It feels like I’m always talking about infertility these days. Is infertility just more common because women are waiting longer to have children? We wait longer so we have more problems? Not necessarily. Holly Schechter’s Genealogy (Intima Fall 2014) reminds me that my own fertility problems connect me to generations of women, some who were mothers, others who were not. The path to motherhood is and always has been riddled with mis-es:– mistakes, misfires, misunderstandings and miscarriages.
Schechter draws us into her story with numbers. At first it feels clinical: “seven embryos” in a lab, but by the end of the first paragraph's simple math we realize that because there were once ten embryos, three were lost. With just two sentences, Genealogy makes me feel Schechter is in mourning. And I want to know the story of the missing three.
We follow Schechter to the lab. She gets her blood drawn often and has developed a routine to make it through. Like her, I also tell my nurses I have great veins. It’s a way to lighten the mood. It’s a way to establish what I can't say: “Look! There’s something about my body that works!”
Other details feel familiar. Schechter notices the “faces of other people’s children tacked to a corkboard barrier” at the nurse’s station. As soon as I realized my path to parenthood would be very difficult, I started to notice other peoples’ kids too. Happy families holding hands, three, four, even five children, danced in front of me at Walgreens, at parks, in line at the movie theater.
In our quest to become parents, the parents in our own lives take on mythical status. For Schechter, it’s her grandfather Zeidi who has his own Horatio Alger myth. For me it’s my grandfather Roy, or Grandpa Jackson. He was the youngest of five boys. He didn’t graduate high school. He supported his mother when the rest of his brothers were up to no good. He was always supporting someone. When I was 11 and my parents split up, Grandpa Jackson supported me. He was a parent for several generations: to his kids, to his grandkids, and then even to his grandkids’ kids. I used to wonder how he managed, having so many kids in and out of the house, so many mouths to feed, year after year. Now I’m jealous. I want kids in the house. I want mouths to feed.
And on the eve of my 35th birthday, like Schechter, I worry about the passing of time. Will my parents live to see my kids? Will my kids know my father the way I knew Grandpa Jackson? What’s the real cost of my present childlessness, of the delay? My losses can’t yet be measured, but they feel overwhelming.
Katherine Macfarlane is a law professor and Rheumatoid Arthritis blogger. Read her piece, "Flying Into Jerusalem" in the Spring 2015 Intima.
© 2015 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine