I was very happy to be pregnant, and I considered it my business and nobody else’s.
I was especially not interested in talking about my body with strangers, so I kept to myself. I was working from home, finishing up some writing projects, which made it possible to evade grandmotherly smiles and advice about co-sleeping or starting solids.
This was back in 2013, when we had to worry more about unwelcome opinions than Supreme Court rulings.
When I was seven months pregnant, I went to Brooklyn for a party thrown by my friend David and his partner, Rob. I took the bus from Easton, Pa., to Port Authority. It wasn’t a speedy bus at the best of times, and on Sundays, it meandered leisurely through the park-and-rides of western New Jersey. At Clinton, a woman with short, gray hair sat next to me. She was carrying a plastic bag of paperbacks.
“So,” she said. “What’s new?”
Her expression was so severe that I didn’t realize at first she meant the question as a joke.
“Obviously, that’s new,” she said, pointing at my belly.
“Right,” I said. “New and ongoing.”
“Single or double?” she said.
I gave her a blank look.
“A lot of pregnancies start out as twins, did you know?” she said. “I myself was first a twin. But by the time I was born, I was a single.”
“Oh,” I said. “Then single, I guess.”
I felt nervous saying it out loud. I’d had difficulty getting pregnant, met some troubles along the way, and I worried all the time about things going wrong.
“I ate my twin in the womb,” the woman said. “Absorbed, I suppose, is more the term. She’s part of me now.”
She must have thought I looked shocked.
“Don’t worry,” she said, “everything turned out fine. To be honest, I think it’s why I have so much power.”
She pulled out one of the books and began to do a Sudoku puzzle, very quickly, in pen — maybe this was part of her power. At Port Authority she stood, picked up the bag, then turned back to me, a hand raised. I thought she was going to touch my belly, but she didn’t; she hovered her palm in front of it, in a sort of blessing.
“I think you’ll find,” she said confidently, “that things usually turn out for the best.”
I made my way to the party, hoping for the sake of my pregnancy that this would be true. David and Rob lived in Bushwick, a neighborhood I didn’t know very well, near the Boar’s Head plant. My friend Lucy was also at the party, and she was also pregnant, a coincidence that pleased us. We talked about baby names. All the babies in Brooklyn had what I thought of as nature-energy names. I knew a baby named Wolf, and one named Oak. Rob wanted me to lean into my Scandinavian heritage. “Bjorn would be amazing,” he said.
I told everyone about the woman on the bus, the blessing gesture, the way she got her power.
An older writer who’d been standing in a corner, listening more than talking, interjected suddenly: “You know the saying. Every baby is a book you won’t write.”
“That’s a terrible saying,” somebody else said. “Though I’ve also heard, every baby is a tooth you’ll lose.”
“Books, teeth,” Rob said to me kindly. “I’m sure you have extra of both.”
Lucy and I left the party together and walked to the L train. At the second stop, the doors opened and stayed open for an ominous amount of time. A garbled voice spoke a garbled message. People around us conferred until we came to a collective understanding that the train wasn’t running and we’d have to take a shuttle to the next operative station.
We followed the crowd up out of the station and on to a bus. A young man stood up to give us his seat. I was tired, and so was Lucy. We sat slumped together, not talking much.
“You guys are both pregnant,” the young man said.
He was maybe in his 20s, younger than us, clean-cut and bright eyed, wearing a baseball cap. He seemed to be bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet, or it might have been the movement of the bus.
“Are you sisters?” he asked.
Lucy ignored him. I shook my head. The bus came to a halt. People started grousing in the back, some asking to be let off, but the driver did that thing of facing forward impassively and pretending not to hear them. Outside all I could see was construction and traffic. I didn’t know where we were. It was the kind of situation where you have to trust that eventually you’ll reach your destination, that everything will be all right, because you can’t control what’s happening and some other authority is in charge. Two months later, when I was in labor at the hospital, in a rush of confusion and medical personnel shouting about problems with the delivery and how to fix them, I would go through a larger, more terrifying version of this same feeling.
I closed my eyes. When I looked up, the young man was still staring at us.
“You guys should do pregnancy porn,” he said.
I put my hand on my belly. “I don’t know about that,” I said.
“You can make good money,” he insisted. “A lot of people are into it.”
I glanced at Lucy, who had adopted the bus driver’s stare-straight-ahead strategy, then back at the young man. He was more earnest than threatening; he seemed like he was sincerely trying to be helpful. “Thanks,” I said.
“Think about it,” he said. “Good luck!”
The bus came to a stop at the L, and he bounded off. Lucy and I got on the train. We both made it home, and later we both had our babies safely and gave them non-nature-energy names. Sometimes we asked each other for advice, but more often we’d tell stories about the weird and unexpected parts of being a mother. At night I’d rock my baby to sleep, thinking about the people he was going to meet in his life, the strange and beautiful life I hoped he’d have.