FILLING THE VOID
Passing through the kitchen in the still darkness disoriented from lack of sleep, I trip over a shoe. Careful not to drop the coveted chocolate milk in the pink sippy cup, between muffled curses I remind myself, one day soon I will sleep through the night not to be awakened, for this part is only temporary. One day she will not need or desire the comfort of sippy cups. One day, she will grow up and move forward, and I will long for these days, and nights of interrupted slumber.
In her poem “The Planned Child” Sharon Olds portrays a speaker who relates her disdain and frustration with her parents who planned her conception.
I hated the fact that they had planned me, she had taken
a cardboard out of his shirt from the laundry
as if sliding the backbone up out of his body,
and made a chart of the month and put
her temperature on it, rising and falling
to know the day to make me—I would have
liked to have been conceived in heat,
in haste, by mistake, in love, in sex,
not on cardboard, the little x on the
rising line that did not fall again. (1-10)
The speaker’s thoughts towards her father make him seem spineless and cowardly, as if he had no control or say in the matter of the speaker’s conception. She speaks of her mother, on the other hand, like she is calculating and a control freak. It is clear that the speaker views her mother as the one in-charge in this situation.
It is not until the speaker is enjoying a glass of wine and some conversation with a friend years later that she develops a new appreciation for her planned conception.
But when a friend was pouring wine
and said that I seem to have been a child who had been wanted. (11-12)
She starts to see that her mother was willing to get the job done, so to speak. She was not concerned with mere passion, raw sex, or romance, but with a bigger and much more important picture—her own conception. The speaker reflects
not the moon, the sun, Orion
cartwheeling across the dark, not
the earth, the sea—none of it
was enough, for her, without me. (19-22)
Olds was 54 years old when this poem was published. Both her son and daughter were grown. Since this poem was written later in Sharon Olds’ life and career, perhaps it took holding and loving children of her own, and knowing the yearning and feeling of the void without that last complete puzzle piece to understand fully the nature of the mother’s passion in the poem. The speaker’s mother and I have planned children in common.
My son, Bradley, was unplanned. He was conceived on my honeymoon. My husband and I were in love and unprepared, and certain pregnancy would pass us by just this once, because after all, it had before. While I love Bradley more than life itself, my relationship and bond with him is different than my relationship and bond with my daughter who was not only wanted, but carefully planned.
We tried diligently for two years to get pregnant with our daughter. Finally, I began taking fertility drugs at the same precise time, on the same exact days of my monthly cycle. For three months sex was scheduled, and boring. It was almost like a mundane chore we had to make ourselves push through. My husband was feeling used and neglected because the optimal position, missionary, for conception of a female fetus was far more important than his carnal satisfaction. I did not just want a second child; I wanted a daughter. I knew that I only wanted two children, one boy—the unplanned first child, the honeymoon souvenir—and one girl, the final addition, the final touch to the masterpiece of our family. Orgasms were planned days in advance. I positioned myself with my pelvis above my head for up to an hour after the act. I force fed my husband foods favorable to the conception of a girl; his diet was rich in yellow butter and fish eggs. Not only his menu, but even his meals were planned around times and temperatures, but the ultimate outcome was achieved—we call her Gracie.
My daughter was planned, and I can only hope she sees and feels that the lack of passion in her conception was because she, like the speaker of the poem, was wanted so badly. There was love, but my passion for being a mother to her superseded the passion in the bedroom during that time. Just because it was scheduled did not mean there was no love involved.