It costs forty South African rand to find out if there’s a human growing inside of you. That’s not much at all to find out if your life will irrevocably change or will remain the way it is, and whether this is good or bad news for you. It takes an additional R158.60 to get the bloodwork done to fully ascertain that there is indeed no human choriogonadotropin in your body. The fact that I could write those two words, usually abbreviated as HCG, with proper spelling (though spell check changed it from “choreo”) means I have been reading about this stuff for quite a while. In my initial spelling, I imagine the making of a human being as a dance, and the chance of life as a delicately choreographed dream. In reality, it is anything but. There are brutalities some of us have to learn about and must deal with, and it is more like a long, slow march toward uncertainty than anything as proud, joyous, and distinctly beautiful as the dance forms I adore watching.
On the second Saturday after Beyoncé announced she was pregnant with twins, I was in my man’s car, late for my K-pop dance class. I was crying, and as he slowed behind the line of cars that he’d already known would be there, my tears went from chance of rain because there’s a little white wisp of a cloud on Lion’s Head, to yup it’s raining. Hospital Bend was the scene of this recent storm, and with the slowing traffic, my heart quickened, hardened, and entered my mouth. I’m not sure what it sounded like, perhaps a small animal you find on the mountain, wounded and aware of danger everywhere; even if you are there to help, it wants to escape.
The man next to me sat there quietly, and as we moved through the Bend and entered the N2, he patted my thigh in the way he had done many times before. I had been in an emotional tailspin for weeks, even before the announcement heard around the world. In some quarters, this announcement had been declared “tacky,” and in many others it was just another chance for the Black Goddess within us to shine; many of us were delighted. In a time when the world was a dreary, often unpredictably terrible place, we were happy for our Queen, and soon the memes and laughter covered all of “Black Twitter”—the most fun, most idea-generating, and most-copied (even by Nintendo) part of Twitter. She had made most of us happy with this announcement, and it was just another example of her talent: She didn’t just give birth to one child at a time; she could produce two heirs at a time, dammit!
Even in that happy space, doubt, disbelief, and a gnawing sadness started to swirl, rise, and create confusion. I could admit that I was both happy for her and still envious. I could admit that, sitting in that car on Hospital Bend, next to Groote Schuur, where I’d been told the cheapest IVF and other natal interventions took place, I was feeling bad. Although I had still tried to lie to myself that it was not going to happen, ten days passed before I collapsed into inevitable grief. Because I was a member of the Beyhive, and a member of the league of humans called Black Women, I was not trying to rain down on anyone’s parade, least of all Beyoncé’s. I felt ambivalent about the celebration of women who have and do it all, when I was in my little corner feeling as though I had done very little with my life, and was, through no fault of my own, forced to have less than it all. At some point I had to admit that I was grieving, and it wasn’t something intangible, or some life I thought I would be leading. It was true grief. Where the people you loved had names, and personalities, and they sat around your table, and they did things to make you and their father laugh, and you watched them grow, and now they are no longer here.
You couldn’t dream about them anymore, or talk them into existence. You had to accept that they would never hold onto you and call you “Mummy” or “Mom” or “Mama.” You knew so many people who easily fell pregnant, and you celebrated pregnancy news, and baby showers, births, and were even present for the first steps of babies you loved for years, yet you had to hold in the envy, the pain, and the niggling little, strange feeling you got when mothers shared stories of their brood. It was the kind of grief that often turned into anger, jealousy, and some inexplicable, irrational other thing that no one but a person going through the same thing could understand.
There were babies that you used to babysit who all of a sudden, it seemed, had now grown up. There was one friend’s child you would never forget. The way that little brown baby would look at you with her big eyes, and then toddle over to hand you the latest piece of paper she had torn up. You were even proud of how she did that. When she graduated from high school, you shed tears of joy. It was something within you, letting you know you also wanted your own. It was something within you that would celebrate a superstar’s hard-won pregnancies and first birth, watching the little girl she loved with everything in her grow up and delight the world with a combination of her mother’s and father’s faces. Where headlines about the five-year-old’s growing business acumen amused and slightly alarmed you.
