The nurse from my OB/GYN’s office is always upbeat and seems wholly invested in my quest for motherhood. My husband and I have been undergoing the flood of invasions and procedures associated with infertility, including an artificial insemination, which—as I understand it—involves spinning and isolating the good ones and injecting them into my ready space.
The nurse calls to tell me levels from a recent hormone test are sky high!
“What does that mean?” I ask, and she says, “We’ll confirm it by blood test when you come in, but you’re very likely pregnant. Congratulations!”
It happens that my in-laws are visiting from out of state, but experience has taught me to keep presumptions of pregnancy under wraps. I’ve gone through nearly the whole box of First Response pregnancy tests stored in the cabinet under my bathroom sink and hidden my prematurely purchased copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
So my mother-in-law and a friend join me on a shopping excursion to a distant outlet center, where I begin to viciously cramp and soon realize I must go home. Driving down the 15 in my in-laws’ rented car, I notice the stark expanse of combustible weeds and drifts of trash framing the road. I know what’s happening, but there’s nothing I can do to save me or the seat.
In my driveway I stand up and shield my bottom from view, backing toward the garage, gulping through explanations and apologies about the lurid red stain on the front seat of the rental car.
I used to walk three times a week with a neighbor in the moist cocoon of the Tualatin Hills Nature Park in Beaverton, Oregon. The exercise was to shed our tensions—mine from the pressures of job seeking in a spiraling market, hers from managing a department at a major bank. One afternoon it was a trudging walk because she had suffered an ectopic pregnancy a few weeks prior and was devastated, inconsolable. She seethed about the women she saw on the news: grimy-haired in sweatpants with children they “didn’t deserve.” Her words sliced through the stillness. She’d done “everything right” in her life, she deserved happiness more than an addict or a negligent deadbeat. Where was God in these things?
We walked wordlessly for a while, the insulated hush of the forest reverberating with her outrage. She finally looked up at me and said, “How can you stand it? How can you stand not having children? Did you try everything?”
Despite the spear through my center, I replied that as innate a wish as parenting had been, when I embraced the flow of my life’s events, I no longer needed to control them. And then unexpected triumphs occurred.
“Like finally getting my degree, like traveling abroad.”
“No offense intended here.” And she actually said this: “But what are you going to do with an English degree?”
“I’m not exactly sure, but I got it,” I said.
We walked on in silence, her insecurities chipping away at my faith.
I’ve just met a young mother and her toddler son at the duck pond in our suburban, planned community. He’s hopping through the overgrown grass, gathering up stray feathers and examining them with wonder. The downy bits stick to his pudgy fingers. He squeals so that we’ll notice the baby ducks plopping into the marshy water. I tell the woman that her son makes me smile, that at his age they’re so able to access bliss. Without hesitation she asks me how many children I have. I feel caught in a lie. I fumble through an explanation about no kids, wished for them, late second marriage, didn’t happen. Our conversation halts like a toy with a dead-battery. She doesn’t know what to say to me with my childlessness. There is no further grab we can make to connect because of the gulf between my dormant organ and her functional one. She looks out toward her son in his bottom-damp pants and says quietly, “Oh, I’m so sorry.” I say good-bye and turn for home.
I knew a single woman who had a daughter named Jenna that she was always leaving behind while she went to The Troubadour or The Whiskey or The Viper Room or just away. I enjoyed caring for Jenna because I had ticking imperatives that weren’t being met. Jenna and I were in mutual need. One Saturday I took her with me to the beach. She was four years old and squealed and splashed along the foaming fringe of the Pacific. She’d boldly run toward the sea, then retreat back to me in rhythm with the surf, her browning arms enveloping my thighs for protection. In the dense afternoon light, I brushed the coarse sand from her ankles and legs, and pulled her pink jacket over her salt-chalky shoulders. On the way home we stopped at McDonalds, where an older woman smiled at the whimsical banter between Jenna and me. The lady said, “Your daughter is adorable,” and instead of correcting her, I reached down and smoothed Jenna’s hair with motherly artifice.
WHEN DOES LIFE BEGIN?
“You don’t know what love is, really, you have no idea about your capacity for love until you have a baby. Your life just changes. Everything that seemed to matter before doesn’t, your reality centers around your child.” On discussing the difficulty of finding friends when you’re childless in the suburbs with a friend who has children.
“Relax; you’re too wrapped up in this having-a-baby shit. Have a drink, forget about it,” an irritated Kristen says as she shoots a cigarette from a package and heads for the patio of the Mexico Chiquito. Not six months later she’s quit smoking and is attending meetings and banking $40,000 so she can adopt a daughter from China.
“You will have a baby, and it will be beautiful, and you’ll be happy, and that’s when your life will really begin.” A well-meaning friend.
While I’m in the throes of infertility, my friend, Ellen, gets pregnant. She’s surprised because she and John “hardly ever have sex,” and what with her being older they weren’t even trying. Not long after the news, John calls me and asks if I’ll host a baby shower for Ellen, “You know what a flake Mary is,” he says about Ellen’s sister. “And their house is a mess.” So I agree to do it, although it’s akin to hosting a party nude.
We’ve come to Phoenix to “unwind.” I’ve set my towel by the rim of the hotel pool, where my legs are submerged in the water and I’m steeped in the aroma of chlorine. I’m reading a best-selling novel wherein one of the characters, an obstetrician, is holding a clinic for various pregnant women. The novel quotes this glittering heroine saying, “A woman is never more a woman than in this state.” I wrap the book into the plush towel dampened by my footprints. The water wrinkles the pages, but no matter, I will never finish the book.
Every afternoon my neighbor walks her daughter home from school. I see little resemblance between them, the child fresh, buoyant and chatty, the mother suspicious and worn. The girl never passes my open window without her sing-songing voice resonating. She springs to the points of her toes with each step and waves around artwork, quizzes, her youth—all fluttering past me as I spy out the window.
Her mother brings up the rear, deflecting the joy. She’s a hip-thrusting walker, hoisting her bulk defensively from side to side, her beefy arms jack-knifing for momentum. I’ve heard her bellow, “Katelyn, stop with that song,” or “Un-acceptable, Katelyn, stop where you are,” or “Sister, get back here with mother and brother.” Katelyn’s mom has something against pronouns. Sometimes, after being corrected, or slowed, or skinned in some way, the girl watches her mother through gloomy, puckered eyes. I wonder what she pictures looming in her future.
SPITTING OUT THE TAR
After critical desperation sets in, I pay $650 via credit card to have a telephone session with a psychic healer who has been recommended to me. I have unfounded faith in her. For an hour she performs rote “healing exercises” like gathering the “tar” of my despair in my mouth and “spitting it out.” Just go, “Bleh, from your core,” she instructs, and when I don’t do this with enough vigor she bullies me to a real primal scream.
Afterward, I lean against the rough surface of my living room wall, phone clutched between my shoulder cap and ear, elbows on knees, spent. I feel nothing. Not better, not worse, not healed, not broken. Then the healer tells me she can sense over the telephone that my protein intake is inadequate and suggests that a daily green powder shake will help. It doesn’t.
IMAGE: Flickr Creative Commons/stevendepolo