By Dilia Narduzzi
Dr. Hashimi is a beautiful woman, with brown flowing hair pulled back into a ponytail, and large, smart eyes. She bounced into the examination room with her scrubs and running shoes. She’s trim, mid-thirties, and seems confident. She flips open the chart in front of her as she takes her seat and swivels just a little in the chair.
“Therese Martin,” she looks down at the chart. “What brings you here today?” The question seems redundant, given where they are.
“I just turned forty and though I’m not 100% sure what I want to do, I want to know what my options are in terms of having a baby. I should say, I’m also on my own, so I don’t have half of what’s necessary available to me any time I start ovulating.” Therese’s attempt at a sperm joke.
Dr. Hashimi has heard it all before – through pained laughter, light tears, and all-out sobs – but not matter the approach taken by the woman sitting before her, she doesn’t take what she does lightly. The people who come in to see her usually have desire written all over their faces. They want so desperately to have a child, and most of them have tried everything before stopping at her door. Strangely, she doesn’t sense that same kind of desperation from Therese; it is more of an inquisition, a wondering. Checking off all the boxes. Doing her due diligence. Asking the question before taking something off the table, a choice, one that you never get back, after a certain point.
“Okay, well, you know starting by age thirty-five, it becomes harder to have a child naturally. The odds of conceiving are lower and the risks of complications are higher. That’s not to say I haven’t seen many women over thirty-five, over forty, having beautiful, healthy babies. But you do need to go into your choice eyes wide open. It’ll cost money if you need donor material, and given your age, you may also need extra hormones to help with implantation of the embryo if we get to that stage. First things first, though, we need to test your hormones and do a blood panel. Do an ultrasound and see what we are dealing with. In some women, we need to do IVF, depending on what’s going on with your hormones and your uterus. Do you have fibroids or anything else that could cause a pregnancy issue?” Dr. Hashimi asks.
“Not that I know of,” Therese says, as she starts to feel overwhelmed.
“Okay well I’m happy to help you and write requisitions to get the testing started. What do you say? Do you want me to go ahead and do that?” There’s no judgment in her tone, her face is completely neutral. It’s at this point that Therese realizes this is well and truly her own decision. The doctor can’t make it for her, and without a partner she doesn’t have someone else’s opinion factoring in. Her mother’s warnings are still swimming in her mind, though, three years after she died at sixty-two. If she does have a child now, in nine months, she’ll be close to forty-one – and that’s only if the sperm and egg meet and do their happy dance inside her quickly – and that would mean that she’d have a five-year-old at forty-six, and a ten-year-old at fifty-one. She can’t even imagine being over fifty – it seems so old – and being a fifty-one-year-old with a ten-year-old in tow? It feels utterly insane.
“Yes, please.” Therese says to the doctor. “Could you book me in for whatever tests I need?”
Therese walks out of the gynecologist’s office and onto the bustling street in front of her. She feels light, breezy, almost faint. Dr. Hashimi’s office is right in the heart of downtown and it is a landscape Therese fits right into, even though she was born and raised in the country. She came to the city for university and never looked back. She loves the noise, the dirty, brown snow in the winter and the smelly, hot asphalt in the summer. Right now it is fall and the maple trees in the small urban park just behind the office are exploding in maroons, reds, golds, and bright yellows. Therese also appreciates seeing people actually get dressed up – dresses, high-heeled boots, and hair in all different styles – two-hundred-dollar blowouts, clearly. You can do whatever you want to do in the city and very few people will blink.
Therese used to go to visit her parents twice a year in Georgian Bay – once in the summer for a week and once at Christmas for a week – and that was enough.
An only child, she and her parents spend the time either sitting by the lake drinking wine or sitting around the fireplace drinking hot cider. Christmas was her mother’s favourite time of the year and she believes family should be together at the holidays. It’s only a few months away now and Therese finds herself wondering if she might like to book a week in the Caribbean. Maybe Turks and Caicos? Somewhere hot. Last winter, as much as she loves bustle of the city any time of the year, she was more glad than usual when spring finally sprung.
