What the baby-clothes aisle evokes

Before we left for our trip to WY, we bought five items of baby clothing at our local second-hand store. It was very strange to look through the items on the rack, underneath the little sign that read “Boys.” I did so timidly, at first. This was the area of all stores that I specifically did not look at for many years—four years post-divorce, when I didn’t know if I’d find a man and have a family, plus three years with DH of miscarrying hell. Just glimpsing the little onesies and tiny tee-shirts would send me into a yearning, empty state that would isolate me from the rest of the world for the rest of the day.

I used to ask myself: How was it possible that some women could walk these aisles so breezily, pregnant or not, child-ed or childless, confident that they belonged there, either now or in the future? All I had accomplished seemed like soot in comparison to being able to happily look at baby clothes. Why had I spent so many years in an unhappy relationship and marriage? Why had I wasted one and a half more precious child-bearing years on a man who lied to me cruelly, saying that he and his wife were divorcing, that we would marry and have a family, when actually he was just another philandering narcissistic sex-addict vampire? (I, ahem, obviously still have some unresolved feelings about that whole fiasco, not least of which toward myself for being so myopic and allowing myself to become so vulnerable.)

A simple stroll through a store and glimpsing a little ducky on a tee-shirt used to upend this Pandora’s box of questions and send me into a state of bewildered despair. I wasn’t a bad person, I would tell myself. I had tried so hard to make choices that led to a happy family life. Had I tried too hard? Had I wanted it too much? Is that why, in my striving, I had inadvertently made exactly the wrong choices? Out of a race with the biological clock?

I had stayed with my ex-husband so long, fourteen years, because I had thought that happiness and success were just a matter of working hard on the relationship—enough work, and we would be happy! We had to be, after all of the memories, all of the investment, right? Not right. We had unprotected baby-making sex exactly once when I realized, with a suffocating rush that was akin to sinking in ice-cold water, that I did not want to raise children with him. As for the lying narcissistic vampire, that’s a (very sordid and enthralling) story for another post, but as embarrassed as I am to admit it, I had thought he, too, was certainly on the path of family with me, for reasons that are psychologically complex.

And then there I was in NYC, the capital of the world when it comes to Peter Pan men whose priorities are generally ten years behind, dating in my mid-thirties. Dating for the first time since I was nineteen, and making mistakes that showed it. While I didn’t wear a scary billboard, or bring nursery swatches to the first date, I made no secret of the fact that I wanted to have children. And let me tell you, children were not exactly at the top of the priority list for many a mid-to-late thirties Brooklyn hipster.

“But you’re so good with kids!” I exclaimed to one such hipster, as we were lying on our backs in the dark of my Fort Greene apartment, after a weird Christmas/Hanukkah visit to his family’s, where he played with his nephews and nieces like a born papa, making me inwardly squeal and melt every time he picked them up, wrestled with them. He was very tall, had black, curly hair, incredible dark eyes, and (I might as well say it) a penis that I had become nearly addicted to. He was a terrible lover, actually–stoic, withholding—but I was lonely and hungry. What a weird time.

I’ll never forget what he said in response. “I think of myself as more…avuncular,” he said.

“Avuncular.”

“As in—”

“I know what it means.”

I remember sighing and knowing in that moment that it just wasn’t going to happen with this dude. We weren’t going to fall in love. He might never become a father. Or maybe he would when he was, like, fifty. He had time. I just didn’t.

Luckily, he took me to a dinner party in Sunset Park before the relationship fizzled out completely. Because it was at that dinner party that I ended up doing dishes beside the one and only DH. Once we started talking, we had great difficulty stopping. I know for a fact that I washed several dishes twice just so that I wouldn’t have to leave his side, where our hands met in the warm, soapy, food-speckled water. I’d never talked to a man who listened with such a wonderful combination of intensity and gentleness. He was working with vets at the Brooklyn VA. He had an open smile that I soon learned was from Ohio (like mine!). He was wearing a beige, patterned Bill Cosby sweater with the sleeves rolled up, like he just didn’t care. I was wearing a kimono-type dress and cowgirl boots and a silver greek-vine necklace. The host finally had to come interrupt us with a “You guys have been in here forever!” I really, really wanted him to leave.

