I squeeze my left hand into a fist and look away as the phlebotomist tightens the tourniquet and comes towards me with the needle. She pokes around and I wish she’d get on with it. I can’t stop visualising the needle sliding beneath my skin, and I’m sure I can feel her wriggling it around in search of the vein. I blink back the darkness that’s starting to fold across my vision; the threat of fainting is imminent. I’ve been fasting since the night before and my head is roaring from lack of caffeine. Out in the surgery, someone is burning toast, the unmistakable smell somehow makes me hungry and nauseous at the same time.
She starts chatting as a distraction. From my request form she can tell this test is about fertility so she opens her banter with a story about her son’s recent wedding in Canada, then moves onto telling me about her first grand baby. We get personal, and while I’m blinking back the residue of my faintness, we talk about the number of blood tests I’ll be having in the weeks to come.
‘And then,’ she says, grinning at me conspiratorially, ‘your doctor will start telling you and hubby when you can have sex.’
She chooses that moment to pull the needle out and plops the tube in the green plastic bowl. She heads over to the computer while I press a cotton bud to the crook of my arm and try to bite back the sudden flood of anger.
Mum and I are huddled together on the hard-plastic waiting room chairs. She’s got her iPad on her lap, her long brown fingers swiping across the flashing graphics of a game.I’m trying to type work emails on my phone. Upstairs, my sister is in labour and we are waiting.
Dad is fidgeting. He can’t sit still — the endless waiting, the plastic chairs, the burnt hospital coffee — it’s too much for him and he makes an excuse to go for a drive. Mum and I fill the time with a mix of idle chatter and deep-and-meaningfuls between bursts of games and work emails.
After a while, I slip my phone into my bag and lean into her. I can’t meet her eyes, but I reach out and wrap my much paler hand around hers. ‘I want one, Mum,’ I say, and I’m surprised that I have to bite back tears. She squeezes my hand, brushes her lips against my cheek.
‘I know, darling.’
The first time I felt it, I had just turned thirty. I moved to Sydney for my dream job but it is busy, frustrating and I can barely pay rent. I am drinking a lot. Wine on Monday because it’s been a bad day. Wine on Thursday because it’s the day before the last day of the work week. Utterly pissed at work drinks on Friday. Ciders and beers and sex with randos on Saturday. I leave my number and slink home in the small hours of Sunday morning. I think about how much easier life would be with a boyfriend to split the rent with.
In Brisbane, one of my friends goes into labour. I wait all day for news and when the text comes, I sit at my desk and cry. Joy and emptiness fill me in equal measure.
I spend weeks crying whenever I make eye contact with a baby on the train, or over pregnancy announcements. I read about a woman who made a deal with herself. She set a magic age and a savings goal and when she hit both, she did it alone.
35 is my magic number.
I work from seven to seven every day and watch while my colleagues head home to their families at five or earlier . I rage while I think of the lawns that need mowing, the dinner I won’t cook, the clothes I tried to wash this morning festering in the washing machine.
I raised the overtime issue with my boss and asked if I could go home on time, just once or twice a week. She said: ‘But Mel, there’s no one waiting for you at home.’
I was recovering from a bout of the flu that turned into norovirus when my nan died. We flew to Tasmania for the funeral. I was weak from sickness and grief when I went back to work. I wasn’t quite 100% when I went on a second date with a guy I’d met online.
We met at his house and he drove us to dinner. After, we talked about seeing a movie and he said he had a stack of new release DVDs at his house. I had to go back to get my car anyway. When he led me to the bedroom rather than the lounge, I said: ‘okay, but just to watch a movie.’
Two hours later, I kissed him goodbye. My hair was dishevelled; thighs sticky beneath my date night frock. I said no, he pushed. I said no again. He pushed. I said yes because it was easier than saying no. He wasn’t going to let me watch the movie.
At home, I showered and washed my dress with the machine running on its hottest cycle. I crawled into bed and in the morning I blocked him on social media.
I deleted my dating accounts.
At the clinic, I release my fingers and they tingle as they come back to life. I swallow my anger — just for today — and smile.
‘No, I’m single,’ I say. ‘I’m going through IUI.’ I realise she might not know the acronym for intrauterine insemination. ‘No husband. No sex. Well, except for with a speculum and a big long tube, I guess.’
She panics and fumbles around for the right apology.
‘It’s okay,’ I say, smiling. ‘I’m alone and that’s okay.’
Melanie Saward is a Meanjin-based writer and a proud descendent of the Bigambul and Wakka Wakka peoples. Her fiction novel Why Worry Now was shortlisted for the David Unaipon: Unpublished Indigenous Writer Award at the Queensland Literary Awards in 2018, and her essay From Your Own Culture received highly commended in the 2019 Calibre Essay Prize. She’s a 2019 featured Indigenous writer at Djed Press, a fiction reader for Overland, and has published work in journals and anthologies such as Overland, Kill Your Darlings, Verity La, Concrescence, and Swamp Journal.