Archive for the 'infertility' Category

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Into the Weeds

Fiction by Curt Alderson

So I stop by the apartment during my lunch hour the other day, and there’s this little yellow slip in the mailbox telling me Sonny’s at the downtown branch and I’ve got to go sign for him.  I got, like, thirty minutes before I’m supposed to clock back in, so I drop the rest of the mail on the kitchen table and hot-foot it to the post office. 

Sonny’s there, waiting, all bubble wrapped and stamped.  I hand my little yellow slip across the counter to the clerk.  She slides another one back at me.  I sign the thing, scoop up the package, then race back across town.  By the time I make it to the office, I’m ten minutes late. But nobody seems to notice.

I take the package in with me and prop it against the wall of my cubicle as I check the messages on my voice mail.  I lean back in my chair and stare at the row of stamps in the upper right-hand corner.  There’s no name on the thing (other than my own), but the return address is from Richmond so I figure it’s from Megan.  We talked the other day.  She called to tell me all about it.  This was two days after the service.

She was wrung out-you could hear it in her voice-and I really felt bad for her.  But I was put off too, at first.  Genuinely pissed.  I mean, my best friend dies and gets planted; he’s six-feet-deep and cold before I so much as hear about it.  Megan says she didn’t even think to call me until it was too late.  Somebody said something at the service-asked about me-and that was the first time I crossed her mind. 

So we’re talking on the phone and she ends up falling to pieces before she can even finish whatever it is she wants to tell me.

“Look,” I say, “forget it.  It’s okay.  I understand.”  Jesus.  Her old man dies, and she’s apologizing to me?

I finish the day out.  I do my time until four, then split.  I tuck Sonny up under my arm and head for the parking garage.  Traffic is hell outside, so I decide to let things simmer down before I make my way back home.  I stop off at Leon’s for a cold one.  Out in the parking lot, I lock my doors, leave Sonny on the passenger seat.

They got the overhead fans turning inside, but it’s hotter than forty hells.  Geraldine’s tending bar.  She says the AC’s on the blink, but Happy Hour’s been extended until eight.  “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away,” she says to me with a wink.

“Seems I heard that,”  I say back.

           

I get home close to nine.  I can smell whatever my neighbors had for supper as I move down the hallway.  It’s a weird combination:  meatloaf,  spaghetti, tuna, grilled onions.  The stale air hangs hot and heavy all around me.  It’s like breathing someone else’s body heat.  A couple of folks have their TV’s going full tilt.  I hear them through the doors.  Sit-coms.  Hollow laughter. 

There’s a cool rush of air when I open my door.  It’s dark inside.  I cut on the lamp next to the easy chair and make my way into the kitchen.  There’s some cold fried chicken in the fridge, leftovers from a couple of nights ago.  I pull the plate out, snap a beer off the six pack I picked up on the way in, and settle into my chair.

I get the TV going and dig in.  I left it on some God-awful station the night before-the Learning Channel or something-but by the time I figure this out, I’m up to my elbows in chicken grease.  The remote’s sitting next to me, but I figure what’s the use?  I just sit there, stripping meat off a breast bone, watching this geek go on and on about plankton levels in the North Sea. 

After the chicken, I think of Sonny.  He’s still out in the car, waiting like he has been since work.  I drop my dish in the sink with the others and go out to the parking lot to fetch him.

Megan’s a very meticulous girl.  That’s not something she picked up from her old man; I can assure you of that.  She’s triple wrapped everything in plastic and used up almost half a roll of Scotch tape.  Eventually, I pull the videocassette free from all the wrapping and pop it in the machine.  There’s a note-card taped to the side of the bubble wrap.  I peel it off and hold it up under the lamp to get a better look.

Ben,

It’s not the same as being there, but I wanted you to have this.  I know how much my dad meant to you.  He talked about you lots.

Look me up the next time you’re in town.  We’ve got a spare bedroom and would love to have you as our guest.  Mi casa, su casa.

Take care,

Meg

I set the note down on the coffee table.  For a second, I think about going back out, maybe catching a band somewhere.  Megan’s all heart.  I know she means well.  But I’m creeped out by the whole thing.  No other way to put it. 

