November 20th came and went.
My shins felt like sponges. My ankles were tree trunks. I was exhausted. My fucking maternity jeans refused to stay up; it was a constant game of tug-o-war to get them to stay up over the tender, stretched out skin of my stomach.
Two days later it was Thanksgiving. I had already spent a week at work fielding the “Turkey’s done!” jokes from my coworkers as they gleefully pointed at my protruding belly button that poked through the material of my once billowy maternity tops.
It was our second Thanksgiving as a married couple. Did we risk cooking a turkey? What if my water broke before the turkey finished? In the end, we settled for turkey loaf TV dinners complete with the disgusting yet strangely delicious cranberry dessert. I didn't bother to take into account Thanksgiving menu problems that late February Saturday night of drunken dancing and grinding at Lansing’s LGBTQ nightclub that later culminated in my pregnancy.
On Black Friday I braved the mall in my walking-beached-whale state. I purchased two nursing bras at the maternity clothing store. Without looking up, the clerk asked me what my due date was as she rang up my purchases. I replied and her head snapped up and she took a visible step back when she registered that November 20 was three days ago.
“Good luck with that,” she mumbled as she hurriedly shoved my change and receipt into my outstretched hand.
I was a walking time bomb. Liable to explosively spew forth an infant child and assorted fluids and placenta on innocent bystanders any minute now.
On Sunday the 25th, I woke up with an insatiable hunger for a can of fruit cocktail. Something about the idea of consuming technicolor fruit marinated in heavy syrup was something I needed now. The problem was that my husband had the car.
He had to work odd hours and weekends as a graduate assistant at Michigan State University. This morning he was juicing his drugged-up research rats -- cutting off their heads in a mini guillotine, squeezing their blood out, and then spinning the blood down for neutrophils. Or something. I only half understood what he did. All I know is I was thankful he picked a PhD program that paid him a small stipend instead of vice versa where he shelled out money for the honor of tacking “Dr.” in front of his name eventually.
I quickly got dressed into one of the only t-shirts that still fit me and the aforementioned maddening maternity jeans and slipped on a pair of flimsy canvas Mary Janes. They were the only pair of shoes that fit my fat duck feet anymore. I grabbed my winter coat that wouldn’t zip over my belly anymore, my hat and gloves, and wallet. The closest grocery store was miles away and would require navigating some sidewalk-less areas and crossing over a state highway.
Fuck it. I needed that fruit cocktail and this baby out of me. Walking was supposed to help induce labor, right?
I set off on my journey. The wind stung my face, but I found keeping my head down and concentrating on my feet lessened the tearing of my eyes from the biting breeze.
After the first mile I quickly managed to fall into a rhythm. This allowed my mind to wander. The kid inside me rolled languidly and I poked back at the elbow, knee, butt, or whatever the body part was that was jabbing into my right ribs.
How was it I was still pregnant? In my new mom naivety I never dreamed of not having my baby a few days before or on my due date. I was ready for this kid to be here.
But then again, I wasn't. How the hell was I going to do this? I only had two weeks of paid vacation saved up at work. That meant a month of no pay if I wanted to take six weeks off. My husband’s rat-juicing barely paid the rent.
I could go back to work earlier I told myself. It was no big deal. The daycare we had reserved a spot at was just two doors down from my office. It would be great. I could go down on my lunch hour and feed my snuggly little infant. We'd cuddle on one of the shabby recliners the center had in the infant room and I'd serenely and discreetly offer my beloved child my breast and he or she would eat until their tiny belly was full and they drifted off to sleep allowing me to make a graceful exit and retreat back to my office.
So what if I came back to work after only four weeks? I was a woman not to be defined solely by motherhood alone.
By the time I reached the US 127 overpass, my breath was coming short and my stomach was hard. Braxton-Hicks contractions. Not real contractions. Nearly three miles of walking and this kid was still firmly ensconced in my lower torso.
Ten minutes and two truckers honking at me as I attempted to cross the overpass later -- because maybe inducing labor was like curing the hiccups: a startle like the blaring of a big rig horn could scare the child out of my uterus -- I was at the grocery store.
My glasses immediately fogged up as I waddled through the automatic sliding doors and the warm indoor air hit me. No matter, I was a pregnant woman on a mission. I didn't need 100% of my sight to navigate my way to the aisle of canned fruits and veggies.
I paused to drink in the dizzying array of choices in canned fruit cocktail that I had to choose from. Del Monte. Libby’s. Store brand. Family or regular sized can. Heavy syrup. Light syrup. 100% juice. Extra cherries. This was worse than deciding what diapers to use. Cloth. Disposable. Overnight. Umbilical cut. For crawlers. For babies who still just laid there. Leakproof. Licensed characters. Store brand characters.
I settled on a regular sized can of Del Monte fruit cocktail in its own juices. I had just barely passed the gestational diabetes screening. Best to not push my luck this late in the game with heavy syrup.
I paid the clerk who eyed my red wind burnt face and giant belly warily and left the store clutching my treasure in its plastic bag wrapped around my swollen fingers.
On the reverse walk home with each step I could feel my despair mounting. I had successfully fulfilled my fruit cocktail portion of this mission but I wasn't feeling any crippling pain in my abdomen. I wasn't feeling any warm liquid gushing out from between my legs. Not even a trickle. Damnit.
Warm tears started to fill my eyes and started to spill out onto my frozen cheeks. I hadn't even had this kid and already I was a shitty mother. My body couldn't even go into labor on time.
As I entered the last half mile of my trip I passed the man-made swamp the township had constructed ten years earlier to drain storm water. I paused to catch my breath. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the characteristic silhouette of a great blue heron in flight with its giant wingspan, s-shaped neck folded in on itself, and massive pointy beak.
I heaved a great sniff sucking back into my nose the snot that was poised and ready to run down my face and I laughed through my hopeless, non-child birthing tears.
Leave it to me to finish this seven mile walk meant to shake loose this baby from my womb only to be confronted not by a stork, but it's non-child delivering cousin the heron.
Rebecca Bezdecny has lived in five different states in her adult life spanning the continental US and thus has racked up a lot of travel as a result. In hindsight, she counts this seven mile trip as one of her proudest travels. She had the child in this story surgically extracted two days later and he’ll turn sixteen this year. Happy birthday, Andrew.