by Lisa

Today, the family I lured to myself has grown by one and shrunk by one. For a long time, we were four. I was a member. I belonged, and I was essential. We made a new baby, and the family was solidified by her birth, though getting to that point hurt deeply.

My pregnancy was neither expected nor welcomed. I dreaded telling him, and his response broke my heart just a little. He sat up from the couch, where we had been stretched out and watching TV. Sat up, put his head in his hands, and lamented that he already had two children to put through college. How could he afford another? Where would we put a baby in that old house? One of the kids would have to share a room, unfairly. They would resent the baby, not want to be with him through the week any more. He might lose stake in his unofficial full custody…

I had already thought of all of these things. He just said them out loud. Now, he doesn’t remember saying any of it, but that’s not a surprise. Bad things go away for him, even if he’s done or said the bad thing. Maybe especially when he’s done it.

We were not married, and he had no intention of marrying me. He was still married to his wife, who lived just down the street on our block. That would have to be dealt with, not on his schedule, and he was angry and worried. They had been separated for years, but the divorce wasn’t something that either of them wanted to address. He wanted full custody and to make no payments. She wanted to save her pride.

They found a way to save her pride and give him what he wanted. I hoped for some sort of commitment offer when everything was signed, safety from the sadness that I knew would come from having our baby born into uncertainty. Instead, I signed up for welfare benefits to pay for birth. My pride was shattered. He refused to discuss marrying me, no different than before. Carrying my first and probably only child came wrapped in anxiety and shame. Sitting with my mother in the welfare office made me cry. She bought little toys for the toddlers who grew fussy in the waiting room, tried to make light of the sadness and frustration that saturated the air in that ugly place.

My baby, beautiful and perfect, was born into her mother’s poverty and her father’s middle classness. We left the lovely, falling-apart house and moved into suburbia and four bedrooms plus dining, family, and rec. The rent was higher, but his salary was higher, too. Her nursery was decorated on almost nothing, but he bought the crib that I chose, and the linens for her bed. He paid for her formula and her diapers, and rocked her while I slept in the evening. We took turns on the sleepless nights. I fell fast into depression, and he into despair. He had not wanted this, but he tried to make things easy for me. I took meds to keep the sadness away, but they really changed nothing. My spirit was broken, but I had a most wonderful thing: my daughter.

I had seen the old pictures of him with his son, pudgy and smiling little happy boy. I listened to his stories of swimming every night after work, in the South, in their horse trough of a pool. I had hoped for that joy, but I got tolerance and limited patience. Work was more stressful for him now, he said. His first wife had been a natural mother, with no depression after her babies were born. She never felt desperate and strained from lack of sleep. What I heard was that I wasn’t as good at being a mommy. Maybe it was true. She loved being pregnant, loved the attention. I just cringed when anyone asked questions about my big belly, because invariably, my left ring finger was inspected. It was bare. Hers had not been, for either baby. Her life was different. She knew how to demand that he read three books to his babies every night. She could storm and stomp and make him do. I refused to storm, but just spoke. He did not do, so I hoped instead, and I loved them all enough to make everyone okay again.

The kids did resent the baby, but not exactly like I had expected. They liked her, but disliked me now. I didn’t have the energy to play like I had once played. Meals became less peaceful because I went to bed when he got home, and he rocked the cranky baby through supper most nights. Their mother reminded them of how much she had done with them, even when her youngest was a newborn. Did she not understand that three is harder than two? And that I had not the benefit of ever having only one little person to care for? The kids needed me more than ever, and I had added a baby to the mix. My resources were stretched, and I was too emotionally thin to know where to ease the pressure.

I learned to micromanage, and I hated myself for doing it. I imposed schedules, routines, timetables for every single aspect of our lives, and we looked great. Perfect picture. Except I couldn’t remember who this man was, this man that I eventually married. He had become a very strange stranger. His voice, heard across a room at a party, sounded like a memory. His face looked unfamiliar and distorted when he looked at me. I was just as strange to him, I think.

My heart raged all of this so loudly, every day, every day. I needed to scream it out, but when I began, tears made me incoherent and stupid. I said it, but really, it was just another dissatisfied hum in my own ears, unanswered, unacknowledged.

None of this matters now. I needed to say it, to no one after all.