Come Aboard, We’re Expecting You: A Love Boat Drinking Game for the Drowning | Jill Logan

33 mins read

Ryan and I had decided we were too old to be parents. We’d just met too late in life for this to happen, and the fiscal reality that we were teachers meant we couldn’t afford fertility treatments. So we cried about it, in the way you do when one of life’s irretrievable pathways dissolves from your map, but we made our decision. 

So then of course I miss a period. I buy a pregnancy test and, with excitement in my heart and piss on my hand, I call Ryan. Anchors aweigh, Acapulco. 

You’ll need:
Libation of choice
All 9 seasons of The Love Boat 

Rule #1. When Isaac makes a drink, everybody drinks. This includes the finger gun + blender magic in the opening credits. Bon voyage!

It had somehow happened. And I could feel it. I was becoming a mother. Already my hair seemed shinier, my lips fuller. Mother Nature was speaking to me. I was one with the universe, ready to give birth in a pool of dolphin urine and eat my own placenta with a compostable spoon. 

Rule #2: Redheads drink when a Happy Days cast member guest stars. (Heads up: Mrs. C marries a beautiful bald Captain Stubing in the last season.)

I buy a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. According to the book, the baby is the size of a poppy seed at this point. I feel it’s a girl. I’m a mother now. I’m intuitive. I’m all-knowing, my hormones communicating with the whales and the redwoods. Stardust, baby, stardust. It’s all coming together. Flowing through me. My instincts are telling me to eat whole grains and take deep breaths and rearrange the living room. Do a sun salutation and brush my teeth four times a day. Sit on the toilet and contemplate my body. Shit with a purpose. 

Keeping with this trail mix approach to baby sizing, we start calling her Poppy.

Rule #3: When a Three’s Company cast member guest stars, roll the dice. Three highest rolls drink. Look for Joyce Dewitt, lots of John Ritter dressed in drag, and the third blonde (Cindy? Mindy? Terri? Airy? I forget which.)

I start blasting baby paraphernalia onto an online Baby Registry. Bobas and Boppies and Bumbo seats and anything else the sidebar spits at me. A diaper gauge? Sure. A nose thermometer? Check. A nipple fairy? Fill my cart, bitches. I sign up for emailed coupons from Huggies. I make a list of local preschools, order prenatal yoga DVDs, make contact on Craigslist about a changing table. I’ll switch out the drawer knobs, maybe add little pewter starfish to go with the nautical theme. Easy for little hands to pull. I envision tiny fingers lacing the arms of the starfish. 

Rule #4: Whenever someone says “the ship’s doctor”, low roll drinks. Cue Bernie Kopell as Dr. Adam Bricker: total letch but somehow seemingly unpredatory in his wire rim glasses and knee socks. (Still, I wouldn’t let him anywhere near my vagina.)

I visit my primary care physician and tell her I think I’m pregnant. I hop on the table and spread em. She’s quiet. Not a talker. That’s fine. She finds blood. But there’s always blood, isn’t there? Spotting? And I know I’m pregnant. She wants to send me for an ultrasound.

I don’t really get what the doctor’s suspecting until I’m standing in the waiting room and overhear the receptionist call the hospital. “The doctor thinks she’s miscarried,” she says into the phone. No might have, no could be. I turn around so the receptionist won’t see me crying. But I also know the doctor is wrong. Again, I feel something. I’m a mother now. I know better.

Rule #5: Everyone drinks in apology for a cancel-worthy creeper. For your examination: “The Kissing Bandit” ep, where Billy Crystal wears a mask and runs around the Lido deck kissing vulnerable women. When Harry met #MeToo.

I drive to the hospital one town over for a trans-vaginal ultrasound, which basically involves medical personnel spelunking in your uterus with a camera, like they’re about to light some sci-fi spectacle. You can hear the ovaries beating, a pulsing thrum like what I imagine to be the sound of Deep Space. I lie there helpless, waiting for the voice of Neil deGrasse Tyson to narrate as lab techs stand around, awaiting discovery. Why don’t we just shove in mini Chewbacca and Han Solo action figures and shoot a scene from The Empire Strikes Back? Force be with me. 

