The day after Independence Day. The day after the party after the barbecues when the hangover is still throbbing in the frontal lobes of the collective head, when the fireworks’ smoke still lingers over the summer grass like a haze, before the sprinklers get turned on to wash the lawns clean of reverie. The day after the country gathers with pies and fried chicken, greasy food on plastic picnic blankets spread out on lawns, on rocks, on beaches, against a river or ocean, on rooftops, anyplace with the best view of the starburst sky when the evening settles into darkness and the cymbals crash and the flags fly and everyone wells up with a kind of inbred patriotism, baseball and small towns, fathers and sons, drunken post-grads looking for a hookup.
July 5this the day of your conception. Or at least, the date they placed cells that would become you inside of me. The day you were placed in the nest of my womb to grow.
The conception of a thing. The beginning. A small explosion of hope. You were so much that and more. You were the impossible become possible for these two broken people who collided together, both of us newly sober and walking with training wheels, stumbling to make up time, putting the pieces back together, making apologies and changing directions. Trading in tumblers of bourbon and gin and wine for coins marking time. Then choosing the speed of our own falling, making sure the ground was soft and our bones were strong. We fell in love in middle age but past the season of conceiving, at least for me. Then the impossible in the nick of time, again, at least for me, and so, for us. My own eggs, long past viable. And we had mourned that loss together and moved on. What I’ve learned is to not be surprised by the unexpected.
I was not that hopeful. I was like that 4thof July hangover, head hurting from the failed attempt a month before, my heart afraid to soar. The months of preparation of pills of shots of vitamins of more pills and more shots. The first implant, a few months prior, was a sacred moment that I’d choregraphed. I meditated with intention before the sky filled with morning. The birds woke with my silent sitting. We drove east to Chattanooga and I was a smiling Pieta, dressed in blue, the color of the mother, with a prayer shawl and a necklace of blue topaz that hung right at my womb. Who I thought was you was placed gently inside me as I prayed to all my goddesses and after, we drove home the 2.5 hours in certainty, stopping at a Cracker Barrel for breakfast so I could eat all the things, as I already felt pregnant. I was certain. My breasts ached with milk, I supposed. Something shifted in my abdomen and for 2 weeks, I ate donuts and kale, slept soundly with deep drowning dreams until the day we called in for the results of the pregnancy test and heard, “I’m sorry. It’s negative,” and the sky fell dark around me and I had to grip the furniture tightly to keep from falling, to keep from grabbing at the bottle of wine, to keep from drowning again in that river.
Your father let me howl. Later, we went for a walk in the woods near our house, along the river that swelled with rain, near to overflowing again, dangerous and loud. It was late Spring and the wind would swirl into little tornados and the path was damp. A deer emerged from the trees, lost, looking for its family, and backed back into the brambles. We looked at each other and stopped walking. He said to me, “We’ll try again. It was not meant to be. The next time may be.” And that was that.
So, then, here we were again. 2 months later. Waiting out my period to come back, an interminable few weeks. Stopping the shots to start them up again. We had one more round of IVF paid for by benefits and then we would be on our own dime. It would cost us up to $4000 to do a 3rdtry and I was already weighing whether or not we could put THAT on another credit card. Jamey would be hard to convince as we both had decided to only do 2 tries. To not keep going. We’ve known people who have gone through many tries and we didn’t want to bear that grief.
So the 2ndimplant would be on July 5th. A tedious word on a nothing date. Rainy, thunderstorms, lightening all around us. The drive back again to Chattanooga was a foggy mess through the mountains and I tried to keep a light conversation going but gave up, and Jamey put a podcast on to divert our attention. When we arrived, they led us back into the area behind curtains, our own gurney bed, a pair of scrubs for us. Jamey to put in the gown and mask and booties over his shoes. Me to disrobe from the waist down. I waited half naked and untied in the back on the papered bed and tried to smile, but inside I was numb. Ready to be told again “Negative”. The embryologist came in. “I’m so sorry to say, we unthawed the best embryo but it fell apart so we would like to unthaw one more. It will take about 18 minutes.” We asked, “but didn’t you pick the best of them?” “Yes,” she said. “This happens sometimes. It won’t be too long, so just wait here.” We had 12 at the beginning. The best didn’t create a pregnancy. The 2ndbest fell apart. This would be the 3rdbest. Didn’t bode well. I took a deep breath and tried to look like this did not phase me. It did. But I sat quietly and counted breaths.
Thunder clapped and the lights went out. The embryologist excused herself, calling over her shoulder, ‘Don’t worry. We have backup generators.’ Jamey and I didn’t look at each other. The lights blinked back on with a surge noise. Generators. Ah.
18 minutes. What an arbitrary number. But I remember it. As I remember the storm. And that it felt like we were the only ones in the clinic that morning, the rest of the world sleeping off their hangovers in the storm.
They wheeled me in a wheelchair. I think. Or maybe I walked in and sat on top of the surgical bed, lights above me, stirrups at the end. The fertility doctor specialist was there. Not the one we had been dealing with as she was on a family vacation but her partner, the kind one who called me the day after our first one failed to tell me it took he and his wife 3 times to get pregnant and that he understood how disappointed I must be and how we must be feeling but that he thought I had a wonderful chance of getting pregnant and that we should try again. I was happy he would be doing the implant.
Implant. The banal word we have to use for your conception. The act of placing a thawed embryo made from Jamey’s sperm and the egg of a donor we will never meet nor will we ever know her name. Donor #24563. That’s a made up number because I have lost her number. Implant. Something someone does to you. Like intercourse. Putting one thing inside of another to create a pregnancy. I guess, it’s kind of similar. And considering the effort and expense we took in this kind of intercourse, you were extraordinarily well thought out, well timed and very very very much wanted. There is a romance in this science.
The storm threw another arm of lightening and thunder hit the side of the wall shaking the clinic and the power went out again. We held our breaths in the dark. I wondered will our embryo die in this millisecond? The lights flickered, something surged and the power was back on. “Generators” said the doctor. “Ah,” I said, squeezing Jamey’s hand.
I heard a voice from behind a glass confirmed a transfer with the doctor then to me and then back through the glass. I imagine a water bubble, a glass bead, a pearl on the end of a translucent tube, you were the pearl, and the doctor-wizard wove the tube, the wand, up inside me and placed you gently inside of a nest I had been making of sticks and cotton, desire and prayer, a soft nest full of hope, and you were placed gently there in the darkest shade with warm walls of my womb surrounding you so that you could reach out with little hands from some part of this zygote to hold on, to stick, to stay, to attach and become part of my uterus, to become part of me, so that my blood could feed you through that reaching so that it would be my body feeding your growth as blastocyte becomes more than just a cluster of cells but a human embryo, a fetus, and finally, a baby.
You were made of equal parts faith, science, desire and patience. You took an extraordinary amount of belief to emerge from our wishing. You were made of failure and surrender, car crashes and DUI’s, lies and amends, broken hearts and double rainbows.
Your conception happened on July 5th, in a fertility clinic in Chattanooga, Tennessee near the winding river, the day after the fireworks, the quiet day after the sky exploded into color.