Fisheye View

Fisheye View

dreamstime_l_16843751By Jody Keisner

On my lap is a small plastic bag filled with water. Three neon tetra fish dart around inside, their six eyes glowing like cat’s eyes in the dark car. The fish can’t be well, not after the mistakes I’ve made. Yesterday I consulted an aquarist, trying to undo the harm I’d done, and she referred to the fish as “babies.” This word has done me in. Not my almost four-year-old daughter, Lily, saying the neon tetras’ blue iridescent stripes are like butterfly wings. Or her seeing in the half-moon betta’s fringed blue- and red-tipped tail a parade float. Not the time I saw her tapping on the fish tank, asking, “How do you swim? Is your tail like my arm?” Not these small moments of magic that happen when she observes her world in the most unadulterated way. But this word: babies.

Last night the first snow of the season fell in eastern Nebraska, and while the sleet has been cleared, outside the car it’s ten degrees. Will the fish freeze once we’re out of the car? Brake lights turn bright red in front of me, and when I ease up on the gas pedal and press the brake, the plastic bag slips from my lap and lands on the seat between my legs. What if I slam my legs shut? I used to worry about dropping Lily down the stairs when she was a baby. Now I worry about smashing fish with my thighs. I have baby fish in a plastic bag of water between my legs.

“What did you say, Mama?” Lily asks from the back seat. I can’t see her eyes in the rear-view mirror, but I feel her looking at me—the familiarity of cars after sundown.

“The fish are worrying me,” I say.

“Why?” she says.

Where to begin?


The fish were my idea. Weeks before, Lily had asked me for a dog while staring through our glass patio door at the dachshund chasing squirrels in our neighbor’s backyard. But my husband Jon’s allergy to dander precludes Lily from having a childhood like mine: we had seven cats, six dogs, three rabbits, two hamsters and a duck. Most of our animals slept on smelly blankets in our heated garage, but—oh! the delight!—they spent their days at my side, me and my menagerie running through our neighbor’s farmland in search of a squirrel, a sunset, a snail. I desperately wanted Lily to have a pet. Caring for a pet would help her learn, I believed, patience and kindness. I didn’t vocalize it, but I also wished for Lily to learn about loss, to understand and accept that dying was part of living, and maybe to learn so in a safe way, like when she studied the ant-riddled cicadas dying on sidewalks this past summer. I knew she would learn about loss in a not-so-safe way soon enough, as all children do.

Jon, Lily, and I went to the pet store one weekend afternoon anticipating the selection of our new betta—”Hardy fish,” said Lily’s preschool teacher, who kept one in a bowl in her classroom—but once there, we followed the lead of the young, ponytailed fish enthusiast who suggested we choose a few more. “They’re easy,” she assured us, and so we added three tetra fish to another plastic bag.

At home, I rinsed the three-gallon tank in the bathtub as instructed, then added (also rinsed) gravel, silk plants (plastic plants would shred the betta’s tail), a decorative bridge (something to hide under), a filter, light, de-chlorinated water and good bacteria. The betta and three tetras watched me from the two separate bags of water propped against the side of the tub. Lily watched me, too, a little, but mostly she played with the plastic orca whale she had found in the tub. “Bubble, bubble, bubble, pop,” she sang. Jon moved the tank from the bathroom to the top of Lily’s dresser. After adjusting the fish to the temperature of the water by lowering their bags into the tank and letting them bob for a while, we set them free. Jon and I knelt in front of the tank; Lily used her blue step stool. She named them: the half-moon betta was Freddy, and the three neon tetras, Hans, Anna, and Elsa (yes, from Frozen). The tetras swam together in schooling formation, first heading in one direction, and then turning in unison. Like underwater dancers. Like underwater dancers with butterfly wings. The betta hid behind a silk leaf, flaring its regal tails and fin. Lily blew the four of them a kiss before climbing under her covers. Good night new friends, I thought.

