My aunt died in a car accident when I was six. We buried her, a fetus in her belly. She was only 26.

I try not to hear my own biological clock ticking. I came across a chart. It was labeled, “The Age Factor.” There’s a picture of a healthy pregnant woman. Above her, the caption: “Likelihood of a woman conceiving after trying for a year.” To the right of her belly are percentages broken down by age group. My group, 40-44 is 36%, not bad, but the one after it, the one I’ll be in soon, 45-49, is only 5%.

Sunday morning, in my twenties, a baby is crying somewhere in the apartment complex. I lie in bed amazed at its fierce demand. I want not to cry. My father always said, Don’t cry, or I’ll give you something to cry about. I learned to cry softly so no one would be bothered by it, to do it with muffled sniffles and the silent roll of hot tears, not like this baby, crying with all its might. After a few hours, I wonder if I’m hearing things. Is that a baby or just my own sorrow? Finally, another neighbor yells, “Shut that fucking baby up. I’m trying to sleep.” The baby stops so suddenly I wonder if they’ve put a pillow over her face.


In my early thirties, I wrote a letter from my future self asking my current self why I didn’t give myself the very things I wanted most: after dinner, Dutch apple pie with its brown-sugar-and-butter-crumble topping, and babies with their soft skin and big, round eyes. It took me a long time to realize I wanted, first, a different birth by a different mother, a mother who never left me in the middle of the night, who wasn’t part of a lineage of women who believed how they looked was more important than who they were, and that having a man was more important than keeping a daughter.

In my late thirties, we stand in the elevator, going up to my apartment, when my girlfriend turns and gives me the news: she’s pregnant. I wait a beat then congratulate her, trying not to think of the tests run on my own body, confirming persistent cysts on my ovaries. The doctors had hoped the cysts would diminish, but instead they’ve flared up on the left side, too. The pain makes me tired. The cysts make me bleed more during my period. Blood pours out of me onto the tiled bathroom floor. I become anemic. They prescribe iron tablets, which hurt my tummy and give me ulcers, and make me bleed more internally. All this bleeding, and the menstrual blood comes out a dark crimson, like I’m corroded and rusted on the inside.

 

I hear my one-night stand walk down the hall to the bathroom, pop the top of the trashcan open. I knew it was buried there, away from a dumpster-diving, desperate woman who wants babies, who isn’t beyond going after what he’s left behind. Lifting the lid, squatting next to the rim of stainless steel, looking for the rubber, ribbed balloon filled with swimmers, but of course, he knew better than to leave it on top. I move tissue, most of which I discarded after fitful tears on lonely nights. Then I see a tissue laced with bright blood, not my own. Perhaps from the one-night stand who’s left, or another person passing through my apartment.
I know I shouldn’t root further, but now I want to see it, the proof of it.

It happened. The sex. His climax. An act toward creation. A liquid galaxy contained in a bubble. Potential for life. Think of other women as despairing as I am. What are we capable of? What am I willing to do? I allow myself just to contemplate it, how I might lie upon my back, hoist my legs up in the air, bend my knees to improve the angle, then part myself, like a mouth ready to drink.

I know about spermicide; most condoms contain it, fumigation for the weeds, but the little guys are durable. They’ve made it under worse circumstances. So, I imagine pouring the contents inside of myself, like pouring a salve on an open wound, one might feel a burn at first—that’s the shame—before feeling solidarity, like cement poured to lay foundation, rebar holding it all together. Brazen enough to self-fertilize, let something take root. This is what I dream of as I fall asleep on the hard tile, arms wrapped around a cold can, fingers gripped tight, I might never wake up, never let go.

 

In the dream, you tell me my baby is dead. You tell me, this can happen sometimes. All I do is howl. I realize I am howling aloud, and as I wake, tears stream down the side of my face seep into my earlobe.

