Thursday, September 04, 2003

The Cat is Out of the Bag: I Made a Baby.

Or, A Serio-Comic Tragedomedy

About three weeks ago, I came home from work to have lunch with my girlfriend Melissa. We were upstairs in her apartment when she broke the news. "I'm pregnant." My jaw dropped, and I felt the words "when are you due" spill out of my mouth. "Planned Parenthood says I'm about a month along; we're doing an ultrasound next week." She sighed. "I'm thinking of keeping it." Her eyes got teared up, which gave me a start because Melissa is one of the most level-headed, unflappable people I have ever met.

I took a deep breath. I have never ever wanted to be a parent. It's not that I don't like kids, but I've never wanted that type of responsibility. Not only am I self-centered and narcissistic, I have always held a deep personal antipathy toward human reproduction. My father and I have had deep, meaningful philosophical discussions about the human race: our impact on the planet, our failings, and how our failings will some day be our doom. I like being alive, but I HATE this world and it is never going to ever ever ever ever get better. There is never going to be a time like the cover of the Jehovah's Witness magazine where everybody is happy and there's clean energy and people are nice and everyone's fed. People cannot solve the world's problems because people ARE the world's problem, and that goes treble for Americans, who by simply sitting quietly and doing nothing use up more energy than anyone else on the entire planet. For as long as I have been aware of my own capacity to reproduce, I have always thought it was a terrible idea. I do not want to add to the problem. As much as Melissa has a personal conviction against getting an abortion, I have a deeply held personal feeling against reproduction. By making a kid, I have done the worst thing I could have ever done, short of murdering someone. "You're going to have a baby" is NOT good news to me. And so I began what was to be a futile campaign to convince Melissa to have an abortion. The next 2 weeks were like walking around with one of those lead aprons from the dentist's office on my head.
I emailed my friend Scott:
I made a baby by accident and now we have to figure
out what comes next, consdering my [usually quite
sane] girl is leaning toward [the utterly insane]
option of keeping it.
please keep this little factoid to yourself, because
nothing has been written in stone yet.
I need a drink or 11.

Scott wrote back,
dude, you're not going to believe this...
and his wife is pregnant too. Now both of us were shittin'.

I wrote my friend Neil Cleary:

That parenthetical statement above says how things are
going. I'm pretty stressed (although I just got some
polarity work and massage done so I'm in pretty good
condition right now). Melissa is still thinking of
keeping it, although we have had some pretty long
copnversations over the past few days. Last night I
think I was pretty blunt. I know she was awake long
after I fell asleep, at least until 5:00 am. It's
breaking my heart Neil; I'm not in love with this girl
and she's going through this shit cus of my dick. And
she knows it's breaking my heart because I ended up
getting semi-weepy last night. You know how it feels
to be pressuring your girlfriend to get an abortion?
it feels like shit. the voice inevitably makes you
sound like a coward, like someone who can't face up to
his responsibilities, and like a weasel. But what
fuck other choice is there??

there shouldn't be any stigma over the procedure but
there is, and it's hard to not be affected to some
degree by it. But I was blunt and told her straight
out she was ruining her life if she kept the kid.
"Where will you live? How will you handle grad
school? if you have to do school all day and watch
the kid all night, how will you work? No more going
out on the weekends, at least for a few years." You
know, if it wasn't for the war in iraq (and i reminded
her of this), Melissa would have spent the entire
summer working for the UPenn anthropology department
at an archaeological dig in Egypt. I asked her if she
thought that would have been feasible with a young
child. I asked her what possible good she could see
coming out of keeping the baby and she really couldn't
come up with anything substantial.

I also reminded her that at 24, she has her whole life
in front of her and plenty of time to have a kid when
she's ready and prepared (and she says right out that
she's not ready to be a mom and she didn't want to get
she gets her ultrasound tomorrow. I'm just gonna have
to keep working it. I'd hate to break up over this,
but if that's what it takes to get her to abandon this
foolhardy tack, so be it.

Neil wrote back,
Hey man --

You're not a coward.
You're only saying what's on your mind. And it's also widely true that
people generally shouldn't have babies unless they really want to and
capable. So it's not a matter of being slimy or evasive, whatever.
encouraging her to have an abortion, but not only because of
-- which would be fine anyway, as yourself and your interests are
in it -- but because it's the smarter decision.

I believe that you are truly a virtuous person (not to sound like the
Tao te
Ching here) and that you are dedicating the best in yourself to this
situation. It's not that there's a responsibility that you're not
living up
to, it's that there's a choice over whether to take on a huge
responsibility, which understandably you'd rather not if possible. But
definately don't see you running away from anything. In fact it sounds
you're meeting it head-on, which is amazingly brave (although it may
feel that way).

You also need to make sure that you have the right kind of support and
in case things get rougher -- it's an important time and you don't want
overstress yourself. It sounds like you're doing this with massage,
etc. but
make sure you have someone to talk to. Penn probably has free
which you should be going to anyway. It's good we're in touch, but I
you have someone there you can unburden yourself to. I'm sure you do,
sayin so...

