“Which do you want?”
Garrett’s right hand clutched a lever while his left tickled a button on the large Plexiglas box. I glanced at the stash of brightly colored stuffed animals below the dangling crane and pointed.
Obediently, the crane lifted the toy and delivered it to my husband. The whiskers on one side of the cat’s face were missing.
He noticed. “Oh, let me get you another one.”
I took a deep breath. “Please don’t.”
His brow furrowed.
“I love that you love winning these for me, but…” I searched for the words. “I don’t want any more.”
My ability to express the reason was lost between my heart and vocal chords, but he understood.
No more was said until months later when Garrett presented me with a dark-eyed, velvet-nosed, cocoa-colored teddy bear. Its fur was as soft as a whisper and its “huggability” factor was off the charts. The ribbon around its neck exemplified simplicity and style. A grown woman, I reached for it immediately. “Foster!” I was surprised by how quickly I named him.
Smiling, Garrett said, “I thought you’d like this one.” He wrapped one arm around me and placed his hand on Foster. “I spent a lot of quarters getting this guy. I kept trying because I knew you’d want him. He told me he belonged to you.”
I cuddled them both.
“One day,” he said, “we’ll have our baby who will love Foster, too.”
Infertility injures a marriage in ways no one expects. It creeps into the happy moments and twists them, making them as distorted as a reflection in a funhouse mirror. The Carnival of Life caught us up in a grueling Game of Strength.
Eventually, we visited doctors and a miracle occurred. I was pregnant. Triumphant, we planned the baby’s future, nuzzling Foster as a surrogate.
Then… A Disappearing Act. No matter how much we willed and begged it to continue, the baby’s heart slowed until it finally stopped beating. After the D&C, I didn’t want painkillers. I wanted to hurt because the rest of me was numb. In the middle of the night when the pain was intense, I crawled out of bed and walked into our office that was to be the nursery. Foster sat on a shelf. I claimed him and returned to bed. I needed something small to hold, so I curled around Foster as my husband held me close.
The worst part about waking up was realizing I was no longer pregnant. Each time I awoke, I felt the surprise of falling into a dunk tank of misery. Drenched in emotion, I’d feel Foster. He gave me a gentle reminder that I was not alone and that I was loved.
Eventually, we ventured forth into the world of fertility treatments. My husband and Foster made the nightly barrage of shots bearable. The first evening Garrett began a ritual that carried me through the months. He set up the ice and syringes and vials in the kitchen. He plopped his iPod on its charger and a song played, especially chosen for that evening. Then, he placed Foster in my arms. I laughed. He gave me the shot.
And we slow-danced.
Many people mistakenly think that romance goes away after a relationship ages. Yet, more than a decade after our first date, I recognized true romance with that first shot. Romance isn’t just about bouquets of flowers and surprise dates. It’s about understanding the yearnings in each other’s heart. It’s knowing a teddy bear, won from a carnival machine, can foster comfort and hope. It’s slow-dancing in the kitchen in the midst of fertility treatments.
And, after almost a decade of failure filled with pharmaceuticals and medical procedures, hopes and tears, I gave birth to our baby boy. Both Garrett and Foster were there to welcome him.
My husband’s words returned to me as he nuzzled our newborn: I kept trying because I knew you’d want him. He told me he belonged to you.
Love is like a carnival game. It takes perseverance. Even then, you never know if you’ll walk away with a prize.
Brandi Barnett is the author of the young adult novel GLAMOUR. Check out Brandi’s Blog where she writes about the magic in every day life.