Chapter 37 - Epilogue
"She's just so…beautiful."
I run the back of my fingers over the soft cheek and hug the little girl closer. Edward smiles as I take a deep sniff of her hair.
"What? She's got that new baby smell," I grumble playfully. "Leave me alone."
He does the opposite and takes a step closer. "You've had her long enough. Hand her over, woman."
I sigh as I carefully place the swaddled bundle in his waiting arms. My own feel empty now. At least I get the pleasure of watching a grown man turn into a puddle of goo when Julia opens her tiny mouth in a yawn.
"So, Momma, how're you holding up?"
Jessica shifts gingerly in the hospital bed before answering my question. "Well, I'm feeling better than I was yesterday at this time," she replies with a pained grin. "Transitional labor really, really sucks."
I nod at her comment, even though I have no firsthand experience of the phenomenon. I wonder if I ever will. Jessica studies my face as if she knows what I'm thinking.
"So, what about you and Edward?" she asks in a lowered voice. "Any plans to make your own brood of little Cullens?"
I glance at my husband, who's talking with Sandra, the proud grandmother, as Julia sleeps in his arms.
"We've discussed it," I murmur. "I'm still on the fence though. You know why."
"Oh, right. Because you're 'damaged.'" Jessica's eyes flash with ire. "Well, I guess that means I am, too. You think I was wrong to keep Julia?"
"No! Of course not," I protest. "Besides, your situation is different. If I tried to have children, I'd be intentionally dooming them to a life of mental torture."
"Oh, I see. Julia's okay with you because she was an accident. But if I'd made a conscious decision to have kids, then I'd be a sadistic monster?"
"I…no, that's not what I…come on, Jess, you know I'm not saying that."
But when she pins me down with a pointed stare, I admit to myself I'd been thinking exactly that about my own situation.
As I told Jessica, Edward and I have talked about starting a family. He doesn't hide the fact that he dearly wants children, but he's understanding enough not to pressure me. He knew before we got married last year that I was undecided about the subject. He'll accept my choice not to have biological children without complaint.
But for me, it's not a matter of if I want to get pregnant—I do, very much. I truly want to have the unique experience of carrying and raising a child. No, the question is whether I should. I can list numerous arguments against the decision. On the other hand, the only reason for bringing a new person into the world—one who might be affected with the same soul-sucking depression as mine—is pure selfish desire.
"When you think about it, that's true of anyone who wants children," Edward had countered. "Unlike in the days of Shakespeare, the world does not need to be peopled." He'd also pointed out that all parents risk passing on undesirable genes and that even two perfectly "normal" people could produce a serial killer.
This doesn't make me feel better.
"It's not strange to feel that way, you know," Jessica says, bringing my attention back on her. "I'm pretty sure it's in the job description of a parent to worry about anything and everything when it comes to their kids. People with genetically-linked disorders have their own set of concerns. But you and me—we also have an advantage that our parents didn't. We know about our conditions and have a lot of experience coping with them. We can recognize the signs and will be able to help our kids from the beginning. Their symptoms might not be as bad because of it. And of course, it might not ever become an issue at all." She smiles at her sleeping newborn. "You never know."
Edward and I spend a little more time cooing over Julia and chatting with the two adults before we head back to our hotel room. It's on the early side to turn in for the night, so we sit in bed and surf through TV channels. Neither of us finds anything interesting, so Edward pulls up the Wall Street Journal on his laptop while I respond to a few emails on mine.
"Any last-minute pleas for an extension?" he asks, skimming through an article on his screen.
I snort in a rather unattractive way. "There'd better not be. I've given those kids more than enough time to finish up their projects," I say of my Advanced Algorithms students. "The only excuse I'll accept is death or dismemberment."
"Well, alrighty then," Edward laughs, giving me a little jiggle via our entwined legs. "It's a good thing I remembered to take out the trash before we left—I wouldn't want to be on your bad side."
