I sit here typing and deleting, typing and deleting, again, another try. I keep thinking I need to go back to writing, to thinking out loud, to sharing because at this stage in my life, this is the only thing I know how to do.
I take a breath and I type.
I was once an illegal alien in The Netherlands. I was once pregnant. I was once reported to immigration services by a Dutch woman who knew I was both illegal and pregnant. I was once detained. I was once denied medical care while in a deportation center. I was once deported. I had a miscarriage (the baby was dead, I had a botched clean up procedure in an understaffed and badly maintained hospital in a suburb of Buenos Aires). I am now sterile.
That was fifteen years ago and this is now.
There, I typed it. That’s my story in a nutshell. And it’s the most difficult thing I ever typed in my life.
That was fifteen years ago and now I sit comfortably in my home in Amsterdam. I am no longer illegal. In fact, I haven’t been for over a decade. I hate the word illegal when applied to human beings. Yet, it’s a word that defines me. My incapability to bear children is illegal. It was brought upon me by the State. Illegal immigrant, illegal mother, illegal woman, illegal alien (I think of the alien abduction stories and ugly laugh, still, fifteen years later I sometimes cannot sleep when I get flashbacks of being taken away/ abducted by the State from my home, the home I shared with my then boyfriend, too poor to even consider applying for a residence card we could neither afford nor fit in the requierements that the State demanded, which have only gotten worse throughout the years; – European poverty, lest anyone thinks I am misrepresenting my poverty which was very different from my poverty “back home” that elicits oohs and aahs of sympathy from Westerners).
It is now October 2012. I sit in a waiting room surrounded by strangers at a fertility treatment center in Spain. My husband wanted to give me this. He thought it would help heal me. It would heal us. I could have a second chance. I would never have the baby that died while I was held in detention, (I knew it was a girl) but at least I would have a chance. Yeah, irrational, I know, but my life has been one hoop of irrationality after another so I am done giving fucks about that one little detail of knowing I was going to have a girl. I had named her. When I started bleeding I begged. I cried. I asked. I told the guards at the detention center I was pregnant. They said it was not important because I was going to be deported anyway. I was left to bleed and cry. And I sat in that waiting room at the fertility treatment center, terrified, the flashbacks coming at me, the lights in the detention cell on 24/7. I have read so much about detention of undocumented immigrants and no reports mention this detail. The fluorescent tubes always on. (I begged them to turn them off because I couldn’t sleep; I insisted I was pregnant; it didn’t matter, I was going to be deported anyway).
Later on, I lay down in the gynecological chair. A polished and friendly-professional doctor (in the way well paid professionals can be friendly to their customers) prods inside my vagina with “stuff”. An ultrasound wand, some instruments, more “stuff”. It’s cold. I am in pain. I have flashbacks of the botched surgery that possibly rendered me sterile. (Some stranger coming into the examination room while I was laying with another ultrasound wand inside my vagina; staring at a dead fetus/ baby in a screen; the stranger staring at my genitals, he was, apparently, in the wrong room; nobody thought to apologize). But that was then and this is now. Now I am in a shiny and friendly room with a shiny and friendly doctor and his nurses. They tell me how they remove the eggs, how they (scrap/ scrap/ scrap/ screech) check for “stuff” in my uterus. I am in a haze. It hurts. I lie, say it doesn’t. I doubt they can actually stop the kind of hurt I feel. “You can afford this now”, I tell myself, “now you pay thousands to try to fix what was broken”.
I have the list in my phone. I can access it anytime I need a reminder of who I am. Almost seventeen thousand dead in European detention centers since the mid 90’s. I have always added my own dead to the list. My dead wasn’t counted because it wasn’t official. I had never reported it to the NGO that keeps track of the corpses. And yet, since the day that I knew I was carrying a dead baby (an illegal immigrant dead baby), I have done nothing but honor her memory.
