Mid-divorce, my soon-to-be ex-husband and I stood teary-eyed in an airport, boarding planes bound for the separate cities housing our newly separated lives, wondering how we would "stay friends"—but actually really do it. I joked that we should have a child to guarantee lifelong contact. Four years later (jokesters, beware), we did just that, the statistically freakish result of a one-night stand.

The act itself can be blamed on the usual antecedents: a wedding, an open wine cellar, a tent. The wedding was my sister's; my ex was invited because he was still tight with my father and because I needed a buffer from the difficult woman my father had recently married. To wit, when we arrived, we were shown not to a room in the house I grew up in, but to a tent my poor torn father had pitched outside in the yard, as if we were displaced hurricane survivors. Not to let the slight go unadvertised, I dragged an old, unmounted door from the garage and propped it against the tent, demanding that anyone wanting to speak with either T or me knock first. After the reception, T and I listed back to the tent and fell into the door, which fell into the tent, wherein we promptly forgot we weren't married.

On the mightily hung-over ride to the airport the next day, we admitted to not feeling all that guilty. We both were seeing other people—T was living with a woman—but with an ex-spouse, it sort of seems like you've got a freebie coming.

A few weeks after the wedding, I started feeling sick. I went to the doctor and told her the only thing that occurred to me: "It looks like I'm in menopause, so you'll have to give me whatever you give people for that."

She left, came back and said that this was the opposite of menopause.

I called a friend and made her chain-smoke in my backyard while I sat downwind and cried, ankle-deep in the sun-bright leaves of a Utah fall. I was 41, a hermit-writer who slept ten to 12 hours a night, a tomboy who had held perhaps two babies, ever, regarding them as benign, ignorable life-forms on the order of cats. We talked about my options, sort of, but I understood that if this late in the game a baby was going to fall out of the sky into my unlikely lap, then I needed to do as I was told, so to speak, and have it.

When my friend left, I steeled myself and called T. His first reaction was a sound effect, the "ooouff" you hear when someone catches a hard-thrown ball in the gut. Then he said, "Okay. Let me think. We've got to think."

I told him I'd already tried that, and it wasn't helping.

"How sure are they?"

"They seem pretty sure. In the hundreds percent."

After T, I called the guy I'd been dating before the wedding, who also could have been the father, a cheeky/dorky ordained Buddhist something or other (I thought of him as "the monk") from a Zen sect that lets you keep all your money. The monk came around to the idea in that one phone call—and even started sounding happy about it—despite the paternity issue. "Don't worry about that now," he said. "Just breathe." This is why it hadn't worked out with us—his solicitude over things (breathing) that my body did automatically. I liked his company, though; he was calming and kind and can-do. A few weeks later, he flew out from New Jersey to accompany me to the first ultrasound.

According to the ultrasound tech, the baby's measurements put her (her?!) at 13-ish weeks old, which would mean she'd preexisted my sister's wedding by two weeks, thus ruling out T as the father. Together the monk and I sat absorbing this news in the genetic counselor's office, a room so small, it seemed like a gag. We could have easily shaken the woman's hand, left and never questioned paternity again. But as we were standing to go, I for some reason asked, "So that's a solid date, right? Thirteen weeks?"

The doctor started to nod; then her expression wilted like someone who's just remembered she has no friends. "Or, wait. No. It's not necessarily solid."

Next: Determining paternity gets more complicated


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