Twelve years, six apartments, two serious relationships, and approximately 800 first dates after I moved into New York City for graduate school, I finally found my husband at age 34.
Divorced with three kids, Jeff was sweet, sincere, and lacked a city-savviness that I found refreshing. Our first date involved sushi, a long walk on a cool spring night, and baking gluten-free cookies until well past midnight. When he called me the following evening to ask when he could see me again, I dared to feel giddy and hopeful for the first time in a long while.
As Jeff and I became closer, I dragged him around New York City to the social events that were so painful when I was single: wine-tastings, birthday dinners, black-tie fundraisers. We went on double dates with my married friends, who gave me secretive, hopeful glances over glasses of Chardonnay. He came home with me for the Jewish holidays, and was amused by the collective buzzing of my parents’ friends.
“Do you think this is finally it? Is he the one?” my mom’s friend Jan whispered, pulling me away from the buffet and into the kitchen, as Jeff loaded up his plate with bagels, lox, and whitefish salad in the other room. My family has a close-knit group of friends who were as anxious for me to get married as I was.
From my end, I tried to ingratiate myself with Jeff’s three children who lived with him every other weekend, planning excursions to the zoo and beach; sharing my favorite picture books with them; making my special stuffed French toast for them on Sunday mornings. After about a year, Jeff and I moved to a new apartment that was midway between our jobs in New Jersey and Westchester. Plus, we needed more room for the weekends we had the kids. When we got engaged a month later, a year after our first date, I intentionally planned the wedding for December, a month before my 36th birthday: 35 would look better in the Sunday Styles section.
At the wedding, everyone teased me about my ticking biological clock, about how Jeff and I had better hurry if we wanted to start our own branch of the Manheim family. They joked as if I had been living carefree and unconcerned about this very issue. As if I hadn’t considered the methods and measures I would take if my body didn’t want to cooperate in producing a child naturally. But I smiled appreciatively, posed for pictures, and fretted inside.
Early in our courtship, Jeff and I had discovered a mutual love of travel, but because of my teaching schedule, we decided to postpone our honeymoon until the summer following our December wedding.We were back in our apartment the day after the wedding, now with one name and two bejeweled fingers.
I had only been Mrs. Manheim for a week or two before the women in my life swooped in with well-intentioned, yet cautionary tales that seemed intended to make me jump into bed with Jeff and stay there until I got pregnant.
“You really should start trying. It’s not so easy at your age,” warned my sister, and mother of 18-month-old Charlie.
“We’re going to start trying after our honeymoon,” I replied reasonably.
“I’d start now if I were you. You’re 36, you’ve never had a regular period in your life, and you’ve been on the pill for 10 years. It could take a long time and you don’t want to miss your window of opportunity.”
I knew that she was right, so we set out to Target to buy the digital ovulation test which would predict the days I was most fertile. She chose the most expensive, top-of-the-line test, which set me back at least three sushi dinners.
“You’re not getting any younger and you need all the help you can get,” she reminded me, as she hopped into her car and headed back into the city, a screaming Charlie in tow.
I took the kit home and sat on the bright white tiles of my bathroom floor. I read that my chances of becoming pregnant would be maximized if we had intercourse within the 48-hour window determined by the Ovulation Test, a calculation ascertained at the cross-stream of urine and menses. So I peed on a stick and found out that my most fertile days that month happened to fall on a weekend that we did not have Jeff’s kids.
I planned a Rita Hayworth-y seduction scene. I would prepare Indian food, spicy and pungent, and Jeff’s favorite. I would actually wear the embarrassingly sexy, slightly cheesy lingerie that my friends had taunted me with at my bachelorette party, only a few weeks earlier. I was determined that this 48-hour window would not be wasted. After all, I wasn’t getting any younger, as everyone liked to remind me.
But that night, Jeff and I had a fight. I can’t remember now what it was about, but it was mean-spirited and hurtful, and fraught with miscommunications. I was so upset that I slept with my back to him for the first time in the 20 months we had been together. We didn’t talk for two days or say “I love you” before we went to bed, which we swore we would always do. Our apartment became too small for the largeness of our hurt. Sunday night rolled around and we couldn’t stand it anymore.
We made up. We vowed to try harder to understand each other. But we had missed the window. I felt the weight of another whole month of getting older bear down on me.
But old windows are drafty. Nine months later, Emmet was born.