Yet another friend is pregnant. I had promised myself I would never wish this on anyone else. I swore I would never want to look away when I saw a baby. I love babies. I love my preschoolers. My 12 children "all the same age," as I love to say. Kissing the tops of their heads fills me. They sit on my lap, warming my outsides and insides simultaneously. Rubbing their backs calms me. I intentionally call them the wrong name just to hear them giggle. I get on my knees to speak to them eye to eye, gently but firmly, with a sense of peacefulness and purpose.
But babies are too close. And pregnancy is even closer. My emotions feel poked and scraped by every new announcement, every round belly. Others' joy used to bring me joy. It's crazy, too, how I have a relative-envy meter. The woman who waited over ten years to be married deserves her baby right away. My friend who traversed this infertility minefield herself for over five years before having her first, deserves her second. For them I can be warm and excited (most of the time).
I can even handle a few of those regular-folk pregnancies. Right now, though, they have me surrounded. Up the hill and to the right, two babies are on their way in a matter of months. Up the hill in the opposite direction another one's brewing. Down the hill just announced it over Shabbos, and one block away is due in six weeks. It's a good thing there's a parking lot behind our apartment building, or they would truly have me on all sides.
In my classroom the outside world disappears. We rush from snack serving to potty training to coat zipping-- thanking God for the "yummy crackers" with a bracha [blessing], congratulating a little one on her first success on the toilet, giving a hug along with the coat. I am a conflict resolution expert, cuddler, nurse, waitress, and actress. My day is a whirlwind of caretaking and loving, wonderfully distracting. Their toddlerhood in my classroom is a safe distance from the babyhood I long for in my home.
My work life and my home life feel like such opposites. Teaching brings forth potential. Infertility is potential thwarted. It's a flower trying to sprout with a rock on top of it, a bunch of ingredients trying to will themselves into a cake. The classroom has hope and growth and change moment by moment. My life feels stuck. Hope is scary because disappointment hurts too much. But lack of hope hurts more. Seeing babies or moms-to-be smacks me with the reality of still broken dreams.
During the first year or two of trying, other peoples' joy didn't hurt very much. Maybe because I wasn't yet so obviously an object of pity. Now there's no doubt. I see people adjust their balance as our conversation unfolds.
"Do you have children?" they innocently ask.
"No, not yet," I respond as nonchalantly as possible.
"How long are you married?"
"Three years," I answer, mustering up even more nonchalance.
Then it happens. The slight moment of computation of years and emotions. I'm convinced I know their thoughts. The dramatic "Oh," followed by "There must be a problem."
Yet the response comes almost immediately: "Everything in the right time," or "God should bless you soon," or other plastic sounding responses.
I don't want to feel like I'm hearing fingernails on a blackboard whenever I hear a woman is expecting a baby.
I don't blame them. In their shoes, my reaction would be identical. Yet since I repeatedly view the same scene, the tone is different. It's like watching and re-watching the same scene of a movie, or when you try to spell a word like "from" and all of a sudden it looks weird. If you saw the scene once, or spelled the word without thinking about it, all seems normal. I want normal back. I don't want people to have to contemplate a response when hearing about my life. I don't want my reproduction to involve a doctor's office. And I don't want to feel like I'm hearing fingernails on a blackboard whenever I hear a woman is expecting a baby.
I want to cry and cry and crawl into God and be comforted. I want to throw the pain into my prayers and beg God to have mercy on us -- to bless us with a child when He knows the time is right.
And until then, I'll keep kissing heads of fluffy curls, and teaching tiny neshamos [souls] to be kind and listen and hug. I'll help make towers from primary-colored plastic blocks, and shape challah from bright orange play-dough on Friday mornings. The wonder in my little ones' eyes will continue to fill my spirit. Pregnancy announcements and double strollers will still jar my insides. But until that time comes when God kisses our dreams and sends them to us in a tiny bundle, I will continue to love my borrowed neshamos, rehearsing the role of full-time guide and cuddler. Practicing -- and praying -- to be called Mommy.
Editor's note: After this article was published in 2005, the author has been blessed with a son.