“Endometriosis,” his eyes say gently. He points to the poster on the wall and explains to me what that word means. Micro-bleeding. Scarring. Inhospitable environment. Three times more likely to miscarry. Surgery. Temporary menopause. We don’t know why. Can spread to other organs.
“How long have you had such painful periods?” Suddenly he’s asking me to respond. To make real words.
I do the math. “Three or four years.” His forehead frowns at me.
“I am not going to tell you what you should do, Mrs. Devers. That is up to you and your husband to decide, and it is not my place. But I would highly recommend you begin discussing and considering starting to try. The longer you wait the more damaged your uterus becomes, and the more difficult it will be to keep a baby. I know you are young.” Nineteen, I think. “But this will have to happen soon if that’s what you guys decide.”
Dr. Bradford’s voice is a little softer now, “I must warn you, if you do decide to start trying, when you go off birth control your pain will increase. A lot. The hormones the pill supplies help prevent a great deal of pain since the tearing is not as dramatic.”
Cotton fills my mouth. I know I have questions, but I don’t know what they are. He pulls a pad from his pocket and scratches out a few lines. He tells me I will probably need it. The note is made out to “Professor” and proves medical absence. There is no date.
Along with the note he hands me several pamphlets. One goes over what he had just told me. Two talk about dealing with infertility, and the options couples have. Another explains the importance of foster and adoptive families. “Call if you have any questions.” He sticks his hand out. Thanking him for his time I grab it. He is looking at me like he knows I am about to be in more pain than I already am.
“It was a pleasure meeting you.”
“Thank you. You too,” I say to his back as he leaves the small sterile room.
I feel Colter’s body move slightly. Half a sleep I turn over to face him. On his nightstand the clock reads 5:47 am. Way too early. He pushes some loose strands of hair behind my ear and rests his hand on my cheek. “Hi,” he whispers. I move my body closer to his. I place my arm over the curve of his hip. His arm wraps around my shoulders. His bare skin is warm against mine. I kiss his chest and allow his breathing to lull me back to sleep. “Hunny,” he whispers again, “I’m gunna get up.” I moan at him, showing my disapproval. “Do you want me to bring the kids in here?” My eyes open easily. His face is soft. Relaxed. Mischievous. He knows this will get him off the hook for getting out of bed so early.
“Mhmm,” I respond. Content to not make real words.
“Okay.” He presses his mouth against my forehead, lingering there for a few seconds.
Sitting up a little he reaches for something at the foot of the bed. One of his T-shirts, I assume. He hands it to me. His legs pull through a pair of sweats as he stands up. I slip the shirt on, and before the hem hits my waist he is coming through the door with Neveah. I lay back down and lift the blanket up beside me. He places her next to me.
She is wrapped in my old soccer blanket. Her red hair is sprawled across her face. I push it back, so it doesn’t tickle her nose as she breaths. As I am doing this Colter lays Caleb down next to his sister, grabs the disheveled comforter, and stretches it across the two of them. His little ears are red. He’s a hot sleeper.
I reach over and touch his little belly. He is wheezing a little bit. I can’t believe Caleb is already five. And Nevaeh will be a second grader this year. I’m missing their whole lives. I touch Nevaeh’s soft, ivory cheek. She stirs a little. Slowly I grab my phone off the charger. I take two pictures that turn out poorly. It’s too dark. Selfishly I turn on the flash and hold very still while I take one more. That’s a good one. Suddenly I am not very tired anymore.
I find Colter sitting on the couch reading. Drinking coffee. I hold up my phone to show him the picture.
“Did you use the flash?” he says in a low whisper. I curl up next to him on the couch, using his bicep as a pillow.
“Good thing it didn’t wake ‘em up,” his lip pulled into a half grin.
I hear my heart in my ears, almost loud enough to echo throughout the pale bathroom as I stare blankly at the blue and white pregnancy test. All of my fears and all of my excitement pressing against my ribcage. I check the time on my phone. One more minute and then I’ll check. The minute goes by like they did every other time: absently. I grab the stick off the counter and my heartbeat slows. I try to act surprised, but I am not.
I grab the crinkly wrapper and slide the test back inside. I slip my feet into a pair of Colter’s oversized boots, leave the door open, and head to the dumpster across the parking lot. For the last five months I had dug every stick out of the trash at least four times to make sure that a plus sign hadn’t magically appeared. The dumpster was a better place for these things to be. I push the stick halfway out of the wrapper, just to make sure. The knives in my abdomen dig deeper as I raise my arm to grab the dumpster’s lid. I slide the stick through the small opening I had made, wincing as I bring my arm back down to my side. I can’t do this anymore.
I curl up under my covers. My body feels beaten. Months of constant disappointment. Constant pain. Months of false hope. For what? To lay here for weeks at a time, hugging my knees, praying for the codon to kick in faster? To be reminded that I am not a real woman? To finally understand that this will never happen for us. To know that for the rest of my life this pain will be here. These knives in my uterus. These knives in my heart.