As sunlight snaked in through the slats of her blinds the next morning, Lily dropped a tropical fish flake through the small opening at the top of the tank. The betta was resting on a silk leaf, hardly visible; the three neon tetras were no longer swimming together, instead separated from each other by silk plants and the betta, but did that matter? The food was caught in the current created by the filter, eventually floating to the gravel at the bottom, untouched.

“Maybe they don’t like their food,” Lily said. “I don’t like eggs.”

“Maybe,” I said, though I didn’t know what else to feed them. Why weren’t the tetras schooling? And why did the betta’s fins look so droopy?

“Do you like your new home?” Lily asked the fish. I looked at the fish tank before I realized that she meant her room. Could they see her walls, the pink and green borders? The birds Jon had drawn, then painted by hand? Her toys, a tangled nest of furry limbs and glass eyes? Did they “like” all this pink or was their range of color limited, like a dog’s? Lily was asking questions I hadn’t thought of, already a more attentive fish owner than me.

I wondered what else I hadn’t thought of. I never kept fish as pets, but growing up, I had cared for plenty of animals. While my family gave them food and shelter (and the occasional bath with the garden hose), we mostly let them roam free. My parents didn’t worry about their safety and neither did I. Perhaps as a result, most of them died unexpectedly and in ways that seemed more suited to the Wild West then the 1980s. A dog shot by a half-blind farmer. A cat infected by a parasite found in cow pies. A hamster flattened under a wheel. In some ways, my parents’ philosophy of caring for animals extended to their philosophy of child rearing. My younger sister and I tumbled out of our house most mornings and did what we pleased. We were allowed to cross streets by ourselves and play unchaperoned at parks. We didn’t wear seat belts or fret over strangers. I eventually learned about stranger-danger and the necessity of seat belts, but still, as a new mother, it was a shock for me to learn that the world held so many dangers. I felt ill-prepared for them all, and so I fretted. But now I was prepared, wasn’t I? I could keep these fish alive, right?

After I dropped Lily off at preschool, I found an online forum for tropical fish lovers. How far can a betta see? I typed. A member replied immediately: They have superb eyesight but can only see a couple of feet in front of them, if that far. They would see Lily practicing basic ballet moves for them, then, inches from the fish tank but would not see her yanking books from her closet shelves. Curious, I asked about our tank set-up. Three gallons is too small for ANY living thing! Their organs dont grow properlycalled stuntingand they die, one reply read. Bettas are the most mistreated domesticated fish, read another reply. Neon tetras must be kept with at least five others to feel safe and secure, wrote another. Were our fish insecure? Did they sense danger? Feel stress? A three-gallon tank is good only as a temporary fish hospital but your little guy wont be happy in it for long. A fish hospital? What could possibly happen in our tank that I would need a fish hospital? Was it really that bad in our tank? And perhaps more importantly, what did a happy fish look like? My questions were beginning to feel familiar (and slightly alarming), though I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.

I took Lily into another pet store a few days later. She trailed behind me and then stopped at a terrarium, where a bearded dragon appeared to be waving. It stood on a rock, moving one spiky leg—or was it an arm?—in the air in a circular motion. While Lily spoke to the lizard, standing close to the glass, I waited for the resident aquarist. “I’m PETA radical about fish,” she said by way of introduction, adjusting the hemp bracelets on her wrist. I confessed my errors—our tank was too small, we had too few tetras, the fish were hardly eating—and her eyes grew wide. We would need a larger tank right away, she said, at least a five-gallon tank for the betta and a ten-gallon tank for the tetras if they were to have room to swim in groups. Three neon tetras weren’t enough for the fish to feel secure. Six would be better. None of them would survive a nitrous cycle. (What was that?) Tropical fish needed no less than 75-degree water to remain healthy. (The thermostat in our house was only set to 67 degrees.)

“The tetras will grow a little over one inch. The ones you have are just babies,” the aquarist added.

The word startled me. “Babies?”

“The technical name is fry,” she said.