I go back to the kitchen, open the fridge, and check for limes.  There’s one left.  It’s rolled behind a can of Hi-C, so I almost miss it.  I reach in and pull it out.  I take it to the chopping block by the sink, cut it into four fat wedges, and mix a gin and tonic.  The tonic water’s half-flat and the gin is rot-gut.  Just like Sonny used to like them, I think to myself, almost smiling.

 

Sonny and Tina had been married only a year or two when I first met them.  Back then, I was still living in this little three-bedroom cracker box out in the burbs.  Sonny and Tina lived next door.  Our houses were the last two in the cul-de-sac and we had adjoining backyards that ran right up to this thick stand of trees.  The woods were choked with kudzu.  In the summer, the vines turned dark green and snaked through the high branches until they formed a canopy so thick no light could get through.

Shortly after they got settled, Sonny built a big deck on the back side of their house, overlooking the woods and our two back yards.  When the weather allowed, the three of us would get together back there in the evenings.  We’d grill out, maybe have a few beers, shoot the breeze.  After dark, we’d lean back and listen to the stereo play through the screen door as the fireflies danced all around us. 

Sonny and Tina had moved from Montana and Sonny liked to brag on the fishing he’d done back there.  He’d tell me all about the cutthroat he used to go after along the Gardner.  Said how some days you’d have bighorn ram or bull elk coming right down to the waterline for a drink, with you standing just a few feet away.  I told him about Little Buckhorn and the monster browns you’d find there in the back eddies of the north fork.  Tina never said much once we got started.  She’d just sit there grinning, shaking her head every now and again like she’d heard it all before, which I’m sure she had.

A lot of nights went that way.  But this, of course, was long before the rabbits, long before Sonny and Tina’s marriage went south and Sonny followed suit, splitting for Phoenix.

As soon as their trouble started, I could sense a change.  Things got weird.  Tense.  The three of us didn’t get together as much, and the two of them started spending more and more time apart.  Tina would take these weekend trips to Baltimore, where she had people, and Sonny would stay home alone for no apparent reason.  He’d mope around for days, doing bullshit stuff just to keep busy.  I figured a fishing trip or two might help to take the edge off.  I mentioned it to him one night.  He didn’t seem thrilled, but he didn’t say no either.  We talked about heading out early-before daylight-and hitting the mountain streams, but we never made it any farther than Hollet’s Pond.

Hollet and I used to work second shift together at this ceramics factory.  One night we’re sitting in the break-room drinking coffee, and he tells me about his farm-a little fifteen-acre plot about twenty-minutes outside of town.  Said he bought the place with some money he’d had willed to him.  Hollet was what you might call a gentleman farmer.  He kept a half-acre garden, raised a few beef cows, but that was about it.  He wasn’t much on fishing either, but when he figured out I was, he told me about the pond he had, nestled in the far corner of the back pasture.  Said I could come on over and give it a try any time I felt the urge. 

“Don’t really know what you’ll find there,”  he said.  “Bluegill’s about all, I suspect.”

He was right.  After he gave me the green light, I fished Hollet’s Pond every day for a solid week but never caught anything bigger than my hand.  Still, it was nice to go there in the evenings.

Sonny liked it too.  Whenever the two of us went, we’d take our fly rods and one dry fly apiece.  Then we’d make a game of it, keeping track of who caught the smallest fish, because that was something too.  Getting a hit was nothing, but setting the hook could be a trick.

One evening, after we’d been out there a few hours and caught maybe a dozen each, Sonny walked over to where I was still fishing and took a seat on the berm. The light was fading from the sky and the bats were coming out to feed.  I wanted to get a few more casts in before we headed out. So I kept at it while Sonny sat in the grass breaking his rod down.  I knew he was right there next to me, but when he finally spoke, it made me jump a little.

“I don’t think we’re gonna make it,” he said.

I thought I knew what he meant, but I didn’t say anything right at first.  I just stripped a couple yards of line from my reel and made a cast for a cattail stand near the opposite bank.

“You remember that night I took her to the emergency room?” 

I did.  He didn’t say her name, but I knew he meant Tina. 

“It was real late,” he said.  “Past midnight.  You remember?”

I nodded. 

“Well, I told you she had the stomach flu, but that’s not how it happened exactly.”

I reeled everything in, and snipped the fly off the end of my line.  Sonny didn’t say anything for a while.  I had almost finished packing up all my gear when he started up again.