My heart bleeds more than it ever has. It bleeds more than the optimism it had held. More than the joy we once had. It bleeds more than I did during the miscarriage. More than the amount of grief in my husband’s eyes. It bleeds more than I thought it could. My body, curled into a small ball, feels grey.
I lay in bed for several hours before Colter comes home, the heating pad easing the pain my whole body feels. My eyes burn with exhaustion but refuse to close. I stare at nothing. I feel nothing. Maybe I can’t feel anymore. Maybe this disease has spread so far across my body that I will never feel again. I thought the pain would kill me, but maybe the numbness will instead.
The bedroom door creaks open, the kitchen offering us its light. Colter lays next to me. I can almost feel his face, it is so close to mine. His hand is holding my cheek, creating a barrier between me and the sheets. I tell him everything. I tell him how bad my body hurts. How much my heart hurts. How I can’t keep doing this. But how badly I want to. How much I want a baby, I want his baby. He tells me he knows. I tell him how exhausted I am. How I would understand if he left. I can’t give us a baby, and it was all my fault. I tell him again and again, and I sob and can’t stop.
He picks me up out of bed. Slowly, he undresses me. My shirt. Pants. Socks. Undergarments. He piles them all on the floor and undoes my ponytail. Taking my hand, he leads me to the shower. We stand there and pretend like the water running down our faces is the only reason they are wet. He washes my hair and my body. He holds up my weight and kisses my shoulder. “I married you,” he tells me, “You’ve always been enough, Jord. A baby would be great, but it is you I want. It’s always been you.”
We sit down together. I pull him to me, so that his back is laid against my chest. I hold him, our knees awkwardly angled in the small tub. The water continues to shower over us. Above his heart, both of his hands hold both of mine. His thumb strokes my hand. My thumb strokes his chest.
The water begins to lose its heat. I can feel the goosebumps on his forearm- he can probably feel mine too. Using quiet touches, we dry each other off. Wrapped in a towel, he brushes my hair. Lightly cupping his neck, I kiss his cheek. My hand makes its way to his as we walk back to our bed. I grab a pair of boxers from the dresser and help him put them on. I trace his face with my fingers, counting the freckles on his forehead. We hold each other. We don’t talk, and we don’t cry anymore. We just hold each other, and that it is enough.
From the couch we can hear the kids dancing around, whimpering in their sleep. Around eight Nevaeh comes out, one hand gripping the edge of her pink Frozen nightgown, the other rubbing her sleepy eyes. She curls up next to me on the couch. I wrap my arm around her, like she is a big baby at my side. “Aunt Jordan what are we going to have for breakfast?”
Caleb walks out. He is only wearing one sock. Colter puts his book down as Caleb climbs onto his lap.
“How about French toast?”
Caleb’s eyes are focused on me, his left eye a little extra lazy. Holding onto Caleb’s belly Colter bends down and, after moving around several blankets, finds Caleb’s glasses and helps him put them on. They are orange like his hair, which is “very cool.”
“No,” Caleb moans, “I don’t really even like French toast. How about, hmm.” He puts his finger to his chin, making a show of how hard he is thinking. “I know!” His little pointer finger shoots up. “Oatmeal!” We all laugh at the request, and Colter says Caleb is basically an old man. Caleb scolds him, his loose lip pretending to pout.
“How about I just make both?”
“Yes! Yes! Yes!” Caleb bounces up and down on Colter’s lap. Nevaeh’s eyes get really big and she slowly shakes her head yes, her eyebrows saying “Aunt Jo knows what’s up.”
With a little push from Colter I get off the couch, grab Nevaeh by her feet and slide her closer to the boys, and throw one of the blankets from the floor over the three of them.
“What are we gunna do today, Uncle Coco?” Nevaeh pulls the blanket up over her shoulder.
“We can either go on a hike and maybe fish a little or go to the Hot Springs”
“How about we go on the hike and then go to the Hot Springs,” Nevaeh interjects, “So, we can, ya know, like have our muscles relax and stuff after the hike.” Colter gives me an “it’s your decision” look. I grin at him and nod my head slightly.
“I think that’s a great idea! Maybe we can get ice cream after too.” He shoots me a quick wink, like he doesn’t need my help deciding on that.
“How long have you guys been married?”
“Just over four years,” I feel myself smile, even though I don’t mean to.
“Wow! You look so young. I can’t believe you’ve been married that long. How old are you?” This is the usual conversation. I know what question will come next, so I decide to answer that too.
“I am twenty-two. So, I was eighteen when we got married.”
“Wow! Good for you! Do you have any kids, yet?”
“Nope. No kids. But we do have twelve nieces and nephews.” I feel myself smile again. A real one. One that is actually happy. One that is not painful to wear. “We don’t mind being the cool aunt and uncle.”
“Oh, that’s way more fun anyway!”
“Yeah that’s what I hear.”