Someone Else’s Baby

Knitting requires only two stitches: the knit, and its reverse, the purl. There are some other useful techniques, but to actually make something, you really only need to know the knit stitch.

I learned to knit the first time when I was ten. All of Mrs. Joseph’s fourth graders had to give a procedural speech. We each had to make something, and then explain the steps involved in making it. . .  a kind of next-level show and tell.

My mom is adept at textile handiwork. She learned to knit from one of her long-ago neighbors, using ordinary string and Pik-Up Stiks. She also sews extremely well. Later, she learned how to weave on a loom, and picked up the ability to tat lace somewhere along the way. Mom can make a piece of clothing, start to finish, closures, embellishments, and all.

For my show and tell, we decided I would knit a washcloth. I could have started with a row of knit stitches, and continued with them, back and forth, in the basic garter stitch, until my washcloth was as long as it was wide. But, in typical Mom fashion, she had me do it in the most complicated manner possible.

I began the washcloth with that a single stitch as the first row. Next, I added on one stitch per row (in knit-speak, this is called “increasing”), until a perfect triangle formed. After that, I decreased by one stitch per row, until I tied off the washcloth at the opposite corner from which I had started. Well, that’s what I would have done, had I finished the washcloth.

I learned to knit again two decades later, when I picked up my needles to make a blanket for my best friend’s first baby. I did not put myself through the torture of corner-to-corner construction, instead opting for the mindlessly soothing repetition of plain garter stitch. Variegated yarn provided the visual interest, in lieu of the effort of a more intricate stitch pattern.

Much like knitting that washcloth, my relationship with my mom has often been unreasonably complicated. She and I have never been especially close. Even though I was raised primarily by Mom, a goodly amount of my personality comes from my dad. I imagine it as a big, sparkly bow, woven in my DNA. They had divorced before my first birthday.

When beginning a new knitting project, it’s recommended to knit a gauge swatch, The purpose of the swatch is so that you know how many stitches per inch you will turn out. The type of yarn chosen, the needle size used, and the amount of tension the knitter places on the yarn as they work all affect the gauge. After a while, this becomes intuitive. For example, I know that with baby yarn, a size 6 (U.S.) needle, and my usual tension, I would make four stitches per inch. That means I would need 144 stitches per row to create the 3’x3′ blanket I wanted. A 3’x3′ blanket is a good size to drape over a baby carrier, or to spread on the floor for tummy time.

I am not a math person. The figures above are as in-depth as I ever get in life. Real-World Math  — balancing a checkbook or doubling a recipe — that’s where I live. My mom, on the other hand, has always been quick with math. She is especially able to do the math required to engineer string into weave, or pile knots upon knots, until they can be worn, as fine as any purchased garment.

Jen is my best friend. I wanted her to have something that I made for her baby, in spite of — or maybe because of — the fact that I’d never gotten to make one for my own baby.

I was pregnant once. I was thrilled, and naïvely told everyone I knew, and even some strangers. I hopped into my car, the positive EPT in my hand, and zipped over to Mom’s work. I knew that she would be excited to tell people that she was going to be a Muzzy.

If you want to get fancy, you can do yarn-overs, creating patterns of decorative holes in your work. If you’re really ambitious, you can knit cabled hats, scarves, or sweaters. Such pieces take countless hours of meticulous work.

I only knew that I was pregnant for ten days before the pregnancy ended. That was how I found out that I would struggle to have children. I was twenty-six.

I’m not a Hardcore Knitter, and I don’t think I ever will be. I’m a knitter, with a lowercase ‘k,’ and that’s all right. Knitting is something I do mostly to occupy my hands and my mind. When you’re not spending your time the way you had always believed you would, you tend to get creative.

Some deep-down part of me always thought that my mom and I, like lots of other parents and adult kids, would become closer when my own kids came on the scene. You know, we would ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over the same moments, and both laugh knowingly at other moments. But that never happened. And we never got closer.

It usually takes me several weeks or months to knit those three by three blankets. Although I don’t tend to get fancy with the stitch pattern, knitting anything sizable still demands careful attention: if you drop a stitch and don’t repair it, the whole thing will unravel from the point of the drop.

Protracted infertility is extravagantly insidious. It leaves no area of your life untouched. Romantic relationships are upended. Friendships are strained. Family bonds are tested. Spiritual beliefs are questioned. Finances are burdened. But most of all, you are steeped in a profound sadness because nobody ever talks about it.

I am steeped in profound sadness.

When I’m done with a blanket, I tie it off. If I’ve made it well, the blanket is, indeed, a three by three square. Using a crochet hook, I finish it off, trimming the edges, and maybe working up a flower appliqué to attach near one corner. Another blanket, in a countless queue of blankets, always for Someone Else’s Baby.

What activity do you like to do or participate in as a way to get your mind off of heavier things?
What do you feel good about doing for others in your life, even if it’s difficult for you?

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