Em Rusciano: How my budding relationship survived an unexpected pregnancy

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Em Rusciano

I met my husband Scott in late 1999. He was working at the Victorian Institute of Sport where I trained a few days a week. The second I met him I knew he was the one for me. 

One hot November afternoon I waltzed into the gym and heard a husky male voice from the corridor. Images of the Solo Man meets Russell Crowe circa Gladiator meets the greatest fullback of all time, Hawthorn’s Chris Langford, sprang to mind.

Being a single 19-year-old girl with limited sexual experience but desperately wanting more, I hoped against hope that the person who owned that voice had an exterior to match. I was not disappointed.

A ruggedly handsome man greeted me – he had strong, meaty hands and a jaw for days. It took me three seconds to decide that he and I were meant to be.

His name was Scott and he was a keen surfer and baseballer (explains the hands) who could do the splits three different ways. It became my mission in life to make him mine.

This was before social media existed, so I had to engage full-body stalk mode for real. Kids these days are so lazy, they don’t know how hard we had to work to learn the vital information required when you were keen on someone.

There were no Facebook check-ins to monitor your crush’s location; you had to actually get in your car and drive past their house to confirm where they were.

I familiarised myself with his work roster and came in looking immaculate on those days. I’d moisturise, shave and perfume. Full-time matching underwear was implemented – I don’t know why, maybe just in case my clothes fell off during a particularly intense chin-up.

Scott also had a girlfriend, but that was only a minor challenge. My plan was to pretend to care about their relationship and then to become a sympathetic ear when they started having the troubles I’d be encouraging them to have.

They broke up three months after Scott and I met. Did I influence that? Well, the answer isn’t not no …

Despite my best efforts in ridding Scott of his girlfriend and presenting myself as Miss Universe every time I went to the gym, it still took him almost a full year to ask me out, and the way it happened was so ridiculous.

We were in the weights room and Scott was giving my hamstrings a stretch, because of course he was. I was laying flat on my back with one leg in the air and he was kneeling over me pushing my other leg down with his body weight.

Our groins were about as close as you could get with clothes on.

Then he said, “Emy, you have really elastic muscles.” What the actual f…? What does that even mean? Was it a compliment? “I mean they really respond well to static stretching. I keep pushing and they keep giving. You’re quite lucky.”

“Oh, do they? That’s … I mean, yeah, I have always been flexible, that’s never been a problem. I can get both legs over my head better than anyone I know!” I was desperately trying to steer the conversation back to sexy town.

“Being an athlete and naturally flexible is really great,” he continued. Am I just going to have to draw this guy a map?

And then … “So do you want to maybe go and get some food this weekend? With me?” Yessssss! All my efforts had been worth it! I waited a full 2.5 seconds before responding: “Yes, Scott, me and my elastic muscles would love to get some food with you.”

And so we did. We had our first kiss that night and, well, our first shag. Like I said, I knew he was the one for me. Plus we had walked the golden mile in the courtship stakes, one whole year of flirtation – my vagina was essentially Mount Vesuvius, ready to erupt with built-up angst.

The next day, my cousin Jess sent me a fax (it was the late ’90s) with a question mark on it, wanting to know the outcome of the date. I drew a picture of a wedding dress and faxed it back.

Scott and I had been dating for four months and living together for seven days when I found out I was expecting our first child. It was Valentine’s Day, 2000. I know Scott probably thought he was going to get f—ed that night, just not in the way that I did it!

I hadn’t been feeling well for a few weeks but had put it down to moving and over-training – that’s also how I explained the missing periods to myself.

Plus I was on the Pill, so there was no way I could possibly get pregnant! It was my mother who suggested I could be up the spout. Even as I went to buy the test, I didn’t believe it could be a possibility: I was 21, carefree and on the Pill!

Peeing on the stick and seeing those two blue lines appear was terrifying. I sat on the toilet in our one-bedroom apartment and stared at the pregnancy test in absolute shock.

I had genuinely expected it to be negative. I was an elite athlete and in absolutely no state to be having a child. I was still a child myself!

My first instinct was to call Scott, but then I remembered that this wasn’t just a parking fine or a fight with my best friend – this would drastically affect him too and what I needed was a reassuring pep talk, not a panicked boyfriend.

I called my mum. We both agreed it would be best not to tell my Italian Catholic father until I knew exactly what I was going to do myself.

When Scott arrived home from work he was holding a bunch of roses (it was Valentine’s Day, remember), so naturally I burst into tears.

I sat him down and gave him the news. He was in complete and utter shock. He told me he felt we couldn’t keep it, he said he wasn’t ready, that we weren’t ready, that it just couldn’t be.

Still in a daze, I agreed and the next day I went to see my doctor and arrangements were made for the pregnancy to be terminated.

As I walked into the clinic for the procedure I remember feeling like I had left my body altogether – it was as though I was watching myself.

I sat down, was handed a clipboard and told to wait. For some reason, hearing my name called snapped me out of the fog I had been in and I instantly knew I didn’t want to end my pregnancy. It was a moment of pure clarity. I have only had that happen to me two other times: when I met Scott and when I quit my breakfast radio job in Perth. I handed the clipboard back and said, “I don’t want this, I’ve changed my mind, I’m going to leave.”

Thank all the gods that I did, for the result of that decision is one of the most glorious humans to ever walk the earth: my eldest child, Marchella.

On the way home I decided it was probably a good time to make some tough life decisions, you know, since I was in such a strong place mentally, after deciding not to have an abortion but to become a mother at 21.

The first genius thing I came up with was that I should immediately break up with Scott. Why should he have to carry the burden of my choice?

I didn’t want to force a child onto him and I certainly didn’t want him staying with me out of obligation. I had the romantic notion that I would single mother the hell out of this situation.

I planned to grow my hair out into a wild curly mess and wear it in a careless bun, held in place with the pen I’d be using to write my memoirs. I’d dress in corduroy overalls and white linen frocks, sometimes together. I’d have a vegie patch and chickens and drink tea in a rocking chair. Basically, I was going to join the cast of Steel Magnolias as the sassy Italian neighbour with the secret past and fatherless child.

Again I found myself nervously waiting for Scott to get home, to tell him that he was still becoming a father. He walked through the door holding some sorry-you-had-to-have-anabortion flowers and I burst into tears again. In one long, snot-ridden sentence I told him that I didn’t go through with the abortion and that I was planning on doing it all on my own and that he needed to move out and move on.

After five minutes of stunned, tense silence he carefully told me he wasn’t sure what he was going to do and he needed time to process the situation. Then he got some of his things and left.

That broke me. I mean, I didn’t actually think he would leave! I didn’t want to be Steel Magnolias’ Em! I didn’t own any overalls, I drank coffee, not tea, and my hair wasn’t even curly!

I still had one more mountain to climb – breaking the news to my father that his eldest daughter was pregnant to a man he’d only met a handful of times. While he is a non-practising Catholic, guilt and primal laws are still ingrained in his DNA.

Me being preggo to an Aussie dude who wasn’t my husband was going to push him somewhat.

I remember his face looking as though I had physically struck him. He tried to be happy for me but I could tell how deeply upset he was. It wasn’t until he held Marchella for the first time that our relationship began to heal.

So I was 21 and 11 months, still an elite athlete and my only friends were gay men. Pregnancy was going to be a breeze, right? I would glow and skip and become Mother Earth incarnate. Oh God, no.

Edited extract from Try Hard by Em Rusciano (Simon & Schuster, $33), out on Tuesday. Her national comedy tour starts on December 8.

 

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