I worte back,
>Thanks for the support man. I need it.
So here's the deal as it stands now. We had another
long talk last night (although thankfully, it didn't
go until 3:00 AM). What became clear is that her
problem with getting an abortion have to do with her
personal convictions: she's pro-choice but has always
seen abortion as a last resort for herself.. And like
anyone else, she doesn't want to betray her own
convictions, which I can understand. She's trying to
figure out her situation, and to that end after the
ultrasound, she's going to be talking to a counselor
at Planned Parenthood, and later the two of us are
talking to someone together. I'm going to seek some
individual counseling too if she decides to keep it.
God knows I'll need it.

we have agreed that we need to make a decision soon,
and that the longer we delay the harder the decision
will be.
That massage yesterday did a world of good. I was
shaking and jittery all day and the polarity work just
calmed me right down.

However, the visit to Planned Parenthood didn't go exactly as planned. The ultrasound came back and Planned Parenthood's initial estimate of Melissa's pregnancy was a little off. Melissa wasn't 1-2 months pregnant. She was almost 4 months pregnant!! Both of us were stunned, and abortion became a serious option. At one month, Melissa was reluctant to have an abortion. "I've talked to my old RA," she said. "Katherine not only ran the dorm while pregnant, she got her degree while pregnant. And since the baby's due in March or April, I can do my first semester of grad school, go back to Montreal to have the kid, and defer school until he's six months old and I can put him in Penn's childcare program." I didn't agree with this logic, but I had to admit it did make some degree of sense. Now, with the kid scheduled to arrive in December of January, the timetable was off. BIG TIME.
"Four months pregnant?? How did this happen?" I asked.
"Well, my period was late 4 months ago," Melissa admitted, "But then it came, it really did come!" Melissa had been a track star all through high school and college: she's ranked nationally and has gotten some offers for coaching jobs. What a lot of people don't know is that women athletes tend to have problems with their menstrual cycle, because their hormones are out of whack. A few years of professional sports, and a woman basically becomes a boy with a vagina. When we'd first started dating, Melissa was a few months out of school and on the Pill: we had always simply assumed any weight/ breast gain was because her hormones were leveling out. And when a period was late or missed, this was expected. "What makes me mad," Melissa piped up, "is that they've known I was pregnant for a month and they didn't say anything!" "Nothing?? How could they do that?" "Well," Melissa said, "They said that there's a backlog of results and that 'you get what you pay for.'"
"WHAT??? They actually said that?? 'You get what you pay for'? What kind of bullshit is that??"
After a few moments of staring at the wall, I looked at her and said "Well, what are you gonna do?"
"I don't know. It's too late now, we have to keep it. Your fuckin' country doesn't make life easy do they?"
"Actually, I think you have until 6 months Melissa. In fact I'm sure of it. 'You get what you pay for.' Jesus fucking Christ."
"If that's the case, then I'm leaning toward getting rid of it," she said. "I don't want to but it's all coming too fast, the whole schedule is messed up now."
After weeks of not knowing what was up, this was a relief, and we quickly scheduled a trip to New Jersey, where abortion is a lot easier to get (in Pennsylvania apparently they make you watch a movie about how abortion is horrible and murderous). We got some counseling at women's clinic, and decided to make an appointment for early the next week. I left for practice in Brooklyn with my band, UncleFucker.
I was riding back to Penn Station on the f train when I saw him. He was somewhere in his late 30s, with a wife and kid. His wife was overweight, but not unacceptably, and it was clear they loved each other. Their kid looked up at me from a stroller, and waved a plastic fire truck at me. "Now put that down sweetie," said the woman, fussing with the boy. I glanced at the man: he had the beginnings of a dewlap, and his button-down short-sleeved shirt and pleated chinos hung poorly on his pudgy frame. His wire framed glasses and snake tattoos betrayed him as someone who once had been in the counterculture. He sat like a tired pudding in his seat. I idly looked over my steadily growing beer belly and the skull tattoos that were still healing on my forearm, skull tattoos that I still don't know why i got. Thank god that's not me, I thought. Thank God my girl's getting an abortion. The woman fussed with her child. The man looked at his reflection. I shuddered.

As it turned out, our schedules made that week impossible. College move-in had started, and melissa and her housemate were moving their stuff out of their 2 bedroom. I had to get the money, $1500, together and it was already late in the week. Plus, I was scheduled to go to a bluegrass festival and there was no way i was going to leave Melissa at home alone recuperating from an abortion.

A day or so before I left for festival, Melissa made a spooky comment. "This abortion thing is freaking me out Brendan. I'm feeling it kick." "Ugh." I shuddered. "Ok, we'll do something right away when I get back." And so I went to the festival, where I had a pretty good time.

