“Oh, honey!” She shrieked as she came running towards us, nightgown flapping. “Look at you!”
I smiled, the meager smile of a large pregnant woman, bracing herself to hear the usual round of “you’re due when?!” or “you’re sure it’s not twins?” Be nice, I admonished myself. She’s a sweet neighbor. Let the comments be.
But it was the first decent day we’d had in weeks, cool enough that I could finally take my son for a spin in the stroller without my head spinning from the heat. I just wanted an escape, half an hour to myself in the cool breeze and quiet.
She practically skidded to a halt in front of me. “You look beautiful,” she declared in a breathless tone, the wonder in her voice filling the air like we were in some holy cathedral.
“Oh, honey. Pregnant women are so beautiful. It’s just amazing, you know? Amazing! One time my sister-in-law invited me to go along to the ultrasound, and I just cried and cried – I mean, fingernails! And eyelashes! I was so excited! Everything is growing in there – it’s just incredible. Incredible!”
I smiled back, a wide and genuine smile. How could I have forgotten her story – what I meant to her, welled up in her, reminded her of as I waddled past her front door?
“Thank you,” I said. “You’re so kind – I feel huge these days and uncomfortable in all this heat. But you’re right. It really is a miracle.”
“Oh, honey,” she lifted up her eyes. “It is. I was never able to have children of my own, but I did day care for about 100 years and I got to be pregnant with all those mamas…every time I just cried for joy with them. What a miracle! So beautiful!”
I thought back to other walks past her house, in other seasons and years. When she first referred to her beautiful garden as “therapy.” When she delighted at my first rounding belly. When she laughed that if she had been able to have babies, she’d still be pregnant at 60.
Above that bulging, kicking baby inside me, my heart welled up. Empathy and hormones and reminder of the sheer blessedness of my discomfort.
I thought about what must have been her years of pain and longing, watching those pregnant mothers around her bloom and swell, gathering her day care children into her lap where no baby of her own ever grew. I marveled at her pure joy in my own blessing, the utter lack of resentment or jealousy or bitterness that the gift was never hers.
What grace, what acceptance to come to a place where you can rejoice in others’ journey down a road you were never let to travel.
“Can I touch your belly?” she squeaked, ready to lunge.
I forgot all about my usual aversions to the invasion of personal space. “Of course,” I replied.
She reached out her hands, eyes closed, face glowing with joy in the sunlight. She held my sides with the reverence reserved for a sacred vessel.
“Oh, honey,” she breathed in as she took her hands away. “You are just beautiful.”
No, I thought. You are.