Uncomfortable Somethings: On Isabel Zapata’s “In Vitro”

Uncomfortable Somethings: On Isabel Zapata’s “In Vitro”

“THE FIRST RULE of in vitro fertilization is to never talk in vitro fertilization,” writes Isabel Zapata in her , In Vitro: On Longing and Transformation . In a defiant disavowal of this and other cultural norms surrounding fertility, pregnancy, and birth, the Mexican poet chronicles her experiences—both the visceral and the corporeal—in frank and unflinching detail. In Vitro was originally published in Spanish by Almadía in 2021, and was translated by Mexico City–based poet and translator Robin Myers for this 2023 edition from Coffee House Press. In a refreshingly personal preface to the text, Myers—who has been weighing whether or not to have a child of her own—confesses that Zapata's language made her feel vulnerable in a way for which she was unprepared. Although accustomed to developing a certain intimacy with every manuscript she translates, Myers admits that she's “not usually swimming in it, soaked to the bone.” As a reader, I savor this bit of insight into the alchemical process of translation, this glimpse of the human otherwise hidden behind the act. Somehow, knowing how the text moved Myers, how it implicated her, adds to its aliveness. Admittedly, I am standing on the cliff's edge of potential parenthood as well, wondering what might await me should I choose to advance toward it. But there is more to the affinity than simple identification. What Zapata has to say about her pursuit of parenthood rebuffs the platitudes that those of us with wombs are so constantly inundated with. Here there is no room for the “it's all worth it in the end” sanctimony of Hallmark cards. Something raw and magnetic takes its place: a reading experience Myers likens to “looking through the eyes of someone who isn't afraid to look steadily, and for a long time, at something uncomfortable enough that many others would rather glance away.” Among those uncomfortable somethings is the violence of the fertility treatments Zapata undergoes. There is the vomiting and abdominal pain caused by an overdose of her prescribed hormone injections that leaves her bedridden and vomiting on her birthday; the painfully throbbing […]

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