In a much-loved Greek myth, the sculptor Pygmalion, unattracted to the frivolous women of his city, creates a statue that represents his ideal of the perfect woman. He endows her with exquisite features and a graceful figure, but more than that he projects onto the sculpture every possible virtue. As he works, he falls so completely in love with his creation, who he names Galatea, that he can love no living woman. This ancient tale ends happily. Pygmalion appeals to Aphrodite the goddess of love who uses her power to bring the statue to life. Galatea and Pygmalion marry and raise a son who founds the city of Cyprus.
On the day, shortly after my twenty-fifth birthday, when my obstetrician informed me that it would be very difficult for me to conceive a child, I transformed into a Pygmalion figure. For over ten years, I had cherished the dream that once I finished school, I would become a journalist. That hope had informed a multitude of choices I made, including courses I took, part-time jobs I accepted and extracurricular activities to which I devoted my time. When I married, I fully intended to continue in that life protectory. Financial necessity forced me to accept other work when my search for a spot in journalism ran dry. As soon as my husband finished law school and started working full time, I promised myself I would again seek a career in journalism and not give up this time.
a new avocation
My doctor’s diagnosis, however, tilted my psyche off its axis. After that my choices altered. My ambitions wavered. Motherhood, which had once seemed inevitable, now became elusive, and therefore, the preferred goal. The determination to become pregnant drove away all other aspirations. Could the stress of my work helping abandoned, abused and neglected children adjust to life in foster care be contributing to my infertility? It was a possibility the doctor admitted. Ironically, when I quit my job, I took a job with a magazine publisher – but as a secretary, a mundane position with very little pressure.
My real work, my true avocation at that time, consisted of following the advice of infertility specialists. I was both Pygmalion and Galatea, sculptor and creation. I molded myself into a woman dedicated to becoming a mother. Through that endeavor, I transformed myself into a person who desired children more than any other treasure life could offer. Other parts of me fell, chipped away, to the studio floor.
escape the long wait
In October, 1968, the brilliant fall colors enticed Jay and I to take our Fiat for a spin up to Door County, Wisconsin. We sped north out of the city through the vast farm fields of northern Illinois. Just over the border in Milwaukee we stopped at a favorite restaurant we had discovered on one of trips to visit my family in St. Paul. The Brat House served several tasty versions of that traditional German sausage. Stepping into the wood-paneled space, we spotted an empty booth and slid in.
“Lucky we got here early or there’d be a long line at the counter,” Jay noted.
“I feel like I haven’t eaten in days. I think I’ll have two brats,” I told him.
He smirked. “Keep that up and you won’t keep your girlish figure you know. Didn’t you have three donuts for breakfast.”
“So, I did,” I admitted. “But I’m famished and we have five more hours before we get to the motel tonight.”
“Can’t have you starving to death before midnight. What kind do you want?”
anxiety – an unwelcome passenger
After lunch, we decided to chance driving straight through Milwaukee. The traffic might be heavy, but it cut several miles off the route. Negotiating the city freeway system took all of Jay’s concentration. I watched the grimy, old city neighborhood whiz by, allowing myself to think about how unusually hungry I’d been lately. It had actually been going on for about a month, but I hadn’t gained any weight. Even more worrisome, my menstrual period had been very light last month. Could the tumors have returned? I wouldn’t bring it up now. This was going to be a great weekend.
“Hey, Yulsey, wake up. We’re there.”
I’d slept all the way to Elks Bay in Door County. “Geez, I’m sorry. I should have been keeping you company.”
“Nah, you really zonked. It’s funny you being so tired. You’re always asleep when I get home if I have to stay late at the office.”
“It’s a good thing we took this break then.” I touched his arm. “You must be the exhausted one now. “Let’s get our stuff into our room. We have some serious antiquing to do tomorrow.”
a brief respite
The knotty-pine paneled motel room had a wood-burning fireplace with a very big, deep leather chair and ottoman pulled up to it. Heavy wool blankets and flannel sheets covered the double bed. Yes, we needed this. But as I curled up in Jay’s arms, listening to his soft snore that night, anxiety about my hunger and fatigue nagged me. First thing Monday, I had to call the doctor.
It took three weeks before I could get in to see Dr. Grimes. My concerns mounted. A small voice of hope suggested that maybe I could be pregnant. Perhaps that explained my symptoms, but they didn’t match anything my sister-in-law or my friends had told me about early pregnancy. I felt no nausea, none of the infamous morning sickness. I realized I didn’t know much about what it felt like to be pregnant. Although determined to have a baby, I avoided being with friends who were mothers. Being in their company sharpened my sense of incompleteness.
In the doctor’s office, I lay on my back, sheet draped over my spread legs and tried taking deep breaths. Would I ever get used to this ignominious position? I doubted it. “You can sit up now,” he said.
I pushed up with my elbows and clamped my knees tightly together. He was smiling. Smiling! “I’m okay?” my voice quivered. I’d come in scared, prepared to hear I needed another surgery, but he was grinning.
“You’re more than okay, Mrs. Ward,” he beamed. “You are expecting a baby.”
“I’m pregnant?” All the air in my lungs rushed out those words. The room spun.
Dr. Grimes reached a steadying hand to my shoulder, “Most definitely.”
“But, but I haven’t been sick or anything.”
“That’s not exactly the case, is it? Didn’t you say you’d been very tired and that your appetite had increased?”
“Well, yes, but…”
“Those symptoms can signal pregnancy as often as nausea. About a third of pregnant women never suffer. Check with your mom. I get you find she didn’t have it. It seems to run in families.”
But his voice had faded away. Talk about symptoms and genetics were just a bunch of fluff. The real substance of our exchange, “You’re expecting a baby,” became a star glimmering so brightly that all other words faded into obscurity. Five years of anticipation and hope, despair and doubt had ended.
Pygmalion so fell in love with his own creation, he begged Venus, the goddess of love, to make her real. His prayers were answered. My prayers were also answered.
Even though I know that most, if not all, parents think their babies are the most beautiful ever born, when I look at photographs of the tiny Kristin Margaret, her astonishing beauty still haunts me. Kristin and I settled into a dream-like daily rhythm completely ruled by her needs. To be the best possible mother became my single most important ambition.
In that dream state, a young woman’s sense of a separate self faded away. For fifteen years, being a mother encompassed me in a bubble. How I would wonder did I let myself get so lost? Could I have possibly juggled a career in journalism with motherhood? I have no way of knowing. It’s time to let go of the question.
It’s intriguing, however, how many times it gets asked?
‘I’ve yet to be on a campus where most women weren’t worrying about some aspect of combining marriage, children, and a career. I’ve yet to find one where many men were worrying about the same thing.’ – Gloria Steinem, feminist and writer