When I was little, my parents told me that before I was born I was just a glimmer in their eyes. I took it literally. Before birth we hovered in the eyes of our parents, we people-to-be, golden pinprick gleams, waiting for the day we would swim down from the eyes into the dark warm curves of a womb.
Your knuckles probably dry out very easily in winter. My mother’s do, and so do mine. Right now, mid-February, my knuckles are red and chapped and close to cracked. My hands look much older than I am, they look like my mother’s hands.
I’m staring out the library window at a tree. The round sides of its trunk are white in the sun. College, these moments when I lean my cheek on my hand and wonder whether the future will ever happen—it is in moments like this that I want to meet you.
It’s funny because there was about a month this year when I was convinced you would never exist. From August to December I did not get a single period. Over winter break, home from my freshman year of college, I spent hours Googling reasons women infertile and what to do no period and why no ovulation. I am now an expert on ovarian hypofunction, amenhorrea, and other multisyllabic disorders. Some are genetic, some are not.
I suppose I was experiencing something of a womb crunch. Womb crunch is a phrase a friend and I made up a few weeks ago when playing the game where you think of two words that don’t go together. Plunge crisp. Serendipitous perforation. Womb crunch. We’re not sure about the precise definition of a womb crunch. Whatever it is, mine was unexpected.
Unexpected because truthfully, I have never liked babies. In some fleshy, thick-skinned way they are grotesque. Once I saw a baby in the bathroom of the Museum of Natural History in New York and was absolutely repulsed by its round little cheeks and blonde hair and dribbly mouth. The idea that I would ever want a baby, willingly procure one, wipe the dribble lovingly from its mouth, was equally repellent. I wanted to strangle that baby.
It’s okay. I’m sure I will like you. I hope you won’t dribble too much.
But of course, during those weeks when I was tragically obsessed with the idea that I could not have one, every baby became a little ball of agony. You lucky women, I thought. You lucky women. You women.
My favorite story for many years was the story of my own birth. Even now, the act of birth— anyone’s birth—always takes place in a peach-colored bathtub, for that is where my mother and I would reenact it. Birth was my favorite bathtime game. A strange one, I think now—I would curl up on the peach-colored pillow of my mother’s stomach and whoosh—slide down her skin, into the lukewarm water of the bath.
Again! Again! Let’s play being born! From years of questions, I know that my mother’s water broke when my father was reading my mother German poetry in bed. “Get a towel!” she suggested in panic. He dropped the poetry book and ran and got a paper towel from the kitchen. “Not a paper
towel!” she yelled from the bedroom. “A beach towel!”
I know that the winter I was born, there were 100 inches of snow in Boston. I know I was delivered by a South African doctor, Alan Pinshaw, the only doctor on the staff that my mother didn’t like. I know he wanted my mother to have an epidural, and she didn’t want one. I know he told
my father, “She should be reading the Times right now.” “What section?” my father asked testily. “Arts & Leisure?”
Recently I’ve been calling my mother more frequently. Sometimes I text her instead. She ends text conversations with, “You are loved.”
I wonder how we’ll be in touch. Texting? Calling? Holograph? You may want to use a word I created yesterday: frangst. It is angst, but with more frazzle.
(I will take you to the Museum when you’re little. I will take you to see the blue whale that hangs suspended in gentle mid-swim from the deep blue darkness of the ceiling, in the room with all the sea creatures suspended in mid-swim, where everything feels old and fresh and you inhale clean shadows, and swim a little yourself.)
My mother miscarried five times before I was born. I don’t remember when I learned this. It was sometime after I learned what a miscarriage is; certainly it was after the golden dots in my parents’ eyes had been reduced from hovering future children to mere reflections of light against transparent membranes.
I know my parents were married for five years before I was born; I know about the beach towel and the snow and the newspaper in the epidural room. I did not know about the other beach towels, the ones soaked in blood, the tears that glimmered in their own watery way. The other wombs. That sense I always had of an older sibling, somewhere out of sight. A brother, but sometimes a sister who had my mother’s lips.
There is always the question, isn’t there? Of who my almost-siblings would have been; of who I would have been. Of whether I would have been. During dark nights, when I feel like I shouldn’t exist, I sometimes ask the last question:
Why did I survive?
Every three months I walk out of the college health center under the distinct impression that I am carrying my future babies in a white paper bag. This is utterly false, of course; the bag instead contains three more months’ worth of birth control pills. The opposite of children. “It’s to ensure that you’ll get your period regularly,” the kind-voiced gynecologist told me. “We want to make sure everything’s…working.” I, who spent watery hours consumed with my own infertility, now take medication to guarantee it. The womb crunch has passed, perhaps, but the irony does not escape me.
I once passed an older couple sitting on the vaguelyblue-upholstered chairs in the lobby and they both looked at me with gentle birds’ eyes. They were both wearing gold-and-red plaid scarves. I wondered what they would think of me carrying anti-babies in this white paper bag.
There is a picture of my mother in the bathtub, the peach-colored hill of her belly rising out of the warm water. She is smiling, her fingers resting lightly on the belly, trailing a little water across the smooth skin.
Or maybe this is a womb crunch, these words. The act of crunching time, somehow, into words, pressing it with eye-squinting force from two far distant fingertips of the universe, so that for one infinitesimal moment we will both be here, reading this, these words about wombs, when I, the girl who will never know you, can write just one thing: You are loved.
I am long past the point where I can even recognize the passive voice. It is simply something my mother says to me, and I say to you, now, before this ends, and time passes, and the fingers stretch across a void. You are loved. You are loved. By whom? By what? Somewhere in the universe, warmth is moving, out of deep blue darkness, and it will find you, because you are loved.