I came back late Sunday evening, and called ahead for Melissa to meet me at the house and maybe watch some videos. By the time I got home around midnight, she was waiting for me. We went in the kitchen where I sucked down a beer and did a couple of bong-hits, talked about the festival. Went upstairs with the bong and the beer and jumped on each other.. hey, it'd been 3 days! I was lying on the bed, sipping my beer and reaching for the bong, just floating along on my little cloud of postcoital bliss when without warning she dropped the bomb. "I'm keeping the baby. I know you're going to be resentful."

It was as if I was Dracula and she'd thrown holy water at me. I felt like I'd been hit in the chest with a baseball bat wrapped in a warm towel. I recoiled into the corner like a wet cat, gasping for breath. My entire body started shaking and my teeth set to chattering. Until this past Sunday, I have never really known what it was like to see my life flash before my eyes: I know what it's like now. I felt like a cornered rat, and was looking this way and that. "Are you OK?" melissa asked. "Hum hum uh hum munnuh humm um." All I kept thinking was "I'm losing my mind. I'm losing my grip on reality. I'm losing my mind. There it goes." Making it worse, I sort of disassociated from my body: I could see myself on the bed in the fetal position, I could hear my thoughts about losing my mind, and my disassociated self thought it was funny. "Ha ha.. that scene is like something out of a movie. hey wait,why am I thinking this? Fuck, I must be losing my mind."
"I-I-I-I-I th-th-think I need to c-c-call s-someone," I babbled as I got out of bed to find my cellphone. In the time it took to go downstairs and return, my grip on reality was firming up again. I still couldn't talk though. Instead, I found myself silently and meticulously cleaning my room at 2:00 AM, carefully separating my clean and dirty laundry, picking up small scraps of paper. Finally, I sorted and organized the empty beer bottles that had to go downstairs. Melissa was watching me from the bed warily. It was clear that for the time being, I'd snapped.
The next 24 hours I was pretty harsh. I was angry about the way she delivered the news. I was angry about having to be a father. I was scared about what it was going to happen to my music career. So when I finally emerged from 20 minutes of catatonia, I was in no mood to be friendly, and we didn't speak for the rest of the night. Or for most of the next day. Part of it was that I was angry, but a lot of it was that I couldn't talk to ANYONE. I did nothing but spend the day doing bong-hits and just wandering around in a daze. I complained to a couple of friends. I talked to Melissa, who told me if I was going to be that much of an asshole, we could break up. I talked to my folks. My dad called me up for a "heart-to-heart" that scared him so badly he asked, "Have you been drinking?" Truth of the matter was I hadn't been: in fact, I was so freaked out I ended up in bed by 12:30. "Look," I said, "I gotta get this shit out now. If I'm still all resentful when the little fucker arrives, this is going to be a serious problem."

Tuesday I went into work with a chip on my shoulder the size of Utah, grumbling and ruminating and muttering to myself.
"There's three options," I said to my coworker. "I can just up and split, sign some papers that waive my rights and responsibilities, but that's immoral. I can continue to cry and whine and act like a fucking baby, but THAT'S not an option either. The only choice i have is to suck the shit up, get used to it, and deal. JESUS FUCKING CHRIST I'M GOING TO LOSE MY MIND." Noon came quickly, and I headed home for a bong hit and a shave (what with my sleep cycle completely fucked up, I've had to move back morning rituals like showering and shaving to my lunch break so i could sleep an extra half-hour). I made my first step toward accepting everything at about 12:30, standing in front of the mirror with a razor on my cheek. Fucking kids... *sigh*...well, if I have to have a kid, I guess it'd be kinda nice to have a little girl. I could dress her in a party dress, and buy her a banjo to annoy Melissa... I could name her Laurel or something pretty like that... You can see where this is going: now that I was imagining the kid, it was a little easier to stomach. When I got back to work, I gave her a call. "Yeah, I already know what it is.... well, I didn't want to know either, it's just that, well the ultrasound made certain facts kind of er, obvious....yeah, it's a boy." [I have seen thye sonogram since: he has my nose. He's also got quite a ding-dong hanging off him.]

OK, so I'm not getting a girl. We've chosen his name, which also help me to accept this. We agreed on Henry for his first name: at least i can call him Hank. She gave me the boobie prize: choosing his middle name: Morris, a name I love and she doesn't.

And so from there I'll spare you the sundry conversations I've had with other musician/parents, all of whom have been helpful and positive. Melissa and I have made some concessions and compromises: we'll see how many stick. I can't stop thinking about the man with the snake tattoo on the f train. I am seeing him now when i close my eyes.

I will say that everyday is different: ten minutes ago i was ready to kill someone, but writing about it helps. Spreading the word and knowing my friends and family are happy helps. That Canadian safety net looks like it's going to help A LOT. But what helps most is knowing that a Hank gets a little older, i'll be introducing him to the banjo, the fiddle, and the drums, which I plan to encourage him to learn and practice regularly.

Because after all, he will be living primarily with Mommy. Yes, I'm going to be a daddy alright, and I'm excited to raise my boy. But Daddy will have his revenge.