It was just before midnight on a clear June night. Once again, I could not sleep. I got up, pulled a sweater over my nightshirt, put on a pair of jeans then nudged my feet into a pair of sandals. As my husband, John, slept, I slipped out the front door and walked quickly down the sidewalk to the end of the street. As the last streetlamp fell away, my heart beat faster. I’m still a little afraid of the dark. With the tip of my foot, I found the edge of the field that forms one boundary of our neighborhood.
I moved across the grass, already damp with dew. Slowly, trees took shape—white pines, 20 of them, 80 feet tall—a grove on the back of a nearby school campus. It was my longtime sanctuary, a shelter filled with the sweet, woodsy smell of pine needles and sap, a place I came often to think, to be unseen. At the edge of the stand, I leaned against one of the trees and looked up. The moon was rising, a full, golden orb.
The baby my husband and I wanted would not come. We had tried everything: Chinese medicine in California, an Amish herbal healer in rural Indiana and modern, drug-based infertility treatments. We’d spent thousands of dollars. I had listened to meditation tapes, read countless articles and a dozen books. For three intense years, my head spun with information and conflicting advice. The counsel one person offered, another contradicted. There were months of ups and downs, so many attempts to do just the right thing. It didn’t seem that it should be so hard.
I wasn’t a woman who’d always craved children. I waited a long time for my husband; I was 35 when we met, 39 when we put it all together to marry. Then the fever hit: I wanted a child—just one, with him, the desire growing like a fire from embers. He’d make a great dad, and I might finally make a good parent . . .
I had hated the idea of pumping drugs into my body, but that was the last thing we did, one in vitro cycle with the strongest fertility drugs available. I had hoped it might work; I feared regret if we didn’t try. On my 42nd birthday, the fertility clinic had called. “I’m sorry,” the nurse said. “The ultrasound showed nothing. No response.” We clashed cymbals together, and my ovaries never stirred from their slumber.
My husband began speaking gently of defining life without children. I didn’t feel as far along. I craved a pivot point—a moment—when I might sense things moving in a new direction.
The trees stirred in a breeze. I’m tired. I want to sleep a deep sleep and dream an important dream, a dream that might change things. Maybe I’ll dream about people dancing around a fire: Hear the rhythm of their voices in my head, rhythms of cycles and seasons, of rainfall and sunlight. Fall in with them and spring from one foot to the other, circle my arms over my head. Pray for a fertile harvest. Ask the moon to pull at tides.
On ground springy with fallen pine needles, I stretched on my back and gazed at the moon. Eventually, reality just sits down next to you. It’s not going to happen. No matter what you do. Brilliant stars were spangled across the sky. I wondered how many others had come at night, seeking comfort, taking communion under the trees. A bird rustled in the bushes. I rolled onto my stomach and rested my head on my arms, smelling pine and earth. I wanted to lie there until spring, waiting for wildflowers, for songbirds at dawn, for families of rabbits at dusk. For the full normalcy of life.
Then, there it was, waiting for me between molecules of air until I could see: Even more than I wanted a child, I wanted to get back to living. I am tired of feeling sad.
A friend told me once that when you’re infertile, you have to go on a journey you’ve never undertaken before. You have to cross a river—a river carrying your own tears—and when you get to the other side, you start to live again, to make new plans. That night, I felt myself wade to deeper water, where I saw the opposite riverbank a little more clearly. For the first time, I not only realized there were other options for my husband and me, I desperately wanted them. I need new plans.
It had gotten colder. I shivered and stood to walk home. One last look back. I have to say goodbye now. The trees were stately in the moonlight, pulling watch over what I put in their care. The child I left behind.
D. Cameron Lawrence is a writer and Peabody Award-winning producer living in Louisville, Kentucky.