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Cover image: ‘Fauna’ by Donna Mazza

The longer I stare at the ring on the screen, the more it appears to shift. Cells are pinpoints, some surrounded by a thin halo, carrying the weight of life and all that it means. A concept so enormous I can’t hold it in my mind. Its walls look thick, yet in reality it could drop on the floor and be impossible to find. It could blow away in the breeze or be sucked up a vacuum cleaner. The tiny things that make us who we are—smaller than a speck. Yet also everything. The totality of us written in strings and twists hidden inside each cell.

Isak sits beside me, our fingers interlocked while we watch the perfect circle magnified on the screen, already populated with a small collection of cells gathered in one hemisphere. The coagulation of being—sticking together. Re-made and made. This is a new experience for us. Our other children were conceived naturally, but no amount of acronyms or scientific terms can take away the magic of life and what makes it. They were all magical. This one is even more so.

We watch the perfect circle magnified on the screen, already populated with a small collection of cells gathered in one hemisphere.

The journey to this point hasn’t been as complicated as I thought it would be. Not that far outside the realm of normal really. Lots of people go through IVF programs. A few blood tests. Harvesting some eggs and sperm. Laughing about the stupidity of it all. They took them off to the lab, did some snipping and pasting and now we have a successful blastocyst, with some germ-line modification—so they say. Testing has been done and it’s still growing, cells dividing and forming, faster than usual and now ready for implantation. Heart and spine and brain and skin. There, under the microscope, are the beginnings of a new life.


In the toilets at the back of the clinic I pee into a plastic jar. Of course I also pee on my hand, I’m sure everyone does, but I wipe it dry with a piece of toilet paper and screw on the yellow lid. This is the test. Just an eye-dropper of urine on the stick and they know right away. Isak turns to me and smiles. I am shaking.

And so it begins. This journey I have travelled three times before, twice to a happy ending and once not. This time, I am reminded, the journey will not be the same.

A blood test confirms it—the wee did not lie.

And so it begins. This journey I have travelled three times before, twice to a happy ending and once not.

LifeBLOOD® are very respectful and professional. They’ve explained the terms of our agreement in detail. Take it home, they said. Isak tried to read it but it was thirty-six pages of policy speak and clauses which all seemed quite straightforward. A lot of stuff about risk and indemnity, keeping informed, communication, mutual obligation. Isak read the financial support section in some detail, nodding to himself and interpreting it to me. What we expected, if we had given it that kind of thought. He signed it. There was nothing about love, but it was a legal contract and the two are repellent to each other. I signed it.


The site on the screen is slick with graphics—LifeBLOOD® Bringing Life Out of Darkness. I scroll through the page, scan the promotional text.

LifeBLOOD® provides as normal a life as possible for all our parents and children. Raising any child is challenging and we understand how this will be different for parents of LifeBLOOD® children.

They refer to children. We’re not the only ones doing this then. More spiel about qualified and inducted doctors and other allied health professionals. Occupational therapists, education experts, financial advisors and speech therapists are among the many staff available to support new parents. I have no patience and skip down the page—a non-disclosure clause that all parents must maintain complete discretion surrounding the genetic conditions under which LifeBLOOD® children are born. I skip sections. Can’t focus on this language, have no discipline to read this kind of thing, it’s no wonder I wasn’t a good student. Parents are required to—something about counselling and I scroll down—respond to all inquiries regarding the nature of appearance or developmental delays and behaviour in the LifeBLOOD® child according to postnatal direction. My hand naturally drifts to below my navel and rests there. This child will be perfect and beautiful. This time.

This child will be perfect and beautiful. This time.

I scroll down to the tabs for pages on diet, relationships, education, communication, stages of development and more. When I click on them, a notice for username and password pops up. The only ones that I can access are ‘pregnancy’ and ‘policy and governance’. Isak will have read it all. The tea has gone cold but I finish the last of it. It spices my chest and quells the nausea. Scroll and stop—LifeBLOOD® children must be sheltered from certain social situations and environments according to the direction of your practitioner. These may include avoiding exposure to stressful public events, large crowds, certain animals, excessive noise, technology in your home or an outbreak of virus. This area is under constant review to ensure safety and wellbeing. Further down, another part of the page is illustrated by a photograph of a happy nuclear family playing in a park. They all have red hair.

A toddler faces away from the camera, the action shot a little blurry—Family units are vital to the development of any healthy child and LifeBLOOD® children require a peaceful home in which to flourish. Families entering into this program have already shown themselves to be excellent parents.

In the silent air in this suburb of closed doors and faded greys I have planted myself somewhere without nourishment. The garden drags itself through the seasons; it is a victory for it to survive another year. Each grevillea, each aloe and cordyline clinging to the sandy soil, desperate for the fecundity buried somewhere under the fill sand of builders and subdividers. Their pale roots diving deep in search of lost swampland. The true land somewhere deep beneath us. In these long hours between the children’s departure for school and their arrival home, sometimes I have been extinct. Now, though, even in stillness I am animate. Blood and cells and microbes, swirling into new life.

LifeBLOOD® children are an important part of new research that will bring benefits to human health and resilience. I push the screen to the end of the couch and try to sleep but that last phrase is burned on my internal view, the letters turning white on a black background, forming into a negative. Despite the humanity of this, we are now research.

I try to push the thought of it away but it burns on, refusing to fade.


This is an edited extract from Fauna by Donna Mazza, published by Allen & Unwin. Fauna is available now at Readings.