As in dreamlike.
As in, a childless mother
sees her child.
Fruit of a body, she says.
Whatever we named you,
we named you for love.
As many as 1 in 10. As few as 3 in 1,000. In womb-having people who suffer repeated loss, as many as 1 in 3. Wombs may be broken in infinite ways—to account for the specifics, further research is needed.
7 studies on this particular problem. Of anomalous wombs, 5 to 20%. Of total wombs with recurring loss, perhaps as little as 3. 1 asterisk accompanying every figure, reminding, This all adds up to maybe.
23: Too young for fertility books. Too young for the doctor to apologize. She trips over the word unicornuate 3 times before getting it right. Not planning on getting pregnant, anyway, she asks and insists. 15 minutes have passed. Nothing more to say.
100% of fertility books seem to have an ending. The summarized contents: Mothers-to-be, almost always white, learning they might not be mothers after all. Partners, supportive or unsupportive (almost always men, also white). Various forms of miracle children—brown adopted babies, white in vitro babies, rainbow babies who simply appear. Occasionally, in a radical text, the miracle is found in being alone.
In Chapter 1, the autobiographer provides a brief overview of the story—a polite warning that all will end well, a heads up on the years the reader can expect between the disaster and the miracle: up to 7 or 10, always greater than or equal to 2.
For a Black woman, double the odds of child loss. Triple the odds she will lose her own life. Add a degree in an attempt to help. Multiply the odds of a white-degreed body by 5.
23 and not planning on getting pregnant. Considering for the first time the mathematics of birth. 1 woman + 1 woman + love. 1 Black woman + 1 person (race, gender unknown) + love. 2 people (with or without wombs) + love. 1 or more people ± wombs, sperm banks, marriage licenses, court fees, adoption papers… Multiply all by loss and desire and grief and disappointment, and love.
If I were writing a fertility book, it would tell an unmothered mother the odds of losing something she did not know she was holding. The chance that she would never have chosen what she now feels she has lost. Fertility is another word for possibility. 23 another number for in-between.
1 in 10.
3 in 1,000.
30 or 5 or 20%.
As many as 6 million Americans have at least 1 queer parent. Nearly half of queer women under age 50 have at least 1 child. 1 study says that of 15 patients who opted for surgery to make their half-uterus whole-enough, 13 (87%) experienced a live birth. Mathematics is the developing art of stating the odds of each infinitely possible thing.
There are ways, I think some mornings upon waking, many ways I may come to know you. This country is home to 450 fertility clinics. 3,000 adoption agencies. 750+ neonatal intensive care units. Institutions where birth and loss and mathematics co-reside, waiting to fight and introduce us. Each with its particular odds.
24: 1 year into our fertility book, you and I. At least 1 more to go before it counts as a story worth telling.
The comprehensive account of you and me is just over five pages long. Congenital Müllerian Anomalies, Chapter 10, Unicornuate Uterus. Of the many ways you could be born or unborn to me, each has this same beginning.
Our origin story says we are either rare or not so rare. An abnormality born in my own mother’s belly. A type of broken womb difficult to distinguish from other types of broken wombs (further imaging may be needed). A heightened risk—significantly or slightly, no one knows—that the body will reject its fruit and leave you and me to find one another some other way.
Naja. Alexander. David. Eloise. Toni.
Some mother I am, with five pages to name us.
The cause or origin of a disease or abnormal condition; a branch of knowledge concerned with causes.
“The unicornuate uterus results from the normal development of one of the paired Müllerian ducts and incomplete or absent development of the contralateral duct.” In other words, Chapter 10 says, a half-uterus is caused by half a problem.
Congenital, meaning from birth. Non-hereditary, meaning unrelated to the person who birthed you.
My mother keeps apologizing anyway.
She says she must have done something wrong. She has seven children, each born on time and healthy—aside from our invisible conditions. Anxiety (from our father). Hard headed-ness (from both). One child slightly short of breath, another with a slightly overactive heart. Two allergic to peanuts. Three or four intolerant of milk. Cause and reason are related, I tell her, but they are not the same word.
