Happy Birthday Mum

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is a short story about how the emotional ties of motherhood begin from the moment a woman decides she wants to have a baby and continue forever.

Submitted: March 31, 2008

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Submitted: March 31, 2008

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Happy Birthday Mum
Jenny found herself staring in the mirror in the change room, first front on, then sideways, she turned around and saw herself from the back. Nothing was different, nothing had changed, and yet in her head it all looked different. She saw a flat stomach, small breasts, toned thighs. The clothes she had chosen looked good, there was no doubt she was in great shape, healthy, fit, young, strong. Years ofexercising, watching what she ate, always conscious of the puppy fat she had carried as a child, finally she had achieved a body to be proud of.
She looked again, took the new clothes off and put them back on their hangers, picked her old jeans off the change room floor and put them back on. There would be no new clothes today. Why waste her money when she was sure any day now she would be shopping for a different type of wardrobe. She took the clothes back to the assistant with a nod and a mumble about them not being quite what she was after. Back in the store, she looked around at the other customers. Everyone seemed to know exactly what they were there to buy, everyone else seemed to be making decisions about their purchases, happily spending their money, going home with their purchases, convinced that they would help make their dreams come true.
Jenny knew buying new clothes wasn’t going to help her dreams come true. Yet she felt closer to tears now than she had this morning when she woke up, took her temperature, charted it, and realized, for the hundredth time that she still wasn’t ovulating which meantthere was no way she could be pregnant.
Jenny saw only pregnant women shopping, or women with babies, or women with young children. It felt like the whole world was pregnant, having babies, raising children. It had been a really major shift in her thinking, deciding that she wanted a family. Somebody forgot to tell her that you don’t always get what you want. Or maybe they did, but they forgot to tell her how hard the journey is when what you want doesn’t happen. No one said that her head would become like a bad telephone connection, with weird noises and muffled sounds echoing around, interrupting what used to be logical intelligent thoughts. No one mentioned the disappointment, the grief, the waking up every day hoping, the lack of focus on anything else, the envy felt when friends turned up pregnant, the hurt when family asked if you were ever going to have kids.
Jenny’s life had been relatively easy till now, although she had never really been tremendously ambitious or really known what she wanted to do with her life, she had managed to make her way successfully through a science degree, graduating with honours, and an expectation of continuing post graduate study. She had a long-standing boyfriend whom she married. They worked hard for a couple of years, saved all their money and took off overseas indefinitely. It was the trip of a lifetime. Although they found themselves in some interesting, challenging, and potentially dangerous situations, they always felt in control. There was always money stashed away to come home, there were always parents who would rescue them, there was always the security of each other’s company and familiarity.
This was different. Jenny felt totally out of control. Her body was doing its own thing. She didn’t know how to get on top of it. She couldn’t plan her life beyond thinking about pregnancy. She no longer knew what she wanted to do with her life or how to plan for her future.
It was a mad decision but she knew she had to leave. They had no money and needed her income, but she couldn’t continue.
“I’m going crazy, slowly going absolutely mad. If I’m not going to get pregnant then I have to follow another dream. I’m sorry I know we need the money but sometimes money isn’t everything and anyway if we aren’t having a family then the money isn’t so critical. I want to go back and do my PhD” Jenny shouted at her husband Pete as he walked through the door that night.
“OK, settle down. You don’t need to shout at me like that. Lets think this through together. If you really want to do your PhD then you’re right, the money isn’t everything, but what happens when you get pregnant?”
“I can’t think about that anymore, I need something else to focus on, I need a different purpose. We need to decide how long and far we go down this path, I can’t just hang in here for ever. I need to feel some control back in my life and the bloody doctors need to treat me as a human being rather than another piece of meat!” The volume and intensity of Jenny’s voice was growing by the minute. She was in tears by now, her face crumpled and streaked with mascara. She felt alone, insecure. She wanted a big hug and someone to wave a magic wand and make it all better.
They slept on it, but having spoken the words, having shared the thought with someone else, she knew it wasn’t going away, and by the morning Jenny had made up her mind.
