By Abby Claridge

There is a moment between waking up and being awake. A moment where you open your eyes and just physically see what’s right in front of you. It might be a pillow, a small set of drawers, a lamp, your phone… Then you blink a few times, the moment passes, and you slowly begin to remember the small stuff. You remember where you are, what time it is, if you’re alone in your bed.

Then come the bigger, weightier things. Things like, your sister hasn’t spoken to you in a month, your manuscript is due in two weeks, you can’t have children. That last realisation hurts you, deeply. It feels like a heavy weight on your chest, pushing down—making it harder to breathe. You feel your throat tighten, to the point that it hurts.

This hurt is a new hurt; a three-day-old hurt.

The doctor used the term ‘unexplained’, while explaining that the medicines used in your early childhood were probably at fault. They were ‘experimental’, meant to keep you alive at any cost.

He was the same doctor that, one month before, told you not to bother with the fertility tests.

‘We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,’ he said.

You sat there, nodded and pretended he wasn’t the tenth doctor to tell you that. You think a part of you wanted to believe him when he told you that the statistics were in your favour, but deep down, you know it was also a fear that the answer would be ‘infertile’. That part of you wasn’t what made you come back for the tests. No, that part tried to pin you down and tell you that it didn’t matter, and everything would work out how it was supposed to.

No, it was the other part of you. The part that wanted to plan your life and wanted to know what you had to rule out. It was the same part that kept questioning where the hell this bridge was. Was it something you reached when you were older? Married? Actively trying to conceive? Somehow, all those bridges seemed too far down the road. How were you meant to plan your life around a ‘maybe’?

That same part of you kept saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be horrible to find out now? But wouldn’t it be worse to find out five years from now with your husband tied to your useless uterus?’ Wouldn’t it be worse to watch him look at other families longingly? Wouldn’t it kill you to feel his silent resentment?

Still, you think of him as you get out of bed.

You get up, because that’s what people in your position do. They keep living because this isn’t a death sentence—no, it’s the opposite.

You look in the mirror and you try to see how you look the exact same as you did a week ago but have transformed so monumentally. They say knowledge is power, but how can knowledge be this powerful. How can knowledge change everything without changing anything at all?

You wonder how far the gap is between knowledge and belief. Maybe if you just believe you can get pregnant you will. Maybe if you try to trick your body by telling it , ‘YOU CAN HAVE A BABY; over and over, your body will believe you. Maybe you can make false become true, and unexplained become explained.

Maybe this is your fault. Maybe this is because you were too slutty at university, or never lost those last five kilograms. Perfect, skinny women aren’t infertile.

You remind yourself to Google the impact of diet and exercise on fertility. A second later, you decide that’s a bad idea and that you have enough to feel depressed about.

You look at your phone, you have six voicemails from your mum and nine from Luke. Your mum is calling because she missed your call when you first left the clinic. You didn’t leave a voicemail; she doesn’t know yet. She just remarks that she’s sorry—again—that she missed your call and she’s wondering if you’re free for family dinner. She wants to see her ‘baby’.

Luke’s messages are different. On message one, he was angry. He was angry because you never pick up the phone. By message four, he was worried; his voice was shaking. On message six, he tells you he’s sorry if he’s done something wrong. By message seven, he tells you that he’ll do whatever it takes to make things right. You don’t listen to the rest of the messages. Humans are only meant to endure so much.

You want to call him back, but what do you say to the person you’d promised a life to—one that you had no business promising. How do you tell them that you wanted all the clichés with them—the wedding, the house, the kids—but can’t quite get them.

There was a brochure that the doctor gave you at the clinic: ‘How to tell your loved ones about your infertility’. You wonder what kind of sick asshole wrote that brochure. You‘ll read it anyway because you don’t have another choice. You can’t become fertile, you are trapped in this situation. You are trapped in this body.

You worry what others will say.

The brochure says that the worst response is the response that you don’t let happen; the choice to remain dishonest about your condition. ‘Condition’… such an interesting word choice. Are you meant to be in good condition considering the situation? Are you like a vintage jag that’s in pretty good condition considering its age?

Your dad had wanted a jag, but there was always some other need pulling at his purse strings. There were the big things, like private schooling and holidays, houses and cars. There were the little things too, the ones that seem so small in comparison to the big things that you struggled to comprehend they were costs at all. The dinners out, the raffle tickets, the twenty cents in the skittles vending machine.

He told you once—a little before he died—that if he’d kept the money from all those little things, if he’d put it in a jar, he’d have a jag by now.

You don’t know what was sadder: that he never got it or that he held this belief that if he’d just tried a little harder, he could have had it. It’s the possibility, the idea that you could be the little engine that could, that really gets to you.

That’s the thought that lets you develop little cracks within yourself. That’s how the blame and doubt seeps in. The little voice that whispers ‘a woman has babies’ and shouts ‘you’re not a real woman anymore’. It whispers that you never were.

It tells you that no one would tie themselves to you forever when you have so little to offer. It tells you that you don’t even want to live in a body that has so little to offer. It says that you’re ugly and useless and miserable. It tells you things, really ugly things, you didn’t even know you were capable of thinking. The worst part is knowing that this little voice is yours.You shove your earphones in and turn up the volume, trying to drown it out.

It doesn’t work, it simply gives you a headache. At least it doesn’t come close to your fucking heartache. It doesn’t hurt like the unexpected call from your sister telling you she’s expecting. It doesn’t hurt like telling her the words, ‘I’m so happy for you.’

No, your headache is a present pain that you know will leave. Your heartache is more like a missing limb. You’ll learn to live without it but, some days, you will be reminded that it was once there. You’ll be reminded that there was once a version of yourself that was fertile. And suddenly, the pain will feel fresh and new. You’ll have to begin the healing process all over again.

You look down to the noise of your phone vibrating and see Luke’s name flash on the screen. You feel the vibrations run through your hand and wait for the call to ring out.

He leaves a new voicemail and you listen to it. He tells you he’s sorry for whatever he did, and he just wants to talk. He tells you that he loves you.

His soft voice makes you think back to the conversations you would have with him in bed, in those few moments between sex and sleep. You told him you wanted a house filled with art deco furniture and he told you he wanted a daughter named Posey. Those moments keep you from picking up the phone. Those memories stop you from calling back.

Because you might be trapped with this body, but he doesn’t deserve to be. He’s a good person. He’s the kind of person who’d stay when you told him. He’s the kind of person that would tell you he didn’t care, as long as he had you. You would pretend to believe him. You would pretend, for the next thirty-plus years, that you didn’t notice him envying the fathers holding the hands of their children at supermarkets. You don’t want to wake up one day and realise that he resents you for what you could never give him.

You don’t want to start a fight about one thing and end a fight with, ‘I lost my chance at a family when I chose you!’

Deep down, you know that things could go in a different direction than this. He could change his mind or you both could adopt. You might both be happier as foster parents than biological parents. Maybe he’d look at your mismatched family, ten years from now, and thank you.

You know you could pick up the phone and take that risk, but you also know that you’re not the kind of person who could plan their life around a ‘maybe’.