Therese speaks to her mother on the phone once a week on a Sunday and she was dreading telling her that she might not be home this Christmas. She’s forty for god’s sake and she can do whatever it is she wants. Why doesn’t she feel that way, though? As much as she’s become her own woman over the last twenty years, her parents, and especially her mother, still have a hold on her. One thing her mother would never understand is getting pregnant all by herself. As much as Therese’s mom wanted a grandchild, she thought that you needed the husband before you had a baby. Therese liked men – she slept with them when she wanted to, she dated them if she felt like it, but she couldn’t get behind their foolishness at most times. Maybe if she decides to go through with all of this with Dr. Hashimi she could be pregnant by Christmas and she wouldn’t want to be at a beach somewhere if she was feeling sick. Therese’s best friend Rose had terrible morning sickness five years back with her first-born Kaylee. Then she was fine with Tim. Who knew? Therese’s mother would catch on, though, if Therese camped out by the toilet. Valerie, Therese’s mom, could be highly annoying and overly talkative, but she was also extremely astute. If Therese showed up one month pregnant at Christmas, she’d know.
Hold on a sec, Therese thinks to herself. Getting way ahead of yourself. Therese hadn’t made any decisions yet. She hadn’t even had her blood tests done. She didn’t know if she could even have a child. Beyond that, the bigger questions were: Did she even want one? Why did she book that appointment with Dr. Hashimi in the first place? Did she want a child in tow as she continued her travels around the world? With no partner to help out?
Therese makes her way down to her favourite coffeeshop and opens the large, swinging door. The space is airy inside but shielded by the sun with shades during the day, making it feel like a cloistered hideaway within the city. She smiles at the barista she sees most days – they take your cue here as to whether to engage in chit-chat or not – and orders a latte. They have it ready for her at the side and she sits down with it at a table, deep in thought. Where she grew up, most people wouldn’t understand having a baby alone. On the other hand, those same people also don’t understand not getting married and having kids right after you finish school. She couldn’t worry about “what other people thought.” Dr. Hashimi didn’t seem to judge. Rose might offer an interesting perspective. She needed to figure out why she was pursuing these questions in the first place. Having a baby because ‘you might regret it one day if you don’t’ is not a good enough reason to bring a life into this world.
Suddenly, Therese realizes she has so many competing voices in her head that she can hardly hear her own. She jumps up and rushes out the door and down the street waving goodbye to the barista. She needs to talk to Dr. Devich.
Therese makes her way to her Dr. Devich’s office. She zooms up to the eleventh floor in the elevator. The door pops open and, as she does every time, she breathes a sigh of relief. She hates elevators but sometimes she just doesn’t want to walk up ten flights of stairs. She bought her own condo on the second floor so that she didn’t have to make that choice on the regular. Dr. Devich will usually fit people in as she can, she’s an old-school therapist that makes time for her patients if they need her. As a result, though, people often have to sit in the waiting room until she’s free. Therese gets lucky today, though. Dr. Devich is ushering another patient – they look tired, tousled, as if they’ve been crying – out of her office just as Therese walks into the waiting room and there’s no one else there waiting in line. Dr. Devich looks as she always does: dressed in a navy or beige suit (today’s it’s navy), long grey hair pinned back in a bun or a braid (today it’s a braid), and always sporting a serene smile on her face.
“Therese. How nice to see you. Won’t you step inside my office?”
“Thanks Dr. Devich. It seems I got lucky today. I’m the only one in line for your sage wisdom at the moment.”
As usual, Dr. Devich just keeps smiling, her arm out to her side, guiding Therese to the couch reserved for patients. Herself, Dr. Devich sits in an old brown armchair that looks like it needs a new upholster.
“What can I do for you today, Therese?”
Therese has been seeing Dr. Devich for the past five years. She’s talked to her through two break-ups and a myriad of other issues that have come up. One of the break-ups was with Raymond four years ago. They’d been dating for about a year and living together just for a few months when Therese decided to call it quits. There was just no passion – and not even just in the bedroom. They’d grown apart and had barely anything to talk about. Raymond would get home from his hospital fundraising job and Therese from her position as head graphic designer at a book publisher and they’d just sit and watch TV. Therese felt like she was settling down far too quickly with Ray, and it just didn’t fit into her fun, fast-paced lifestyle. Even though she was the dumper and not the dumped in this scenario, she remembers going on to Dr. Devich about how hard it was to find a good man in the city. Someone exciting and with whom you could do things, but someone who wasn’t boring and staid. She saw some of her friends and their partners and they looked like they didn’t even like each other anymore. All they talked about was their kids if they had them or their fertility schedules if they were trying to get pregnant.
