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Years ago, on a road trip across northern Wisconsin, I asked my 80-year-old grandma Anita how old she felt.“Thirty-seven,” she said, without missing a beat. This was my first clue that our chronological age doesn’t always match how we feel on the inside. I write this as a woman who, along with her husband, is in Baby-Making Mode in her early forties. In other words: We’ve used an app to track ovulation. We’ve timed sex for days 10-16 of my cycle. We’ve injected my belly with hormones. We’ve had him make his fatherly deposit in a plastic cup, take it to the doctor’s office, and have a nurse give me an immaculate catheter conception. And as I write this, we are about to go in for the deus ex machina of them all, IVF. I don’t know what’s going to happen.
Maybe I’ll end up being a mama.
Maybe I won’t.
Earlier this winter, I’d been having dreams about twins. Sometimes they’d gurgle and coo at me when I was doing the dishes. Other times, I could feel little-swaddled bodies snuggled in the crooks of my arms. So, at my ultrasound appointment when my doctor reported two large eggs hanging out in my left ovary, I thought, Hey, it’s the twins! Sidebar: I like to control the narrative. I also like to think of my body as a mythical, magnificent creature, like a unicorn. This causes me to make up stories about the things that happen in my body – like naming two unfertilized eggs ‘the twins’ – and to watch obsessively for the ‘meet cute’ story of when I (might) become pregnant. Later that day, the nurse called to say that it turned out those eggs were ‘too mature.’ They weren’t going to move forward with the procedure this cycle, after all. Feeling lucky, I told myself, Who knows? Maybe the twins want to come into being the old-fashioned way. I convinced my husband to make a direct deposit that night. And then we waited to see if anything stuck. Two days later, the phone rang.
But the call wasn’t about new additions to this world. Instead, my dad was calling to tell me his mama – my 94-year-old grandma Anita – had died. My grandma had been moved to hospice that week, so this wasn’t a surprise. But secretly? Part of me thought that, like the Dalai Lama, my beloved grandma might reincarnate as one of my babies. Never mind that she was Lutheran, and Lutherans do not believe in reincarnation. Wouldn’t that be something?! Later that night, I started to bleed. Goodbye, Grandma. Goodbye, twins. Real talk? I know it’s probably not a good idea to name unfertilized eggs. And I know it’s not rational to think that your grandma will take up residence in your uterus for another incarnation, especially when you were raised Protestant.
But I can’t help myself. Stories are my medicine, more than any prescription. I’m deeply ambivalent about how clinical medically-assisted baby-making is. On the one hand, my nurses and doctors are upbeat and professional. For this, I am endlessly grateful. I mean, every time I get a uterine ultrasound, they compliment me: Your lining looks beautiful! (It does? Why, thank you!) But on the other, it’s a bloodless endeavor. There is no discussion of the interior pilgrimage that accompanies a woman’s quest for motherhood, whether or not she ends up making a human. In fairness, that’s probably not their role. But if I were in charge of the universe, it would be. Because at my age, I know that the stories we tell ourselves are the whole ballgame.
Several weeks after the death of my grandma and the twins, I had some feeling to do. Eventually, as my sobs slowed, I caught sight of a new scene in my imagination. I was standing on the platform of a train station, waiting for our child’s train. I didn’t know when the train was arriving. I just knew I needed to be at the station if I was going to collect her and take her home. The truth is, that train may never come. But in clear-eyed moments, all that matters is my decision to wait at the station, even if it’s taken me all my life to get here.
A teacher and advertising writer based in Buffalo, Stephanie Saline spent one decade on adventures in Japan, Seattle, and Montana, and another decade building a popular copywriting business. She now leads writing workshops where women become the hero in the story of their own lives. “We live in a world where we are all heroes now – and that’s a great thing.” Find out more about her work at www.stellaorange