From the editors: Writer Bridget Crenshaw Mabunga chronicles her transition from childless to childfree and shares how she funnels her nurturing energy into an at-risk youth bike team.
The doctor says if we conceive naturally, “You’d better name the baby Jesus, cause it’ll be a miracle.” We laugh, an authentic response to a good joke. I don’t feel the bruised ribs until later.
No IVF: I don’t want to shoot myself in the ass, nor do I want to see myself hopped up on hormones. Even for the chance to feel it flip inside my belly. No Donor: I cannot find anyone good enough in the pages and pages of bios though there’re plenty with straight black hair, sepia skin, smarts like his. I can’t find one because the only one I want is sitting next to me. He holds my hand as I search and feels more disposable with each click. No Adoption: I peruse sites and blogs languishing over all I’ve got to learn, all I’ve got to earn in order to make one of these unwanted babies mine. Forty thousand and a high risk of drug addiction in utero. I put the computer to sleep.
All my friends get pregnant. My sister first, in fact she announces just after I’ve learned I can’t. Her belly bubbles up expanding every month until I can no longer enter the room. I neglect calls, texts, visits. But I host the shower at my house, fill it with baby blues and ribbon. Family gathers and swoons as she thanks everyone for welcoming her into the world of motherhood. I sink behind my camera.
Each month I wonder, will we get a baby Jesus? If we do, I’m not naming it Jesus. I am not religious, don’t look to a book or a prayer, just wonder if I’ll ponder this same question until my body no longer releases, until after all the petals drop. Boobs swell so heavy, so sore I know this time might be it. My period’s late, so I look for swollen nipples, glowing cheeks, stomach gurgles. This happens so many times I think I might become hysterically pregnant like Percival Everett’s protagonist’s mother, only she actually gave birth.
My mom and his mom envelop me with words: it’s best; you’d never write; your relationship will change, maybe get ruined; you’ll never have time for him. My sister, bouncing on yoga ball, eye bags practically resting on shoulders, sweet crying baby boy thrashing in arms: You’ll be the one to help all of us struggling moms; we’ll appreciate it so much; besides, there’s your writing. And my husband: I’m fine with it; I don’t even want kids, too much responsibility; we can travel, take off whenever we want; besides, we have Maverick. Not one person pressures me to procreate in whatever fashion necessary; in fact, they all seem to think it’s better I don’t. Which makes me worry.
Bellies swell and swaddled babies land in my arms almost weekly, it seems. Friends try IVF, miscarry, try again, succeed. I re-consider, refuse again. Friends get pregnant naturally and miscarry; part of me feels vindicated. They want it more than I, so they try until they succeed. But seeing the struggle keeps them in my corner until they enter the land I never will, the club outside which I’ll always sit waiting until they’re ready to play again.
It takes four years to settle into a regular thought: I’m glad we don’t have kids. This is not an angry thought. It’s an honest one. Too many nights I’m home alone. Who would save me from the tantrums? Too many evenings I settle into the computer, create worlds. Who would put the kid to bed? Sometimes I can barely remember to feed Maverick.
Then, my ten year-old nephew passes away, and my family spends a week in a house together, calling friends, planning the funeral, sleeping on air mattresses, huddling in one room so none has to be alone. After the funeral, Bob and I return to a too-empty home. I see Thomas in my dream; he stands next to my bed, reaches out. I try to go back to work but have to walk out of class during a lesson, tears spilling over. My students give me an air plant and a card. I try not to cry again. When the quiet becomes too much, my husband volunteers us to help with the floundering Sacramento Police Department bike team, which serves teenage racers cold cereal for lunch while the wealthier kids, flanked by parents and well-paid coaches, walk by in matching jerseys eating multilayered sandwiches.
I become the mother of nine all at once. Nine teenagers, all boys but one: the princess my husband had always hoped for. I love the girl like I love the boys; though none seem particularly fond of me. Yet I’m more than fond of them because I know their struggles, recognize their emptiness as familiar. At-risk they call them; help support, mentor, keep active, keep out of gangs, expose to new possibilities. I write these words over and over as I seek money, hope they grant my kids bikes, helmets, socks. The other kids ride $10,000 Specialized; ours ride Frankenstein bikes that break down causing DNF’s and tears.
Sometimes I feel crushed by the gaps: money, poverty, drugs, gangs, holes in shoes. Some days I want to quit because I can never do enough. But then another race looms on the horizon and I rally. I assign duties, quiz them on the big three, tape Goos to handle bars, give pep talks and push-ups. But mostly, I make lunch. I chop and slice and lay out massive quantities of fruit and turkey burgers. I promise turkey tastes just like beef, hide the cookies until they’ve raced and push oranges over extra cheese. They do not seem to care. They barely look me in the eye, ignore me until I stand in front of them.
But when they fall, I’m there. And they do fall; they crash, flip over bikes, slam helmeted-heads into trees, collect rocks in knees, slice arms and fingers. On the way to the hospital, I have to call their mothers.
Yet, every other Sunday throughout the season, I am their mother. I know who’s been to prom; I know who wants to sit next to whom in the van; I know who likes grapes; I know who really wants to finish the race and who’s being too easy on himself—and I call him out.
I also protect them. When she crashed and it came through on the radio, I ran half way around the eight mile course to find her. I didn’t find her, but something told me to turn my head at the exact moment she came racing down the hill through the finish. I saw that green blur and knew she’d recovered, faced her fear.
I cheered him on as he shot down the hill—before the rock. He tumbled over and slammed down, got back up and raced away. I ran to the other side of the course to capture his arrival. Instead, he stumbled off his bike, face sheet-white. I called for a medic, followed him to the tent, patted his leg and pretended not to notice the tears.
Now, I occasionally wonder if by some bizarre chance, I might get a baby Jesus. Mostly, though, I’m thankful I don’t; if I did, I’d no longer have time for the team. Who would notice the slight intonation of an argument about to begin? When they call each other names, who would challenge them to appreciate difference, to work as a team, to be better than they were last week?
Working with these kids has allowed me to nurture in a way I never imagined possible, filling a gap in me and a gap in them. I’ve discovered parenting is more than birthing and raising a child, and that’s gratifying. So to those who continue to ask when, not if, we’ll have kids, I say: Let that miracle baby grace someone else’s nest, for mine is chock full of teenagers.
Bridget Mabunga earned an MA in Creative Writing from Sacramento State, where she won a Bazanella award for graduate creative nonfiction, and her work has appeared in Under the Gum Tree and Kartika Review and is included in the 2012-2013 Kartika Review anthology. She’s been a featured reader at True Story, Sacramento and Assistant Editor for Narrative Magazine for over four years. She’s currently a Writing Specialist at UC Davis and recently finished her first novel manuscript.
Photo credit: Madeloni Photography
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