There is no miracle baby to be seen here

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Wellington poet Kate Camp tried IVF after discovering she had endometriosis. Her story is not the one you are used to hearing.

This is the final section of the essay Why Are There So Many Songs About Rainbows from Camp’s forthcoming memoir You Probably Think This Song Is About You.

I had a good feeling about it. But then again, I usually have a good feeling about everything, and a lot worse shit happens anyway.

All these years later, I can’t remember how we got the message, just that it had failed, that those microscopic glimmers of hope were just…nothing. You can’t even call them biowaste – they’re just cells that aren’t going anywhere, like your body does all day by creating cells and then letting them die and shedding them.

Just a note: never tell anyone who is having trouble conceiving Ever thought about adoption? Yes they did, damn it. It’s really not that easy. Not surprisingly, most babies put up for adoption have young parents, and they want their baby to go to a young couple who live on a farm and have horses and a trampoline, rather than a bunch of sad old people living in live in the city. I knew people who had done international adoptions: a guy I worked with had twin girls from China, a friend’s sister had adopted a Romanian orphan who was violent and disturbed. I knew I would not adopt. And I knew why. It was because I didn’t want it bad enough. I didn’t want to exhaust every option, travel abroad, get a surrogate, find a foster child. I didn’t want to keep doing this. I just wanted to stop.

I have two scenes in mind as the trial ended. I can’t remember what order they came in in. Paul and I are sitting at our kitchen table. It’s round but has fold-down sides to fit in the corner and is made from heavy parquet wood with a heavy base. I’ve always hated this table. And I say to Paul something like: I think I want to stop trying. And he says he thinks the same way. we both cry And I say or I think I just can’t live with hope anymore. Because hope has become such a burden now. It’s crushing me.

The other scene is at Fertility Associates. Once when I had a swab I told the nurse I was doing fertility treatment there. OhShe said, The doctor there is so handsome, how can you deal with that? The doctor is handsome and he’s friendly and he’s a good communicator, he gives you a lot of information and he doesn’t talk down to you, he doesn’t sugarcoat things. At the last meeting he has with us, he’s going to bring us bad news – maybe it’s about not being able to get usable sperm from Paul, or maybe it’s about our fertilized eggs passing out one by one, like soap bubbles that burst . I’m in the waiting room reading a home magazine – it’s probably Your Home which is hipper than House and Garden and inside is a piece of art made out of felt letters sewn onto a white linen cloth, all different colors of letters and it says WHY THERE ARE SO MANY SONGS ABOUT RAINBOWS. And what I can only describe as a small breakdown of the social contract, I tear this page out of the magazine because I decide to buy such a work of art. We sang The Rainbow Connection at school and of course Kermit sang it on The Muppet Show and I loved the persona of Kermit when he sang, the pathos and those skinny arms on sticks. I buy the artwork, order it in Australia even though it’s expensive, and I get it framed expensively, and every time I walk past it for years, this song sticks in my head and I find myself singing to the inside, eventually random time of day, What is so amazing that stares at us, and I find it’s been buzzing around in my head since morning. That doesn’t happen anymore, but it has for years. Anyway, the day I see this artwork is the day of our last visit to Fertility Associates.

Nobody knows we have this stopped trying. Well, of course people know, my mom and my sister know and my dad and my boyfriend and my grandparents. You all feel sorry for us. Enjoy lifeIn the last ten years of her life, my grandmother has gotten into the habit of saying goodbye to me. Enjoy life. She’s saying it now.

Most people who do IVF don’t get pregnant, but you don’t hear much about that. Every story you hear is about how awful it was, how difficult it was, how the embryos died and the sperm wasn’t viable and the relationship was strained and then and then it happened and here they are with their miracle baby , her miracle family. I never understood the true meaning of love until I had children. It’s something people say all the time. And I always think Yes, fuck you too. I mean, I’m sure it’s true, but it always makes me bitter. I think because it gets to the very heart of my fear, my sadness at not having children, there will always be a part of life – the most important, meaningful part – that I can never know.

I haven’t liked being around babies for a long time, except for the ones I know well. I hear about people getting pregnant and it’s annoying and I hate the fact that people know that – they know I don’t want to hear it, they protect me, they hide the news from me because they know that I am harmed because I have tried and failed. People mention the school holidays and I feel stupid because I never know when the school holidays are, I never think about them.

I don’t like going to places where there are too many parents because it’s a community, a world that I don’t belong to and never will. But when my nephew starts a new school I go to his meeting and I sit with the moms and the dads and the grannies and eventually I move around to get a better view. I stand at the back and he looks anxiously for me in the crowd and when he sees me he gives off a big smile. Then they start, the little kids, and they sing If you’re ever stuck in the middle of the sea, I’ll sail around the world to find youand I’m trying so hard not to cry, because how pathetic that would be, not to be a crying parent, not a mother, but a childless aunt, like something out of a Victorian novel, crying like a class of other people’s children are singing You can count on me like one two three I’ll be there.

People assume I have children. It happens quite often and when I say I don’t they get into a whole routine of how weird it is that they would never just take that for granted but there was something that made them think I did , maybe it’s something I said or they saw a child’s drawing at my desk or Oh how strange, I don’t know why I thought that… And if I like her, I’ll save her. I say something like You may have seen me with my niece and nephew. But most of the time I just let them flounder. They assumed I had children because they have children, because most people have children. Or maybe they assume I have kids because I look like someone who understands the true meaning of love, and they’re nervous when they realize I don’t have any.

Hey, I think I’ve earned the right to make that joke.

People who have children think they know what it’s like not to have children because they were once childless. But they don’t know. It’s different once you know for sure, once you know that you will never be anyone’s mother, grandmother or ancestor. At the most basic level, the reproduction of the species is the purpose of life. After my emotional grief and sense of failure faded, I began to experience childlessness as a philosophical issue. I was already an atheist, and it was like another emptiness, another absence that threatened to suck the meaning out of life. What’s the point of me if I’m not part of this primitive human chain?

There is of course no answer to that. Or there is an answer that says everything has no meaning, has no meaning for anyone. Our very existence as a planet is just a most unlikely, unexpected coincidence. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s easy.

Years pass, friends fight, relationships and families are damaged and broken. Hey, people with kids are unhappy too, I realize. So many of them mourn something. They have children, but there are still things missing in their lives, gaps they cannot fill, failures only they know about. And I’m starting to notice the things I have, especially the stillness, the long solid stillness that can last for hours, the wideness of the days as I live them from the orange light that comes through the pines at dawn , by nights as we lie in our dark gray room, listening to moreporks under our pillows and the tinny voice of podcasts. i can hear yours. Those are the things we have. Instead of children, we have space and time. And I try not to take them for granted. And now when I see a baby it doesn’t hurt my feelings and I’m older now so nobody says it look or something like that, and I don’t think how pathetic, a childless woman who wants to hold a baby. I just pick it up and smell it or wave at it or squeeze its fat little arm. And then I walk away without it.

You Probably Think This Song Is About You by Kate Camp (Te Herenga Waka University Press, $35) is available for pre-order from Unity Books Auckland and wellington and will be in business around July 14th.

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