The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing
Everyone knows love is strange, and loathing perhaps stranger. My abilities to conceive of monsters hardly enter the realm of giving birth to one, of conceiving in a physical sense, despite the phrase, “I’ve created a monster.” When I google the phrase to check my hazy Frankenstein attribution, though, my screen fills with parent-baby onesie sets. As a superstitious believer in all kinds of jinxes, and especially after reading The Fifth Child, I hope no one gifts anyone these—at least not before the baby is born.
Reading doesn’t feel like quite the word for the way Lessing’s short, psychological horror novel bore its way into me over the course of a birthday weekend; but since then I’ve spent considerable time considering synonyms for childbearing. Accouchement, childbed, confinement, labor, lying-in, parturience, propagation, travail, visit from the stork. Okay, there’s “blessed event” and “nativity,” too, but I’m still stuck on the stork.
Not taking well to requirements, I skipped most of the sessions of my college’s “Intro to Human Evolution.” Somehow, though, I doubt they discussed atavism or throwbacks in class. Just across a river from the anthropology museum where the class was held, I saw my own share of medical anomalies on display at the Mütter Museum, but Lessing’s book asks, Why just in a museum?
A friend came to New York from Boston to help me celebrate my birthday, and on a cold night we drank hot toddies and watched Leningrad Cowboys Go America. In the movie, a family of musicians distinguishes themselves by their pointy hair and shoes. Freaks in another context here are family, and in one scene, the band recognizes one of their own working at a gas station, thousands of miles from home, and welcomes their new pointy-headed brother to join the tour.
Celebrating aging sometimes means having the “kids conversation”—one I seem to have at semiregular intervals with friends readying, at various paces, to board the offspring-ark. I see babies and smile and play peekaboo with them, but now I wonder, How do I know they’re not the ones playing peekaboo with me? My sister has three lovely children and is pregnant with her fourth. If she talks about having a fifth, I’m not sure I could resist giving her a copy of this book. Otherwise, please: spare your pregnant loved ones!–Liza St. James