Try As You Might (#223)

I lost my mom when I was a teen. It was awful. It was untimely, a tragedy, etc.  She left six kids with a) a mentally unstable father/ stepfather and b) a ton of unresolved issues.

And yet.

I understood that it was better than the reverse. A mother should never outlive her children.

Once I studied history, though, I realized that outliving your children was a thoroughly modern expectation. Before vaccines and modern surgery, a mother would be fortunate if half her children survived — infant mortality rates in the 1800s were almost 50%.

From Lynn Wright’s “19th Century Death Bed Portraiture.”

I wondered, sometimes, if mothers were as attached to their kids back then as mothers are today. Or did they hold back, not wanting to invest too much emotionally or financially when the odds of survival were so low?

Research has always been my ally in outwitting or coping with catastrophe. So, perhaps like mothers in the last millennia, I prepared myself for failure when I got pregnant.  Especially in the first trimester, where pregnancy had a one-third chance of failure. Even with prenatal vitamins. Even eschewing Advil and all medicines.

But even though I didn’t want to become too attached, I’d already decided on a name – Dalton, after Dalton Trumbo, screenwriter and crusader against McCarthyism/ fascism.

Andy was all, “’Dalton?’ What if it’s a girl?”

“She can be a Dalton, too. Look at the proliferation of girl Madisons for chrissakes.”

“I don’t like Dalton for a girl,” Andy objected.

“’You don’t like?!’ Let me remind you who is doing the heavy lifting here,” I began – only to run off to the bathroom and vomit (my new pregnancy normal). Then I tried to brush my teeth. Which made me gag, which made me puke again. By the time I escaped this vicious cycle, Andy was hastily assuring me that I could name our baby whatever I wanted.

“How gracious of you,” I told him as I flopped onto the bed. “But don’t worry, it’s going to be a boy.”

Andy, who’d already said he wanted a girl, scowled, but only said, “Are we calling the baby Dalton, then?”

I shook my head. “Not yet. It isn’t even a baby. Doesn’t have a brain yet. I don’t wanna jinx it. You can call it embryo or fetus.”

“Uh, no. That’s kind of clinical.”

“It’s medically accurate. And it’s nicer than what I’d like to call it when I’m puking my guts out. If this keeps up, ‘Parasite From Hell,’ or ‘Demon Spawn’ is going on that birth certificate.”


Not naming “it,” was more difficult than I expected. I’ve always liked naming things, then renaming them, and then giving them nicknames. My childhood blanket was male, and called “Blankey.” My first black car was Bagheera, after the black leopard in the Jungle Book. My houseplant was Fred. Brilliant Blonde Lawyer Sister and I had so many boyfriends we gave them nicknames to help each other remember them. Who can forget “Tank Lord,” “Divorced Dude,” and “Trolley Tim?”

All of my pets had multiple titles, depending on how they were behaving. The dogs were everything from “Doggums” to “The Excavators.”

I anthropomorphized everything (even subhuman boyfriends). It was hard not to do the same with the collection of cells in my abdomen.

Especially when those cells made my life miserable. “Listen,” I’d begin, trying to psyche myself up and off the bathroom floor. “You just listen up, D–  crap, I mean Baby—ugh, I mean embryo-thing. The doggums need a walk or they’re going to tunnel under the fence. So please could you lay off the making-me-feel-like-shit hormones for like an hour? Please?”

After I threw up in a neighbor’s bush 20 minutes later, I’d mutter, “Contrary already. Thanks a lot, Baby D—ugh! I mean Evil Embryo!”

Andy did better than I did. By cheating. He’d never ask specifically about the status of the fetus. Instead, he asked how I was feeling.

“D—er, fetus thing let me eat half a muffin today.”

“Good job, honey.”

And then came the Sunday night when I realized I was bleeding. As I expected catastrophe and knew the odds, I immediately warned Andy that probably this meant the fetus wasn’t viable and it was common. Then I talked to Dr. Sister, who assured me that a little brown blood from the cervix was normal and no big deal.

I crawled back into bed and told Andy, “False alarm! Dr. Sis says Baby D is totally fine and not to worry.”

“’Baby D?’ Don’t you mean the fetus?”

“Shut up or I’ll puke on you.”

Andy squeezed my hand and said, “Good night, honey.” Then he whispered, “Good night, Baby D.”

From the night forward, the fetus was known as Baby D. Even though it didn’t have a functioning brain. Even though there was still a 33% chance Baby D wouldn’t make it out of the first trimester.

Which answered my question about the mothers who gave birth centuries ago. You may know the odds. You may know you shouldn’t get attached. But try as you might…

…they suck you in anyway.

