I wanted a life of books. Some little girls imagine themselves in romantic relationships, getting married, having children. While I wanted romantic love, I saw it as fleeting, thought that if I should ever get married, I would probably marry several times as I considered myself too much of a free spirit. I never wanted children.
It wasn’t until I was in my first serious relationship, after having been with my partner for a year, that I started to think that I might want children. That desire for marriage and children to be on the table of consideration was why that relationship ended for me.
But I wasn’t sure, really. I liked the idea of children, and I thought that I had something to offer as a mother in the world, but I also enjoyed traveling, living overseas (when I did), going on residencies, quiet time, writing without distraction. These were all things that I considered would be difficult or impossible to maintain with a child. In addition, there was the whole thing about a partner; love was elusive. As an Afro-Latina with multiple degrees, I read article after article about how just by being in the world, I intimidated possible partners. I knew it to be true.
Over the years, I considered seeking a sperm donor – even looked through registers on occasion – because I thought that I wanted to go through the biological process of carrying a child, if I could. I wasn’t sure on that, because over the years, I have had significant health challenges. On occasion, I would look into adoptions: single, Black, woman, with very little money (adoption is expensive), and I moved (until moving to the Bay Area) about every three years. Though I have a bounty of love and care, it didn’t seem very likely that I would be chosen. A neighbor, growing up in my childhood neighborhood in Philadelphia, was the single Black mother of two adopted children, that I remember. It was possible, I know, though difficult.
Years passed. I read article after article about my declining fertility, declining possibilities of finding a partner who would truly be a partner to me, etc. The prospects of career and family became very slim.
And then Matteo and I found one another on Tinder, and so quickly things came to align. I could tour with my second book and still find my partner supportive, loving, present over the distances. Our first “I love you” was over the phone while I was in Ennistymon, Ireland and he was in San Francisco, but I knew it was love earlier, when I, the city woman that I am, went camping when we went to a concert in Napa.
We share similar values for family and time together. He comes to my readings and I encourage his photography. Our families are similar in their close ties and in their valuing of art, music, philosophical discussions, health, and togetherness.
I could go on for pages about how right Matteo and I are together. In quick order, we got the house, moved in together, traveled widely, got engaged, got married, started trying to have kids (I want 3; he wants 2); and got a dog.
We tried 6 months, before I started making calls to fertility doctors. At 35 and 6 months of trying, you are told to start being examined. The process just to get information with our insurance wasn’t easy, emotionally or logistically. In one day, I spent something like 6 hours on the phone, calling the various offices in all of Northern California just to get a price listing to start testing. There wasn’t something as simple as a sheet to be emailed; rather, a series of numbers were rattled off as I cried silently, writing them down as quickly as I could. Our insurance doesn’t cover any fertility tests, let alone treatment. I feared what it would mean for us financially starting treatments, once we figured out what was going on, that with the blessing ofjust one child would come financial upheaval. Still, after nearly 10 years of thinking about children, I had decided that I wanted to be a mother within the beautiful partnership that I have with Matteo, the love of my life. I could see, in his kindness to others and to children, how good he would be as a father. I want to see that come to being.
So, we started the journey together.
Matteo and I, we are researching kinds of people, and so we read articles, buy and read books about fertility, compare notes. We go to fertility doctor appointments together and ask a gazillion questions. We write more notes and talk about what we’ve learned at the dinner table.
When we first started the process, our tests revealed fertility challenges with us both. We took some time to think about what we would do. One doctor said that if we wanted children to go straight to IVF. We were told that he would need an operation and that IVF was my best option. Heartwrenching news.
I resisted Matteo having an operation, because it was invasive and only offered a slight chance of improvement in fertility. Our children should not come from pain.
