The Egg Donor

Fiona McGarvey

I’m sorry it’s not better news.

The words float out of his mustached mouth into nothing. I’m not surprised. I knew it was coming. Like the growing suspicion that thrums in your gut when a friend is about to let you down.

Of course, there are other options.

Why does anyone have a mustache? Sam clutches for a notebook from the rucksack on the floor. He starts scribbling. I look down at the offending organ, crammed in there somewhere amongst the others – fleshy and futile. A pinch under my fly grabs my attention as if to say, Fuck you, I never promised you anything.

In the car Sam says, I want it to be ours. I say, Being ours doesn’t have anything to do with genetics. He replies, I know that, but still.

At home he slumps onto the sofa with his laptop. Standing at the sink, I press each toe into the stone and fill a glass with water. When I go back into the living room, his fingertips are rapping against the keyboard on his lap. I sit down at my desk to work. After a few minutes, the rapping stops. I can sense him staring at the back of my head.

It would be nice if you were more interested.

How else do you think we’re going to pay for any of it?

Later, we eat Chinese and watch a Netflix show about Jeffrey Epstein. By the end I’m furious.

Why the fuck does anyone want to bring kids into this world?

He doesn’t answer. The credits roll across the screen as he drifts out of the room. I can hear him stacking the dishwasher in the kitchen and, once he’s finished, thumping up the stairs.

He’s convinced that surrogacy is best. A host body because my body is broken and, if we go east, we can source said host body for much cheaper than here. Tens of thousands rather than hundreds. There’s an agency and a website and workshops and forums. There’s stories and pictures and babies. That’s the most important thing. There’s babies.

I say yes and Sam does it all. He fills in the forms and speaks to people on the phone. He sets up appointments. I go to them. I also drink wine and stare at my knees in the bath.

Then we wait. For a woman, currently wandering around unaware of the barren couple on the other side of the world desperate to rent her womb, to realise that her most immediate calling is to sacrifice her body for a pair of strangers.

It only takes four months.

Sofiya. We meet her on Skype with someone from the agency. She looks like an advert, sitting in front of an elaborate wallpaper, cream blouse, neat bob. She doesn’t know a lot of English, so we don’t speak much but instead all grin maniacally into our laptops. Sam tells her we will call every week. When it’s over I snap the laptop shut.

What will we talk about every week?

He sighs and says he’ll download Duolingo.

The Skype calls are like remote, three-way dates and I dread them. Second only to injecting hormones into my stomach. After two rounds, my eggs are harvested.

We arrive at a clinic. Sam goes off to have a wank while I’m led into a hospital room and told to lie down. I’m given a ‘twilight’ anesthetic and fall asleep. When I wake up, the nurse says, We collected six – a great crop. She touches my shoulder, Well done, honey.

We go to the west coast for a week while our newly fused gametes travel east. The day after we get home, an embryo is transferred into Sofiya. The agency let us know it’s been successful and we speak to her on the phone. Pregnant, pregnant, she repeats. Sam is crying, Thank you so much Sofiya, thank you. You welcome, Sam, you welcome. Everyone’s saying things twice. I cut in:

Let us know if anything changes.

But nothing does. She remains pregnant and her stomach swells. Pictures of her growing bump populate mine and Sam’s WhatsApp thread. It strikes me as odd, admiring another woman’s body with my husband. It’s the baby, he tells me, we’re looking at our baby.

One morning in the fall, I get out of bed and walk to the bathroom. I stare at my face, into my eyes and work down. Mouth, neck, chest, breasts. I turn my side to the mirror and place my hand on my empty stomach and rub it from side to side until my skin is sore. In the bedroom, Sam is on his phone.

Do you know their word for bye?

Nope.

Pa-pa.

Mm.

I get dressed. He goes back to his phone.

I’m at work the first time I hear about the virus. A respiratory disease that’s infected a town half way across the world. Sam is unphased. We’ve seen this a million times before, he says, it’ll pass.

The weekly calls with Sofiya become a constant source of conflict.

I don’t want to be her friend.

She’s carrying our child.

I know. And we’re paying her.

Don’t you want to know her better?

She’s not involved–

She couldn’t be more involved.

Genetically.

I thought you didn’t care about genetics.

I don’t respond. Through gritted teeth, he says, Always so fucking miserable, and slams the door.

My gut thrums.

Christmas is tense. The teenagers play a daily game of how many virus cases in the world today? I wish I was actually pregnant, so I could be excluded from the endless rounds of setting and clearing the table. Shelly says, How is the baby doing? Who knows, I reply, swilling the wine in my glass. Sam glares at me.

Just a little joke.

He’s doing really well, mom. In the 88th percentile for size and starting to kick now.

On the drive home, Sam leaves the car to pay for gas and I check his phone. Sofiya has her very own thread. Lucky girl. I don’t have to open it to see his last message to her: Merry Christmas Sofi.

He gets back in the car and hands me a Diet Coke. Thank you, I say. I lean in and kiss the side of his mouth. He grunts, pecks back at me and starts the engine.

Sam responds well to my increased effort and attention. I talk about paint colours for the baby’s room, I make the right noises at pictures of tiny hats and crocheted boots. I wrap my body around his in bed and say things like, I hope he gets your nose.

I watch him draw closer and get stuck, like a crab towards bacon. He never could resist my saltiness.

At night I dream about Sofiya.

