Monthly Archive for September, 2009

Harder the Second Time Around

nonfiction essay by Melissa Olson Cunningham

“There’s a baby in your belly, mommy,” my five-year-old daughter told me on a recent afternoon as we lay snuggling together on the couch.

“Why would you say that, sweetie?” I asked, startled by her confidence.

“Because I feel it,” she replied. “And I want a baby.”


All week long, she has been talking about babies, drawing crayon pictures of our new family: there I am with my brown hair, her daddy with his red beard, Leah and the new baby. Leah drew pictures of babies crying, eating and sleeping. She made up stories about how babies are born; her favorite theory is that babies are “thrown-up.” In my mind, I knew it was likely she had overheard us grownups talking about fertility treatments. She had probably intuited our longings to have another child. But at the time, her proclamation seemed like an omen.


I felt pregnant. We’d finished our first round of fertility shots along with artificial insemination. Everything went perfectly. My body was responding to the hormone injections how we had hoped. Every other day, I went in for ultrasounds to measure my egg follicle growth. First, there were five of them: a seven, two nines, two elevens and a thirteen. Then two of them took off, one on each side, and grew to measure 13 mm apiece. Both looked promising. Finally, they measured 18 mm. As I passed my fertility specialist in the hallway that day, Dr. Jones smiled and asked me how everything was going. “We have happy follicle news!” I announced, thrilled with the results.


I felt pregnant. I was four days late getting my period which has always arrived like clockwork. My breasts ached and I felt slightly nauseous. To temper my growing hope, I reminded myself that it was probably the shots causing my symptoms.


Still, I felt pregnant and it was a relief. I could put the past two and a half years of unsuccessfully trying, of tests and of shots behind me and finally start moving forward.

Then late last night I woke up bleeding. “Is it just spotting?” my husband asked. “No,” I answered. “I’m sorry, hon.”


The first thing I thought about when I woke up this morning was how to tell my daughter that there is no baby in mommy’s belly, that there may never be a baby. I wondered if she would bring it up again and she did. We were on the couch watching a movie together.

“Please be careful of mommy’s stomach. It’s a little sore today.”

“Because there’s a baby in there?” she asked.

I took a deep breath and heard myself saying sorry again.


It has been a long road since my husband and I started planning for a family. We were married right out of college. Both of us pursued our careers. Then Steve went back to school for his MBA while I worked as a communication specialist for the Michigan Senate and we put off starting our family for yet another two years.

I have two older sisters who both gave me advice on starting a family. The one who had her first child at a young age advised me to wait, to take time for my career and enjoy my marriage. My other sister warned me about waiting too long. She had followed that path and had fertility problems as a result. I thought I could have the best of both worlds. My husband and I had seven years to ourselves before we started trying to become pregnant. They were wonderful years highlighted by fulfilling careers, travel, friends and freedom. I thought I was safe waiting until I was 29 years old. I certainly wouldn’t have predicted the struggles we’ve endured up to this point. Sometimes, I think back and wonder if I made a terrible mistake. I get angry.


I’m sitting in a doctor’s office. The tall, handsome OBGYN is sitting behind his walnut desk. It is an interview before my first examination with him. I notice there are photographs of children on nearly every shelf. “Are these yours?” I ask, indicating to a picture of a pretty woman and six happy-looking kids. He nods. Yes, they are all his.

I tell him about how painful my periods have always been. “My husband and I are thinking of starting a family now,” I explain. “Do you think, is there any possibility, I could have endometriosis?” I ask. He shakes his head no. Emphatically, his answer is no.

I remember sitting in other doctors’ offices, at least two more times, asking the same question and always getting the same answer. “Some women simply have rough periods,” I recall one of them saying. Then she prescribed Darvocet and sent me on my way.


It took two years to conceive our first child.  I look at a photograph of myself, in my black beaded dress, singing at my parent’s fiftieth anniversary party, and marvel. You don’t know it yet, I whisper, but you’re pregnant. Oh, how it felt to be filled with another life. It has been two and a half years now, this second time around.

This past spring, at my husband’s and my persistence, we were finally referred to a fertility specialist and I was officially diagnosed with secondary infertility. Secondary infertility is estimated to affect nearly three million women in the United States and is defined as the inability to conceive or sustain a pregnancy after you have had one or more biological children. The causes of secondary infertility are identical to primary infertility, as is the testing. I have had a ton of blood work, ultrasounds, a follicle assessment and an uncomfortable test called an HSG where a radiologist shoots dye into your fallopian tubes to see if they are blocked.

