By Barbara Jones
"Poke a hole in your diaphragm," my friend Jackie advised.
"Once you have the baby, he'll love it."
I'd heard stories of women who manipulated various forms of birth control and everything worked out — the disgruntled husband instantly besotted with the kid. I wanted a family, and my husband didn't. If a baby had "just happened," I'm sure he would have loved it, but I'm not a diaphragm-puncturing kind of person. To me, parenthood should be an all-volunteer army. I couldn't draft a man I loved into a lifetime of service that he didn't want.
My husband and I had been college sweethearts, married at 25. My baby lust started up suddenly when I was 27 or 28. In the city in spring, taunting cherubs show up everywhere — in the cafés and parks, on the sidewalks jammed with strollers. One weekend, we took care of a friend's 9-month-old, face round as a ball, coffee-colored skin, crimson lips and cheeks — like a child in a picture book. How happy we were, carrying her around town in the backpack, singing to her, bathing her. When her parents returned, we were grief-stricken. "Let's get the hell out of here," my husband said, grabbing our suitcase. He knew we had to tear ourselves away before the startling sadness got worse.
Still, he wasn't ready for children of his own. He said, "Not yet," and "Not at this point, honey," and "You, of all people, know I'm not ready." We talked and talked, but "now" stayed a far-off, unnameable date. Meanwhile, friends old and new were sending out birth announcements. I once received three of those 4-by-8 baby-photo postcards in one day. On and on the babies were coming, none of them mine.
Then one night, I dreamed that I was a single mother, and happy. The next day, when I told my therapist about it, she surprised me by saying, "Have you thought of raising a child on your own before?" Before? I'd never thought of it at all. It was only a dream.
Nevertheless, I almost skipped down the sidewalk after that session. Until she'd mentioned single motherhood, I had never considered it. Now the idea was planted in me, germinating. And this idea, too: that whatever I wanted didn't require my husband. So I left him. I wasn't thinking, I'll leave, then have children. I was thinking, At least this way, I'll have a chance.
Four years later, when I was 34 and still single, I read an article in the paper about families adopting baby girls from China. In those days, China allowed single women and men 35 and older to adopt. By the time I finished the mounds of paperwork that were apparently required, I would be 35.
I did not make a lot of money. I did not have a trust fund or any sort of inheritance. I was an adjunct professor, a freelancer. But I had enough. I was enough.
"Shouldn't a baby have a father?" my mother said. "She doesn't have any parents right now," I replied.
I dove into the adoption process. In many ways, it was an advantage to be self-employed and single. I ran adoption-processing errands by day and worked by night; I didn't have to coordinate my efforts with a partner. I sent away for my birth certificate, retrieved statements from my accountant, dropped by my local police precinct to be fingerprinted, had a social worker to my home. Every document had to be notarized. I made a will. Who would take the baby if something happened to me? My friend Steve, I decided. He was someone a baby could count on. He appeared at the door with soup when I had pneumonia, stayed late to take out the garbage after dinner parties, called me every day and made me laugh. Throughout my single days, he was my steadiest friend.
One day Steve arrived for a visit just after a boyfriend had left, and I began, inexplicably, to weep with relief the moment I saw him.
"What's up with the tears?" he wanted to know — and I had a real epiphany, right then.
"I want to be with you."
"You aren't yanking my chain?" he said, raising one eyebrow (a special skill he has).
"No. No chain-yanking," I said. He said, "We'll see."
I didn't care to marry again, and I didn't expect Steve to be a father to my child. I was self-supporting, and I was already expecting my baby; this man was a separate matter. I just wanted to be with him. That was all.
Steve and I know a famous couple who broke up because the wife poked a hole in her diaphragm. Her husband moved out two months before their son was born. Steve said, "She did exactly what you didn't do: She backed him into a corner, insisting he become a father. But you left me free. And as a free man, I realized what I wanted." He wanted to be my daughter's father. A few weeks after I brought her home from China, Steve and I went to city hall to tie the knot — taking our baby with us. Four years later, we had twins.
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