It’s already nighttime when we set off from Plovdiv. I still can’t believe all this time I had been thinking it was 23 September. It wasn’t before the evening drew to a close that I realised why almost none of the locations from the Night of the Museums program were opened. It had been 24 September all day long! Thanks to this misunderstanding I will at least remember this important date forever.
We stop at a small gas station where, to my displeasure, I realise my body has chosen this very day to start getting rid of yet another unfertilised egg. Suddenly the thought of visiting a local mineral bath tomorrow stops feeling so good. We enter a village to the side of the road to Karlovo and park at its end in the middle of some field. The night promises to be cool but our breath and the sleeping bags we have quickly warm the space inside our small but comfortable for sleeping car.
At 2:11 Bulgarian time an earthquake with a magnitude of 5,6 on the Richter scale hits Vrancea in Romania and is felt in many places in Bulgaria. It doesn’t wake us up. And, although it’s illogical, I like to imagine our car jumped a little and we moved a little in it and something inside me got “pushed” or “adjusted” a bit in such a way so as to – in a few weeks’ time – take the most epic journey in a human’s life – the one to the mother’s womb. While we’re sleeping, undisturbed by any earthquakes, one egg of mine is going away forever but another one gets born to fulfill its ultimate purpose.
As untraceable as the initial miracles of pregnancy are, I am sure about one thing: my baby begins his life on the road…
Lukaš is in the Czech Republic for his grandma’s birthday and I’m taking advantage of the nice autumn weekend day to fulfill a long made promise and return an old record player to a lady who gave it to us last summer. I haven’t got to the end of our street when I already regret it – the record player is heavier than it seemed. So much that it’s apparently caused some strange feeling in my stomach of a kind I’ve never experienced before. Still, I’m not giving up, I decide and keep walking. In order not to think about how heavy the record player is I start thinking about the feeling in my stomach.
It’s like there’s something scratching me from the inside. “Like a piece of crisps,” I suddenly think and immediately recall where the association comes from: in the book I’m reading right now – Wild by Cheryl Strayed – the character has dinner with a friend of hers when she suddenly has a strange feeling in her stomach, as if a piece of crisps is “jabbing [her] inside”. Cheryl Strayed is an exceptionally intuitive woman and quickly realises she’s pregnant after which she quickly and emotionally gets an abortion.
I am not as intuitive though. In fact, as I walk, stubbornly ignoring the weight of the record player, I think the feeling in my stomach is most probably caused by the stress I’ve been experiencing at home lately. “I guess this is how cancer begins,” I conclude and in order not to sink too much into thoughts like this, I focus back on how illogically heavy the small record player is.
I’m already in the lady’s yard when I realise I’ve brought the wrong player. It’s true there were two of them at home, completely the same. And, of course, I took the wrong one. I apologise, ask the woman if I can leave it there and promise her we’ll bring hers as soon as possible. By car.
It’s Friday. I finish my work at the school and take my big travel backpack that I had the good mind to take with me in the morning. One of the few nice things about working in the education field in Bulgaria is the days-off. There’s a long weekend ahead and I’m going to Sofia where I’ll meet Lukaš who was all this time in the Czech Republic. Then we’ll go on yet another search for cheap mineral baths where the water is really hot.
Although it’s a late hour, I managed to find a driver to Sofia. (Long live carsharing!) It’s just me and a woman riding in the small car. She turns out to be really nice. We spent almost the entire time talking about kids and breastfeeding. From time to time, as I listen to her, I remember that “those really pleasant days of mine” have been seriously overdue this month. However, I’m sure they’re coming because the familiar tension in my stomach never lies.
At the gas station where we stop I buy a coffee in order not to fall asleep on the way and I get a lucky message with it that says “The best is coming to you.”
Early on the next day Lukaš and I get on the Sub-Balkan road, aiming at Hisarya. I’m being a bit angry because we’re going to mineral baths again in one of those moments when I don’t feel particularly comfortable about being naked in front of others and soaking too much in hot water. The tension in my stomach however starts disappearing and then appearing again and no matter what I do I keep recalling that moment at the end of the summer when my sister had described the same feeling to me a bit before calling me from Italy to tell me she’s pregnant. There can’t be such a coincidence, can there?
On the next morning, in our Hisarya room, while watching 24Kitchen and finding it so enchanting we can’t get out of the bed, Lukaš and I discuss my potential pregnancy. For now we both take the possibility as a joke.
We rise for the next day in our car near the village of Rozovo. The tension in my stomach is back. We stop in Buzovgrad and start walking through the forest on our way to a Thracian megalith raised in honour of the Mother Goddess. Near it there’s a natural stone formation with the shape of a phallus. While walking and ruffling the leaves with my feet, I can’t stop thinking about the masculine and feminine principles. Of how the two have been reconciled in me.
Week Five – November 1
I have done a pregnancy test before. This time however I’m not sure what I want it to show. I think both options would disappoint me. We’re waiting for the minutes to pass. The wood stove is burning and the room is hot and dark. Lukaš is working on the computer, pretending not to be nervous.
“Two lines,” I say. “I’m pregnant.”
He comes to me and rests his head on my legs while I’m looking at the test, refusing to believe. I start crying. Our life looks so horrible right now that, really, there isn’t a worse time for this to happen.
I take a mental trip deep into my body. I try to imagine what’s going on in there. I have the strange feeling something in it has begun and there’s no going back. It’s like some higher power has entrusted me with a particular mission without asking me and there’s no way I can refuse it.