In Beloved, Sethe kills her eldest child. (I took and put my babies where they’d be safe.) She had promised her a future, and the reasons why not were pounding at the door. Women carry their ghosts in their wombs—in fertility books. Many confess they are envious when they see a woman with a living child.
I am the eldest—meaning one who has the right to transform mother into grandmother. Mama is looking for the future she thought she had promised, for the reason why it no longer exists.
I keep writing my pages of causes. Mama says not to worry.
She has seen the future
and in it,
I have you
just like her.
The comprehensive account of you and me is just over five pages long. Some mother I am,
Joshua. Kira. Maya. Adrian. Demetrius.
In my dreams, you appear without telling me how. The habit of guessing what I will call you has stuck, though Chapter 10 says I will lose you.
No, it says that I might lose you: “Live births have ranged from 30 to 66 percent.” The definitive list of maybes includes “abnormal uterine vasculature,” “cervical incompetence,” “decreased muscle mass of the unicornuate uterus leading to second semester abortion.”
Or else, you will simply be born alive.
Jamila. Jamison. Sharee. Audre-Denise. Ellison.
I may have lost you already, as I read and reread those pages. I have feared pain from an early age—never jumping from the swings, never attempting a cartwheel, screaming before it ever hurt. Decreased muscle mass, meaning, I believe, that the body will give up, stop defending itself before it fails and, in so doing, lose the fight. Loss is a particular pain, and the one I fear most of all. Better then, I often think, if you and my body never meet.
Zora. Kingston. Ann. Zavier. Josephine.
I dream, I dream, and Chapter 10 reads:
Actually, I have found you.
You were in the garden walking on one side of loss as I walked on the other.
You have a name
from a childhood book,
a great writer who died
before you were born.
Yes, is my first word
upon meeting you.
Despite how we started,
you have found me here.
a branch of knowledge concerned with causes.
For my part, I am thinking about the body. Its random rejection of legumes and enzymes, its disordered clinging to worrying thoughts, its poorly-timed beating and breathing. Its outward signs—ready blood, wide hips—that betray its inner workings.
1 in 10.
3 in 1,000.
30 or 5 or 20%.
The body turns, is turning, turned. I was never sure my soul was a separate thing until I discovered the body’s lies.
Would you like to talk about something other than my womb? I would, so let’s try this: We’ll say your name is Toni Zora Angelou. You can change it whenever you’d like.
I do not know when we met, Toni, but we write one another often. In some poems, you call me your mother. Other times, you simply write,
You find me on mornings with flat skies in New England.
On muggy, sunny afternoons in Harlem.
When I am home in South Carolina, you arrive
in the middle of hurricanes.
I write back,
Toni, I am at the window
watching the city gather
into one great pool.
My sisters and I used to call it
In our flip flops
and tank tops
we’d tiptoe in until
reached our ankles,
and run back inside.
Did you ever learn
Maybe you can answer
the sum of the stories
I’ve told you.
1 mother plus—
1 loss plus—
Count the days
that I have loved you
and tell me how old
you really are.
I do not know how we met,
and I worry that writing you
must mean I am crazy.
It is early in our story yet,
and I am afraid of overimagining.
Take The Beach, for example.
I was thinking just now,
Mama should not have let us wade in.
There could have been snakes
or viruses or electrical wires,
but then again—
there never were.
I have not lived
on the coast
for some time, Toni,
but still I see the hurricanes.
The sunken city
was an empty womb.
was her fill.
You taught me Toni—
however it was we met.
You said despite the beginning,
in something found.
The city became an ocean
because she wanted
to be full.
I am trying
in writing you
to separate cause
odds from actualities.
Loss and grief
have gathered everything
into one giant,
But I am watching storms,
writing and naming
and writing again.
to no particular pattern,
most of us