Built For This
"You're going to be a great mom," he whispered, pressing his palms to her swollen belly.
She could see his pupils dilate as he touched her, felt the thrum of life within. The physiology of love. That's how you can tell he's in love with you, her friends used to tell her, years ago when falling in love seemed like the most important thing in the world. His pupils get big. You can't fake that.
"You really think so?" she sighed, wincing as she felt a momentary cramp. Did her pupils ever get big like that? Did her body know how to love?
"Of course!" he exclaimed, kissing her just above her navel. "You're built for this."
"How do you mean?"
He raised his head, and again she saw his eyes, large and darkened. He was built to love her.
"I've been reading," he said, shining with that same hungry delight that always illuminated him when he'd tumbled down some scientific rabbit hole and returned grossly overfed with delicious knowledge. "When a woman gets pregnant, she's flooded with all these intense hormones. They're already preparing you. And think of how you're connected to the baby right now. Your tissues are knitted together, communicating, already building a relationship. It'll change our brains, being parents--did you know that? Babies make all these sounds and scents that our brains pick up and respond to. We're wired for this, and if we're not already prepared, we adapt neurologically. As soon as we have that little baby in our arms, we'll know exactly how to love it and to care for it, just as people have always done, going back to the beginning of time. Our bodies know. Isn't that beautiful?"
"Yeah," she agreed, smiling softly. But it wasn't beautiful. It made her feel enslaved. Was neurological adaptation a reason to be a mother? Were hormones a reason to crave offspring?
She hadn't told him about the panic attack she'd had in the car the other day, after her doctor's appointment. She'd been listening to other mothers in the waiting room chirping away about how motherhood made them feel so beautiful, made them truly understand what love meant. They chuckled over the times they'd been so unsure, the times they'd wondered if they even wanted children at all, but of course, when it's your own child, you inevitably fall in love with it, and blessings abound. That was what They always said.
What if those were lies women told to keep up the appearance of being good mothers? Surely there were some, at least, who regretted everything. Surely there were some who didn't feel drowned in love and blessings... only drowned. It just wasn't socially acceptable to talk about these things, and maybe it never would be. A mother was supposed to be a bastion of endless unconditional love and self-sacrifice. A mother admitting to anyone that she didn't feel that way at all would be a sociopath. At best, she'd be considered sick in the head... at worst, a monster. Most people who were sick in the head were considered monsters by the general public anyway, so it all came down to the same.
You're built for this.
Already she felt on the verge of another panic attack. The full weight of the social and biological pressure was pressing down on every inch of her.
"Are you okay?" he asked, still gazing at her, his wife, the incubator of his offspring, his own personal fertility goddess.
She pushed her mouth into another smile. "Sure. It's just... you know... stupid pregnancy hormones. The doctor said it was normal to feel weepy at random times. And I'm having a wicked craving. I think I need cookie butter, pronto."
"Of course!" he gushed, already getting to his feet. "You polished off the last jar yesterday, didn't you? I'll zip down to Trader Joe's."
"You're a saint," she sighed. And he was a saint. How could she ever compare? He was acing this dad thing already.
Once she'd heard his car leave the driveway, she succumbed to the bout of ugly, heaving sobs that had been digging at her, her face streaming with tears and snot. Were her inner tissues already communicating with the little sea slug inside her that was going to be her baby? Did it already know it existed because she had a short period of "baby fever" after being around her pregnant sister too much? Did it know about hormones, and how they'd made her think she wanted something she had never desired before? Did it know she had been the only girl of all her friends who never understood playing with dolls? Did it know she felt tricked, and trapped?
You're built for this.
Maybe they were built for all of it. She probably didn't even realize the reasons she'd chosen her husband. She'd thought it was everything to do with his personality, his interests, his disposition, and how he treated her. It could have simply been to do with the symmetry of his face or with his pheromones. Were they any different from dogs, pigeons, sea turtles, tapeworms? Everything simply followed biology, as it had been designed to. Someone, or something, was pulling all the strings. Did anything or anyone ever really make a choice?
She wasn't allowed to have regrets now. The baby was coming, as surely as the sun rose and set and the tides drifted in and out. It didn't feel beautiful. Not yet, at least. But if it never did, she would have to keep this secret deep inside herself, incubate it like the dark counterpart of the fetus burgeoning in her womb, and hope that it would never be born.