 

But despite the Bill Cosby sweater, DH was a hipster, he was developmentally a little behind (he would put it this way, not just me), and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to have kids at all, when I first met him. But we were so attracted to each other on every level that we went for it. It was a bit like walking a tightrope for me. I knew things were going well between us, but I didn’t know for quite some time if/when we would try for a baby. He would say, “I’m not there yet,” but that he thought he would be, he could be.

And I would pass by the baby-clothes aisle and feel so confused. What was I doing? Should I leave him, this man I was deeply in love with, the best companion I’d ever found, and find an older man who was ready to have kids now? Should I do what I knew one of my 36-year-old friends had done–she’d got pregnant with her live-in boyfriend of one year on “accident,” but she totally knew that she was ovulating and that they should have worn protection. Should I just assume adoption, even though we had zero $ at the time?

But DH came around, eventually. We babysat his baby niece a lot and had many, many conversations. We made a plan. And you know the rest.

Glimpsing the baby clothes aisle while going through a series of miscarriages is like passing by the mouth of a torture chamber.

Touching those fabrics would have seemed suicidal. Imprinting their softness, cuteness, and littleness on my mind’s eye an unnecessary cruelty. Now I wasn’t just amazed by the breezy women breezing through those aisles, I was a different creature from them entirely. I was a cramping, bloody creature. I was dispelling dead babies while they nurtured alive ones. If I came up to them and told them about my pain, they would back away or spout anecdotes of other improbable successes they’ve heard about, and tell me to eat more yams, and I would hate them.

Then I would go to yoga and refind love for them again (and again). Even while I was wearing a maxi-pad. Even while my products of conception were in a Mason jar in my freezer, for testing.

Any glimpse of hope, I would excavate it with my pick and shovel and set it on my shelf (where it grew dusty).

I would wonder about the little life that seemed to be trying so hard to come through meIt obviously wanted to be with me as much as I wanted to be with it! I just had to find the path!

The halls of my mind are not clear, and never will be, of that history, of my specific life.

But that’s okay.

Because yesterday, I went back to that second-hand store and stood in the baby-clothes aisle for a full hour. I touched the soft cottons, the knits, the checkered button-ups. I giggled. I smiled.

A little baby body is going to go inside these! 

I realize, now, that part of what used to make me so sad when I saw baby clothes on their hangers in the store was the fact that those clothes were empty. Empty of baby. No baby. Just air.

I couldn’t look at them again until I knew that a little baby body was actually going to go inside them and fill up that space.

What a sad, beautiful experience, to go from identifying with the emptiness to identifying with the fullness.

Here are some photographs of what will soon be filled.

Crying now. This experience has humbled me and opened me, wizened me and healed me. He’s just this little one-pound life, trying to be.

Being.

preptie dyebooty

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23 Comments

  1. This is such a beautiful, vulnerable post. Thank you!

    Reply
  2. See, 4 weeks ago I couldn’t have read this post–I would’ve seen the title and picture of baby clothes and simply “liked” it without reading…I have had those same heartbreaking moments, where I glanced and then sprinted away from the baby aisles. But today it brought tears to my eyes, because I can actually imagine how you felt when you bought those clothes for your son. Amazing. Much love. XOXO

    Reply
    • I so get it. I was just telling a friend that every time I post something baby-related, I know I am slapping someone, and it does not feel right. But I do go ahead and choose to keep documenting and exploring my story, knowing that it is good for my own head and heart sorting-out, and hoping that it is also causing hope and inspiration to not give up. What a bizarre situation we blogosphere ladies are in! We create these sacred spaces for exploration, and then when we reach our goal, we inevitably hurt some of our readers…

      I am beyond glad that you were able to read this yesterday, that you’ve gotten to that point in the path! And really just girlishly tickled that we get to be pregnant together, at the same time. How wonderful that you will be standing in the direct center of the aisle, soon, and no longer sprinting away! XO

      Reply
  3. Every step you take to reclaim these formerly dark corners of the world fills my heart with gladness.

