Nonfiction from shannon layne

Close up of an empty robin's nest

Photo: LouAnn Clark

If hope is the thing with feathers, and I am full of eggs, am I a bird?

Forty antral follicles is too many. If you think, as I did, the more the merrier, you’d be wrong. Since each antral follicle contains an egg chock full of hormones, too many of them means too many hormones, which wreak havoc on my insides like a mischievous band of pixies unscrewing a chandelier twist by twist. Mayhem held just in reserve, delicate glass hovering over a marble floor as their devious plot unfolds. A part of me is always prepared for the sound of shattering.

The doctor doesn’t know that she is relaying this information to a former spelling bee champion who was asked to spell that same numerical word in front of a crowd of bored, likely hungover parents and beleaguered younger siblings who were forced to sit in a frigid auditorium for hours as kids with braces lisped into a microphone. There’s no “u,” in forty. It’s trickier than you think. I didn’t miss it then, and I don’t miss it now as I spell it in my head. One ear listening to the doctor, the other spelling every few words letter by letter as they flow into my auditory canals—a trick that’s always calmed me. She explains. I nod, rolling the medical terms in my head like a candy in my mouth. Ovary. Polycystic. Insemination.

Insemination is the word that trips me up, that day and on the ones that come. IUI, or intrauterine insemination, is presented as a valid option for someone like me, gay and with too many eggs that refuse to descend in an orderly fashion. The little vial and catheter used to transfer the donated sperm up, up, and away into my uterus are all opaque, adding another layer of mystery. So much of this process is invisible, like magic. If it works. Otherwise, just as invisible as the being we’re attempting to create out of hopes, dreams, and my erratic eggs. An idea lacking shape and substance. Billowy clouds that gather and drift in a gray sky.

Where I come from, on most days fog rolls in from the sea and lingers over the tops of redwood trees in a blanket of whispers, otherworldly and silent. Morning and night, the fog is thickest, and I like to sit on the deck and watch it creep and settle.

I think about that a lot when I am lying on the table during one of what comes to seem like a thousand appointments: crinkly paper under my bare skin, my feet in stirrups, my body invaded by a speculum (great spelling word), the modern design of which was invented by a man in the 1840s—”modern” being an oxymoron. When the catheter is inserted into my uterus, a place things are supposed to emerge from, not enter, I curl my toes over the padded metal edge and spell. Endometrium. Cervical. Implantation. The letters are bright against the blackness of my closed eyelids.

My vast stores of eggs are persnickety. It makes sense, if you think about it. There should be half as many held in reserve as there are. Things are cramped. Only a very small number will ever get the chance to grow big and make the trip down a tube, millimeter by millimeter, toward destiny.

Did you know there has to be an explosion in the follicle for the harvested egg to be released? Why don’t they teach us any of this?

If the egg my blood and hormones have grown to a fertilizable size doesn’t cooperate, my body will tell us in a matter of weeks. Whatever the outcome, this time or the next or the next, one thing I know for certain: my body is a nest. My love for something yet to be is like any other winged being’s trust in something they can’t see or touch. In that, I’m not alone. I am feathered and equipped for flight and full to the brim of all the possible in the world. All I can do is spread wings damp from fog to dry in the sun. I too must launch from the tallest branch and glide over the morning mist pulled from the sea, eyes on the horizon, buoyed and driven by something ancient none of us can name.
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shannon layne (she/her) is fourth generation humboldt county-raised, and her earliest memories are of redwoods. She lives with her wife in Northern California. (twitter: shannonlaynee)

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