The other night, after saying goodbye to Anabella but before leaving Santa Barbara, Doug and I went to dinner at another friend’s house. Hillary was the first friend I made when I started at UCSB; she was a sophomore and had volunteered to help the incoming freshmen move into their dorm rooms. While running boxes up and down the elevator with me, she mentioned that she was going to be leading a Tuesday night Bible study, and I, with my usual blend of Catholicism and skepticism, decided to join. In fact, it was at her Bible study that I met Monica.
I met Hillary’s future husband, John, around the same time as she did. I remember him being a comic and a prankster, and when he and sweet-as-pie Hillary got together, I’m not sure I or many other of our mutual friends really understood the connection. The last time I saw either of these people was at their engagement party, my senior year in college. Hillary and I have occasionally traded emails since then, and I saw pictures of their beautiful wedding while I was beginning to plan my own, but I never thought to give them a heads’ up during any of my Santa Barbara trips, until now.
When I told Doug of our dinner plans, I described Hillary and John as “nice and blonde and Christian.” This description is as accurate as any, and I’m also happy to report that I stand corrected on my apprehension about their match: Hillary and John are a flawless couple. She was cooking, and he was washing and putting away dishes she hadn’t even finished using; she saw a spider, and he took care of it; she accidentally poured wine into a water glass after having already filled all the wine glasses, and he made fun of her in the gentlest, most loving way imaginable. They have a beautiful little house outside Santa Barbara, with pictures all over the walls and pale yellow dinnerware (to match their hair). Theirs is an ideal, almost enviable life, and when we left, Doug told me that, “Of all your friends that I’ve met, they’re like second on the list of who I’d want to ask to be godparents for one of our kids one day.”
So when I saw the book on adoption sitting on the desk in the living room, I really hoped adoption was a choice they were making because their hearts are so big. When Hillary mentioned there was a secret they’ve been keeping from her mother, then changed the subject when I asked what it was, I tried to ignore my suspicions. But finally, I had to blurt it out:
“Why don’t you have any kids?”
“We can’t,” they said in unison. And my heart broke.
During the months following my miscarriage, I did a lot of judging of pregnant women based on how much they deserved to have children. I checked for wedding rings, or estimated ages, and could usually convince myself that if a woman was older, or married, or both, she deserved this more than I had, and this somehow made it okay that she was getting what I hadn’t gotten. Likewise, young and unmarried pregnant women affected me most of all, because I felt like at least my situation was slightly more accommodating for a baby than theirs. Over time, I learned to tone down these snap judgments, telling myself that a successful pregnancy is not a question of merit, and that it would do me no good to compare my story to anyone else’s. But the other night, all those feelings came back with a vengeance, this time for my friends: why can so many ignorant high school girls get pregnant, while Hillary and John, who deserve so much to be parents, can’t? It’s just not fair.
They’ve been going through infertility treatments, for what I gather has been a very long time.
“Every time we do a round and it’s unsuccessful, I get a little more involved or invested, personally,” John said. “Like, for the first year or so, it was no big deal – we could just keep trying. But now…”
“He can turn it off, though,” Hillary said. “I can’t. It’s on my mind all the time. So I understand your feelings about pregnant women.”
I almost felt bad, like my grief should be so miniscule compared to theirs. Because I have no reason to believe this isn’t going to happen for me some day, when I am ready and Doug is ready and our life together is ready to welcome a child.
“And the adoption book?” I asked.
“Oh, a friend lent that to me,” Hillary said. “I haven’t been able to open it yet. You know, it’s funny, while we were doing our marriage prep stuff and they asked what we would do if we couldn’t have children, we said we’d adopt – of course we’d adopt; it seemed like such a simple decision. But you never think it’s really going to happen to you. And I’m just not there yet.”
Honestly, I wouldn’t be there either. I have a ton of respect for people who can make the decision to adopt, when what they really want is to experience a pregnancy and raise a mini version of themselves. I hope I never have to make that decision. I hope that Hillary and John don’t either.
Usually, when I’m met with the news that yet another friend or cousin or coworker is pregnant, I have to fight off a mini panic attack. I have to mentally prepare myself to see those people; I hide them from my newsfeed on facebook so I don’t have to be surprised by ultrasound pictures or posts about stroller shopping first thing in the morning. But for the first time in years, I am genuinely hoping to hear that news from someone. If Hillary ever tells me she’s pregnant, I will be genuinely happy for her. Hell, I’ll drive up to Santa Barbara and go to her baby shower. And that’s saying a lot.