“Fish fry reminds me of Friday nights at the Eagles Club during Lent. All those fried catfish,” I joked. “I’m a lapsed Catholic.”

“I’m a vegetarian.”


I studied the fish in the aquariums around me: the black- and yellow-striped body of the veil angelfish, the eager waving tail of the red wag platy and the chubby tummies of the balloon belly mollies. When I placed my fingertip on the aquarium of the telescope eye goldfish, they gathered around it, yellow- and orange-colored fins and heads waving back and forth. I stared at the large, perfectly round eyes, stubby pectoral fins and puckered, pouty mouths and saw, suddenly, the features of young children. Instead of goldfish, it was as if Lily’s preschool classmates were clamoring around me, sticky fingers and hands touching my legs. Baby fish. Baby people. What was the water temperature in the tank? What were we supposed to set the thermostat at when Lily was a baby? How could I tell if the fish were happy? How could I tell if the baby was happy?

I remembered, standing there in front of the aquarium, the helplessness I used to feel when Lily was an infant, both of us crying during those twilight hours that Jon, trying to lighten the mood, called “the witching hours.” While Jon was at work, I would come undone with fear and love, occasionally sitting in the bathroom to sob through my anxiety, morbidly imagining what would happen if I slept through Lily’s nighttime cries or drew her bathwater too hot. I suddenly felt like a new mother again, afraid that someone—or something—would be harmed because of my wrong choices, all the things a mother doesn’t intuit about caregiving but must learn. The fish were the first living things we had brought into our home, under our care, since the winter day almost four years earlier we had brought Lily home. The feeling of new-mother anxiety rushed back at me; I inhaled sharply. I couldn’t bear to let anything die in her room: plant, fish, or other. Especially the other.


I remembered, standing there in front of the aquarium, the helplessness I used to feel when Lily was an infant, both of us crying during those twilight hours that Jon, trying to lighten the mood, called “the witching hours.”


I wasn’t prepared to set-up a ten-gallon tank before taking some measurements, so we left the store with only a tank thermometer. At home, conditions in the fish tank looked worse. The tetras hid behind the silk foliage; the betta rested on a silk leaf, inactive. None had eaten any of the food we’d offered, and I was beginning to see that the small tank I had plopped the tetras into was the equivalent of asking an adult to swim laps in a kiddie pool. The new thermometer in the tank read 70 degrees, several degrees too cold for tropical fish. One forum user said our fish would be miserable in this temperature, like how it felt when, on a dare, I had cannonballed into a lake in April. I studied the inhospitable tank. I didn’t want to return the tetras to the pet store; I had begun to secretly refer to them as The Pips and the betta as Gladys Knight. I couldn’t separate the band. But what if Lily found one or two floating at the top of the tank? What, exactly, would that teach her about thriving in her mother’s care? The closest pet store was already closed for the evening, so I slept on it and went to work the next day.

“We’re taking the tetras back to the pet store,” I announced that night. If the tetras couldn’t thrive in our tank, then I wanted them to thrive elsewhere.

Jon thought I was overthinking—the tetras were $1.50 a piece and just fish!—but I wasn’t overthinking, just over-feeling. Lily shrugged, apparently unfazed by the thought that Hans, Anna and Elsa wouldn’t be swimming in her room anymore.


And that’s how I ended up in this strange situation, the kind of situation that seems more and more likely once you become a mother. I have baby fish in a plastic bag between my legs. Becoming a mother opens you up to the world, all of it, good, bad, and long-snouted, in tender and sometimes astonishing ways. You feel not just the large injustices of poverty, child abuse, disease, war and hunger, but also the small injustices that fill a normal day, like a male cardinal flapping his crimson wings from a fence and frantically chirping while the neighborhood cat pins his orange-crested mate to the ground, and you arrive just a few hurried footsteps too late to stop it.

We make it inside the pet store without any tetra deaths and I find an employee, a young man, to help us.

