Breadcrumb #466


I woke up at 5:53 a.m. with an insistent bladder. The room was cool and N was snoring softly beside me, his face hidden by a mountain of hotel pillows.   We were on the way to our wedding, halfway between Brooklyn and Detroit, sleeping at the Marriott in Canfield, Ohio.

I threw off the large duvet and stumbled into the bathroom. The room was dark, except for a small nightlight near the mirror. I spotted the pregnancy test in its midnight blue wrapper on top of the toilet tank, where I had left it the night before.

My period was two days late, which wasn’t unusual. I did feel a little off, but I also knew how skilled I was at fueling my anxiety. A potential pregnancy was a great way to give form and language to the chaos that was my current inner world. I was hoping the test would quiet my mind so I could focus my energy on the impending acrobatics of navigating two families coming together.

A potential pregnancy was a great way to give form and language to the chaos that was my current inner world.

I ripped open the wrapper and read the instructions:

Your result will appear within 3 minutes, and some results may be shown in as little as 1 minute. A ‘Pregnant’
(positive) result will remain on the display for up to 6 months. A ‘Not Pregnant’ (negative) result will remain
on the display for approximately 24 hours.

It seemed straight forward enough. I peed on the stick and held it in my hand for a moment before setting it on the tank behind me. In my half-awake state, the test landed too close to the edge and clattered to the ground. I sighed and bent over to retrieve it, results side up.

Even in the dim I could see the pink plus sign. I stared. Only 15 seconds had passed. Maybe they all started out as a plus and then dissolved back into a quiet minus? But six minutes later, the lines remained.  I sat, immobile, until the shock lost its grip, then bolted into the bedroom where my partner was sleeping.

N! Wake up!  He lifted his head from the pillow and squinted at me from behind a curtain of sleep. Impatient, I flipped on the lamp, and waved the damp pregnancy test an inch from his nose. Look at this!

What?  He shook his head and tried to focus. A few seconds later, he succeeded. Whoah. He rose quickly, throwing off the covers. I am up.

My pregnancy changed everything. I predicted the wider hips, softer belly, and weaker pelvic floor. What I hadn’t anticipated, though, became clear just a few days in: I would no longer do anything, ever again, without first considering Baby J. I felt heavy: panicked. Fierce independence had been my survival mechanism from an early age. Who would I be now? In a time where all the external messages were you are supposed to be happy, grief settled in.

N, on the other hand, was excited. At night he would recline in bed, reading parenting blogs and pregnancy articles. I laid in his arms, silent, the screen lighting up my expressionless face.

I resented him: his uncomplicated joy. He would talk about our new journey, his exuberance drawing approval from friends and strangers, already winning society’s rewards for being an engaged father. My half smiles and obtuse comments drew quizzical glances. I would sit next to N, feeling the itchy stretch of my belly across my growing uterus, the sharp pain of sciatica shooting down my right side. It didn’t feel much like we were traveling anywhere together; he was on his path, and I was on mine. It was lonely.

I tried to push the feelings down and deny their existence, but this made it worse. I woke up most mornings in tears, got into fights with those who were closest to me, and overall just felt like shit. I was worried that my anger would be displaced on to Baby J. That the fear, guilt, and grief would soak into her spirit through the amniotic fluid.

I decided to morph my anxiety into doing. I did everything I could to give Baby J the proper materials to grow a body, heart, and mind. I read all the books, went to prenatal yoga, enrolled in comprehensive birth classes, ate/did not eat all the right foods. I researched placenta encapsulation, delayed cord clamping, and natural water birth. I learned Hypbnobabies birthing techniques and listened to positive affirmations on my daily three-mile walk.

That winter, as I waddled through the neighborhood attempting to envision my easy, comfortable birthing timefrom within my bubble of peace, I would get lost in thought. I’m sorry that I am your mother, kid, instead of someone who is more excited to meet you. When the tears came, I turned up my headphones, unzipped my coat, and walked an extra ten blocks before returning to my front door, sweaty, dizzy, and panting.