The hardest part for Jenny was adjusting to the isolation and loneliness of the day-to-day existence of a graduate research student. Unlike the constant conversations and socializing that was part and parcel of Jenny’s previous work, she found the competitive environment of a postgraduate research laboratory, lonely and unsupportive. At times this added to her sense of disconnection. However, she persevered, gave it everything she had, and it did help take her mind off……..no, she determined not to dwell on it, although she did sometimes privately take a moment to consider it, but she wasn’t going to talk about it. She needed to pretend it wasn’t important. Thinking about “it” instead of “being pregnant” somehow helped her retain some emotional distance.
She kept taking her temperature, it was almost a superstition that she didn’t dare stop, however, every morning just before she took the thermometer out of her mouth she thought, “ I don’t know why I’m wasting my time. There’ll be no change and anyway I’m focused elsewhere now and getting pregnant would mean changing plans.” She was steeling herself for the disappointment that came when her temperature remained the same day after day. Although in another part of her brain she wasn’t ready to stop trying or to accept it would never happen.
“Oh my god, oh my god, I don’t believe it, my temperature’s gone down, I’m ovulating!” Pete had left for work early and Jenny couldn’t get on the phone quick enough. In his usual rational way Pete was encouraging but luke warm as he didn’t want Jenny to end up with more disappointment. “It might mean something, but lets wait and see,” he cautioned. However, nothing was going to dampen her enthusiasm today.
The next day, “Yes, yes, yes”, she screamed, “its gone up, I must be ovulating, maybe I’m pregnant!” Jenny couldn’t believe it.
After a week of her temperature remaining raised she couldn’t hold back, the pregnancy testing kit was out, she couldn’t look, Pete had to tell her, and this time there was excitement in his voice. “You’re pregnant, you’re pregnant, I don’t believe it, this is fantastic”.
Jenny didn’t feel sick, or have sore boobs, or any of those things that her friends had complained about in the first weeks of their pregnancy. She was ecstatic. She planned to take time out from her studies so that she could be at home with her baby, well for a few months anyway. She was sure that she would be able to cope with both, but anyway that wasn’t worth thinking about at this stage, she would worry about that down the track. She was pregnant and that was all that concerned her. Focussing on her pregnancywas now distracting her from her research.
Jenny hadn’t really given any thought to the process of being pregnant, other than her belly would grow, and after 9 months she would have a baby. It was almost as though she was too scared to read the books while she was trying to get pregnant. She had an instinct that if she started to read and think about being pregnant that she would somehow jinx the possibility of getting pregnant. For some-one who considered herself to be rational and logical she wasn’t behaving that way at all.
“So, you’re pregnant. Congratulations. Let me see your last period was how long ago?” Jenny’s doctor said. “I haven’t had one for years, it would seem that the first time I ovulated I got pregnant.”
“Mmmm, well, I guess we’d better send you for an ultrasound then. While we’re at it, I’ll organize a first trimester screening test as well.” Despite Jenny’s education, she had no idea what this meant. It sounded to her like she was being sent for some routine tests and it didn’t occur to her to ask any further questions. There was no further advice or information given. “Come back and see me after you’ve had the tests and we can discuss the results” said the obstetrician. Suddenly, Jenny realized that she should be finding out what these tests were, even if it was routine. “Umm, what does the ultrasound do, and what is a first trismester screening test?” The obstetrician, already on his feet to usher Jenny out the door, said “ don’t worry I’m sure it will all be normal, its just to see what your risk of Down’s Syndrome is. If you’ve got any more questions we can discuss it at the next appointment.” Jenny, felt compelled to stand up too and before she could stop to think found herself in the corridor.
She looked around the waiting room on her way out and saw pregnant women at various stages of their pregnancy. Some were radiant, others looked strained, tired, worried, especially those with toddlers as well. Jenny wondered if they had all had this test too, and what their results had been. The words “Down Syndrome” kept repeating in her head. She vaguely remembered something from University undergraduate days about Down Syndrome being a chromosome abnormality. She thought that older mums who had lots of kids were at risk of having Down Syndrome babies, what on earth did she have to have a test for, she wondered.
