Probably – and in no small part because your Dad and I thought this through carefully – you’re going to be an only child. If we do things just right, your being an “only” won’t mean you’re “alone” or “lonely,” either. It’ll just mean your folks were done growing the family. With you, we were complete. And the universe agreed.
You might have been a quindicaplet. You weren’t. You were, however, one of 15 distinct petri-dish possibilities and the only one that lived long enough to be our baby.
Someday you’ll ask me about the others, and this is what I’ll tell you.
Sometimes, possibilities aren’t. No matter how badly you want them or how hard you work toward your end goal or how much expert assistance you employ in your valiant attempt to make those big ideas reality, occasionally it won’t matter because they were always destined to amount to not much of anything. That was the case for the first 10 of your “blastosibs” who, too fragile to grow, didn’t. Or, later, the one too weak to survive “The Great Thaw.”
Sometimes possibilities are but just for a little while. That was “Maggie.” (Dad and I only assigned pet names to those embryos we encountered personally, by the way – less to personify them because that wasn’t the goal and we never quite believed they were people in the same sense as you and me…more to assign an easy moniker to our memories like, say, “Dad’s thirtieth birthday” or “Roadtrip 2000.” Maggie.) She was the one we declined to confirm was miscarried. I took this gritty cell phone picture of a veritable heap of blood and tissue to ask Dr. P- whether, when IVF doesn’t work, it’s supposed to “look like this.” He eyeballed the picture, answered my question with his eyes – no, probably not – and told us we could try again in a couple of months. We did. I’ll get to that.
Sometimes, possibilities aren’t possible for you personally. That’s the way it was with “Francetta,” the embryo we had in storage until we couldn’t afford to keep her in storage any longer and because the idea of this someday/maybe/never baby wasn’t what we had in mind. We were pregnant with you. And when we learned the stem cell research program we’d contacted would cease taking donations before Francie ever arrived at the Stanford lab, we elected to take her home. Her. We were, of course, never sure whether she would have amounted to girl or boy or anything much at all. So when Dr. G- pulled that little vial from the smoking vat of liquid nitrogen and told your Dad and me she’d let us “take a minute,” I couldn’t imagine why. I was surprised when, just as quickly, I could. Francetta would be forever and ever the baby we’d only ever know in our imaginations. And so we mourned over mystery.
And then, sometimes, the possibilities are endless like when we “tried again” a couple of months later.
Enter you. Also, enter “Zoe.”
For a little while, you were Zoe’s twin sister. (We called you “Iggy” and insisted – though we had no idea, really – that you were the blotchy little blob to the left of the picture we got and she the pomegranate-shaped pop on the right.) At only seven days post-blastocyst transfer, I took a pregnancy test on a whim and saw the bluest line one Aspiring Pregger could have hoped to have seen, especially one poised to have, that same day, the we’re-infertile-and-if-this-cycle-doesn’t-see-us-knocked-up-we’ve-decided-to-live-child-free talk with our family and friends. We had a talk. It was different. It was the we’re-infertile-and-newly-pregnant-and-probably-it’s-twins talk. In the days and weeks to come, blood tests would reveal we were indeed pregnant with hormone counts at double or better the norm for one fetus, but when we got as far as the ultrasound, Zoe had already left us.
Too soon, some might say. I’m not so sure. She had just enough time to fulfill a purpose that, at present, appears threefold but is just as likely much more multifaceted…something to be revealed in due course. The possibilities are endless. First, in tripping that early pregnancy test early, she made it so we never had to have that dreadful talk. (Look, we might have gone on to live a really blissful, child-free existence but not without a lot of bullshit pity.) Second, she made room for you. (I’m glad.) Third, she inspired in our family the sort of introspection that leads to the realization that even when life’s a first-rate cluster, it’s as it should be. When I need to be reminded as much, I call upon her memory.
Which is exactly what I did when, at nearly six months old, you still hadn’t managed to take so much as one nap outside my arms. Every attempt to put you down to rest was futile. You forced open your heavy, heavy eyelids. You screamed. You cried. You never “cried it out.” Hours passed. Days. Unrelenting tears, hyperventilating sobs, a side of vomit. You weren’t having it. I didn’t now why, though I sensed it had something vaguely to do with being unprepared to go it alone. I needed divine, cosmic intervention to convince you of the truth: You weren’t.
Anyway, it was your first Hanukkah, and you got this doll whose perfectly-pressed pink dress was monogrammed with the name of your bygone blastosib: Zoe. The doll was black. Or Asian. Bi-racial. We’re uncertain. (She reminded Dad and me of how we were never really sure our kid, if we ever had one, would even vaguely resemble either one of us, and we couldn’t care less. Unimportant. We’d think she was the most beautiful thing we’d ever seen, and we’d be right.) Zoe-Doll was lovely like you.
You liked her. You really liked her. You liked her like you knew what she meant. Case in point.
So I went out on a limb. Come nap time, I tucked you into your crib and tucked the Pottery Barn plush Zoe under your flailing arms. “Look,” I said. “You’re not alone. She’s right here.” I was talking about the doll. I was talking about the memory of Zoe, your blastosib and the way, sometimes, our memories sustain us when we’re sad or scared or lonely.
In that instance, I hoped yours would. I hoped whatever beautiful memories you made in six months’ time (your mom’s funny faces, play time with Dad, sweet potatoes, swings!) would sustain you when you got anxious because I was downstairs making a cup of coffee and you couldn’t see me. And I hoped they’d sustain you when, someday, you were feasting on cafeteria food, missing Dad’s cooking, falling asleep in a too-tiny dorm room bed and waking up to an alarm clock that wasn’t your mom. Or juggling a host of responsibilities which may or may not include parenting your own kid(s) and wishing, even if just for a second, that somebody would take care of you for a change, like, say your parents used to. Or missing us because we’re gone to wherever folks go when they’re through living. When such time comes, I hope your memories sustain you.
And I hope you always sleep easy.