Arms by my side, I lie on the floor in the dark floating on a raft of breaths. I try to relax – that is why I am here, after all – learning to relax, but the towel bunches under my lower back and I want to yank it out, pull hard, like a Christmas cracker, for the pop, the small prize, the fortune, but of course, no such luck. My stomach gurgles thinking of the almond wafer melting in my mouth, which in turn makes me think of communion, though why I don’t know, I am the wife of a Unitarian Universalist minister, we have potlucks, and Catholic churches give me the willies.
The instructor’s voice wafts disembodied over my head: Remember to breathe.
My yoga teacher says the same thing every Thursday night. How ridiculous - breathing is an autonomic function, buried deep in the brain stem, as instinctual as apple pie and motherhood. Or perhaps not absurd, since motherhood eludes me and is the reason I am prostate in corpse pose on a carpet trod by hundreds of filthy shoes with a dozen other women all trying to envision the same thing: a tiny sperm swimming up the fallopian canal, making it’s touchdown with the egg, the fertilized embryo dropping like a feather to settle in the womb. Maybe I should heed the warning to breathe. Maybe these three years we’ve focused on the wrong body part – maybe it is my lungs that need fixing, not my baby making organs.
I want to return to the meadow, the one the instructor walked us through minutes ago, the one carpeted with sunshine and daisies and tall, waving grasses. In my imaginings, I wear a white dress and run in slow motion towards my first lover, a tall man, a philosopher with long wavy hair who proved, in the end, rather abusive. But how I loved that hair! Running my fingers through those auburn strands, braiding them into baby dreadlocks after screwing all afternoon on the narrow dorm mattress we threw on the floor. Bring me his head, I think, that will help me relax. I giggle in the quiet.
The instructor stands over me.
--Anything wrong, she whispers. I shake my head, mortified to be singled out. Then just breathe, she says.
Just breathe. Just relax. Right. As if relaxing will fix my faulty womb. The hormones haven’t, nor the nightly progesterone shots in my gluteus maximi, or the countless surgeries transplanting our beautiful, delicate embryos in their beds of nourishing tissue. Not the second mortgage making all this joy possible. Just breathe. As if the reason for my miscarriages is due to not breathing, not relaxing. I don’t have time to relax. I should be grocery shopping, the only milk in the refrigerator smells like sour cream. I should be making a casserole to eat later this week, or paying bills, or scrubbing toilets, anything other than lying here staring at the back of my eyelids.
--Inhale deep, she tells us all. From below your belly button. Breathe from your uterus. Bathe your growing baby in positive energy. Breathe in that golden sunshine from the meadow.
I concentrate on the three 4-week embryos cleaving to my uterine wall, sucking up nutrients, dividing from one cell to two, four, eight, sixteen, growing into a blob the size of a peanut, a golf ball, limbs emerge, a head, a spinal cord glints in the ultrasound. Hello, I say to my future child. I love you. Tiny fingers wave in amniotic fluid and for an instant everything goes white, goes warm, and I float with my daughter in the calm swells of my body.
--Breathe deeper. The floor shudders as the instructor walks past.
I breathe in, to bathe my babies in that golden sunshine, my blood pulsing around them, protecting them, but halfway through the inhale my throat clenches -- it is all so impossible, the embryos are too tiny, too fragile, mere cells surrounded by disaster.
Air wooshes out. I breathe in again, one, two, and on three my throat constricts again. I cannot I hold enough air with one breath, so I breathe and breathe, faster and faster, my chest heaves, my pulse thrums in my ears, and my baby disappears in a jagged flash of light. The meadow peels back, the flowers, the golden waving grass, my white dress, gone, all gone, and somewhere in the room someone gasps, someone cries, and the instructor kneels beside me, her hand on my back , and she holds me, she rocks me, and I want the floor to split open and swallow me, a useless woman who cannot make babies, who cannot even breathe.
Meet Miriam, the Minister's Wife. She's younger here, though not by much, a decade or so, but this is how I envision her story opening. At least today. Peace...