I never understood emotional aches that immobilized. My husband would talk about the immediate days and weeks following his father’s death- the ones that left him glued, stuck, incapable- and I believed in the weight of his pain but I didn’t get it. You hear about the Grand Canyon your whole life- yeah, yeah, it’s incredible- but it’s only when you’re standing at its rough and crumbling edges that you key into its magnitude. Stuck and blind in the midday sun, I’ve found the bottom of that once unknown chasm. Months of scrambling and digging my nails into the loose foundation of my sanity have left me eroded, a pile of What’s Left on the ground. A slack clothesline shifts in the breeze overhead and the clothes I came out here to hang continue their drying from the corners in. My baby’s in the house asking his dad where’s mama? and I’m out here next to the woodpile, wondering how I’ll ever bear the weight of my own body again.
Months later I’m listening to a voicemail left in haste. I thought I was by myself, thought the sharpness of those words flew into my chest alone, but I look up to see my husband feet away, glassy-eyed with a basket of a few rolling crabapples hanging from his limp fingertips. I’m not pregnant (still. again.) and the nurse has requested I call back to discuss my next cycle. Next cycle. It’s so terribly presumptuous of what we’ve got left emotionally, physically, and financially. I think she wants to be a next-step beacon in the sea of lost families. I’m sure it’s what she’s been trained to do but I don’t want to be handled. I find it fucking infuriating in fact. I want an explanation and an apology and to be treated like my pain is harder and more unjust than the next woman on her list. It isn’t, of course, but this hole of mine is deep and isolated. Put all your sympathies in a bucket and lower it down. I’m alone and I’m hurting.
When we finally got the nerve up to release the looming question, a fertility specialist looked me in the eye and called me a Slam Dunk. Enough failed rounds of IVF and a staggering amount of money later, I want to look him in the eye and call him a Mother Fucker. I wish I could find strength in the resistance. I want to rise up and out of the wasteland that is infertility but right now I’m doing the hard work of accepting that our life, our family, may not look like what we hoped. I ache for deeply rolled thighs heavy on my hip and milk breath on my neck, and every day I wake up with the truth that I’m not owed or guaranteed any of it. I know that fair doesn’t exist and that some people never even get their one baby. I’ve got my one baby. Thank god I’ve got my one baby. Every day like a mantra, I’ve got my one baby.
Lately I look at my long and lean son who says impossibly large words for his little mouth and I worry I wasted his baby years. I weaned him at 18 months seeking some of my old autonomy. On his request, I sent him to school two years ago right before his third birthday. What would I have done differently, I wonder, if I had truly believed it all those times I mused that he might be our only? With each new failed attempt, the gap between our son and his out-of-reach siblings grows. A daily widening, a daily redefining of their potential relationships. We’re at six years now and I worry that eventually the expanse will be too big to bridge. These babies we chase, the ones that literally haunt my dreams, aren’t just some salve for the soul of a clucky woman. They’re for our son just as much for us; a family his father and I never had but that we desperately want to give.
People love to tell the infertile that miracles happen. Someone always has a cousin whose dog walker got pregnant as soon as she relaxed and stopped trying so hard! They say, Go home and enjoy a bottle of wine! Wink, wink. They hear about this less-than-grand canyon that’s swallowing me whole and imagine they can understand how hard it must be. Smile, head tilt, shoulder pat. Then they go home to make their babies in intimate and respectful ways, never in a room full of strangers, spread eagle in the face of a man not known well enough to even be called by his first name. Most don’t understand how true a privilege it is to make your own babies while wrapped up in your lover and your own line dried sheets. They can’t understand the pain that builds when you watch friends and loved ones have two and three and four babies in the span of time you unsuccessfully try to have just one. It’s a terrible and desolate abyss some of us are freefalling in and though I’m lonely, I wouldn’t wish anyone into the deep with me.
Last month I sold one of my milk cows. I did it thinking if I gave my body a little less to do, maybe I could get pregnant. I also did it to alleviate the financial stress that comes with trying to overcome infertility. This time when I found out I wasn’t pregnant, the familiar feelings of loss seeped out of my hollow belly and took residence in the newly empty corners of the barn. It had me asking, what’s my move when all that’s sacred is gasping under a choking sadness? I know there’s a place where we stop this, it’s just a matter of by choice or by force.
My husband and I will never conceive outside of a doctor’s office. We’ve got a small finite and frozen reserve of Letowski Gold living about two hours south of our farm. Every month we pay a tidy little sum to keep it safe and once it’s gone, it’s gone. It’s heavy. It’s definitive. I’m starting to worry that I’m neglecting all the things I have in search of what I don’t. I’m edging closer to the place where we say this is it, what we’ve got is what we’ll have. I’m not there yet, but I’m also not ready to call that nurse back. Today I want to milk the cow I have left, and put up some pickles and blueberry jam for the impending winter. Fall winds are already starting to blow in Maine and if I can’t have that baby I was so sure I’d have this winter, at least let me eat well at the bottom of this canyon of mine.