The second break-up was with Jeffrey, but she could hardly call it a real relationship. They’d gone on two dates – they met online – and he was already talking marriage and kids. Therese tried to pull back and put the brakes on and after that he became psychologically abusive. It was like a switch was flipped. He went from caring, nice guy who wanted a family to a frightening ogre. He sent texts and emails and left voice mails asking how she could have led him on that like she did, blah blah blah. Therese was scared and Dr. Devich strongly encouraged her to call the authorities and let them know what was going on. Therese decided against it, but she was comforted by Dr. Devich’s support. Eventually, Jeffrey took the hint and stopped contacted Therese, but the experience scared her off dating for a bit. She didn’t owe anyone anything after two dates.
Dr. Devich’s approach seemed to be to ask a lot of questions: What do you want, Therese? How can you work to make that happen? Does your relationship with Ray remind you of your parents’ relationship? What’s important to you in your life this moment? This year? This season? Just talking things through and having a sounding board helped calm Therese’s mind.
“I’m thinking of having a baby.” Therese says, in response to Dr. Devich’s question.
Betraying nothing, Dr. Devich smiles and says, “You haven’t mentioned this before.”
Dr. Devich knows Therese is not dating anyone – their last session was all about how her mother couldn’t stop asking when she was going to find someone to settle down with.
“Are you going to do it alone?”
Therese laughs. “Well I said I was thinking about it. I saw a fertility doctor today to ask about my options. My fortieth birthday seems to have sparked something in me, some desire to truly ask and answer the question for myself.”
“What question?” Dr. Devich asks.
“Should I do it?” Therese answers. “There’s been a little wisp of that thought at the back of my mind since I was twenty-five but circumstances never seemed right. I’ve been travelling, working, and having fun. It always felt like ‘getting older’ was so far away. But forty changes all of that. And, as you know, I’ve never had the kind of relationship I’d need with a guy to go the parenting route with. But at my birthday party I was watching Rose’s kids running around, and my co-worker Natalie’s and while it seems crazy – busy and intense – something long tamped down awakened again in me and I wondered if I should give it a shot. Who needs a guy, right? Most of friends are either divorced or headed that way, despite what their social media profiles blast out to the world so they might end up single parents anyways.”
“Let’s explore all of that a little further,” Dr. Devich says. “I hear that turning forty has changed something in you, made you think about this question a little more deeply. Why does having a child have some appeal to you right now? Do you think you’ll be missing out on something if you don’t?”
“Perhaps. Who will I have by my side when I’m old and gray? My mother had me when she was dying. I’ll have no one. I don’t have a partner and yes, I have friends but they always seem to be busy with their own kids and families. I don’t want to be alone forever. I don’t know. Saying that out loud makes me feel stupid.” Therese sighs, and looks up. She’s been looking down the whole time she’s been speaking, afraid to see the expression on the doctor’s face.
“Well, you know there are plenty of women having children out there at your age, Therese. So obviously there is a precedent and you could find helpers and a support system to aid you. I’m not worried about that, if you decide to go ahead. What I do want to explore now, as you are still in the process of making the decision, is pressing on that question of Why? You say you don’t want to be alone when you’re older, but is that the main thing? Your driving force?”
“Well I guess it’s also the sense of urgency and time. My whole life I’ve felt like I had all the time in the world to make the decision. Or maybe it would be made for me if I had found someone to settle down with and it just kind of happened. But now I’m forty and dating, as you know, hasn’t been my strong suit. Maybe it is time to just go ahead and do things on my own.” Therese sighs.
“I think the question you need to give more consideration to,” Dr. Devich says, in her slow, measured tone, “is Do I want a baby? And if the answer seems to be yes, the next question might be Why? You don’t seem to be clear on your motivations quite yet. And in all the time you’ve come to see me, you’ve never brought up a desire to have a child before. You’ve talked about relationships and trying to find one that doesn’t fizzle out before it’s truly gotten going. You’ve talked about how to advance your career. You’ve talked about trying to find time to write on the side. I guess all of that makes me wonder where a child might fit in – not that one couldn’t, let me be clear! I just ask you to ponder these questions a little more. Do you feel comfortable journaling about this at home and we can talk about what comes up for you next time?”
Therese takes all of what Dr. Devich says in, as she always does when she visits. She gets up and thanks the doctor for her time. She’s billed monthly via email, so she doesn’t have to worry about paying before she goes. “Sounds like a plan,” Therese says. “I’ll be back next week and we’ll see if I have better answers then.”
The true weightiness of what she might undertake sits heavily upon her chest now. Everything all seems less abstract now that she made the rash decision to go to the fertility clinic and then to talk to Dr. Devich. What the heck am I doing? Therese thinks to herself. A baby. Time to figure out if this comes from somewhere deeper than just turning the big 4-0. They went their separate ways – she slept like a rock.
