I don’t think there’s a more surreal feeling than knowing you’ll soon be a parent. My wife, Liz, is 12-weeks pregnant. Yesterday, we learned we’re having a boy, and he’s going to be a Pisces. I’ve been floating in an ambient stupor since receiving the news, confused as to how two people who are in many ways still children (despite being in their 30s) could possibly be trusted with shaping the life of a human child. What do we really know? What wisdom do we have to impart?
“Holy shit,” Liz said in bed last night. “We need to buy parenting books. We have no idea how to raise a child.”
Indeed, we don’t. Right now, the unnamed creature inside Liz’s uterus is the size of a caterpillar. He has thick, translucent skin, and his body is finally beginning to grow larger than his head, “because that’s the way it should be,” as an app I recently downloaded called “DaddyUp” put it. We heard his heartbeat for the first time three days ago. The blood-filled organ was pumping so fast (177 bpm) I swore the little guy was running a marathon, or at least a 10K. Hearing that signifier of life, coupled with learning his sex, has driven home the reality of our situation: in seven months, the caterpillar will be a small human, and after that we’ll be tasked with (1) making sure it doesn’t die and, upon achieving that, (2) molding it into a decent human.
“What the hell are we doing?” Liz reiterated. “Why did we willingly sign up for this?”
I didn’t have an answer. Three years ago, Liz had no desire to have a child. She’s one of those strong, independent, 21st century women, for whom becoming a mother was never a life goal. But then her biological switch flipped, and all of a sudden, the only thing she cared about was growing a life inside of her. The drastic change occurred when we traveled to Florida to visit our friends, Robby and Eliza, and their perfect young daughter, Sierra. Liz instantly wanted one for herself. She saw how Robby and Eliza, two intelligent people with careers and lives beyond parenthood, have been able to raise a child without sacrificing their individuality or their relationship.
Liz began tracking her ovulations. “We need to have sex Feb. 18-22 for the best chance of getting pregnant,” she’d say. And then we’d do the deed each of those days, wham bam thank you ma’am, just for good measure. It must’ve worked, because soon thereafter, she was pregnant.
But then, around eight weeks, a miscarriage. A lot of bleeding, a lot of tears. Was this a sign that there was something wrong with us, that we may not be able to have a child together? We grieved for a few days, then utilized humor — the prevailing theme of this pregnancy– to cope with the loss. “It’s probably the universe’s way of telling us that the baby would’ve become a serial killer,” Liz said.
Thankfully, the miscarriage doesn’t seem to have been a portent for a barren future. The cycle repeated itself: “We need to have sex May 5-9,” that sort of thing. Once again, the pre-planning worked. And this child, it seems, is “sticking,” as Liz often puts it. Now we’re in the thick of it. The little guy has lost his tail — which it sported, strangely, for the first couple months of its existence — and is in the process of growing all kinds of human-like features: digits and fingernails and internal organs. Apparently he’s been craving meat, too: Liz, who rarely eats animals, has devoured two racks of ribs over the past month, and last night, she ate enough brisket to satiate several Texas ranch hands. “Most of the time, the thought of meat makes me nauseous,” she said. “But tonight, it does not.”
Liz really wanted a girl. If you don’t believe me, watch the video of us discovering the sex of our unborn child. We open the envelope with the information in it and scour the page for about 15 seconds before our eyes finally land on the goods we’re seeking. “Fetal sex: Male.” Liz’s face drops. “Oh, we’re having a…boy,” she utters dejectedly. “We’re having a little…you.”
“Don’t sound so excited,” I responded.
“I am excited,” she said, trying to convince herself. “I am excited.”
I immediately deleted the clip. I figured it wouldn’t be good for our son to watch a video of his mother reacting lukewarmly to his impending existence. In the two days since we discovered the sex, however, Liz has warmed up to the idea of having a boy. She cried when telling her father that we’re going to use his name — Thomas — as the child’s middle name. It’s his first biological grandson and first grandchild in general. Liz’s half-brother on her mom’s side has four daughters. So it’ll be nice to have some testosterone in the family.
That’s not to say that our little guy needs to be a macho man who exits the womb with a penchant for chopping wood. Sure, I want him to be strong, but I couldn’t care less if he’s masculine in the traditional sense. I keep telling Liz that the best we can hope for is a gay theatre kid with a flair for the arts. The little tyke is going to be a Pisces, after all, perhaps the most creative of all Zodiac signs. We informed our friend, Mia, about our desire for a gay drama boy, and she responded (very reasonably, I think) with: “Because that’s all a gay kid can aspire to be.” She’s right: We shouldn’t pigeonhole or stereotype our unborn child. He’s going to become whoever he’s going to become. Our job isn’t to tell him who to be, but to raise him in a manner that allows him to feel happy and confident in his own skin — or her skin, if she decides, further down the road, that she was born into the wrong body. We, as parents, exist to instill values, not to determine our child’s ultimate fate.