• • •

Breadcrumb #258


I stand in a Rite Aid holding pee sticks and condoms, even though I have little use for either. Options that depict a scene that is much too late. A poppy seed, the internet told me. No bigger than a poppy seed.

    I place my palm against the poppy in my belly, turn to the cashier with a look of desperation. Should I spend $15 on a plastic stick so I can discover what I already know? The cashier isn’t looking at me. He is staring out the front window, playing with a plastic yellow WWJD bracelet on his hairy wrist. I push the pee stick into the pocket of my hoodie, place the condoms back on the counter.

    “You don’t need these anymore?” he asks.

    I head straight out the door. Nobody asks the right questions anymore.


    One pee later and I am slurping soup for both my poppy seed and me.

    My mother picks a blond hair from my shoulder, tucks the tag in on the back of my sweater. Her fingers are cold against my skin. I cast her a look. Her eyes water. She sits down across from me and sucks soup from her spoon.

    “What’s wrong?” she asks.

    I open my mouth, close it. I could tell her, but I know how it will go. She is a hijacker of my emotions. She will feel my sorrow tenfold of how I feel it. She will cry and I will hug her, tell her it’s okay. Guide her through her misconduct of my own feelings.

    “Nothing,” I tell her. Lift the bowl to my lips and pour it in.

    Her eyes roll in her head as if I am seeing something she isn’t, as if I am a medium able to gauge ghosts and she’s looking for them. I don’t tell her that the ghost is in my belly. I don’t tell her I’m carrying the poppy seed of a dead man, a man buried not two weeks ago after being found in the driver’s seat of a running car.

I don’t tell her that the ghost is in my belly.

    Her eyes catch something and widen. “Are you upset about Derek?”

    “I’m not upset.” I finish the soup, drop the spoon into the bowl. “Stop obsessing over me.”

    When she reaches for my hand, I storm to my room and slam the door behind me. I lie on the carpet and fold my fingers over the world suspended in my skin.

    There’s a light knock and, when I turn, I can see my mother’s pink terry-clothed slippers in the crack beneath the door, framed by dust bunnies and cat hair.

    “I’m sorry,” she says. “I don’t mean to upset you.”

    I feel sorry for my mother, but it is a strange kind of pity. It is the kind of pity you have for someone when you are the cause of their pain. It is strange to victimize your own victim, to want to save someone from your own wrath. I wonder if the little poppy seed in my belly will feel the same about me one day, will emerge with my likeness and my cruelty and have a personal obligation to be my despair, if only for the reason I have forced it too often to be my consolation.

    I yell the news through the door, tell it to the slippers in the door crack.


    With the haunt of poppy seed in our house, my mother begins to hum more often. To buy tiny shoes and vitamins. To use high-pitched voices when addressing my belly and rub my shoulders when I’m too tired to push her away. She does Poppy’s astrology charts based on the due date and hangs it in the kitchen next to my own. We can’t see Poppy yet, but my mother seems to sense it everywhere.

    I take the poppy seed to visit its father. We stand on his grave and look down at him, somewhere beneath the dirt. I explain how he died — strung out and alone, the driver’s door open and his wallet missing. The dashboard beeping as the keys dangle from the engine. Poppy seed does not yet have an opinion on the matter.


    My mother has nightmares that I lose poppy seed, that poppy seed emerges deformed, that poppy seed’s life results in my death. I lie in my mother’s bed, brush her hair from her forehead. I do not tell her that I have had the same panics, the same anxieties.

    Instead, I hum to her. I let her put her hand on poppy seed’s little world. We fall asleep like this, curled into each other. Russian nesting dolls with painted faces.


    When I go to the doctor, they tell me poppy seed is not a poppy seed at all. Poppy seed is now a grape.

    My mother hangs Grape’s first photo on the refrigerator, next to a painting I did of Elvis when I was three years old. It falls off every time I swing open the door to eat cottage cheese from the carton with a spoon.

