Friday, July 10, 2009

In response to Modcloth's awesome Transformations contest (

The summer after I graduated from an almost embarassingly small Amish-country college, I took a deep breath, gathered my crappy dorm room furnishings, and moved to New Jersey. Lucky enough to land an unpaid internship at a Manhattan publishing house, and unlucky enough to land a paying but grueling waitressing gig at a cockroach-infested coffee house, my ambivalence about the path my life was taking was triumphantly overshadowed by the adrenaline rush that is freedom.

I lived by myself, but took comfort in knowing my boyfriend of three years was just across the Hudson, holed up in a house full of fellow firefighters in the Bronx. He'd frequently take the train and meet me after a nine-hour stint of serving non-tipping housewives and penniless teenagers, and we'd go back to my place and...clean.

One of those restless nights we decided it was about time to celebrate something, anything, and we consumed Chinese take-out and two bottles of wine over an intense game of Battleship. I maintain to this day that I won. Sean says he did. Actually, we both won that night, though we wouldn't know it for a few weeks, and though at first, we saw it as both of us losing.

A few weeks passed, the long work days punctuated by visits from Sean and my out-of-town family, and I was late. Really late. I desperately grasped for reasons why: adapting to city air, being on my feet every waking second, gaining that ten pounds out of nowhere...But then I had to face it.

I took a deep breath, grabbed my heavy purse, and shakily walked to the drugstore. I bought two of them, because I've heard horror stories about inaccurate results and what kind of havoc that wreaks on the already emotionally vulnerable, and because two's always better than one. It didn't even take the prescribed two minutes. Two seconds and there it was. The plus sign. Well, it had to be a fluke, but even with that very obvious fact embedded in my mind, with my hand shaking so bad, I had a hard time not missing the second one. Two seconds, and another plus sign. These were obviously broken. Even so, I frantically searched for a number on the box, someone to call and complain about their pregnancy tests being fatally flawed, leading young, innocent women all over the United States to believe that they had a baby growing inside them when in fact, they did not. Because they were young and innocent!

At the first words of the recording, “There is no such thing as a false positive,” I crunched up on the floor, hugged my feet, and sobbed. Two hours later, I dialed Sean’s cell phone. At the jarring news, confused, but not accusing, expletives flew from his mouth before he had time to filter them out. I called my friends, who cried with me. I felt destroyed—years of hard work, straight A’s, obeying curfews, landing coveted, though unpaid, internships, and in one night, one instant really, my life toppled over before I had a fair shot at keeping it upright.

There are few things I remember from those nine months. My clothes getting tighter, jars upon empty jars of pickled goods filling the recycling bin, fainting spells on the train, hiding my 3-month belly on job interviews, these details are forgettable. I will, someday, forget these things. The loneliness that necessarily joins a young couple’s unplanned pregnancy, asking my mother what if I can’t love him because of all those things I’ll never be able to do, the general regret and fear mounting month by month, these are things that, no matter how much I want to forget, I never will.

Without Sean, I would have collapsed. We had always thought we’d get married, but the pregnancy rushed things along. We began to make plans for being together, hopefully for the rest of lives, and hopefully as a happy three-member family. We found a decent place in the Bronx and moved in, our belongings trying to mesh, our boxes of accumulated junk clogging up the basement, and a crib standing lonely, but proud, in the room reserved for the baby.

It was a twenty-two hour labor (fitting, because I was twenty-two years old), induced because the doctors thought he might get too big for me to deliver him naturally. And up until the very last push, I didn’t want him. It’s hard to admit to myself, but it’s true. The fear pushed any possibility of love away. But when the doctor placed the screaming blue baby on my chest, that’s when the Girl Formerly Known as Caitlin took her last bow, and the Girl Proudly Known as Mom debuted. I cried with love, Sean cried with love, my mom, who was by my side the whole time, cried with love.

I still cry with love. When Hayden twirls around in a circle and falls with dizziness, I laugh with him and then I cry, with love. When he gives me or his dad kisses on the ear, I cry out of love. When I sneak into his room at night just so I can watch his eyelids twitch with his baby dreams, I cry because of love.

I landed my dream job (paid!), but I can’t wait to rush home at 5 to pick Hayden up and play with his silly toys all evening. When I am at work, doing everything I’ve ever worked so hard to be able to do, my mind and my heart are with him. I understand why women choose to stay at home with their children, while during my college days, I was known as a feminist when it came to women getting their butts out of the kitchen and into the office. And when, on those select nights where I hang with friends after work, I can’t keep from missing Hayden in an overwhelming way and need to cut the night short, my friends understand. Because they know that I’m no longer just Caitlin, and because they know that one day, they’ll be just like me. And because they hope that one day, they’ll love someone enough to change them.