That day is my father’s birthday, and I know he’ll be crying. He’s still mourning the loss of my mother, talking to her picture, toasting her on holidays with his second or third glass of wine. I hate grief, and I don’t want to take it out today. Not now. Not again. I call him but I don’t tell him about the pregnancy or the ultrasound. I can’t. Instead, I wish him happy birthday and he tells me he’s reading Larry McMurtry’s Duane’s Depressed. It’s hilarious, he says. He also tells me my favorite uncle has just had his leg amputated, another victim of Agent Orange.

Rule #6: When someone from the cast of M*A*S*H pops up in the opening credits, everybody drinks. There’s a doozy called “Anoushka” that sees Loretta Swit as the Commissar of a Soviet cruise liner. She’s hot for Dr. Bricker. Drop anchor, comrade.  

We’re waiting on the lab results, and the transvag was inconclusive. It’s a weekend. I have a conference in LA the next day, and that morning I develop a fear of going to the bathroom. I don’t want to see what comes out of me. 

Alone on the plane to LA, I’m talking to the baby. Some in my head, some under my breath. “Come on, Pops,” I say. Partly because I understand her to be there. Partly because I don’t want to be there alone. We’re waiting on tests. Waiting on answers. I keep my right hand on my stomach. It’s not that big, but it’s bigger than it was. I know there’s something there.  

Rule #7: If a castaway from Gilligan’s Island guest stars, the lonely-onlies who roll a 1 drink. If you can procure a coconut to drink out of, cheers. If no coconut cup, rustle up a receptacle of your choice: Tiki-shaped shot glass. Grandma’s teacup. Baby bottle. 

I attend the conference, making it to several panels before I begin to feel the strangeness in my legs, like they’re loaded with sand. I get a phone call while I’m attending a presentation on trauma narratives. In her message the doctor tells me that, yes, I’m pregnant, and that I need to schedule an appointment with the OB-GYN for next week. This is good news! I go to a California Pizza Kitchen to eat. But when I stand back up, I can hardly move my legs. And why? What is it I’m carrying? Will it all suddenly become unbearably heavy? Or worse, unbearably light? 

I want only to get back to my overpriced boutique hotel, five city blocks away. Along the sidewalk I fall twice. It’s ugly. A cockroach the size of a McNugget scuttles along the wall faster than I can move. But I’m focused on the idea that I was right—that I was still pregnant. That it wasn’t a miscarriage. 

In the overpriced boutique hotel room, I collapse onto the bed. I try to stream Love Boat, but the WiFi is down, so I watch The Yearling on the overpriced boutique TV. I give up on the conference and fall asleep, dreaming that the sky turns black and I’m with my sister on an island and North Korea attacks. The next morning, I hover above the overpriced boutique toilet like it’s a funeral for a fish. The basin is full of what look like tiny red and pink ocean organisms. 

What is it I’m looking at? God’s miracle? My little bundle of sweetness? Because whatever it is, it’s dripping into the toilet in clots. 

On the way to the airport the Uber driver asks me if I’m okay. “I’m fine,” I lie.

Rule #8: Drink when an Academy Award winner guest stars. And the nominees are: Kathy Bates, Tim Robbins, Olivia de Havilland, Ernest Borgnine. The award of course goes to Tom Hanks, for playing against type before he had a type, as Gopher’s asshole frat brother in Season 4.

At LAX, I sit and stare at a café sign that says IT’S OKAY. 

When I get home Ryan and I spend the day on the couch in stale pajamas. He rubs my legs while we watch The Love Boat. There’s one where Sandy Duncan (or Sandy Dennis? I forget which.) has tragically lost her eight-year-old son, and a pregnant woman on the ship delivers. And love won’t hurt anymore, it’s an open smile on a friendly shore. To make ourselves laugh, we start making up rules for a drinking game.

