Recently, when a former poet laureate of San Francisco asked me if I was successful, I said that I thought I was and then began to note that I had published a few books since last we met years before during poetry month in a radio studio. I had already forgotten that I had read poems about frustration in fertility. I didn’t make the connection between success and having a child. I think of success in relation to a life of letters.
Later, on the ride home, I thought about success. Can one be successful in body, in carrying another body? If so, there are many who are successful, but many I know who are not in that way. I have not been successful. I don’t like thinking about my body and the work of bodies in relationship to success, because I recognize that goals are futile, that this is a journey that I am on with my partner and there are happenings along the way. The body can not be a success; it just is.
Still, this doesn’t prevent me from thinking of my body in terms of failure, what my body cannot do or has not yet been able to do. Why is it that I can think of my body so easily in respect to failure but not success? Is the teaching moment that, if success is outside of the body – some marker placed upon it by an outside force – then failure must also be outside of the body? In other words, if the body cannot succeed, it also cannot fail.
I’m an Afro-Latina woman whose ancestors on one side were never slaves and on another side knew the hardships of slavery deeply. Freedom and struggle are writ in my blood and bones. Recognizing that history, I can’t help but think that success in fertility is also linked to commodification of the body: success as a black woman was bearing more and more black children, who could be used as items for sale in a market. And this persists to the present day. Recently, I saw an advertisement for a visit from Tyehimba Jess to my campus, and I started. The picture on the Facebook ad was of another black man. I couldn’t help go back to a poem by Ross Gay that speaks to interchangeability and commodification, the stripping of humanity for product within a system of oppression that can be so easily conjured back within the moment of being asked to sign another black male poet’s book. After a quick email, the ad was quickly changed, but the feeling within me remained. It was a gnawing.
I have written about recently this fertility journey. Two years with more and more invasive tests, drugs that lead to complications, the expense and stress. The last few weeks have been incredibly more intense in all of these areas. We started IVF. A major complication was not being given enough medication, twice, to satisfy the doses that they wanted me to take, and not realizing this until I had to take them. This could have undermined weeks of preparation and numerous shots to the stomach that I gave myself and my partner helped me to prepare. In the increasing number of ultrasounds, my doctor would say that he saw 2 follicles developing on one side and between 5 and 6 on the left. At one point, this lowered down to 5 total. This is within the low range for someone in my age group. I was devastated. My body was failing.
Earlier this week, I went in to the doctor to have my egg retrieval done, and wonder of wonders, while I was unconscious for only 20 minutes, 17 eggs were retrieved. It seems that some of my follicles were hiding others. 13 were fertilized. Today we learn about their status, how many made it to day 3 is one indicator of strength, and then we will look again at day 5, and then wait a month before we attempt to implant. The numbers of my body, my partner noticed, are prime numbers, numbers with only two positive divisors (1 and self), which I believe speaks to a conscientiousness/self-possession, perhaps even a freedom.
My body is teaching me that it exists outside of success and failure.
Yesterday, I went to the East Bay Meditation Center for it’s People of Color sangha. I don’t get to go often, but when I do, I come away with such great centering and peace. The last few weeks, I learned, the sangha has been focusing on the 4 Brahma Viharas. Yesterday, was the final one: upekkha, which roughly translates to equanimity, being able to stay neutral (not unaffected or apathetic) to the winds of life. What I heard and learned brings me back to the body, career, and spirit. These last few weeks have been teaching me about how to approach or glimpse upekkha. I haven’t achieved it; I’m certainly not enlightened. Still, there is a great teaching in realizing that my success is not rooted in the functioning of my body, in my fertility; that no one is interchangeable with another, in this moment or in all of history; that all beings have innate worth; and that ultimately what I must honor in my self and hopefully in any progeny is self-possession and freedom in the connectedness that we all have to one another.
#twt, #32of52, #52essays2017