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A friend (who has already lost her parents) told me last night that she thinks we’re at the age when it is more and more common to start losing people. I struggle mightily with this reality. My mom’s oldest friend lost her husband on Sunday and my parents are with her today. This friend of ours loves poetry and she and I have exchanged poets and poems over the years. In thinking of her and feeling my own heart break for her and her son and her grandchildren, I found this poem.

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)

i fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

~ e. e. cummings ~

I was always afraid some big kid would pick me up and throw me into the water. I wore glasses and I couldn’t have them in the pool so I could never see much of what was going on. I was never very comfortable in the water. It took me several summers of lessons until probably the humiliation of being 3 or 4 or 5 years older than other kids in the class convinced me to learn to swim. My husband didn’t learn until I knew him.

Parents always want their kids to succeed where they have failed before. And you want to spare your kid whatever horribleness you might have experienced as a child, as much as it’s possible–and it isn’t always possible.

That is the context for our extraordinary pride at Zoe’s aquatic achievement this summer. As Dana Vollmer and Elizabeth Beisel (and of course Michael Phelps) slice through the water in the background, we have spent a heady few weeks watching Zoe GET IT. She kind of learned to swim last summer, with the help of some lovely young lifeguards at Woodley Pool, who succeeded when past efforts to get Zoe comfortable in the water had failed. A previous swim class she took yielded only “able to get in and out of the pool using the ladder” on the report card they issued at the end. And then last winter we joined the YMCA just so she could swim because she was so excited about it. But she hated the pool at the YMCA and the instructors were terrible. If anything, she regressed. And even the first day of summer this year she was clinging to us, refusing to let go of us or the wall.

And yet, she persevered. We rejoined Woodley Pool, which she loves, and she relaxed. We resumed lessons with the teenage lifeguards. We went to the pool several times a week so she could play and practice. And she really, truly got it. When we were on vacation in Lewes, Delaware, she swam in the Delaware Bay. When we returned from vacation she took the swim test at Woodley: tread water for 60 seconds and swim the 25-meter length of the pool without stopping. She passed with no trouble, granting her the privilege of swimming by herself in the pool, going in the deep end, and jumping off the diving board. She immediately wanted to try the diving board, and she tried and tried and tried until she made herself do it.

At the theatre camp she’s currently attending, they take the kids to a nearby pool three days per week. Today Zoe took the initiative of asking the lifeguard at that pool–who she didn’t know at all–if she could take the swim test to swim in the deep end there. He gave her the test–which was easier than Woodley’s, she said–and she passed and was the only kid able to venture into the deep end, which she did with confidence.

Next year we are definitely signing up for swim team. I was never on any sort of athletic team until I was an adult. I am so proud of her that she has these skills and this drive that I never possessed, and that she can enjoy herself and be safe in the water.

The other night when she passed and was in the midst of making herself jump into the deep end and attempting the boards, Randy and I were overjoyed. At one point Randy said “I think we should get her a treat. Should we go out for ice cream later?” I said, “she can have anything she wants! She can have a puppy!”

So we ended up at Baskin-Robbins, not at the animal shelter, but we are still very excited. Here’s some footage of her big night.

Last night when Zoe’s foot was nestled in the small of my back and her elbow wedged into my neck, as we listened to the Banana Slug String Band for the fifth time, trying to drown out the sound of hail on the window and thunder in the air, I was thinking. What else was there to do? Sleep was not an easy option.

Among other thoughts, I was thinking about the appointment scheduled for this morning to begin testing for fertility treatment. After three years of trying to create a sibling for Zoe and only a miscarriage and two D&Cs to show for it, we realized that something needed to change. We didn’t want to give up. But continuing to do what we’d been doing seemed fruitless, and if you’ve ever been down this road, you know the fun diminishes rapidly. I’ve tried acupuncture, herbs American and Chinese, and supplements. I’ve taken all kinds of well-intentioned advice, and ignored some. What clearly worked like a magic charm for everyone else hadn’t done the trick for us.

