Reaching for the Joy of Our Unborn Child
Marisa Crane on Cycles of Loss and Expectation
The first try I don’t inject the sperm. I hold your white-knuckled hand while the doctor spreads your legs. She smiles as she talks, pulling on her latex gloves and rolling over to you on her stool. I wonder how many pregnancies she tries to facilitate per day, if she will even remember us. The preparation is so casual, we could be getting ready for bed.
There is a jar of sperm where a blown-out candle should be. A bright fluorescent light, instead of our bedroom’s familiar dim. A folder of paperwork in place of our ever-growing stack of books. Outside, drivers beep at one another and fight over parking spaces. Here, in the place where our family will hopefully grow, there are no sensual playlists, no half-empty bottles of wine, no dontstopdontstopdontstops. Just us, and a third we didn’t find on Tinder.
The doctor looks up at me from between your legs and says, Do you want to do it? I’m so unprepared for her offer that I scream No! and you laugh so hard that I think there’s no way a baby wouldn’t want to call your body home. I know it’s silly but I’m afraid I’d somehow mess the procedure up. What if I shoot the sperm up the wrong tube? What if I don’t push the syringe hard enough? There is so much that we cannot control.
I hold your hand until the procedure is done and the doctor wishes us good luck on her way out the door. It feels rushed, but not in the delicious, untamable way that a quickie does. For the next two weeks, I feign a level head—for you and for me. I know that intrauterine insemination—IUI—almost never works on the first try. All the articles say so. Our friends, too. Plus, you’re 36, a fact you wish medical professionals would quit reminding you. A geriatric pregnancy, they’re still calling it.
You’re right, we have to prepare for more tries, I say, putting on what you call my business face. But at night, when you’ve turned off the light and kissed my shoulder, mumbling goodnight through your falling, I lie awake thinking of our baby, Bear, a name I can’t wait for my mother to hate. We have a list many scrolls long, but Bear is near the top. No matter what, our baby’s middle name will be Michael, after your late brother. Always Michael, never Mike. Bear has your blonde wispies and tender blue eyes, and Michael’s sweet, songbird lips.
Our sperm donor was an English major, is now a bookseller and photographer. What you said when we first began searching the online bank for him: Don’t get too attached to any one donor. We don’t know if his sperm will be available when we’re ready to buy it. Four beers and two hours later, I was practically rewriting my vows to include a man named C.
I wonder if he ever thinks of us. I wish I could ask him what he’s reading right now, if reading makes him feel closer or further from himself, and what tools he uses to measure that distance. I imagine Bear holding a book before a bottle. A different kind of hunger. I imagine Bear has our sperm donor’s butt chin and freckles, too.You see it all the time—joyful spaces ruined by loss.
This waiting is unlike any waiting I’ve had to do before—every task, every decision, every meal, has a new weight to it, a peculiar hyper-focus to distract us from the biology of chance. I never thought I’d be here, doing this, with anyone. And then I met you at a basketball game, and everyone who wasn’t you looked blurry around the edges. I can’t recall the first thing you said to me, but I do remember how, when you sat down on the bleachers next to me, my breath kept getting lost on its way out of my lungs. What was it you said just a few weeks later?
You’ve given me something I never would have taken for myself.
I wish it were possible for me to give you this one thing, for my strap-on to contain millions of sperm dying to enter the race. I want to make a life with you so badly that I can think of little else. The corners of my universe are tearing away to make way for a new one. Two weeks later, the test is negative, and we split a bottle of wine called Bearitage, just to lean into the pain.
You’re fascinated by spaces, how the same space can affect people differently. That’s one of the first things you told me at the cove where we stole minutes together, our partners none the wiser. You used to talk about the energy of a playground versus a dilapidated building versus a luxury resort. Every space has its own identity, separate from the visitor.
Going home to Massachusetts was always hard for you—there was so much turmoil there—but at least it was full of family. Family that never missed a chance to curse a motherfucker out for you. (I wish I’d been there when your mother threw a McDonald’s cheeseburger at a customer who was harassing you, a 15-year-old employee.) Now, your mother’s house has become a Michael museum.
When we visit, we find childhood photo after childhood photo. We find your brother’s tools, tee shirts, and flannels. His gecko your mom inherited taps the glass with its tiny hand; we remove it from its case and let it crawl up our arms. If I have ever known a deeper sadness, I cannot recall it. The air stills, then sits on our chests—it’s hard to breathe. Hard to separate life from limbo from death.