As a Catholic, fertility treatments are already not accepted within the church. I thought deeply about IVF as an option. If we must go this way and a number of fertilized eggs would result, I would feel morally obligated to try to carry them or donate them to another couple to use. I have one friend who did conceive this way, and over several years, they brought many babies into the world and into a deeply loving relationship. Their commitment to their family is beautiful. If we have a choice, I would like to not have to make that choice, though. Perhaps it is selfish, but I can’t see my life as a mother of more than three children: financially, spiritually, emotionally, logistically, physically. Two is honestly more likely.
We decided that we would continue without intervention and then after a particularly difficult semester, we would start IUI (still not sanctioned by the Catholic Church, though from what I understand from other faith traditions, more welcome). Between our first appointments and starting the journey, Matteo added a slew of vitamins (CoQ10; a Fertility Blend; and others). I added a Fertility Blend for women. I tried acupuncture, and then got frustrated (by my new acupuncturist constantly focusing only on me, as if I was the only contributing factor, and not giving any guidance) and stopped. I’ve recently started again with a new acupuncturist, who is closer to my home and has the most light filled office that I’ve ever seen. I did occasional social media fasts, because pictures of friends or former students with baby bumps was disheartening for me, as much as I wanted to celebrate with them. I tracked cycles and ovulation. We have a fertility statue and a placard in our house, one of which is on our bedroom door. A friend told me about maca powder as helpful with fertility so I just started that. I light candles; I have friends all over the world praying for us. I pray in my sleep and throughout the day. I go to church each week. I talk to the dog and a counselor and other friends going through fertility challenges. My friends and I share information and kinship through the emotional upheaval. With every cycle, there is a sorrow and then a rededication to the plan: 3 cycles of IUI, a break, and then IVF (though maybe in Italy).
IVF, from what we can gather, starts at about $20,000 in the Bay Area, but for one cycle, it’s more likely to be around $30,000 with medications. If that first cycle doesn’t work, then we could count on at least another $10,000 to try again. In Italy, IVF costs closer to 5000 Euro. What is wrong with our medical system that none of our fertility tests – in all of their invasiveness – are covered and neither is treatment?
We just started our first cycle of IUI. Now, I’m waiting, thinking about how I turn 36 this year, how I’m up for tenure, how this is a prime time in my career, how I know the negative impact that children can have on the careers of women in general and women in academia in particular, how my identities add another component to that, how overtly hostile the United States has become to Black children, how our children would be Black, Puerto Rican, and Italian, and ultimately how I should not think about all these things and focus on relaxing, because stress is not a friend to fertility.
While I write this, the dog sleeps so fitfully that I can hear her breathing and outside there is an ambulance sounding its siren down San Pablo near my home in Berkeley. Otherwise, the neighborhood is quiet. I am writing, surrounded by books.
I like to imagine that this will work on this first time, that in a few short months, we will convert our guest bedroom into a baby’s room. I’d move my giant writing desk there to be by the crib. It would serve as writing space and changing table. We’d keep the queen size bed we currently have for our guests (future grandparents to visit) and for me to use while nursing. The baby would be lulled to sleep by typing. It’s an idyllic visioning. Of course, I know that this is not how easy things are in real life, but I like the idea of being in this room with so much light, watching a baby sleep, while writing an essay, a lesson plan, an article, an abstract, a report. A life as mother and a life of books. It’s a soothing vision.
I have to go back to my partner. As a child, I never could have imagined the patient partner I would have, who cooks, who cuddles, who is constantly there and available to me, who researches with me, who communicates on dreams so that we can dream and plan together, who held me after I gave myself a shot of Ovidrel, who does all he can to support me. He even gave me an extra piece of turkey bacon on morning, and when I was a frazzled and fatigued mess on Clomid, he made dinner and listened and helped out however he could. We have Italian lessons that we are taking together (though he is fluent in Italian as a native speaker from Italy) just to do something, learn something, together. Who knew Tinder could be so good? One thing he said early in the process was that we didn’t get married to have children; we got married because of our love for one another, for being together. Should we never have children, I know we have a deep partnership, and, if we do, I know the strength that they would enter.
And my friends have given me advice, listened, and shared their stories.
This life might be better than any book.