By Natalie D-Napoleon
My father was an atheist who believed that facts and science were the only thing worth basing your life on. My mother is a Catholic, and believes in faith and prayer. Me? I used to believe in magic.
I’m embarrassed to say I believed Santa existed until I was 11, and my mother had to tell me he wasn’t real. I was the eldest child of four and the eldest cousin of 11, so there were no older siblings or cousins to pop my magic-believing bubble.
From the mystical power of pyramids to prevent cheese from molding and hanging upside down in yoga poses to increase the capacity of my brain I graduated to an interest in tarot cards, Jung and astrology. Jung’s signs of synchronicity and deja vu governed my life for a time, and their appearance I always took as a pointer that my life was going in the right direction; that magic was happening and I was where I needed to be in that moment.
But over time I stopped believing in magic. Magic was lies adults told to children to get them to behave, it was mythology and fairy tales, serendipity and synchronicity. The adult world taught me those things no longer existed, that magic was for children, and for those who wanted to stay children longer than they should.
My father had always been right. Magic was for those who are by nature dreamers, and my dreams had become boring, tedious, painful and adult.
I was sitting in the Mazda 3 in the parking lot of the university where I worked, on my cell phone, talking to my husband, Grant and sobbing. “I can’t do it. I can’t do exploratory surgery when we don’t even know for sure if that will give us the answers we’re looking for.”
“Nat, I don’t know what to say. Do you want to get pregnant or not?”
“I do, but…”
“Then have the laparoscopy, don’t cancel it.”
“I can’t. She said in most cases they don’t even find anything. It’s exploratory surgery. I just… I can’t do it.”
I called back the doctor’s office where I’d just finished completing my admissions forms for a laparoscopy and endoscopy in eight weeks’ time, and cancelled the surgery.
For two and a half years we had been trying to get pregnant.
We had tried everything.
I’d had blood tests every morning for weeks to track my hormones at a fertility clinic, plastered with pictures of happy mothers and families with babies on the walls; we’d fucked like rabbits in every position imaginable; and, finally we’d tried the Creighton Model Fertility Care System – no invasive techniques for this natural couple. The CMFS involved a system of tracking cervical mucus using an infuriating and methodical system of checking wiped toilet tissue and recording my cervical mucus consistency, length and color, every day of the month to determine when I was ovulating. All the while we watched my best friend get pregnant, twice, my sister in law unknowingly use the girl’s name I’d picked, Lillian (Grant’s paternal grandmother’s name) and attended so many first birthday parties for our friends’ children that they now outnumbered the adult parties we went to.
It was not long after that that I ended up in the bathroom with a men’s Bic safety razor in my hands.
Grant screamed from the other side of the door at me to open it or he was going to smash it in.
I hated the fact that I loved my possessions so much and the door of my house so much that I couldn’t stand the thought of it being smashed. Fuck! I hated that money was so tight I hated spending it on anything unnecessary – for the sake of him finding me balling with a shaving razor in my hand.
I unlocked the door. And I sobbed a cry from so deep inside me that I thought I might never regain my “self”. I wasn’t really going to slash my wrists but I was so desperate for a way out of the thousandth fight/conversation/emotional meltdown about our fertility problems that I didn’t know what else to do.
I was grieving for the loss of my fertility, my relationship, my music career, and my dreams of having a child to play on the lawn we had tended to in the yard. We had dug the trenches for the reticulation with my dad who had also helped us lay the pipe and solder it to the water main. We had spread the fertilizer on the ground, then worked in the lawn runners, watered it every day for the first month, then two or three times a week after that to get the runners to take. The lawnmower guy came over once every two weeks to mow it. And I spent my free time hand-weeding, to make sure there were no pesticides or herbicides used on our property.
The lawn was verdant and lush was waiting for tiny feet. All the while we tended to our lawn I had visions of my child or children running around on the grass, playing, giggling, and falling down.
Being safe, being home.
Instead I was sitting at the edge of the bath tub sobbing; impotent and holding a man’s safety razor in my hands. There was no magic left in my life only the grinding reality of our infertility.
I met my first husband when I bought a Rickenbacker 355 on lay-away from him at Concept Music in Perth, Australia. I had started a band called “Bloom” and we’d just started gigging. When I returned the fourth time to make my last payment I asked Grant if he knew anyone who gave electric guitar lessons. He answered, “Yeah, I do.” We set up a date and a time to meet at his place and I set off with those little moths of impending love beating their wings in my chest.
When I turned up for my first guitar lesson synchronicity seemed to be at work again when I noticed he had a block-mounted poster of Susannah Hoffs from the Bangles propped against the wall in his bedroom, holding her black and white Rickenbacker, the same model as mine. I went for a guitar lesson, left with my husband to be and never got another formal lesson from Grant – a running joke in our relationship.
When we separated I sold that Rickenbacker to fund the first solo EP I recorded, “After the Flood”.
We fell in love then moved in together eight months later, just after I turned 22. He convinced me the guys in Bloom weren’t on my musical trajectory, so I broke up the band before it had run its course. I wanted to move on and fulfil my musical vision, and I let Grant convince me we could write better songs together.