“We’d been trying to make a baby, see.  But we lost it that night.  That’s why I took her to the hospital.  That’s why we both stayed home from work the next day.  She took to the bed and I stayed home to look after her.”

“Damn.  I’m sorry,” I said.  “I hate that for y’all.”

Sonny nodded.  Then he caught a glimpse of a bat circling high above our heads.  It swooped down on the pond for a drink then flew away.  Sonny watched the little ripples moving toward him across the surface of the water.

“Thing is,” he continued, “it wasn’t the first time for us.  Same thing happened once before.  Back in Bozeman.  She was further along that time, so it was pretty bad.  We been to see a few doctors, but I don’t think they know what’s going on exactly.  They said we shouldn’t give up.  Said it was a fairly common thing.  But when it’s happening to you, it don’t feel common at all.”

“What’s Tina saying?”

“Not much.  She’s turned quiet on me.  It’s hard to tell what she’s thinking anymore.”

“So you imagine the worst.”

“Pretty much.  Sometimes I think we should try again, but I don’t know.  I’m scared to even bring it up.  I think she blames me.”

 

That was August.  By December of that year, Tina was pregnant again.  She and the baby made it through the first trimester without a hitch.  But the doctors ran a sonogram the first week of March, and things didn’t look good.  The baby died before the month was out.  The doctors said they couldn’t do anything with it on account of  Tina being so far along.  So she carried it, dead inside her, a solid week before her water broke and she finally had the miscarriage.

Sonny and Tina missed a lot of work through all this, and money started to get tight.  The doctor bills piled up, aggravating an already miserable situation.  Their house fell into disrepair.  The bushes and shrubs along their property-line grew wild, ragged.  One gray afternoon, a storm blew through the neighborhood and knocked down a couple of limbs from an old Dutch elm at the edge of their driveway.  The limbs stayed right where they fell in the front yard.  Weeks passed.  The green leaves withered and slowly fell away. 

Weeds took over the yard, out back especially.  Come May, when the days grew warmer, they started blooming.  It was a strange scene, peaceful almost.  The buttercups would bob and sway in a gentle cross-wind.  The purple clover came alive with bumblebees.  I said something to Sonny once-offered to push mow for him, clean things up a bit.  But he just looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language and disappeared back into the house.

A couple days later, I noticed Tina’s car missing from the driveway.  But I didn’t bother going over to see Sonny.  This once, I figured some time alone might do him good.

Later that afternoon, I’m stretched out on the couch watching a ball game.  It’s halftime and UNC is whipping the piss out of Virginia.  They’re getting ready to sound the horn for the second half when I first hear the commotion outside.  It’s Sonny.  He’s dragged his push mower out.  He yanks the rip-cord ten or twelve times before the engine finally comes to life, choking and wheezing at first, then gradually smoothing out to a steady hum.  I lay there on the couch a while longer with the volume on the TV turned down low, listening to Sonny tackle his back yard.  I hear him grinding away for a moment or two before the inevitable “CHUNCK” of the mower locking up.  I raise up and peek out the window.  I can see him, creeping along, an inch at a time.  When the mower starts to bog down, he tips the front of the deck so the blade can spin freely.  I think about getting my mower out, maybe starting on the far end of Sonny’s yard, meeting him in the middle.  Then I remember the look he gave me the last time I said something.

I give up on the ball game midway through the fourth quarter when UNC starts running four corners.  It’s not quite suppertime but getting close.  I go to the kitchen to see what I can dig up.  I’m standing there looking through the perishables, listening to the refrigerator motor buzz, when I realize I haven’t heard Sonny for a while.  I swing the door shut and walk over to the kitchen window.  From where I’m standing, I can see him.  The bright sunlight glares against the curve of his bare back.  He’s sitting in the tall grass, hunched forward, shoulders trembling.

I rush out my back door and cross over into Sonny’s yard.  He doesn’t turn when I call his name.  The mower’s sitting right beside him.  I can hear it pinging as it sits there cooling.  The heavy scent of burnt motor oil hangs in the air.  Sonny just sits there, shoulders hunched, eyes red, face wet.  He’s trying to say something, but his lips are drawn tight so the words never make it through.

Then I hear something rustling. I catch faint hints of movement out of the corner of my eye.  They lay there, squirming in a tangled heap, inches from where Sonny sits.  Baby rabbits.  He’d run up on a nest of them.  Some are cut clean in two, others lay thrashing, half-dead on the grass.

