Adventures in making and raising our test-tube babies

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Out of Order

This afternoon I had a tearful conversation with a friend whose mother died last night; my friend arrived on a flight from Africa just a couple of days ago, just in time to tell her mom she loved her. Earlier today I had a tearful conversation with a friend whose little boy had died of cancer ten years ago; he would have graduated from high school this spring. The first situation is sadder because it happened last night and my poor friend was so distraught. The second situation is sadder because no mother should have to bury her child. It is unthinkable.

The Aztecs were funny the way they made sense of contradiction. One of their main gods, Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, god of land and sky, was also known as the divine twin, the god of paradoxes. He showed that opposites were one and the same. One of the big paradoxes was the idea that death was life and life was death. The fact that life and death are cyclical and can't exist without the other is familiar to us, but we have a hard time considering them the same thing.

Still, in my quest to create a life, I have thought a lot about the close connection between the two. I have thought a lot about generations, a lot about continuity in change. I am profoundly aware of the lineage I share with my mom and her mother. I live in terror that one of them might die some day. My grandmother seems a more likely candidate, as she is about to turn 95 and has declared her very cogent little self to be "fading." Nine years ago today, my paternal grandmother died. That week I watched her coffin be lowered into the family plot at the small West Texas cemetery. I have never felt such a jolt as then, when I came to understand the cyclical nature of life and families: as a young woman, Grandma had stood just feet away from where I was standing, and had watched her own grandparents and parents lowered into the very same ground. Now it was my turn. Now I was her.

We humans like order. We have a chronological pattern that we need to follow, to feel secure about life even as we understand the certainty of death. One very important part of our order is that children cannot die before their parents. A Nigerian friend told me recently that in Nigeria, older family members are not allowed to see the corpses of younger family members. They can't go to their funerals. It compounds the disorder that happened when the younger person died first. It stems from bad luck and it creates bad luck.

Another way we think of the order of life is this: "First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage." A variation on that, which my friend Lucy pointed out last week, is that in upper-middle-class America, first comes college, then comes marriage, then comes children. The moment that one of those things gets out of order or doesn't happen, we just don't know what to do, what to expect, what to think. We just can't figure out how that would work at all. We disdain it because it's just so wrong!

So here's the thing about me: I don't like death. And it may seem like an overstatement to those of you who haven't experienced infertility, but failing to have a baby seems a lot like death. It's the forced absence, for ever and ever, of a loved one, a family member, the next step in the chain. If I have to lose my grandparents, I'll be damned if I don't get to replace them with the next branch of the family tree.

So like death, infertility involves grief and loss. It involves guilt because every month I think my bereaved baby's life could be resurrected, and he or she could live after all, but then something happens and there is no life. Was it my fault? Should I not have had the Diet Coke? Should I not have gone to aerobics? Would the embryo have been created, the baby have lived, if I'd taken another day on bed rest? I feel that on these tiny decisions rest the fates of eight grandparents' lineages. An awareness of history crushes me. The pull of the future won't let me alone. And every single month I feel it all, and it always ends badly.

My friend Ashley, who is herself battling the beast of infertility, has noticed that her own eggs will be removed from her ovaries around the same time as kids are hunting for Easter Eggs. I notice that my thoughts of death and life, and the order in which they're supposed to happen, have come precariously close to Good Friday and Easter. I don't know what it all means, except that the concept of life after death -- talk about shaking up the established order! -- has really caught humanity's attention. People make a big deal about eggs and fertility and life. Springtime is when life is supposed to burst forth everywhere.

Please don't get me wrong. I know I'm alive, and death has never torn me apart. I know that infertility can never compare to the anguish of losing people we have come to know and love. I grieve for my friends who have had to grieve their parents and children, who are doing it now.
The point I want to make is simply that infertility is not nothing. It's massive. Its implications are as big as life, and the sadness it creates makes me feel like I'm carrying around nothing but death.
P.S. In the pictures, see Grandma's grave, me and Mamaw, and the two embryos made from James's and my DNA, but which did not live to become babies.


I.M. Noone said...

Ah Kay! You joined the blogosphere for infertility. You have such a way with words. As you know I know, IF IS like death--and in some ways worse because you just keep mourning and mourning the loss. BUT, spring is here and I have high hopes for the both of us :)

DAVs said...

Aaaarrrgh, that comment showed up as being posted by Lee (from his music blog)...but is from me. xo Ashley