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Contemporary Creative Nonfiction Sad

I hate it when people ask me, “When are you going to start a family?” Even the word family brings up a complicated series of emotions for me. Growing up, there wasn’t much to look up to in the way of role models, so I always thought that that was how people treated one another. The stupid, angsty teenager that I was, often thought that I’d rather be alone than be part of something that I hated. Luckily, life has a good sense of humour – I met an amazing man with whom to spend my life. “When are you going to start a family?” This is family.

I know what people mean when they ask that question. I’ve become extremely skilled at not answering that question. We’re just settling down, getting our house in order, making sure we’ve got all our ducks in a row. When? Not yet. Soon. Not too long, now. I can’t tell them. I can hardly admit it to myself.

For nearly 7 years, we have been trying to have a baby. For nearly 7 years, month after hopeful month, month after disappointing month, we have been dismayed. We’ve had too many consultations to count, too many consultations to keep track of, too many procedures to name. They can’t figure out what’s wrong. They have no more answers than we do. Each time we leave for home with more questions than we went in with. Our savings have been all but depleted. We both work hard at our jobs and we save where we can, but these procedures are insanely expensive.

We have gone through 9 rounds of IVF – all of which have failed. When we’re little, we’re taught not go give up, not to give in, not to quit. The problem is that each time this fails, it becomes progressively more difficult to try. It becomes progressively easier to give up. This month we started with round 10. Nine tries. Nine failures. Nine opportunities to quit. Nine torturous decisions to keep going. This time, there was the smallest flicker of hope when the doctor told me it looked like there were 5 or 6 viable eggs that they could retrieve: it would be enough for two or three more tries. We were so excited. We weren’t ready to give up.

When I woke up from my anaesthesia the next morning, after they went in to retrieve as many eggs as possible, I was told that there was exactly one viable egg. I know I should have been thankful, but it was absolutely devastating. One?! This was supposed to be a good day. There were supposed to be half a dozen possible attempts at an embryo, at a baby, at a family. There was one egg. 

On either side of me, behind a curtain, there was another woman, each getting her results from their doctor. To my right, lay a woman not much older than I am. I’d heard her tell the nurse that she has a son who is three. They aspirated 18 healthy, viable ova from her while I lay there, weeping silently into my hospital gown. “I thought there would be more,” she replied despondently. On my left was another woman in her thirties – their first-born was there with her; he is three months old and filled the ward with his cries. His mother now had 11 more eggs to add to her frozen collection for the next time they wanted to conceive.

If I wasn’t so unbelievably tired, it would have been too much for me. I wanted to quit. I cannot keep going through this, cycle after cycle, year after year. I simply did not have the strength to respond or protest. I just stared at the ceiling. As I lay there, in pain and bleeding, I resented these two strangers. Being sad would have been a reasonable response. Being disheartened would have been a reasonable response. Anger and resentment are not. The very fact that they were there on that day, tells me that neither of their journeys has been easy, but it is looking a whole lot easier than mine. How many times did they feel like giving up? Once? A dozen times? How long would you hang on to that dream before giving up? Would you quit?

I am under no illusion that life can be tough; I feel like I’ve had my fair share of struggles. Why must this be a struggle too? Intoxicated, semi-literate teenagers can do this… but I can’t. They can barely string a sentence together, yet they are given the gift of a child to raise. What else am I supposed to do? We have kept trying and trying, long after most people would have given up, long after the most tenacious people would have quit. It makes me feel like I have nothing to offer. It makes me feel inadequate, to say the least. Having your own body disappoint you in this way is heart-breaking. Whether I do everything right or everything wrong or everything in between, my body simply does not do what it’s supposed to do. What am I supposed to do? Reason and common sense say quit.

The chances of success are miniscule if there are a couple of eggs. With just one, it is nearly impossible. If this single egg fails to fertilise or implant or develop or a million other unknown things that can go wrong, we will have to start the whole process again. I know I’m supposed to hold on to what would essentially be a miracle, but experience and statistics both tell me to prepare for the worst. 

The egg does not fertilise. If it had worked, they would have sent a text message to help you prepare for the next step in the process. There is no text. There is no good news. Your phone rings. The thing you dread in the back of your mind suddenly becomes real. You half-hear the practised, soothing voice of the nurse on the other end of the line. “Would you like the doctor to give you a call later to discuss the road ahead?” No. That sounds a lot like giving up, like growing a family might not be meant for us. It sounds like quitting. Eleven might be just a number to many, but we’re going to try another round.

October 06, 2022 10:51

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2 comments

Francis Dagmar
22:19 Oct 12, 2022

This has a powerful and compelling intimacy about it, and I really enjoyed how you tore apart the casual assumption of control that comes with the question “when are you going to start a family?” I really enjoyed your use of repetition throughout the story, “month after hopeful month, month after disappointing month, “Nine tries. Nine failures. Nine opportunities to quit. Nine torturous decisions to keep going …” and the multiple occurrences of “quit”. Sometimes in a short story, the recurrence of so many words in a short space can be distra...

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Nikki Potgieter
03:10 Oct 13, 2022

Thank you so much, Francis. There are countless women around us who go through this kind of journey. They constant questions and the perceived pressure can so easily lead to them feeling that they are not good enough or that they are somehow lacking or unfulfilled. The repetition of those phrases was chosen very intentionally, as it does indeed reflect the numerous cycles that IVF patients go through. The character is an amalgamation of so many women's stories. She is certainly not defeated. Thank you for taking the time to write such a lov...

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