By Kate E Brown
Copyright 2016 Kate E Brown
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As children, Lauren and her younger sister, Sally, shared their house more than their genes. While Lauren constructed Lego high rises, Sally used her father’s chessboard to foreplan her future family. She ceremoniously performed interracial marriages between the white queen and the black king, who would go on to produce a brood of sixteen multi-ethnic pawns. Continuing into adulthood, Lauren remained burdened by, what she called, the birth defect of never feeling maternal.
Now 31, Lauren’s brief exposure to children consisted solely, but not sadly, of babysitting Sally’s four-year old son, Max. Occasionally, Lauren was reminded that the thirties were the new twenties in terms of child rearing. Her friends, including Sally, constantly uploaded photos of barely born offspring: happy snaps, confirming one after another, that pregnancy and parenthood is beautiful, fateful and, ultimately, easy. As Lauren’s husband, Daniel, had two teenage children from a previous marriage who lived with their mother, Lauren felt confident that the motherly rite of passage had been successfully bypassed. Yet after five years of marriage, Daniel confessed his hopes of starting a family together.
Once Daniel mentioned children, Lauren began to see Max differently. On a visit not long afterward, Max crept into the guest bedroom before sunshine had the chance to peer over the windowsill. He whispered, ‘I love you, Aunty Lauren. Will you play with me?’
She melted for the first time.
A flickering moth in the corner of the room caught her eye, ‘Max, look over there! I think it’s treasure!’
He promptly removed his bony limbs from Lauren’s stomach, scrambling for a better view. ‘Ew! We have to kill it!’ Max grabbed her still-wet towel from the door handle and plonked it definitively on the unsuspecting moth.
Such violence was not the curious reaction that Lauren had expected. She dragged herself from warmth, removed death trap of a towel, and marvelled at the final, black powdery trail on the tiles. She placed the lifeless moth in her palm and moved toward the door, ‘I better flush him.’
‘NO! Don’t! We have to put him somewhere safe,’ Max said, suddenly altruistic.
Lauren melted slightly more at his surprise affection, although she thought it would have been too late to comfort the moth. As she pondered a more suitable graveyard, the creature began to stir.
‘Max! He’s alive!’
Their winged friend became manic, fishtailing like a V8 supercar, before coming to a halt on Lauren’s pyjamas. The pair stifled giggles as they tiptoed through the house, desperate to keep the moth parked on Lauren’s pants. Once at the backdoor, they shooed it off. They watched silently as it idled among the black marks of the tan bricks.
While one interaction with Max wasn’t enough to make the childbearing decision, it offered sunshine to the seedling of thought that Daniel had been tending. Lauren quickly began to research motherhood as though managing a work project. She read about fertility and pregnancy with fervour: during her lunch break, on the bus home, in the car before gym classes, and while dinner was cooking, she pretended to be reading a recipe. She had downloaded e-books to cloak her research, and read without alerting Daniel. In essence, Lauren wanted to convince herself and not be trapped into maternity like a moth under a damp towel. Within four weeks of their first discussion, Lauren conceded, and Daniel was delighted.
Despite her perception of loneliness, Lauren was not the only person to have believed that pregnancy is the one accomplishment humans are naturally equipped to achieve. Twelve months past quickly while the digital screen still read, ‘Not Pregnant’. In search of reassurance that it had been difficult for her parents as well, Lauren rang her father.
‘Dad, how are you?’
‘Good, pet. What can I do for you?’
‘Just wondering how long it took for you and Mum to fall pregnant?’ she paused in hope.
‘Oof, not long at all. It was just like that,’ the click of his fingers could be heard through the phone. ‘Of course, your mum and I only had sex twice. Once for you and once for Sally,’ his chuckle gave way to a brief coughing fit. He didn’t notice the sorrowful sigh on the other end.
Lauren slunk back with the greasy screen of her phone hot against her face. She wished he had lied. If her own parents conceived with ease, and Daniel had already had children, the problem clearly ran red in her twisted DNA.
During those first twelve-months, Daniel persisted in likening their journey to a fitness regime. There was a strict diet, moderation of exercise, and scouring the body with uncomfortable amounts of attention. What neither partner would admit was that the core step in their pregnancy regime could sometimes resemble a lacklustre chore.
When time, patience, and perseverance became as exhausted as Lauren, the couple faced another insult: being labelled with undiagnosed infertility. From there, they sought rounds of cash-draining IVF before biological inevitability could become an actuality. IVF tormented her body and mind, but it also pained Daniel to watch. With each failed attempt, it was as though Lauren was caught in a faulty washing machine; the unrelenting drag of interrupted cycles became her turmoil. And, with the first three failures, fertility treatments felt more and more like futility treatments.
With their fourth attempt, excitement almost prevailed. Nothing in life had depleted Lauren as much as losing the baby she had convinced herself to want three years earlier.