I try not to picture the baby with a little nautical steering wheel framing her face. POPPY in a stenciled font beneath it. 

Rule #9: When Captain Stubing invites someone to the Captain’s table (practically every episode), the first player to notice invites another player to drink.

I go to the OB-GYN. Again they draw blood to measure my HCG levels. I keep forgetting what HCG stands for. Here Comes the Gyno? Honey, Calm the Genitals? Hug your Cankles, Girlfriend?

This time the doctor tells me it’s an ectopic pregnancy. It sounds like off-topic. She seems to have a hard time explaining it, but she’s clear on warning me to be prepared to call 911. I should be asking more questions, but I’m dizzy. Dumbfounded. Lost at sea. Somewhere in the midst of all of this, I’m coming to understand that there will be no baby. 

It’s only once the doctor has left the room that I walk over and look at the computer screen. It says UNLOCATED ECTOPIC. So where the fuck is it? Somewhere lost up in me, just floating around, looking for home? Should I start shouting Marco and wait for the Polo? 

At home I Google unlocated ectopic pregnancy. Turns out it’s the most common cause of maternal death in the first trimester. It (whatever “it” is) can grow on your fallopian tube, an ovary, the cervix, anywhere in the abdominal cavity. I scroll through pictures of little embryos that look like baby hamsters, but then I see they’re attached to tubes and organs. There’s one on an ovary, just stuck there. Waiting. But for what?

At my appointment the doctor had said they’d give me Methotrexate, a chemotherapy drug that stops the cells from dividing. I look it up. The Catholic Church is against the use of it, and I’m sure they decided this policy when all those priests got together and talked about their own experiences with ectopics, when Father Fondle’s HCG levels were through the Sistine roof.

The doctor does another trans-vag. The old Go-Pro up the VJ again. My HCG numbers are still climbing. 111 then 185 then 300 then 600 then I quit keeping track. I’m drowning in a sea of Human Chorionic Gonadotropin. Not enough for a full baby but maybe enough to kill me at some point.

I try to wrap my head around the idea that something is growing inside me, but it’s not a baby. It’s the stuff for a baby. A tumor, I guess. I think about those tumors with hair and teeth in them, the pieces of a person not making a person.

Back in the doctor’s reception area I’m waiting for another ultrasound. On a TV in the corner, some survivalist crawls around in the woods. He’s talking about how to make a tourniquet out of spider webs. Fuck you, survival man. What do you have for ectopic pregnancies? I’ve been bleeding for three weeks straight. Put that in your debris hut and piss on it. 

When it’s my turn, the physician’s assistant says, “Oh! You’re here for…oh, right…” They forget you when you’re not one of the full ones. Another ultrasound. Then again with the vag-cam: a unicorn horn shoving its magic up inside you. 

By this point I’m becoming an awful version of myself. Jaded. Crass. I get fuck-your-baby syndrome: seeing mothers—too thin, too fat, too near—pushing their strollers down sunlit sidewalks and judging them. I judge their Big Gulps and rock concert t-shirts. I judge their babies wearing those headbands with enormous fake flowers growing out of them like fungi. I don’t want to see other people’s babies on social media. Or anywhere. Is this a nice way to be? No, it’s not. But I can’t help these emotions growing inside me, either. 

A few days later I’m back at the doctor’s office. A twentyish woman and her husband sit in the waiting room with me. He looks much older than her, late fifties maybe. He knows the date of her last period, which makes me want to gag. Yes, I judge them, too.

Rule #10: Everyone drinks in apology when a situation is wildly offensive. (The possibilities on this one are endless.) For a gross example, check out the “El Kid” episode, which sees Robert Urich and his wife wanting to adopt a baby, but ending up with Pepito, a teenager from the streets of Mexico whom they take as their own and white-Americanize with the name “Robin”. There’s also the classic “Japan Cruise” episode, where Stubing falls for a white woman who has dressed up as a geisha to land him—uncomfortable to watch on so many levels, I can’t even. 

