It was Nana who called, inviting her for a little meeting at MJ’s mother’s house.
“So glad you could come, Mary Jane,” her mother greeted, pushing the front door open. “Come in, come in.” She smiled, while motioning for her to step through the door.
MJ followed her into the dining room. The whole house had a colonial look to it. Lots of crown molding and dark wood. Her childhood home had been craftsman style. This felt too formal. It didn’t help that the dining room set that had comfortably fit in the previous house now seemed crammed, like the walls were slowly moving in.
Nana was sitting on one side of the table. MJ’s mother sat down beside Nana. MJ sat across the table from them. She never noticed that they all had a mole in the same place on their faces.
Her mother had pulled out the nice teapot and teacups for the occasion. There were even tiny sandwiches on a platter. The pseudo British spread was her mother’s M.O. when it came to important discussions: church confirmation classes; taking advanced classes; having relations with boys; college decisions; post-graduation plans.
“I understand you’re pregnant,” her mother said, pouring herself a cup of tea. “Would you like some tea or a sandwich?”
“No, I’m okay.”
“You’re eating for two,” her mother said, giving her a look of disapproval.
MJ sighed and reluctantly grabbed a sandwich.
Nana leaned forward. “Before we talk about your situation, we thought we’d share with you our family history, give you some perspective on where we’re coming from.”
MJ gave them an unamused look and took another bite of her sandwich.
Nana toyed with her cloth napkin before she spoke. “I was fourteen. I didn’t know what was going on with my body. My brother’s wife knew. They took me in and didn’t ask questions. I was gracious, but knew I needed to be able to support myself and my baby, so I put aside everything else. That’s what you do when you have a kid. You have to be willing to make a sacrifice. There wasn’t much help for girls my age having babies back then. But I worked hard and I managed. I was one of six kids; my birth wasn’t suspicious. People had a lot of kids back then. And no one talked about how those kids came to be. They’re all dead now. Hell, I’m almost dead now. The answers are hard to come by. But I hadn’t been with a man when I got pregnant. That’s for sure.” She looked at MJ’s mother. “Pour me some tea, would you. Two lumps and a little milk.”
MJ’s mother obeyed, holding the lid of the teapot on while she poured, delicately doling out the sugar and carefully pouring the milk before stirring it with a spoon and handing it on a saucer to Nana.
“I thought I was done having babies when I got pregnant with you,” her mother began. “Your brothers’ father didn’t take it well. We hadn’t been intimate in a while. It happens when you’re raising two boys and one of them has special needs. I’d been running all over town consulting with specialists, pouring my soul out to them in hopes that they could help me out. He assumed I’d been with one of them. A pregnancy is very suspicious sometimes. I didn’t know what to tell him. He didn’t want to believe in miracles at that time. He got angry at God for not sending the miracle John’s way. I don’t blame him.” She poured herself more tea. For a moment, there was only the clink of china. “Anyways, he wanted a divorce. Not because of John, but because of the unexplained pregnancy. I was tired of fighting, so we did. Nana’d been coming by to help with the boys and we got talking about the pregnancy. Facts didn’t add up in both our cases. God works in strange ways, Mary Jane, but we can’t question it.”
MJ dropped her sandwich onto her plate and stared at her mother. “And you’re not allowed to say that’s not fair?”
“In Proverbs it says ‘Honest scales and balances belong to the Lord; all the weights in the bag are of his making.’”
MJ sighed. “So what’s the point of this meeting?”
Her mother’s expression softened. “Look, Mary Jane, I know you’re hurt that I didn’t tell you sooner. Nana wanted to tell you after your fourteenth birthday. I thought that was too soon. I thought that maybe there was a chance that it wouldn’t happen to you. Why have you spend your whole life waiting for it to happen if it might not happen until you’re forty or not even at all?”
“So instead you just make all these comments, subtly try and get my life set up so that when it happens I’m not totally screwed over?” MJ raised an eyebrow.
“Do you have a boyfriend, Mary Jane, or someone who can be your cover?”
