I heard the pendulum of the clock and the cuckoo’s voice inside of me. I thought about time, kids and the choices we make. Could I rely on fate to become a mother? I went out and set off for the reproductive health clinic.

“I not only think that we will tamper with Mother Nature, I think Mother wants us to.”
Willard Gaylin


The Wailing Wall, Jerusalem, 2011. Between the stones, where the praying Jews press their foreheads; between the cracks filled with millions heavy like lead paper slips. My cellulose wish must be somewhere there, rotting. “I want to have a child only from my true love.” I wrote this shortly before my ten-year relationship remained with only one retaining wall. Sometimes a harmless wish can turn into a curse: what if I never meet this love? Or whatever goes wrong with my life, I can freeze enough genetic material for at least nine more? I am talking to my own reflections in the sliding doors of a famous reproductive medicine clinic in Sofia. I take the lift to the conference room, where there are monthly lectures on women’s health. “Invest in the future while you still haven’t lost the battle with time.” “Your biological clock does not ask whether you are pursuing a career and have a partner.” “Freeze your eggs now – your Peaceful Life insurance policy.”

On one side is sitting a four-eyed fish – a couple who is eagerly waiting for the next part of the lecture: the questions to the guest lecturer, the reproductive medicine specialist. On the other – a girl wrapped around her chair like a liana, writing down the curve of family ties: supply and demand. The initiative starts as a result of the undeniable statistics: one of the most common reasons to postpone pregnancy is the lack of a partner. I can now understand the presence of the matchmakers… They are going to show us how the in vitro love relations are established. They take a man, non-smoker, 185 cm tall, and put him in a social test tube with you – a woman, non-smoker, 168 cm tall. If the embryo of your love does not survive, Keep calm and wait for Mr Right. And meanwhile? Follow me through the Citadel of the frantic desire for a baby. Through the labyrinth of hope. 

ʻYour egg is the sleeping beauty, not you waiting for the prince… For me this is an investment ten times better than a vacation in Grenada or Bora Boraʼ, smiles the 33-year-old Presiana while waiting in front of the puncture and transfer room. The girl looks like as though she, if she took off her bank uniform, would start playing elastics. The only detail is that her ovaries have a different opinion… ʻMy ex-boyfriend and I had been trying to have a child for a year, although I did not have a medical problem. I must have missed that love, but I had to go on following the hands of my biological clock. I want to know why I can’t have a baby.ʼ

Presiana had found out about her diminished ovarian reserve and that its depletion not always depends on the woman’s age here, behind the clinic’s walls. And as an assistant to the CEO of “Risk”, she had decided to insure herself against the biggest risk in a woman’s life: never to become a mother.

They shut the door in my face, and the girl, who refuses to play with the cards fate dealt her, remains outside. I am headed towards the embryo of light at the end of the corridor and think of the small window in the puncture room. After a while, the embryologists will get Presiana’s eggs through it. And if until recently she had released only one or two a year, she is now stimulated and her ovaries resemble a constellation. At that time they have already sucked the liquid out of her every follicle, and if everything is fine, her eggs are shining like the moon under the eye of the microscope. And all of us are praying now: that they are not less than ten, neither immature nor post-mature. Even if you freeze your eggs, there is no guarantee that they will become a baby. Some of them may never wake up from their icy sleep. Another may never be fertilised. Others have better chances of success, but still nothing is guaranteed. In the end, there is no fate gene. Only liquid nitrogen to freeze it for a few laps around the Sun.

At the top of a thin straw, on a drop less than a rainy one, the clinic embryologist places the planet Gamete and it instantly freezes in the kiss of liquid nitrogen. Only now, when time has stopped, can we return to the day December 19, 1985. At the Australian Queen Elizabeth hospital, Dr. Christopher Chen becomes the father of the first baby in the world from a frozen egg. He uses slow freezing, which often forms lethal ice crystals in the egg. Nearly three decades later, the process takes place at very high speed and its chances of survival has risen dramatically.

