So, let’s talk about biology. You know, the thing that makes the world go around. WE are science—a mass of cells that are blood, brains (sometimes), and everything else. There is nothing happening without biology. We all exist because of it. Cells divide and become frogs and wolves and babies. We are created by it. We the human race, and everything up and down the food chain. Cells divide, and, here’s the key, reproduce. Create. Creation. Sounds good to say that in a theatre, no? We create. Recreate. Everybody and everything has babies! Little selves! Little MEs! And there are no grades for that because everybody can do it! Birds do it, bees do it….
Well, what if you can’t do it? That in the realm of biology, you are definitely getting an F. I don’t get Fs! I was good in school, I was smart, and of course I sat in front of Eddie Wolff in math and science and I could always turn around and say, “Eddie, I don’t get it!” And he would roll his eyes a little and fiddle with the pens in his shirt pocket, and then patiently explain everything! So this getting an F thing is definitely not in my wheelhouse!
This is how it starts. You’re just out of college and newly married and living in rural Missouri because that’s where your husband is going to medical school and you have a job with the welfare department driving around visiting seniors living in, yes, literally, chicken coops, and hoarders with 40 pound rabbits that jump on your lap when you’re sitting there trying to solve problems for a very old couple and their very odd daughter. So, after a while, you get the idea that you should go off the pill—you’ve been taking that pill all through college because of course the last thing you wanted is to get an F in life and end up not graduating or working part-time in Walgreens, but that’s another story—so you for some reason think that it’s a really good idea to HAVE A BABY. After all, doesn’t that beat commuting to Milan, Missouri and trying to figure how to get to someone’s house by turning northeast at the red barn—I’m from New York, what does that even mean? Whatever happened to turning left or right?
So you stop taking the pill. And you don’t even think about how you and your husband are going to live on nothing—he’s a student!! It just somehow seems like a good idea—time for a JOLT! And…nothing happens. You don’t worry, because why would you? Anybody can get pregnant. You will. And you’re busy, your husband’s busy—he’s cutting up a cadaver named Earl and you have to commute to that little town and walk through pastures avoiding cows to that chicken coop where that crazy guy lives and you kind of adore how creatively he lives even though everything he does makes no sense, like his Rube Goldberg contraption for running water and some kind of odd creation of pipes and tubes for a hot plate. He’s not safe, what if he falls, what will happen to him if he gets sick, he should move into assisted living, but he certainly doesn’t want to so really, just leave him alone in his pasture. He’s happy!
Meanwhile, back at home, you are giving it the old college try. You’ve discovered that you should take your temperature first thing every morning and keep a chart and there will be these certain days where your temperature will go up an eensy bit and those days are THE DAYS TO DO IT. Now this all sounds well and good, but there are a couple of issues here. First of all, your temperature chart looks like shit. It’s all zig-zaggy! It doesn’t look ANYTHING like those graphs in the books (yes, it’s the 1970s, you have to go to the library and read books about this, there is no internet). So you’re not sure when THOSE DAYS actually are—you know when they’re supposed to be, and you have to mark them on the calendar and you have to add a few days on either side, and hope for the best. That’s the first problem. The other is that your husband has to participate. And it’s not just that there’s an optimal day. There might also be an optimal time of day, and he just might still be in the lab with Earl. So there’s that. And of course, even though he changes his clothes and takes a shower, he still smells like Earl. And Earl is one foul-smelling dude. And the other thing is that if you do actually manage to accomplish the deed in what seems to be a more or less romantic fashion is that you can’t move and youhave to lie around with pillows under you for quite a while to make sure one of those little suckers “takes.” And this is SO BORING. Even if you have a library book. So let’s just say that the whole process becomes rather mechanical. And really defeats the idea of what you’re doing. Because you’ve tried it the “let’s be romantic and see what happens” way, and you’ve done it the “check the charts and get home in the next 20 minutes way” and NOTHING IS HAPPENING. Not to mention the fact that you are always encountering other women who say stuff like, oh don’t worry, I thought that too, and then I sat on his lap one day and the next thing you know, I WAS PREGNANT.
So once you get going on the idea that you want a child, it’s pretty hard to let go. You’re going to try every damn thing you can think of—
You go to the doctor, but you’re in a town in northern Missouri, and even though there’s a medical school, it’s the 1970s, and the I-word (infertility) isn’t really a thing. But the doctor examines you, and of course, because of where you are, wants to have student doctors examine you too, and even though you might have run into them at a party, you say okay and, because of course, medical science, and everyone has to learn sometime, so there you are with your feet in the stirrups and you’re getting tested and probed and everyone gets a turn and you’re staring at the ceiling and there’s a lot of nodding, but NOBODY HAS A CLUE.
