Is It Possible to Reconcile After a Bad Response to a Pregnancy?
This wasn’t my first pregnancy test.
I’d taken two before, though never with any real worry that I was pregnant and never with my boyfriend of eight years sitting in the next room.
This time, hovering over the toilet with the stick in my hand, I wasn’t so sure of myself. All month, my body had been signaling to me that this wasn’t a drill; this was the real deal. This thing was going to come up positive.
Ninety seconds later, a second line started to bleed into that small plastic window, indicating that my partner and I were going to be parents.
In the past we’d discussed our future children as though it was merely a matter of time before they’d be toddling around us, asking to be picked up for a game of Airplane. One would have thick, ruddy hair; it ran in his family. The girl, he predicted, would have my eyes.
I opened the bathroom door, eyebrows raised, heart pounding in its chamber, stick wavering in my hand. “It’s positive,” I said.
“What?” he said. “Seriously?” I assumed the raised octave of his voice was excitement.
I was wrong.
For the next ninety minutes, he said nothing. I gave him that–the time, it seemed, he needed to process the enormity of the news. But when he did speak, I was so taken aback by what he said that I laughed. I thought he might’ve been joking.
“I really think you should get an abortion,” he repeated, straight-faced.
There were ten days left before he was to return to LA. He’d been staying with me for the entire month of November. Before he got there, we’d been discussing the practical benefits of closing the literal distance between us. Five of our years together had been spent living in different cities.
But in those remaining ten days, our emotional distance widened and deepened in ways I never could’ve anticipated. He’d made astoundingly hurtful comments, assuring me that if I remained pregnant, he wouldn’t be there for me. He had a career he was trying to get off the ground and that took precedence over an unplanned conception. He claimed to have never seriously considered moving to my city. He said, in his mind, we were practically broken up when he came to visit. At one point, he even issued an ultimatum: “If you keep this baby, our relationship is going to be over.”
In the remaining days before his flight he tried back-pedaling a bit. Just before I dropped him off at the airport he said, “Whatever you decide, I’m here for you,” a statement he’d first tried out a day or so ago. It sounded just as false then as it did now.
We didn’t speak civilly again until well into my second trimester. And we didn’t see each other again until days before my due date. That visit went well. He was accommodating and apologetic and servile. He cooked. He rubbed my feet. He attended those final pre-natal appointments. But the baby was five days late and he’d scheduled a month-long freelance job he couldn’t cancel.
My first signs of labor were six hours before his departure flight, and he left at five in the morning. I delivered at 7:47 that night.
Our daughter is nine months old now, and it’s been eighteen months since his poorly received response to my pregnancy. At this point, we get along almost as well as we did before.
When he visits her, we settle into a temporary family pattern. He transports the hefty car seat, helps with baths, rocks her back to sleep at 3am. I rest my tired head on his shoulder at the end of a wearying day. When we stroll her through my neighborhood park, no casual observer would suspect the turmoil of the past year and a half.
But it doesn’t go away, the heartache, the anger, the resentment. It just becomes still–so dormant you almost forget it’s there, so undetectable you almost imagine yourself reconciling.
I never allow my imagination to carry me completely away. There are too many questions, the most persistent one being: is it even possible to get entirely past something like this?
I’ve asked this of myself—and many friends—no fewer than a dozen times.
Tabitha Mason-Elliott, an Atlanta wife and mother, asserts, “It would definitely be hard for me to get past it; it’s a horrible betrayal.” But she believes there are circumstances under which an initial bad response to a pregnancy could be forgiven. “There should be a grace period—like a week or so—to allow him to get over his initial shock or fear and to remind himself of his higher character. That’s something that should only be granted if you’ve been together long enough to know that he has a higher character.”
Sean Campbell, of Los Angeles, adds, “It depends on if he regrets his response and how accepting she is of that regret.” Campbell was quick to clarify that the expression of regret should be timely. “Post-birth regret is like estranged family members or friends showing up after you’ve won the Lotto. [It would be] hard to trust again.”
But perhaps the most poignant feedback came from D.C.-area writer Keith Andrew Perry: “In that situation, a seed of doubt or guilt, however minute, will grow undetected under the house of trust…until one day a monstrous tree of resentment crashes through the floorboards of forgiveness, rocking its very foundation and dooming the prospect of lasting love.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.