A laparoscopy performed this past October identified mild to moderate endometriosis, a condition where the tissue that lines the uterus is found outside of the uterus. In my case, it was covering the entire backside of one of my ovaries. This news brought a myriad of emotions to the surface. While I was relieved to have possibly found an answer to our fertility problems, I was also angry that it had not been found sooner. I think of all the months we have wasted, all the years we’ve been trying.

I’ll never forget a neighbor once telling me that you truly cannot know how painful it is to have a doctor tell you that you will never conceive until it happens to you. I believe her. I know I will never experience that. But, lately, I have felt something akin to what she described.

My niece, Hayley, and I have always close. Only three years apart, we grew up in neighboring towns and saw each other constantly. I love my niece; I’m not supposed to be jealous of her. Then, right as I was in the throes of my initial fertility testing, we went to her house to celebrate the birthday of her one-year-old son. She also has a three-year-old daughter. My sweet, curly-haired great nephew sat in the high chair smearing his birthday cake all over the tray. Then Hayley said she had an announcement to make. They were being careful, not even trying, she explained, but she was pregnant. They were having another baby.  

After the announcement, I distracted myself playing with the kids until we left. I broke down later, sprawling onto our bed, feeling sorry for myself, my husband and my daughter. I started calculating. My niece and I began trying to conceive our first children within the same year. Now, eight years later, I have one child and she has two with another on the way. Eight years. I never should have done that calculation.

I know that my chances of becoming pregnant decline each year. One chart I was given shows how rapidly a woman’s fertility falls after the age of 35. By 40, a woman’s chance of getting pregnant unassisted is around five percent each month.

As I near my thirty-eighth birthday, I try to remain hopeful but I worry that I may never conceive another child. It’s the part about my daughter that is the most difficult. I worry that I’m depriving her of what is so essential in my own life – brothers and sisters to laugh with, bicker amongst and turn to when the chips are down.


The other day, we were passing a water fountain in the mall. Leah wanted to throw a penny into the fountain and make a wish. “I wished for a baby,” she told us, then happily skipped ahead. I looked up at my husband and knew he was thinking the same thing I was. More than anything, we hope her wish comes true.

Melissa Olson Cunningham is a Detroit-area freelance writer.

From What I Understand About Quilting

by Nicelle Davis

I had an Ectopic pregnancy,             Ectopic means misplaced, I know this from
is what she calls to tell me.           the time I drove a girl from the homeless youth
It has been two years since          shelter to the university hospital. I’d recognized
we graduated from college           her from a random conversation we had together
and I remember liking her,          about Mayo Angelo. I didn’t wait with her in
but can not recall specifics            the emergency room. Instead I asked for a pair
other than we both love Virginia    of gloves to help remove the purple mess of blood
Wolfe. But I recognize her            from my 1979 beater. I remember how shocked
voice, cadence at odds                 I was by the variety of density that came out of her
with the diction, a painful              half afraid that a clot was really some small half
effort to act her age adding girl     formed arm. I prayed before throwing the thing
to the end of sentences                in the bin, not because I was especially close to God
a reminder that she                     but because I was young, scared, and sexually
is twenty-not-forty-something.       active. When I called the next day, a nurse told
I’ve heard you been busy, girl           me the girl had a tubal miscarriage, nothing
referring to my getting knock-       like a person could have been accidentally dumped
up and shotgun hitched.               in the trash. I never found out what happened
                                                   to the girl. At the time, I didn’t think to ask.
People with children speak a secret language-say the same words as people with out kids, but it all means something different. That’s why, when a parent tells their child iloveyou and the child says I know with an annoyance that only repetition can acquire, parents must insist, no you don’t understand iloveyouiloveyouiloveyou until the whole thing feels like spit on a cowlick. Maybe there is a better way to phrase this, though I think it would have to be inappropriately graphic like, for you I would let razor teeth clowns eat my face and suck my brain from a straw jammed up my nose. Maybe it was this feeling that prompted me to offer to bring her soup when I heard she lost the baby.
She’s been working on a      quilt     for the rape recovery
center, where she works with the  mentally  dysfunctional.
She’s collected words from survivors on          poly   ester
rectangles,  measured meticulously. The whole slowly be-
coming the   same shape   as the pieces that comprise it.
Spread      across the floor,         blanket               reads
live/faith/esperanza.                 Utterances of subjectivity,
abstract,   debatably meaningless.      She recently cut her
hair in a maternal fashion.   Is uneasy about how it makes
her look like her mother, when she never               wanted
to be her mother, but always    thought she’d be a mother.
It’s not that she doesn’t like        her mother. It’s just that,
well, she wanted to be her own.                   Have her own.
She’s taking a logical approach to the situation. Technically           After I had J.J. my ultra
the child wasn’t lost. Just the opposite. Her body held                   concretive aunt was
tight too soon, fetus catching in the narrow hallway                       kind to tell me sexual
of the fallopian. There was never a heartbeat. Only a clump          relations become again
of cells. She feels fine, so long as she keeps talking.                   possible. I believed her
She admits to having conversations with her pussy, it’s lips           because it was the first 
swollen first to the size of baby cheeks. The incisions made         time I ever heard her
at panty-line, will be covered when her pubic hair fills in.              say the word sex.
After we sit for an hour at her kitchen table, not eating soup, she asks if she could get a lift to the salon down the street. Her mom will be by to pick her up after. She says I rather not walk if I can avoid it, to avoid saying it hurts and I hurt and it doesn’t stop hurting and I want take it out of me this hurt, stitch by stitch until the incision reopens and I can stick my hand up into myself, taking it out and out and out. I say not a problem, meaning itwillbeok knowing that itisnotok, meaning I would like to give you comfort, instead I repeat like a novena after I dropping her off, soup soup soup soup soup soup.

