I take my dog, Diego, for a walk over my lunch break hoping some fresh air will do me good. I’m in my new uniform: torn Joe Fresh sweatpants shoved into muddy Tretorn boots, headphones crammed in my ears. A little boy and his mother walk towards us and as we get closer he points and says “doggie.” His mother asks if he can pet the dog and I have Diego sit so the boy can clumsily pat his back. I usually love these passing interactions. I love how Diego, not a real fan of being touched by anyone but my husband and me, is somehow able to sense when it’s a child and that he needs to suck it up and be a dog.
Usually I would tell the mother how cute her son is. I would kneel down and say to him “this is Diego and what’s your name?” Today, I want these lovely people to go away, to leave me and Diego alone. “Yeah, it’s a fucking doggie, genius,” I want to say. “Did you know I’m barren?” I want to say, looking the mother square in the eyes. All I can see is the little boy or girl I have hoped to have, how I dreamed of them petting Diego just like this and loving him as I do. This little boy is not mine and this is not his dog and I wish he would just go away.
After years of infertility treatments, I will no longer be trying to have a biological child. The hundreds of injections I’ve had, the hundreds of blood tests and transvaginal ultrasounds, the three times I have been put under to have my eggs extracted from my body, the months and months of nausea and bloating and weight gain and mood swings and headaches that I thought would never end (that go on for months after a failed cycle), the thousands and thousands in life savings we have spent, have all yielded nothing. We are no closer to having a child than when we began this process years ago. We are just older. And so very, very tired.
It’s not really the loss of my biology that feels so painful. I wish I could explain to you how very little the biological link means to me. I don’t need to see a little girl with curly hair and my husband’s bright, beautiful eyes. I don’t need to pull out my baby albums and compare. Of course that’s the baby I’ve imagined, as I’ve talked to the embryo I had hoped was nestling into my uternie lining. But only because they were the most obvious parameters. There is nothing really about me that is so essential, so absolutely amazing, that it must get passed on. Of course it would be fun to see the way my genes and my husband’s, who I love so much, arrange themselves together to form a whole new person. But what does this genetic constellation really matter when we’re talking about a whole new person, who will have his own hopes, dreams and challenges? His own life to live? What does it really mean to have your mother’s hair, the curls for which she is still searching for just the right anti-frizz product? It is not the genes I am grieving, but the peace. I am mourning the time and the pain and the hope that I will become a mother in the next 9 months. Or the 9 months after that. Or the 9 months after that. I am mourning the lost bit of living I feel like I have missed out on, as I have lain on the bathroom floor retching from all the hormones.
I have been crying a lot. I’ve cried in every room in my house. I’ve cried in the grocery story and at the coffee shop and at the library. I’ve cried in so many places that it’s almost become a game to me now, like a misery bingo, where I fill in all the squares of all the places I have cried.
My dear sister-in-law lost her father last year. I attend his unveiling and hold onto my own father and cry. I feel myself breaking down, feeling the pain of my sister-in-law’s loss. We sing “Sunrise Sunset,” one of her father’s favourite songs, and by the end of all of us singing together, I am no longer crying for her or her family but for me, and this makes me cry even more. Who will bury me, I think? I don’t care about being remembered after I am gone. I’m concerned about the actual logistics of it. Who will actually make the call to say that I’ve succumbed? My nine year old niece asks me to lay a rock on the headstone with her, as is Jewish custom, and I want to kneel down beside her right there in the cemetary and get this finalized. I squeeze her hand and she squeezes back and I hope she understands what I’m trying to say: that I’m sorry she might be the one to have to call the funeral home.
I walk Diego some more, back and forth along the same routes. I listen to Ta-Nehisi Coates read his latest book, Between The World and Me, and it is so stirring and so charged and so painful and so moving and I can’t stop crying. I listen to Ta-Nehisi describe his son’s tears, on hearing Michael Brown’s killer would not be indicted, and I can’t handle the injustice and unfairness of it all. The world is so fucking unfair. And in the face of such incredible and important work on the crisis in America, listening to the harrowing details of the outrageous inequality Ta-Nehisi has lived and Ta-Nehisi has seen, I think about the fact that the book is written as a letter to his adolescent son and how lucky he is to have a son (a beautiful son!), to write to in this painful, unjust world. The way Ta-Nehisi describes it, his love for his son sounds like a beacon of salvation and I want so very much to be saved.
“But you have a son, Ta-Nehisi,” I want to cry, my heart contracting in pain. “You have a son you say is your God and doesn’t that mean everything?! You have a son to bury you!” I am so ashamed by this thought that I stop, jerking Diego to a halt as I bend over with my hands on my knees, feeling as though I might throw up by the side of the road. This is all so not the point. It is the very opposite of the point, as he describes how he has grown up afraid for his body and now afraid for his son and his son’s body. Shouldn’t I be worrying about the world at large and the bigger injustices plaguing the people already here and not just my own small misfortune? Isn’t it an obscene reaction to his words, to turn privilege into the distinction between fertile and barren? I am sickened by this pinprick of jealousy I feel over Ta-Nehisi’s son, and of all the pinpricks of jealousy I have ever felt: when a mother asks if her child can pet my dog, when I see vacation pictures of happy families together on sunny beaches, wishing so much that my life was a little easier, a little more straightforward. A little happier. A little sunnier. My envy, my self-absorption, feel so petty and so very, very, childish and I am terrified what my continued barrenness will do to me – how it will keep halving and distorting and halving again my world view, until I can only see the vastness of the universe through a pinhole, unable to feel anything but my own pain.
If you haven’t already, check out the trailer for my new web-series about infertility. It is much funnier than this post! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sLqSlmok9KA