Three Stories

How to Conceive Twins

Remember, “I” before “E” except after “C”. Twins are dangerous. This is not a two-for-one deal.

For identical twins, you should know no one knows why an embryo splits—perhaps there is blastocyst collapse, a gale of intercellular fluid losing pressure. Usually, the cell will die, but sometimes inner cellular matter gets pushed to the opposite trophectoderm wall—there is a woman sitting on a plane telling you about her sons: fraternal twin boys born at 32 weeks. She explains how she was able to breastfeed them until they were 18 months. She says there were four boys born. Two sets of identical twins. Two eggs, both fertilized! Can you imagine the luck? The red letters and ribbons that would attend such news. And then both embryos split! Quads! Like sections of a tangerine in her belly—waiting to be peeled, opened, placed one by one in the mouth.

So much depends upon the hour when gestating. The difference between blindness and sight, deafness and hearing, the function of the brain is measured in days, hours. The game is to keep the babies inside.

They were all born. Two died, one from each split embryo. One at 12 hours. One at 23 hours. They could not live without the inside of her body, its carousel of milk and honey, its heartbeat louder than a vacuum cleaner. The surviving boys are themselves twins, each missing a twin. They are going off to college now. They won’t share a dorm room, but will be on the same floor. They want to make sure they will make new friends, have the college experience.

Their brothers are buried in Canada, the woman says. We couldn’t take them with us. Now she’s saying again how she breastfed her boys for 18 months, pumped until 21 months. They grew tall, and fat and strong. They’re starting their first year at school, she explains again. I keep telling them to remember to eat vegetables—carrots, zucchini, or at least peas. I know their cafeteria has these things.

How to Conceive Quints

This is mostly impossible.

To increase your chances, surround yourself with peonies of any color in May, after rain, but before blooming. From a hospital bed, notice the green scales that protect the blossoms. Each scale glanded, a nectary, producing sugar, water, amino acids. The ants will come for this juice. Watch them march up the stems, through the leaves, to the inside parts of the bud. They aren’t hurting it, just sharing it. They will leave when the flower blooms. Petal, petal, petal, petal, petal, vein, vein, vein, vein, vein, heart, heart, heart, heart, heart—it seems like it will only take a few days, but it will take weeks. Your gown must be as big as a hot air balloon. Eat berries during this time, kumquats, tomatoes, oranges. Your body will become sweet—globular. Prepare your skin to stretch to diaphanous thinness. Prepare your arteries and capillaries. Stand in the pantry and drink a glass of milk. Say the names of your elementary school crushes. Do this with your two older sisters standing outside the door—but speak so that they cannot overhear the names you say. They are waiting for you to get out of the bath. You will sit together in front of the TV and watch the Olympics. It’s winter and February, and every night your father makes a fire—it heats the entire house—the front rooms get so hot, you sometimes have to go upstairs—but before you leave, while everyone watches the figure skaters—Nancy Kerrigan, Tanya Harding (you wish for Kristy Yamaguchi)—before you go, up to the room with constellations in the windows and sheets so cold you will curl into the fetal position to keep warm, your sisters will comb your long wet hair with their hands. They will wrap the ribbons of your hair into pink sponge curlers for church tomorrow. They are helping your mom because your younger sister is here, wrapped in a light cotton blanket, and the youngest, the one who will ride on the handlebars of your bicycle yelling, the one who will make your eggs sunny side up the morning after you—stupid and eighteen—run a stop sign, risk the lives of so many people—, the sister who will say, some day, The doctors say—we can’t . . . ,—she is not here yet. She is coming so fast. It will take years.

How to Conceive One Baby

We’ll begin this ritual with silence and quiet. Fifteen minutes of meditation. Music that is just wind chimes in the backyard. A warm towel behind your neck. A clean white sheet. Later we will cross your heart and hope to die, stick a thousand needles in your upper thigh, your lower back, your feet.

Braid a crown of dandelion root into your hair. In a small bowl, crush ginger and licorice—place under tongue. Walk around your dwelling seven times holding burdock root in your two hands. Burn this root in a stainless-steel bowl with milk thistle seed and yellow dock root. Say the words, please—please.

Allow many people to say, Don’t worry. Read warnings about stress. Cortisol destroys your body and any other bodies it may or may not contain.

Cinnamon and honey will help the blood flow to your organs. Slowly eliminate alcohol from your diet. Then ice cream, chocolate, cheese, anything else with dairy in it. Carve the skin off a pineapple. Think about the photographs of your parents in Hawaii, they are wearing matching luau prints standing at the threshold of a party. Remembrances of celebrations are helpful. Remember dressing up in this blue hibiscus dress when you were in high school. Who wore your dad’s shirt? Give the fruit of the pineapple to someone else, a friend, a neighbor. For you—slice the core into small pieces, eat until gone. Now stop eating sugar and caffeine.

Don’t smoke. Avoid pesticides and don’t stand directly in front of a microwave. Is there lead in your water? Check for radon in your bathroom. Are there tadpoles in the creek yet? Your older sister points them out first. The rust-colored water is warm and the small things cloud away from your bare feet in swarms. The reeds, taller than your head. Cattails because they look like cats’ tails. The tadpoles are the only things you can see moving in the stagnant water. Your sister says, They turn into frogs. Much later, years later or days, when you find hundreds in a puddle, she’ll say: They have to turn into frogs before the water dries up.

Number the days 1 through 28 or 35, depending on the flexibility of your cycle. Touch your cervix every day. Consider its softness, closedness, possible pliability. Keep notes.

Record the daily quality of your cervical fluid. How much? Is it like cake batter? Egg whites? How far can it stretch? How much sperm do you think it can catch? Does it have a good garden, with direct or confusing tile pathways?

Exercise. Prepare the body: eat dates and drink red raspberry leaf tea. Offer this tea to friends. Hot in the winter, chilled in the summer. It tastes like the grass your brothers piled up in the side yard. Cut from the lawn while you collected the fruit that fell off the tree before anyone could pick it. At first, the grass is heavy, wet and green, your brothers can barely carry it across the lawn, then August, September, October, a few Januaries, a few Junes—light straw easy to push a shovel into the rich dirt center, under so many layers. This dirt is for tomatoes, onions, potatoes. There is no way to explain the larvae that come rolling out, the thickness of their skin. Their rotting whiteness. The orange stripes on their bodies once they transform. Crickets, your dad said, they’re just crickets. Drink this tea, its smell of dry grasses and dead fruit.

Before bed, a spoonful of Robitussin extra strength cough syrup. Cherry flavor. Listen to your neighbor, the one time she mentioned she kept her legs propped up on pillows for thirty minutes. Her daughters come to your front porch selling coupon books. The girls look like double rainbows. Their dresses are never wrinkled. Buy two from each. Cut out along the dotted lines the misplaced uterus. Send baby gifts via the U.S. postal service. Call the doctor and the doctor says, lavender’s blue, lavender’s green, we shall be safe and out of harm’s way.

Pay for the egg of another woman—one cell of specifically arranged chemicals. Adenine, cytosine, guanine, thymine—covalently linked to a phosphdiester backbone. The fetus will be made of your body. Flesh of your flesh, bone of your bone. Even after birth—that baby, muscle and tissue, the growing brain, the beating heart—from the milk of your blood.   

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