The librarian was nondescript in the way that everyone standing behind a counter is, probably in her 30s, with straight, fox-colored hair. When she took my stack of books, I noticed the way her sweater draped over a conspicuous melon-shaped belly, and I felt a tug in my chest and warmth rise in my stomach. It took a moment to recognize this sensation as envy. Then came another feeling: shock. I had never been jealous of any woman for carrying what looked like an uncomfortable load, or for what would come next: the messy, exhausting job of mothering an infant. Something unfamiliar had come over me.
In my late 20s and early 30s, I was terrified of becoming the sort of woman who was “baby crazy,” afraid motherhood would circumscribe my life. I politely admired but didn’t gush over my friends’ new babies. Compared with many women, I was under little pressure to procreate; neither my nor my husband’s parents had ever expressed more than a tentative longing for grandchildren. But six years ago, when I first held my 2-month-old niece, wrapped in a flower-print onesie and murmuring delicious baby noises, I felt a rush of joy, an indescribable feeling of human closeness.