I get Sonny to his feet and help him into the house.  He’s crying but he doesn’t make a sound, only jerks at the shoulders some.  Inside, he sprawls out on the couch while I go over to the stereo and cut the tuner on.  I get it set on something mellow, but crank it loud.  Sonny never so much as looks my way.

I leave him there, go back to my place, and head straight for the nightstand next to my bed.  I open up a box of shells and fill the chamber of the .38 I keep stashed there.  I drop a couple extra shells in my pocket for good measure then cross back over to Sonny’s yard to finish the job.

After I find a spot for them deep in the woods out back, I go in to check on Sonny.  He’s up from the couch, sitting in a recliner.  The music’s still blaring through the speakers, but Sonny just sits there, staring dead ahead at a stack of magazines on the coffee table.  Zoned.

I turn down the volume and move into the kitchen.  Sonny always kept his fixins up under the sink.  I pull everything out, get some tumblers, and mix us up a couple.  Sonny snaps out of his trance long enough to latch on to the highball I hand him.  I turn the stereo down a click or two then sit in a chair opposite him.  The shades are drawn, and it’s good to be in from the heat.  We don’t say nothing, just sit there listening, drinking.  Then the music stops all of a sudden.  An announcer comes on with the weather forecast.  He’s talking in this whispery voice, makes some remark about the barometric pressure or something.  He’s trying to be clever, but I don’t catch the gist of what he’s saying, and my lack of understanding depresses me.

 

Next thing you know, Sonny and Tina are packing their stuff in two separate

U-hauls-a his-and-hers set.  Hers heads for Baltimore, his for Phoenix. 

I stayed put a few more years, got new neighbors.  But things never were quite the same. And after a while, I put my house on the market too, got the apartment I live in now.  I’m closer to work this way, which is nice in the winter when weather hits.

I kept in touch with Sonny through the mail mostly.  The first letter I got from him was signed “Your Pen Pal.”  I chuckled when I saw that.  But really, that’s how it turned out for us: friendly but distant.  After he moved away, it was like there was always something between the two of us, something more than miles.

We were still friends, sure.  When Sonny re-married, I rented a monkey-suit and booked a flight.  Never thought twice about it.  I was there when Megan was born too.  But those visits never came off the way I thought they would.  Sonny had moved out there to make a fresh start, maybe forget a few things.  Then, every two years or so, I’d show up.  New salt for old wounds.  Of course, Sonny never said as much-treated me like family, in fact-but I knew what my being there did to him.  So I decided to more or less phase myself out.  I pulled a disappearing act.  Sonny’d made a good life for himself out there.  I just left him to it.

 

Now he’s gone.  Now, this thing’s all I got-Megan’s video.

 

I sit back in my chair for a time, stirring ice cubes with my index finger, listening to them clink against the glass.  I press play on the VCR remote.  The TV goes black.  Everything’s quiet.  Sonny’s name flashes up on the screen, followed by two dates.  Then they start up with the organ music.

Next comes the picture, a full view of the casket.  There’s flowers piled high on top of it, flowers to either side on wire stands.  I can see the backs of the heads of all the people in the first couple of rows.  I scan the crowd, over and over, but can’t seem to recognize a soul. 

They’ve got the lid up, but with the angle of the camera, I can’t really get a good look at the body.  I figure it’s best that way.  It’s not exactly Sonny they got boxed up anyhow.  I been to enough funerals-enough “viewings”-to know that much.  Wax dummies.  That’s all I ever manage to think.

The camera must be mounted in a far corner or something, because the shot never changes.  Every so often, somebody comes in frame, walks over to the casket, peeks in, then walks off the screen.  Some are clutching hankies.  They walk up, dab at their faces, then move along, their shoulders all hunched up.  A few people walk by with their hands stuffed in their pockets.  Real casual, or so it seems.  Like they do this every day or something.  After ten minutes of this, I still don’t recognize a single one of these people.  The family’s most likely in another room, out of view, hidden.

The organist plays all the old regulars:  “Just As I Am,” “Peace in the Valley,” “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”  I take another swig.  The gin sits cold on my belly. 

