CBC Literary Prizes

Storkatorium by Jane Ozkowski

Jane Ozkowski has been shortlisted for the 2022 CBC Nonfiction Prize.

2022 CBC Nonfiction Prize shortlist

Jane Ozkowski is a writer living in Bloomfield, Ont. (Emily Sehl)

Jane Ozkowski has made the 2022 CBC Nonfiction Prize shortlist for Storkatorium.

She will receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and her work has been published on CBC Books.

The winner of the 2022 CBC Nonfiction Prize will be announced on Sept. 22. They will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, have their work published on CBC Books and will attend a two-week writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity

If you're interested in the CBC Literary Prizes, the 2023 CBC Short Story Prize is open for submissions until Oct. 31.

You can read Storkatorium below.


The email I got yesterday talked about starvation and talked about bloodletting. It talked about filling my body with echoes to figure out where the golden goose that lives inside me lays its microscopic eggs.

It seemed like an insane mix of futuristic science and medieval torture, but I tried to believe it would work, that the doctors and nurses and Holy Angels of Embryonic Glory would take my magic and Em's magic and our sperm donor's magic and make a second beating heart, lungs and legs and a full consciousness when there was nothing but a monthly weeping cavity waiting to be filled.

"Wow," I said, closing the email and turning to Em. "And to think, most people just get to have an orgasm and nine months later a baby falls out."

"I know," she said. "We're not most people, though."

"Are we even ready for a baby?" I looked around the house we'd moved into a few months before. There was a tower of Amazon boxes in the corner, and we'd cleaned our names into the cigarette stains on the walls, little white letters into the greasy yellow we hadn't finished wiping away. 

"Of course we're not ready," Em said. "And in that way, we're just like everyone else."

Now, Em and I are sitting on metal chairs at the Storkatorium, and we're trying to look like nice normal approachable women, because we're afraid of what will happen if the doctors and nurses and holy angels don't like us. 

Technically, there's a whole scroll of rules that say the angels have to take us despite the fact that we are not a man and a woman, but a woman and a woman with the wrong kind of magic looking to have a baby put inside of me. 

We're not in a city where beautiful women are always falling in love with each other and where magic babies are created every day.

There are rules, but we've been alive long enough to know that these rules have been written on transparent pieces of paper that easily dissolve in the rain. We're not in a city where beautiful women are always falling in love with each other and where magic babies are created every day. We are in Belleville, Ont., where people still climb onto church steps and shout about how the homosexuals are going to hell. 

Em and I are both aware of how easy it would be for the angels to blame their busy schedules of a lack of funding or liabilities and turn us away without ever having to mention that we're both women with the wrong kind of magic in us and there's something about that that seems innately wrong to them.

Em fidgets and I fill out forms beside her. How often do you and your partner have sex? How long have you been trying for a baby? A whole page of N/As and the feeling that what Em and I are asking for isn't really meant for us, and now we must be grateful that we are even allowed here. 

And we are grateful.

It was never a question for us, the wanting, the deciding. There was always some whispering voice in the darkness, affirming this maternal need for me, and then I met Em. Never has there ever been a person so filled with light and love and every good and beautiful thing, and somehow, I made her mine.

It was never a question for us, the wanting, the deciding.

It's cold in the Storkatorium, and the only sound is my pen scratching at the forms and the angel at the front desk coughing. She has dark hair and tired eyes. There's dirt on the bottom of her robes and her halo must have fallen off somewhere. 

I think I thought we'd be going to a castle, some majestic building on the lake where storks more pure and more beautiful than anything fly from heaven carrying precious bundles of perfect baby buds to plant inside of imperfect uteruses. I imagined manicured lawns and a reflecting pool where I could reflect on the magical, precious and beautiful experience of bringing a life into this world. 

Instead, Em and I climbed the crumbling concrete steps of a building from the 1970s. The parking lot was filled with stagnant pothole ponds, and there was an enormous sign out front that said, "Chicken don't have teeth, but chicken book your next dental appointment through our new app." 

Inside, there was a long hallway the colour of over-cooked peas and a door that led to a little room where an angel sat behind a panel of glass. 

Now, the angel frowns at the N/As and the incompletes on my forms, and I wait to be thrown out. I shiver in the air conditioning and Em shivers beside me, the two of us mere mortals, asking this angel for her magic. Her chin juts out, grinding her angelic teeth, and for a second there's a flash of annoyance across her heavenly face, that we need special forms and accommodations, that we're here at all. 

Or maybe what I'm seeing is something in me. The endless need to placate and please, and one of my greatest fears is having my own needs be an inconvenience. 

The endless need to placate and please, and one of my greatest fears is having my own needs be an inconvenience.​​​​​​

"We're going to start with cycle monitoring," the angel says, putting down my forms and passing me a bottle of hand sanitizer through the window in the glass. "This will help us determine if there are any fertility issues."

Em and I nod and don't make the jokes we made on the way here. 

A month ago, the clinic sent a long document about how important it was to accurately and clearly identify the issues causing our difficulty conceiving. 

"It'll be so good to finally know what the problem is," Em said in the car. "I mean, we've been having unprotected sex for years, and still no baby."

I sanitize my hands, and Em sanitizes her hands, and the angel leads us into an examining room, dingy and grey like a hard boiled egg. 

I sit on a vinyl-covered chair, and I feel like I might throw up the full litre of cold television static that's been sloshing around in my stomach. 

