When someone new comes into your life, you never really know just how far or how deep the relationship will go. You don’t know how it will change you. You don’t know if that new relationship is for a long while or if you must face a painful breakup soon after you connect.
You just don’t know.
There isn’t really a date on the calendar, or a specific event I can pinpoint, when she came into my life. She arrived and sat in the back of the classroom like a shy teen with bubble gum gloss on her lips and round innocent eyes that seduced you into thinking she was harmless. I approached her in virtue and asked her to join me at the lunch table with my friends. When my was back turned, she whispered a few things to my friends that I would hear an echo of not long after:
“You just need to calm down. You’ll get pregnant when you stop trying.”
We became thick as thieves quickly because I still didn’t quite recognize the grip and influence she had on me. When my grandfather lay in a hospital bed after his third heart attack, she came with me into the room to witness the words from my grandfather that would be his last. The ones that would cling to me long after his death:
“When are you going to have a baby?”
In my 30s, her reminders every 28 days would drive me to take a fertility drug called Clomid that boosted my egg production, and along with it, my weight. I finally had to admit just how important she had become in my life and just how much she repulsed me.
She didn’t care.
She and I had become far too familiar with one another. We remained such a natural fit that after I was found on my living room covered in menstrual blood, she convinced me to stop the drug and allow us both a vacation from the tension that had developed between us.
When a reasonable weight returned with a friendly embrace, I was still left with a lush set of breasts and a soft round stomach. These would serve as painful reminders. One that no child would be nourished from them, and the other that no child would slumber safe in its depths.
Like a shooting star, a blessing would arrive in our lives by way of a 9-pound, 11-ounce baby boy born three days past his due date to a mother overwhelmed by a 3-year-old and men with false promises. My mother would arrive the day after we brought him home, toting a teddy bear twice his size bearing the name “Chosen” on his cardboard tag.
As my friends gathered around me to celebrate my ball of chubby perfection adorned with deep-brown doe eyes, she whispered a new mantra for them to repeat:
“You will get pregnant now that you have a baby.”
Seventeen years later, the fur on Chosen is worn, and he sits peacefully on the shelf. The boy who cuddled him is just short of a man. Deeply rooted in his spirit is the knowledge that he chose us. My heart would remain forever grateful, but my body would still long to grow a seed into life.
Two years passed, and I tangled myself into another baby boy. This one born with the most enviable eyelashes on the preschool playground. She lingered through the playdates and poked at me while mothers pushed their toddlers on swings with swollen bellies. My babies don’t look like me, so the stereotypical responses would be spoon-fed into my growing band of mothers:
“They are so lucky you adopted them!”
She need not remind me that her presence had brought me the precious luck of sticky fingers and runny noses in my life. But I still didn’t want to continue with our relationship. I persisted in hope. Every month I counted the calendar days the same way my now school-aged children counted the days before Halloween or Christmas. My mind would rattle me with promise:
“Am I late?”
She would play these games with me throughout our time together. But by now, our relationship had grown into a long term one and we had bonded together. She wasn’t going anywhere as she mocked me with it by feeding a new message to my friends at the after-school program run by the YMCA:
“At least pregnancy didn’t ruin your body!”
After years of taunting me openly she settled into a staid routine as voyeur in my marriage bed. She would sit across from the bed in the corner of the room sniggering as I tried to clear my mind of the days whirl and enjoy my husband’s touch. I begged her to allow me time and space from her so I could once again make friends with my libido that crouched all dried up in the opposite corner of the room. She merely shook her head:
“I’m not going anywhere.”
The hard fall of the recession would crumble our finances. The boy with the enviable lashes would need a reading tutor to offset his abusive first-grade teacher. The boy with the bear would pour over Harry Potter in search of a seat Hogwart’s Express to whisk him away to a place where he could no longer see the abyss that grew between his parents. My husband’s father dying and his career would drive us back to the sleepy island of Bainbridge, Washington. Another woman would offer to drive my husband away. He would accept the offer. Two parting phrases sit deeply burned into memory, and she stood by stoically to witness them:
“I don’t want to have sex with you anymore.”
“You can only hear the word ‘no’ just so many times.”
Even she allowed herself a tear of sadness that day. She knew that now our relationship would have to transform.
She and I have grown apart since that day. The closer and closer I edged to a half-century, the less we even thought about one another. The time had come to part ways.
I set up the folding chairs in the church basement and invited her to sit in the circle of my sorrows. A small paper cup of coffee sat in one hand for me to drink away the bitterness. The stale sugar-coated donut passed my lips with the sweetness that she had been there for the good times too. The time when I hugged a tree in a city park that was known to promise a child. It made good on its promise. The time I celebrated that my son, at 10 months, had spent more time with me than with the mother who bore him. The time that I would arrive back from play rehearsal to discover my 35th birthday present would be a second boy. The time that boy would take his first steps grunting his stubbornness like a tiny Frankenstein. The time he and his father would dress as a matched set of Darth Vaders. Every time a teacher would praise my big boy’s mind and heart in the same breath.
The soccer games, the birthday parties, the cuddles and farting in my bed over cartoons, the laughter from two candy-infused souls — so very much laughter.
She gave me all of that too.
I held both of her hands in mine. Our eyes both misted with tears as we recalled it all. Coffee grew cold and unnecessary because I found the bitterness in our friendship had been as needed as the sweet. Here is where we parted ways.
She is my friend and my foe.
She is my regret and my delight.
She is unrepentant and remorseful.
I have walked through this journey with her at my side. Her name is infertility.