My mum had always told us kids that if we ever got a tattoo she would disown us. It was a serious threat that none of us had taken lightly. It had been a year since my diagnosis of immature egg syndrome. A year since I had stopped really caring what anyone thought, including my mum.
A friend had several tattoos that he used to show me at every opportunity and it was to him I confided that I wanted to get one.
“You should do it,” he said. And so, I began scouring Pinterest for an image that resonated with me. I sent him several examples of what I liked and he told me they were too negative.
“Do you really want something that reminds you of something bad permanently on your body?”
In that moment, yes. Yes, I did. Because at that time in my life I didn’t care about my body. Didn’t care about my future. I lived day to day, impulse to impulse, trying to make sense of what had happened a year ago. How it had all gone so wrong.
This was the perfect way to exact revenge on my body for being broken. Because that’s exactly how I looked at myself; as something that was broken. And infertility, like many illnesses and diseases, is invisible.
I sent my chosen image off to the tattoo place I had booked into and they confirmed it was doable and would take three hours. What was my tolerance like for pain? We’d find out.
In the chair, ready to go, I was shitting myself. Three hours. What if I couldn’t take that much pain? What if it turned out nothing like my picture? What if I hated it? What if hubby hated it? I hadn’t even told him I was getting it until after I had made the booking. He had wanted to come with me. I declined. This wasn’t about him. This was all about me. Everything in my world was about me. I was a self-absorbed cunt to be perfectly honest.
But there I was in the chair, my shorts around my arse, my top tucked into my bra. A copy of my tattoo hung nearby for the artist to refer to. All the colours he was going to use were lined up in a neat row. And the stencil, when he placed it on me, was much larger than I had anticipated. But I was doing it.
I have watched a lot of reality tattoo shows and in them the artist always asks what the significance of the design was. I had my story ready to go, full of tragedy and heartache. He never asked me and maybe that’s a good thing. I certainly didn’t need another opportunity for self-indulgence.
The needle touched my skin and I was surprised but not in pain. The noise of the gun was louder than I was expecting but I lay back, determined not to look until it was done.
The last half hour was hell. There was so much colour to go in, that he was going over places that had already been done, tearing at my skin. I didn’t complain. I closed my eyes, I bit my lip, but I bore the pain in silence. This was what I had wanted. The pain was good.
When it was finally finished and wiped clean, and I was able to stand in front of a mirror, I was exhausted. The adrenaline had worn off and I was coming down from hours of pain.
There on my right hip, over where I imagine my ovary is, was my watercolour tattoo of Dumbo, cradled in his mother’s trunk. It’s a poignant scene from the film, where Dumbo goes to visit his mother who has been locked up, accused of being mad. She rocks him for the duration of the song ‘Baby Mine’ before he is tearfully pulled away by his friend Timothy Q Mouse.
But this scene is not the one that resonates with me. It’s only that this image is far more positive than the one that does.
The film opens at night, the animals in the circus are sleeping in their various pens and cages. Overhead, the storks are coming, carrying the bundles of joy for the animals that are to become parents. We watch as the storks drop their bundles and they float down on tiny parachutes to the respective animals – giraffes, lions, bears, hippos. All the mother animals receive their bundle, except Mrs Jumbo. Her trunk raised in the air, she is searching the sky for her bundle of joy. Her baby. She looks up longingly, but there are no more bundles floating down. With a heavy sigh, she lowers her trunk and we see that she is sad and alone.
But as we all know, the next day on the train, the stork that was obviously running late arrives with Dumbo. Her miracle baby, late but not missing. This is what I think of when I look at my tattoo.