There was a time in my life when a black cat crossing my path or a mirror shattering at my feet didn’t faze me. Ditto for walking under ladders, stepping on cracks in the cement and the number 13.
I’d laugh at my grandmother, who’d warn her grandchildren not to think negative thoughts because they’d impact the outcome of whatever we were thinking about. I ignored her advice, and paid no attention to all the fictional justifications for people’s misfortunes.
When my husband and I decided to get a pet, I chose a black cat from the Humane Society because apparently many superstitious people overlook them.
That was then.
Now, I might be even more superstitious than my grandmother, who died in 1996. It didn’t happen overnight. It took two miscarriages over four years and real challenges with conception to render me emotional and tentative, to find my own fictional justifications for my own misfortunes.
This story originates 10 years ago, when I was a 25-year-old backpacker in Granada, Spain. On the steep cobblestone sidewalk leading up to the majestic Moorish castle, the Alhambra, a Gypsy fortune teller blocked my way, seized the palm of my right hand and, while waving a rosemary sprig over it, announced, “You will have one daughter.”
My Castellano was good enough to understand her. I pulled my hand away. “A very beautiful daughter,” she added, as if the looks of my unborn child were supposed to make me feel better about having only one child one day.
I was furious at her and refused to pay for her services. My vision of the future had always included three sons, not one daughter. I even had their names all picked out. I didn’t want this woman to alter my dreams. Who was she to know my future? Only I knew it, because at 25, I was deluded into thinking I had control over my own destiny. I was in charge.
A few years later, I had my first miscarriage. When the doctor told me and my husband that we had lost two fertilized eggs, not one, we were somehow doubly devastated. The pregnancy had been unplanned, but we were going to make it work, student loans, a tiny sublet and all. We were even getting excited about having twins.
Upon hearing the awful news, I immediately travelled back to that fragrant summer afternoon at the Alhambra, and the woman in colourful skirts wagging her finger at me beneath the shade of the orange tree, insisting that no matter what I said, I was not going to be the mother of multiple children. Two fertilized eggs.
I survived the trauma of that miscarriage by convincing myself those two babies were not meant to be. It had been written.
A few years later, and another miscarriage. This time, a planned pregnancy: no student loans, a house with space for a baby, stable jobs. This time it was harder to convince myself this child was also not meant to be. What does that mean, “meant to be?” Someone somewhere has decided that this is how things will be, therefore they are?
But then the image of the all-knowing Andalusian fortune teller materialized once again. It is what it is. Don’t fight it. And somehow, again, I healed.
We conceived a child for the third time on the day that was supposed to be the due date of our previous pregnancy. True story. I think the universe was consoling us.
We later read a positive pregnancy test on Father’s Day, which we both saw as hugely significant since we considered my husband’s father, who had passed away suddenly of cancer two years before, as our guardian angel. My husband was drinking the superstition Kool-Aid right along with me.
We knew this time things would work out – we just knew it – but our supernatural certainty didn’t ease our worry. It was the most intense nine months of our lives. With every cramp, twinge and new symptom, we were readying ourselves for another delivery of devastating news.
At our three-month ultrasound, I bawled and wiped my face with the heels of my hands when the poker-faced Russian ultrasound technician said, “Baby moving, strong heartbeat.”
All the praying to our guardian angels – my husband’s father and my grandmother – had worked. All the coins deposited in European fountains and at shrines of Indian gods had paid off. My Indian friend was right: Give Lord Ganesh a rupee (I gave him 100 at the Lord Brahma temple in Pushkar) and Ganesh will give you what you want.
What added to our belief in divine intervention was the date of the ultrasound. It was Aug. 17, the anniversary of my father-in-law’s death. My grandmother always said, “God takes one life away, and gives another.” My husband, for whom the date was a day of remembrance and sadness, was now grateful for the added meaning.
We have since had a healthy baby girl. Had our daughter not been born a little early (she arrived on Family Day), she might have shared a March 2 birthday with my beloved grandmother. Instead, she’s her namesake. It all worked out for us, but not without a few stories and superstitions along the way.
Sometimes in difficult situations we create stories to make sense of events that seem irrational, even cruel. Fiction, in the form of superstition in my case, has helped me cope. Stories help us all cope. They are as essential and meaningful to our lives as all the reason, facts and figures put together.
Aga Maksimowska lives in Toronto. Her first novel, Giant, is forthcoming from Pedlar Press in May.