Courtney Maum

Dispatch from the fetal reduction

Well, this is a first.

When my broth­ers and I received news that one of us would have to go, I assure you, I did not think that it would be me. Case in point, our youngest broth­er, Clomig. At the time of my depar­ture, he hadn’t devel­oped otic pits yet. I nev­er met a slow­er learn­er in my life.

I didn’t have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to get to know a lot of lesbians—no fault of my own—but from what I’ve heard, they’re a stal­wart bunch. Fortunately, my capac­i­ty for com­pas­sion is such that I can under­stand how news of triplets could be an unex­pect­ed phys­i­cal and finan­cial bur­den for first-time, intend­ed par­ents, but I say, you pay 25K for babies, you want bang for your buck.

Can you hear me all right, by the way? My buc­cophayrngeal mem­brane nev­er rup­tured, so I don’t actu­al­ly have a mouth. But why get mired in details?

No one likes to be under­es­ti­mat­ed, and the med­ical com­mu­ni­ty under­es­ti­mat­ed my moth­er and I, both. The cir­cum­stances of my extinc­tion were such that I nev­er saw my moth­er, but I did spend six weeks inside of her and she ran a tight ship.

You’d think they’d take her out­stand­ing phys­i­cal ser­vice record into account before decid­ing what her body was and wasn’t fit for— twen­ty-sev­en years young, corn-fed from Nebraska, twins in 2007, triplets in 2004—there was no rea­son to think that this cham­pi­on sur­ro­gate couldn’t push three more kid­dies out with­out inci­dent.  But I shan’t dwell on the past.

As to the role of the intend­ed par­ents in the deci­sion mak­ing process, I’m afraid I’m not informed. I can only imag­ine that it was decid­ed under the influ­ence of extreme seda­tives in absolute dark­ness and per­haps with­out their wits, because if the intend­ed had actu­al­ly met Clomig, there is no way they would have aimed that poi­soned tip of potas­si­um chlo­ride at my ambi­tious heart.

I’ll start with my oth­er broth­er, Fertinex. Am I shout­ing? No? Good.

Fertinex loved bubbles—any kind of car­boniza­tion, really—and jog­ging, and the lay­ing down of plas­tic rail­way tracks. In con­fi­dence one morn­ing on the low­er deck of the amni­ot­ic sac, he admit­ted that he planned to be an astro­naut when he grew up. He might as well have said ‘Cobbler’ or ‘VCR Repairman.’ He’s such a ten­der thing.

It’s this pen­chant for nos­tal­gia that trou­bles me when I con­tem­plate how Fertinex will nav­i­gate life with­out me— one can’t help but won­der if he’ll make it past the fourth stage of grief or whether he’ll just dwell and linger ever longer on my loss.

As for broth­er Clomig—well, let’s not mince words—he was the one they were after with their probe. Not the bright­est bulb in the uterus, mal­heureuse­ment.

Aside from the anti­quat­ed accor­dion he kept slung about his neck, Clomig showed no inter­est in any sub­ject mat­ter, no zest for life. I’ll make two excep­tions to this com­ment: he liked green crayons and the acronym ‘Nasdaq.’ In the morn­ings, he’d sit there sus­pend­ed in liquor amnii with his stub­by feet in the vague ter­ri­to­ry of his ill-formed future mouth and gur­gle, “Nasdaq! Nasdaq! Nasdaq!” while I marked up my finan­cial port­fo­lio with a nub of pur­ple chalk.

I bet you think I’m angry. I’m flu­ent in bereave­ment, I know which stage I’m at. I’m pos­i­tive­ly filthy with the black muck of denial. Had I not been sac­ri­ficed, I would have done great things. By way of exam­ple: a MacArthur Genius grant for my hyper­text trans­la­tion of “The Mahabharata” three months before my twen­ty-eighth birthday.

Also: the pro­vi­sion of emo­tion­al and finan­cial sup­port from 2018 onwards to my Sapphic moth­ers, along with the thrice-year­ly usage of my tree house in the Buxa Tiger Reserve; a free-float­ing struc­ture I would have built with my life—and business—partner, Yves in India, for our vacations.

In addi­tion to being a great place to do yoga, the tree house would have proved instru­men­tal dur­ing the year I took off to sup­port Fertinex through his crip­pling addic­tion to a par­tic­u­lar­ly low-grade form of Opium known on the street as “Block.” During this time, Yves would have manned the sus­tain­able archi­tec­tur­al firm I left behind me in Chicago. Each month, he’d send a care pack­age of dried noo­dles and used books.

At night, I’d make Fertinex smooth­ies from a pro­tein pow­der pack­et and read him poet­ry while he twist­ed on his cot. For those that say that opi­um is a sub­mis­sive narcotic—gentler than hero­ine, eas­i­er to quit—I invite you to con­tact me for more details on what it was like to watch my own broth­er come to terms with the phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al rub­ble of his life with an acute case of diar­rhea and fre­quent mus­cle spasms, in a tree house 100 feet above the ground.

This peri­od would prove to be the most frus­trat­ing, risky and mean­ing­ful three-hun­dred and six­ty-five days of my life, but I did not get to live it. The intend­ed par­ents chose me, chose to end my life.

And so Clomig turns out to be the win­ner! Clomig, with his honk­ing snuf­fle­u­pa­gus of a nose; his mal­odor­ous cook­ing! Being absorbed back into your own mother’s body gives you a real sense of per­spec­tive: I’ve seen great things and Clomig’s future isn’t one of them.

I can only hope the gen­tle beast will pro­vide my thwart­ed moth­ers with occa­sion­al moments of hard-won joy with his above-aver­age ren­di­tion of “Ah Ram Sam Sam!” on his but­ton-key accor­dion. But some­how, I doubt it. One can only take so much.

And so it falls to Fertinex to be the bright star of the fam­i­ly. My pre­ferred broth­er, I leave you with these words:

Fertinex, when you meet a man in Vancouver’s Boundary Bay Airport while wait­ing for your con­nec­tion to MacMillan Provincial Park where you’re going to study the semi­otics of red cedar tree rings with your long term ener­gy heal­er Maximum and your invis­i­ble spir­it animal—a bunny—when you meet this grace­ful man in line at the Nut Shack while pur­chas­ing orange fla­vored Certs, when he asks how long your lay­over is, when he asks you if you par­ty, Fertinex, say no.

There are sto­ries wait­ing out there in those tree rings, there is mean­ing in the height to which those strong trees grow. You must make it to the cedars. You must tell their sto­ries. Everyone must know.


Courtney Maum is a fic­tion writer based in between the Berkshires of Massachusetts and New York City. A humor colum­nist for Electric Literature, her work has appeared in Slice Magazine, The Rumpus, Vol.1 “Sunday Stories,” Anderbo, Tin House’s “Open Bar” and oth­ers. She is a fre­quent read­er at NY-based series and a Literary Death Match cham­pi­on. Courtney is cur­rent­ly work­ing on a col­lec­tion of com­ic fic­tion enti­tled “Funny You Should Say That.” Find her on Twitter at @cmaum