Our daughter has a name but no body.
No, that’s too . . .
Our daughter is a bundle of cells. Magnified, she looks like a blackberry. At -321 degrees Fahrenheit, she is quite cold.
Actually, we have three cold daughters.
If just one would hold the imperfect wall of me.
With one dice, you have a 16 percent chance of landing any particular number. With three dice, you have a 42.1 percent chance. If you throw the dice onto cobblestones, they might land sideways and then what do you have?
We used to have four cold daughters.
The math of it hurts my brain.
No fertility story is sexy.
But it’s the sex in us that makes the story. I mean sex in every sense of the word.
There was no option on the fertility doctor’s intake form for same-sex partner. When I pointed it out, the doctor blushed, apologized and wrote it in with pencil.
In dreams, our daughter climbs into bed with us, asks for a cracker and falls asleep with it still in her hand. She is her, but she is also me. Me, the child who believed she would have a child and never wondered how it would come to be. I want such knowing for my imagined child and for me. I want to feel the certainty of two bodies leaning up against each other.
When my body first told me it desired other women, I resisted and resisted and, well, we all know how that turned out, but what I want to tell you is that part of that story became part of this story.
The part where I learned to listen to my body. To not push it where it doesn’t want to go.
How to square that with:
fluorescent lights paper gown stirrups latex speculum catheter wand estrogen insemination failure injection follicles don’t stress vitamins 8am blood draw ultrasound cry egg count close your eyes anesthesia retrieve viable not viable embryo euploid mosaic genetic testing progesterone intramuscular long needle bubble band aid ice blood bloat cramp cry bone broth cod liver oil baby aspirin hormone level uterine lining acupuncture don’t stress fibroid MRI abdominal incision to increase your chances of success your chances your chances your chances
The animal in me is thrashing her hoofs, groaning, chewing the walls. She wants out but she also wants a baby. Trapped between two instincts, her body feels cleaved. You could walk in the valley of her. It’s shady there.
If one of us had sperm, we’d have had a baby years ago, Lauren says. We’d have had five.
Five? We wouldn’t have had five, I say.
Well, we could’ve had five.
How do you know?
Our attraction to each other.
You know it doesn’t work that way.
There’s something to it, I think.
Picture five little angel babies shooting out like tennis balls from a ball machine. Little angel tennis ball fertile flow fantasies.
But I’m here because I’m partnered with a woman, not for infertility, I remind the doctor for the third, fourth, twelfth time as she recommends more procedures and pushes another stack of studies across her desk.
We don’t know that you’re not infertile, she says, again, gently.
(Oh, sweetie, you don’t even know why you’re here.)
Can we please implant one of the embryos without intervention? I ask. One at least? We just want this to feel…as close to natural…which is absurd at this point, I know . . . but please?
Practically begging to be treated as a gay body.
How I wanted to yell: Hey Doc, I could’ve fucked and fucked without ever knowing the contours and rhythms of my ovaries and uterus. I could’ve skipped your cold condomed ultrasound wand and doubled down on hot pounding and real wetness and well, there was plenty of that, but not the right kind so here I am, spreading my legs for you, asking for some poor mimicry of the miracle of life, so get on board. You got me?
No fertility story is graceful.
The doctor conceded. Which is how 4 cold daughters became 3.
Three years into our fertility journey (the docs and support sites all call it a ‘journey,’ a word whose synonyms include romantic notions—cruise, safari, jaunt, pilgrimage, odyssey—as well as lost ones—wandering—but my favorite, because it sounds absurd, and I’ve never understood Waiting for Godot as well as I do now, is peregrination) they want to cut into my uterus.
Baby like it smooth, apparently. Get that fibroidous fibridinous defect out of there.
Now she’s making up words.
We never fixed our bedroom wall where the water leaked down from the neighbor’s sink, cracking and flaking the plaster. We live with that scar and call it our Roman ruin.
A fetus grown in a Roman ruin would make a formidable child, don’t you think? A regal child, a cultured child, a wise child. A child with a sense of history and an innate resilience.
There’s a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.
Leonard Cohen said that, so you know it’s real.
If I let them cut my uterus, the chances of successful implantation per embryo are around 60 percent.
If I don’t let them cut me, the chances are less but how much less is unknown.
If I let them cut me and I get pregnant, there might be, depending on who you ask and what you read, an increased chance of placental abruption and/or c-section.
If I don’t let them cut me, there is an increased chance of regret but a decreased chance of uterine anger (a serious condition, albeit not a medical one).
If I don’t let them cut me, what are the chances I’m making a reasonable choice? What are the chances I’m just wimping out? What is the “reasonable person” to “wimpy pants” ratio?
Our daughter has a name but no body.
That line is still too . . . what?
Because she’s not a daughter but a possibility, a biological shot.
It’s dangerous to make poetry out of frozen cells, but I need to. I need to make her into poetry to propel my body through this. What I’m trying to say is that we named her to imagine her. Imagined her to pull us through this peregrination. Otherwise, it’s all just metal tables and blood. But the love that grows inside such poetry turns each failure of fruition into grief.
What is this a list of, anyway?
Shades of uncertainty?
If uncertainty were a color, I could paint our daughter into a picture.
A teenage student once asked me (in one of those what if/what would you/would you rather type games you play on bus rides) to name one thing I truly wanted. I thought about it for a long while (deep question, Kid) and finally answered,
To be sure.
Sure about what? he asked.
That’s a good answer because it’s true and a bad answer because it’s futile.
Queerness taught me to listen to my body, but I think it’s the other lessons that matter more now. To stop looking for myself in the center of stories. To find art in corners and shadow spaces. To fall in love with thresholds where things cross in and out, unformed.
I don’t fit anywhere, so I run with misfits, but even misfits don’t think I belong with them. Look at how well you get on with things, they say. I assure them it’s a facade, but they don’t believe me.
What am I trying to say?
We have three very cold daughters. We used to have four. Under a microscope, they look like blackberries. We made them out of love and imagination and doctors’ hands and hormone injections and surgery. There’s a good chance my body won’t grow any one of them into a warm daughter, a daughter with a name we say above a whisper.
What I’m saying is that no fertility story can be centered on an axis. They all wobble and tilt. They’re all shadow stories, threshold stories.
If our daughter ever curls up in my arms for real, I’m going to teach her the art of stories. I’m going to show her that some are whole and some are broken, some are clear and some are twisted, some are made of richness and some of nothingness, some end and some just dangle, but all stories are true if you listen hard enough, and our daughter will look up at me with eyes bluer than I imagined and say, Yes, Mom, that is certain.
Emily W. Blacker’s writing has appeared in Under the Sun, Pithead Chapel, Fourth Genre, The Maine Review, Under the Gum Tree and Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies. She holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, leads the Figure Eight Writer’s Workshop, serves as the nonfiction editor of The Maine Review and works as an English tutor/learning specialist. She lives with her wife and 2 pups in New York City. Find her at: emilyweinsteinblacker.com