Damp dark clouds shroud the full moon, a turtle egg in the Costa Rican sky. I rub one-hundred percent DEET and Aloe Vera on my mosquito-bitten-pura-vida-soaked skin. Tonight, my husband and I, along with our tour group, will try to see a rarity—a sea turtle come ashore to nest.
Thunder rolls in the distance as we trek through the jungle in silence with four others. No artificial lights are allowed: no flashlights, no phones. Following the reflections of hazy stars in puddles, I drift alone with my thoughts and realize I’m not just going to see a sea turtle for the first time, but to watch life being born.
For years I have postponed motherhood, afraid that in the birth of my child, a part of me would die, but lately my high adventure life has felt incomplete and static. Is it possible to divide yourself into new life and retain part of yourself? I know nothing about diapers or lullabies. I have never been attached to others’ babies; will I be able to love my own? Can I be a mom if I never dressed dolls? If I hid when my cousins played House? I believe in families: wet willies, bottle rocket wars, bedtime stories, and burned cookies of improvised recipes. I’ve always envisioned being a mother but imagined it would happen when I became baby hungry or on accident.
I never planned on planning to get pregnant. Women don’t do that in my family. My mom and grandma live their lives subject to someone else’s dreams. Dad often told me that women in our family get pregnant just by thinking about babies, so not only have I been on quality birth control, but I’ve also been careful of my thoughts. After graduating, I traveled abroad and rebelled by earning a degree in the humanities. Now, here I am, tramping through the jungle at night, stomping stagnated puddles and paradigms.
My husband comes from a small, loving family. He hasn’t pressured me, but I know that he’s seen the What to Expect When You’re Expecting book I keep hidden under the bed. He’s made comments about having a little fishing buddy, someone to rough house with and take on horse rides. He tells me that we will know when the time is right, but how?
Like the heavy ionized air around me, my body feels electrified by an intriguing terror. As I look for stars through the canopy, I wonder what it feels like to grow toes to tickle, ears to whisper stories to. What is it like to have two pulses? The worst pain I’ve experienced is running hilly half-marathons and carrying fifty-pound packs up mountains while fighting wildfire. How will labor compare? I’ve read that motherhood changes the physiology of the brain—what impact will that have on my routine, on my dreams? Though I am afraid of losing who I am, like a seed in quiescence, I also feel like a part of me is dying to be born.
At the edge of the jungle, our guide whispers for us to sit still. Conjured by the occulting moon and flood of oxygen at sea level, I have been caught in a liminal space. A space between spaces. The biologist tells us that turtles don’t reach maturity until around age 30 and can live to be 110. Before a sea turtle comes ashore to lay her eggs, she feels the sand with her fins for favorable conditions. She needs a beach with just the right slope, grit composition, and temperature. She needs to find a place above high tide, cloaked in darkness. The others in the group exchange excited whispers and slap mosquitoes.
Like a turtle, I lie chest down on the sand, hugging Mother Earth. I can feel the rhythm of leaf-cutter ants, rain dribbling, and redolent waves of jungle detritus decaying. For months I’ve been questioning, palpating the sands of my life to see if the conditions are right: married, degree, solid job. I’ve roasted marshmallows on a volcano, gotten scuba certified, broken my personal running records again and then again. I’ve done the math—to have a baby in May, I would have to get pregnant in August. It is June. I study my stomach and wonder if in a year I too will be getting ready to bring life into the world.
A spotter relays to the guide that a turtle is busy digging. We follow silently. Lightning strikes the ocean. A light drizzle falls as the full moon tries to pierce the clouds. I feel small staring out into the void of black volcanic sand. We are shown a fresh set of jaguar tracks. I wonder what it would be like to give birth in such a place.
Suddenly, we see a dark mound and gather around. The turtle has dug a chamber within a hole and is laying egg after egg. We gather less than eight inches away as a four-foot green sea turtle labors. Her tessellated carapace is covered in sand.
Turtles, we are told, travel sometimes thousands of miles to where they hatched. I wonder if these are the same sands her great-grandmother crawled out of.
What kind of homing sands will I create that will call to my children from thousands of miles when they are grown? I’d like the cinnamon-infused walls from my mother bottling apple pie filling, the joy of staying up past my bedtime to do jigsaw puzzles with Grandma, and the smell of sagebrush after a storm. The crackle of campfires, marshmallow mustaches, snowball fights in hot springs, and Norwegian Christmas pudding are some of the memories I’d like to craft into their senses.
My husband pulls me close as the guide motions for us to step back. We gather further up the beach as the turtle buries and camouflages her nest then slips back into the ocean. My heart beats as she disappears into the moonlight. Like her, I am eager to experience the adventures that wait for me on my horizon and the potential person I have yet to become.
Another turtle waits in the surf, feeling the sands.
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: National Marine Sanctuary/Flickr Creative Commons