I wasn't allowed to eat anything this morning, and I had to chug four full glasses of cold pure water in the potholed parking lot before I came in. Now, the water's mixing with the electromagnetic currents of fear and anticipation flowing through me, causing my skin to glow blue and staticky.

"You're shaking," Em says, and I sit on my hands and tell her it's because the office is cold and the water I drank was cold.

"We'll take your blood first," the angel says while Em rubs the feeling back into my arms. 

"As payment?" I ask.

"What?" asks the angel.

"Nothing," I say.

Em and I watch in silence as the angel lines up the tubes my blood will go into, and I can't imagine how the angel is going to get that much blood out of me and what she's going to do with it after. 

My whole body is still shaking, but when it's time, I hold out my arm. The angel wraps a rubber band around my bicep and sticks a needle into me. I wait for her to step back as dirty television light and the water I drank before shoots out of the puncture wound, but only blood comes, filling one vial and then the next.

I try to sit still and stop shaking as the angel sucks more and more of me into the vials, shining parts of myself that I can never get back. My stomach clenches full of water and fear and nothing else, and I hear ringing that I try to force away.

And when the vein on my left arm stops bleeding, I offer up my right, the needle visible under my skin, searching out a warm and thick river of blood for the angel to drink from.

"Two more," the angel says, and then one, and then I'm released, a cotton ball taped to the inside of each elbow like I'm a poor man's stigmata.

"You did it," the angel says. 

"You did it," Em says, and I nod with this ringing in my ears and dark shadows taking over my vision.

I'm not sure if I'm going to faint or if I'm going to die or if I'm going to make it through everything that needs to happen before the angels make a baby for us.

Em puts her small warm hand in my small cold hand, and I remember how small we always feel, the two of us in a world that wasn't made for us, but how that's never mattered before, and how maybe it still doesn't matter now. 

Em looks at me, clear and steady with an ocean inside of her, and her eyes are telling me that we'll be okay.

Em looks at me, clear and steady with an ocean inside of her, and her eyes are telling me that we'll be okay, that in the time we've been together we've performed more miracles than this angel could even imagine, and I blink with the shadows still on me, but I believe her.

No part of our love was ever easy the way a love story is supposed to be easy. There were parents who didn't believe that the wrong magic in Em and the wrong magic in me could go together, there was the way Em lived her life butting up against the way I lived mine, compromises and considerations and three years of commuting four hours every weekend just to see each other. 

It's always been a love we've had to fight for, and looking at Em now in the Storkatorium, still shaking and weak with the blood drained out of me and the television static still coursing through me, I know that it was worth it. 

I hold her small warm hand in my small cold hand, and I know that we are small, and I know that we are scared, but I also know that we are strong, and I also know that we are brave. 

We are together, and we are in love, holding so tightly to the shining beauty of our life together and how precious it is because of everything we had to go through to make it exist. 

Em helps me put my coat on, and the angel leads us back into the front room. She gives Em directions to the testing facility where a stranger will put a probe deep inside of me and send soundwaves through my body. 

I don't pay attention though, I stand mute beside them, feeling the shuddering weight of the journey Em and I have before us, and thinking about the little baby waiting in a bingo hall in heaven, ready to make its way into my uterus and one day out into the world. 

When our baby finally comes, it will have a story different from the other babies.

When our baby finally comes, it will have a story different from the other babies. It won't be told about a night of too much wine and a gentle grinding in the darkness leading to a happy accident nine months later. Instead, it will have a story about work and fear and love and dedication. 

We will get to tell our baby about bloodletting and angels, radioactive liquid and echolocation. We will tell about doctors and nurses and six hours of driving through snowstorms to get specialized tests and how badly we wanted to bring this baby into the world. 

And maybe this story will mean nothing to our little child, not yet born. And maybe every parent believes they love their child more than any other person has ever loved any other person, but it's something to hold onto, Em leading me back down the hallway the colour of peas and the thought of a little person not even created yet, waiting to be loved. 


Read the other finalists

About Jane Ozkowski

Jane Ozkowski splits her time between writing and renovating vintage campers. Her writing has appeared in the National Post, Vice, on the Walrus Blog and in a variety of other print and online publications. She is also the author of the YA novel, Watching Traffic. Storkatorium is the start of a book-length project she's working on focusing on the challenges of conceiving a child as a queer couple.

The story's source of inspiration

"My wife and I have been working with a fertility clinic for over a year now and every step has been a challenge. From trying to navigate a bureaucratic system clearly not set up for queer people, to endless miscommunications, to interactions where I've felt treated as far less than human, what I thought would be a special and beautiful experience has turned into something frustrating and disheartening.

"In writing Storkatorium, I wanted to vent some of my early frustrations with the fertility process while holding on to what my wife and I are working toward. I wanted to take some of the heartache we've felt so far and turn it into something beautiful to remind us that there will be an end, and it will all be worth it."

About the 2022 CBC Nonfiction Prize

The winner of the 2022 CBC Nonfiction Prize will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, have their work published on CBC Books and attend a two-week writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Four finalists will each receive $1,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and have their work published on CBC Books.

The 2023 CBC Short Story Prize is currently open for submissions until Oct. 31, 2022. The 2023 CBC Nonfiction Prize will open in January 2023 and the 2023 CBC Poetry Prize will open in April 2023.

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