“No, it’s just me.” She sunk into her seat.
“Have you gone to an OB GYN? Had an ultrasound?”
“No. I wanted to believe this was real first.”
“An ultrasound will make it very real.”
“So what’s your plan?” Nana asked. “You have eight or so months to get your act together.”
“You can’t keep walking dogs,” her mother added.
“I can’t do this.”
“Oh, don’t be a wuss about this. You’re going to mother this daughter to the best of your abilities, just like we did. It’s not easy, but there is no other way.”
“But there is another way.” MJ knew she was like an NRA member walking into a pacifist meeting by saying this. “I could get an abortion. I could nip this problem in the bud.” Her mother gasped, but MJ just kept talking, “Why are we acting like we have no choice in this?”
Her mother leapt up from the table. “The Virgin Mary is a sacred vessel. Our savior became flesh in her. God had a plan far greater than her. We are the same as her.”
“No one in this room is Jesus. We’re just average people with a rare genetic condition,” MJ tried to reason.
“Well regardless of how you feel about it, it’s real.” She set a thick file of papers on the table before storming out of the room. A lot of their tea parties had ended with one of them leaving in a huff, but the file folder was a new one.
MJ’s mother stood at the kitchen sink and looked out the window. The leaves were changing and falling from the trees. She remembered when they’d gone to see the geneticist the autumn after Mary Jane had turned one-year-old. She’d been oblivious to the reasons for all the poking and prodding and tests, an innocence her mother had wished she’d kept. Later, when the results came in, she stood looking out the window above the sink while on the phone with the geneticist as he confirmed that all their DNA matched precisely. He was intrigued and wanted to do more tests, study Mary Jane as she grew up. Her mother refused. The geneticist was persistent. He started to call daily. She saw him in public spaces: the park, the supermarket, the library. She knew he wanted to do the tests for his own glory, but she also knew that her child wasn’t a lab rat. Her child didn’t need to have a childhood full of doctor’s visits. She was already carting one son from specialist to specialist; the doctor’s labels had already left their mark on him, disrupted his childhood from any sense of normalcy. She couldn’t do that again. She couldn’t let her daughter grow up thinking she was different, abnormal, destined for some terrible fate. Their fate was not terrible. A baby could not be a terrible thing, no matter how difficult they made life. This was what she had made herself believe in order to keep going. It was the only way to keep going as the seasons changed and God kept throwing challenges her way. He had brought these babies into the world from her womb for a reason; there could not be malicious intent inherent in them.
MJ had paged through the file folder. The documents were legitimate, but she was no medical professional and the information on the papers was largely gibberish to her. She looked at Nana who sat sipping her tea with a stern expression. “You went to a geneticist?”
“We were curious.”
“I got tested too?”
“You were just a tyke. Damn doctor wanted to turn you into some science project. Needless to say, we skedaddled out of there.”
“What’s your take on this? What did you want to tell fourteen-year-old me?”
“I think killing babies is wrong, but I don’t think your mother is right either. There were many months I longed for an escape. Motherhood is not easy, but you’re often shamed if you don’t claim to love it.”
“I get that. But were you guys trying to accomplish something by having this meeting?”
Nana shrugged. “Look, your mother is dealing with a lot right now. I’ve reprimanded her on multiple occasions for her feigned ignorance toward your situation. We can’t change the past, so we need to move on. If we can all do that, you know maybe this baby can be reason enough for us to be family again. It could be a fresh start for us, like the Baby Jesus bringing light into the world.”
“I’m not giving birth to Jesus,” MJ reminded her.
“It’s a metaphor, sweetie.”
MJ sighed. “I know. It’s just feeling like this is less and less about me and my choice.”
“That’s adulthood for you. The world is bigger than yourself and your problems. Your actions have greater consequences.”
“I know that.”
“Then act like it. Stop being selfish and get prepared to be a mother.”
They sat in silence for a moment. MJ finally stood up, saying, “I need to go for a drive. Tell my mother goodbye for me.” She pushed her chair back under the table and walked out of the house.