In this world, my icon announced her pregnancy after I had missed my period for the first time in a long time, and in a lifetime of irregular menstruation, it had regularized to the point where it came every twenty-eight days. I had my trusted calendar (at a time where I couldn’t really trust my own body to do what I wanted it to) and for a year I’d been able to mark off proudly when my period would come. So there were no surprises left because of my body’s betrayal; I would not be able to conceive or carry a fetus to term without medical intervention. I didn’t think I was going to be granted a miracle, but somewhere inside me a tiny spark of irrational hope came alive. Nothing was different the day I missed the first period. In the middle of the time slated for the next one, the Queen, the Goddess, made her announcement. I went to see my doctor the following week so I could make sure no miracles I didn’t expect had occurred; I needed the clarity, sense, and science.
She made me pee on a white stick in the toilet down the hall from her consulting room, and then asked me what my expectations were as she kept me sitting on the chair at her desk, while in the alcove around the corner, she waited for the line or lines that would determine her answer. I told her that I wasn’t hopeful, and that I had been regular every twenty-eight days so this sudden departure, for these three weeks, was highly irregular. Especially after over a year of such prompt arrivals. What had made me hopeful about the regular periods was that perhaps the imbalance in one of my ovaries would not factor in conception. I knew I had to remove the fibroids that were the initial diagnosis for infertility, but I was trying not to go on Clomid to make sure my “lazy” ovary shot out my future baby.
And then there was the question of what would keep that baby safe and healthy in my then fibroid-free uterus. I had seen two gynaes in Cape Town with very little luck in understanding what to do. A year later, I found a sensitive and kind GP who “used her psychology” on me (as my mother said); I was ready to find a proper solution to what was going on in my womb. I was shocked by her calm, caring disposition. It almost felt like talking to a friend, and indeed some consults had us wandering into non-medical territory. (She once wanted to know if my friends could possibly hold their Wonder Woman Workout at a park in our neighborhood, and I said I could find out.)
Finding a GP who would firmly tell me face to face that I definitely needed to remove the fibroids before I conceived was truly a godsend. I’d been given so many conflicting reports and the information had been delivered so coldly and callously, I hadn’t been prepared for the possibility that a caring doctor actually existed in this part of the country. She gave me permission to make mistakes in whatever decision I would end up making, simply by saying, “Look, I think you should do this. Start with this.” But it wasn’t without tears. Straightforward people can also allow you to cry, I found out. “Just remember to feel all the feels,” this young, pretty doctor with a nice-looking husband and the most adorable young children was saying to me.
I had started going to see her before she was pregnant with her son. When her belly kept growing I would go home and have a nice fat cry. I was happy for her, sad for myself. I was also so comforted by her ability to listen carefully, to try to find a solution to whatever ailed me at the time, and then, later on, in the week of the supposedly sympathetic pregnancy consult, telling me without flinching, that the one red line on the white stick meant negative. There was no pregnancy.
My GP has recommended a brand new gynae, and she assures me she’s good and can find cheaper ways to get the fibroids out and other interventions I might choose. I talk price all the time because none of these things come cheap, not financially, not emotionally. I’m on the other end of the Beyhive, in the cheap seats, where we love her, but see that she can afford interventions that some of us have only dreamed of. She also suffered to get pregnant; perhaps her twins are the result of a medical miracle. Yet I can’t help thinking it’s taken only R200 to find out that I am definitely not pregnant. I am thinking of a number, a thousand times more perhaps, that it usually takes for some people to find out that yes, their dreams came true and they are definitely pregnant.
In the cheap seats, we do what we can do when there is sunshine everywhere but a storm has brewed in our hearts and only the two of us can witness it. We keep it to ourselves once again, and go somewhere to watch life ebb and flow. After asking if I still wanted to go to class, I knew I didn’t want to inflict any sudden or continuing deluge of tears on the young attendees. We decided to go to the beach, where we could sit in the car and just watch waves roll in and out, lazily.
On Sunset Beach, the air was crisp and stung with the smell of seaweed and sea salt. This was mid-summer, before the heat maximized and burnt itself out. We looked toward Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, and Signal Hill, the whole range distant and seemingly not quite alive. As though we were either new to the space, or we were tourists or watching it on a screen in another country. As though the mountain had not been the scene of a fire raging for a whole night the month before. And now, the part bereft of its trees and fynbos resembled the hind legs of a brindle bullmastiff seated on a glorious clump of red-gold earth. Whether it was to be blamed on the homeless or the usual summer fires that were necessary for fynbos to regenerate, the fire was life, and there was life ready to grow again. But we couldn’t see that, not at that distance.