June 1, 2006

Before Riley was born, I worried – like, I think, all pregnant women do – about something going horribly wrong. I worried at every checkup, every test; the nuchal translucency screening, the ultrasounds, every poke and prod that might reveal some unthinkable problem.

I worried when I had spotting, then full-on bleeding; I worried when Riley moved a lot (is he moving too much?), I worried when he was still (is he…dead?); I worried when we did the 3-D ultrasound for fear we would peer at the glowing imagery and observe in perfect detail: three separate noses.

I became downright morbid at times, sitting propped in bed saucer-eyed reading books that told of nightmarish births where babies choked on cords or meconium or whose hearts stopped for no reason.

There were two things that happened during my pregnancy that scared me deeply, that made me afraid to relax and believe for one second that things would turn out okay. Things that, despite my usual dismissal of superstition, bothered me, kind of a whole lot.

The first thing was when I traveled to Japan last March on business. We had gone to a temple where you could exchange a coin for a tiny rolled-up paper fortune, an omikuji, and when I opened mine, it read “The person you are waiting for will not arrive.”

“I don’t like my fortune,” I said immediately, and my companions showed me how you could tie your bad fortune to a post and leave it behind you. I did that, with shaking hands, but I saw those words when I closed my eyes that night, and I never quite forgot them. The person you are waiting for will not arrive.

A few months later – well after we knew our baby’s sex and had settled on his name – JB and I were down south at his family’s cabin on the Umpqua river, and one afternoon we spent some time walking through an old cemetery in the area. Most of the people buried in this cemetery are multiple generations of families, and many rows have the same last name on each crumbling stone marker. I was lumbering my bulk around in the summer heat, looking for good photo opportunities, when I saw the family name Riley. When I looked down the row, I saw a small, plain headstone that read Baby Boy Riley.

I don’t know how long I stared at that thing. Or how many times I thought of it later. Baby Boy Riley. Baby Boy Riley.

Oh, I don’t know where I’m going with this. Just that I was so scared for his well-being, and he was okay, and he’s still okay, and I am so incredibly grateful (I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately). And the fear never goes away, does it? The worry, it will always be there.

I can’t guarantee his safety. I can’t insulate him from every possible harm in the world. There’s something necessary about truly understanding that, about taking on that burden in order to give perspective to my responsibilities. But it pinpricks my eyes, it takes my breath away, it leaves me reeling.

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