“It was worse for me, than the cancer itself.” When I heard those words, I sighed a big, giant sigh of relief. On the other end of the phone line was a woman telling me about how cancer stole her fertility. It was worse, she told me, than the the cancer itself. I thought I was the only one. I wasn’t. And even better, she’s through. Her depleted ovarian function and out-of-commission uterus was worse than the cancer itself, but she got her baby anyway, and she’s expecting a second one soon, a second baby squirming in the uterus of another woman until it’s time for her to hold that baby in her arms. She spoke with wisdom and calm, of the turmoil and of the resolution, and of the way things happen in the end, just as they should. I was relieved.
I always knew we’d have children, it was only a question of when. We were waiting until I was through the PhD, until I had a tenure track position, until we were solidly situated in a city we would expect to call home for a long, long time. That was the way we organized time, how we thought about our lives, how we organized events on a timeline, one after the other. But we’re not on that path anymore. We have no timeline. The organization is amuck. And who knows where we will be in a year, in two, in ten. And more importantly, who cares?
With a cancer diagnosis and many months of treatment under our belt, the way I think of time is entirely different. There isn’t a ton of it, and it’s never certain. There’s always an unknown, a question, a not-knowing. Things could change in a moment, and radically so, or they can march on in the mundane, so mundane that it’s boring. And we can never know. There is no vision, no mirage, no whisper of what the future holds- simply, we cannot know. That’s not hopeless. In fact, it could be just the opposite. It is both hopeless and hopeful, it is impossible and settling. We cannot know, we don’t know what will come. And so planning things like babies and careers is both exciting and pointless. It is thrilling to think ahead and utterly without reason.
Yet part of me is still stuck in the rut of planning, obsessed in the security of what should be, what could be, what is, what was, what I know is impossible. That part of me is my head, telling me we should be practical and watchful, waitful and hopeful, telling me a baby should wait until I have an office on a university campus and something to profess over. But the rest of me, the heart beneath my fake boob that is feeling the world, begs to differ. The rest of me shakes her head at waiting, at willful planning, knowing that it is useless, knowing that following the heart is a path more studded with jewels than the journey the head wants to take.
I am extraordinarily fortunate to have a family member I trust deeply who wants to carry our baby, in spite of the warnings and risks that made me raise my eyebrows at the fertility clinic. It just seems so intentional, and it is intentional, and intentionality lights the fire of planning, of details of spreadsheets and worry. If she becomes pregnant with one of our embryos, it is intentional. There are so many costs, so many details, so much coordination to be ironed out. It’s not as though we went off of birth control and let what happen will: it’s the willful, intentional, hopeful act of implanting an embryo. It’s way more intentional than sex without birth control.
The intentionality is hopeful and heavy, and brings to bear questions that make me wonder what will happen, if we don’t have enough money? Will it be insane to start a job with a newborn? What will happen if I don’t get an academic job? Is it a bad time? Have we waited long enough to ward off cancer recurrence? Is this smart? Of course, it is my head asking away with questions, when I know that we will be OK, that poor people and wealthy people and stupid people and weird people have babies who are, for the most part, OK, all the time. Besides, my mother assures me lots of people move and get jobs with babies. Thanks, mom, I didn’t know that.
My heart laughs. Who cares if I’m on the job market? Why wait? Haven’t I learned anything from cancer? Isn’t it blatantly obvious, now, that waiting for something you want badly is without reason, that money is the way capitalism chokes the life out of beautiful people, that if its time, its time and the rest will follow?
And my head intervenes. But you’re on the PhD job market. But you have visa costs. But you don’t know where you’ll be in a year. Yes, my heart responds, but you do know. You will be home, somewhere in the world, with Sammy and Benito and Lulu, and you will continue to do something you love, as you always have, and there will be yoga classes and salsas simmering on the stove and friends who drop in to say hello. So in fact I do know where we will be in a year, we just don’t know the specific details I obsess over. But we do know something.
And so? The head? The heart? Who gets to say when we get to implant an embryo into our dear, dear surrogate?