I didn’t realize Angie was pregnant until she started to show. We lay touching and teasing in bed together, late on a Friday evening, when I noticed something different. A bulge. It was only visible because she was so thin: a gentle swelling that hadn’t been there a week before. Suddenly, the idea that Angie was a mother became a startling reality.
“It’s my job,” she said. “You knew that.”
I knew. I think we all know things we don’t believe until we see them. At the time, all I could think was that something lived inside that bulge, growing and moving and feeding.
“Does it bother you?” she asked.
I looked away. “No, of course not.”
“It’s a natural process. Mothers have been doing it for millennia.”
I couldn’t keep my eyes off her belly. Birth control was mandatory in those days—the pleasure drug craze of our parents’ generation had resulted in so many birth defects that the government had taken control. Only one in a hundred women could make motherhood a career, and even the licensed guardians who hired them placed their orders through an agency, rarely meeting the gestational mother. The only mother I’d known before Angie had been a sagging veteran of twenty births, and I was having trouble reconciling my mental stereotype with the reality snuggled in my bed. I wanted to talk about it, but I didn’t know what to say.
“How do you feel?” I hazarded.
“I feel fine.”
“How long until it’s born?”
“She’s about sixteen weeks along, but I tend to go late, so probably not for another twenty-five. Early August.”
I groped into the dark, cluttered bag of my knowledge about pregnancy. “I thought pregnancy made women not want to...” I looked at the bed, then back at her.
“Sometimes,” she said. “And sometimes it makes them randy as rabbits.” She said it in that matter-of-fact, business-like tone she always used, but her eyes twinkled.
I reached into the bag again, and came up empty. “So... what happens now?”
She leaned in close. “Right now? We make love.”
* * *
Angie was twenty-six when I met her, with three births under her belt and a figure like a holostar. She did calisthenics, yoga, weight toning, kung fu, dance, and tai chi. She was the fittest, funniest, fieriest woman I’d ever met.
I didn’t give her career much thought. I was working as an aerospace engineer for a NASA subcontractor; we were building an Earth Return Vehicle for a manned mission to Mars. Motherhood, by contrast, seemed a cakewalk—only on the job nine months out of twelve, and plenty of free time even then. True, the actual childbirth was said to be a painful ordeal, but only for one day a year. How bad could it be? I thought it sounded like a fair price for 364 days of freedom.
That was before I met Angie.
One morning over breakfast, I said, “I hear labor’s not too bad. More like pressure than real pain.”
“Just pressure, sure,” she said. “Kind of like a hurricane is just wind.”
I laughed. “Okay, so it’s painful,” I said. I poured chocolate milk on my Berry Bombs. Then I noticed her breakfast. “What’s that?”
“A multi-grain muffin.”
“I can’t believe they make you eat that stuff.”
Angie rolled her eyes. “They don’t make me. I plan my own diet.”
“But you have to report what you eat to your clients, right?”
“It’s not a normal job, darling. What I eat affects the baby. How much I exercise, what medicines I take, even the music I listen to, it all makes a difference.”
I tried to imagine my company telling its employees what to eat or how much sleep to get.
Angie took a big bite of her muffin and chewed as if she really enjoyed it. She said, “I’m on an all-natural job, so it’s more restrictive. I can’t even use pain-killers.”
“What? Not even Tylenol?”
“Nope. Nobody’s ever connected Tylenol to fetal complications, but the ‘nothing artificial’ stamp is a big seller. Means more profit for the agency, and a better salary for me.”
“What about during labor? A...what’s it called...” I rubbed at the stubble on my chin, trying to remember the word.
“That’s it. Can you have one of those?”
“Not on this job. All natural, all the way.”
I made a face. “And that’s worth the extra money?”
“It’s not just the money. It’s painful, but it’s wonderful in a way, too. Creating new life—it’s a remarkable experience.”
“One of those things a guy can never understand?” I asked.
Angie just smiled.
* * *
I knew a challenge when I saw one. I’m an engineer; I don’t believe in problems with no solution. I determined to conquer the ancient female mystery of childbirth with the modern tools of research and investigation. While her belly grew, I hit the info sites. I learned terms like amniocentesis, alpha-fetoprotein, episiot -- [End of Preview.]