The following was first published in 2015 as part of the anthology "Mothers & Others" (Macmillan Australia).
They’re everywhere, kids. Have you noticed? People are having them all the time, whether they mean to or not. They’re even starting to appear in the wombs of my friends. We go to cafes that are kid friendly now and I stare at all the children. I’m in awe of them. They vomit, cry, scream, laugh and shit whenever the hell they want. They walk around the place, moving like tiny zombies, and they suddenly see their hands, and they just can’t believe it. Hands? Attached to me? They’re surprised every time. If their friend sits where they want to sit, they punch them in the face. Their friend cries, they hand them some of their sandwich—look! All better. They don’t care if you’re the CEO of a company or have three dollars to your name: you will sing ‘Dorothy the Dinosaur’ with them. They’re congratulated for sleeping, eating, and waving to people. How wonderful life must be when nothing is assumed of you, when absolutely anything you do exceeds expectations.
I’m here because my parents fell in love. Not everyone’s here for that reason, and my parents didn’t stay in love, but they were in love, once, and that’s why I exist. I’m now 35 and I myself have been in love twice. It’s been incredible, and heartbreaking, and challenging, and also pretty boring at times, actually. I wouldn’t change any of it. The men I’ve been in love with, or dated, or had fleeting moments with, have all been very much worth the ensuing messiness. They’ve all taught me something, about the way I am, or how people are, or how I want to be. I’ve learned how to change a bike tyre, how to make an awesome curry, how to fold clothes properly. I’ve learned about ice hockey, Trangias, and "The Big Lebowski." I’ve experienced someone saying the best thing anyone has ever said to me, and the worst. I’ve allowed myself to be utterly vulnerable in front of another human being.
And here we are: I’m 35, and partnerless, childless, dogless. I don’t have a mortgage, or a barbecue, or a Queen-size bed. But there is nothing “–less” about my life. I love my life. I have amazing friends. I live across the road from the ocean. I love the work that I do. My family is kind and interested and interesting. I’m in good health and, for the most part, content. Things get dark and sad sometimes, but you wouldn’t be alive if they didn’t.
Despite all this I’m at one of my Panic Button Ages. That age when the younger me said: ‘You can do whatever you like now but when you get to then you better have your shit sorted. And if you don’t, you should probably panic. Like, really shit yourself. Because you have officially commenced dying from the inside out.’
My Panic Button Age used to be thirty. Then it was thirty-two. Then it was thirty-five. And now it’s thirty-eight. I imagine it will be forty soon. Then forty-five. I picture myself at eighty-five saying, ‘Well, as long as I’ve got everything worked out by ninety, I’ll be fine. Really.’ The age keeps shifting so that Present Brooke can relax, because it’s Future Brooke’s problem.
I love Future Brooke. I don’t want to brag, but she is AWESOME. She changes over time, but she is always awesome. When I was a kid she was going to win Wimbledon and be best friends with Debbie Gibson. When I was in my teens, I wrote the list of names she would call her children, and imagined her marrying a man with good teeth and a strong jawline who rescued cats from trees but liked dogs better and who did triathlons and played in a band and surprised her with flowers just because and told her she was beautiful even when she didn’t feel it, especially when she didn’t feel it, and just really, really got her. She’d have two kids with said husband, one boy and one girl, for symmetry, and have a house in the city and a house by the ocean, also for symmetry.
In my twenties, Future Brooke was going to make the rainbow cake recipe she found on the internet and volunteer for the local conservation foundation and be a yoga teacher on the side and take her kids to Montessori schools and find a kind guy whom she would only marry if it was something he really wanted. Because marriage wasn’t something she really wanted. But, you know, if he wanted it, she would do it. For him. Because he was a kind guy.
As I’ve grown older, or up, or out, or whatever, Future Brooke has become less and less clear in my mind. She’s like a mirage now, shimmering vaguely on the horizon. The hopes for her are now more often fears. Now, Present Brooke is a single woman who just wants Future Brooke to have a kid at some stage.
With or without a dude.