They finally lower the lid and a preacher comes into frame.  He stands behind the casket, offers a few words.  Says he didn’t know Sonny but that, over the past few days, he feels like he’s gotten to know him some.  Says he’s talked to family and friends.  Says he’s heard stories.  He tells a few and I watch a couple of heads nod up in the front pew.  The preacher does what he can, but he misses a heap.  A life’s a big thing, and he’s pressed for time. Gotta get on with it, clear the room for the next set of grievers.

He says a few words about Jesus, closes with a prayer.  Someone says “Amen.”  A couple fellas in dark suits show up.  They each take an end of the casket and wheel Sonny down the center aisle.  Then the music starts up again.  But it’s not the organ this time.  They got pickers somewhere, guitar and autoharp.  They play “The Old Gospel Ship,” and I think how it’s about the only good thing to come out of the whole damn production.

I watch as the last part of the casket slips away from the bottom of the TV screen.  The people in the pews all stand up.  I stand up too.  I hold my glass up high, tip it to one side, and let the rest of the highball fall to the carpet.  I don’t spare a drop.

 

Curt Alderson has been writing stories and poems for fifteen years. He lives with his wife and two sons on a small family farm in southwest Virginia. His work has appeared in various publications, including Currents, Red Crow, Pitch Weekly, and Aura Literary Arts Review. For additional stories, poems, and readings visit curtalderson.blogspot.com

Womanhood, Fertility, and Identity

by Jessica Powers

In college, my best friend once described her hips as “child-bearing hips.” She knew back then that she wanted children and, indeed, now has six beautiful and healthy daughters. 

Me? I didn’t even know what hips were. Literally. If somebody had provided me pictures of two headless bodies-one male, one female-I wouldn’t have been able to distinguish the outline of hips on the female body.

A boyfriend once pointed out a transvestite, then said, knowingly, “You can always tell the difference between a woman and a transvestite. A transvestite lacks hips.”

My response? “Huh?” The transvestite looked like a perfectly beautiful woman to me!

***

I was never one of those women whose overwhelming desire in life was to have children, what some childless men and women have sneeringly referred to as a breeder.

Motherhood was simply never one of my goals.

One of the reasons I left organized religion, in fact, was the emphasis it all too often places on motherhood. I always felt devalued as a woman in the Christian church, and it never comforted me to have my feminist concerns pooh-poohed with a well-meaning, but completely off the mark, comment like this: “But women are completely valued in the church. There’s nothing more important than motherhood. That’s the most important role in life, male or female.”

I heard a preacher one time say that he was sick and tired of hearing people say that God doesn’t value women. “God chose a woman to carry his only begotten son,” he said. “That should prove how valuable women are! They’re more valuable than men!” (I didn’t have the guts to raise my hand and ask if he actually thought God would have chosen a man to give birth to his only begotten son, which would have truly been a miracle….but I definitely thought about it.)

Whenever I heard the emphasis on motherhood in sermons, I wanted to ask: If women are valuable because they are mothers, what happens to a woman’s value if she’s infertile? Or if she can conceive, but her body is incapable of carrying a baby to term? If women are valued precisely because they are mothers, does a woman cease to be valuable if she is unable or unwilling to contribute to the ongoing human gene pool? And are women to be valued for nothing else? Can’t they be valued as scientists, artists, educators, and healers? What about being valued because we’re funny, smart, thoughtful, or we make a good friend?  

I never got around to asking those questions. I just stopped going to church. I was tired of crying all the time, tired of fighting people with stupid ideas about what constitutes a person’s value.

I’d go as far as to argue that this strong correlation between motherhood and saintliness, and the conflation of our value as women with our fertility, can be labeled as spiritual abuse.

A person is valuable because of who they are, not because of the fertility-related identity role(s) they assume in life, roles such as wife, mother, grandmother. A woman should never be valued simply because of her ability to conceive and bear a child, just like a man should never be valued simply because he produces viable sperm.

So why do so many women’s self-images founder on their ability to conceive and bear a child, to successfully raise functioning members of society-at-large?

***

I never thought of myself as a slow learner, but when it comes to parenthood, I’m definitely a late-bloomer.

Throughout my twenties, I was grateful that I didn’t have children. The life of an artist is hard enough without adding babies to the mix, I thought.