My boyfriend shifts in bed, and I realize my crying is disturbing his sleep. I roll over, try to cry quietly, inadvertently fall back into the same dream, except now I am wearing a cream-colored silk nightgown that visibly shows my prominent belly. And I realize, you are my doctor, standing before me, repeating as if I hadn’t heard the first time, “Your baby is dead.” The words echo inside my body.

I clasp my hands around my belly. I feel no movement, although I am sure you are wrong.

“We will schedule the delivery,” you say.

I look up, hopeful, but you’re upset. “Haven’t you been paying attention? Your baby is dead.”

I begin to cry again. But this time I sit up, fully awake in bed, and feel my belly, which is flat from a lack of pregnancy.

The room is warm. I get up and go into the bathroom to breathe cool, fresh air, to get the blood circulating in my body, to avoid falling back into that horrible dream where you are surely waiting to break the news to me, again.

In the morning, as my boyfriend and I eat breakfast, I stare down into his bowl of porridge covered with melting cinnamon. The hemorrhage-colored mixture makes me think of a girlfriend in college. She got pregnant and was going to have an abortion, except she had a miscarriage before the procedure could be done. She took me by the hand and pulled me into the girl’s bathroom stall to show me the bloody clump in the toilet. I stared down, trying to make out fingers and toes. After I bore witness, she flushed.

My boyfriend stirs his porridge and asks me if I had a nightmare last night. I nod, but he does not ask what it was about, and I do not volunteer the information. It’s a private matter. Although I badly want to confess—I lost our baby.

Of course, it was just a dream.

He knows I want a baby, in a general sense, but for some reason I don’t want to tell him the dream because then he’ll see me for what I am: a 41-year-old woman worried she’s running out of time, worried she’ll run out of eggs. I cannot admit this to him as we’ve just moved in together. Unpacked boxes crowd our narrow hallway. We are so quiet with one another, but my belly growls loudly. We do not talk about my dreams. Instead, we pass each other milk and sugar for coffee. We talk about the weather; the forecast calls for some much-needed rain.

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TAMMY DELATORRE is a writer living in Los Angeles. Her essay, “Out of the Swollen Sea,” was selected by Cheryl Strayed as the winner of the 2015 Payton Prize, and her essay, “Diving Lessons,” was awarded the 2015 Slippery Elm Prose Prize and recognized as a Notable Essay in the 2016 Best American Essays. Her writing has also appeared in Los Angeles Times, Vice, Good Housekeeping, and The Rumpus. More of her work can be found at www.tammydelatorre.com.

11 responses to “Ticking of the Clock”

  1. Tammy – what can I say? Every piece, each time, every word, your heart – – so beautiful. So rich and vivid and explosive. Stunning Tammy, stunning.

    • Laurie, thank you so much for your kind words here. I was scared to publish this piece, even asked the editor to hold it for a sec. It’s kind of funny that the timing worked out so that the essay was published this week, when I’m turning 45, and the chances go down, significantly. It’s the biological reality.

  2. Such a quiet and moving piece. Thank you for sharing your truth so beautifully 💕

  3. Judy Myers says:

    Tammy, a beautiful and brave piece. I am honored to read it and to know you. There are so many threads here, the biological imperative, the desire to be a mother alongside the desire to have been truly mothered, the crying need of children and adults and the silencing of that need by cultural demand, gender demand, and self-imposed silence, and the blood and flesh of being a woman, wanting to be pregnant. You’ve so deftly brought all these threads together. Wow! What a great essay!

  4. Jill Dearman says:

    Beautiful. Complex. These images will stay with me for a long time.

  5. Maya Stein says:

    Gosh, Tammy. I admire this writing so much. Not just because it’s quietly, explosively good. But because I feel like I’m living inside of it, connected biologically, cellularly, to every word. Thank you.

    • Maya Stein — woman who’s poetry I have long loved and admired (anyone reading this, sign up for Maya’s 10-line Tuesday) — thank you so much for the “living inside of it.”

  6. Wow Tammy. What a searing, powerful essay. Your prose is so evocative, so lyrical, and so revealing. Beautifully done.

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