Therese is lost in thought as Dr. Devich comes back in. “Sorry about that, Therese, and thanks for waiting.” She nestles herself into her armchair, picks up her file and her pencil, and takes a breath. “Did you have a chance to do some journaling? Did you come up with anything you’d like to talk about today?”
Therese started trying to figure out what she was thinking – of how to verbalize it in a way that made sense. She thinks about Nat, Blair, and Jack, about her fraught relationship with her mother, her almost non-existent one with her father, about her date last night with Ryan, about her failed love life to this point in time. Her love of travel, her desire to see more of the world. What she comes out with is this: “I think I want to want to have a child, if that makes any sense. Like it is the normal, natural thing that a woman does – what having our periods for all these goddamn years adds up to. Every month is another chance to bring a baby into the world. Every month, our bodies remind us that we can do this thing if we try. All we need is one little sperm in a stream of millions to do its job and we can perpetuate the human race. It’s normal. It’s what the female body was made to do. In a way, it hardly feels like a choice at all. It almost feels like I should. And if I was born even twenty or thirty years ago, it would have hardly been a choice at all. If I wasn’t married with kids by now, I’d be an old hag, a spinster, or whatever other label could be thrust onto me.”
Therese takes a breath. Dr. Devich holds her gaze steadily but doesn’t say a word. There is a minute of silence before Therese starts up again.
“I feel like all my friends are moving onto this new stage of their lives and I’m all but left out. Yes, they’re sleep deprived, their bodies are recovering, and they are probably living in their own small versions of newborn hell at first, but then that passes, and they are moulding the lives of their little ones. I’m just going to be the big kid until I die, that what it feels like. I don’t know. Maybe my body wants one thing and my mind another. Maybe the proverbial biological clock is finally ticking for me. Though, I gotta say, it’s kind of late. Maybe I’ll be making the biggest mistake of my life if I don’t try to have a baby.”
“You said that you felt like you want to want to have a baby,” Dr. Devich finally steps in. “Can you say a little more about that?”
“I guess I just wish this shaky desire within me was more solid – leaning strongly one way or the other. There seems to be a small part of me that wonders what being a mother would be like – how I would nurture a child, teach them about the world – but it feels almost entirely theoretical. I also feel like I should want to be a mother and that there must be something supremely wrong with me if I don’t. Aren’t humans supposed to keep the human race going? Aren’t we supposed to want to nurture a new life? Am I a monster if I’d rather just work, travel, and explore. And I have bigger goals – like writing my book, as I’ve mentioned to you? I guess I want to want it because I’m starting to feel abhorrent that I don’t. Like something is wrong with my wiring. When people meet me, they ask if I have kids, a husband, and when I say I don’t, I just feel less than. I feel like I missed the train to adulthood in some fundamental way.”
Tears start to slowly stream down Therese’s face. Dr. Devich hands her the Kleenex box; Therese takes one and dabs her eyes, which are rimmed with the black of her mascara.
“First things first,” Dr. Devich says. “You don’t have to figure all of this out today. Yes, you feel like you are under a time crunch because of your age, but making huge, life-altering decisions under a cloak of urgency never helps any situation. So, let’s take a deep breath and re-assess. Can you go home after today’s appointment and do a little more writing about this complicated relationship you’ve uncovered with wanting? Could you also do some research online about women who regret becoming moms – I’m sure they’re out there. I’m certain you’re not the only women who feels monstrous for questioning society’s norms around mothering and child-bearing, and it might shed some more on your situation to see what other people have to say about their situations. What do you think?”
“Sounds okay,” Therese sniffles. She looks up and into the doctor’s caring, clear eyes. “You don’t think I’m repulsive for questioning all of this, do you Dr. Devich?”
“That’s the complete opposite of what I think of you Therese. I believe you are doing yourself a service by really considering these questions before you make any decisions. It’s your body, your life, your choice. You do remember I’m a second-wave feminist?” The doctor’s eyes dance with memories of her past.
Therese is a little calmer after blabbing out all of her thoughts and crying out some of the stress, something she doesn’t do all that easily. She promises Dr. Devich to do some more journaling and a little research into mothering. Dr. Devich sees Therese to the door and says goodbye with a smile. There are two people waiting their turn: one older woman she’s seen here before, and a thirtysomething man with speckled green eyes and a seemingly unkempt beard.
was first?” Therese hears Dr. Devich saying as she walks down the hall.