When I first got married in my mid-twenties, my husband (now ex) and I planned to remain blissfully childfree. I hadn’t anticipated, then, that my biological clock would kick in with a vengeance as I approached thirty. Suddenly, to my surprise, I wanted kids. Oh, not the goobery, snotty-faced, diaper-rashed babies that grow up into delightful, creative, intelligent young people; no, as I approached thirty, I suddenly realized that I’d be thrilled if my children could emerge from my womb, already 10 or 11 or 12 years old. Talking in complete sentences. Potty-trained. Relatively independent already. You know, little adults.

This was an impossible dream, of course, unless I was willing to adopt an older child and deal with the potentially debilitating emotional problems they might have-always a crapshoot.

In lieu of heading down that path just yet, my husband and I have recently been trying for the flesh-and-blood variety, a normal baby conceived in the normal way pushed out of a normal vagina at the normal age of 0 months’ old. I guess I’m willing to subject myself to sleepless nights, poopy diapers, and sore breasts so I can get that pre-teen, teenager, college-student, and adult child I long for down the road.

But even as I embrace my identity as a woman “TTC” (a popular internet acronym that stands for “trying to conceive”), I still vacillate in my desire for children and it has to do with that fragile thing called identity.

There is always one solid reason for me to give up on the idea of motherhood: my identity as an artist. I’ve worked hard to get to the place where I am. I write five or six hours every day, and then teach college writing classes and run my small literary press on top of that. Recently, I’ve started working as a writing coach, and offering private writing classes in my home for children, teenagers, and adults. I easily put in twelve hours a day. It’s hard to imagine how I’ll balance all of that with motherhood.

It’s when I contemplate the vast gulf between what I desire to do with my life and the reality of raising children that I begin to wonder if I really want them.

Yet just when I think I might be “okay” with foregoing the pleasures of parenting, I realize I’m still captive to the idea that being a woman means being a mother. Intellectually, I know that this is a false belief. Emotionally, somewhere deep inside of me, I still believe that to live a full life, experiencing the full range of human emotions, requires adopting the role of parenthood, however your children come into your life.

Why the hell do I continue to associate my value as a woman with my fertility?

And so, I’m on the verge of giving up, of saying, “No more. I don’t want to try to get pregnant any more. That doesn’t mean I’ll try to prevent pregnancy, but I don’t want my life to be dominated by cervical fluid, basal body temperature, and that period that comes late but inevitably comes.”

It’s true that I’ve only been trying for eight months but I’m already tired of the emotional roller-coaster. Twice, my period has been a week late. In those days when I think I might be pregnant, my mind jumps to sugary fantasies of what it’ll be like, and I’m overwhelmed by the I can’t wait-ness of it all.

And then the disappointment sets in when my basal body temperature drops, menstrual blood arrives, and I discover that I’m not, after all, pregnant.

I wonder how women do this over and over and over? You know, those women that try to conceive for years and years and years? Those women that go to heroic efforts, spend all sorts of time and money, all in their quest to have a child?

I don’t think I can keep it up.

I’m beginning to wonder if I’m willing to give up on the so-called “fullness of life experience” b.s. I was just blathering on about if it means some emotional sanity.

I’m fortunate. A few days ago, as we were having yet another discussion about my on-again off-again desire to get pregnant, my husband looked at me and said, “You are my world. I don’t need anything else.” And we once again talked about what we will do if we don’t get pregnant-move to South Africa or Mozambique, to the Caribbean, to Ecuador or Argentina or Brazil, or maybe to all of those places for a few years apiece. Or we could take in foreign-born foster children, generally teenagers by the time they make it here after spending years in refugee camps.

Without children, the world is our oyster.

But still, it all comes down to this crux issue: What does it mean to be a woman? What does it mean for me to feel valuable as a person?

We all, we all, need to learn to value ourselves apart from these roles we assume in life. For me, that includes the role of artist. If I replace motherhood with artist, am I really any better off? I’m still valuing myself by something that is transitory, fleeting. We don’t achieve immortality through our art. Nor do we achieve it by bearing offspring.

As I move forward TTC, or not TTC, I hope I can learn to value myself as Jessica with no titles attached to my name.