“What happens to the fish that you don’t sell, the ones who are no longer babies?” I ask him. I visualize the tetras being dangled before the open mouth of the bearded dragon.

“I adopt some of them. We advertise the rest on fish forums.”

We watch him return The Pips to a tank filled with fry, and then Lily and I select another tank, this one a five-gallon. We buy a heater, too, and some dried blood worms, a treat for Freddy, the smallest carnivore in our home.

At home, I finally see what a happy fish looks like. In his new tank, Freddy swims slowly from side to side. He spreads his fins. He watches us watching him. Reading stories to Lily that evening, I sneak peeks at him, alive-o! I did it. Me. I have kept him alive. I kept Lily alive, too, through her first winter, when I was afraid that I might not be able to, when I understood that loving her so wholly exposed me to the possibility of losing her, and losing myself, too. Lily the infant was like Freddy the fish: two delicate bodies surviving in ecosystems balanced by another—by a mother.

Authors Note: Since writing this essay, we have added a mystery snail to our tank. Lily watches as it eats algae off the glass with its tiny O-shaped mouth. Both it and the fish provide plenty of learning opportunities for our family, especiallyand surprisinglyfor me. Becoming a mother has awakened in me a contemplation of many living things (except spiders).

Jody Keisner’s most recent work appears or is forthcoming in Brevity, Hunger Mountain, River Teeths Beautiful Things, and New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing. This is her second contribution to Brain, Child.

Return to the October 2015 Issue

October 2015 Issue

October 2015 Issue

Oct 15 Cover FINAL

Rebecca Muscat
The Autumn Tree, My Mother & I, 2014.


Table of Contents


Editor’s Letter: How Are We Doing?

Essay: Cities of My Body, by Liz Rognes

I began to cry softly, afraid that my choice to do a line of blow had jeopardized this life I had with him—this beautiful distance from the darkness of drug use, this life of books and mornings and dog walks, this life of music and love and happiness. My past and my present were polar opposites, two cities that could not be any more different or further apart, but that night they had appeared in the same room. Two versions of me had inhabited my body.

Essay: Leading the Children out of Town, by Jill Christman

This is when I surprised myself. What should I have done? What would you have done? Should I have yelled? You irresponsible freak! You let your kid, your baby, play alone in the street? But I didn’t. The moment was so uncomfortable, so weird, a kind of joke came out of my mouth, an excuse for this poor excuse of a father. I laughed, I laughed, and I said, “I guess we were kind of like the Pied Piper, leading the children out of town!”

Essay: Fisheye View, by Jody Keisner

The fish were the first living things we had brought into our home, under our care, since the winter day almost four years earlier we had brought Lily home. The feeling of new-mother anxiety rushed back at me; I inhaled sharply. I couldn’t bear to let anything die in her room: plant, fish, or other. Especially the other.

Essay: Bear Country, by BJ Hollars

I worked my way down the dark hall—bypassing the dog and my infant daughter, Ellie, until arriving at my three-year-old son Henry’s room. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I noticed my wife’s silhouette alongside him, her body filling in the space where his Berenstain Bears books weren’t.

Backtalk: Our readers answer the question: If you could do it again, what would you tell your new mother self?

“Skip the parenting books for the first two years.” – S. Pilman

Fiction: The Night Mr. Li Won Jeopardy by Mai Wang

The Chinese residents of the Big Yard called Mama “Lucky Hands” because she drew the winning hand in their late night poker games week after week.

Poetry: What No One Ever Told You by Rebecca L’Bahy

There is a bird in your throat, a rock in your ribs.

Poetry: Lessons by Laura Lassor

Motherwit: Child Psychology 101 by Sue Sanders

Author Q&A: Brain, Child writers Jill Christman, Liz Rognes, BJ Hollars, Jody Keisner, and Mai Wang, discuss writing and parenthood.