I like dudes, as has been well established. When I was a tween—though the word didn’t exist when I was one—I spent all my pocket money on magazines like TV Hits or Dolly or the AFL Record and cut out pictures of lovely men. I stuck them to the walls of my bedroom, as if it were my equivalent of a man’s work shed. These men were always in various states of movement, and in various states of dress and undress. They were leaning against a tree, or sweating on stage with a microphone in hand, or staring moodily out to sea. They kicked footballs or had grease smeared on their faces or wore slightly wet t-shirts. They were in boy bands or on sitcoms or in cricket teams. They grinned or gazed at me wistfully while I studied and slept and changed and read and thought.
Now that I know a little bit more about men, I don’t put up pictures of ones I don’t know. Now that I know a little bit more about them, I like how they can grow hair out of their face and the way some of them have muscles in nice places and how they can reach things up high that I can’t. I like smiling with them and how they eat my leftovers and I like having someone’s hand to grab without it being weird. I like having that one person who cares where you are right now.
I love dudes! But I just don’t want the meeting of one to be integral to the way my life turns out. I don’t want the meeting of one to dictate whether or not Future Brooke has a child.
I decided to go see a doctor about it. I also decided that I was going to be very cool and very breezy about going to see a doctor about it. ‘It’s not a big deal,’ I said to friends, as breezily and as cool as I could. ‘It’s the one aspect of this whole thing that I can control, you know?’ My friends praised me for my maturity and strength and I shrugged them off stoically and gave myself a little pat on the back for being so breezy and so, so cool.
I rang the local fertility clinic to make an appointment. ‘You know your partner has to accompany you to the appointment, don’t you?’ the woman said.
‘If you could arrange one of those for me, that would be great!’ I quipped. See? I thought to myself. I can even make jokes about it. I’m very breezy. And cool.
There was an awkward silence on the other end of the phone. I cleared my throat. ‘That’s why I need the appointment,’ I said. ‘I don’t have one of those. A partner, I mean.’
‘Oh!’ she said, too brightly. ‘Oh. Of course! That’s fine, too.’
The clinic was clean and lovely and full of light. Soft unobtrusive music was playing, the kind of music you don’t notice till you’ve left and you find yourself humming ‘Für Elise’ all day. It had long hallways and lots of closed doors. I thought about all the lives playing out behind those doors. I was clutching the forms I had dutifully filled in the day before. What are you allergic to? What’s your medical history? Describe your cycle. How long do you bleed for? How many pregnancies have you had? What were the results of your latest pap smear? If you had to describe your uterus in three words, what would they be? Do you have a Swiss bank account? There were questions for my partner, too, and I wrote N/A in large printed letters at the top of the page, and over and over again on different parts of the form, even though they probably got the gist when I did it the first time.
I suddenly wanted a Beyoncé song that could make writing N/A on a fertility clinic form into a sexy and empowering dance number. Something called Not Available, perhaps? I tried to think of rhyming words. Unassailable? Unmistakable? Unreliable? I pictured Beyoncé on stage, dancing thrustily, singing, ‘All the women, who-are-informed-about-their-options, throw your hands up at me.’
I handed in my form and seated myself in the waiting room. I held my book up but didn’t read it. A TV played the news—an 84-year-old man had gone overboard off a cruise ship in Sydney Harbour the night before and, based on the opinions of ‘experts’ as to his ‘survivability’, the search had been called off. I thought about his poor old body, I thought about his poor family. I thought about the word ‘poor’. There were four other women in the waiting room with me, and no men. Three of the women did the phone screen dance with their fingertips. A child ran around the room giggling, and the fourth woman chased after him with a tired desperation, not making eye contact with anybody.
And then: ‘Brooke Davis?’ You know something reasonably important is happening when your name is not only a complete sentence, but also a question. We met eyes and I smiled and walked towards him. He introduced himself as the doctor and shook my hand. He was tall and balding and had an assured manner and a round face that was warm enough but didn’t give too much away. He had one of those names where you couldn’t be sure if it was male or female, and I had been hoping he was a woman. I tried not to let it shake me. He was a doctor at a fertility clinic. I was here on my own. I was a grown-up. I was breezy, and I was cool.
We reached his office. He looked over the referral letter from my doctor and then placed it on the desk. Unfortunately, the letter had gained quite the Pro-Hart-style wine splash on the bottom of it the night before. The letter sat there on his clean and important desk, the wine stain a blinking beacon of my failure at an attempt to be a grown-up human being. I was waiting for him to circle it, to stamp it with the words GET OUT, for him to lean into an Austin Powers-like intercom and send for some goons to take me away.