It is now November 2012. I am pumped full of hormones. For fifteen years I have struggled with flashbacks and memories but now I feel overwhelmed. I start to have suicide ideations. I want to cut myself and I don’t even know why. I tell myself repeatedly “You brought this upon yourself, you were an illegal immigrant, you broke the law, you had it coming”. It’s like every internet comment in stories about undocumented immigrants is now coming at me, alive, to remind me of my poor life choices. Every day, for ten days, my husband gives me a shot on my belly. Pump the hormones, the paradox of wanting to bring life into the world is that I want to kill myself as an unintended consequence of the medicine that is supposed to heal my sterility. I look at myself in the mirror, naked. I hate everything about my body. Crying in front of the mirror, I tell myself “this is what a broken person looks like”. I have never been pretty (not in the Western sense of beauty ideals) but I have never felt uglier. Every day, twelve pills with more hormones that will remind me that I am worthless. I couldn’t fulfill the very basic thing I was biologically designed to do, carry a child.
It is now mid november 2012. My husband jerks off in a sterile cup. I am not allowed to go into the room with him. Afterwards I ask him “did you remember that you love me?”. I don’t tell him this but I want to think that our fetus should know it is loved. I remember every trite self help advice “you can only love others if you love yourself first”. I sneer. That has to be one of the most inane legacies of the Judeo Christian tradition. I am very well capable of loving others in spite of the fact that I hate myself.
We picked this fertility treatment center because they speak my language. My husband somewhat anticipated this would be a “bumpy ride” and he wanted to make it slightly easier for me. We are not eligible for fertility treatments back home because our insurance doesn’t cover them. I am reminded of everything written in feminist blogs about reproductive justice. I am reminded that fertility treatments remain prohibitively expensive for the majority of people. “Only the rich can afford them to be able to reproduce, but Western feminism will only focus on the fact that the poor should always have access to abortions”, I tell myself and promise that I will write about it later, when I can have words back again. I struggle with yet another paradox, and realize how strange and uncommon this is: once an undocumented immigrant rendered sterile now wealthy enough to pay thousands to try to fix what was broken. The list, I tell myself, the list with the names of everyone who never stood a chance. My name should have been in it (and I have dreams of drowning and suffocating and my cat fights snakes in my dreams while I stand helpless and unable to do anything, is it the hormones or am I effectively crazy?).
I am often accused of being “resentful” or “racist against white people” or “irrationally angry”. I pity those who have never experienced the pain of having the thing they wanted most taken away while they are capable of calling someone “resentful”. My husband often tells me “but they don’t know what drives you”. I contend that even if they knew, they would still demand more proof, more suffering, more pain in order to believe. And that’s the reason I never spoke publicly about my past an an undocumented immigrant before. I always thought some people would try and use it against me to invalidate everything I stand for. “oh, but you are emotionally involved!” “you cannot possibly be objective about it” “you are too subjective about this to have an impartial opinion”. So, I remained silent in spite of the fact that I wholeheartedly believe that the personal is indeed political. I didn’t speak because I was afraid to victimize myself and, in the process, render everything I write about European Union policies suspect. I was also ashamed. Undocumented immigrants are “the scourge of society”, “they broke the law”, “they are illegal”. But since I haven’t been able to write anything for the past four months anyway, I have nothing to lose. Now it’s time for this story, my story to come to light. I might not be impartial or objective or “uncompromised” but neither is a State that renders people sterile because of immigration status or a State that sees fit to allow seventeen thousand people to die for having the nerve to immigrate without the correct paperwork.
It is now end November 2012. I get a phone call from the fertility treatment center. They have three zygotes for me (for us). I need to be in Spain next week to have them implanted. I am filled with a sense of dread. They are only going to implant one and freeze the other two. I fantasize about babies and baby clothes and a future. I am bloated and fatter than I already was because of the pills and the shots and the pessaries I need to insert everyday into my vagina. For the first time in my life, I hate my vagina. Not that I am inconvenienced by it or bothered or annoyed. No, I legitimately hate it. It is a symbolic representation of everything that is wrong with me. I am a woman with a dry and useless vagina that strangers prod and stare at and is incapable of bearing life.
