When my 19-year-old daughter came home from school one day complaining of nausea and intestinal discomfort, my wife's maternal intuition allowed her to make a swift and accurate diagnosis. "You're pregnant," she said.
I secretly hoped my daughter would come and talk to me about it, and even ask my advice on what course of action she should take. I figured I would be a good source of information, having gone through the same experience when I was 19. But she never did.
Instead, she phoned me at work and said her aging Sunfire had broken down. Could I pick her up at school on my way home from work? I assessed the situation: She and I alone in a car for a full 10 minutes? It is rare in life to see opportunity beckoning with such stunning clarity, and I decided to take full advantage of it.
I waited until we were on the highway and travelling too fast for her to safely jump out before broaching the subject. "I know you are pregnant," I said, and she let out a long sigh. "I want you to know that I will support whatever decision you make. I just want to make sure that you know you have a choice."
I thought it was a pretty good opening salvo. It let her know that I'm liberal, open-minded and, above all, pro-keeping all the options open.
"Well I'm not going to keep it," she said, defensively.
"That's good," I said. "I wouldn't want you to have a baby right now. But there are other options."
She gave me a guarded, quizzical look and I knew my window of opportunity was closing. In about seven minutes we'd be hitting the driveway and our conversation would be over. I plowed ahead, telling her about how I had been faced with the same situation at her age, only - being the male in the equation - with a lot less decision-making power. My girlfriend and I had discussed our fragile relationship and material poverty, and decided to put the child up for adoption.
"It would be a huge sacrifice on your part," I said, "but it would be nothing compared to the joy you would bring to the lives of a couple unable to have a child of their own."
"They could just go to Haiti or China and adopt one," she said.
Good answer, I thought. "It's not that easy," I said. "International adoptions are complicated and costly and they take a long time. Not everybody can go through that process."
We drove in silence for a few precious minutes, and I felt sand slipping through my fingers. "The point is you are pregnant and you have a choice to make. You can get an abortion and get on with your life, or you can bring this child to term and change at least three lives forever. Nowadays you can choose the parents, and even have a relationship with the child once it's born."
"How would I ever find parents?"
I let out a soft laugh. "I personally know at least half a dozen couples who are desperate for a child."
I could see our narrow gravel road at the end of a long bend in the highway, and put on the blinker. There's a woman at work, I told her, and then I mentioned the names of a married couple who are friends of the family and want to have a child.
"They do?" The tone of her voice had changed, and I could sense her taking a mental pause as if to view something from a different perspective. The couple are good friends of ours. She has known them for years.
I pulled into the driveway and put the car in park. "Yeah. They're dying to have a child."
"Wow," she said, jumping out of the car. She grabbed her bag out of the back seat and flashed me a grin before disappearing into the house. I followed a few seconds later and found her in the kitchen chatting with my wife, her face now as radiant as I'd seen in a long time. "Okay," she said. "I'll do it. I'll give my baby to our friends."
Two significant events happened in the weeks that followed. The first is that the phone rang while we were watching an episode of ER. It was my daughter calling from her boyfriend's place and I could hear her all the way from where my wife was sitting on the couch, the receiver cradled to her ear. I could tell from the cadence of my wife's voice and her line of questioning that something was wrong. There had been a spontaneous miscarriage, and there would be no baby after all.
This might have been good news - a dodge of the bullet - but we all felt a melancholic sadness. In spite of everything, there is something profoundly creative about conceiving a child and awaiting its birth. I experienced this myself at 19. Amid the cacophony of outrage that my girlfriend's pregnancy elicited in my devoutly religious community, I sensed that something good had happened. This is what I wanted my daughter to see. She could have done whatever she wanted with the pregnancy and there would be no judgment from me; but first, I wanted her to feel the beauty of it all.
The second thing that happened is that our friends announced that they were pregnant, and had passed the critical three-month mark. They had been pregnant all along and - fingers crossed - there will be a baby after all.
Michael Geisterfer lives in Chelsea, Que.