ʻDo you see this concentrated solution? It’s called a cryoprotectant. It displaces the water from the largest cell in your body and protects it from the ice bladesʼ, the embryologist almost whispers. It is so quiet in the laboratory that I can hear the air lashing through my nose hairs, while I breathe out, and each blink sounds to me like a walnut crushing. The work done in the cryobox has to be carried out with mathematical precision. En extra second or a tremble of the hand and…

We pick up the precious Dewar vessel with Presiana’s eggs and go down to the basement of the clinic. Under – 140 degrees the only thing that affects them are the microscopic doses of cosmic radiation reaching the surface of the Earth. That is why they are stored here at the lowest possible level. I pass by the liquid nitrogen tank and enter the tissue bank – the chambers of the sleeping beauties. Among the thousands there are those that will be destroyed – if their owners get pregnant spontaneously and do not want to donate them to a recipient or for scientific purposes. I look at the grimaces of the invisibles and I realise: for them this cryogenic vessel will remain the whole world. And inside it is almost as cold as into deep space. Compared to that cold, the temperature in Antarctica is tropical

ʻHow long will the longest ice age last?ʼ I ask, and the answer turns my heart into a countdown timer. Five years. The recommended storage period according to the Agency for Transplantation… And what if I haven’t met Him till then? I could push away the wall that pressed me, but it would still have legs.

I had never felt further from my desire for a child than when I was standing in front of the giant womb with supposed lives. I wondered if I froze my eggs, would I not freeze my heart, too. And would there be a cryoprotectant to destroy the ice crystals in it? Would I not be relieved that ideal life is waiting for me in the freezer, and I will not live in a liquid nitrogen bath myself? For Presiana, who had to build a nest for the few remaining eggs prematurely; for the 24-year-old girls on the edge of menopause or for all women who were going to be treated with chemotherapy – that was their chance to be mothers. But did I have the right to stop time just because I woke up alone in the morning? And if I did, would I not give up my own hopes of meeting the father of my future children NOW? The clinic called it insurance. I called it resignation.

In the end, we all had our own Bermuda triangle that swallowed our best intentions. I could not know if the resulting blastocyst of my next relationship would hatch from the “zona pellucida” of the circumstances, if it would turn into love and implant itself into life. It would either accept the fate my boyfriend and I were forging or it would die. Fortunately, both embryos and love were entitled to this sole and primordial own choice. And there both science and hopes were powerless. I was aware that my body was not a eucalyptus forest and that each year my eggs would grow old. But the longer I stayed in the ice storage, the more I thought of the sun’s breath; of the sweet swiftness of life; of the incredible, but dangerous right of choice that this cryogenic vessel gave us; of the power of consolation and the question that the father of the designer baby Anton from Gattaca asked the eugenics specialists: ʻWe were just wondering if, if it is good to just leave a few things to, to chance?ʼ

And sometimes chance is the fastest spermatozoon… It’s already growing inside Deya, part of the clinic’s team. Before she spontaneously got pregnant, the girl had placed her embryo in the clinic’s bank after years of sterility. The pile of cells had slept in its little cryo cot for a few years… I wondered if it was true what they say about the frozen embryo soul; that it falls between life and death and cannot be released before it is born or destroyed. Either way, Deya had decided to give life to her icy child. Perhaps one day her two sons would play a game: to swim far out in the sea until one of them is scared or tired and start swimming back to shore. And if science then was only capable of assuming: this would probably be the boy created in a laboratory, whose icy sleep would slow him down in the sprint of human evolution; it would not matter to Deya. Yet these were only theories, and her desire to be a mother – more real than ever.

We had placed a pipette in the hands of God and each and every one decided whether and how to touch it. Before I knew it I had stopped judging the people who damned both ethics and God. So who could say whether Adam Nash, the first child donor created in a lab in order to save his sister from a blood disease, was used or blessed? And at that moment he was probably having a drink with friends or was kissing for the first time…

There was some enigma in the long, clean and autonomous reproductive corridors; in the glass walls, through which the clouds looked like antiseptic cotton, and the trees – like fallopian tubes; in the applied magic of liquid nitrogen and in the containers where people kept their offspring in exchange for an annual rent. The enigma was due not so much to the fact that here the desire for a child weighed a dozen times more than outside; neither to the fact that the less achievable it became the more it haunted you. The enigma was in something else: here both hopes and despair were walking among hundreds of their clones…

I leave the clinic in the primary twilight, and I feel like an air plane shaken by the difference in air density. I can feel the contamination in it – the laminar box of chance is full of potential disappointments, vague premonitions, and the dividing cells of uncertainty. But my life was right here at the moment. And though blindfolded, I was the only one working on it.

[The names of the persons mentioned in the article are replaced for the purpose of confidentiality – Ed.]