Maybe Once, Maybe Twice by Alison Rose Greenberg (Excerpt)

Maybe Once, Maybe Twice by Alison Rose Greenberg (Excerpt)

  1: THIRTY-FUCKING-FIVE THE ONLY PROMISE IS THAT nothing is promised to us. Someone should have told me that at seventeen. I should have known better by thirty. Much, much better at thirty-five. A childhood therapist once told my mom I was “filled with promise.” I had been promising for over three decades—like a drug that could work, but lacked federal funding. While I was filled with promise, I was not so much filled with eggs, according to my gynecologist’s tight smile. He loomed beside my paper-gowned body like the grim reaper, while his scythe—a rubbery ultrasound probe—searched for signs of life inside my dying planet. He pulled the wand out of me, sighing in my direction with a slight head shake. I recognized this look. Like my former math teachers, this doctor expected more from me. He snapped the gloves off his hands, flicking the latex into the trash can as if he were the LeBron James of vaginas. “I don’t want you to take this personally. Most women lose ninety percent of their eggs by thirty.” I went to scream, “How am I NOT supposed to take MY personal body personally?” but instead, air huffed between my slack jaw, which I had forgotten to pick up off the not-so-cute floor of infertility. It was a thrilling way to ring in the elder age of thirty-fucking-five. I studied the receding hairline atop my gyno’s round face. He appeared to be in his late forties, and my eyes slipped down to his hand, where there wasn’t a wedding ring in sight. I wondered if he was like me: childless and single. I wondered if it scared him. Of course it didn’t. Men under fifty stroll through dark parking garages the same way they approach their birthdays: without a second thought. They don’t lose sleep over their place in the world—not until they find themselves inside a midlife crisis. Women don’t have midlife crises, because we’ve spent our lives constantly in crisis. If only I had done a better job of leaning into the societal role that a woman should play. Every birthday should have been a gentle reminder that I was losing a war against time—that my branch on the family tree might hang aimlessly in the air. Instead, the End of Days had crept up on me like an asteroid in a Michael Bay movie. I had wandered the halls of my future with the false confidence of a mediocre white man, and I would pay for it like a woman. I had made this appointment with the vain hope that I would be declared “a fertility marvel.” My doctor would pat me on the back with a wowed smile and reassure me that I had plenty of years left to strum through life without permanent repercussions. Maggie Vine was not a medical marvel. Biology was holding me at gunpoint. I was walking the tightrope of regret. “Kids, one day” had become “kids, now or never.” “If you have a partner, you should start trying,” he said. There was an inflection of hope for the hopeless in my doctor’s voice as he spun on a little stool below me, poring over my medical chart on his iPad. If I have a partner… My love life shared the potential of my uterine lining: outlook not good. One might best describe it as a fuckboy warfare hellscape. The word “relationship” was always in finger-quotes. My “relationships” were a lot like my music career: constantly on the verge of becoming something until they became nothing. Optimism spiraled me toward the joys of lovesickness and watched me lose myself in some angular jawline’s undertow. “We should talk about your options,” he said, taking my silence for what it was. “What do those bad boys run these days?” I asked, flipping through the IVF pamphlet. “Well, I think you should try IUI first, which could be about five hundred to four thousand dollars, depending on the meds, bloodwork, and insemination—” “Those are two very different numbers.” “And then you’d have the price of a sperm donor on top of that,” he continued, handing me two more pamphlets. “If IUI doesn’t work, we’d shift to IVF, which is much more invasive and costly, but generally more successful. Now, yours would be considered a geriatric pregnancy, so I don’t want you to get too excited when you see these fifty percent success-rate numbers.” “I’m sorry, did you just say ‘geriatric’?” Apparently, it was time for my ovaries to take a starring role in one of those arthritis commercials. She would find a silver fox and run in slow motion down the beach, toward a bright light. Maybe they handed out AARP memberships to retiring reproductive organs. If my fertility was going to wave a white flag, at the very least, I deserved a discount at Red Lobster. “There’s always freezing your eggs, but freezing eggs this old…I don’t know. If you were smarter, you would have done it sooner.” “Smarter” shot through me like a bullet. I wasn’t exactly stupid, but I was overly hopeful. Which was possibly a very stupid way to approach life. Wide-eyed, I studied the silent nurse in the corner who awkwardly played with her hands, trying not to meet my eyes. I looked back at the doctor, just as he flicked a smile my way. It made me want to end his life. There was nothing I hated more than proving a shitty man right. He was about to find out that I was much less smarter than he didn’t give me credit for. I had wasted my adulthood by choosing to play a game of risk, and it was not rewarding. I shivered in front of the mirror at the Upper East Side exam room, dissecting my reflection—unfortunately under fluorescent lighting. Here I sat on my thirty-fifth birthday: cold ultrasound lube dripping onto my pale thighs; lime-green eyes open far too wide; long, wavy hair framing a heart-shaped freckled face; last night’s mascara creating an unintentional kind-of-hot smoky-eye. Here I sat: a woman out of options. I was staring down the edge of my dream, completely unaware that two other doors were about to swing open. Copyright © 2023 by Alison Rose Greenberg

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