This blog was inspired by Karen Bergreen’s Following Polly, a selection of the online book club, fromlefttowrite. One must look beyond the tabloid-like cover of the book (Or do as I did and remove it altogether. Yes. I am a snob.), as it is in no way representative of the quality of writing within. I finished the book annoyed that Alice Teakle, the protagonist, was a fictional character, as I felt sure we could be friends. The reader (okay, me) accompanied her through the most universal struggles—that of discovering one’s lifelong dream. As someone who fairly recently realized she had a lifelong dream, I thoroughly enjoyed Alice’s journey towards discovering her own.
I can’t say having a baby was a life-long dream, exactly. I didn’t like playing with dolls—their staring eyes and frozen expressions creeped me out. I wasn’t maternal like Christina Hartley, who, when I was crying inconsolably in kindergarten for the 267th time that year, encircled my shoulders with one small arm and said, “It’s okay, honey. It’s okay.” And when I thought I might be pregnant when I was 19, right after my first real boyfriend broke up with me, I was at first terrified and then deeply relived to watch only one pink line form on the pee stick.
Yet, I always adored working with kids younger than me. When I was in middle school, my bus driver, Janice Hall, would tell me stories about people who spontaneously combusted as she drove me to the elementary school where she’d park the bus and my mother ran the aftercare program. I’d join my mother and spend my pre-adolescent afternoons organizing games with the kids and lusting after Graham, my mother’s seventeen-year-old assistant. And, when I aged out of Brownies and was the only middle schooler uncool enough to want to continue on in Girl Scouts, they made me a junior counselor in my sister’s troupe (much to my sister’s chagrin). As soon as I was old enough to get working papers I was a camp counselor, watching over the little kids who belonged to the troupe leaders at Jockey Hollow Day Camp. I held the smallest children over the hole in the outhouse so they didn’t fall in. Important work.
When I was in high school, I told my mother that I wanted to teach emotionally disturbed children. We were standing in the foyer of my grandmother’s apartment (which Grandma pronounced: foy-yay), pulling on our coats to take a walk down snowy Pelham Parkway. Both my mother, a teacher, and my grandmother, who, to my knowledge, had never fulfilled her lifelong dreams, immediately squashed it. (“What? And let your brain go to waste? You should be a doctor!” This isn’t vanity. This is EVERY Jewish mother/grandmother’s lifelong dream for their kid…I have to admit, it’s now mine.)
I don’t think either of them was disappointed when I actually did become a teacher. True, teaching doesn’t have the prestige or financial compensation of being a doctor. But it is among the most noble of professions. And I loved it. I loved my students. In fact, I believe it was a love of teaching that kindled my desire to be a parent. I only got to have my students for six hours a day, but a child of my own would be a 24/7 deal. I think it was in my early twenties that I realized I did have a lifelong dream. I wanted to be a mother.
So, when I found myself swiftly approaching my 30’s, without a partner, let alone a child, I started to contemplate the possibility of having one on my own. I was absolutely 100% certain I wanted to have a child…but I wasn’t quite as sure about having a husband. I wasn’t sure men and women were meant to cohabitate, let alone bear and raise new people. Not long after I began to think this way, I met a man five years my junior. Which basically meant that he had all the time in the world to have a child, whereas I did not. I know I pressured him to have kids, even before we were married. I finally promised, during one particularly tense evening at his parents’ house, to wait until I was 40. What the hell was I thinking? Probably that his mind would change. And it did. I don’t think he even remembers that night.
So what happens when all the stars finally align to make your lifelong dream come true…and you are 37 and your body won’t cooperate? You get depressed. You despair. You resent everyone who has co-opted and is fulfilling your lifelong dream around you. You spend lots and lots of money, time and brainspace trying to figure out why, now that you have finally settled on a lifelong dream, you can’t make it come true.
And you become more and more sure that this is the one thing you want to do before you die.
Not because you want your genes to survive you. Not because you want to kick fate in the face. Not even because you think you’d be good at it. Even though you do. But because you suddenly realize that every lived moment—good and bad, sweet and savory, painful and real—has led you to this conclusion: you are a mother. All that's missing is the baby.
So we tried. And we tested. And we tried. And I stressed. And we tried. And I used acupunture and progesterone.
And then, in her own good time, came Sophia. The baby that made my lifelong dream come true.
As a member of the online book club From Left to Write, I received Following Polly from the publisher free of charge. I was not paid to write this essay. See how other moms were inspired by this book here.