Second Place Essay: "What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting"

by Charna Mamlok Westervelt '00

The morning after my wedding — a mere 18 hours after I was betrothed to the love of my life — my grandmother, my Nana, approached me: “When you have children, whenever that may be, I’d like to be called GG. For Great-Grandmother.”

And thus was born the touchy topic of children. Nearly five years into our marriage, we continue to be inundated with family planning comments, questions, and assumptions from the old, the young, and always the well-intentioned.

My father: “I thought when I retired, I’d build a train set in the basement,” he informed me recently, “you know, for the [future] grandkids.”

A childhood friend: “What’s new? Are you pregnant?” 

My six-year-old niece: “You can have my old toys when you have babies.”

Even my mother’s class of middle school students: “Miss, how come you’re not a grandma yet?”

Truly, family and friends continue to presume, or secretly hope, a baby is on the way. There was the time my mother-in-law mistook an X-ray of my husband’s broken hand for an ultrasound of my uterus. “Is this what I think it is!?” she beamed. “No, Mom. See the bones? And see the screws holding those bones together?”

Then there was the bizarre mix-up at my parents’ synagogue, when the temple bulletin reported that — Mazel Tov! — my parents were new grandparents. (The only thing more embarrassing than that erroneous news? The follow-up e-mail retraction my mother made them write.)

I have been offered books on getting pregnant and prenatal vitamins, a rocking chair, a changing table, and an unused Pack ’n Play. It’s not that I’m ungrateful; everyone has been so generous.

It’s just that I’m expecting to not be expecting for a little while.

These days, I make sure to order a glass of wine with dinner when I’m out with friends. (Who’s going to ask me if I’m pregnant while I nurse a pinot noir? Well, it hasn’t happened yet.) And I watch the way I speak. Long gone are the sentences beginning, “I’m expecting that” and “I could conceive” and other seemingly innocuous clauses.

While the assumptions and inquiries over the past few years have been mostly innocent, sometimes harassing, and oftentimes funny, the fact is, my husband and I do hope to start a family in the near future. We look forward to the experience of becoming parents, when the time is right. So we’re doing all we can to enjoy this wonderfully precious time in our lives, because we know that having children will change our lives in ways unimaginable to us now.

In the meantime, the Pack ’n Play remains packed away; the books remain unread. And, make that another glass of pinot, please.