Hope Chest

Yesterday I went through my hope chest again. My father built it for me as a birthday gift a few years ago; it’s cedar and lovely. He made one for my mother first, and she keeps wool blankets and sweaters in it. Then he made one for my sister Kate, who keeps her important papers and drug paraphernalia inside. Mine was made most recently, and it’s full of baby stuff.

I go through it every so often, unpacking it, looking at everything, and then repacking it. A year ago, there wasn’t much in it—I got a few outfits for that first day with Cricket—but it has filled up since the relinquishment. I now keep the books on a shelf, as I’m not sure they’d fit into the chest; maternity clothes used to fit in there, but now live in a box in my closet. Now, knowing that if I get any Christmas money I’ll spend it on baby stuff, I wanted to look things over and see what might fit. I know that it’s stupid of me to buy baby stuff: I might never be able to have a child of my own; if I do get pregnant, I may get hand-me-downs and not need new baby stuff; I have pretty limited spending money, and using it for baby stuff that will just sit in a cedar chest for years is not a wise investment. It also makes me look a bit crazy. But I know all that and I still spend my pocket money on tiny overalls and board books. So what gives?

Mr. Book sort of vaguely knew about my hope chest before the wedding, but not until we were moved in did I show him the contents—he found it pretty disturbing. While this definitely made me feel worse about my nesting, it didn’t stop me. Ruth and Nora, of course, have no idea. If I try to imagine them opening the chest and rooting around, I see them looking horrified. It’s true that for the first six months or so of Cricket’s life, I did have a lame fantasy of being able to come through in the clinch when they visited: “What’s that, he’s thrown up all over his jumper? Well, it just so happens that I have something he could wear that is coincidentally much cuter than anything I’ve ever seen you put him in. Do you want a sippy cup to go with that, or maybe a stuffed chicken?” That, thankfully, entirely subsided several months ago. It’s still true that I don’t like the same baby clothes that they do, though. (In fact, in her last email to me, Ruth mentioned that she’d talked with a birthdad who hated the way his son’s parents dressed him, and kept sending clothes as gifts. “Wouldn’t that be hard,” she said to me, “to hate the way your son’s parents dressed him?” I have chosen not to respond directly to this point.)

I’ve come up with answers to most of the criticism of this nesting behavior: I don’t have anyone who will give me hand-me-downs, and I won’t get a baby shower (I work as a freelancer, not in an office, and I don’t really have much of a social circle). If I don’t have a child of my own I can keep, I will give a whole bunch of new and some handmade baby stuff to a young, poor woman who is pregnant and worried about being able to provide for her child. If I had had an offer like that when I was pregnant, maybe it would have changed my decision—probably not, but I would have been really touched and honored. I think my main reason for maintaining and contributing to the hope cache at this point because when I was pregnant with Cricket, especially in those last couple of months, I would think, Of course I can’t parent. I don’t even have any of those tiny hats! Parents have plenty of little hats. Ruth and Nora have a whole dresser full! So if I ever get pregnant again, the hope chest will be my defense against the idea of adoption. Of course I am going to keep my child: look at all those tiny hats! How prepared I am for a baby, and how wanted this baby is! Of course I wanted Cricket, but in the absence of clothes and diapers, I didn’t think that the wanting was very important. Maybe I was right. But if I got pregnant today, I would have burp cloths, bibs, toys, blankets, and a selection of clothes that run up through 24 months. I have a mobile; I have a couple of bowls with spoons. I thought about taking a picture of the chest to accompany this post, but it turns out that I am still too ashamed.

The Things Inside Me

So. My therapist (and some others) wants me to think of myself as a mother. While I can, intellectually, concede that it might be a good idea…it’s so hard. But I’ve started to try. My first move was to ask Ruth for permission. I think that on some level I was hoping that she’d say “You know, I’m just not comfortable with that”—it would have given me an excuse to stay safe. But in fact she wrote a long and thoughtful email to me affirming my motherhood: If you need to hear a blessing you have it, we think of you that way and have all along, I hope we’ve made that clear, and I regret it if not. My first impulse was to feel guilty about her response: Oh God, I’ve made them feel bad! Not appropriate! And then I slowly eased myself toward her point. They think of me as one of his mothers. Now, young lady, you need to act like it.

The morning after the visit, I took a pregnancy test—I do that regularly these days, so I’ve started getting the really cheap ones in bulk. I’m not pregnant, of course, and my period isn’t even due for another few days—but I keep feeling this desire to test. Part of this, I assume, is because now I know that an unplanned pregnancy really can happen to me (something that I’d never believed before Cricket. Because I’m not the kind of person who has babies). But I think that another part of it is a desire to have my role clarified: to be a mother, full stop. Of course, it will probably be years before I get pregnant, if I can at all—and even then I will be a birthmother.

Please bear with me. I’m sort of figuring things out as I go in this post. Last night in the bath, I was reading a parenting memoir-y book, and I felt pregnant. That’s the term my brain threw up, anyway, and when I stopped to examine it, I realized that what I felt really was a deep and boundless love: the love I felt for Cricket when he was mine. I’m letting it in, and it’s coming back. Not that I haven’t loved him all year, but it’s been much the way I loved the kids I babysat as a teenager—this, though, is mother love.

What do I do with this feeling?