A woman reflects on the small, seemingly insignificant decision that changed her life forever in this thoughtful memoir by Life Lessons Essay Contest second-prize winner Anne Gudger.

Photo by Tim Laman/Getty Images

I sleep the sleep of pregnant women. Do-not-disturb, come-back-later, I’m-growing-a-baby sleep. I’m tired past muscles and tendons and organs. Tired to the bone.

Incessant knocking at my front door wakes me, but still in a dream, I think it’s Kent. He has a key, so I yank the covers up under my chin, curl as small as I can against my bulging belly, and start to slip back to sleep. He’ll let himself in.

But the knocking doesn’t stop.

Digital numbers on the clock radio glow: 1 a.m.

The knocker rings the doorbell, too.

Distressed at being woken late at night, groggy and disoriented, I finally haul my round self out of bed and yank on gray sweat bottoms and my favorite faded red St. Mary’s College sweatshirt. I flick on the hall light and half-stumble down carpeted stairs.

“Coming!” I yell to the knocker on the other side of the metal front door that rings hollow with each fist pound. “Sheesh.”

Teetering on tiptoe, I spy out the fish-eye peephole, my lunar belly squished against the door.

A man dressed all in black—black shoes, black slacks, black coat, everything black except a rectangle of white on his collar—stamps his feet against the cold. With the porch light on and snow falling behind him, he has this faint glow.

My stomach acid rises. I gulp hard, fighting the urge to throw up. I feel like I’ve swallowed a boulder.

I don’t want to open the door. Somehow I think if I don’t let the white-collared stranger in, he can’t tell me what my gut already knows.

I gulp. Twice. I smooth the front of my sweatshirt, pulling down the hem to be sure my stomach is covered before I inch the door open. In that beat of time between eyeing the chaplain and forcing myself to let him in, my life changes. The sweetness of my last time with Kent, just a few hours ago, slips away. Already it wasn’t mine.

Kent came to my six-month baby checkup, watched me get weighed and measured and lectured about gaining too much weight. “You’ll slow down on the fries?” Dr. Pettygrove asked, and I nodded yes, sure, uh-huh, while planning my next fry stop at Wendy’s.

Swish, swish went the baby’s heartbeat. Kent smiled so big, all of his crooked front teeth showed, and his aquamarine blue eyes looked even more aqua, more marine. “It’s incredible,” he half-sighed in wonder. My science-minded husband was all mush: “I love this baby. I can’t wait to meet him.”