“We shouldn’t pigeonhole or stereotype our unborn child. He’s going to become whoever he’s going to become. Our job isn’t to tell him who to be, but to raise him in a manner that allows him to feel happy and confident in his own skin.”Andy Moon
Does that sound adultlike? Good. Maybe I’m doing something right.
“You planted this demon inside me and it’s sucking out all of my happiness,” Liz said to me in the kitchen one day.
She was in the throes of a hormonal mood swing, an all-too-real side effect of growing a human inside of you. “It’s very much like a drug,” her doctor informed us about hormones. “It overtakes you, and you kind of have to just ride it out. That goes for you, too, husband.”
Ride it out: that’s what I’ve been trying to do. One minute, the demon has Liz in tears. The next, it’s causing her to laugh hysterically. The next, all happiness is being sucked from her by a creature that may or may not resemble the fetus from Eraserhead. Most days are alright. Most days, she forgets she’s even pregnant. But every once and awhile, the hormones start a’flowin’, and whoa buddy, it’s like being caught in a dramatic interpretation of a pregnancy. Arms flail and curse words fly. Sonnova this and sonnova that. Half the time, it’s exhausting. But it can also be exhilarating.
To retain our sanity (or, perhaps, embrace the insanity), we frequently do improv scenes. Neither of us have an acting background, and it shows. Things get weird. We have a large kitchen table that resembles something from a conference room. The other morning, she sat down across from me.
“I’ve called you here today to discuss a problem we’ve been having here at the company,” she said.
“Oh yeah,” I said, leaning in. “What’s that?”
“I’ve had several people report to me that you’ve…you’ve been showing them your butthole.”
I politely folded my hands on the table.
“Well, if I knew that sort of thing was going to be frowned upon,” I said, summoning George Costanza. “I never would have taken this job.”
“Plus, you’re not innocent in all of this,” I added, slamming my fist. “You slipped me a hand-written note asking me to show you my butthole.”
“Oh, really,” she responded. “Show me the note.”
I went into our office, scribbled “Plz show me yr butthole. Love, your boss” on a piece of paper and handed it to Liz.
“That’s not even my handwriting!” she shouted. Then she wrote the same words on the same piece of paper to prove the point.
“Well, it’s not mine either!” I said, writing the words left-handed to do the same.
On and on like this. I’ll spare you the rest of the scene, because it goes even further off the rails. End of story: we now have a piece of paper in our house that reads “Please show me your butthole” three different times, in three distinct handwriting styles.
On and on like this. I’ll spare you the rest of the scene, because it goes even further off the rails. End of story: we now have a piece of paper in our house that reads “Please show me your butthole” three different times, in three distinct handwriting styles. The moral of it all? Embrace wackiness, I guess. Allow the hormones to entertain instead of control. At least do the best you can.
“I should probably stop calling it a demon,” Liz said recently.
“Yes, you should,” I said. “You’ll probably end up on a watch list somewhere.”
Humor has, indeed, been the main theme of this pregnancy. And we’re hoping to keep it that way. Perhaps the defining moment from the gestation thus far occurred about a month ago, during what would have been a sentimental moment for a less-irreverent couple. We were lying in bed, reading. I leaned over and put my hand on Liz’s stomach. I rubbed it gently, attempting to connect on a base level with the fetus inside. My heart felt soft and light.
Then Liz whispered into my ear: “It has a tail.”
“Jesus Christ, why?” I shouted, simultaneously frustrated and overjoyed that I’m married to a woman who would say something so strange.
“We can’t act like this when the kid plops out, can we?” I said. “Doing weird shit all the time, shouting curse words throughout the house, improving insane scenes about buttholes. We have to be civilized, don’t we?”
Liz paused for a moment.
“I don’t think so,” she said. “Do we really want our kid to be normal, anyway?”
Normal? No. Or yes, if he wants to be. Happy? Unequivocally yes. The most important thing we can teach our child is to enjoy life. And if that means acting like lunatics in the process, then by God, that’s precisely what we’ll do. It is what comes naturally, after all.
Reflections on fatherhood and family history.
We spent a lot of our free time throwing rocks at cars. That’s just sort of what you did growing up in the sticks with not a lot of stuff to keep you entertained.
When I was in my early 20s, I took a bus to New York City for no reason other than to do it.