You see it all the time—joyful spaces ruined by loss.
I didn’t want the same thing to happen to our cove, the covert meeting place where we held hands and kissed and drank Cali Creamin’ while discussing the best way to be together without blowing our lives up. I didn’t want to miss out on you. I hoped the cove would never become a space that I couldn’t bear to return to.
Now we sit at that same cove, its energy unspoiled. I read an article that says children of lesbian mothers report higher rates of happiness. They should give us a child based on this fact alone, I say. The sun illuminates your countless tattoos. Zen Hulk. Wolverine. Slimer. Scooby-Doo. Cacti. Flowers. I work with children, you say, whenever people ask what they mean. What I think you wish you could say: I have a gaggle of children, a rugby team full.
Then there’s the tattoo for Michael. The one that makes everyone grab your wrist and say, That’s beautiful, what is it? their breath stopping as they realize what it means to store your heart in the dash between two dates. We discuss our gorgeous nephew. How we wish we could be the ones to raise him. We recall the way he clutched onto us at Michael’s funeral, crying whenever we passed him to anyone else. Loved ones took turns speaking at the podium, a slideshow of Michael-photos playing in the background.
I propped your brother’s son up on my lap and stuffed him full of crunchy snacks—I didn’t want him to understand what was going on. He looked like the rest of our lives, and yet, we cannot touch him. We discuss fostering, adoption. We dream of a house with a huge yard full of games and balls and inquisitive children, a porch with rocking chairs we can read our books in. Aperol spritz for me, red wine for you.
There is so much I want for us that I don’t know where to store all the wants. When I wake up each morning, I am so heavy the floor cracks beneath my feet.
The second try I am prepared. Should I go down on you first? Will that help? I half-joke as you pull off your pants and underwear. I wish, you say. After we confirm the sperm donor’s identification number, I tell the doctor that I’m ready to knock you up. This time it’ll take, I say. Because of my magic touch.
You agree, I think because you’re too afraid of the alternative—that faith isn’t nearly powerful enough. This is the closest two women can come to making a baby, I think, as I push the plunger on the syringe and send 50 million sperm cascading down the catheter and into your uterus. This time, the doctor tells you to lie on your back for 15 minutes, like a Handmaid, and I put a timer on for you.Not everyone has this privilege, I think. The privilege of trying and waiting and breaking all at once.
At work, I grow angry thinking about all the fertile straight people of the world. They have the chance to make a life out of love, or even not-love, if they want. I think of our male friend who, when we told him how IUI works, laughed and said, Wow, poor us, we just had to have a lot of sex for three months.
And here we are, paying entire paychecks for what we cannot do alone. Later, when I fuck you, it feels like the room is holding its breath. Your orgasm is hard and lasts longer than usual. I think this one worked. I can feel it, I say. I don’t know what I’ll do if it didn’t, you say. Your comment makes me feel small yet alive.
What if IUI doesn’t work? What if we need to resort to IVF, in vitro fertilization, instead? I wonder how much more money we can afford to throw away. Not everyone has this privilege, I think. The privilege of trying and waiting and breaking all at once. When the doctor presents you with a price list not unlike a list of à la carte spa services, what they don’t tell you is how many pregnant women will show up on your Facebook feed, or the penetrative haunt of a single pink line, or the strength it takes to permit yourself to hope. They don’t tell you the effort it takes to smile and say congratulations when someone turns to you at a party, mocktail in hand, and says, Guess what? I’m pregnant.
This time in bed I think of Fox. Maybe Fox is the one that makes it. I read that foxes can hunt using the magnetic field of the earth. Maybe our Fox can track eggs that way. It only takes one. I don’t know everything about Fox, but I do know that Fox will be kind even where kind has never been found before. In new natural habitats, in the cracks of quaking hearts. We will make certain of that.
I want Fox to be able to talk to us about anything and everything, I say. There is a reason I am applying to grad school to become a therapist. Sometimes I cannot fathom anything but talking. We will be awesome parents, you say, smiling at me that way you do. Fox can be whoever the fuck they want to be.
To be clear, Fox cannot be a Republican, I say, wagging my finger dramatically. You make a face that says, Not fucking possible.
From “We Will Have Some.” Copyright © 2020 by Marisa Crane. First published in TriQuarterly, July 2020. By permission of TriQuarterly and the author. All rights reserved.