I am sitting in Dr. Chan Sai Lock’s fertility clinic picturing my ovaries as giant buds opening into psychedelic blooms. The bench in the waiting-room is built for narrow Hong Kong women and I have to keep shifting my size 12 rear-end so I won’t slide off. Last week I tore open my left index finger with an electric mixer during a sweet mother-daughter cookie-bake that turned into a Wes Craven movie. Six stitches and a mysterious infection later, I have to keep my bandaged finger elevated to relieve the throbbing. I look like I’m trying to make an important point or flag down a waiter -– all the time. The other hopeful patients are stealing quick glances at me. I think my labored floral visualizations, inability to stay upright and frozen gesture are making me look suspicious.
In 2004 my husband and I moved to Hong Kong with our young daughter. I don’t think my body ever recovered from the jetlag. After a year of festive but fruitless baby-making attempts, I was told I had entered early menopause at 41. Bolstered by the fact that I come from a long line of stubborn, late-blooming matriarchs, I plunged into a regime of acupuncture, Chinese medicine and lymphatic massage. Five months later, my jumpstarted ovaries and I are at the fertility clinic waiting to find out if there’s a whisper of a chance to conceive another child.
I always thought I would have at least two kids. I think being the last of three either makes you a loner-for-life or a needer-of-noise. When my older sisters left for college I mourned for months, wrote them pitiful letters and counted the days until they came home on break. From the ages of 12 to 18, I was a sleep-over-party addict with a constant sore neck from spending so many nights on the floors of mildewy basements, shag-carpeted rec rooms and wood-paneled dens.
At college and in my 20’s, I welcomed roommates and their complications. The more they kept me up with broken hearts and career crises, the happier I was. Even now when my husband gives me a much-needed break by taking our daughter out, I feel a certain anxiety during the blissful silence that descends.. My needy heart aches over the news that I may have waited too long to feather the crowded nest of my dreams.
My acupuncturist has prescribed many remedies to stave off menopause. In addition to administering tiny soul-pricking needles and various tongue-curling herbs, she has also recommended positive thinking, creative visualization and a reversal of my comfortably sardonic, glass-half-empty outlook. So, after completing my 15 minutes of forced and unimaginative visualization – and while I am still waiting for the in-demand Dr. Chan – I attempt to round up my little chicks of gratitude. A loving, magical husband; a very funny, beautiful and mercurial 4-year-old daughter; a wonderful and healthy extended family; a bunch of great friends, old and new; and one very optimistic acupuncturist. I hoard these fuzzy thoughts and think about a book I just read my daughter.
In it an adorable cat realizes that she wants to eat her best friend, a sweet mouse. At one point a devil and angel sit on the adorable cat’s shoulders while she contemplates her dilemma. My girl is fascinated by this straightforward depiction of good and evil..
I am simply nostalgic . My optimistic angel got booted off my shoulder long ago by its more powerful and devious negative counterpart. The worn and tattered angel struggles to climb up my leg - holding on for dear life - while my fully-loaded, camo-wearing devil easily maintains her hegemony.
I tell myself:, "I’m healthy."
I hear: "But, you’re only 42 and already your ovaries may be calling it quits. What’s next?”
I tell myself: “I have a roof over my head and shoes on my feet.”
I hear: “But your landlord’s trying to sell your apartment and where can you afford to live in this inflated city? Also, your shoes are looking pretty soggy after typhoon season."
I tell myself: “I’m lucky, I’m so lucky.”
I hear: “Then why are you so broke? Then why do you always want what you can’t have?”
When I take a deep breath and imagine my glass half-full, I find that I am immediately hobbled by my surroundings. Here in Hong Kong, we live among a rarefied group of expats. In our experience everyone speaks at least two languages and many appear effortlessly fertile with families of three and four kids – well spaced, started early. Somehow they manage to carve out time from their intensive work and parental obligations to travel (often with their families) to exotic locales, volunteer for local charities, coach their kids’ sports teams, and locate the latest culinary genius serving up dumplings-to-die-for in her living room.
Oh, and they’re really nice too.
I can’t force my chicks of gratitude to stand in a straight line. They keep wandering into other people’s gardens.
In the waiting room one of the nurses calls out a name. I come to a familiar and vivid awareness of just how many nerve endings an index finger has.
I can't tell you about it because you're a grown-up. Grown-ups can't know about these things.