Nicelle Davis lives in Lancaster, California with her husband James and their son J.J. She received her MFA from the University of California, Riverside. She teaches at Antelope Valley College. Her poems are forthcoming in A cappella Zoo, Caesura, Moulin, Pedestal Magazine, Redcations, Transcurrents and Verdad.






Growing Pains

by Nick Sweet

Later, in bed at his place, we were just starting to get it on, when Winston pulled away and said, “I’d like to talk a bit first, if it’s all right with you.” I was really in love with Winston, and still at that stage where I would look at him from time to time and think, God, he’s mine, and marvel at my good fortune. His cheekbones were high and broad, and beautifully sculptured, and there was a calm intelligence, and pride, in those brown eyes of his that I just adored. Right now, though, he seemed distracted, preoccupied.

We’d been seeing each other for about six months, ever since we first met by chance, really, through a mutual friend, Gill Watts, who worked with Winston at BT, and we were dating for several weeks before we started sleeping together. I’d really fallen for him; so far as I was concerned, Winston was the one for me, he was Mr Perfect. Things were going really well between us, or so I thought, although I could tell he was upset right now, and wanted to get what was bothering him off his chest, and so I asked him what was troubling him, even though I knew very well what it was. You see, I’d taken Winston home to see my parents for the first time that afternoon, and things hadn’t worked out well. In fact, they hadn’t worked out well at all. Mum coloured up the moment she set eyes on Winston, the way she does when she’s uneasy about something, and hurried out into the kitchen to busy herself with something or other, while Dad said a frosty hello, his grey eyes cold and unwelcoming, before he hid himself behind the outstretched pages of his Telegraph, which he used, it seemed to me, as a sort of barricade, leaving Winston and me to sit there and watch the news on TV in silence. I don’t know exactly what I’d been expecting, taking the man I loved, who just happened to be black, home with me for the first time; but I sure as hell know it wasn’t that. Continue reading ‘Growing Pains’

A Poem for my Son on his Due Date

by Robin Silbergleid 


A boy empties a white pail

into flames on my television

and my hand holds that place

it never left.  I watch and wonder

what happened to my son

when the doctor wrenched him

from my body too small

to be seen on the sonogram

but big enough to swell

my whole world.  My breasts

my belly even my heart

sore from pumping blood

to his stumped cells.  After

when I was back in the bed

with Raggedy Ann legs

she asked if I was stubborn

the way a mother might ask

another woman’s child.  My uterus

clenched around what wasn’t there

and wouldn’t let go.  Then

she put her hand on my forehead

and we were two women

who had created a child together

and there are no words to say

what passed between us.


 Those snow-covered weeks

before surgery, I saw

my son in the backseat of the car

looking out an airplane window

asking for French toast in the morning.

I am not a person who has visions

I am not a person who believes in ghosts

or even God.  But this dark-haired boy

who held my hand when we crossed the street

only he could have been my son.  Benjamin.


 I refuse to pretend

my son is an angel

on a fat cloud watching over me.


 Once I imagined dressing him

in tiny t-shirts swimming in ducks,

floppy hats that tie under the chin.

I would have taken him to the park

I would have spent the summer

I would have



 Women talk about their pregnancies

not their miscarriages.  Words whispered

under the hum of fluorescent bulbs

while what was left poured out of me

onto white sheets.  It is six months later

and my body opens like a sieve:

a jumble of bloody syllables.


Robin Silbergleid is the author of the chapbook Pas de Deux: Prose  and Other Poems (Basilisk, 2006). Her poems and essays have appeared in journals including Dislocate, Crab Orchard Review, The Truth About the Fact and The Cream City Review, for which she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  A survivor of pregnancy loss and single mother to a spirited five-year-old, Robin is a regular contributor to the online journal Exhale. She is current assistant professor of English at Michigan State University.

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