For days after the dilation and curettage, Lauren’s phone would not stop ringing. Each call vibrated as though cursing Lauren’s supposed incompetence.
‘You know Sally just wants to offer her support.’
‘For crying out loud, Daniel! The girl is 26 and falls pregnant at the whiff of a newborn’s scalp! What would she know?’
Her response was more than thinking that Sally wouldn’t understand; it was laced with the shame that curdled her emotions and poisoned her thoughts.
‘Have a think about it, will you?’ he needed Lauren to know that support was available, even if she felt threatened that no one would understand.
‘How about I make us some coffee?’ Daniel placated, ‘Laur?’
‘What?’ she snapped. She had formed a tightly coiled ball on the armchair, with her knees caged against her chest.
‘I asked if you’d like a coffee?’ he repeated from the edge of his chair, while silently wondering how an offer for coffee could be so offensive.
Lauren opened her mouth, but said nothing. She placed her top teeth onto her right knee and shook her head repeatedly, sawing at the skin. A high-pitched whine struggled to escape her throat as tears threatened from suddenly bloodshot eyes.
Daniel launched from the chair and wrapped himself around her.
‘I’m such a failure, Dan.’
‘Ssh, ssh. It’s okay,’ he frowned and corrected, ‘it’ll beokay.’
‘No, it won’t. Not only did it not happen over night like it did for Sally, but my body keeps screaming, “Fuck it, I’m not interested!”’
‘It’s not fair, I know. But, don’t compare us to Sally and Ben. We conceived once, the doc said that’s a positive. Besides, we can try again if, and when, we want to.’
She nestled under his chin apologetically, consumed with guilt.
That afternoon Lauren’s mother stopped by unannounced, sensing her daughter’s dismay. Sheryl was born in an era where families grew like backyard vegetable patches: every home seemed to have one with pride, growing bigger and brighter each year, and the rewards were shared in the community as equally as responsibility. Lauren sheepishly welcomed the surprise visit.
‘Do you think having children makes you an adult?’ Lauren asked as her mother poured herself another tea.
‘What made you an adult then?
‘I guess I just looked back one day and realised I was one.’
Lauren stared into her empty cup, wishing the tealeaves would show a simpler future.
‘Lauren, I know you want this for Daniel, and if I tell you not to think about it, it’ll only pervade your thoughts more intensely. But, this is how I see it: imagine taking a holiday to Mexico. You and Dan love it, and see yourselves living there and never coming home. But, emigrating is a whole other enchilada. You’ve got relocation hassles and saying goodbye, and when you get there, you will need to learn Spanish, the local culture and the social norms, and most of this will be while establishing a new network and your new home.’
‘I don’t understand, Mum.’
‘Consider this God-awful foetal demise as your first attempt at emigrating. Or just a really shit holiday. You’ve tasted the challenges of the country called Parenthood, and now have the opportunity to ask if this is where you really want to go. If you do, you’ll find a way to pick yourselves up and try again. But if you don’t, you don’t have to. No one will judge you for that decision, and if they do, they’re not worth having in your life.’
Lauren subdued the urge to cry, ‘It just feels like all we’re doing is falling rather than falling pregnant. What if we never succeed?’
‘Then, try a different country,’ she chuckled. Reaching for Lauren’s hand she continued, ‘Most importantly, you ask for help whenever you need it.’
Although Lauren struggled with her mother’s spin, that night was the first in the two weeks post-demise that she slept soundly. She had lay awake with the term “foetal demise” rolling in her mouth like cud, swallowing superficially only to bring it up again.
As the sun rose, and the room dissolved from pink to gold, she stirred Daniel, ‘Are you awake? I have to tell you my dream!’
He rested his head affectionately above her shoulder, ‘Shoot.’
‘The first part is awful. I was dragged into a jail corridor, and told that I would be assaulted repeatedly over four days.’
‘What?’ he propelled himself onto one elbow and the prospect of returning to sleep evaporated. Daniel draped his arm over her stomach, ‘That sounds more like a nightmare!’
‘It’s okay, I blacked out. I think it’s my brain’s way of processing the angst of losing, you know,’ she took a breath and uttered aloud for the first time, ‘our baby.’
He watched quietly as she traced the outline of his hand.
‘When I regained consciousness a stranger gave me this little baby. His skin was soft and the colour of mahogany. He wasn’t my baby, but what I felt,’ she paused and solidly placed her hand on top of his, ‘was bliss.’
Daniel lost himself in her averted eyes.
‘I feel so blessed, Daniel. Blessed to have your support, and that of our friends and families. I love you, with or without a brood of our own.’
Thanks for reading Not in Futility, my first e-book. Please take a moment to leave a review with your favourite retailer and be sure to follow me for future installations.
Kate E Brown
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