I walk up behind her in the kitchen and put my hands around her waist. She is singing a lullaby and rests her head back on mine. My hands go to caress the bump but find a flat stomach. She turns to me, laughing, her head a blank egg with hair. My reaction is quick. I twist her back over the kitchen counter while she writhes between my legs. Her body disappears and I smash the egg against the marble. A blood red yolk spatters, covering me like glue.

By the end of January, the virus is impossible to ignore. It’s in every country, the number of deaths racking up every day. I ask Sam, What if we can’t pick up the baby?

What do you mean?

They are talking about shutting down borders.

It won’t come to that.

Sofiya’s country goes into lockdown ten days before our flight. Sam is manic. He calls the agency, the embassy, the government. No one gives him a solution. I can hear them on the other end of the phone.

We will try everything we can Sir.

Unfortunately, the situation is the same for all expectant parents.

Fuck them, he shouts and throws the phone on the floor. Then he picks it back up and video calls Sofiya. We both ignore the ease with which he does it. I am so sorry, so sorry, she cries. It’s not your fault, he says, we’ll work it out. I swallow a laugh back down my throat. He looks at me. I walk over and stand behind him, my hand on his shoulder.

Don’t worry Sofiya. You’re still six weeks away, we’ll be there.

It becomes apparent we won’t be there, at least not in time. All surrogate babies will be moved from the hospital to a local hotel, the agency woman says, I can assure you he will be in excellent care until you arrive. Why can’t Sofiya take him home, Sam spits. Babies can only leave state care with their legal parents Sir, she replies. Fuck’s sake, he slams his fists against the table. I go to speak and change my mind.

What?

Being rude won’t achieve anything.

An email from our lawyer comes through on Sam’s laptop. We lean in to read it: The only way in is across the border on foot. Very Indiana Jones, I say. He stares at me for several seconds, his hands poised over his keyboard. Something in him, that I don’t recognise, asserts itself in front of my eyes. I had wondered when it would turn up.

Just a little joke.

Thrum.

The night before we fly I keep thinking about that look on his face. I feel my body respond. He’s lying next to me listing things we mustn’t forget that are already stacked on the kitchen table. I say, Everything’s ready Sam, and place his hand between my legs. He pulls it away and turns off the light. Then he comes back and moves himself in between my legs. He breathes into my neck, I respond with noises in his ear. His body weighs down on my chest and he fixes my hands together above my head. Let me go on top, I whisper. He buries his head in the pillow and picks up the pace. I watch us from above, two animals vying for power. His breath quickens until he buckles against me, shuddering in his own pleasure. He collapses onto the bed, facing the wall and falls asleep. I lie awake as the wetness under my buttocks dries to a crust.

Sofiya goes into labour just after we check in. It could still take days, I say. He stares at his hands. There’s no change by the time we take off.

The plane is empty. I spend eleven hours considering our exponential carbon dioxide output and Sam shuffles about nervously. After we land, his phone rings. He listens, eyes wide, and reports back:

She’s eight centimetres.

Next, a five-hour car journey to the border. Sam checks his phone, locks it, puts it on the middle seat, picks it up again, checks it – on a loop. I can’t take my eyes off the window.

The landscape – all ninety-degree angles, flat straight roads and vertical pine trees – looks like home. I think of the long car journey to the woods every summer, homemade sandwiches eaten from foil at vista points. The smell of grass outside the cabin, my brother and me hopping between the rugs on the floor. The bell of ice cubes against glass, my dad sitting by the fire, steaming colanders of corn and peas, chicken pie, boiled carrots.

Isn’t it beautiful?

He glances up for a second and grunts. He’s always lived in the city.

The side of Sam’s face closest to me is lit up by the low sun. Time has been unkind to you, I think. The lines etched into his skin, and now exposed by the light, make his expression pained. Permanent evidence of his desperation, his effort. At that, the revulsion that has been growing for months, maybe years, locks into place in the pit of my stomach.

And it’s like I wake up. I don’t know why I’m here, in this country, in this car. I don’t want to be. I hadn’t planned anything beyond getting on the plane.

I think of sabotage. Taking what is biologically mine to punish him, to make him pay. But I remember a piece of advice on one surrogacy website: The egg donor should remain emotionally separate from the intended parents.

I need to get out.

I need to get out.

The driver glances around at us, Heh?

We can’t stop, Sam barks. What’s wrong with you. We’re nearly there, we can’t stop.

My thrumming gut threatens to explode.

Within minutes we’re at the border, Sam tears out of the car. He hands over a file of paperwork and stands, tapping his toe, looking down the road ahead, until the guard passes the documents back. I get out too and watch him. It’s nice – being still. He returns to the car, gets one bag out of the trunk and, I guess out of habit more than anything else, gets the other out too.

Sam.

His phone rings. He fumbles with it and answers. In my head, I hear the muffled voice of the agency worker from before. The situation is the same for all expectant parents. But this time she’s laughing. The situation is the same for all expectant parents.

Sam’s voice brings me back:

Yes. Ok, wow. Yes. Yes. I’m coming.

He hangs up and our eyes lock. Just for a moment. Just long enough. And then it’s over. He takes the handle of the suitcase nearest him and strides away. Past the car, past the guard, onto an open highway – his silhouette almost comical, embarrassing – legs weaving forwards, one arm swinging back and forth, the loud rattle of his bag on the tarmac bouncing off the trees.

Fiona McGarvey is an actor and writer from London. She has been writing for two years and enjoys creating honest and accessible pieces about modern life. Her short story, Kenny Women, was recently published online by Literally Stories. Instagram @poet.fi, Twitter @Fiona_McGarvey.