The last thimbleberries of the season are ripening. Early September and there is already a chill in the mid-day shadows. My 2-year-old and I plucked the tart, pink caps from the bushes when I noticed a tiny feather floating in the leaves. I peered closer and noticed the nearly invisible strands of a spider web locking the feather in place. A beautiful mistake, suspended by threads so fine, so expertly woven, there was no escape. I thought of Texas. A place I used to live. A place I struggled to really live.
“I think Texas is hostile to my womb,” I would say to my husband when we were trying to get pregnant but couldn’t.
I visited a doctor. She had five children. She said I would be fine. I told her early menopause runs in my family and that we had been trying for years. She told me to come back in another. Then she had me lay back on the crinkle paper for a routine pap smear. Taped to the ceiling was a poster I hadn’t noticed before. A photograph of a sunset with a prayer to a God I wasn’t sure I believed in anymore. Afterward I put my clothes on and never went back.
I found another doctor that specialized in fertility. While waiting for him to arrive I counted three couches in his freezing office—two more than my husband and I could squeeze into our tiny Austin apartment. While fiddling with a magnetic puzzle on the table I read the wooden sign facing outward on his desk: “Babies are a gift from God.” I was enraged but still couldn’t bring myself to leave. I wanted to have a baby. And perhaps this man could help us to conceive.
As he filled out my medical history for his files, I asked him if stress could be a factor. “You’d have to be under extreme stress,” he said flatly looking up from the clipboard. I knew then that he had never personally felt the loss of hope as his partner watched the swirl of red circle the toilet bowl once again. I offered to show him the months of temperature charts of my cycle that I religiously plotted. “That just tells you when you should have had sex,” he said. I felt foolish.
That day he performed a transvaginal ultrasound to examine the follicles in my ovaries. I asked for a tour of the screen. He turned the computer in my direction. My uterus looked a like a formidable black cloud. He pointed out my ovaries. Inside was a universe of stars.
Eventually, two tiny pinpricks of light inside those sacs became my sons. A third never became anything more than a few weeks of promise. One day I felt a glimmering of pregnancy and then it disappeared. Like a ghost. I knew I’d lost the pregnancy before my doctor told me.
We discussed my options. I had an out of state work trip coming up and my doctor explained that the tissue could easily pass or it may result in heavy bleeding that required a trip to the emergency room. I was supposed to attend a conference with two men. I couldn’t imagine going to dinner and calmly excusing myself to assess the bleeding in a restaurant bathroom. We scheduled a dilation and curettage so I could decide when and how to move on from the loss.
Two days ago Texas deputized and incentivized its citizens to spy on their family members, friends, and neighbors, and report their personal tragedies to the government. At the time I felt a tightening in my chest. It remains there. How can women trust anyone when living in a state of surveillance? How can they thrive?
This afternoon I felt a need to go back to the web. I looked for the spider, hiding somewhere under the leaves. This time it was stationed in the middle of the web, waiting. I fished the feather out with my fingers and cradled it in my palms.
The part of the quill that attaches to the bird is called the inferior umbilicus. It’s how the feather is nourished to grow. I studied the miniscule tube and briefly wondered where the bird was now. If it even knew what it had lost somewhere along the way. And then I opened my palms and let the feather catch the wind.