In November of last year, I texted an emoji story (two hearts, bed, hourglass, baby bottle) to a beloved friend, revealing that I was pregnant. It was funny, because she thought I was asking her if she was pregnant. She texted in reply, Yes! As it turns out, she was expecting, too. I was only five and a half weeks along, but I needed to tell someone. Even though I had miscarried a year prior, I figured if it were to happen again, this was a friend I could talk to about that loss. But I hardly figured I would duplicate the same fate as the year before. My friend was eight and a half weeks along. And several years younger than I was.
You know where this is going, don’t you?
I miscarried. It was like déjà vu. The same bright red gem of blood on the toilet paper. The same profound cramping. The same online newsletter letting me know the fetus was the size of a poppy seed, that a heartbeat would have been heard a few weeks later. My son said, “Mama, you’re OK,” as he patted my head whenever he caught me crying. So early in a pregnancy, such an embryo is just a whisper of maybe. One can barely call it “miscarrying” when what is carried is just a speck of hope. This does not mean I could forget how the line on the pregnancy test was solid and unwavering. In the time since, I have seen photos of my beautiful friend with her swollen belly, and the feeling that wells up in me is…self-disgust. Though I will click “like” on Facebook, I cannot type words that gush with joy. Indeed, envy is an ugly thing.
Another close friend revealed in a recent email that she is pregnant with her third. I have not written a congratulatory reply. Oh, sure, I can say I am happy for her. For them. I certainly wish no ill will nor any harm to their unborn children. I want to imagine my friends’ homes oozing with delight, but I can’t make the good intentions of my mind reach my heart. They stop there, cold. And when lesser acquaintances post of their pregnancies on social media, often the first thought that snakes into my brain is How fucking nice for you. When I’m walking my son home from his school, and I see very young mothers walking their two kids—belly revealing that it will soon be three—the contempt practically wafts off me, stinking up the neighborhood.
You see in that above paragraph how I mention that I have a son? It’s true. I am super lucky to have him. I know this. I have a great husband and an amazing 6-year-old. On good days, I appreciate the haiku-like economy of my family; on bad days, all I feel is a deficiency. Then my one special boy, such a cool person already, becomes all about the label autistic, which was given to him a couple years ago. My husband—who excels as a father, who cleans and cooks, who is well-groomed, well-spoken, employed in a satisfying career, and totally hot—becomes the man who wouldn’t give me a second child in what must have been the last two years of my fertility. When I put a negative spin on my circumstances, the hobgoblin of self-pity is to blame. And when it appears, I find myself wailing that I never want to hold a baby again because I’ll just have to give it back, all as I wipe angry tears from my face while driving alone to work.
I am consumed. I think of ovaries as pomegranates shedding the plump, red seeds early in fertility, and what I am left with now are the few anemic ones clinging to the walls of the nearly empty chambers. I wonder why no one will just give me one of those unwanted babies from the news, dead by the time I read about them. I think of certain women who collect dolls, which are eerily perfect replicas of newborn babies with eyes closed, small hands curled into tiny fists. On television once I saw a woman who made them, her hobby a result of multiple miscarriages and the ensuing childlessness. I wonder how far I, too, can take myself into a fog of sadness and whether I can be reclaimed from it.
So I find myself morbidly obsessing over what-ifs. I met a poet and remember how her Los Angeles loft looked out on a panoply of windows as Bryan Ferry played overhead and reminded me, should I forget, that I am a slave to love. I told the poet about my son, how at six he finally seems tangible, indelible, apt to be here for good, and I told her about our failed attempts to have a second child. She offered, “We get what we get,” and “We all have our crosses to bear.” I mentioned my son’s preschool teacher, who finished, “We get what we get” with “…we don’t get upset.” Then I asked, “Do you have any children?” “I had a son,” she said, “but he passed away.” A cross hung between her two windows. My apology still hangs in the air, along with my fear.
I have never envied anyone their big house, fancy car, unusual talents, or wealthy husbands. But I wanted a second child, and I won’t get to have one. Meanwhile, my friends—all younger than I am—continue to add to their families. When I see very young women in the grocery store whip out their WIC vouchers as they push kids in shopping carts, I think, Why am I paying tax dollars so you can keep having babies? When perfectly lovely women with large families complain of exhaustion, all I can think is, Maybe you shouldn’t have had so many fucking children. Age-related infertility has made me an asshole.
No doubt there are women who would envy me because of my son. I remember the painful sweetness as he first latched on, that cramp in my gut as his small mouth pulled my body back together. Besotted, I wept as I folded the beanie and shirt he wore home from the hospital, stored now in a Ziploc along with all my detritus of motherhood, stashed in an attic, well out of sight. A family member tells me how, during the years that he and his wife tried and failed to have a child, his wife wanted to strangle every friend who announced a pregnancy. They never even got to have one child. When we don’t get the thing we most want and see others who get what we want in spades, it makes the absence more bitter. I’m sure that when I announced my own pregnancy—the one that gave me my son—somewhere, an acquaintance muttered, “How fucking nice for her.”
What if I tell you I’m trying? Admitting I’m regularly overcome by dark feelings may be the first step to rehabilitation, no? Here I am, reaching out. I’ve tried therapy, but I quit when my therapist offered trite language that wanted to be meaningful but wasn’t. I’ve tried throwing myself into my work as a writer. I regularly repeat the mantra that I am “practicing gratitude,” hoping it sticks. I’ve gone on antidepressants, which means I weep less often, sleep less often. I feel more capable, for sure, like I can roll better through life now that I have been given a nice, thick, chemically-induced rind. The trouble is whether the pulp beneath it can sweeten again or whether I’m destined to have this new, sour heart: as green, tart, and acidic as a lime.
This is not who I am. Or who I was. Or, at the very least, who I want to be.