The physician’s assistant ushers me to an exam room and offers me a pregnancy pamphlet: You and your baby—the first year. I want to spank her forehead with it. “Thank you,” I say.

“We don’t know what’s going on,” the doctor tells me. The numbers should be going down, but instead they’re going up. “We’ll give you another shot,” she says.

So, something’s growing somewhere. It must be the anger. The unformed grief.

Rule #11: Everybody drinks with legs crossed when a man’s shorts are so tight you can see the outline of his sperm melons. The main cast members are usually the worst offenders, leaving no doubt as to which side the Captain drops anchor on.

I’m not sleeping.

I just can’t seem to get over it. I want to move on. I’m ready to move on. I don’t want to be angry. I don’t want to avoid buying lightbulbs because it would mean passing the baby section at Target. I don’t want to miss out on visiting friends because they have a baby and it hurts to see their happiness. I search website after website, blog after blog, sitting in the dark alone with only the lamp of my computer screen because I won’t buy a lightbulb. 

Rule #12: Everybody does a shot with chaser for child/parent pairings. You can go real-life (Janet Leigh/Jamie Lee Curtis) or on-screen with this one. Definitely one of the most touching episodes is “Never Say Goodbye,” when little Vicki leaves her home in Mexico to be with her father, Captain Stubing. From that point on she’s a permanent cast member and presumably never has to go to school again in her unlocated, maritime law-governed existence. 

The ectopic forums are a strange comfort. They’re virtual graveyards in emojis and acronyms, where women sign their posts with little auto signatures about the babies they’ve lost. Ectopics. Miscarriages. Stillbirths. Usually with dates. Welcome to Disneyland. I use the name PacificPrincess, but I’m never able to bring myself to post anything. 

I feel sure all these women would have made good mothers. Home schooled to show their devotion and attachment. Put on thirty pounds with the utmost self-sacrifice. Freely given of their flesh and freedom for this new life. 

Rule #13: Everybody drinks if someone from The Brady Bunch features in the episode. Warning: Flo Henderson was on 9 times. Also look for Marcia, Peter, Jan, Alice. There’s even one with Mr. and Mrs. Brady on the same episode. It’s enough to make your bell bottoms flare. 

I’m so angry I want to kick someone. Want to kick the headlights out of a car. Want a western bar fight. 

I get an emailed coupon from Huggies. One dollar off.

A day after the second Methotrexate shot, it begins. A pain in my abdomen that gets so bad I can’t move. It shoots down from my stomach. My hands go numb. Ryan calls 911. Within ten minutes firefighters are standing in my bedroom while I talk about my lady parts. They look quite helpless. There was no video game to train them for this.

“Where does it hurt?” the paramedic asks.

Optional Rule: Remove an article of clothing and drink when there’s a cross-dressing episode. John Ritter (see Rule #3) kicks this off in Season 1, but there’s lots to choose from after that. 

Can I say butthole to answer his question? It seems rude. But for some reason I can’t say rectum out loud either. You want to know where it hurts? Up my ass is where it hurts. I want to tell him to picture the end of Braveheart where William Wallace gets disemboweled by the British. Yes, this feels like that. But I end up just gesturing to my backside.

They load me into the ambulance, where the driver looks like he’s fresh off some ab-ripped, glossy-lipped Aaron Spelling production. Once the doors close, Mr. Melrose Place shouts “Puttin’ it in Vitamin D!” and peels out. It hurts to laugh. But I laugh anyway.

At the hospital a surly radiologist who seems upset to be dragged in to vag-cam me at 3:00 in the morning, says, “If they get me down here for something in the middle of the night, I know it’s pretty bad.” (Tell me she’s not the cruise director.)

They find nothing but keep me overnight. Later I read a post in the ectopic forum from a woman who describes the same thing happening to her. She writes that it was worse than childbirth without an epidural. I read it to Ryan. See? I say. See what she said? I just want someone else to understand and validate that pain. I just want something to be visible.