In the morning we discuss baby names in bed. We decide on Lea even when I make a second calculation and it becomes clear the baby will surely not be a Leo. We still can’t think of a boy’s name, though.
We go downtown together – something we’ve almost never done. We go to the bookstore where, no matter how expensive it is, I buy a blank Moleskine journal in a suitably “androgynous” yellow colour where I’m going to be telling my future child about everything that happens with me and him. Lukaš can’t believe the first thing I really need is an empty journal. He takes me to the pregnancy books shelf and insists I buy a book. I do.
We go to the sea. It’s been dark for a while and there’s almost no one on the beach. Lukaš feels confused. Although he’s happy, it’s clear to him things are not going to be easy. Like a black shadow, the problems with my family hang upon the otherwise happy event. To clear his mind, he enters the sea. I smile while trying to make out his body in the darkness – if there’s anything to make a man enter the sea in November, I guess it’s the fact he’s going to become a father.
In the bus, on our way home, I quietly read the pregnancy book to him.
We’re both there for my first examination. It’s the first time I’ve seen the little black formation on the ultrasound screen which is developing into a new life. The doctor is wary of congratulating me. He reassures me the “thing” is where it’s supposed to be but that’s all for now. When, later that day, I glue the first ultrasound photo in the Moleskine journal I think about what I should do with it if the little life in me is not meant to survive. I already know the first three months are something like a testing ground and only time will tell whether the miniature black thing inside me is really going to become a human being.
He’s got a heart! A little beating heart! The black thing inside me is life! I’m happy when I leave the doctor’s office. For a moment the whole town seems sunnier and full of hope. I want to call Lukaš immediately although we had a fight the evening before and I told him not to come to the doctor with me. I guess he’s happy when he hears the news but his voice remains even. He says he didn’t want to learn this on the phone. I end the call and go to work, wishing the day would end as soon as possible so that I could tell him the news in person.
A lot of things change in two weeks’ time. This week’s check is going to be the last one I’ll have in Bulgaria. We’ve decided to go back to the Czech Republic. Lukaš is even there already with the first part of our stuff. Life at home has become unbearable and we believe we’ll find the much needed peace there.
We set off right before Christmas. There’s a chilling wind blowing outside. Since I don’t want to lift heavy things, because everyone says it’s bad for me, Lukaš is forced to load I. and Y.’s van almost entirely on his own. To fit more things in it he unloads it twice and starts from scratch. It turns out we can’t take everything and he decides to go back to Bulgaria after the holidays. Alone.
I’m cold and all this stuff drives me mad. My condition hinders me from appreciating the fact how much Lukaš is actually doing for both of us. I admire the endurance and perfectionism with which he is loading the car but he needs help rather than admiration. While he’s outside, I sit on a mattress wrapped in foil and write letters to my mother and sister to wish them happy holidays and announce the secret. I guess they deserve to hear it in person but right now I can’t gather enough love into my heart to do it.
We set off to Sofia much later than we expect, Mum standing by the front door and waving. Just like she was standing and welcoming us only nine months ago…
The first three months are hard indeed, just like everyone says, but with me the reasons are external rather than internal. When I finish work, and then tutoring, I arrive home and the consequences of yet another battle between Mum and Lukaš completely finish me. Each day, right after dinner (which is always in the bedroom where it’s warm) I fall asleep on the bed with my clothes on and the most hateful moment comes when I have to get up to get undressed and have a shower. I feel even worse when Lukaš is angry with me because of how tired I am. He’s waiting for me to return all day long but when I do come home it’s as if I’m not there. I have no strength to even object to this.
At least it seems like I don’t experience the physical problems of pregnancy. I only start feeling sick after I order a particularly heavy meal at a pub but even this period lasts a mere few days. On the other hand, I almost have no appetite at all. I often have oranges or tangerines for dinner – the only thing I feel like eating. From time to time, however, I do experience some weird cravings: to have junk food like microwave popcorn (I have nothing more than a bowl of popcorn for a few dinners) or pasta poured with melted butter and sprinkled with red pepper. I have almost no appetite for sweet things.
I’m sick all the time. I don’t know if it’s because I work with children or because my immune system is weak, but I have handkerchiefs with me all the time. I try to use alternatives to traditional drugs but nothing really helps. The only thing I really need is peace and a break but there’s no room for either in my present way of living.
I’ll remember the first three months as a dark period despite the joy at the beginning of a new life. Months of tiredness, gloom, scorching heat from the stove and chilling coldness everywhere else, exhausting work and difficult relationship with a colleague, oranges or tangerines or popcorn for dinner, tears and taut nerves, the horrible feeling of being eager to finish work only to realise, as soon as I get nearer our street, I don’t want to go back home either.
But also months when, for the first time, I felt appreciation for the importance of life even if this life was still unconscious and even if it was developing governed by biological laws only rather than by will. Time when I grew attached to this life no matter how fragile it was and how unable to promise me that something will come out of it. I guess I subconsciously realized this life was my salvation from a world in which I didn’t believe I was going to survive too long anyway.
A life so small that at the end of my third month I could have closed my palm around it without hurting it. But also big and strong enough to get me out of the hole I was sinking in. It might have done it to ensure its own existence. Or it might not be a question of biology but a question of love.
Or a question of how these two things are actually one and the same.