By Keiko Zoll (Hannah Wept, Sarah Laughed, November 10, 2009)
Well, this leaves me at an impasse. I’m writing a letter to someone I have never met, never named.
Let’s try this again, shall we?
I began this letter as an exercise in grief, in letting go. The goal was simple: write a letter to the genetic child I’ll never have – a textbook psychotherapy homework assignment. Each time I would craft some eloquent opening in my head, rolling it around on my tongue without committing to speak it aloud or put it to paper. I would have these passing thoughts like express trains, blurring past the local stops leaving a windy wake and the knowledge that a thought had passed through this station without stopping, intent on the same ultimate destination.
Each time I thought of crafting this letter, I would be a few sentences in when I realized I would jump right into the body of the letter and neglect the greeting. I was addressing a letter to an unnamed child, always resulting in an awkward two-sentence false start. Before I could commit to anything more than those two sentences, I went on happy tangential daydreams thinking of names. I think this is exactly what they mean when folks mention “that twinkle in your mother’s eye.” That twinkle is possibility, and what drives us is giving that possibility a name. It’s like putting a lasso around the unknown: “I don’t know what my child will look like, but I’ve got a name for them.”
Infertility aside, I have no idea what my child will look like. Even if we could make a baby the old fashioned way, there’s no way to predict the way mine and my husband’s genetics would combine visually. After our vacation in Japan, I ached for an adorable little Japanese baby with their rubbed-the-wrong-way static electric hair. I am genuinely curious to see what a quarter-Japanese child would look like, rather, wanting to know what my quarter-Japanese baby would look like. Would he have big ears like his daddy? Would she have soft skin like her mommy? In the end, I don’t know and for the first time on this crazy ride, I’m okay with not knowing.
Genetically, I’ve got some real beasts I’d potentially pass down: thyroid problems, obesity, a history of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer in my extended family, not to mention my own infertility issues. How cruel would it be to pass on my infertility to my daughter? It’s just not ethical. But my thick dark hair, my rich brown eyes, and my high cheekbones: these are lost. My seemingly petite mouth and almond shaped eyes that can portray a myriad of exaggerated facial expressions at a given moment: those unique faces that are genetically passed down with the same facial muscle structuring (“oh he looks just like his mother when he laughs” or “she has her mommy’s smile”) – this legacy of visual expression is lost. I grieve for this face that should have been.
I grieve for this now lost moment when I look in my child’s face and see myself, really see my genes and my visual characteristics. I grieve knowing that from an evolutionary standpoint, I didn’t make the cut. I deeply grieve the loss of a child that is part me, part my husband, from their very fundamental genetic makeup. I grieve for the misplaced miracle in utero, where the very essence of me and my soulmate are joined by cosmic biology, a Darwinian leap of faith.
I hold this image of you tight in my arms: I smell your hair and stroke your cheek and smile back at the smile that looks just like mine. I cradle your face in my hands as you balance on tiptoes to reach up to me. I kiss you on the forehead, and release you like so many cells and dust and stars into the cosmos.
But you are still out there.
When your father and I met, we recognized something in one another. I saw a part of myself in him and he in me, that recognition of an old soul long separated into many pieces, as if to say, “Hello, at last. I have found the part of my soul that has been missing all these years.” When we found each other, we fit our missing pieces together and found completion.
Or so we thought.
Let’s not kid ourselves: we were only fifteen at the time. We had a little growing up to do.
After a heaping tablespoon of the real world, we could maturely interpret and internalize just what it means to be soulmates. We wanted everyone to know and share in our joy with each other. We wanted to shout it to the rooftops and we did – we were surrounded by our loving family and so many dear friends as we told the world: “Here! Here is my heart, my joy, my breath! I have found the one in whom my soul delights.” We danced and danced and danced and as we each clung to a corner of a red napkin, hoisted high on the shoulders of those that love us, we were truly a reconnected old soul, laughing with joy and contentment.
The stars laughed with us that night.
What I have realized is that you are still out there. You are that little piece that has been missing from our souls and while it might take me a little time to find you, I know you’re out there. You may not look the way I thought you would, but I will love and welcome and cherish you just the same. And when your father sees you, he’ll remember you too and say smiling, “Hello at last, little one! We’ve been looking for you. Come, tell us of your travels! We have so much to share with you.”
I will look into your eyes and I will recognize you from so long ago, thankful that we’ve found you after all this time.
In the clear night sky, the stars hang hopeful.