Authors: Jessica Barksdale Inclan
One Small Thing
For Mitchell and Julien
It’s not having what you want,
It’s wanting what you’ve got.
As usual, without the help of my tribe, this novel would have been impossible to write. Thanks to Jill Christofferson, Donna Downing, and Sue Graziano Adams for sharing their fertile experiences. My writing group—Gail Offen-Brown, Marcia Goodman, Julie Roemer, Keri Mitchell, and Joan Kresich—read it all and gave me the tools to make it work. Susan Browne held me up through the planning stages and then the hard writing, commenting on every idea and character. Without her help and enthusiasm, I wouldn’t have gotten through the first draft. Cody Cummings shared his experiences with me honestly and thoughtfully. My uncle Brad Randall gave me information that didn’t make it to this draft, but I thank him all the same. Kris Whorton, Lisa Wingate, and Carole Barksdale read portions on the email, and I always think that deserves a medal (or a back brace). Tom Barber helped me out with geography. Dina Krayzbukh helped with language. Mel Berger, my agent, was there to counsel me through the rough times, and my editor Ellen Edwards, again, pushed me to a better story. And again, I appreciate you both so much. Finally, my family—Mitchell, Julien, Jesse, Carole, and Bill. Thanks for it all.
Because it was almost 100 degrees outside, the sky a thin, pale blue, the grass on the hills almost waist high, dry, and blowing wild in the hot breeze, Dr. Browne’s office was freezing, the nurses cranking up the air conditioner enough that Avery Tacconi’s toes were a deep red, almost purple. Under her cotton gown, she shivered, rubbing her thighs together for warmth, wishing Dr. Browne would come in and get this over with. She already knew the answer, anyway. It didn’t take an MD to tell her she wasn’t pregnant, again. Anyone with an 8
-grade education or an IQ over 100 could do that. So why, she wondered, was her heart thrumming?
Earlier in the waiting room with the other women, she’d smiled as she listened to their conversation, nodded when one woman said, “I won’t shop anywhere but
I just love their furniture. And the clothes! All from Europe. I’ve gone crazy there in the last weeks.” The woman rubbed her nine-month stomach with satisfaction. Avery could see the beak of the woman’s distended belly button through her expensive Pea-in-the-Pod outfit. She wondered about the wisdom of having an infertility specialist sharing office space with traditional Ob/Gyn’s, but she knew that very rounded, full, awkward body was exactly what she wanted. In fact, that’s precisely what she had written out for herself way back in high school, the schedule like this: Finish college at age twenty-two (at the same time deciding upon the man she would marry), find great job by twenty-two and a half, get married by twenty-five, establish her reputation at her job, get pregnant at twenty-seven, quit said fabulous career, have baby. A perfect, healthy baby, preferably a boy first, a girl for the second baby at the end of her twenty-eighth year.
The only things missing from her careful timeline were the pregnancy and the baby, the order all messed up because even though she was twenty-eight and Dan’s count was high, his sperm mobile and perfectly shaped—those tiny tadpoles swinging their tails and scurrying around just as they should—she hadn’t conceived, not once in two years, not even with the new treatment, the intrauterine insemination, IUI, something she’d never believed she’d have to do.
Everything was off, ruined, because here she was at twenty-eight, no career anymore, no baby one nor baby two, her whole future jumbled into a mess she couldn’t even begin to forecast.
Sometimes, before she could stop herself, Avery let herself slip into a mother daydream, feeling lthe soft weight of her baby in her arms, the lovely baby skin smells of lotions and ointment in her nose, the sounds of her baby’s soft breaths in her ears. In her dream, she sat in her rocker, Dan, her mother, and sister around her, all of them reaching up to touch this bundle of wonder. As she thought, her heart would slow, her face would grow slack with joy, and then she’d snap herself out of it, hitting her fist on her thigh, determined to not fall into reverie, into hope because it was bad luck. Terrible luck. She needed to keep focused on reality.