Trust me, you only do that once! Your desire to be a guinea pig for medical science vanishes. And then suddenly, the kindly doctor dies. Not pretty! Scandal, affair, suicide, but that’s another story, never mind! So you’re on your own and time goes by, years actually, and you get out of Missouri and you’re in Ohio now, and there are new doctors, and suddenly there are shots, fertility shots, you get these monthly hormone shots (all the while thinking, can this be good for you—many years later you learn that it definitely wasn’t) and still NOTHING HAPPENS. This is the new normal, but you’re still half-heartedly trying, and emphasis on the heart part, it’s gotten really old. Nine years, to be exact. And you’re done. Just done. No more monthly BIG RED F. It’s clear: You are not the one, the birds/bees one/ the sit on my lap and let it happen one/ the just relax one.
You get out of Ohio and move to Wisconsin where the husband gets to be a doctor and you’re working in his office and you start to think about what you might do. You have no children, you have no career. What might you DO?
Well, one day you might be at a cocktail party and you might have had some wine and you might be so exhausted and frustrated and sick of being a failure, AN F, and you might say that to someone who just happens to be standing next to you, (and you definitely might not remember who that person was, cue the angel music), and so you might tell this person your sad, sad tale of your “JOURNEY” and you might finish by saying, “I guess this means that God doesn’t think I should be a mother” (this was back in the day when you might have believed that God was some cosmic guidance counselor with an individualized plan for your life). But then, that person next to you at the party might have blinked and without pausing might have replied, “Well I think it means that you are supposed to be someone else’s mother.” BINGO! That apparently had never seriously occurred to the person who had been for years entirely focused on proving that she was completely normal and whole, that she could accomplish what a squirrel, a chicken, or a randy teen could, that everyone in the world except her could by just blinking!
And so, wonder of wonders, you find yourself visiting your best college friends in Evanston, and you say you’ve been looking into adopting a baby but it seems to be a long, difficult and very iffy process, and your friend Sandy says to you, “but there’s an adoption agency right down the street, let’s go check it out!” So you and Sandy walk into this building on Ridge Avenue, a rather forbidding stone building, and you tell the nice lady why you’re there, a process begins, there are interviews and home visits and physicals and references and essays to write and photos of you to file, and suddenly there’s a glimmer of hope, and then, for some unimaginable, unfathomable, astonishing, exhilarating and thrilling beyond measure reason, literally nine months from the day you walked into that stone building, you get a phone call that informs you that you can meet your new son in three days.
You have barely allowed yourself to think about this! You haven’t bought anything, because you didn’t want to be the person with a decorated yellow nursery and stacks of yellow clothes and a raft of stuffed bunnies and teddies and mobiles sitting there, maybe for years. And the reality of actually being a parent has been so exquisitely remote that you haven’t given it any thought! You’re getting a baby who will be starting his fourth week of life, who’s been at the agency’s nursery since birth and has been taken care of by professionals, by nurses, and you have NO IDEA what to do. So you definitely add a copy of Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care to your massive shopping list, and it will become really, really dog-earred very quickly.
It is hard to describe the emotional tsunami that occurred that day when I met my incredible son, and, wonder of wonders, would occur again about two and half years later when my amazing daughter arrived in the same fashion. You go from a person who had invested in this nutsy idea—originally for pretty shallow reasons—to accomplish what biology requires of the human race, to a person who accomplishes not the biology but the absolute irrefutable reality that a child is now and will always be your life. You are handed this beautiful little thing and the grades go out the window—you are responsible, you are spectacularly grateful, and you are awed with the notion that this is for you the most singular event ever to occur in your life. This child, these children, are absolutely yours.
In the dance of official adoption proceedings that occurred that day, the meeting with the lawyer, the appearance in the county clerk’s office and then before the judge, I cannot stop looking at this miraculous baby. And there is this one incredible thing, believe it or not, that’s the tangible result of this experience that washes away everything that preceded it—you are given a rolled up document, rather like a diploma, actually, that those officials touch to the baby’s head to announce that the child is yours, is MINE —and it reads:
“Not flesh of my flesh; not bone of my bone; but still miraculously my own. Never forget for a single minute, you didn’t grow under my heart, but in it.”
That’s an A+, I should say.