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

20 thoughts on “Try As You Might (#223)”

  1. I think you get attached to things and people before you know it. Like you never see it coming. It is sort of like an invisible suck in – you don’t know that you are being sucked in until you are in and then that world rips out from under you. Dang you are dragging out this story well.

    I also had a male blanket and gave him a name that I won’t reveal to the world. Still have it til this day. I hope it still likes me.

    1. Yes, most humans are made to attach. Most primates, too. I wasn’t going to get a second cat, and then I made the mistake of walking by a cat adoption and touching a finger against a cage. This sable cat immediately rubbed his head on my hand and purred and came home with me.

      I am sure your blanket still loves you. 😉

      1. Humans are made to attach huh…that is a scary thought. But when you attach, dang it is a great feeling you don’t want to lose.

        My blanket is shredding at the corners. I do hope it still loves me 😉

  2. There is this great Earth is Space Australia thread on Pinterest & Tumblr, about 1/3 of the posts are about our ability to pair bond with anything. Even robots vacuum cleaners.

    My asian husband was the opposite of Andy though, I bonded and named our kid instantly but he wanted to wait. He ended up faring a bit better when we miscarried at nine weeks as a result.

    1. That sounds like a hilarious thread. I mean, I am attached to my vacuum — so much pet hair! — but if someone offered me a better one? Hasta la vista, vacuum!

      I am so sorry about your miscarriage. Such a wound. Does it make it isolating and more painful when your partner isn’t as attached and hurts less?

  3. I had no idea that pregnancies had a one-third chance of failure in the first trimester. Wow! I should do more research being as how I’m writing about a character who’s trying to get pregnant.

    Even though my husband and I studied the baby-name books and chose names a few months before the baby was born, since we didn’t know whether it would be a boy or a girl, I just called each of them “baby” until I saw her. I did talk to my babies/fetuses. Even without names, they felt very real and personal to me.

  4. Our baby already has a name but to be honest I don’t talk to him or even think of him as a person yet. I don’t think I can do that until I actually see him outside, haha. I would feel stupid talking to my bump. But I know I’m weird…

    1. Ha, you’re not weird. Probably you’re the normal one, actually, with enough parental love and therefore less of a need to try bond with everything that comes your way instantly. 🙂 Do you obsessively name and nickname everything in your life? I don’t think I’ve ever heard you refer to Nico as anything but Nico.

      1. Mmmm no, not really, I can’t think of anything/anyone that I call by a nickname… but I thought you did it just out of privacy concerns in your blog! Do you do it in real life too?

  5. In the 1800s, parents used to give the first 2-3 boys the same first name (the father’s name) to increase the odds of that name going forward. So much is weighing on a name! I think names should be temporary and be changed at confirmation, or some other life milestone. Iris Blue Lake, née Katherine Morales.

    1. Yes, names don’t always fit. Sometimes they were never comfy, or sometimes we outgrow them. And it’s just common courtesy to call someone by their preferred name or pronoun, even if it’s not the one you knew them by as a child.

  6. I think I would be just like you, Autumn. Calling ‘it’ or ‘fetus’ and all, haha. You never know what can happen in those first few months, and my motto is always “better safe than sorry.” Getting attached and then having my heart broken would devastate me.

    I also did not know about the 50% chance of infant mortality. It makes, taking into consideration the level of medicine. Speaking of… I wonder why infant mortality is so high in the US compared to other countries? (must wikipedia later..!!)

    Anyway, this pregnancy tale better have a happy ending!

    1. OMG, I just wrote up a whole huge response on why the U.S. is having issues with increasing child and maternal mortality rates. And Word Press ate it or something. In short, expensive health care, lack of education, closing of low-cost health centers like Planned Parenthood, lack of maternity leave, damaged DNA from racism/ persecution, anti-vaxxers preying on marginalized communities, and environmental factors such as living near freeways or in places with toxic water like Flint. Child mortality rates aren’t increasing as much as maternal mortality rates in the U.S., though. This article explains some of it, using Texas and California as examples.

  7. I like Dalton, especially for a girl. I had a blankie when I was a kid and I worked the corners with my thumb and pointing finger. My Mom was continually replacing the corners. I still have a blankie and I am 66, only now it is a cabana beach towel. Very convenient… multi use. Around my waist to grab the mail, swipe a bit of dust, dry the cereal bowl, use as a blankie at night. I am not a Mom, didn’t feel like I would be a very good one. Congratulations to you and your husband! CH, the husband, and I name everything. I love your words, I will be reading!

    1. Aw, thank you very much for the kind words. I think the corner lining was the only thing left on my blanket after 30+ years. Probably because I chewed on it!

      I suspect that even having doubts would have made you a more flexible and better parent than many of those who rush blindly and blithely into parenthood. At the same time, I’m so glad you were able to choose to not have children and I respect your decision. Well done!

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