So here she was trying to be real, sitting on the table, shivering, she wished Dr. Browne would come in and tell her the home pregnancy kit had been wrong. It was a miracle! Here was the real, true result right now. He would wave a paper in front of her, and then find the heartbeat for her, the crackly echo loud in the small room. Avery knew this is what would happen because she’d watched every episode of
Labor and Delivery, Maternity Ward
on The Learning Channel. Her eyes widened and watered when she heard other women’s babies’ heartbeats and saw with them the first sonograms, the babies all black fish eyes and veins swimming in the dark uterine sack. Sometimes at night when she lay awake next to her husband Dan, listening to him sleep, she imagined she felt a flash, the flip of life in her womb. But it always turned out to be gas or bloating or the flu. But Avery could imagine it; she knew what it would be like.
“Avery,” Dr. Browne said, knocking on the slightly open door and then pushing in. “Here you are.”
“Back again.” She felt her fake smile spread across her face. Where else would she be? Running down the street in her gown? Breathing in quickly, she resisted the urge to jump down onto the freezing floor and grab him by the shoulders, demanding, “When? When is it my turn? I did everything I was supposed to do. I’ve waited. I’ve done everything right. I’ve taken the Clomid. I’ve come in for all the blood tests. I’ve made sure Dan gave a great sperm specimen, four full days of sperm every single time. Just like you said.”
Dr. Browne smiled back at her, putting her already thick file on the counter, looking at the last page. “Okay. Let’s just take a quick look. Mary?” he called out to the hall. Mary, Dr. Browne’s nurse, walked in, nodded, put on a pair of rubber gloves.
Avery assumed the position she’d taken for over two years, the familiar leg spread, putting her feet on stirrups that were covered in cute, hand knit maroon socks. Her cold toes almost matched the socks, and she found it hard to relax against Dr. Browne’s gloved fingers and then the warmed speculum.
Crank, crank, crank
, and she closed her eyes, wishing he could feel that she’d changed, that her uterus was somehow full with a baby. But he found nothing because
crank, crank, crank
, and he pulled the speculum out, dumped it in the sink, slipped off his gloves.
“Well, you aren’t pregnant. And, Mary, we don’t need to do the ultrasound today.”
You are a
real rocket scientist
, she thought, taking it back right away. She liked him. She wanted to become the kind of woman who wouldn’t want to snap back, a woman who could relax into his open smile without sarcasm and impatience. Avery wanted his good humor, his pleasant expression to infect her, make her body ripe for a baby. Before she and Dan had even begun trying to get pregnant, she’d listened carefully to the women at the Oakmont Fitness Club locker room, one saying, “One visit to Dr. Browne, and I was pregnant. He’s amazing. Got that magic touch. He says the exact right thing every time.”
Avery scooted up, as if the magic words would fall from his lips and slip up inside her. The paper below her crackled, and she pulled the gown down to her knees. “I know. I thought maybe. I was a couple days late.”
“Thanks, Mary,” he said, and Mary walked out of the office, closing the door behind her.
He wrote something on Avery’s file and then looked at her, his brown eyes understanding, as only someone with four children could be. Brandon, Austin, Haley, and Madison Browne decorated every exam room, photos of birthdays, soccer matches, first days of school in the hand-decorated frames (shells, buttons, cracked marbles, dried pasta) that Mrs. Browne made for the office.
When Avery had told her best friend and neighbor Valerie about the kids and the photos, Valerie had shaken her head and said, “One of the reasons people have children in the first place is just to name them.” Avery had laughed, but didn’t bring it up later when Valerie read every baby book on the bookstore shelf before picking out the name Tomás Victor, her husband Luis’ father’s and uncle’s names.
“We’ve talked about this before, Avery,” Dr. Browne said. “You are so young. I know it seems like a long time, but two years isn’t out of the ballpark. We’ve done seven rounds of the IUI because you’ve been very persistent. If it were totally up to me, I’d have had you do it the old fashioned way for a bit longer. Recent research has shown that those who don’t conceive in the first year of trying will conceive in the second. That’s still your ballpark. I’m not saying we should stop. In fact, we’ll do one more month of the IUI, and if we don’t have the result we want, I’ll suggest moving forward.”