Raising an Only

Raising an Only

Raising an only art 1by Jody Keisner

I look past the doctor sitting across the desk and focus on the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves behind her. My eyes skim over the medical books and land on the framed picture of her two young sons, both of them tan and dressed in preppy pastel shirts. They look about two years apart and have the doctor’s thick brown hair and dark eyes. She’s talking about saline infusion sonograms. Saline? I think. The stuff that I rinse my contacts with at night? I should pay attention to what she’s saying, but instead I picture her boys riding bicycles down a suburban neighborhood street, past trees and children playing on lawns. The older one calls over his shoulder to his brother, Come on! Faster! I imagine the younger one pumping his legs, his feet becoming a blur going round and round with each spin of the wheel. Now the younger one stands up on his bike, giving everything he has to catch up. Maybe this moment will mean something to the boys later in life, maybe it won’t, but the camaraderie they’re experiencing means something now. Then I picture my daughter, Lily, a few years from now, the same age as the oldest boy, pedaling down our street alone.

“…if your uterus is healthy enough to support a pregnancy.” The doctor looks at me intently. She’s noticed my drifting.

Because of a mix-up with the date of the appointment, Jon is at his job as a drywall installer, and I feel like I need to explain this so she will know that we are in this together, though we aren’t sure that we are. “My husband really wanted to be here,” I say.

She nods. “Do you have any questions, Jody?”

I do have questions, loads, but not the kind she can help me with. Do I want to pursue more medical intervention? Do I even want another baby? Or are we already complete, my family of three? I should know the answers, considering I’m sitting across the desk from a fertility specialist. Correction: infertility specialist. Given my age, 39, and Jon’s, 42, and my history of infertility, our chances of conceiving without medical intervention are around 1-5%, she says. I didn’t know our chances were so grim. She hands me a fertility menu: artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, zygote intrafallopian transfer, donor eggs and embryos. The long list of interventions and the high price tags overwhelms me. So many options, each increasing in degrees of separation from what Jon and I are supposed to be able to do in the bedroom. Must I decide the future outcome of my family right now? Is it even my decision? Perhaps nature has already decided and science won’t be able to circumvent its choice. I set the fertility menu on her desk.

“The saline sonogram will tell you more about my uterus than the X-ray dye-test? And it will hurt less?” I ask.

She nods again. “It will cause less discomfort than the hysterosalpingogram.”

Why does it matter to me if it hurts less? Before I had Lily, I would have undergone any test. I would have allowed any number of transvaginal wands to probe me. I would have increased my risk of developing ovarian cancer which, according to unpopular research, I did every time I subjected my body to aggressive fertility drugs. I would have put up with any amount of “discomfort,” as all of the doctors that I saw preferred to call it, even while I lay on the metal examination table writhing from the uterine cramping caused by the catheter and iodine dye used during the hysterosalpingogram. Then, my ink-filled fallopian tubes, lit up uterus, and the black void on the computer screen resembled a Rorschach test. The first word that sprung to my mind when I looked at the screen was “hurt” so I willed into its place “baby.” But now, thinking of all the testing and hour-long drives from my job to the fertility clinic, I feel tired. My pain matters.

“Intrauterine insemination will increase your chances of conceiving each month by 3-5%,” the doctor says.

My eyes start to well. These are still terrible odds. I discreetly wipe my face and remind myself that I’m not in the same place that I was before Lily was conceived, throwing negative pregnancy tests in the trash month after month, only to have the resulting pregnancy one year later end in miscarriage. Then I felt hopeless and desperate, seeing each pregnant woman in the grocery store as a threat: I was the negative statistic, the infertile one, the one who couldn’t make things grow. I pleaded with Jon to consider international adoption, to consider anything short of snatching a baby from a discount store parking lot so that I could be a mother.

But now I am a mother. I have Lily, delightful, pretends-to-be-a-robin-at-storytime-and-flaps-her-arms-around-her-bedroom-Lily. So why am I sitting here in this office? My friends and family wonder the same thing. “You are so blessed, Jody,” my mother tells me. “You should be happy that you have that little girl. She’s a miracle.” My mother had suffered three miscarriages before adopting me and then surprised herself when she gave birth to my sister a year later.

