"Many women find that once their children are raised, they have a chance to discover their own gifts and to pursue their own career aspirations."
"Yes or no?" asked Donny that night.
"She's not telling me until next week. Meanwhile, could you please turn that thing to face the wall? I don't like the way it's looking at me."
The following week the therapist wanted to explore my relationships with my parents. "You're not going to give me a yes-or-no answer, are you?" Honestly, I knew this wasn't how therapy worked; still, I'd hoped for just a slender clue about which path to take.
"The empty-nest years can be a very fulfilling time of life for a woman," she replied.
"The answer is NO," I told Donny that night.
Of course I didn't have to listen to the therapist, but in the light of her disapproval I began to picture myself as an old, gaunt mother struggling to shove a stroller up the sidewalk while the professional achievements and the season symphony tickets enjoyed by my friends remained out of reach for decades. By April 1994 it was too late to conceive a baby to whom I could give birth at forty-two. With gratitude to the universe for our four glorious children, I moved on. Donny stuffed the wooden fertility figure back on the closet shelf so it could return to the business of poking holes in his sweaters.
Four years later - a couple of months after Lee asked his question about whether I'd just adopted somebody very sweet and I handed him a bike lamp instead - I stood in front of an audience, giving a talk, when I suddenly wondered what had become of my menstrual cycle. Was this menopause? On the way home I detoured to CVS to pick up a pregnancy test that would rule out the unlikeliest scenario. A pregnancy test is an embarrassing item to show a drugstore cashier at any age, but especially at forty-five. "You will not believe what I just bought," I called laughingly to Donny as I came in and jogged upstairs to rule out the ludicrous possibility that oh my God I'm pregnant. The timeline that came with the package estimated that I would give birth seven months hence, at the age of forty-six.
Four times before, Donny and I had rejoiced at such news; we're not dancing people (he's not), so our only spontaneous pas de deux have occurred at these moments with a brief turn about the bedroom. But now I exited the bathroom and threw myself stiffly facedown on our bed. As every previous time, Donny was amazed and thrilled, his eyebrows raised in happiness, his round cheeks red beneath the beard, his lips parted for a great laugh. Seeing my woodenness, he froze. "I want whatever you want," he offered quickly.
"Can we even handle this?" I moaned into the bedspread. "Financially, I mean?"
"A baby?" he roared with happiness. "Of course we can afford a baby!"
Case closed! as we say in this family in which the father is a litigator.
My elderly obstetrician, retired, agreed to meet with me for old times' sake. Creeping into his long-ago desk chair, he confirmed the physical toll and genetic risks foretold by the data. "I don't know if I can do this again," I told Donny that night. "It's not healthy for me or for the baby. It's a high-risk pregnancy in every way." I thought, but didn't say, What would I even wear? Sentimentally, I had saved my favorite maternity T-shirt, billowing white and dotted with small pink storks. It was a seventeen-year-old shirt, older than Molly. I got it out and looked at it but didn't try it on. While elbow-deep in memorabilia, I pulled out Lee's baby book. Here he was moments after birth, full of soft-lipped, plump-cheeked sweetness and the round-eyed promise of good humor. Just looking at the picture reminded me of the sucking, slobbery, exhaustive needs of newborns. Donny looked at the photo and drew a different conclusion. "There's our answer!" he yelled. "SO CUTE!"
Excerpted from No Biking in the House Without a Helmet by Melissa Fay Greene. Copyright © 2011 by Melissa Fay Greene. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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