Miscarriage, infertility, broken-ness etc (which isn’t half as scary as what some people can say).
I’m 7. Playing on the couch.
Dad comes home with baby doll number 3.
It blinks vacantly. It has a milk bottle that fits between it’s lips. It mimis.
I’m gonna be the best mum.
I’m 17. Doubled over in the car park of a Westgate Shopping Mall.
Retching bile into a shrub,
Bellyful of razors,
A slender red snake escaping down my thigh.
I’m 20. In the ultrasound room for my second appointment.
Cold runny jelly smeared across my surface.
Grinning at an ambiguous smudge on a screen.
“Is that it??”
That’s when I clock her expression. Serious. Sad. Pitiful.
I’m 21. Staring out the hospital window from my bed
It’s been two days. My first visitor arrives.
She’s just so sorry. Let her explain.
He would be here… but it’s just too painful for him.
I blink, vacantly, then return to staring out the window.
I’m 23. Lying in a hospital bed. No window this time.
There’s a young woman lying across from me
complaining how she has to stay there for the entire final trimester of her pregnancy,
“3 is enough, this better be the last”
I’m consumed with envy.
White coats and stethoscopes crowd my bed,
A thin veil wrapped around us for my dignity,
It’s just us now.
Just us five, huddled in clinical intimacy.
I roll to my side for all to gaze up into me.
My pillow cold from hot tears.
I’m 30, paging through Wāhine Toa,
Image after image of mother
We are divine because we birth.
I’m 34. On a boat, with friends.
We’re into the deep and meaningfuls.
The sea will do that for you.
What’s it all about we wonder.
Having kids, continuing the whakapapa.
Yes, that’s why we’re all here.
(my silence goes unnoticed)….
I’m 36, sitting across from Doctor number 300andwhatever,
She’s exhausted all the tests.
We just… don’t know, she says
(what’s wrong with you, she doesn’t say)
I’m only half listening.
I guess time doesn’t heal all wounds.
I’m 39, more deep and meaningfuls,
This time with a wāhine.
“If you ask me”, she says,
“you’re never truly connected to whenua until you have a child”.
It hangs in the air between us
Thick and heavy, like a violent fog.
My words are stuck in my throat
Like every other careless, soft strike
“You’ll never know true love until you have a child”
“Childless women just seem cold to me”
“You’d be an amazing mother”
“It’s a mum thing”
One last hospital.
One last Doctor.
One last procedure.
My whare tangata distorted by
Pou lashed to maihi
lashed to pare
lashed to epa
lashed to tekoteko
lashed to tahuhu
lashed to mahau
The Awa stops here.
In a few weeks from now I will have my whare tangata removed, and I have not had children.
What I have had, is seven miscarriages, 5 d&c’s (dilation and curette), 3 laparoscopies, abdominal keyhole surgery, and an ovarian cyst removal. And not one clear explanation.
Apparently something like a fifth of all infertility is termed “unexplained”. Other than two (one from being kicked in the abdomen and one from a burst cyst) there have been no other clear explanations, and of course there is no way of knowing if those two would have spontaneously miscarried as well. What I know is that even well before my first failed pregnancy, my relationship with my whare tangata has been strained. I’ve loved it… It’s not loved me.
I think, generally, when you reach 40, you start to consider your life’s journey with your whare tangata anyway – and this is largely because it starts to behave differently, as your potential for childbearing begins to close down. In my case – differently meant from bad to worse. From random pain to consistent pain. And all the predictability of El Niño. Another trip to the doctors, some tests, some serious discussions, a right turn, and here we are in Hysterectoville.
My childbearing potential was never great to begin with…. Maybe 1 or 2%, I’m told?
But it’s only now that it is about to hit 0% that I realise how much 1% matters.
My percentage has always been pretty low – low enough that I had to make peace with the strong likelihood of a childbirth-less life quite some time ago.
But still – maybe it’s the social engineering, from the dolls to the happily-ever-after stories and every image in between – but even when it’s only 1 or 2% – it’s enough to make you, in the quiet moments, wonder.
Wonder what your partner would react like. Wonder what that “amazing love” that everyone describes, is like (you know, the one that makes your own idea of love pale in comparison). Wonder about that first glance at your own genetic footprint, your immortality, your continuation of an act that was passed unbroken to you since time immemorial. Wonder about that first skin to skin contact. Wonder about names. Wonder what a “little you” would look like, would be like, and how you could love and nurture “little you” into an incredible being. Sometimes you catch yourself wondering like this – quite inadvertently, and admonish yourself, and shut it down. And then, perhaps a month later, perhaps a year – you will do it again. Yep, you can pack a whole lotta wondering into 1%.
I don’t get to “wonder” anymore, and as sparse as those moments were, I will miss that.
When I think back about my journey with my whare tangata – it’s largely hospitals and doctors’ offices that come to mind. Clinical white coats and expressions that somehow simultaneously span sympathy and distance. “Some women just aren’t meant to have children”; “It’s just bad luck”; “You know, the Public Health Service isn’t here to help your kind reproduce” (ok that last one wasn’t so sympathetic).
And years, and years, and years, of being told in well-intentioned tones “Oh your turn will come”.
Note to those who have not experienced infertility: That does not help. Not one bit. Nor the various other versions of:
“Oh I knew someone who thought the same for X years but then [enter miraculous conception story here]”
“You just need to relax it will happen when you least expect it”
“When it’s meant to happen, it will happen”
All of these translated to me as:
“We cannot, and shall not, accept the fate of infertility”
When people would offer these platitudes, I’d plaster on a smile, turn, and walk away – silently fuming at the fact that within moments, in spite of myself, I would start helplessly wondering, again.
But more than that – I sincerely resented the cumulative inference that not bearing children was unfathomable. For wāhine Māori the inference is compounded by the suggestion that our whare tangata – our ability to create new life – is the source of our divinity and strength. If there is one thing I would ask of you – it is to check this reductive notion. All women are sacred. All women are divine. No suggestion should be made otherwise. My role and divinity as a wāhine comes from so much more than my uterus – and I will continue to be just as much a woman, without one.
No, my body was not created to have children.
It was created to forge change. It was created to traverse this world and carry me through a multitude of adventures, triumphs, and lessons. It was created to hold and caress those I love, to stand up to injustice, to burn up the dancefloor, to plant seeds, to care for our planet, to stand and speak up for myself and others who require it. That’s what my body was created for.
I will not birth a child.
I have birthed, and will continue to birth, so much of great importance. I birth new understandings, I birth change for the better, I birth pathways for wellbeing, I birth opportunities. That’s what I birth.
Maybe I will raise a child. Maybe I will not.
Maybe I will raise a righteous army.
And maybe, just maybe – we are not divine because we give birth.
Maybe it’s that we give birth because we are divine in our ability to navigate change.
Why else do we also sit charge beside the waka tupapaku.
Why else do we herald the spirits to oversee hui.
My Awa Atua began with Hineteiwaiwa – and has been a mark of that divinity.
A mark of divinity that has travelled down countless generations to me.
A painful, tormenting mark, but one that I honour, and now, farewell.
My Awa Atua ends here.