Avery nodded. That’s what she wanted, In-Vitro. The real thing, not IUI. Dan called IUI “spin and shoot.” The day after Avery injected herself with the hormone HcG to induce ovulation, she and Dan would drive down to the clinic in the afternoon, Dan taking a magazine into the small “collection” room. After handing over his sample to the nurse, his sperm was spun in a centrifuge to wash and concentrate it, and then it was injected directly into Avery’s uterus through a catheter, her pumped-up eggs enhanced and activated and sailing down the fallopian tube. At three thousand dollars a round, it wasn’t even half as expensive as in vitro fertilization, but she didn’t know how many more rounds she could handle, her PMS so intense she found herself weeping on the couch while watching
because Pedro left Alma due to the affair he thought she’d had but hadn’t. And usually Avery didn’t even watch soap operas.
“I want to keep trying. I think it will work,” she said. “I want it to work. It has to.”
“Avery. You’re a young woman. My wife had Madison when she was 42. Anyway, talk to Mary on your way out and we will get you scheduled for the next round. Take care. And think about that accupuncture clinic I told you about. Some of my patients swear by it.”
He smiled and left the exam room. Avery stood up and took off her gown, folding it into a neat square and laying it on the table. So what if his wife had a baby at forty-two. She wasn’t forty-two when she’d begun popping out those four kids.
As Avery slipped on her blouse, she looked in the mirror next to Dr. Browne’s desk. He was absolutely right. She was a young woman, her breasts firm, her stomach flat, her thighs so cold in this freezing room because they didn’t touch, hadn’t since she was 13 and had gone on her first and only diet. Compared to the women in the waiting room, with their huge breasts strapped in milk-soaked nursing bras, their hair straight and dark from coursing hormones, she was perfect. A size six, sometimes four. She could walk into Nordstrom and put on anything, and it would look good. Sometimes, the saleswomen actually waited for Avery to come out and show them how a dress or skirt looked. She had her hair cut every five weeks to the day by Richard at Anthony’s, her feet and nails done every two weeks by Nanette, her skin massaged and buffed by Laura once a month at Oakmont.
But as she zipped her jeans and slipped on her loafers, she thought,
What did all that matter when her body wouldn’t do what she most wanted it to do? So what if she could make every limb lean and tan and firm? So what if she could work out on the Stairmaster for fifty minutes and then do her weight reps? What did any of that matter when it took Clomid or gonadotropin injections to push perfect eggs down her fallopian tubes right on time? When her egg wouldn’t take in the one thing that would make her life just right?
Avery’s body felt like an engine that had never been jump started, no gears lubed, nothing moving, not even when the hormones were pumping through her system. And after Dan’s sperm passed the semen analysis with flying colors, she had no one to blame but herself. Her body just didn’t work right.
Out by the nurses’ station, Mary patted her hand. “Honey, you don’t know what I’ve seen in this office.”
Avery leaned on the counter, her breath in her throat. “Yeah?”
“Oh, yeah. People try for years and years. We’re talking cycles and cycles of IVF. We’re talking they finally give up and go to China and adopt a baby girl. You, honey, have so much time.”
Avery pushed back and pressed her lips together, not wanting to say what she knew about time. Whatever she’d wanted before—a degree, a husband, a house, a job—had been hers to get. If she needed to ace a test, she studied all night; if she wanted Dan, she smiled and then ignored him until he came over and sat by her at Peet’s Coffee, buying her a double latte, walking her home to her dorm room. After graduating
summa cum laude
from Haas Business School, she’d networked and honed her resume until PeopleWorks hired her first as an assistant to Brody, her current boss, and then, within a year, he’d asked her to help oversee their sales division, a group of almost fifty people. For the next two years, they sold computer systems to businesses all over the country, Avery traveling to St. Louis and Dallas and Chicago almost every month. Coming home to Dan was almost like a vacation, their entire marriage more of a honeymoon than a real life.