It is late morning as my friends and I carefully trudge down the hill to embark on the smaller, family-friendly corn maze (the larger one is situated at the other end of the farm). Each of us is holding our baby to our chest using a carrier, and except for me, everyone in our group is accustomed to baby-wearing. I relented to wearing Nora only because it would have been unwieldy to both carry her in my arms and lift her stroller onto the hayride tractor. I am especially relieved, though, that I hadn’t attempted to bring the stroller as the hill would have not allowed it. Regardless of what people say, I am not convinced that the baby sitting inside the carrier is comfortable — how could she be with her legs pulled wide apart and dangling, and her face pushed into her parent’s chest? But each time I wonder about Nora’s comfort, I quickly dismiss the uncertainty because, for now, she is pressed so hard into me that this is the longest we’ve ever stayed physically as one.
On the first day I returned to work after Kiri’s passing, I came back home through the front door crying. I hadn’t cried while sitting at my desk or exchanging pleasantries with my coworkers. I had been anxious about that first day back, so maybe my body had hardened itself to help me. But then, during the drive home, a song came on the radio, and I cried. I remember it being a hard cry, but I don’t remember the song. At home, my mother-in-law called after me from the kitchen. I ignored her, though, and retreated to my bedroom upstairs. An entire day of work had ended, and the reality of it, of the fact that I had rejoined the world, further solidified that the world was indeed moving on without my son. I sat on my bed. It was early evening, sometime in late September, so the days were still long — I could see the dusty sun rays beaming through the windows and hear the many cars racing home. I tucked myself under the down comforter and pulled it up over my head.
Many minutes later, I heard my door opening. Almost whispering, my mother-in-law told me to eat. Until recently, either she or Danith had brought up my meals to me. I told her that I wasn’t hungry. The back-and-forth continued for a bit longer before I gave up. I didn’t want to leave my bed, but the truth was that I was hungry. I flipped back the comforter and saw on the TV tray that stood in front of the arm chair a blue plate with a peanut butter sandwich (no jelly) and a strawberry smoothie. She’d never fixed me an American meal before. I didn’t like peanut butter — I never had. I disliked the salty smell of it and the thick and gooey consistency of it. I assumed the sandwich was without jelly because she had forgotten that it needed some.
I moved from the bed and lowered myself into the arm chair, and my mother-in-law rested herself on the edge of the bed across from me. My eyes scanned the room that could use a good dusting and vacuuming. I had lived mostly in this space for almost two months — I wondered what it smelled like to outsiders. After a couple of small bites of the sandwich, my mother-in-law encouraged me to finish it. My lips quivered.
“I want a baby,” I whimpered.
“A baby makes you feel good, huh?” my mother-in-law said.
I remember looking from the sandwich and at her, dumbfounded that she understood. She’d never pushed Danith and me to have children; similarly, she’d never discouraged us from trying for them. So I didn’t think she fully comprehended what Danith and I wanted, needed. After Daffy and Kiri, I was afraid that she would suggest we give up hope of bringing a baby home. I imagined that a part of me would whither if she were to suggest that Danith and I were unfortunate individuals and, thus, not meant to be parents.
“Yes,” I said.
“I know,” she said. “A baby gives you comfort.”
I agreed with her. I had never tried before to articulate what it felt like to have Daffy or Kiri be physically with me. Of course, happiness was an adequate word. But there was more, a depth I couldn’t simply describe. Comfort, however, was a more precise word. Having my babies be physically with me warmed me and secured me, providing me comfort.
As I continued to eat my sandwich, swishing around the messy peanut butter, I shared with my mother-in-law Danith’s and my decision to move forward with surrogacy.
“The baby would still be mine,” I said.
“Of course,” she said, “You don’t have to carry the baby to be her mother.”
I treaded lightly with the details at first, but the hope and excitement that expanded on her face allowed me to eventually go full speed. I had always seen her as a wise woman, so, surely, she would have not been encouraging if she had not genuinely believed in Danith and me becoming parents to a living child. Right? I picked up my sandwich, remembering my childhood classmates unwrapping their PB&J sandwiches at lunchtime and recalling the tinge of jealousy I felt that their parents had crafted those sandwiches especially for them. But that day I finally had such a sandwich for myself. That day I finished the two slices of bread with peanut butter. I also finished the strawberry smoothie.
At the bottom of the hill at the farm, I turn my eyes away from the clear blue sky, the apple orchard whose bare trees can no longer mask their age, and the large pond, and gaze down at Nora, seeing nothing but the top of her head and parts of her face. I ask a friend how my daughter’s body appears. Does she look comfortable in this thing? She insists that Nora does. As we enter the maze of dry cornstalks, dodging muddy grounds, I wrap my hands around Nora’s legs and run them up and down her calves to warm them. I squeeze her socked feet. I kiss the crown of her head, letting wisps of her hair coat my lips. She hasn’t emitted one single sigh of displeasure ever since my friend helped to secure her and the carrier on me. I lace my fingers under her bum and push her further into me. I think she is as comfortable as I am.