    My mother’s excitement is big, impending. It pushes into me, and I find I have no room for both our emotions. I have no room for myself at all anymore, I am being pushed out and away. My organs are being squished by the growing vegetable inside me. A foot on my kidney, a head pressed to my ribcage. A grape, a kumquat, a lemon, and, in a few months, a pumpkin. Always existing, never fully seen.

• • •     • • •

Breadcrumb #101


The baby’s head fit in her palm like an apple. It cooed and spat. Catherine understood now why her mother had likened her own newborn head to Cezanne's post-impressionist apples. It made her hostile thinking of all the forced childhood museum trips, thinking she couldn’t be happy for just this moment, the one that was supposed to be the happiest of all moments, because she couldn’t stop thinking about those paintings. She couldn’t care less about the apples scattered about, in bowls, next to oranges, cradled in tablecloth — all those still lifes — and the baby, as if she could see them too, began to cry.

     Baby Sasha was the youngest in a long line of apples. Catherine’s whole family was full of these shining faces. There were portraits and portraits of them, all smiles and cheekbones.

     “She has red hair,” her husband, Bryden, noted, as the baby cried over him. This was a surprise to both parents: Bryden, blonde; and Catherine, brunette; but there were cousins on Bryden’s  side that could explain the recessive trait.

     “Our little apple.” The painkillers were speaking for Catherine. “Do you think all that red hair will stay with her?”

     For Catherine, having Sasha brought a flood of recognition: what it must have been for her mother to hold her as a baby, and now, even though she had known it for years, it was undeniable that she had once been a twin. She didn’t tell this to Bryden, because she couldn’t explain it, but her body could remember.


     Throughout the pregnancy, people would touch Catherine’s rounded belly without asking. They would smile so hard that their eyes seemed to bulge with their teeth. She had a hard time matching the aggression of their enthusiasm.

     Bryden’s closest friend, Pat, was the only the one who didn’t look at them with anticipation. Everything with him was the same. He would visit their place for dinner and bring beers. He didn’t ask how they intended to set up a nursery, or whether they would be moving into a bigger place someday and having more kids. Pat was a goof. Catherine thought he looked like Archie, from the comics she grew up with, with all that wild red hair. He was the only one who didn’t beg for them to be any different, any more together than they had been before.

     At the doctor, Catherine made sure that she was only having one baby. Twins ran in her family. “One girl,” the doctor would reassure her, but she still found herself holding sonograms to the light for clues of something that might appear or leave her.

     After her morning sickness passed, Catherine would wake up in the middle of the night feeling like a shark was ripping her insides. When she asked her mother, Denise, what plagued her pregnancy, Denise pinched her wine glass and said: “Dandruff. The worst dandruff of my life.”

     Catherine scratched her scalp in anticipation. She wanted to ask her mother what it was like to see her baby — Catherine’s twin — disappear from the sonograms back when it happened, but even during Catherine’s own pregnancy, the timing didn’t feel right.


     Pat was the first to visit them at home after Sasha was born. Catherine stayed seated on the rocking chair, the only place their newborn wouldn’t cry, and tried to stay awake. Something had changed in the way Bryden interacted with Pat. He kept short sentences short. He made excuses to leave the room.

     “Little red,” Pat mused, as Catherine offered Sasha into his arms. “She’s such a beauty.” He smiled at Catherine and then to Bryden, who returned an arbitrary smile and let his eyes turn to the corner of the room.

     Catherine could see all the muscles in Bryden’s body pulling up as he retreated into his mind, like a bomb trying not to explode. Catherine looked up at Pat, redheaded Pat, with all that hair, holding Sasha, and could see where her husband’s mind had gone.


