Ideal Woman

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by Gina Guerra

I am the ideal woman.

    “What a delight to teach!”

    “You can just tell she’ll grow up to be a beauty!”

    “Such a sweet, reserved young lady.”

    “So good at cooking already? You’ll make someone a happy husband someday.”

    A delight to teach because I do as I’m told and know how to stay quiet; I did grow up to be a beauty; sweet and reserved because I do as I’m told and know how to stay quiet; I learned to cook because I was raised to be a source of happiness for my husband. Dad always encouraged me to pursue math, but after he was gone, Mother reminded me that nothing pays more than a rich husband.

And it worked.

 I went to Wellesley and married a Harvard man (undergraduate and law, and a PhD from Cambridge), and I’m shown off at dinner parties and galas and fundraisers. I hold my own with his peers when discussing philosophy and literature, but don’t threaten them by presenting them with an adventurous thought; I read the Financial Times and the New Yorker and do the New York Times crossword puzzle every day; I do yoga twice a week and kickboxing thrice a week; my house is spotless, dinner is on the table, I know how to entertain.

And yet.

I wake up again with a sharp pain near my bellybutton. Again, my mint green bedsheets are stained red, again Victor calls me an ambulance, and again I have to listen as doctors don a sympathetic look and a gentle tone and inform me I won’t be a mom.

The first time it happened, I was twenty-six; while Victor was finishing his PhD, I went to a government doctor and heard that I’d lost the child I wasn’t aware I was harboring.

The next time it happened, I was twenty-seven; Victor and I were back in Boston for his law degree, and while he was out studying with his classmates, I cried in our bathroom, both out of sadness and pain, and swore to myself he’d never know about the children we’d lost.

I kept two more from him before he found out.

I was twenty-nine when we were in New York and I collapsed on the subway: Victor held my hand and stayed with me and heard the doctor say that our baby would never have the chance to develop.

We went to specialists, general practitioners, newly graduated, 30+ years of experienced, America, Asia: no one could tell us what was wrong, only sell us a new false hope.

By the fourth time (that he knew about), Victor stopped coming with me to the doctors, and I couldn’t blame him: no one wants to hear about their fourth dead child.

We both know I lose them too early to call them a baby, or even a fetus: we know they don’t have developed brains or thoughts or pain or desires, but we do. We want to raise a child with my curls and his nose, who plays tennis like Victor but is a loving drunk, like me. We want to see each other reflected in their face, to see living proof of our existence that’ll continue living when we’re gone.

But I’m not the ideal woman, after all.

I am thirty five, and at my wit’s end, and at last a doctor explains what’s wrong, and better yet, how to fix it.

He hands me a prescription for pale purple pills and tells me to take them once a day with a meal and begins listing possible side effects before stopping abruptly to tell me this is my best chance at children, but I’m already hardly listening.

I begin taking my prescription every day, religiously, with my lunch: these pills are a dove after a great flood, and for the first time I feel the warmth of sunlight after years of rain. I don’t tell Victor: there’s no need to spoil the surprise, he’ll just experience the joy once he can hold our child in his arms. 

After a couple of weeks, I feel… off. After a failed pregnancy test, I schedule a visit with my doctor for later that week. He reassures me that side effects are to be expected and that I can learn to live with them if I really want children.

So I learn to feel the headaches come, chew my food more to taste flavors again, start doing yoga three times a week to help with the bloating around my arms. I stop walking on my own two feet and start crawling on all fours, my back suddenly aching. I give up my body so that I might finally give Victor a child with a pulse.

At last, I am noticeably rounder, and for the first time in years Victor comes with me to a doctor, who gives us the news we’d all but given up on: I am three months along without incident. We begin preparing immediately: we call painters to turn my studio into a nursery, he gives me a recipe book full of baby food ideas, and we brainstorm baby names together. My doctor advises I stay on my medication until my baby is born, and I comply.

My curls begin to fall out, while the rest of my body grows hairier. My legs weaken until I am bound to my bed. I can barely stomach half a carrot and water to go along with my pill, and Victor says nothing as he hands me a wig.

At last, it’s been nine months, and I’m so happy to deliver on the unspoken promise I made when Victor chose me to be his wife. Our child is born: a beautiful, healthy girl, with my hair, and his eyes. I can no longer eat, I can no longer stand, I can hardly make a sound, and Victor has never loved me more. 

At last: I have become the ideal woman.

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