By the time Pete got home from work Jenny was frantic. She had gone straight home and googled “Down Syndrome” and ‘first trimester screening”. Having spent several hours reading about the lives of families with Down Sydnrome children, and stories from women who had decided to terminate pregnancies after they found out that their baby had Down Syndrome, she had tears rolling down her cheeks, and she was convulsed by the potential grief. “Oh, Pete, what have we done. What happens if something is wrong with the baby? How are we going to cope? I want my baby to be perfect, I couldn’t cope if anything was wrong.”
They went to the ultrasound together. Pete had taken the whole day off work, realizing that Jenny needed his full support to get through this. He was sure she was being irrational about the whole thing, and that the doctor doing the ultrasound would explain it all. He anticipated taking Jenny out for lunch, seeing her smile and laugh, when she realized how she had managed to misconstrue what the first doctor had said. He was going to make it all better, and they would revel in the joys of their pregnancy from then on.
“Hi Jenny and Pete. Its nice to meet you. I have a letter here from your doctor explaining that you are a bit unsure of your dates, so we’ll do an ultrasound which will help determine how many weeks you are. Once we know that we can organize the first trimester screen. I’m sure your doctor will have discussed that with you.”
“Actually, I have a few questions” Jenny, said. “Sure, just hop up on the examination couch for me and loosen the waist on your pants. We can talk while I’m doing the ultrasound.” “Oh, OK”. Once on the couch Jenny was enthralled with the process of having gel rubbed on her tummy, and the ultrasonographer then placing what looked like a microphone over the gelled area. She could see an image on the screen. “Oh, my god, is that my baby”.Pete is watching the screen intently as well, and they can both see the heart beating. Entranced, enthralled, any thought of the questions they might have had have long disappeared. The doctor is concentrating very hard, taking measurements, doing calculations, and finally says, “Well, it looks like you’re about 6 weeks pregnant. I will give you a form to go and have a blood test in a couple of weeks, and then when you are 12 weeks youcome back for another ultrasound. We can then give you your risk of Down Syndrome, OK?”
Jenny’s face crumples as she is confronted with the words “Down Syndrome” again. Although usually an articulate, intelligent, assertive woman, she has lost any sense of control.She looks to Pete to ask the questions, but he is also looking shell shocked. Nothing gets said. Once again, Jenny feels she is being ushered out of the room before she is finished, but she can’t get her head or lips around the words that need to be formed.
They both move dream like through the motions of paying the bill, getting the next appointment, and finding out where the blood test gets done. Outside, it is a brilliant sunny day, the heat is reflecting off the pavement and their fellow pedestrians have taken their coats and jackets off to soak up the sun. Jenny and Pete shiver spontaneously and simultaneously. They look at each other. Jenny thinks Pete looks like he is about to cry. He takes a big breath, puts his arms around Jenny’s shoulders, and suggests lunch. They walk in silence.
By the time their sushi arrives Pete has found his voice. Pete now agrees that they need some answers to questions, what is the testing for, what does the risk mean, what happens from there, what options do they have, do they have to have the test….the list goes on. He is in rational mode. Jenny, however, is barely listening. Her emotions, once again areon a roller coaster. She is too scared to express what she is thinking- this was meant to be a positive experience,I’ve waited so long, I can’t handle this, this isn’t what I expected, nobody told me it would be like this. She can’t believe that she is so emotionally attached to a 6 week old fetus.
Jenny stares out the window as Pete brings her a cup of tea in bed. It all seems so vivid, that day when they left the obstetrician’s office for the first time. How nae she was, thinking she could control her life, thinking that once pregnant her worries were over, her child was hers to make decisions for, assuming that nothing could or would go wrong. She knew better the second and third times. How times have changed her. She remembers how everything was fine with the testing, the pregnancy was wonderful, the first birth a terrific experience. Her emotions keep growing, she feels every milestone, the ups and downs, her own happiness constantly overshadowed by her children’s. Her fears disintegrate in the face of her children’s fears, her strengths come from her need to protect, and as they got older her frustrations come from not having the answers to their problems.

She thinks back to that day of her first ultrasound and realises how it gave them their first experience of the emotional roller coaster parenting is, how it helped them find a base from which they could cope, support each other, and move on, remembering to clutch at every happy moment that came their way. “Happy Birthday, mum.” She turns to see all three of them standing there, presents in hand, smiles on their faces. Tears in her eyes, she knows that today is definitely one of those days. Happiness is this moment.


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