The surgeon visits my partner and me the morning after the surgery.
“How you doin’?”
“I just got spayed,” I reply through a morphine haze.
He thinks it’s the drugs talking. I squeeze Ramona’s hand. I feel the finality of the missing uterus, fallopian tubes, cervix, ovaries, eggs. All the female parts we learn about in middle school, all the parts that make me a woman, were lifted out of my abdomen by his big surgeon hands, dropped in a stainless steel tray, biopsied, and discarded at the end of the day as hazardous waste. I look down at my bandaged abdomen. What fills in the space when all that is gone?
It was not an illness I asked for. I had asked for an answer. “Should I have a child?”
The response: ovarian cancer. A decisive answer to a question that dragged through my thirties with the blade of a serrated knife, leaving jagged bits of regret. At thirty-nine, I will be forty-five before the magic five year mark passes. Before I can commit to any child, biological or adopted.
Baby showers and toddler birthday parties will be off limits. Celebrations of a friend’s pregnancy or watching the little arms of an eighteen month old encircling her mother’s neck become scenes beyond my heart.
In the first few years of our relationship, Ramona and I floated the concept of children between us like a lackluster balloon, half-filled with our own hesitant breath. Ramona didn’t want kids. She left home at fourteen, the last of six invisible children. Raising herself was enough parenting.
Ramona and I often said that if someone dropped a baby off on our doorstep, we’d keep it. Couldn’t miss that sign. Children seemed like something that would happen, although we never examined how two women would make it “just happen” without planning. It isn’t like we could get sloppy with the birth control and say “must have been meant to be,” which is how my laid-back friend Andrea decided it was time.
“Do you think it’s right?” asked my mentor and near-mother, the one who parents better than anyone I know, “If you have children, won’t they experience a lot of discrimination?”
“Dana,” I deflected, “aren’t you Jewish? What if all Jews thought like that?” I didn’t tell her that Ramona and I had privately asked ourselves the same question.
Ramona’s reluctance, not planning, discrimination – all convenient excuses. I didn’t ask God the real question. Could I have a child I wouldn’t break? Could I raise children and not pass on my own self hatred? I imagined watching my daughter, examining her weight, praying for an athletic trim body to emerge out of her baby fat. Or my son who doesn’t read and tries his first drug in fifth grade. I imagined trying to love them anyway.
For this, ovarian cancer bore no answers.
© 2010 Cathy Kidman