For over a month, just Carmel was laying, which was odd because she wasn’t one of the oldest, though to be fair, we got all the eight (ack!) chickens within a two month period in the late spring/early summer. We kept wondering when another would lay. This weekend—ta da!—an early morning Carmel egg (medium brown, about the color of perfectly toasted rye bread) followed a few hours later by ungodly squawking and then Buttercup sitting in the nesting box, resting on a lighter brown egg, closer to the color of organic store-bought eggs. Yesterday, Carmel’s early morning was followed by a much more comfortable-sounding time in the nesting box by Buttercup and then a whole lot of crazy noise that we noticed was coming from Chips, the biggest and oldest of our crew, and when we went back out, there were two light brown eggs right next to each other. Three—count them three—in one day. The first few eggs seem to come with a lot of squawking, and the chickens get this look on their faces like, “what the hell is happening?” It kind of looks like they have to take a big, uncomfortable poo. So now we have eggs starting to pile up. Will we sell our eggs? We want to swap our eggs. Dare I tell anyone that I’m already feeling a little tired of eggs? Certainly they’ll be a great gift to those not inundated.
When I was pregnant, I could not bear the sight of eggs—scrambled, pokey, boiled, it didn’t matter. Yuck. Because I had gestational diabetes, I had to eat a certain percentage of protein to a carbs, with a very strict every-few-hours dietary plan. Eggs and toast in the morning would’ve been perfect, but I’d do cottage cheese on a rice cake to avoid that egg. Lately I’ve been feeling that way about eggs again. And no, I’m not pregnant. I’ve finally come to a place at 40 after a decade of no birth control and only two pregnancies—one successful—where I don’t take every slight feeling of tender breast, every food craving or food aversion, every minor morning nausea, as a hint that I am pregnant. I had a strange few days of vertigo last month, something inner ear, I suppose, and when I told people I felt dizzy and off, almost all of them said, “Oooh, you might be pregnant.” I understand that’s the go-to reference. God knows I’ve done the same to friends over the years. But the thing is, I’m not.
Over the past few years my feelings about my extremely limited fertility have downgraded from heartbreak and desperation to a much more bearable low-grade sadness and general acceptance. I am able to be rational about the whole thing, be honest with myself about how great our tight little team is and how disruptive and exhausting a newborn would be with me at forty and my husband at fifty-two. I have no regrets about how our family looks. The feelings I have about it now are less about babies per se, and much more in the family of fear-of-mortality. I find myself watching friends whip out their boobs and think, “wow, I’m never going to do that again.” I should clarify, “whip out the boob ... to breastfeed.” Lest you think I’ll never take out my breasts again or that I’m surrounded by friends who pell mell whip out theirs. I’ve recently celebrated as two of my closest friends’ babies turn one and my very dear friend’s toddler turns two. At my daughter’s school I stand outside chatting with other moms who have not only their kinder/first/second grader, but also a baby on the hip or a toddler running wild. One of my co-moms has five, count em, five children. The oldest is my daughter’s age.
I have accepted that I will not be pregnant again, won’t be taking pre-natal yoga classes (unless I go off the deep end and become some strange old lady haunting the yoga studios while all the pregnant women look over with pity), won’t go through labor or delivery or experience that unbearably beautiful moment when your baby lies in your arms for the first time, won’t breastfeed, won’t diaper in the dark or bounce on a yoga ball for hours with a swaddled bundle who stares wide-eyed—why won’t you sleep? I say it’s not heartbreaking anymore and as I type my eyes fill and my heart is not entirely unbroken.
I have several close friends who are in their forties now who were never able to get pregnant though they went farther than I did, putting their bodies and checkbooks through rounds of fertility drugs, watching their heartbreak take on different shapes. Some have adopted and are parents, some foster and touch on parenting, some find peace in their un-chosen but not unpleasant child-free adulthoods, some parent pets. I have many friends who chose not to have children and now in their forties have mixed feelings. Other women I love were never ambivalent and chose non-parenthood with a clarity that leaves little room for regret. All women I know in their forties (whether they talk about it or exercise their asses off to avoid it or take it out on loved ones in cranky ways without acknowledging it) experience some form of impending mortality. I know my friends in their 50s and on are saying, “just wait,” but I can only write from where I am.
For me, it is the realization of what is over that hits me the hardest. My daughter is done being a baby. We have already experienced so many extraordinary firsts—first words, first steps, first tooth. I know there are so many still ahead of me. My daughter still hasn’t lost a tooth, hasn’t gone out on a date, hasn’t headed off to college, hasn’t fallen in love. But right now it feels like all the “firsts” still ahead of us have to do with separation. That every big step I get to walk her through now is a step away from me instead of a pulling toward. I had coffee yesterday with a friend whose children are in college. As we talked about our shared experiences—how daunting it feels to make a living in this economy as a therapist and an artist, how confusing to decide between taking another public mental health job or pushing forward a private practice, how irritating and glorious this continually insistent need to make art—I kept thinking, but your children have moved away. How do you move through that? I know by the time I get there it will just be the next step, but I also know it will be heartbreak. Sometimes life feels like this ongoing series of little heartbreaks.
We are soon going to have more eggs than we know what to do with and some part of my day will be dealing with eggs—gifting them to neighbors, baking them into a dish, finding the locals with bees or avocado trees and setting up swaps ... Ironic, I suppose, that with such faulty eggs of my own, I am now a keeper of eggs. The first time each chicken lays her first egg; she sits and sits in the nesting box, unwilling to leave. I wonder if she doesn’t know it isn’t fertilized, if it is her maternal instinct to stay and guard and protect. After a few days of us reaching in and taking those babies (and we always thank them, always say thank you), does she accept that these are more like poops that she has to push out and move on than chicks that she will care for? Does she have a little heartbreak from time to time? I know, I know, these are chickens. But I feel for them, sitting on that first egg, unmoving, thinking they have to protect it, and then watching it get plucked away.
My daughter just came in to say goodbye as she heads off to school. I knelt down and hugged her tight and she hugged back. I don’t think she knew I was crying but she could feel the intensity. Sometimes she still lets me envelop her. Sometimes she says, “Oh mom,” or even better, “Seriously?” in a tone that cracks me up. Having one baby is putting all your eggs in one basket, and she is one precious basket. I live in gratitude for her, even as every benchmark she reaches, every small separation she makes, reinforces the feeling that there are things that are behind me that I will not experience again. And there’s just no way around it: that is heartbreak. I should probably go inside now that the house is empty and force myself to eat a couple of eggs.