I felt JoJo readjust his own left foot – something he had clearly inherited from me – at 15 weeks, the commonly accepted 15 weeks, since I had now read about a dozen pregnancy and childbirth books and knew how to calculate these things. It was a free flowing dance half way through ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ by Prince, something he had also clearly inherited from me. By 18 weeks others could feel him kick too, these small pointy feet – both left and right – poking out with great force from around my abdomen, much to everyone’s delighted astonishment, a strength he had clearly inherited from his father. By now JoJo was no longer still and also no longer silent, having tapped into some shared wavelength where he could impress upon me his many opinions, something he had also inherited from his father– the privilege of all beautiful men, I suppose.
Sometimes JoJo’s messages – a mix of words and images or often just a feeling which I knew wasn’t my own – were spiritual, lecturing me about the benefits of love and forgiveness, which I assured him that he might find less simplistic once he actually had to deal with other people. Sometimes the messages he sent were very human; he had likes, including dark chocolate peanut butter cups, the color green, and Jacob Black from the Twilight series (though I was Team Edward); and dislikes, including country music and the days when I’d volunteer to teach yoga in the local prison. He didn’t like the energy there, a sentiment of which I approved. And then sometimes his messages just baffled me, like when it turned out he was a fan of Lil’ Kim, a sentiment of which I did not approve (“that’s for when you’re 21 years, not 21 weeks”).
Every few weeks the Viking would reappear, charming and newly single, ready to talk about our future, even if not ready to attend an ultrasound, birthing class, or pay for anything. Still, we would sometimes spend these nights together with his giant hands cradling my rounded stomach and his giant words wrapping around my heart, whispering “I love you” into my belly with a kiss. JoJo would dance with happiness in a way he did for no one else. Not even Lil’ Kim. Then within days – or sometimes even within hours – the Viking would disappear again, back to the girl he had once envisioned having a family and a future with. Each time my heart would break for myself, for my son, and for my foolishness in allowing my deepened feelings, my secret dreams of my own envisioned family and future, to override my good sense.
I was conflicted and confused. His behavior was embarrassing, appalling, yet I somehow remained hopeful, having seen in our most intimate moments – underneath his muscular facades and defenses – glimmering glimpses of his loving, gentle heart, and one of the most creative minds I’ve ever known. But this beautiful soul that both JoJo and I knew was inside of him was not often the person he chose to be. And so I would vacillate between wanting so desperately for our son to have the father he loved while wanting equally for our son to be nothing like him. The world has enough womanizers, enough absent fathers, and enough broken little boys in the bodies of men. I wanted to raise a truly good man; one of integrity, honor, wholeness, a man who left everyone better after knowing him. I didn’t know if that would be possible when the most beloved man in his life continued to model the opposite.
I had read that if you seriously practice meditation while pregnant you can create a ‘Buddha Baby’. While I believed that JoJo’s soul was already enlightened – even with his disdain for Garth Brooks and proclivity for Lil’ Kim – the closer he got to earth and the more human he became the more I worried about the pain he might face ahead, especially around his father’s undecided involvement and unsafe home. I felt responsible for my son’s existence and therefore wanted to spare him any suffering that existence might entail, and so while I had absolutely no desire to meditate ever again, I still prioritized it daily. I would rest my hands on my ever-expanding stomach, at which point my Buddha Baby would begin his own regular practice– possibly the Ashtanga Yoga primary series due to its acrobatic nature. He even mastered a very impressive Chaturanga Dandasana push up which I actually got to see one time during an ultrasound, leaving me worried that based on his genes and yoga moves that he might be destined to be an athlete instead of a poet. Or a president.
Realizing that his future might be different than the one I would have chosen, I promised JoJo that I would love him forever- no matter what- even if it meant I had to watch sports, which was possibly the most significant gesture of love I had ever given to another person.
As the weeks and months progressed, my belly continued to grow along with my feelings for both JoJo and his father. After an especially intense night together, I confessed to the Viking that I loved him. I wouldn’t hear from him again for weeks until he suddenly reappeared at 3AM, saying things had ended permanently with the 22 year old after another fight and another destructive outburst. He said he didn’t love her, wanted to be a father, and wanted us to leave town together immediately. He would go anywhere I wanted to go. It was a dazzlingly tempting offer; a fresh start, an exotic babymoon, a father for my son.
But by now, even my deepened feelings knew better than to trust such proclamations from such a man.
We spoke again in the morning, and for the first time, JoJo didn’t dance when he heard his father’s voice or kick when he felt his father’s big hands pressed against me. Something was shifting inside of us both. As JoJo became still, my instincts became heightened and I gave the Viking an ultimatum. He could choose a life with JoJo, a life of fatherhood, but he would have to promise never to change his mind again and go back to a life of violence. It was his last chance to decide the kind of man he wanted to be.
My meditation practice was focused on learning to accept things without reacting to them and understanding that everything will eventually change on its own. That is the nature of life; things arise and then fall away. But sometimes we must be the one to choose change, or we must create it.
I chose to change what I was willing to accept for myself and more importantly, for my son. And unsurprisingly, the Viking chose to go back to his volatile relationship, which he let me know with a text message, “I never wanted him anyway.”
It made me sick to my stomach, and I was long past morning sickness at this point.
The physical and emotional toll of this constant on and off, intimacy and rejection, the chaos and custodial fears were causing me so much stress and turmoil. And I wasn’t alone, I had now discovered his other pregnancies, his other secret children, and the other mothers that wanted him nowhere near their families. It terrified me and I wanted – more than anything I’d ever wanted – for my son to be safe and so I blocked the Viking on my phone, called a lawyer about a restraining order, and I refused to talk to him again for the rest of my pregnancy.