By Nicole Montague
I stare up at the ceiling of my ObGyn’s office and wonder if a man or a woman came up with the idea of the “soothing nature picture” inset into the panel of the stark white ceiling. This new clinic has one in every examination room-a photograph of some idyllic setting that’s meant to take your mind far away from the harsh realities of what inevitably takes place inside these rooms. Today I lie beneath what should be called the Aspen Refuge photo. It’s actually quite clever and artistic, shot up from the base of the trees to give the impression that you are lying down on the floor of a peaceful aspen-filled forest looking up towards a blue sky. In theory, it’s a nice addition. Right now, however, I feel so resentfully female that I know without a doubt a man must have come up with this well intentioned, but misguided design touch. No woman who’s ever laid down, prone and naked, on an obstetrics examination table would ever believe that would work. No photo of aspen trees could possibly distract me from the ominous specter of that cold speculum sitting right over there on the table waiting to invade me. My nerves give way to offense. Aspen Refuge is just downright insulting. Condescending, even.
I breathe deeply, waiting for my doctor’s busy schedule to afford her enough time to give me her attention. I shift uncomfortably on the table, doing my best to keep the white paper blanket that the nurse gave me wrapped tightly around my pelvis and legs. Pathetic armor indeed. I don’t want to look around too much at the implements that surround me, knowing full well that is the surest way to provoke the tears that threaten to break loose. But I can’t help but stare at the long, beige phallic-shaped electronic instrument that sits next to me that will, in the next half hour or so, be unceremoniously inserted inside me and tell me lots of information that I don’t want to know. I am smart enough to recall this instrument’s name: a transducer. Its function: to perform internal pelvic ultrasounds. But apparently I was not smart enough to do whatever it was I was supposed to do to avoid this intimate meeting altogether. Mr. Transducer is covered by a spanking brand new condom. The irony of this fact does not escape my attention. I hate Mr. Transducer for reminding me of the last time I saw a condom.
As my mind rolls back six weeks in time, I am surprised to discover the memory is still freshly pressed into my body and I can almost feel myself reclined back in that urban, chicly decorated bedroom. Bizarrely, I was in a position that mirrors the one I am in now-leaning back, exposed, legs wide open and surrendered. The universe certainly has a twisted sense of humor. But otherwise the moment could not have been more different. I was deliriously happy, arched back in ecstasy, engulfed in high-thread-count sheets and dimly lit passionate kisses. At that moment I was sure it was a night to remember—filled with true romance and even blossoming love. I shiver, embarrassed to have been so foolish, such a sucker, causing the memory to dissipate like vapor. I pull the scratchy blanket up higher over my swollen achy breasts. They have changed so much in such a short amount of time. I wiggle from side to side to try to find some relief for my butt, which has gone numb from pressure and lack of warmth. The mean fluorescent lights that buzz above me have somehow colluded with the unforgiving table beneath me, adding a little extra humiliation to my position.
I am then confronted with the mental image of the lover who spent so much time pushing in from above me that night, and of how he devoured my body without an ounce of hesitation. How, when I told him what had regretfully happened, it turned out that he was no different than this table. Cold, hard, and indifferent. Yes, I was as special to him as I am to this table-just one more optimistic, vulnerable patient to be examined and released with hopefully no infection or follow-up appointment. A painful lump in my throat has formed, perhaps because the truth is so difficult to swallow. I turn away from Mr. Transducer. I look back to Aspen Refuge. This time it’s even worse. The trees mock me with their perfect, unmarred life of simplicity and beauty in contrast to my own messy portrait of disappointment and mistakes that have landed me here.
Plan A was love and happily ever after. Plan B was contraception with a perhaps just a side of love. I cup my hands over my small but growing belly bump. The maternal instincts rooted in my abdomen flare up against my rational mind, forcing me to wonder whether I have been granted an unexpected gift. Despite the circumstances, I cannot help but feel in awe of what is happening inside my body. My rational mind protests again, and points out for the hundredth time that I am completely unprepared for this. So what comes now? Plan C? Funny, no one ever talks about Plan C. I wish they would, because it seems that life is filled with many more detours with long, often painful layovers than direct flights to the desired destination.
I am nowhere near my Plan A. I am divorced. A single mother of a ten-year-old son with an unconventional, hodge-podge of a career path that’s been a disaster by Silicon Valley standards. In this la-la-land of sexy start-ups and social media powerhouses, being adrift without your own “big thing” is tantamount to living in professional Siberia. Here, women like me are supposed to be able to achieve anything. Coming from an upbringing of hard-working, middle-class parents filled with big dreams and high expectations, even Plan B felt like a failure when I was growing up. Which would make Plan C something even worse than failure. I have no idea what that might be.
I look around the well-funded high-tech room that surrounds me with flat screens and new computers and feel pangs of guilt. I should feel fortunate. I am educated. I live in an upper-middle class town. I am nowhere near destitute. I think about the fact that my standard of living is probably higher than ninety per cent of the world. Women around the globe give birth to and raise kids on far less every day. I am not bound by any religion to do anything I don’t want to do. I think about how the lives of American women were before Roe v. Wade. I chastise myself. I have choices and I should be falling down on my knees grateful. Grateful to have the impossible task of figuring out the best thing do, the right thing to do for me.
I flash back to five days ago to the icy, cutting words of this baby’s father, “I will never, ever recognize this baby as my child. I will NOT be the father in any way shape or form. Am I clear? Do you understand that?” Oh, I understand all right. I understand that I am so alone on this sterile table that I might as well be on the dark side of the moon. I understand that I am facing raising a baby by myself who will never be acknowledged by his or her father. I am terrified by how far I’ve traveled away from dear, naive Plan A. I ask myself how I would ever explain this to my impressionable ten-year-old son. How can I teach him to be responsible and make good choices when I can barely find that path for myself? I feel the crack that penetrates deep into my heart widen and the tears finally swell to the point that they come rolling down my cheeks. I wipe my face with the paper blanket. It’s shockingly rough. Just as so many things have turned out to be.
I look at the aspen trees again through my waterlogged eyes and this time they are blurry, giving the photo the look of an impressionist painting. How am I smart enough to appreciate that it looks like a cross between a Manet and an Ansel Adams, but not smart enough to have avoided being here? I ask the smug aspen trees, aloud, “If you’re so smart, please tell me, wise perfect trees, do you know what my Plan C is supposed to be?”
I hear a quick, purposeful rap at the door. My doctor’s kind voice asks if I am ready to for her to enter. I desperately want to hear some kind of answer before she walks through that door. To have some clue as to what to do at this fork in the road before she introduces me to Mr. Transducer and checks for the tell-tale heartbeat that might break what little resolve I have to pieces. My doctor knocks again and inquires if I am ready. My eyes still fixed on the ceiling, I decide, for the moment, that the promise of Aspen Refuge will have to do. I make a vow to myself that I will somehow make it through this detour and will someday travel to a place where I can lie down and look up from the floor of an aspen forest like that in real life. The aspen trees continue to look down silently, but I think I feel their approval. “Yes, Dr. Rothstein, come in. I’m ready.”
Nicole Montague is a fantasy writer and non-fiction essayist. She holds a bachelor’s degree in social anthropology from Harvard University and a law degree from Harvard Law School. Her first fantasy novel, Eye of Fire, is due to be released in 2014. Nicole lives in the heart of Silicon Valley, California with her twelve year old son.
Photo by Scott Boruchov
Want to read more thought-provoking essays? Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.