There were other things about the evening that are noteworthy only in hindsight. At the results-watching party we attended, I kept returning to the savory snacks and wasn’t tempted by the sweets, which was unusual for me. And then there was the warm, tingling feeling in my breasts, which, even though I had been thoroughly screening myself for early pregnancy signs two weeks out of every four for the past year and a half, I wrote off as excitement about the election.
Years later, while touring a kindergarten, I would hear a teacher call for a student named Barack, and think, I know exactly when you were conceived.
A couple of weeks before the election, just days after the embryo transfer from our second round of IVF, I headed to Philadelphia with my partner and some friends to volunteer in final get-out-the-vote efforts. We knocked on doors, answered by polite residents who assured us that no, they would not forget to vote. I knew I should’ve been more worried about the fate of the nation, but I was distracted, wondering whether one of the embryos would manage to attach itself this time.
When we went in to our doctor’s office right after the vote, we explained to the nurse that we could’ve come in the day before for testing but had decided to wait because we wanted the chance to just be happy about the election results.
“Well,” said the nurse, examining my test strip, “it looks like you’re going to have more than one thing to celebrate.”
Earlier that year, in January, I had thrown myself into the primary efforts because I believed in my candidate but also because I was trying to get my mind off my fertility woes. When the center of action — or, in my case, inaction — is your own womb, it’s hard to forget for even a second what’s going on. Every time you move, you wonder if you might have affected the process of implantation.
I didn’t want to stay home, continuously poking my breasts, trying to discern if they were beginning to feel tender. And I didn’t want to head out to a yoga class, where, inevitably, some pregnant woman would appear like magic in the rear view of my downward dog, forcing me to fight back a swell of tears and the urge to scream, “There’s a prenatal class! Stay away from me!” So I spent the evenings leading up to the primary handing out literature at subway stations and calling likely voters. It wasn’t a huge amount of volunteering on my part, but it was enough to remind me that there was a big world out there and that not everyone in it had their lives pegged to the results of my next pregnancy test.
“Children have learned to walk and talk over the course of this campaign,” Barack Obama said of his drawn-out primary battle with Hillary Clinton. He was probably the only person from whom I would have tolerated a baby metaphor. And of course, I couldn’t help thinking, if I had gotten pregnant at the beginning of this campaign, I’d have a baby in my arms.
Riding the bus into work after seeing the doctor that morning after the election, I immediately created a narrative around the timing of our pregnancy. Of course we had to wait until this moment. The baby wanted a sign of progress before deciding to put down stakes.
The story of my son’s beginnings is, for me, inextricably linked to the narrative of the 2008 election.
“You were there with us campaigning in Pennsylvania,” I tell him. “We just didn’t know it, yet.”
My son and all the other Obama babies are now seven years old. They are elementary school students who have known only a black president, who will never remember a time when same-sex marriage was in a separate category. This year, I vote for them and with hope that the long moral arc of the universe continues to bend toward justice.
Marie Holmes is a mother and freelance writer. She lives in New York with her partner and two children.
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