He returns his attention to his laptop, and I attempt to focus on my own task. However, I find myself staring absently at my inbox as my mind wanders back to the conversation I had with Jessica.
I've come such a long way since those days at CED, and for the most part, I've made peace with who I am. But thinking about having children dredges up the remaining sediment of my insecurity and brings it to the surface. It's such a monumental decision, and I'm terrified of making a mistake.
"You're obsessing again, aren't you?"
The look I give Edward in response is a cross between sheepish grin and pained scowl. He sets his laptop on the bedside table and turns his body to face me.
"I know, I know. It's like asking the sun not to shine," he says lightly, taking one of my hands in his. "Is there any way I can help?"
"Um, tell me what to do?"
I'm joking, of course…for the most part.
Edward hears the desperation in my voice. He moves my laptop aside and lays us both down on the bed.
"Well, given that you know I support you no matter what, let's pretend for a moment. It's tomorrow morning, and we're about to visit Jess one last time before flying home. But—oh no!—you suddenly feel nauseated and run to the bathroom. Then it occurs to that your period is late. I rush out to get a test, and three minutes after peeing on the stick: surprise! We're having a baby. What's your first reaction?"
I literally have to force the corners of my lips down from the goofy smile they're forming. I can see in my head the scenario that Edward described, and I'm filled with both happiness and longing.
He doesn't wait for me to speak. "That's what I figured," he says, hiding his own grin. "Okay, shelve that thought for a minute. Now we're at a fertility clinic. We've been trying for months without success. The doc walks in, claps me on the back, and says, 'Sorry, buddy, you're shooting blanks.' How do you feel?"
My jaw drops. "Are you kidding me?"
"What—does that not work for you?" He shrugs. "Fine, the doc walks in, claps you on the back, and says, 'sorry, lady, you're as barren as the Sahara Desert. No babies for—'"
"Edward! Really, I get the picture!" I huff. I have half a notion to throw a pillow at him, but he looks so damned adorable with those green eyes full of mischief. I level a glare at him, instead.
He's not at all deterred. "And?" he presses me. "How do you imagine you'd feel?"
I don't have to imagine anything. As soon as the shock factor wears off, a heavy tide of loss tries to pull me under. I'm mourning something I never had.
"Whoa, whoa, it's okay, sweetheart. I'm sorry…c'mere."
I hadn't even realized I was crying. Edward wraps his arms around me and holds me close while I sniffle into his shirt.
"I didn't mean to make you upset," he murmurs. "I just thought that if you put yourself in each situation and considered your gut reactions, you might—"
"Let's do it," I say, pulling back suddenly and looking him in the eyes. "Let's try for a baby."
"Really? Like, right now?" He wiggles his eyebrows suggestively.
I don't hesitate in whipping off my top as I flash him a grin. "Sure. I mean, it'll just be practice since I'm not due for another shot until…"
My words trail away as I concentrate on the math. Meanwhile, Edward gapes at me with incredulity.
"Are you sure…like really sure? You know I'm all for it, but you did just walk out of a maternity ward. All those raging hormones…the term 'baby fever' had to come from somewhere. I'm fairly certain the condition is contagious."
I'm not paying attention to what he's saying. I'm too busy trying to contain a mounting excitement over a possibility that would negate any further hypothetical discussion.
"When did you say you were due for another shot?" he continues. "Maybe we should wait a month or two before trying so that the idea can stew for a bit. You know, really get used to the thought of being parents. Of course, I'm always down for some practicing. No, actually, I'm up for it." He reaches for the hem of his shirt in eager anticipation.
"Stop trying to take your clothes off," I say, staring at the ceiling in a daze.
"Oh…uh, did you change your mind?"
I sit up in bed and pull him with me. My mouth stretches into a careful smile.
"Now listen, don't your hopes up too much, okay? This is highly unlikely, but…I think we need to take a trip to the drugstore."