***

Last November, I had a dream about motherhood and identity. In the dream, I was in a house, surrounded by women I know who have young children. I wandered from person to person, but I couldn’t relate to any of them. In fact, I felt inferior as I talked with them-there was a sense in which all of them had experienced a part of womanhood that I lacked, and so we couldn’t connect. I felt, well, robbed.  And even as I tried to interest them in non-motherhood-related topics, I realized what I was doing: they seemed to think I was inferior because I wasn’t a mother and so, subconsciously and nastily, I was trying to turn the tables by demonstrating that I’d had an interesting career and had traveled to so many exotic locales and done so many interesting things that they would never do, encumbered as they were with snot-faced babies and dirty diapers.

 Eventually, not liking that dynamic one tiny little bit, I separated myself from the mothers with babies and went to another part of the house. There, I was joined by my many African friends, and we discussed Africa, and politics, and health, and religion, and we ignored the issue of motherhood. Though many of my African friends are also parents, I felt none of the distance I’d felt from my mother-friends, who were treating me as though I was less of a woman because I wasn’t a mother.

I woke up and felt a moment of grief, like the dream was telling me I’d lost my chance at motherhood, that I’d traded it in for Africa and my writing.

On reflection later, I realized that of course, I have never given up my dream of motherhood-until the last few years, I didn’t have a spouse with whom I could have children. Instead, the dream was speaking to me about my hidden desire to be a mother as well as the obvious calling on my life to Africa and as a writer. My desire to have it all.

It was also reminding me of this unassailable truth: While all the other women in the room had chosen motherhood first-and let me add, they are all young women I admire, who have made the choices they wanted to make by choosing children over career, at least for the time being-I had chosen it second. And ultimately, I found myself in a room with the people I had chosen: Africans.

It was a revelation.

As I embark on this next stage of my life, trying to get pregnant, I’m constantly filled with doubts. Sometimes I wonder if motherhood is what God intends for me, or even if motherhood is something I want to add to my mixture of things I’ve already chosen (or that has chosen me)-Africa and writing. Sometimes I feel desperate to be pregnant, now, and sometimes, I secretly hope I’m not pregnant, so that nothing needs to change.  In fact, I worry about how motherhood will prevent me from doing the things I feel I’m supposed to do, in Africa, as a writer-those vague, hazy outline of things that make up my future. I’m still waiting for the clarion call from God, the angel of the Lord appearing to me in a dream, the way he did with Mary and Joseph, and telling me, “This is what you’re supposed to do. I’ve arranged everything for you. It won’t be easy but at least there’s no doubt about it.”

But that’s too easy and, in all likelihood, false. The path that God marked out for Mary and Joseph must have seemed hazy and uncertain to them. It is only clear in retrospect, when written about as a narrative, a narrative that brooks no other possible paths.

I wonder how fearful and frustrated Mary and Joseph must have felt as they walked down that road, wondering all the time if they could veer in a different direction, or if they even wanted to, or if this was really the path they were supposed to be on and if they weren’t just fooling themselves.

I wonder how much of this path I’m following I charted myself, and how much has been charted for me.

I suppose I’ll never know.

And, at least some of the time, I’m okay with that.

 

Jessica Powers is the author of The Confessional (Knopf, 2007), a novel that explores racial tension and school violence at an all-boys Catholic high school on the U.S.-Mexico border; editor of Labor Pains and Birth Stories: Essays on Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Becoming a Parent, editor of The Fertile Source, and publisher of Catalyst Book Press.

Empty-Handed

by Donna Vorreyer

Each flea-market stall smells like cedar,
and mothballs, the only exception
the ammonia-sharp tables of Depression
glass gleaming in the early morning sun.
My friends and I come once a month

to saunter through relics of the past, spot
pieces of our childhoods for sale, search for
things we did not know we wanted. Everyone
here hunts for that hidden desire. A burly
woman in a too-tight cardigan beams at antique

gumball machines. A small blond boy and his
sunburned father study bobble-head dolls and
baseball cards. We are not immune. Sally buys
small wooden tables and old china, Diane
salt and pepper shakers, tiny juice glasses.

My treasures are less predictable – croquet
balls with chipped paint one weekend, a bowl
that reminds me of my grandmother the next.
Today I spend hours on my hands and knees
sifting through boxes of old hardware – doorknobs

of textured metal and burled wood, keys to
unknown closets rusting on wrought iron rings,
things that open, close, have weight to them.
Most of the time, it is all just useless junk:
oil lamps with fractured bowls, rotary phones

with lists of emergency numbers for a town
I’ll never live in. A vendor selling lace and linens
nurses her tiny baby in the shade of a quilt.
This is what I really want, but I can’t have it.
The doctors say that I am useless too.

