But there were a few times I got bamboozled by the bible. Like how the Virgin Mary just happened to be my first example of pregnancy in life. If you would have asked me at six years old how reproduction worked, this is the explanation you would have gotten:
- Mary got pregnant with a baby all by herself.
- Jesus was a miracle. But the church says that all babies are miracles. So the only difference is, he was a Super Holy miracle and the rest of us are Super Generic miracles.
- I am six years old. The word virgin means absolutely nothing to me. Perhaps you meant: Virginia? Vegetables? Vacation?
- I will grow up to be a woman, too.
- Conclusion: There must already be some dumb seeds inside of me that will decide to erupt into a Super Generic baby when I reach adulthood. I will have no choice but to give birth to another miracle. (This is the fate of all women).
When I finally put all these wildly convincing pieces together by myself, I burst into tears in the privacy of my room. The thought of having to carry another life inside of me was incredibly violating at that age. And it wasn’t something people seemed to talk about, even my own mother. I wanted to claw out my stomach and make myself uninhabitable. “Please don’t make me have a baby,” I begged upward to no one in particular, snot plopping down onto my upper lip.
Shortly after this realization, my parents, grandparents and I drove down to Chicago one dazzlingly sunny morning. The gleaming buildings overwhelmed my body, and a worried hand was latched around my wrist with a grip so tense it began to ache by midday. Chicago was a place that felt both soft and sharp, like being inside the belly of a mechanical whale. Every once in a while when we reached a street corner, the towering glass spines of the city would part dramatically, stinging my skin with sunlight. I don’t remember much from that day other than we ended up at an extravagant science museum, where I was suddenly confronted by a new core memory, underpinned by the frozen faces of several dozen pale, pickled babies.
Goosebumps sizzled across my skin. Prenatal Development was what the signs said. The babies looked like what the statues in art museums would give birth to if they were alive; flawless and heavenly, carved delicately from ivory. I climbed out of the stroller in astonishment. We stood silent in a heavy darkness, living bodies shuffling around us, whispering incoherently and hypnotized by the glowing babies in glass boxes. “Why do they look like that?” I breathed. “Those are fetuses.” My mother had that sparkle in her eye, the one that told me she was close to tearing up. I backed away uncomfortably; “What does that mean?”
She hoisted me up onto her hip, where I found myself startlingly face to face with one of the morose sacks of skin and bones. “They didn’t finish being born the way you did.” I held my breath and refrained from blinking, waiting for the impossible chance that it would start to move. “Real or fake?” I ventured.
“Real.” I felt like a planet spinning out of orbit. I was standing in a room full of dead babies, surrounded by living people who paid to see them.
I reached out and took my father’s hand. “There is life in death, and death in life. God always has a plan,” mother always said. She was so confident about such big things, but they were horrifyingly abstract to me. So it definitely gets worse. A baby could die inside of me, and that would just be The Plan.
After being so deeply razzled by death, I was enamored by the last room we stumbled into: the baby chick hatchery. A giant glass octagon stretched over a warm silver grate, littered with dozens and dozens of smooth, white eggs. The brittle shells would breathe and twitch until a frail leg cracked through. Among the remnants wandered little yellow puffs of life, wobbling, chirping, sleeping. Maybe this is what God feels like, I wondered, my greasy forehead leaving a mark of enthusiasm against the glass. We were the last ones to leave the museum that day. They guided us out of the hatchery after the hour had turned, the building astoundingly silent aside from the interactive exhibits where tinny voices chattered eerily on repeat to no one in particular, like parrots in the pet store after close.