Part 15: The baby in Mommy's tummy
Why can't you have the baby in your stomach, Auntie?
The question takes Auntie Kathy off guard. She is strolling to the Stop & Shop around the corner from her house, with 8-year-old Rachel skipping beside her, chirping about other things, kid things, when out comes this very straightforward question.
Surprised as she is, Kathy feels privileged: It meant Rachel considers her a friend.
And, as it happens, Kathy has been thinking lately about how to answer a question like Rachel's, a question she might hear someday from her own child.
Here is a chance to practice.
Because my tummy broke, Kathy replies. My tummy had stitches and is all better, but still can't have babies in it so Mommy will have her tummy hold the baby. Isn't that nice of Mommy?
Rachel says yes, it is. Then her attention shifts - You had stitches? Can I see?
Kathy smiles: After we get ice cream.
* * *
People, upon first learning of Kathy and Wendy's pregnancy, sometimes ask Wendy about her daughters, Rachel and Nicole.
Do they understand? How are they about it?
One day at a grocery store, for instance, Wendy is chatting with an acquaintance, who juts his chin toward Rachel as if to ask, how's she dealing with this?
Ask her, says Wendy, refusing to be conspiratorial.
But the man doesn't know what to say.
Rachel, says Wendy. Who's the baby in Mommy's stomach to you?
What? says Rachel, as if bothered. She is a solid, self-possessed little girl, and can be sweet - she has doted on her mother throughout the pregnancy, tidying the house and bringing her cold washcloths during bouts of morning sickness - but she also has perfected her father's teasing cockiness.
Rachel, Wendy repeats. Who's the baby in Mommy's stomach to you? Who's in Mommy's stomach? Who is it?
My cousin, says Rachel, nonchalantly. It's my cousin.
And what's Mommy?
Auntie, she says. It's my auntie's baby!
Wendy looks at the man.
Well, he says. Guess there's no problem there, huh?
* * *
Nicole, Wendy's older daughter, is another story.
She's jealous, she admits it.
Nicole is the family's first grandchild, and she is used to special treatment - particularly by Aunt Kathy, whom she resembles. Nicole has always been Kathy's "little princess," her "angel."
For the first six months of her life, Nicole and her parents shared Kathy's apartment in Galilee. Because the nursery was on the bottom floor, where Kathy slept, it was often Kathy who'd run when Nicole cried in the night.
Family photographs prove how inseparable were aunt and child: There's Kathy holding Nicole while on the phone, Kathy holding Nicole while doing dishes, Kathy helping Nicole take her first steps, Kathy at Nicole's ballet class.
"Everywhere," says Kathy. "She used to put her arms up as soon as she saw me. I was always like a mother to her. She's part of me. She's part of my sister, so therefore, she's part of me."
When Wendy and John divorced in 1985, the whole family showed Nicole extra affection, to help carry her through it. And now and then, if Nicole misbehaved, Wendy would call Kathy to come over and speak to her.
The result of all this caring, says Kathy, is that Nicole became worthy of it. She is an affectionate young woman, the kind who kisses her grandmother and all her relatives when she enters the room, and who makes time for her half-sister Rachel.
These days, she is busy with her waitressing job (she is trying to pay off a car loan) and with friends, and doesn't see as much of Auntie Kathy as she used to. But a strong bond remains.
"She knows I'll drop anything for her," says Kathy. "She's still my little girl and she knows it."
* * *
Nicole pulls a hand through her long hair and shifts in her vinyl chair in the waiting room of the midwife's office.
This is a special occasion - the day ultrasonography will reveal a first glimpse of the baby. Kathy and Wendy are down the hall, where an aide checks the baby's progress.
Of course, Nicole says, she knows her aunt loves her. But she is nonetheless wary.
"It used to be me and her together," Nicole says. "I don't know if the baby's gonna change all that."