Be Gay!

Gail Seneca

The year Ronald Reagan became president, my girlfriend and I decided to get pregnant.

We conceived the idea over an elaborate Indian meal in our steamy, fenugreek-scented kitchen. The conversation lasted for hours, as we listened, challenged, teased and dreamed. We celebrated our decision by playing four hand piano, creating round, harmonious chords - the soundtrack of our relationship.

Under Reagan, we couldn’t call a sperm bank; and we couldn’t adopt. But we found that the world teemed with willing sperm donors; not one man refused our request. Finding an obstetrician proved more difficult, but crusty, no-nonsense Doctor Jane finally took us on. She assessed our medical histories. I was younger, but had health problems; Doctor Jane preferred Karen as the biological mother.

“I’m 41,” Karen said. “Isn’t it risky at my age?”

Doctor Jane patted Karen’s knee and said, “Don’t worry, dear.”

On the first insemination, Karen conceived, but the pregnancy was troubled from the start. Restlessness plagued her sleep. She craved fresh brown bread and peanut butter, and refused all other food. Violent morning sickness forced her to cut back on her work at a feminist journal. She tried to edit manuscripts from home but gradually, almost imperceptibly, parenting manuals replaced feminist tracts on her desk.

The more she read, the more we worried. Birth defects, learning disabilities, allergies. One night during week six, Karen woke with a scream. “I dreamt,” she said, “that the baby was a goat.” I stroked her back and tried to calm her. “Anything can happen,” she wailed. “We can’t control it.” She sniffled. “But I know what I can do. I’ll set up the baby’s room.”

She flung herself so energetically into the project that it puzzled me. She’d never shown interest in interior design, but now, she examined sample books as if they were hieroglyphs. “What the baby sees will influence her attitude,” she said. She chose inspirational images for the wallpaper: sunrises over lakes, over mountains, over fields of sunflowers. “The baby’s grounding in the world,” she said, seeking the perfect carpet color. Over green tea and incense with a Zen practitioner friend who sold carpets, she selected a gentle rose-magenta.

She woke me early one January morning and led me to the porch where a cup of hot coffee and a duvet awaited. Pointing to the horizon, she said, “Watch.” The grey dawn yielded to orange, and then pink. “See it?” Karen said. “The precise shade of the baby’s carpet.”

Squinting, I nodded. I wouldn’t have described daybreak in those terms. But pregnancy hormones cast a powerful spell on a person, and I was not that person.

Karen listened to childbirth tapes instead of Mozart. She studied baby books rather than Ms. magazine. Instead of politics, she wanted to discuss controversies in infant education.

I began to look forward to the days my job required that I stay late. After ten one night, I sat alone in my office, closed my eyes and summoned the memory of snorkeling in a Hawaiian cove. Amidst fuchsia fan-tailed fish, Karen and I floated, carefree. A different life. I pinched myself and drove home through the cold, cloudless night.

Bread crumbs speckled Karen’s pillow. I watched her swollen belly rise and fall, listened to her contented breath, and imagined our perfect little girl suckling at her full breasts. I wondered how the bed could accommodate all of us.

To ensure my place, I inserted myself into baby preparations: bassinet choices, furniture moving, lists of baby names. We were into the Jeans, the Joans and the Jocelyns when Karen began to hemorrhage. At the hospital, the admissions nurse peppered Karen with questions. Address, insurance coverage, next of kin. “Gail Seneca,” Karen answered. “Relationship?” “Lover.” “Next next of kin?” Somewhere during all the questions, we lost the baby.

Karen slept for three days, waking occasionally to weep. Soggy tissues littered the bed. Blood-stained pads piled up in the trash. When she finally got up, she shuffled to the piano, where she played Chopin nocturnes so melancholy that I stuffed my ears with cotton. I ran my fingers through her unwashed hair and nuzzled her neck until the music died away. “We’ll try again,” she said.

Doctor Jane instructed Karen to take her temperature every day and plot it on graph paper in order to pinpoint the ovulation spike. The goal was insemination as close to that moment as possible.

The first insemination failed, memorialized by the arrival of Karen’s period and an outburst of sobs. I couldn’t console her; only the opportunity to hit the spike again in two weeks heartened her. As she waited, she researched the literature on pregnancy at the medical school library with the same zeal she’d applied to the baby literature. Tears welled in my eyes as she explained preeclampsia and life-threatening ectopic pregnancy. “You don’t have to do this,” I said. But she wanted to.

Her calendar, with its photos of marching suffragettes, splayed out on the kitchen table and spliced time into two weeks of hope and two weeks of despair. Six months oozed by, each day longer than the last.

To lift our spirits, Doctor Jane enrolled us in an infertility support group. As we entered the meeting room for our first session, three heterosexual couples and an older woman in a pantsuit stared at us with pinched expressions. Someone drew a tissue from one of the many Kleenex boxes. “You must have the wrong room,” the suited woman said. We backed out, embarrassed and relieved at the same time.

“It’s a sign,” Karen whispered. “I don’t belong with the infertile people.” I averted my eyes.

At the one year point, our house piled high with pregnancy literature, the nursery vacant and still, I proposed a change of scene. Karen agreed, provided we scheduled the trip outside the possible spike week and spent no money, because we were saving for the baby.

We drove to visit my father in his senior living community on the Jersey shore. Years before, Dad dove into retirement as if it were a swimming hole at summer camp where he could splash around with his pals until sunset. He’d surrendered any semblance of parental obligation and never looked back. I anticipated shuffleboard, bridge, senior discount lunches and not a shred of attention to our problems. Not Hawaii, but a thoroughly mindless distraction.

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