Published on January 30th, 2018 | by A. V. Klotz3
Invisible Legacy: On Longing After Infertility, Even When Babies Grow Up
In the mall, on the street, in my school, I pass women, hugely pregnant, pushing strollers, absorbed in the day to day business of expecting babies and raising little ones. From the pages of a glossy magazine, pregnant celebrities I will never know, beam up at me. Everybody, it seems, is having a baby: movie stars, princesses, teachers in my school.
Infertility, past tense, is invisible. No one can look at me, mother of three, and know the wounds, healed over, but unforgotten. Almost a quarter of a century after our first miracle daughter arrived, I remember.
There’s a part of me that remains hard-wired, attuned to pregnancy in all its nuance. I often know a faculty member in my school is pregnant before she breathes a whisper to me. My husband says I have a sixth sense. Perhaps one born of so many years of longing.
I remember hoping, hoping, touching my breasts, imploring them to be tender, scrutinizing my appetite, wishing to feel nauseated. Before such a thing as ovulation predictor kits existed, I took my temperature faithfully, plotting the degrees on a tiny bedside chart. I stopped attending baby showers, as many in this mute sisterhood must.
I felt angry, inadequate, out of control. I poured my love into the students I taught, caring for them fiercely.
A doctor gently suggested that perhaps we couldn’t get pregnant because my husband often traveled overseas often for work.
“You do need to be in the same place, you know?” he offered.
Yes, we understood the mechanics. Still, no blue line on the pregnancy tests I bought, hoping to trick my body into a positive result. If I did the test before I got my period, early in the morning, maybe, just maybe, I’d be pregnant.
Once I got pregnant, I couldn’t stay pregnant.
It was during those miscarriage years that we offered a workshop in Neutral Mask in the summer theatre program my husband and I ran. Guest artists came to lead sessions. Caroline came to teach this mask workshop. Neutral mask is a way of teaching observation, of simplifying gesture, clarifying intention. With a mask, paradoxically, more is revealed. The mask does the seeing. We had gorgeous masks—a female and male—hand made of leather by Stanley, a mask-maker in the Greenwich Village, who had insisted on meeting us before agreeing to create masks for us. Was he checking our aura? Perhaps.
I loved neutral mask work, found it mysterious, and loved that I was a beginner along with our teenage students. I wore black leggings and a black shirt—the regulation outfit for mask work—so that the viewer eyes can focus, undistracted, on the mask. On that hot summer evening, off stage, I pulled the mask down carefully over my face, breathed in the leather, felt my heart hammering. I checked in the mirror we had propped on folding chairs to be certain that the mask was positioned to let me see.
The scenarios were simple. Alone, I would enter the space, allow the mask to scan the horizon, see a ship, wave, find a reason to exit, turn and go. I knew what to do, and, seeing my imaginary ship, reached to wave, my arm lifting as if it did not belong to me, my heart full. I did not want to exit, but knew it was time to leave.
“Whoa,” I thought afterwards. “That was strange, like I was someone else.”
A few hours later, I lay in the same room on a massage table. Delphine, another guest teacher, taught workshops in Alexander Technique, and offered me a massage after the mask workshop that she had observed.
“It wasn’t your fault, you know.”
“What wasn’t?” I asked, floating in and out.
“That child. It wasn’t your fault you lost it. It’s time to forgive yourself.”
I wondered if I were having some sort of out of body experience, if I had lost it.
She continued, “In the mask, Ann, you were atoning for not being able to care for a child—let that go.”
I tried to pick up a thread I couldn’t hold. I breathed in the scent of the clean sheet on the table, focused on my breath.
“You mean, like in a former life, Delphine?” I struggled to understand. I’m not much of a New Age type.
“Long ago. Some other version of yourself. You couldn’t keep a child safe and you’ve been punishing yourself. Enough. You’ve atoned.”
Tears seeped from my closed eyes. I let the weight of my body rest on the table. Delphine’s hands moved over my back and shoulders, pushing. I cried. Finally, she said,
“That same baby, she’s circling, trying to reach you. It’s not five babies. It’s the same baby. She’s coming.”
The following summer, I stayed pregnant. When I first held Miranda, I remember thinking, “You made it. You finally got to me.”
That evening was so strange, so out there. But an aperture of forgiveness opened. That much I know.
Science finally helped us hold onto our babies–three of them. Yet, decades later, I remain fascinated by—by all the ways they come to us.
Good luck, mamas unknown to me. I’m in your corner.