Strangers are truly the common denominator of our daily existence, and while we train our children to avoid them, as adults, our interactions amongst them are inevitable, if not routine. However, there are those moments when we are profoundly affected by those strangers whom we may never even speak too, but, whose lives appear to parallel our own.
It began as a silent code of understanding amongst the pregnant women in the OB/GYN waiting room; we were strangers with a palpable connection. As our stomachs grew bigger from month to month, it was like some secret sisterhood where big bellies and overactive bladders were a rite of passage. Overall, I was in love with being pregnant, along with my muted waiting room sisters rallying beside me.
When I wasn’t probing some pregnancy magazine, or preening over my round circumference, I would furtively take stock of the women who did not fit the criteria of my imaginary society. These were the visibly older women. I tried to look away because I didn’t want anything to dampen my joy; they were a shadowing presence to me. I often wondered how they felt sitting in that office as each young; soon- to- be mother brushed past them or accidentally bumped their stomachs into their chairs and then giggled at their clumsy bigness. How did those older women feel? Did they wish for their youth again or were they grateful that this stage of their lives was over? Perhaps they couldn’t, or may have chosen not to have children at all, or suffered in a way that no mother wishes on another.
I would shake my head as if to physically dislodge the thoughts from my head. I didn’t want to think about them anymore. I wanted to return to my own beautiful world of cute maternity outfits, and baby names. I would instinctively put my hand over stomach to feel a kick, or some kind of movement that would jolt me back to the world of the fertile.
After my daughter was born, I briefly saw my silent “sisters” at my six -week check-up. Like finishing a marathon with a soundless cheering section, they glanced at my post -partum belly, warmly ogled my newborn and smiled their silent sister admiration. Occasionally, one would speak to ask, “How old?” With my official “motherhood diploma”, the bittersweet task of leaving my silent sister cocoon to join the real world of parenting was at hand.
The pregnancy magazines with radiant women on their covers, along with my idyllic visions of motherhood now collided with sleep deprived thoughts and fears. The reality of it all sent an alarming jolt through my body, or perhaps it was just the office door hitting me from behind because now I had a hulking stroller that I couldn’t even maneuver properly. Nevertheless, despite my new reality, I knew that I would eventually return to my silent sisters in just a few years time.
I did indeed return to them four years later, wearing badges of honor and battle scars, (at this point, I snorted at the magazines with glowing women on their covers) and while I still relished the idea of my secret society, I now found my gaze lingering around the non-members. Somehow, they didn’t appear as old this time. As I neared age forty with baby number two, the nagging reality of this being my last pregnancy forced me to scrutinize these women more carefully. They were visibly only in their fifties and sixties and in the scheme of life, not that much older than me. I shook my head like a horse shooing flies to dispel the image of me being on the u“other side.” I didn’t want to be there yet, but motherhood had taught me early on that life was like a stuck gas pedal. The image was now a fast forward looming presence.
As I continued to go for yearly exams over the next four years, and witness the anxious fathers and the big bellies, I still felt oddly attached, like an amputee with a phantom limb. The sensation was still there even though I was done having children. Somewhere in my consciousness, I convinced myself that even though my children were no longer infants, and I was forty-four, I was still part of the society because I could have another one if I wanted, but simply chose not too. I could make that decision on my own without nature making the decision for me.
The shift happened this past year when my long-time OB left the practice. On my first encounter with the new doctor, she asked me, “Why are you here today?” I just looked at her blankly. My trusted doctor along with all of my fruitful history of childbearing was gone, leaving me to cope with this next phase of my life, and then it hit me-I would truly never be an active member of my secret society again.
I swallowed, trying to fight back the lump in my throat and said, “I am here for maintenance. I am a very boring patient.” She laughed, “Well, I like boring.” After the exam, the doctor directed me to the waiting room for some paperwork. The issue of AARP next to Pregnancy magazine mocked me from the table. The big-bellied women had emptied out and I was grateful. I sat across from a woman who I surmised was in her late fifties; she smiled warmly at me, but, held her gaze a fraction of a second too long. I smiled back, and I undoubtedly knew. I had just been welcomed into a new secret society.