The only other people who'd asked me that question were my similarly aging childless girlfriends. The answer I generally gave was: not abstractly, but if I met someone who really wanted children, and I thought he'd be a good father, and I was relatively sure we'd be married forever or at least for the length of two roughly concurrent childhoods, then yes, I would want children, yes please.
But I could tell that Edward wasn't asking idly. He has a wide forehead upon which all emotions are legible: sincerity, anxiety, apprehension, skepticism; he has passed it down to our sincere, apprehensive, occasionally skeptical second baby. My answer would make a difference.
"Yes," I said. "I think I would."
A week after that he moved into my apartment. When people ask where we met, I sometimes say, "I ordered him from Barnes and Noble."
We didn't call my occupant The Baby, which seemed inaccurate, cloying, and overly optimistic. For some complicated, funny-only-to-the-progenitors reason, we settled on the name Pudding. The baby ticking away was Pudding all September in Paris, and Pudding when we moved to the countryside in October. And then we had the amnio, and Pudding seemed to suit a little boy, the little boy we were making up day by day—me making him up literally, of course, cell by cell and gram by gram, and Edward and me making him up in conversation and dumb flights of fancy. Pudding! we'd say to my stomach. Pudding, what are you up to? Pudding was Pudding to us and soon enough to all our friends and family: Everyone called him that. I couldn't imagine naming a baby ahead of time, calling a baby by his earth name before he was a citizen of this world. But it was one of the first things we were told, after we found out that he was dead: The baby needed a name. I was sitting outside the first hospital of the day, waiting with Isabelle, the midwife we'd found to deliver the baby. We'd just heard the bad news. The baby had died. Soon we'd go to a different hospital. This hospital was only for living children.
Edward came back from calling his parents on our cell phone. He wasn't crying anymore but he had been. I told him we had to name the baby for legal reasons.
"We'll call him Pudding," he said, in one of those moments that sounds improbably sentimental to me now but at the moment was exactly right.
I'm glad we were in a foreign country. The French probably thought it was an ordinary Anglo-Saxon name, like William, or Randolph, or George.
When I was a teenager in Boston a man on the subway handed me a card printed with tiny pictures of hands spelling out the alphabet in sign language. I AM DEAF, said the card. You were supposed to give the man some money in exchange.
I have thought of that card ever since, during difficult times, mine or someone else's: Surely when tragedy has struck you dumb, you should be given a stack of cards that explains it for you. My first child was stillborn. I want people to know but I don't want to say it aloud. People don't like to hear it but I think they might not mind reading it on a card.
This, I am just thinking now, is that card.
The first time I called my friend Ann after Pudding died, she immediately asked what she could do, and then did everything, and then kept asking, and she sent an e-mail out to tell people I hadn't that was so beautiful—though I have never read it—that I got the most beautiful condolence notes in response.
We Hear You!