And we’d already consulted a fertility specialist a couple years ago. He was rude and arrogant and supremely unhelpful. So part of me dreaded seeing someone else, given our unpleasant experience. But someone reminded me that our sample was very small. So I made an appointment. Then I postponed it for a week. They sent us a lot of forms to fill out. They asked me to call our insurance company, which covers pretty much nothing. They cover the cost of seeing a doctor to see if something’s wrong with you, and if it is, they will pay to have you fixed. But technically one’s inability to have a baby is not a medical problem that requires attention.

So every step I took slowly and consumed with apprehension.

I felt somehow like going to a fertility clinic was admitting defeat. Saying we’d failed at doing this thing that people are supposed to be able to do easily. This thing that everyone else in the world seems to have no trouble with, at least that’s how it appears when I feel like I’m being assaulted by an army of pregnant women every time I leave the house. I do have a few friends who conceived their babies through IVF. Of course I don’t think that they failed. They did what they had to do. But the fact that we’re at this point where I feel like we have to do something is maddening. I don’t want to have to make this choice. But I want a baby, and waiting around does not improve the odds. As our new doctor (who reminds me a bit of the actor Richard Schiff) reminded us when we met him, you really can’t think about the odds too much, because you’re either pregnant or you’re not. Zero or 100%. But when you’re thinking about treatment, you have to look at the numbers. At my age, the changes of getting pregnant during any given month are only 2%-3%. Turns out every month when you think you’re ovulating, you’re only sending out an egg–or at least a good egg-maybe half or two-thirds of the time. And you have no way of knowing when the good months are and when you shouldn’t bother.

The doctor said there’s no reason we shouldn’t have another baby. The fact that Zoe exists and that she was conceived naturally is the biggest item in our favor. But, as Tom Petty so eloquently put it, the waiting is the hardest part. So the doctor said he recommended IUI, which is a step below IVF in terms of invasiveness and in cost. None of this is cheap, for sure. And it all involves a lot of hormones and ultrasounds and blood tests and all kinds of things that you wish you didn’t have to do.

Which, obviously, I don’t have to do. No one is forcing this on me. But we want a baby. Zoe wants to be a big sister more than anything. She has long been so interested in pregnancy that we’ve predicted she will become an OB or midwife or perhaps a neonatologist. And I loved being pregnant with her. I want to be pregnant again. And I don’t want to be 45 when it happens. At the same time, we have this wonderful girl. As much as we all want a baby, when we are getting dressed at the pool, or going to gymnastics class, or driving anywhere, and I see families with more than one child, I realize how relatively easy we have it. Zoe can feed and dress and bathe herself. She can read. She can swim. We’re in a good place.

I was seven when my sister was born, to the utter surprise and delight of my parents. So I enjoyed being an only child for quite a while, as does Zoe, but I too begged for a sibling. I don’t even know what reproductive technology was available to my parents, but they just assumed they were lucky to have me, and that was that. I know we are spectacularly lucky to have Zoe. I don’t think it’s wrong to want more though. But having to step into this world of unknowns and procedures and calculating the odds seems so forbidding.

I had my appointment this morning. Everything was normal. Which is good. Next test is Friday. I’ve realized that the scheduling of this procedure will depend somewhat on Zoe’s school schedule, because the testing they do is all in the morning, when I am typically driving Zoe to camp. Obviously most people they’re treating don’t have to worry about anyone else’s camp schedule, and would give anything to have such a complication.

From down the hall I hear yet another round of the Banana Slug String Band. Evidently Zoe can’t sleep either. I heard her reading Mouse Tales. I heard her coloring pictures of princesses (ok I couldn’t hear what the pictures were of, but I went to inspect). I don’t know what she’s thinking about. I told her to count American Girls to help her sleep. Maybe I should try that too, or maybe visions of ripe follicles filled with healthy eggs ready to burst forth into fallopian tubes. Or maybe I should stick to sheep.

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