A few days later I’m again sitting in the OB-GYN’s office with a magazine. Across from me sits a little girl who has just gotten her room redecorated. Her name is Poppy. Fuck you, universe. Fuck you.

Rule #14: If a child star appears in the episode, youngest player drinks. The one with Scott Baio and Christy McNicol is a classic. There’s also an episode with Tori Spelling. You decide if she counts. 

My HCG numbers have finally gone down. At this point I’ve visited doctor, hospital, midwife, doctor, doctor, hospital. Blood tests: 9. Ultrasounds: 4. Trips to ER: 1. Rides in ambulance: 1. Babies: 0.

The ectopic will be forever unlocated, and I’ll never know exactly what happened. The earlier pains and heaviness were likely blood on my pelvic floor. The ambulance trip pains likely side effects of the double-dose of Methotrexate. My hormone levels are finally down to 0. I have a cyst on my ovary, but I’ll worry about that later.

One of Ryan’s high school students asks him, “Is Jill pregnant?”

“Not anymore,” he tells her. 

There’s a Love Boat episode where Daisy Duke (Catherine Bach) meets either Face from the A-Team or one of the Simons from Simon and Simon (I forget which). She’s lost her dog (on dry land, mind you) and Face (or Simon) has a pooch that looks just like it. Daisy is convinced the dog is hers. The situation is ridiculous, and I can’t even remember how it turns out. But I do remember she says, “Losing a dog is like losing a child”. There, poised in her sienna tan and painted-ons, with the tropical breeze teasing her hot-rolled hair, her scripted words for this ludicrous episode prompt for me this philosophical and existential question: can we mourn the loss of a child if that child is not a child? 

The most therapeutic conversation I’ve had about the whole thing comes from my college composition students. I finally tell them about what’s been going on, explaining what ectopic means.  

“Oh, it’s like in Alien!” one of them says. “Like, it could just burst out of you.”

It makes me smile.

Then one says, “Sounds like off-topic. But don’t give up. Keep trying. My mom had four miscarriages before she had me.”

The first season of The Love Boat premiered in 1977. That March had seen a hostage takeover in D.C. Riots were boiling in Chicago. The Son of Sam terrorized New York. Elvis died. People were tuning in for Star Wars on the big screen and a cartoon version of The Hobbit on TV. Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville” was released. Everyone wanted to escape.

Thing is, Ryan and I never even played the drinking game. Just the thought of it made us feel better. I suppose it made us feel productive, while we laid there in grief and sadness and pilled pajamas, making up the rules to this slapstick silly show where someone always laughs and love always wins. It felt like something to do when there was nothing you could do but wait. But ask questions. But suffer.

We don’t want to read about tragedy. We want diversion, illusion, cheeseburgers in paradise. Let’s just swim for that sunbaked shore, through the thick waves of pain and complication, navigating the tragic and heartbreaking flotsam of real life.

So, I’ve shared my sad story in the most escapist way I know how. After all, that’s how we deal with shit, isn’t it? 

And here’s the thing with this last bit: I’ve gone back and forth about whether to include it here. Why? Because this began as an essay about loss and suffering and escapism, and the writer in me, who sees writing as a way of organizing the chaos of life, says I should stick to that. But somewhere out on the open ocean, it also became an essay about hope. That’s what I was looking for in all of this. I suppose it’s what we’re all looking for. 

So, I tell you this so that it may give you some hope, too. Hope for what? That’s up to you. But here’s the truth of it. About a year after the ectopic, it happened. My son was born. Healthy and happy. From the size of a poppy seed to eight blossoming pounds. 

And for the first year he was balder than a sperm melon. We still call him Captain Stubing.

Jill Logan is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and former Steinbeck Fellow. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Crazyhorse, Meridian, Bellingham Review, Quarterly West, Michigan Quarterly Review, Cimarron Review, Greensboro Review, Columbia Review, Notre Dame Review, Zyzzyva and elsewhere. She’s also had nonfiction listed as a Notable Selection in The Best American Nonrequired Reading.