I am given a paper robe (technically not paper but some paper thin fabric). I am led towards a room and told to get naked from the waist down and put on the robe. My husband holds my hand. I am self aware enough to realize how difficult this must have been for him. Living with my crazy, living with the memory of a dead fetus that was also his and very much wanted by him, living with fifteen years of my anger and my politics. He holds my hand, he says he loves me, repeatedly. I know this because every day I see it in his eyes but I am grateful that he says it. I am taken to the surgery room where a bunch of doctors and a nurse receive me politely. I lay down in the gynecological surgical table and they bring in the zygote in some futuristic looking metal vial (or is it a metal syringe of sorts?). The prodding begins. I am scolded for having too much fat in my belly that makes the ultrasound difficult. I am scolded for not having enough pee in my bladder making the ultrasound even more difficult. The doctor prods and scratches and god knows what is going on down there. I quietly say my prayers not asking for anything from any divinity but trying to convey the fact that I love. I love life, I love my husband, I love this zygote and I quietly say this in my prayers because this is what I believe in. The doctor cracks a joke about the way I speak and I tell him not to make me laugh under any circumstance because I will end up coughing the zygote up and accidentally splatter it into his forehead. He has to stop for a second because now he is the one laughing hysterically. It wasn’t painful. Not physically painful at least. It’s soon over and I am handed an ultrasound photo of the zygote inside my uterus. This, here, the doctor says pointing to a light gray grain, is the lump of cells. I am taken to a room and told to rest. The doctor gives me the follow up instructions. I am to take more hormones and “take it easy”. After three weeks, I have to take a blood test to see if I am pregnant.
It is now the second week of december 2012. For the past two weeks I have been sick and nauseous and terrified. I have experienced more physical pain than in any of my periods or PMS. My uterus hurts, I only have gloomy thoughts with rare moments of hope. I take the pills and the pessaries religiously. I do exactly as I was told. One day I wake up and I know I am not pregnant. I just know it in the same way I once knew that the baby I was carrying was a girl. Which is to say, I don’t know it through any scientific method but I just know it. Two days later I have the blood test that confirmed it. Not pregnant. I cry with deep sadness and afterwards I am eerily relieved. I can finally stop with the hormones and perhaps no longer feel that I want to kill myself all the time. I can maybe go back to not hating my body all the time. I can, perhaps, finally accept that I am never going to have a child. I cry frequently, I evaluate my entire life through my failures: this you couldn’t do; this you failed at; this other thing you fucked up; you are now too old to do anything meaningful and you are responsible for the death of the child that was, indeed, growing inside you; your infertility is a punishment for it. The days pass but nothing gets better.
Christmas comes and I have the prettiest tree I have ever had. I am not Christian but I love the tree. I celebrate winter because it is my favorite season. I celebrate the cycles of life and the blessing that is being around those I love. I avoid contact with almost everyone because I don’t want to have to explain myself. I stop practically every social contact except those that I can keep at a professional distance and won’t ask personal questions. I lose a few friends, I feel deeply betrayed by a couple of others. Days go by and the idea of socializing gets more difficult. I do not want to talk to anyone or have to explain why I failed at this. I don’t want to witness anyone’s pity for me. I’d rather be on my own and face my shortcomings. This, I tell myself, is what I deserve. This, I repeat, is what happens when you don’t follow the rules. But then, with the snow, comes a sense of hope. I have no hope for myself, I consider my life rather wasted in more than one way, but I have hope that I can live. I can, at least, attempt to shout that some things are just wrong and that nobody (except from me, that is) deserves this. That the women in detention centers do not deserve to have medical attention denied to them, that the people who are deported do not deserve to commit suicide because of trauma (a sad reality hardly ever spoken about). I tell myself, if anything, you can be a cautionary tale.
Now it is February 2013 and I write this. If I am ever to going write again, I need to tell this story first. If I am ever going to be normal again, this needs to be said. Her name was going to be Francesca. It was a pretty name for what I hoped was going to be a pretty girl. She died while I was in a detention center waiting for deportation. She deserved better and, ever since, I have done nothing but try to honor the life she never had a chance to live.