Tell Me Who Are You

Katherine Sinback

Mom is buying a sandwich for the cross-country haul home to Maryland tomorrow.  While we wait for my mom’s sandwich to be prepared in the deli, we peruse baby gear in the nearby gift section. During her visit, she has been filling her suitcase with cute onesies and books for her five-month-old granddaughter, my niece, Lucy.

“Isn’t that precious?” She holds up a onesie with a picture of a smiling gnome.

“So cute,” I say

I feel weird and out-of-place in baby sections, but I make myself face them and let the chips fall where they may. I try to remember how it felt to enter baby stores when, seven years ago, I was a new aunt to my other niece, thrilled to shower the first baby in the family with presents. It felt weird then too, but a different weird. Back then, a question hovered as I browsed racks of tiny pants and striped hats.  Will I ever have a baby?  In the intervening years the question has shifted, gathered weight. Will I ever be able to have a fucking baby?

“I think I’ve gotten Lucy enough already.” Mom refolds the gnome onesie.

A fifty-something woman of the urban hippie variety approaches us, holding a card.

“Excuse me, are you a new mother?” she asks me

I shake my head.

“Are either of you mothers?”

I point to my mom. “She is.”

“I’m her mother.” My mom squeezes my arm.

“Can I get your advice on something?” the woman asks. Her friend is recently pregnant.  The woman thrusts a card in front of us. A fat baby with “Alive” printed on its diaper and a mushroom plopped on its head stretches its limbs. It was exactly the sort of card that I would have loved to receive. Strange but joyful.

“So, what do you think? Is this a good card?” she asks.

“I like it,” I say. “It’s weird for sure, but good-weird.”

She holds the card up to my mom. “You’re a mother. What do YOU think? Too weird?”

I don’t recoil from her segregation of the two of us into mother and non-mother categories. I steel myself as I have been doing all weekend.

Two months have passed since my second miscarriage. I wanted my mom’s visit to be all silly family stories and laughter and shopping for comfortable shoes and buying baby stuff for five-month-old Lucy. I want to tuck away thoughts of my first embryo, who, had it survived, would have been a one-month-old cousin to Lucy. Whenever miscarriage threatens to intrude on our weekend together I grit my teeth and mutter some seemingly emotionally present platitude like, “There are ups and downs, but we’re doing okay.”

Friday night, my husband and I took my mom out to dinner for a belated birthday celebration. Our favorite server was working, although not in our section. The last time we were here, the server didn’t believe my blithe comment that I had traded my usual dirty martini for cranberry juice due to “doctor’s orders.”

“Really?” Her slash of an eyebrow arched.

We had told her the good news even though it had only been a month. It felt exhilarating and dangerous to say the words to a near-stranger. “I’m pregnant.”

As I sat with my husband and mom, the waitress zipped by our table. I imagined admonishing her for pressing me about the cranberry juice. I admonished myself. I shouldn’t have told her. Why couldn’t I have chalked up the juice to some sort of cleanse? Cleanses don’t normally involve pizza and French fries for dinner, but I could have made it work.

Between bites of our celebratory meal, I slurped my martini and averted my eyes. Did she see me? Had she seen my martini and put the pieces of the puzzle together? I prayed she didn’t stop by our table, to force me to tell her the revised news while my mom watched.

I don’t want to let my mother into this mine-laden wasteland of undeveloped fetuses and tears. The misery in her voice when I told her about the first miscarriage haunts me. I can only imagine how hard it is to witness your children suffer. Maybe this is my rationalization for my performance of emotional fitness during her visit. Or I am not as comfortable expressing my emotions as I claim. At least not with her. Seeing her cry unsettles me, shakes the foundations of my world. I want to protect her against her need to protect me. Motherhood is a many-layered thing.

My mom considers the card in Aging Hippie Woman’s hand, casting a sideways glance at her for her disregard of my childless opinion.

“It’s cute,” she says.

“Oh, but it’s so early. Maybe I shouldn’t,” the woman says. “You know—“

Her trailing off voice contains the sum of my pregnancy experiences. I am a boogey-woman. The embodiment of “you know” twice over.

“That’s always a danger,” I say, forcing my way back into the conversation.

My mom rubs my back quickly, a band-aid swipe for all the “you know.”

“Well, you could always get it now and then keep it for a few months,” Mom says.

“That’s what I’m going to do.” The woman smiles. “Sorry for bothering you. Thanks.”

She walks away with her card. I lead us out of the baby aisle before Mom can say anything about the interaction. If she tries to comfort me, I will fall apart before her sandwich can be assembled, before mayo touches rye. I scan the racks for something to show her. A shield, an offering.  I seek refuge in cute.

“Isn’t this adorable?” I hold up a card with cartoon puppies rolling around on a pastel patch of grass.

“I love it,” she says, reaching out to take the card from my hand. She tucks it under her arm.  “For Lucy.” 

Author Bio

Katherine Sinback Headshot

Katherine Sinback’s work has appeared in The Rumpus, Hobart, Bayou Magazine, and Taco Bell Quarterly, among other publications. Her story “Listen” was translated and published in Italian by Edizioni Black Coffee. Born and raised in Virginia, Katherine lives in Portland, Oregon with her family. More at She can be found on Twitter @kt_sinback.