 

Donna Vorreyer lives in the Chicago area where she teaches middle school and tries to convince teenagers that words matter. Her work has appeared in numerous journals including Cider Press Review, Apt, New York Quarterly, Boxcar Poetry Review, Autumn Sky Poetry, and After Hours. “Empty-Handed” is part of her first chapbook Womb/Seed/Fruit, which will be published by Finishing Line Press in June 2010. Visit her on the web at http://djvorreyer.wordpress.com

Under the Northern Lights

A Play in One Act

by John Ladd

Characters

(In Order of Appearance)

 

Jim

Marie

 

SETTING

A motel room.  It is divided into an ante-room, that is at center-stage, and the bedroom that is, conceptually, off beyond stage-right.  The ante-room has the usual amenities including a table with two chairs as well as one particularly special feature- and is one that the audience cannot see– a north-facing, one-way glass wall and ceiling both of which are covered by imaginary drapes on imaginary drawstrings.

 AT RISE

            Enter from stage left JIM and MARIE at the door to their room.  JIM unlocks the door, reaches in and turns on the lights (the house lights come up.)  JIM and MARIE enter the ante-room carrying and pulling their travel luggage.

 JIM

                  (entering the room)

            Well, here we are.

                         [MARIE follows JIM into the room.]

 MARIE

                        (sitting down, exhausted)

            I can’t believe we’re finally here.

                         [JIM puts the luggage down and, similarly exhausted,

                        sits down in the other chair.]

 JIM

            I know- I didn’t think that it would take this long.

 MARIE

            So, we’re in Anchorage.

 JIM

            No Fairbanks.

 MARIE

            That’s right, Fairbanks.  And, what is so special about Fairbanks?

 JIM

            You don’t remember?

 MARIE

            Jim, honey- I know why we’re here, but, specifically- there’ve been so many

            places for so many unique reasons.

 JIM

            It’s the northern lights- that’s why we’re here.  They’re said to be a powerful

            fertility aid.

 MARIE

            I see- that’s right- I’m sorry, I forgot.  I’m just hungry, thirsty and tired. Continue reading ‘Under the Northern Lights’

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.

A Blue Room

by K. Perks

They line the shelves.

Tall, small, fat, and furry

with button eyes

and threaded smiles

waiting

just like we do.

A year has gone by and

the door has stayed closed,

but on occasion

I open it and look in,

pretending.

I look at them

with their permanent smiles

soft with cotton

full

stuffed

optimistic.

They watch over that room

with steady care and determination

and every time I look in

they remind me to hope.

 

 

Keith Perks has been writing poetry for about 2 years. Keith suffers from anxiety, loves both music and movies, likes dark Irish beer, has a giant scar on his left leg, and knows Cytoxan kicks in after about eight hours. Life has hurt his feelings. He resides in Northeastern Pennsylvania with his wife and feels phony writing about himself.

Four Questions and a Scar

a personal essay

by Adrienne Ross

The scar is almost gone.  Softened, pink, once a crimson line atop my pubic hair, much of it has slipped under my skin. It was through this opening that a murky mass seen in sonogram tests was revealed as endometriosis.  I was 38, and believed myself healthy until a routine examination led weeks later to surgery.  What was cut away was the shreds of my left ovary and fallopian tube.  What remained was a desire to have a child that expanded into its own fullness as my chances of becoming a mother dissipated.

MORE HERE…

Please comment here.

Fresh Eggs by Gretchen Wright

In “Fresh Eggs,” a personal essay, Gretchen Wright shares her experiences with artificial insemination and adoption. Please comment here.

Lady-in-Waiting by Wendy Marcus

Wendy Marcus’s short story, “Lady-in-Waiting,” examines one woman’s ability to love her stepchild, even as she struggles with her own infertility.

Surrogacy motherhood and class issues

“Infertility is a complicated issue, and how women deal with it is fraught with a whole series of social justice implications. Reproductive rights certainly extend to the right to have children, and yet many women with fertility issues find themselves marginalized and ignored. Infertility afflicts women of all classes, but IVF is incredibly expensive, and often requires out-of-pocket payment, making it inaccessible for many women…” From Feministe’s current blog posting, “Wombs for Rent,” that discusses the class issues involved in surrogate motherhood.




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