He flipped through the form. ‘What kind of writer are you?’ he asked.
‘Fiction, mostly,’ I replied. I found myself shrugging apologetically for some reason. ‘I just published my first novel.’
‘Fantastic!’ he said with a genuine smile. ‘Congratulations.’
I smiled back. ‘Thank you.’
He read my form out loud. ‘I’m thirty-five and single and want to know what my options are.’ I cringed at my own sentence. ‘I haven’t been trying to get pregnant.’ He leaned back in his chair. ‘So what you want to do is be a part of our donor insemination program.’ He squinted at me.
I hesitated. ‘Not necessarily,’ I replied. ‘I just want to find out what I can do as a thirty-five year-old single woman who eventually wants to have a baby.’
He smiled. ‘I wish we could set you up with somebody, but unfortunately that’s not what we do here.’
I laughed politely. It made me feel a little better, even though I was just being polite.
He wrote on a notepad in large, scrawled, doctor handwriting, angling the page to give me a clear view. He marked topics like ‘reproductive potential’ and ‘egg numbers’ with bullet points. He used $ signs, percentages – none of which were above forty-five percent – and acronyms like ‘IVF’ and ‘IVI’. He underlined words as he patiently talked it through with me, and later I realized he had underlined ‘semen’ with a grand flourish.
He explained that donor sperm is usually from Europe or the U.S., because the laws in Australia prevent a strong program. ‘It has to be altruistic here,’ he said. ‘They’re not allowed to be paid.’ He said I would see the donor’s baby pictures and their education and medical backgrounds. ‘They’re probably mostly students who need the money and who are masturbating all the time anyway,’ he said, laughing. I had a sudden image of the father of my unborn child, eighteen years-old, sitting in a French dorm room, smoking pot, playing video games, batting away a cockroach that had just crawled out of his beer mug.
Eventually, he said: ‘So what you actually want to know is do you have time? Or do you need to get cracking?’
I looked at him as I let that thought settle. I thought of Past Brooke, with the posters of Jonathan Taylor Thomas and that Billy guy from Baywatch on her wall. I thought of where she believed I’d be now. I thought of Mum, of how she had given birth to three whole kids by my age. I felt the absence of her, and the absence of a partner, like very clear and present holes in the universe. What the doctor was asking was: Is this a problem for Future Brooke? Or must Present Brooke deal with this right now?
‘Yes,’ I said finally. ‘That’s exactly it.’
I’d like to know what Past Brooke’s thoughts on all of this would be. With the exception of the odd Anne Geddes calendar, it’s not like I plastered my room with posters of babies. As my thirteen-year-old friends and I shared baby names, the baby was always the expectation or the inevitability, not the hope, and definitely not the fear. We might have underlined the word ‘semen’ at some stage, but we never wrote down percentages or acronyms or dollar signs.
I’d like to know what Mum thinks, too. I can’t know—it’s been eight years since she died. But there’s a moment from my past that might give me a hint. I was a teenager, and Mum asked me to print out her résumé. She was getting back into the workforce after having us three kids and she didn’t know how to use the computer. I scrolled through it on the screen before printing. A heading in bold letters caught my eye: My greatest achievement. Underneath it, she had typed: My kids.
I thought it was sad then. I couldn’t imagine being defined by people who weren’t you; worse still by people who were just myself and my two brothers. I thought we were idiots, most of the time. But I think about it sometimes, that tiny half-sentence—my kids. I think about it more and more as I grow up and old and out. It has now occurred to me that it might just be the very opposite of sad.
I wish I could ring Mum and say: If I do this on my own, will you help me, and how does it feel, how does it really feel, to push that very big thing out of that very small thing and thank you, just thank you, for giving me a childhood I can barely remember, because I think it means it was a good one.
And I wish I could say this: I think the only way I can truly thank you is to give everything you gave me and my brothers to a new little person. One who will also, eventually, become a big person.
At least, that’s what I think for now.
Brooke Davis’ beloved novel Lost & Found goes on sale in paperback on January 26th. Available wherever books are sold.