I was lying awake last night, thinking those odd disconnected thoughts that run through your mind when it's way too late and you should have been asleep hours ago, when I found myself missing Johnny. Kind of odd considering I haven't thought of Johnny in years. And even odder because Johnny never actually existed, except in my mind.
Johnny was what we called Julia during my pregnancy. Paul inadvertently came up with the name right after I told him I was expecting -- I mentioned that the fetus was only the size of an apple seed, Paul said "you mean like Johnny Appleseed?" and just like that, our baby had a name. As time went on and Paul got more and more into the idea, he started to get excited about saying "heeere's Johnny" in the delivery room. At the same time, I started to panic about actually ending up with a baby named Johnny, a name I've always hated (it was bad enough I was going to raise this kid in New Jersey... I didn't have to give him a guido name, too). But despite my protests and my numerous suggestions of other nicknames, before long, even I had started to think of the baby I was carrying as Johnny.
We're of the "delivery room surprise" camp and opted not to find out the gender of our baby during prenatal ultrasounds, but we both spent my entire pregnancy referring to the baby I was carrying as "him" or "Johnny." Johnny was a boys' name and this baby was Johnny, so, we reasoned, this baby was a boy. Who needed ultrasound technology to confirm what we already knew? Even when the ultrasound technician slipped and referred to the baby as "her," we shrugged off the suggestion that we might be having a girl (in hindsight, I'm unclear how we could have been quite this daft). There was simply no question in our minds that Johnny was a boy. The irony is, I didn't particularly hope for a boy. Healthy was all that mattered, of course, and we would have been thrilled to bring home a healthy baby boy of our own. But deep down, when I dreamed of a baby, I dreamed of a sweet little girl to call my own. I never gave voice to those dreams. Why bother, when I was sure I was having a boy?
I had the time on my hands in those pre-children days to spend hours thinking about the child I was carrying and to envision what he would be like. I knew his in utero habits so well that I assumed I knew quite a bit about what kind of person he would be -- a non-stop whirlwind of activity and action, if his movements in my belly were any indication of things to come. I pictured a little blonde boy who looked like his father (and quite a bit like Evan, now that I think about it) -- a lovable but exasperating imp who tested limits constantly, the kind of kid other parents don't want to invite to their kids' birthday party. I used to joke that perhaps they could start him on Ritalin prenatally. In hindsight, all of my fears about parenting went into that mental picture of Johnny. It's such a laughable picture now when I look at the dark-haired, low key, cheerfully obedient girl who was actually kicking me for all of those months. But at the time, I was firmly convinced that I knew my baby already, and he was Johnny.
I meant to write Johnny a letter in the days before I delivered, telling him how much I already loved him and capturing the way I pictured him in the moments before reality clouded the memory of my prenatal mental image. I never got to it, of course -- I went into labor a week and a half before my due date and all thoughts of writing sentimental letters to my unborn child went out the window when I felt the first crushing contractions that signaled his imminent arrival. I wish I had written that letter now, if only because of how fun it would be to re-read today. I knew nothing. Not about the realities of parenthood or what laid ahead for me. And certainly not about the child who was about to emerge from my body -- beautiful, sweet, agreeable and nothing whatsoever like the demon boy child I had envisioned her to be.
The moment when I was told that Julia was a girl was one of the most surreal of my life, and Paul agrees of his as well (it actually took him several days after Julia's birth to stop calling her "him," he was so caught off guard). It was as if the mental image I'd carried for 9 months had suddenly vanished and an entirely new child had been handed to us to raise. (I would have this feeling again almost exactly 2 years later when "Jenna" arrived, every inch a boy. You'd think I would have learned my lesson the first time.) I'll never know how I got so lucky, to have borne exactly the child I'd always dreamed of, rather than the one I'd been dreaming up in those panicky last months of pregnancy. But over time, the mental image of Johnny that I carried while I carried Julia inside of me has all but faded away, replaced instead by wonderful memories of raising my daughter.
I don't know what made Johnny return for me last night, though I'm pretty sure it was triggered by an earlier conversation with my friend Kari, who is 7 months pregnant and currently awaiting her own delivery room surprise. Even after watching me display a horrifying lack of mothers' intuition twice now, she still refers to her unborn child as "him" because she's sure she's having a boy. Watching her sit where I sat 3 short years ago must have brought the memories back in full force, because before I knew it last night, there was Johnny, getting into mischief and making me laugh and looming larger than life in my mind. I suddenly remembered all of the ideas I'd had about that little boy and what it would be like to be his mom. In hindsight, knowing what I know now about myself and what kind of mom I've turned out to be, I don't think that we would have been a very good match. Someone knew what they were doing when they gave me Julia, and I thank my lucky stars that she was the baby who I was destined to raise. But even in the light of day today, I've been unable to shake those remembered images of Johnny. I'm glad I'm not his Mommy after all, but I do kind of miss the kid. I hope that whomever he ended up with is doing right by him.