Invariably, at the grocery store where I buy avocados, clementines, and Lucinda’s beloved pork breakfast sausage, some stranger will ask, “Is she your only child?”   

I wonder what gives us away.

Is it the way I narrate our grocery trip, the questions I pose about the ripeness of bananas, Luci’s eighteen-month-old desire to blow the ridiculous rape whistle on my keychain, or how we observe other babies slurping down pureed pears, spinach, and apples from little plastic packets?

I softly hum Elvis Presley’s “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” as we grab more circular cheeses covered in red, peelable wax. I kiss the top of her head, brush my lips against her soft baby cheeks as she says, “cheese,” the ch-sound switched for a th-sound, like thunder, as she stretches out the e’s while softly pronouncing the s. She signs for more “theese” by placing the tips of her fingers together repeatedly, as if in persistent prayer. 

At the checkout, someone asks the “only child” question.

Without pause, my questioner follows with, “Are you going to have another?”

They may as well ask—

“Are you ready to go to war again?”

“Are you ready to risk it all—your health, your marriage, your life—to try again?”

My daughter is a miracle. Every child is. But really, my daughter is a warrior whose default answer was always no, long before she could form her favorite word on her cherubic toddler lips.

“No, I will exist, despite statistically slim odds.”

In the fourth year of infertility, before Luci, I start IVF by injecting Lupron, a drug also used in chemotherapy. Life and death entwined, even in science. Lupron creates a temporary menopause, replete with hot flashes and mood swings. The goal, the doctor says, is to stop my ovaries and then reboot them with estrogen—a pause before creation.

One cycle of IVF costs more than our wedding, more than our honeymoon to British Columbia. Instead of conceiving a baby by a glacier-fed lake, we pray at the altar of reproductive medicine and lost causes. All of this to inspire my ovaries to grow more follicles. Follicles, which may become eggs. Eggs, when fertilized, which may become embryos. May become a baby.

Have you ever seen a human egg? A 100 microns sounds impossibly small, yet a human egg is a redwood among the rest of our sapling-sized cells. Think of the size of a period at the end of this sentence—that is the size of a human egg. A period the size of hope, of humanity, of grief, of ecstatic love, of everything we courted through a monthly sea of blood.

Out of the five follicles we see on the ultrasound, of the five eggs retrieved, only one viable embryo is implanted into my body by an Athena-like doctor. She gently deposits this five-day cell, this beautiful blastocyst, into my uterus. “Blastocyst” is such a magical little totem—“blasto” for “a germ, bud, sprout, shoot” in ancient Greek; “cyst” an “anatomical sac.”

After implantation, I feel little except a crushing urge to pee. If I relieve myself, I am convinced I will push our only chance out to tide. I hold this tightening circle of incessant, involuntary need, until I can hold it no more.

I will not show you photographs of my pin-pricked stomach, a quilt of blue, green, and yellow bruises with Band-Aids of the solar system over fresh injection sites. I will not show you the hardship of lying prostrate on our marriage bed, ass in the air, gritting my teeth as my husband administers the long, nightly needle, progesterone shots to keep me pregnant. He never complains; he never tells anyone else what he is going through either. I will not show you our loneliness together. I will not show you him holding a fresh, perfect baby as the doctors put my organs back into my body, as I throw up into a kidney-shaped pan, crying over and over again to my newborn daughter, “I love you. I love you so much.”

“No, we won’t have another child,” I finally answer the stranger.

Afterwards, as I load the groceries into the car, Luci makes snake sounds in her car seat. I wish the stranger understood the inadequacy of the question. I wish they could feel the sublime sadness and joy that flood me when I say, “She is my one, my only.”

Michaella A. Thornton’s writing has appeared in The Common ReaderNew South, The Southeast Review, The New Territory Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, and a University of Missouri Press anthology, Words Matter: Writing to Make a Difference (2016). She loves her two-year-old daughter, all the cannoli, Hall & Oates, digging in the dirt, dive bars, and Jo Ann Beard.

Photo by Elizabeth Fackler