A colleague of mine, a woman in a same-sex marriage who had struggled to bring a baby into her union and now embraced a child-free life, said, “Why do you need another? You have one perfect child.” I didn’t disagree. Lily is healthy in every way. She’s a happy child, too, who snuggles and offers up hugs like sticks of gums. My pregnancy with her, two months after the miscarriage, felt nothing short of miraculous. Is it selfish of us to want another one? Parents of larger families seem to think it’s selfish of us not to. It doesn’t help that we live in Nebraska, one of the most enthusiastic baby-having states in the nation.

“When are you going to give Lily a brother or sister?” asked my friend, Laura, herself a mother of two. Our three children were on a playdate.

I didn’t know what to say, so I shrugged and said, “We’ll see what the universe has in store for us.”

“Brandon and Caroline are best friends,” Laura said, smiling at her offspring, who at the moment, were engaged in a heated tug-of-war over a naked doll. Lily sat close by, sucking on the index and middle finger of her right hand, entranced by the unfolding drama. Brandon gave one final yank and pulled the doll, minus one arm, away from Caroline. She used the severed limb to whack him on the head. “Well, when they aren’t fighting,” Laura added.

I can’t remember a time when my sister and I didn’t fight as children, and we aren’t especially close now. There are no guarantees.

“It’s about time you started thinking about your next one,” a father of three young boys said at a work picnic. He had casually asked me my age earlier in the evening. He glanced at Lily who was being chased around an evergreen bush by his youngest son and then at his watch. Was he looking at my biological clock, and if so, could I have a peek? He couldn’t have known that Jon and I been actively “trying” for the past seven months, that we’d already exhausted the final three rounds of fertility drugs that my gynecologist would willingly prescribe before considering them a failure. Us a failure. After that, my gynecologist recommended the infertility specialist. Like many fertility challenged couples, we had once mistakenly assumed that pregnancy was a biological given. Jon and I were both good students. If my gynecologist advised us to have sex every other day for our ten “fertile” days each month, told me to eat unappealing high fertility foods like kale and told Jon to give up his nightly beer, we did exactly those things, expecting nothing less than the hoped-for outcome. We had never considered the possibility of no outcome.

But this time is different. We haven’t failed; we have Lily, with her charming daily inspection of the ladybugs in our hosta garden. But after months of unsuccessful attempts to conceive baby number two, we began to have doubts. We found reasons to move on with our life, as is. “Adding another baby will change the family dynamic,” I said one evening. Jon agreed, “Our marriage feels like it’s a priority again.” We are learning how to make time for each other. We’re content. Our house no longer feels topsy-turvy with the round-the-clock demands of a baby, who is the most inconsiderate kind of roommate a person can have.

Besides the added stress to our family dynamic, there are the usual suspects: the financial strain that having another baby will bring to a middle class family like ours, and less time for a career I love. “I can’t think of anything more important than being a mother,” a mother of three children said to me after I had confessed my work-related worry. Sometimes I fear the divide between mother and academic is too wide to cross. I want time for my research and writing endeavors; I want time to advance my career. It all matters, regardless of how idyllic the frolicking family of four on the cereal commercial looks.

Most concerning, I know that breastfeeding and bonding with a new child will mean less time for Lily. “You have enough love for Lily and for a new baby. You do,” one mother told me. I’m not so sure. My love for Lily is fulfilling and also…so consuming.

