by Belle Boggs
Published in Resolve for the journey and beyond, Spring 2013 issue
For years, my husband and I have watched a pair of bald eagles nest in a tall pine tree across the Haw River, near where we live in North Carolina. Every spring, we've been able to hike to see them taking turns caring for their newly-hatched eaglets — sometimes one, but often two — which appear first as dark shapes and barely-discernible movements within the great heavy nest. Soon enough, they become recognizable, gray-fuzzed chicks, and by the end of the summer they are gangly, goofy-looking teenagers, hunting and scavenging on their own.
When I first found out that we were infertile, the eagles and their babies seemed like a rebuke, yet another example of what we couldn't have, of the parents we would not become. And every year, around February, more chicks! In their timing the eagles were like those annoying women who plan their pregnancies around vacations and seasonal preferences; in their fruitfulness they were like the smug drivers of those minivans with the stick figures (each one a little smaller) on the back.
But I couldn't stay resentful for long. Bald eagles, if you watch them for a while, invite not envy but wonder, appreciation, and awe. They are inscrutable and fierce, with seven-foot wingspans. They are still somewhat rare, having survived human overpopulation, poaching by salmon fishermen, and the poisoning effects of the pesticide DDT (which caused infertility in adult eagles as well as a fatal thinning of their egg shells). They are survivors, one of the few American species to make it off the Endangered Species List. And it's spectacular to see them in flight — every time, no matter how often I see one soaring overhead, it still takes my breath away. I decided to see the eagles and their young not as a symbol of loss and exclusion, but of what I do have: the freedom to spend time in nature, good health for walking or running to the river, the pleasant company of my husband, or a solitude I enjoy.
This past summer, a powerful and frightening windstorm caused damage to many trees near my house. I was home at the time, writing (okay, I was hiding in the bathroom with my cats), and after the storm passed, I decided to go down to the river. It took a long moment to realize that something was wrong: the eagles' tall pine tree was gone, taken out by seventy-mile-an-hour winds. I couldn't believe that the nest, and my chance to see the bald eagle life cycle, was gone. Oh, they'll build another one, a friend reassured me. But where will it be, and will I see it? I asked. Not necessarily, she admitted.
At the time I was not pursuing treatment for my infertility, and though I still made frequent treks down to the river, I felt an emptiness every time I looked at the space where the eagles' tree had been. I saw the adults less regularly, though still with the same feeling of wonder, that same lift in my chest. I connected this loss, and the sporadic and unexpected nature of my joy, with the uncertainty I felt about my own liminal childlessness.
Today was the coldest day of 2013 so far — mid-thirties for the high, but clear. Instead of doing the work I meant to do, I spent most of the day deciphering a long and confusing IVF calendar (my first), calling specialty pharmacies to find the lowest (but by no means low) prices, and trying to compose emails to my IVF nurse that would communicate an imaginary self that was cheerful and easygoing (as in, don't hate me) but substantive (as in, please write back). I'm still in shock over the money we are spending, still worried about the effects of the medication, still fearful of failure, but happy about the decision we have made and the time we have taken to make it.
I decided to clear my head by going for a run to the river. The cold, crisp air stung my lungs, but I was glad to be running instead of sitting. I appreciated the pale golden leaves of the beech trees, which cling even in winter, and the tender grass growing along the path. The river, swollen after rain and snowstorms, had a sweet smell, and I felt warm, strong, and good. I appreciated what I had and, at least for a moment, didn't think about the uncertainty of trying for what I did not.
I looked for an eagle — I always do — but saw only some dull female cardinals, not even a heron. Then, just as I was about to run home, I spotted a large black shape in another pine tree, not far from the one that was knocked down. I got closer, leaning from the edge of the bank, until I confirmed it: the glistening black feathers, the majestic white head and tail. And I can't say for sure, but I thought I saw, on some branches beneath her, sticks. For building.
Belle Boggs is the author of the short-story collection Mattaponi Queen, which won the Bakeless Prize and the Library of Virginia Literary Award. She has written about infertility and assisted reproduction for Orion and Slate and is working on a book about the subject. View Belle’s story on RESOLVE’s website at www.resolve.org/about/heroes.html.