April 27, 2019
Dearest little Emily,
It's hard for me to believe that you'll be a year old tomorrow. It seems like it wasn't long ago that you were still moving around inside me, but at the same time, I feel that I've known you forever. I can't imagine my life without you.
It's been quite the busy year for both of us, hasn't it? You went from being a quiet little newborn in the hospital to an always active, extremely enthusiastic, and very vocal toddler who loves to climb on everything and race around the house as fast as you can. Yet I've never met anyone as loving—you can even get your grumpy Aunt Rosalie to smile and laugh.
I see in you so much of both me and your daddy. My dark brown hair, his sea green eyes, my nose, his impish grin. I have no idea where your limitless energy came from, though. Maybe Nana Renee or whatever genes Uncle Emmett got.
Like me, you can be overly sensitive at times, which is why I'm so glad I decided to cut back my teaching to just one online class a semester. I'm sure you would've gotten used to daycare, but I'm much happier being home with you. Plus, I can watch your cousins again, something that everyone's happy about. Well, Isaac's not thrilled when you try to make his Lego starships fly by launching them across the room, but he really does need to stop leaving them all over the place. Sometimes I feel like throwing them, too, especially when I step on the single pieces. Those things are safety hazards.
It's amazing how much I've changed since finding out about you. The moment my pregnancy was confirmed, the world looked different. It was no longer just about me. I was responsible for another life, a helpless one, and in order to make sure you were healthy, I had to be as well.
Making the decision to stop my medication during those eight months wasn't difficult, but adjusting to the loss of their assistance was. Thankfully, I'd built up a foundation of non-medicinal coping mechanisms and had plenty of love and support to get me through it. Your daddy was—as he is and always has been—my greatest source of strength. I can't count the number of ways he's been there for me. He listens patiently to my fears, holds me close when I need comfort, and brings me chocolate when I need, well, chocolate. I'm sure you know how wonderful he is, as he does the same things for you…especially the chocolate part. I wonder if that's why you're always so energetic…
Nana Renee, Grandma Esme, Aunt Alice and Uncle Jasper, Uncle Emmett and even Aunt Rosalie—they all gave me encouragement in spades. You might find this hard to believe now, but Aunt Rose didn't like your mommy once upon a time. She slowly warmed up to me when your daddy and I got married, and once she found out I was having you, she realized it was time to move beyond events of the past.
See? Even before you were born, you were making the world a better place.
No one knows what the future holds, of course, but I'm certain about a few things. Our family will have a lot of good times, as well as some that are difficult, some sad. There will be challenges to overcome and successes to celebrate. I hope that you don't face any of the problems with depression or eating disorders like I did, but if you do, your family will always be there for you. I will always be there for you. I'm proof that one can fight back against these lifelong disorders. It's not an easy burden to carry, but it can be done.
And truthfully, my struggles have given me a depth of character that I might not have had otherwise. I know myself well—who I am, my weaknesses, my many strengths. I think I'm a better person and a better mother because of it.
But in the end, that's not the most important thing. You and your daddy are in my life now, and I've never felt more fortunate. If changing a single aspect of my past meant not having you, I wouldn't do it. In fact, I'd go through every moment of pain and uncertainty all over again to make sure that tomorrow I can celebrate your first birthday with you and all the loved ones in our lives.
I don't know if there's some master plan for all of us—if the anguish I experienced was necessary so that I could have all this, so that I could appreciate these moments for the precious gifts that they are.
I'm not sure, but if so, it was all worth it.
Because after years and years, I'm finally happy.
I've finally found peace.
First of all, THANK YOU SO MUCH to Mina Rivera for the PERFECT banner. It captured the very essence of this fic.
As you can probably imagine, this was a difficult one for me to write, for many reasons. I can't properly say how much I cherish the amazing feedback I've gotten over the course of this story. From those who unfortunately can identify with the subject matter to those who have a new understanding of the hell that is depression and eating disorders, all your comments meant a lot to me, and I appreciate each one.
Thanks from the bottom of my heart,