Choosing Life


Diane N. Solomon, Portland, OR


“I have placed life and death before you, blessing and curse;

and you shall choose life, so that you will live, you and your offspring.” Deuteronomy 30:19


I am wishing Becky is Jewish.

I am wishing she is calm, ready.

Maybe she is praying. Saying some blessing every time she starts, like the sofer must say before taking quill to parchment to scribe even one stroke of one letter of Torah. It is written that every soul has a letter in the Torah, one that is theirs alone. Which letters could be ours? Maybe Bereshit, in the beginning. Or Rivka’s interminable humiliation as Leah keeps oozing out babies while she, Rivka, dies inside, barren and fallow. Until finally, miraculously, she gives birth to twins.

I am so sick of waiting. Sweating, waiting, hoping, praying—for something, anything. For life to flicker, multiply, be fruitful within me, spin into a tadpole, a fetus, a baby. A child. A living, breathing child. Instead, everything dies inside, dry and strangled, terribly broken. And every other fortnight, month after month, I am reminded of my own failure with a red, red rain.

I hope she is praying—Becky. She is the scientist, the omniscient one selecting each egg. You should pray when you have to be God, no?

I feel the anxiety seeping in, icy in my veins, chilling. It’s hard to breathe. Is there no oxygen in this room? My legs stick to the crinkly, irritating paper lining the table, clammy. David paces the room, making me nervous. How bizarre, a twisted comment on how babies are supposed to be conceived, the two of us in this sterile room, soon to be holding hands at what may be conception, with several others involved and a near-stranger between my thighs.

Focus. The room is cold. I am chilled and hot at once. It takes such a long, long time. I begged David not to come—he’d only make me more anxious. But he is here anyway, of course—he insisted—and I am secretly glad. So tired of coming here alone, staring at the women in the waiting room obviously blooming with new life. Why them, not me? Why not me? Today, in his worn, creamy silver tab Levis and “Got Rhythm?” white on black t-shirt, David is my buffer against their glaring reproach.

He is here too, in that dish. Think about the dish. Becky and the dish. The lab is probably cold too. Cool, not cold. Hermetically sealed, dimly lit. I can see Becky. I imagine her tall, bony, horsey somehow. Strong. I have to imagine her really strong. Jeans cuffed at the ankle and a tight shirt. Periwinkle or blue-indigo. She gets off the phone and sits down, her hair falling into her face. She pulls it back swiftly into a ponytail; two or three jerky movements and she’s done, tossing the tail behind her shoulder. She sighs. This is important. She sighs and takes a deep breath. Please take a deep breath, Becky. This is your job, but it’s my… life. My babies. My… babies.

I hear her switch on the microscope light. It makes a satisfying, reassuring click. She slides the lenses softly, thwish, thwish, thwish, until she reaches the right magnification. Then she stares at them. The eggs.

The eggs, the eggs. They are just thirteen, dwarfed by oozing fluid in the dish. Swimming in the waters of the deep. But she is God, and turning on the microscope, she divides light from darkness. Now she can see the eggs. I wish I could see the eggs. I want to see them, need to see them, but I have to trust Becky. I trust you, Becky, I trust you. You have a steady hand and an excellent, abundant heart. Just like the donor. She is Jewish, at least we know that much. Maybe they will be a better match for me, the eggs. Better for my body, my unique chemical soup, because she is Jewish. I will cling to this, cling to anything, any hope-thread; convince myself of any irrational scheme—and I have, every single cycle—until waking up and dissolving again and again into a puddle of tears and blood and pain.

But not today. Today the egg-mother and I—the “recipient”—are hormonal sisters. We have synchronized our cycles, poking ourselves every day, bloating up like feminine water balloons—pale pink water balloons. Not that I want girls, I’m not saying that. I’ll take anything. Oh God, I’ll take anything, please please please. What if it doesn’t take

My throat goes prickly with that familiar, terrified, fiery feeling. I glare at David. He is reading Sports Illustrated and tapping his foot, hard. It is so cold in here and I am only wearing this ridiculous grey, starchy gown, but my belly is sweating, my armpits stink, and my feet, dank. I gulp down the rawness at the back of my throat and force another raggedy inhale. It bleats out, a sob: David jerks his head to look up.

I smile, pretending. I can see in his eyes he knows I’m pretending, but he doesn’t want to know. He smiles back, turns to his magazine and flips pages, aimless.

Becky is zooming in. The eggs swim in the dish, tap, tap, tap, with a tiny cellular sound, swirling with the micro-movements of the scope, roiling, bobbing, ricocheting gently off each other, lush fluid sparking eddies around them, protecting one from another. How will she choose? They say they choose the healthiest. How will she know? Please know. Please know right.

She gazes into the eyepiece, staring at my eggs. They are becoming mine now, no longer the donor’s, changing ownership. They are traveling in space and time between us and soon, into the confluences of my body, marinating in my fluids. They had a full, youthful life without me. I hope it was a beneficent one. A happy, healthy one. I pray I can nourish them—in the best of health.

Will they truly become of me, mine? Can I become the biological mother by virtue of moments, hours, months spent holding them, growing them? Am I—could I ever be—worthy?

She is honing in—Becky. A few eggs are murky, small, she picks them out and sucks them up with a tiny pipelle, right away. They are history. Lost potential.

But with the rest, it is more elaborate, intricate. She is sweating, little beads of wet springing under her periwinkle shirt. I never knew God could sweat. I am sending her strength, and infinite gratitude. Like the donor. Such deep, abiding thanks for these two women I have never met. We are a sacred klatch of women cooperating, synching, dovetailing into this moment, midwiving her eggs to morph into my babies.

They glisten, plump and fertilized with David’s sperm, these eggs, oblivious to fate. Flawlessly ready. At least his sperm is familiar with my body. Let’s pray that makes the transition graceful. A few are grander, they glimmer a moment longer, iridescent and azure, the entire world reflected within them. Their living, breathing skin is smooth, unspeckled. They gleam, sparkle, flints of light leaping off them, stars on the face of the deep. Stars.

Two. Two catch her eye. There is something about them. They are expansive, ebullient, perfect micro-globes. They seem more… ripe, vital. They are vital. They are the ones. I know it. Becky knows it. She is right.

In minutes, Dr. Batel will saunter in with yet another pipelle and gently squirt those two inside, my legs coaxed open to the world, David clutching my soggy hand, the ova winding into my womb, spinning, cascading down to my tissues, burrowing, burrowing deep. Clinging. Please cling. For life.

Perhaps later—much, much later—in the best of all possible scenarios, I will wonder: are they truly mine, these perfect two I love so? I wish them to be who they are, not a fleck or speck different… But I wish they were spun from my own eggs.

Yet spun from my own eggs they would be different. This will be my sweet, personal conundrum, my pact with God, my tiny sacrifice. Nature did not equip women to ask such questions, I know that. I am content.

And surely someday people will say, “Who do they take after?” “Oh look, she has your eyes!” Or, “His face is shaped totally like yours.” And I will smile, so, so, eternally grateful.

Yet I will wonder: are they mine? Are they really, truly mine?



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