The first song we wrote together happened so easily I thought that was the sign confirming that fate was at work once again. The song had a haunting guitar part in open D tuning. I began to sing over the chords and the words of the chorus tumbled out of my mouth, a gift, “My fear of falling eats me and it swallows me up / My fear of falling eats me and it fills my cup.”
After this Grant was never happy unless we wrote a song together. Once we’d started performing together as an acoustic duo, Flavor of the Month, I wrote three songs on my own and played them to him, hungry for feedback. He made no comment on the songs, but instead asked, “What about me, where’s my place in this? I…I just don’t know where my place is in our duo if you go off and write songs on your own.”
I enrolled in a Master of Arts in Creative Writing and withdrew because he said I needed to choose what I wanted to do, play music or write, because I couldn’t do both.
My problem was I wanted to do everything.
My problem was I was too afraid to follow my dreams.
Grant and I were like idealistic children adrift in a sea of adult responsibility, clinging to each other, yet drowning the other person in our panic to hang onto our dreams.
That was it, the map of what was to become was all there in that first song. The pomegranate had been split open, Persephone had taken a bite. From this song on I would be forever trapped in this underworld of my own making.
I wasn’t “ill” but I was suffering physically. Infertility leaves its sufferers in an illness purgatory. I didn’t look sick, but my body was painfully and clearly failing to do what it should: to make a baby, grow a baby, and bring a baby into the world.
There was not a single person in our family or social circle who had dealt with infertility. Admitting our struggle to family and friends only made the situation worse. “You two just need to relax,” became the empty advice mantra, which implied our problems were the fault of our character or attitude, rather than a fault of our bodily functions. So, from then on we vowed to keep our struggles “personal” and by implication secret and cloaked in shame. I took it upon myself to solve the problem by becoming consumed with the task of getting pregnant, and it was the one thing that filled my every waking hour.
Having a child would save our relationship and the life I’d built with my husband and partner of almost 12 years, who I had loved desperately, had imagined growing old with, having children with and continuing to share my creative musical life with.
The doctor we were working with in the Crighton Model Fertility System sent me back to the fertility clinic to get another hormonal blood work up, to track my levels of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), estrogen and progesterone levels, which involved returning every second day for almost two weeks. The marks on my easily bruised arms covered up by Band-Aids and long-sleeved tops.
I had to believe making a child involved some sort of combination of magic, voodoo and timing we hadn’t yet worked out the hidden formula to. The answer was there, all we needed to do was hang on as we’d been doing for the last two and a half years.
“Nat you have to check his phone.” I talking to my best friend Donna and she was getting annoyed with me and the high moral ground stance I’d taken.
“But I can’t, it’s not fair. I can’t go behind his back and do that. That’s not the type of person I am. I’ve asked him, I’ve asked him already 20 times. He said there’s nothing going on with her.”
Then she told me she saw it, a few other people saw it. He was playing with her bracelet at my birthday party at Little Creatures, and it wasn’t the action alone, but the intimacy of the gesture. This was another incident to add to the list of events that had transpired in the last seven months and cumulated with the bracelet-touching incident.
The phone, his phone had become the thing.
Grant spent most of his free time checking his phone, holding it underneath the table during most of my cousin’s wedding, disappearing around corners to check it, and leaving the table at family dinners. His cell phone’s constant beeping became a background to our home life and he spent most of his time hiding from me, tapping away text messages, searching for a way out.
During this week the intensity of his phone use increased, and the woman I suspected he’d been texting had been away in Europe for that week with her boyfriend visiting family. I knew it was her, but it couldn’t be her. We’d been camping together, had couples’ dinners together, I had worked with her just before I left the university. She had a handsome, gentle, intelligent German boyfriend who loved her. She’d been to my house and admired my things, picked up my grandmother’s blue 60’s Jeanie bottle, touched it and complimented me on my taste. Grant had been working with her at the university for seven months, in a job I’d gotten for him since his amplifier selling venture had failed and I’d moved on to ESL teaching.
The next morning was a Saturday; while Grant had a shower I got up and grabbed his phone off our cream linoleum kitchen bench. I opened it quickly before I could second guess myself again and read the first text. It was from her:
“I L U & I miss U. Can’t w8 2 C U again. XXX L.”
And one before from him, “1 wk 2 go til I C U again. I L U. XXX G”
Just like that a knife had been taken to my heart and popped the magic believing bubble that held our love and our life together.
Babies lost, a lawn untread by children’s feet, songs never to be recorded and falling, falling with nowhere to land.
A line from ‘Fear of Falling’, the first song we wrote together, echoed through my mind as the room began to move, “Eve felt it too, that cold, wet, dark drop / Eve felt the fall before the apple dropped”.
I grabbed the edge of the kitchen sink and as if in some Lifetime B-grade film the walls of the room closed in towards me, the ground beneath me seemed to ripple. By the time I was able to breathe again I bolted to our en-suite and shoved the messages in his face as he stepped out of the shower naked.
He had no lies or excuses left. I knew; I had known all along. Our marriage was over. Like watching a structurally unsound high rise building get demolished by explosives the trying was over. It felt good to know where I stood once again. The walls stopped moving, the ground stood still and I knew from this moment on that there would be no more shame or secrets or lies. Only the solid ground I chose to walk on beneath my feet. Continue Reading…