The US immigration official at Shannon airport. Eyeing up my bump.
“When is the baby due?”
It’s late April, almost a year ago now. I’m 33 weeks pregnant.
“Mid June. June 16th is my due date”
“And you’re okay with that?”
My GP is okay with it, my midwife too. My mother has her reservations. About the flying that is.
He engages me in me in conversation; either a very friendly interrogation or a genuine interest in my husbands acting career. He is familiar with the Broadway theatres, wonders which of them my husband is performing in. I am familiar with none, not even the one I should know. Despite this suspicious lack of information, he decides that I’m probably not travelling to New York just to give birth on American soil, and waves me through.
I am free. I am about to board a plane across the Atlantic but my holiday began hours ago when I deposited the toddler safely at Granny’s. Family responsibility is reduced to just me and the bump for a whole 4 days. After week 34 Aer Lingus won’t let me travel at all, so 4 days is my limit. Probably also the upper limit of patience for the multiple grandmothers and auntie babysitters. Or maybe my upper limit of separation from my firstborn. Four whole nights away from him. How will I survive? Quite well I suspect.
In Dublin, nobody comments on my belly, but suddenly in New York, it’s front and centre in all interactions. A police officer congratulates me in a fancy deli near our Hell’s Kitchen Hotel, draws the cashier’s attention. ” This lady’s having a baby soon”. She’ll make detective one day, mark my words. The hotel maid asks me when I’m due, gushes about how wonderful babies are. I gush back at her. Think of my other baby at home.
Are there less pregnant ladies per head in NYC or is my holiday, pre-baby break resulting in a relaxed glow that stops folks in their tracks? I choose to believe the latter.
We stay in a hotel with a lift that zips up to the twenty-somethingth floor faster than our lift at home rattles up to our third-floor apartment. We walk down Broadway and eat takeout pizza and a guy dressed in a pink bikini goes past on a pink scooter.
I wander the city on foot, planning my route to allow me to pee every 15 minutes. I sit in Central Park, within a waddle of the public toilets and watch the world go by.
I do a walking photography tour. Take a photo of my pregnant bump in a bakery window. I get sunburnt, rest my pregnant ass in a Mexican cafe in Little Italy. We eat Malaysian food in Chinatown and go to a party on a rooftop in Brooklyn. We take a photo with the lights of Manhattan and Brooklyn bridge as a backdrop. I get extra blankets from the host and extra attention for me and my bump.
I read books on birth and labour and read strangely familiar street signs. Park Avenue and 42nd Street. I drink coffee. I drink up the noise and the ocean of movement around Times Square. I write notes to myself and to my baby kicking inside.
I visit MoMA. I listen to a talk on women’s portrayal in Modernism.I stand in front of paintings. I gaze and become lost in front of a Lion and a sleeping gypsy, but I don’t have the vocabulary to explain why.
I walk with my husband. We visit a flea market. We amble. Sunday afternoon satisfied tourists. Out of nowhere, a tall man lunges at my husband as we walk, punching him in the face. Not mugged, but a case of mistaken identity maybe. My husband’s instinct is to run, to draw the threat of violence away from his wife and unborn baby. My instinct is less helpful. I run after him. I try to get help from a man sifting through trash. Man sifting through trash, silver-haired and skinny, looks at me blankly, confused by my expectation of assistance. Tall punching man backs away, and we are both shaken, one of us harmed but not seriously. Lucky him. The theatre colleagues are concerned, outraged, eager for retelling and sympathising. But we have a had a real New York experience now. Lucky us.
I wander the streets and imagine that one day one of my sons might live here. I never harboured a desire to live in New York, but now that I am here I can almost imagine a younger self, enjoying this energy, the many faces, and languages. Almost. The melting pot would be too hot for me. Maybe my sons could retain their shapes in this heat.
Too soon, it is time to return home. I board the flight, take my seat. The passenger beside me informs me she has a weak bladder and needs to go to the bathroom often and should we switch seats. You and me both lady.
Jet lag prevents proper rest on the flight. Dehydration sets in a little. I experience Braxton Hicks contractions. I’m less afraid of going into early labour than I am of telling my mother I went into labour early. The contractions disappear again. Phew.
I land at Shannon. Ireland is green and lovely and cold and quiet. I pull my suitcase behind me to the airport car park, carry the adventure in my head, and return to my other baby.