Jennifer Gilmore’s new novel, The Mothers–about a couple’s journey through adoption–is out today! Check it out here.
The call from my sister came in the afternoon. I remember the day: bright robin’s egg blue, early spring.
“What’s wrong?” I said. She and I emailed and texted 30 times a day, but unannounced phone calls indicated alarm.
“I’m just going to tell you. I’m going to be as honest as possible. I’m pregnant,” she said. “It’s early, so I’m not telling anyone else.”
“You’re kidding!” I had been begging my sister to try to have a child–she was already 35–so that she and her husband would not go through any of the heartache my husband and I had endured in our six years of trying to have a baby. By then we were in the grueling and chaotic process of domestic adoption.
“No,” she said.
“Wow. That’s great news,” I said. “I’m glad you let me know.” I wanted to be thrilled for my sister, but instead I felt what was becoming a common emotion: that I had failed.
It was not lost on me how many times my sister and her husband had tried to conceive: one time. They had said, let’s try, and here they were, a child already on the way.
Multiple surgeries in my 20s prevented me from being able to conceive naturally, and so my husband and I spent years undergoing fertility treatments, which took a toll on our emotions and our finances. When we were unsuccessful I felt stunted, a blighted tree in a forest of redwoods. I saw my life through the prism of want–spectral colors of what I lacked.
“I can’t believe it,” I told my sister that day she called to tell me her happy news.
“Neither can I,” she said, and I knew she was as stunned by the news as I was. “I did stand on my head,” she said. “That probably helped.”
If only gymnastics had been the trick for us. My sister’s news registered first like a blow. And really, this could have been awful for our relationship. I was the older sister. But life, as my grandmother used to say, is what happens when we’re busy making other plans, and so it was for me.
Even though I know my sister felt terrible, I could have been angry. I could have pulled away from her because of my own grief. But I made a decision. I was going to be present. I was going to ask her about every doctor’s appointment, each ultrasound. And when my nephew arrived, I was there, as I was each week to spend time with him and watch him grow. I didn’t allow myself the chance to check in with myself and see if I was up for it that day; I just showed up and watched as my nephew began to recognize me.
I’m grateful that I did not shut my sister out, and that, despite her hesitancy that it would hurt me, she began to open up. She spoke more and more freely about being a mother, and we became more careful of each others’ feelings than we had been previously.
My sister’s pregnancy could not slow time or make me stop aging, nor could it stop the suffering my husband and I were enduring. But it allowed me to see the world–through that prism–growing brighter as we watched our family begin to grow.
We’ll be reading Jennifer Gilmore’s brand new novel, The Mothers–about a couple’s journey through adoption–for this month’s Kveller Book Club. Keep your eyes out for more details very soon, and order the book here.