    Reply
  4. What a beautiful post. I’m so happy for you and your wonderful growing future.

    Reply
  5. I loved every word of this. You are a very talented writer.

    Reply
    • shucks. thanks, honey. sometimes i feel like this crescendo happens when i write, it moves up and up and i know the end has come when i’m crying. i love writing.

      Reply
  6. Julia

     /  July 30, 2014

    Beautiful post

    Reply
  7. I love every bit of this post. I can just imagine you, laying your babywanting bare in Brooklyn, and just how that would go with most people. Thank goodness for DH! I also dated after not being single since 20, and while I think doing it in Rochester NY is a little different than the hipster scene of Brooklyn, it was the same sort of awkward mess. But, you found your lobster and now you are so close to meeting that baby!

    I love the baby clothes. And I absolutely love the collection you have, that soon, so soon, will be filled up with delicious baby. I am a sucker for baby clothes too, and it is something that comes and goes with the hope cycle, but sadly I already have quite the onesie collection hiding in a box somewhere where Bryce has put it for safekeeping. I love the feeling of hope, of overcoming the dangers of the baby clothes aisle, of finding your DH babydaddy. This baby is sooooo lucky!

    Reply
    • Ha! Found my lobster! He’s a good ol’ lobster. I’m always so thankful to my lame boyfriend (the one mentioned) for inviting me to that dinner party. So much depends on ONE dinner party! I mean, I almost DIDN’T GO. Can you imagine? I was exhausted from work, and I was leaning heavily toward just staying home and sleeping. But something made me get on my bicycle and bike on over there. I was late, tired, and wondering if I were crazy for pushing myself in my state of post-work exhaustion. THANK GOD. I never would have met him if I hadn’t forced myself to go that night, because soon after, lame boyfriend and I broke up, and the link would have been gone…

      As you know, I love that you do things like buy onesies. You are hope-triumphant, and it just seems like in your bones you just know it’s okay to buy such things. Because it’ll happen. I wish it didn’t have to be in safekeeping right now. Your baby-to-be is such a lucky one, too.

      Reply
  8. Love this. Xo

    Reply
  9. Awesome post!

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    • Thank you Elisha! (Btw, I just came across the meaning of your first name—WOW.)

      Reply
      • what is it? I have forgotten? My husbands name means “King of the World” and “God is my Judge.” He reminds me of this often when I try to correct him or tell him what to do. lol!! That’s how I know his so well. bahaha

        Reply
  10. Crying reading this… I also cried terribly when I saw the list of jumpers and bonnets and bibs which the hospital requests that expecting women bring along with them to the maternity ward. Of course, its still too early today for me, but the mere idea of doing something so simple, so commonplace, another joyful task on the long to-do list of most mothers-to-be, is still so traumatizing and painful for me. Despite the early little life that (I pray still) grows in me, I continue to feel so excluded and that urge to divert my eyes, to evade, to flee still automatically emerges… Your journey continues to move, to inspire, I wonder if you know the therapy and healing you offer by sharing so intimately your experiences. Heaps of love to you!

    Reply
    • I’m so deeply sorry you are in this awful limbo. I think taking time off work and resting is going to do wonderful things for you and your little life. I just wish you didn’t have to suffer and wonder and worry so much in the meantime…of course it is impossible not to. One day, mama, you will be allowed to walk the halls of the commonplace, checking off your wonderfully mundane to-do list, researching diapers and buying onesies. Just hold tight. It’s pretty much impossible not to protect ourselves, to divert eyes, flee, until we’re past the gate. Visualize that hematoma going back, back, reabsorbing. Visualize the baby growing larger as the hematoma shrinks. I wish I had more to offer. You and your little one can do this! XO

      Reply
  11. So happy for you that you have come to this point where you can walk down the aisle and think about the future, a baby that is growing so well inside you right now. As for me, other than the couple of times that we went into a few stores in India in search of an indian shirt to buy for our future baby, I flee any baby aisles. Luckily, I can still imagine myself doing what you did at the second hand store. I can’t wait for me to have the same experience one day.

    Reply

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