     Bryden stopped inviting Pat over and Catherine felt strange inviting him over herself. She had Pat’s phone number primarily to contact Bryden, and that was the extent of their friendship. She was offended, honestly, that Bryden could even imagine she would have a secret affair with Pat, who the two of them adored, but was stubborn and too absorbed in himself to ask whether or not to bring over booze, or care enough to ask about their plans in the next few years — whether they wanted to have another kid, or someday buy a home.

     They went weeks without seeing Pat, the longest they had been without him since they all met in college, and she could see Bryden getting better. He started sleeping close to her again. He started making clown faces for Sasha and smiling when she would laugh along. Catherine felt like this could be the time to bring it up — the way Bryden had looked at Pat — but worried it would be like opening a fresh cut to the air too soon.

     In all truth, after seeing the empty look Bryden had for their daughter, Catherine didn’t want to leave Sasha alone with him. The look made Catherine think he was capable of doing anything without feeling. On his good days, she would occasionally leave them alone in a room together, and eventually, she felt maybe the problem was her — her own silly anxieties — and left the two alone while she went to pick up groceries for the week. The whole time at the supermarket she felt like she was walking up high on the edge of her worst thoughts and forgot the peanut butter she went out buy in the first place.

On his good days, she would occasionally leave them alone in a room together, and eventually, she felt maybe the problem was her — her own silly anxieties — and left the two alone while she went to pick up groceries for the week.

     All the windows were dark when she brought the groceries home. She called Bryden’s name and flicked the lights on, hoisting the food-filled bags up onto their kitchen counter. There was red hair all over floor. She could see it now with the light. The grief swallowed her and she tried telling herself it wasn’t definite — it couldn’t be until she saw Sasha — but she was losing control over her breath and tears and what-ifs. She found herself in the nursery, which was lit only by the yellow streetlights outside, and there was Bryden holding Sasha — living, cooing Sasha — who was blowing wondrously big bubbles with her saliva.

     “You shaved her head,” Catherine said, trying to get closer to take Sasha out of his arms.

     “Catie, I know she isn’t mine.”

     “She’s ours, Bryden”

     “She isn’t mine with all that red hair.”

     She felt like screaming loud enough about Bryden’s red headed cousins that all the neighbors could hear. How loud would she have to shout to convince him of the science behind recessive traits? She stopped herself, knowing it was the worst possible thing to add to the situation.

     “You aren’t making any sense.” She approached Bryden, who backed toward the window.

     “I don’t buy this thing you’re putting on.” He broke eye contact with Catherine and Sasha’s bubble making boiled into a cry, the kind of crying that wasn’t going to stop for a long while.

     “Bryden, will you please let me hold her?” she could imagine all of Sasha’s warmth in her arms as the baby’s cries filled the space. “I can share my secret, but you’ve got to let me hold her.”

     Catherine could feel the cool, yellow breeze coming from the window and hear sirens from one of the local fire engines burning outside. Bryden put Sasha in her arms. Their little apple. Their poor girl. Catherine felt there was no need to flick a light. Her mind was busy imagining all of the ways she could escape the house, down the stairs and away from this threat she couldn’t have imagined while holding sonograms to the light.  

     “I was supposed to be a twin.” Catherine admitted. She recited the secret as if it was someone else’s. “Nobody told me. I found it in one of my mom’s journals when I was eight: ‘We’re having twin girls!’” Bryden was quiet. Catherine felt he wasn’t listening. His mind was still on Pat and this strange possibility that the baby belonged to his friend.  

     “My mom doesn’t talk about it.” Catherine stared at Bryden for eye contact. “And I didn’t think about it much before Sasha, but now I think about it all the time. I used to go crazy worrying that another child would suddenly appear in me.” Catherine laughed, looking for Bryden to join her. It was funny admitting the fear out loud.

     “That’s ridiculous.” Bryden finally spoke, annoyed that Catherine had moved their talk away from Sasha’s red hair, from Pat, and the mess in the kitchen.

     “You’re not hearing me,” Catherine took her time and finally met Bryden’s eyes. “I’m telling you I know what it’s like to worry about things that don’t make sense.”

• • •