Black Widow and Me: A Tale of Two Uteruses
Last weekend, I looked up at the movie screens with all my friends as we watched Avengers: Age of Ultron. Bruce Banner was yelling at Natasha Romanoff about how he couldn’t have children due to his gamma radiation, and she made her own confession (SPOILER ALERT): During her assassin training, part of their “graduation” included sterilization. She couldn’t have children either.
Black Widow has had her share of controversy from the movie, but her infertility has developed a certain amount of ire when it comes to women as superheroes. But I sat there looking at the screen, and I didn’t see the anger. I saw me.
There I was somehow, but instead of a black catsuit it was a long skirt. I was a 27-year-old girl looking up at the blue sky in Long Beach outside of the ultrasound technician’s office, after being told she has her sixth blood clot. A golden engagement ring and wedding band glistened under the sun on my left ring finger. The woman who did my ultrasound said to me that it would be extremely risky to have children, and how it can be done but it would require a lot of medical care. Given how poor my ex and I were, this meant no children.
Somewhere inside me, I always thought I would be able to have kids, even though I knew there were risks involved. But this news was like a death knell to my potential fertility. I called my then-husband to tell him about the clot and what the technician said, but there was no love there. Only anger.
“You lied to me,” he sneered. “You told me we would be able to have children.” No questioning whether I was okay or not. Just that it was my fault we couldn’t have the normal life he wanted.
My then mother-in-law understood the pain somehow, but most people didn’t get it. Before we were married, I talked about having kids, never thinking that somehow my fertility would be called into question. I had told my ex before we walked down the aisle to wait five years after the wedding to have children, as we got married very young. And at 27, if you’re not trying to have a baby you’re not really thinking about your future fertility.
What men don’t understand about fertility is that it makes women feel a part of a sisterhood. From the baby dolls that we have as kids to the accentuating of our childbearing hips in fashion, we have been trained for potential motherhood for years. As a young girl, I remember the thrill of becoming a woman when I got my first period, how excited I was to sneak a pad and use it, and the fear of my mom finding out. We probably all had that experience.
In later years, it was a bonding experience between groups of girls. There was discussing the right birth control, hanging out so much your cycles began to sync with your friends, cramping and complaining about it, asking desperately for tampons in a bathroom stall, checking your backside for blood spots on white jeans, eating ice cream together and watching movies on the couch during PMS and the thrill that came with sex — with the dread of the days after until you got your next period. But as women, we did it together.
In those moments, you don’t think about having a baby, carrying a life with its heart beating away inside of you, although it’s there. As we get our periods, we are reminded once a month, every month (if we’re healthy enough, or not on a birth control that limits it) of this ability to create a living being inside of ourselves. It’s one of the reasons why menopause is so difficult; there is a feeling where a woman thinks, “Well, guess I’m not a woman anymore,” because she can no longer reproduce. There is a sense of womanhood that comes from fertility, whether or not we actually choose to have children. The difference is that most women get the choice. Some of us, like Black Widow and me, might not.
After that day at the technician’s office, my marriage would never the same. Shortly after, we went into couples’ counseling. Eventually he figured out that we could adopt, but the damage was done. Making him have sex with me before that was difficult, but then it became nearly impossible. My insecurity with the fact that I might never have children was weighing on me. I gained weight and felt less womanly, particularly as my friends were getting married and pregnant, often within quick succession.
One evening in December, I went to a baby shower. The women there began parading their children and my sadness increased inside of me. It had been two and a half years since that sunlit day in Long Beach, and I headed back to my apartment, where my ex was on the couch watching football.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Well, it’s hard going to baby showers, seeing as we might not be able to have children,” I replied.
“We’ll adopt.” It was curt in tone, almost as if he was saying that he didn’t want to have this conversation yet again with me. He went over a list in his mind of the things I needed to do: Pay this bill, take care of that call, do this or that. My heart was so empty that I couldn’t hear him.
“I need some time alone,” I said to him, and went into the other room to write. My fingers flew across the keyboard as I kept moving. Five minutes later, he came in at a commercial break with a bill and a pen.
“Oh my G-d, not another thing to do,” I whimpered. “You’ve got to give me some time.”
He threw the pen across the room and started screaming loudly at a high pitch. I watched as he began banging on the linen chest, heard him hit pillows in the other room, and run his hands up and down the blinds to make noise.
A part of my brain shrugged it off, because these tantrums with him were normal part of my life. But then I saw her, in the corner of my mind’s eye: A child, probably not more than four years old with long brown hair. She was cowering in a corner and crying as his tantrum spiraled, probably over some little thing like not putting something away the way he liked. How could you explain this to a child? What if he got out of control and hit her? How could I live with myself?
The five-year mark in our marriage was about to hit, and the pressure would be on for children. I knew that no matter what form it came in, I wanted a family, and I would protect my children at any cost. It was this moment of my life where my womanhood spurned me to action. A month later, I took my hopes for the future and very little else with me out the door, never to return.
In the years since then, I found that the women who I know where fertility is in question are the strongest women I have ever known. They are successful, smart, warm, empathetic and full of kindness. Some are married; others aren’t. They struggle, and with them I share my own, such as not knowing how to approach dating with this information or how to proceed with my future birth control. Together, we hope that one day it won’t be like this. But we find our strengths and manifest them in other places.
What the media doesn’t understand is that fertility is one part of us as women, but it’s large. I give Joss Whedon credit for creating a superhero who faces issues like all women do, because it makes us stronger in other areas. Being a woman is more than just being the superhero up front, but also the woman underneath. Sometimes it takes a “boys’ movie” to recognize it.