It’s a nice way to compliment the consultation, like the pineapple juice chaser after a wheat grass shot. “That was disgusting…ah, that’s better”. She’s been my doctor for years, but I hadn’t seen her in a long time. We meeting to discuss the matter of birth control, but first we got down to the business of catching up. We had a entirely pleasant chat, and I was cracking wise and had her in stitches (which is better than vice versa), and then the conversation slowly trickled into an interview as to why I would like a new IUD. Her questions were thoughtful and interesting, which was refreshing after my family doctor asked: “So, how old are you? 31? Are you ever going to have children?” Though there was a touch of humour to his question, (as much as a drop of vodka can soak the Baltic Sea), I feel mildly offended. ‘Hear you loud and clear Doc, Tick, tock, tick tock, time is running out! Everyone have a baby right now just in case you can’t have one later! And yes, a family would be lovely…later.
I had recently re-read the book “Revolutionary Road”, and then followed it with the film. This story scares the shit out of me. When I saw it I then wrote a personal essay exploring my own thoughts about having children. My husband read it, and then looked at me with these sad velvet painting eyes. “Do you ever want to have children?” this question makes me feel the way most people feel about turtlenecks…a little strangled. “No…” I shake my head, “I don’t think it says that at all–I just…wouldn’t want to have a baby like that. I first saw this movie on a winter’s day in the year I was to be married, and was utterly bruised by the battering ram of failure, adultery, divorce, disillusionment and death. In the film’s heart-breaking climax, reluctant housewife April Wheeler dies after trying to free herself from the chains of her unwanted pregnancy. The film concluded, the lights brightened and the audience roused. In the fluster of coats and conversation, I sat frozen in my seat. Dazed, I joined the masses and inched towards the exit. Still seated, his hands pressed against his lips; folded like a tent, my friend Dusan eyed me like a Bond villain: “So…still want to get married?” I chuckled weakly but could not conjure a comeback. Even before I stepped out into the cold I was chilled to the bone. This film was not a celebration of marriage; it was a magnifying glass scorching the ants who trudged through daily life.
More frightening than marriage, it was the threat of motherhood sapping the sugar from my personal goals, draining the sweetness from my existence. Arguably, Frank and April Wheeler were compatible until they started their family years earlier than anticipated. April resolved that the solution to their unhappiness was to move the entire family to Paris. All was thwarted by a third pregnancy, which caused her plans to collapse which ultimately proved to be her undoing. Marriage is one thing, but motherhood is another. In rereading it, it is not the concept of marriage that frightened me—in reality I could leave my husband alone for six months to a year, return and though he’d have missed me, he could technically survive. A baby on the other hand feels like a chubby little ball and chain—‘oh did you want to go out and run errands mommy? Sounds great! Oh, you know what? I just pooped, and it has run all up my back, I might even need a bath…and then I’ll probably be hungry…and then I’m going to cry for no apparent reason, and you may never leave the house again’ (Wow, anyone else notice that my fictional baby sounds diabolical and smug?)
And of course, because I’m a woman full of complexities and contradictions, though I don’t want to have a baby, I want to know that I could have one if I tired…later. Once out for an evening stroll on the streets of Perth, Ben suggested buying a bottle of milk before heading home. While he made the purchase, I lingered by the magazine stand and flipped idly through a “Who” magazine. I was shocked by the news story that E-News Correspondent Guiliana Rancic, a childless woman in her late 30’s had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The journalistic slant focused on her inability to conceive, her multiple failed attempts at IVF, and the possible connection with that and her cancer. This story tapped into my two biggest fears: infertility and death, and I felt prickles of anxiety spreading through my body. Benjamin appeared milk in hand and we headed home. Back at the flat, I told Ben what I had read. Ben, not an E-channel watcher, nor a “Guiliana and Bill” fan, was understandably, not blown away by the news.
As I continued to speak, I felt my insides unravelling. “Listen Ben, I want to make one thing clear, I don’t want to be one of those ‘IVF’ couples. I couldn’t deal with the hormones, treatments and the pressure to conceive. I really don’t want to spend every last dollar trying to have a baby if it’s not meant to be. We need a plan B”. After my sweaty tirade passed, I looked to my husband for a reassuring response. Instead, his expression had plummeted in confusion: “What the hell happened to you when I was buying milk?”
At the jumping off point of my thirties I find myself equally concerned with fertility and mortality. Once in fear of facing an unplanned pregnancy in my teens or twenties, I now worry that by the time I’m ready that my reproductive system would be closed for business. How unfortunate that the odds of conceiving a healthy baby start to dwindle after 30— this biological window closing inch by inch minute by minute, day after day. Being a mother is something I want…someday. (Yes but no, not no, just not yet). There is just so much I’ve yet to accomplish: European adventures, graduate studies, a permanent address, a book deal—in my mind, these things cannot be easily achieved with a baby on my hip. After I’ve received my master’s, drank champagne in Paris, once I’ve secured a satisfying career with an excellent dental plan, then I can have a child without suffering labour pains; then my body would bounce back days later like Heidi Klum.
But there is danger in waiting too long, assuming that window is still wide open and springtime is just beginning. Ten years and two IUD’s later, I’m facing these fears once again. The original plan was to remove it and not replace it. Now, living in Canada and feeling more unsettled than ever, I feel more certain than ever—I am not ready. Parents tell you that you are never “really ready”, and I appreciate that, but I am really not ready…no, really. But hadn’t I promised my husband the possibility of parenthood? Why, at 31, was I still not ready? Am I ever going to have a baby?
In reality, my husband is a true feminist and values my pre-baby goals. He wants those things for me; he wants me to be happy and successful. So I suppose it’s fair to say that I put those words in his mouth, and those judgements on myself. I think that this is what is expected of me, or I fear that not wanting children says something about me. But the fact is: I am becoming an anomaly amongst the married women in my social circle. I have attended parties and been the only non-pregnant, non-mother in the room. The ubiquitous question begs an answer, if not now, then when? Later, that’s when (haven’t you been reading?). If I were to shake my lengthy pre-baby to-do list like a tree and let the superfluous leaves fall away, I know exactly what would remain: travel. I never fantasized about motherhood the way I dreamt of trains, sidewalk cafes on cobblestones, ancient architecture, foreign languages and feeling alive in a mysterious land. People are quick to reply: “But you can always travel with a baby”. And I’m sure that with unlimited resources, you could take a baby into outer space and it would be fine. But in reality, I fear that whole days would disappear under Maternal Rule, years would slip away and maybe goals would be achieved, or maybe you’d never see the Eiffel Tower…and desperately wish that you had. But either way, motherhood is the other ultimate sacrifice: your body, your figure (if you had one to begin with), and your time. And God Bless the mothers out there—for that job is often thankless.
I am deftly aware of the impending tick-tock of time, as if I were Captain Hook being tormented by that damned lurking crocodile, forever waiting to devour me.
Still I move forward, aware of the potential threats but remembering that this is exactly the course I want to take. Lucky for me, my husband is beside me on the adventure. He’s even taking me to the contraceptive changing of the guards. And you know what? It’s my body bitches! And most importantly, my husband supports me and my gynecologist agrees with me, and today she told me that I was funny, always had great stories, and that my vagina looked great, so why would she start lying to me now?