When my elder daughter told us she was pregnant, my husband and I, both school teachers, took the news well. There was no shouting or cursing. Nothing was broken or smashed. We didn’t call her names, and no one said anything that they will regret twenty-five years from now. Mostly, my memories of that December night are of April’s sorrowful weeping, long hugs, and vague reassurance.
Still, we are school teachers–between us, we possess almost every typical teacher trait. Greg accepts no excuses; I’ll accept your excuses and give you a cookie, too. Greg better not see your cell phone during class, while I’ll loan you my charger. He is matter-of-fact, and I’m a hugging cheek-pincher. In our eighteen plus years in the classroom, we’ve seen students struggle. Struggle a lot, with hard things like depression, drugs, alcohol, and crisis pregnancies. As a result, we have had frequent dinnertime conversations with our daughters about decisions and consequences. We have had the frankest of talks. Chatting at school with students about their hurts and heartbreaks allows us to freely do the same at home. Teachers are, in many ways, some of the realest people out there. We tried to be real with our daughters.
And, still: Pregnant.
For a veteran South Georgia teacher, an unwed pregnant daughter is a bit of a dilemma. (It was somewhat fortunate that we’d mostly quit going to church–since we were likely considered among The Backslidden, maybe such a faux pas would be more easily forgiven.) It wasn’t news I wanted to shout from the rooftops, but our family is pretty honest about our battles. I told enough close friends at work to make the early days bearable; at night, I would Google things like “Christian unwed pregnant daughter” and read about grace and sin.
I wasn’t feeling entirely gracious, but neither did I feel like I needed to gather the younger children and talk about their sister’s sin, as one site urged. Greg, of course, felt none of my discomfiture, saying, “I’m not a failure. She’s 21. I raised her to adulthood. I did my job.”
How I wished I had his clarity. I occupied a sort of middle ground, where on one side of the scale I stacked all the talks about birth control and sex; on the other side was my general love of babies. Surprisingly, although my classroom and my Facebook wall are plastered with pictures of my former students’ babies, I just couldn’t get to Baby Excitement. I was stuck, firmly, in quasi-resentment. Greg and I and our small house had no room for a fifth person, especially one who cried in the night. A two-time cancer survivor, my husband had even confessed, “I just wanted to live out the rest of my life in peace.” We would soon be trading afternoon sweet tea on the patio for bottles and a playpen. Delight just wasn’t there.
Friends took our mixed feelings in stride; they were supportive of all of us when we decided that April would move to The Living Vine and focus on the pregnancy. The space allowed us to begin to regroup. When neighbors put a changing table and toys in the garage, Greg and I both felt our first positive emotion about the pregnancy. Discovering the Christmas clearance rack at Macy’s helped bring out a little of the grandma in me, and later, when I bought the baby a sweatshirt that proclaimed “My Heart Is So Happy,” I prayed that my own heart would soon be.
Although we were often stopping to catch our breath, we were creeping toward joy.
And then–anencephaly–a hurricane in a word. Category five. Everything leveled. Obliterated.
I gathered our girl and her heartbreak and brought them home, where we now discuss cremation instead of child-proofing and funeral services instead of christenings.
Tonight, I texted a dear friend to tell him that April has decided to name the baby Stephanie Grace, after his first wife, who died of breast cancer, and my phone soon rung in my hand.
He was kind. He said the things everyone has, throwing in a few dark-humored jokes that people who’ve gone through Much together can tell one another. We laughed. And then, he said it. The most honest of truths: “Three months ago you couldn’t take her pregnancy for a different reason.”
To think: we couldn’t do delight.