. What was once an overwhelming list of possibilities is now made manageable. If gram positive and spherical, do a catalase test. If a gram negative rod, check for lactose fermentation. The possibilities narrow, and with every result, certainty sets in. Dichotomy, it turns out, is freeing. 

Once you've eliminated all but one bacteria, you have a final step. You test for something known, a result you expect. Confirm what you think you know is right. After that, it's trusting the process: the work and research you put in and your abilities. Do the work, and the unknown is knowable.

Life doesn't hand us a complete list of possibilities. But to do our best with what we know--do the work and don't be sloppy--that's probably enough, most of the time.