In the month leading up to my appointment with the infertility specialist, I struggled to tune out well-meaning voices so that I could figure out what I really wanted. I had been certain that I wanted another baby, but now I was unsure. I began to look for signs from a Higher Power. “God, please give me a sign. I want clarity. Is Lily meant to be an only child?” When my prayer went unanswered, or perhaps I neglected to listen, I considered seeing a psychic a friend recommended. Ultimately, I couldn’t manage to find the time in my jam-packed schedule. Was that, in itself, a sign? My interpretation of “signs” changed from one minute to the next. Collecting a pair of Lily’s socks from the laundry basket, thinking of her stubby toes, this little piggy goes wee-wee-wee, I ached for another baby. This sign said yes. Then, in another moment, Jon and I both weary from a full workday, arguing with each other over who would make dinner while the other tended to Lily’s diaper and bath, Lily stomped her foot and screeched, “I WANT MY GOLDFISH CRACKERS!” Then she crumpled onto the kitchen floor and sobbed. When I reached for her, she flailed her legs, kicking me in the nose. Maybe this is a sign saying no, I thought.

One evening after Jon and I had read Lily stories, sang songs, and kissed her night-night—a ritual that usually left me feeling peaceful—I went outside for my walk and instead paced the few blocks on my street. My pacing soothed me in the way it mimicked the pacing my mind was doing, too. My neighbors probably thought Jon and I were having marital woes, but we weren’t. We were having only-child woes, worried we weren’t yet a real family. We weren’t child-free nor were we child-full. During our early courtship, six years ago, Jon and I had agreed that two was our number, and I struggled to reconcile that early shape of our American Dream with our current reality. The only sound I heard came from the summer cicadas, buzzing so loudly that I entered a kind of trance. Did I want another child in case something happened to Lily? It was then that I realized that maybe I didn’t want another baby as much as I wanted to clone Lily in case the unthinkable happened. It’s silly: there is no back-up Lily. Nothing could ease the despair of losing her. Once I vocalized it, Jon admitted he shared my worry, too. “If something happened to her, I wouldn’t be Dad anymore.” Being so vulnerable terrified me, but I knew having another child would only increase my vulnerability, not lessen it.

Then how to explain the fact that I’m sitting here in this doctor’s office, seeking more invasive medical intervention to help get me pregnant? The myth of the only child syndrome doesn’t worry me: extroverted Lily isn’t socially inept. Toddlers are supposed to be spoiled, and developmentally they’re all selfish. Most of the only children that I’ve known have grown into thoughtful, intelligent adults.

I’m concerned about the other consequences of Lily growing up an only child. Will her childhood be lonely, spent longing for a sibling to torment? Will holiday celebrations with only the three of us feel too small, somehow unfinished? Will she feel overburdened as Jon and I grow elderly? Will Lily be alone after we die? Perhaps the answer to all of these questions is “yes.” The bigger question: Can I live with that?

I have so many questions and none of them have to do with the semen analysis the doctor is requesting for Jon or the blood work she’s ordering for me. Earth to Jody. I focus back in on the doctor across from me. I look at her skin, clear and smooth, unlike mine which has been blotchy ever since my pregnancy with Lily, over three years ago. I like the doctor. She’s straightforward but upbeat. She’s someone I could imagine myself spending time with outside of this situation we’ve found ourselves in. But I know that we won’t.

“Do you have any questions?” the doctor asks again.

For the first time today, I know what I want. I want to leave. I want to see Lily. I want to touch her and smell her hair. I want to spend the rest of the day focused on the family that we already are instead of pursuing the family that we may never be.

“I don’t have any questions,” I say, and at least in the moment, it’s true. “Thank you.”

I practically run to my car. It’s a mild late-summer day, ideal for a walk to our neighborhood park, the same place where Lily slid and swung and climbed for the very first time, holding our hands and squealing. Weather permitting, we’ve walked there every week since she’s been born. More than once, I’ve hit the top of my head on one of the climbing structures, a painful reminder that the park has been built for very young children. As a new mother, I cut my teeth at this park. It both saddens and delights me to know that Lily will outgrow it soon.


Jody Keisner’s work has appeared in Literary Mama, Women’s Studies, Studies in the Humanities, and elsewhere. She teaches courses in creative nonfiction at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.