Strings Attached: What Happens When You Get Pregnant with Your Ex-Husband?
The doctor smiled down at the wheel, its arrow pointing to the day of my sister's wedding. "But this is the likeliest day, given your cycle. I mean, really, that's the day."
"But that's 11 weeks ago, not 13."
"That's definitely the day, though. Let me see if someone else can explain this better."
At some point in the pageant of medical professionals who squeezed into the clown car of an office to explain how this baby could be 13 weeks old even though she'd been conceived at some point that was not 13 weeks ago, the monk and I conceded to the power of the wheel. His hand went slack in mine as he—extremely uncharacteristically—snapped at one of the doctors: "We're not idiots. We get it." In the parking garage, he stood by my open car window, saying, "You know I'll always take care of you guys, right? No matter what, I'll always be there. Tell me you know that." I looked at him, the smudges on his glasses. I was surprised to hear him talk that way at our age.
Tryingly, it would be two more months before a prenatal paternity test could resolve the matter absolutely, months that included Christmas, New Year's, Valentine's Day. Until then, we just had to wait—T in San Diego, the monk in New Jersey, my rapidly expanding self in Salt Lake City. T kept his secret close, telling no one, slogging through his days in a fog of dissonance. The monk, on the other hand, showed my daughter's ultrasound pictures to strangers in coffee shops and regularly flew back and forth between Jersey and Salt Lake to make sure, as promised, that I/we were taken care of.
When the time came, he found a genetic testing center in a strip mall, a colorless hive of cubicles where a man named Ricardo bore witness as the monk swabbed a Q-tip around his inner cheek. We had a two-week wait for the results, a time I passed in a fever of Darwinian analysis: Who would be the better father from a Petri-dish perspective? One was more athletic, the other had nicer teeth; neither could dance, but one could sing; one fidgeted, the other had a rather feminine walk; each was smart and kind, but one was more of both. Knowing me as he did, T would text me things like, "I bet you're drooling over my genes," and I would think, "Okay, he's funnier; the funnier one should be the dad." But T didn't want children, while the monk wanted one in abundance. Were he the father, I knew, my single motherhood would be half as hard.
On the 14th day, Ricardo called and left an almost sadistically circuitous message in which, at the last possible moment, he disclosed that the monk was not a match. When I got the news, I was teaching a fiction class at the U. on the hill. We had been workshopping a monologue written from the point of view of a cow. I told my students, "Some of you are trying way too hard here. Don't think you have to sit around making stuff up. Your normal lives are weird enough. Trust me."
Because it seemed more urgent to deliver yes-news than no-news, I called T first. He didn't sound surprised in the least.
I said, "Can you say something positive about all of this?"
"Of course. I've just got a lot to figure out, but I know she'll be beautiful."
"But do you want her, like, at all?"
"Of course, baby," he said. He hadn't called me baby in a long time, and though there was no question of our reuniting (it had taken many years and all our combined strength to get divorced), it was hard not to feel endeared toward a relationship that was apparently harder to leave than the Mafia. "Listen to me," he said. "I'm not going to leave you hanging on this." I knew that this was so, but I also knew that "I won't leave you hanging" was a far cry from "I want this." When we hung up, I realized I'd half expected him to say he'd be flying out so we could sit and plan; I thought he'd want to feel the baby kick, because that would make it real. But he hadn't offered to do any of those things—didn't even want to see ultrasound pictures.
Next I called the monk and told him, "It's not the answer you want." As I spoke, I saw myself sitting in my bungalow growing pregnanter and pregnanter without his calls, texts, pep talks and visits. I thought about the day I was walking my dogs and a guy leaned out of a slowing car and yelled, "Where's that baby's daddy? Why isn't he out here walking those dogs?"
Last I called my father, who said, "Isn't that wonderful!"
"No, Dad, it's not. T will do what's right, but he doesn't want this."
"That doesn't matter right now. It's the disposition that's important."
I sighed. "I don't know how I made such a mess of things."
"A mess?" he said. "Life by design is a mess. The minute you're born, you're dying." I heard him puffing on a cigar. "I don't pretend to know what drives you in this world, but you don't apologize to nobody for nothing."
T delayed telling his girlfriend about the baby, because they had been planning a fancy trip to Europe. "I know she'll probably leave me," he said sadly, "so I'd at least like to go on our trip and tell her when we get back."
I said, "Your only shot at keeping her is to confess and then immediately propose."
"Yeah, that's every girl's dream: 'Hey, I knocked up my ex-wife. Will you marry me?'"
"It was just a one-night stand," I said.
"A one-night stand that's going to walk and talk and never go away."
A week or so after they returned from Europe, he texted me at 6 A.M.: "It's done. I told her. Don't know how I could have hurt that girl more than I have."
Next: Raising a child together—while apart