I’m leaving my fourth and final IVF appointment. We have no more chances. Well, more accurately, we have no more money. And even though I would never tell my husband, I’m a little relieved. My abdomen feels foreign to me. It’s become a bruise factory over the last two years, spraying my belly in purple flower blossoms and polka dots. There will be no bikini season this year for this mama. Or rather, Mama To Be. No, Mama In Waiting. Mama Elect.
What do you call a mother who does not yet have anything to mother?
A Non-Mother, I suppose. When my mind plays handball with thoughts like this, my therapist says to rein it in by observing my physical surroundings. “You have to ground yourself, Elizabeth,” she says.
I roll my eyes and do the exercise. Parking lot, half full or half empty, I can’t decide which. Fichus tree over by the cinderblock wall to my right. A squirrel on top of it, watching me. A pool floaty off to the left, out my window in the empty spot next to me.
The floaty is a foam green noodle, broken in half. A long, dead worm lying in the middle of the parking lot. A worm that had taken steroids as a baby. What kind of mother would give her baby steroids? Maybe a new mom who wanted him to grow faster—like a weed, as they say. Maybe a new mom with a preemie. Maybe the noodle mom got tired of dressing her baby noodle in doll clothes and longed to dress him in the bowtie and pastel-riddled big-noodle spring line at Target Noodle and Baby Noodle Gap. Her husband probably said, “No, Jeanine, don’t you give our baby noodle that steroid shot.” But she dreamt of striped trousers and tiny corn-kernel-sized baby toes and stabbed his little noddle thigh anyway.
Maybe the baby noodle grew immediately, its limbs busting out of its noodle onesie, his noodle toes starfished out to every corner of his noodle bassinet. And before the noodle mother could stop him, the baby noodle threw one noodle leg over the side where it hit the floor hard. He sat up, and his noodle head nearly grazed the ceiling fan. He rubbed his big baby noodle eyes, and without words, he stood and was far taller than both his noodle parents. The noodle dad cried out, “What have you done, Jeanine?” But it was too late for blaming and finger-pointing.
“Not now, Albert!” she said and watched their giant noodle baby try to take his first steps, but fall to the ground instead, at which point several framed pictures on the wall fell too, glass shattering as they landed. Unaffected, the noodle baby crawled out of the nursery all on his own and onto the mean noodle streets of this big city. And then, finally spent and alone and still a baby despite how very big he’d grown, he broke in half because of his grief at leaving his noodle mother, only to end up here, in an IVF clinic parking lot. Alone.
His noodle mother cried herself to sleep each night, wondering when her noodle baby might come home.
I hear a car honking. The parking lot is full now, and I realize they’re honking at me to hurry up and leave. I look at the clock. I’ve been sitting here for some time. A long time. The squirrel is gone now, probably hanging out somewhere in the fichus tree, and a minivan has pulled into the spot next to me, crushing what’s left of the green pool floaty. I imagine the noodle baby aching as the front tire flattens the last soft bit of him, pressing it into the hot tar of the asphalt. He would never float again.
I shift the car into reverse and begin backing out for the last time. Before I pull away, I glance up in my rearview mirror at the car that’s been waiting. The driver whips in fast, so desperate to take my spot.