excerpt from Unexpecting

Chapter One
A woman’s prime period of fertility occurs between the years of twenty-two and twenty-eight, with each year decreasing the chance of a happy and healthy conception. After the age of thirty-seven, a woman should not attempt to conceive.

A Young Woman’s Guide to the Joy of Impending Motherhood
Dr. Francine Pascal Reid (1941)

Bullshit, I know.

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But for some reason that passage has stuck with me for years. You know what it’s like to have one of those repetitive songs stuck in your head? A few summers ago, it was that “Umbrella” song—not that it was a bad song; in fact it was a pretty good song for a while, but at the end of August when I was still silently singing “ella, ella,” it got a little tiring. If you think having a song stuck in your head is bad, imagine silently repeating to yourself again and again, “After the age of thirty-seven, a woman should not attempt to conceive.”
Most of me will agree I’m being silly in taking the words of a long-dead doctor to heart, but an itty-bitty part of me is still listening and using my fingers to count the months on the calendar until I hit the De-Fertility Zone. Silly, I know, but I can’t seem to help it.

Yes, I am fully aware that in this day and age there are countless women over thirty-seven who conceive and successfully deliver happy and healthy babies. I know that. You can’t pick up an issue of People magazine without knowing that. But for me, thirty-seven has been something of a deadline, and it’s looming ever closer these days. Here I am already at thirty-five, pushing headlong into thirty-six, which will inevitably lead to thirty-seven, the age when Dr. Francine Pascal Reid tells me I shouldn’t attempt to conceive. So how am I supposed to have a baby?

Going to a wedding yesterday certainly didn’t help.

Yesterday marked the seventeenth wedding I’ve been to in the last five years, and the ninth in which I’ve played the role of a bridesmaid. I remember reading something long ago, some old wives’ tale about three times a bridesmaid, never a bride. I guess I’m screwed three times over then.

To make things worse, it turned out that the entire bridal party—other than me, that is—were all pregnant. Of course, being basically a nice person, I was sincerely happy for them, but can you imagine how my own desire to have a baby might make me a tad resentful? The anticipation I had felt toward being part of the wedding dimmed a little as I was forced to listen to all the little baby comments and pregnancy stories, not to mention names and dates and crib styles. I had had just about enough when Darcy’s aunt Fran popped her head into the room where the five of us had just finished getting into our dresses (horrible green with, yes, a big butt bow). Once she’d cooed over us all, Aunt Fran announced that she thought it was just hilarious how Darcy had picked an entire bridal party of pregnant girls, assuming I was as pregnant as the others.

Mistakenly assuming a woman is pregnant is probably one of the worst gaffes a person can make. It just ends up embarrassing both parties, and there’s really no delicate way to get out of the situation. So when Darcy’s aunt said her little bit about how all the girls in the wedding party were pregnant (with a particularly poignant glance at me), Darcy’s mother came to my defence about how of course I can’t be pregnant because I don’t even have a husband. I’m sure she meant well, but it really didn’t help. It also didn’t help hearing Michelle and Priya (six months along, with the most adorable little baby belly poking out of the dress) try to stifle their laughter.

If you haven’t already got the point, my most fervent desire is to have a baby. Having my own baby is something I’ve always dreamed about. I still have my Rub-A-Dub Dolly, my six Cabbage Patch Kids, and the doll that cries when you squeeze her stomach all packed away in the basement. I never did the Barbie thing because Barbie was always too busy trying to get it on with Ken and didn’t need taking care of. I babysat my way from ages twelve to eighteen, and I only stopped because I went to university and discovered that drinking and guys (unfortunately in that order) were a much more entertaining way to spend Saturday nights.

I’ve been teaching kindergarten for the last four years. Before that, it was grade three, and before that I worked as a nanny in the summers to help pay for university. I sound like I’m reciting my résumé, but it’s just shoving the point across with my typical subtlety about how much I love kids. I love being with them, playing with them, and especially teaching them, and I’ve been hoping for years to finally have one of my own.

What’s the problem, you ask? Not me, or so I hope. Knock on wood that when I do find the right man to have a baby with, I’ll still be able to conceive—Dr. Francine Pascal Reid or no Dr. Francine Pascal Reid. No, for me the problem is finding the right man. Or any man, actually. Well, no, that’s not quite right—I have no problem finding men. For some reason that boggles my mind, men practically flock to me, which is all good if you’re going for quantity and just out for a good time. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I want quality, and that’s where I have had absolutely no luck.

Just yesterday morning, I left my apartment to take part in Darcy and Ethan’s wedding, full of hope that I might have actually found one. I’d only been dating Mike for twenty-six days, and I thought things were progressing well. He’s smart and funny, has a great head of hair, and as far as I can discover, there’s been no history of diabetes or heart problems in his family, which kept him open as a candidate for baby-making. Things had progressed so well that I had plans to jump the gun on my hard-and-fast rule of not sleeping with a man unless I’ve known him for at least a month. Of course, exceptions are made, but usually the head manages to rule the heart and other body parts in these matters. There’s no way I need a black book rivaling Kim Kardashian’s.

I’ve been steadily wading through the pool of eligible bachelors for years, with absolutely no luck. And it’s not like I’m looking for the perfect man—all I want these days is to find one with certain attributes that I would like to pass on to a child. Over the years, I’ve pared my requirements down to the basics: intelligence, relative physical attractiveness, sense of humour, and a family history with few or no unpronounceable illnesses or diseases. Unless I set out to get pregnant by some random man I pick up in a bar (yes, I’m getting desperate and have thought of that countless times, but I like to think it’s a measure of the respect I still have for the male race and myself that I haven’t been able to bring myself to go through with it), nothing seems to be working.

I know very well how these things usually happen: girl meets boy, girl makes boy wait patiently for three years while she sows some wild oats and then agrees to marry him—no, wait, that’s how it was with my sister, Libby. How about girl meets boy and then relentlessly nags him until he proposes? Nope, that’s the story of my friend Brit.

Anyway, I know how it’s supposed to work even though I don’t have many good examples to learn from, especially not my own parents. Until I was fourteen, I lived with Ed, the alcoholic asshole father, and Teresa, the quiet, holier-than-thou, I’ll-just-keep-my-mouth-shut-and-let-my-husband-verbally-abuse-my-daughters kind of mother. And then everything changed when Ed died because he was too dumb not to wait until he got home to start dipping into his bottle of Jim Beam. He screwed up trying to navigate the exit of the parking lot for the Liquor Control Board of Ontario and crashed into the building. He would have been fine actually, had it not been for the heart attack. Everyone said it was the heart attack that caused him to crash into the building, but I don’t believe it. He was a dumb drunk. Good riddance, if you ask me. My mother obviously shared my opinion about him since after she was sure he was dead (a week after the funeral, a more-than-suitable mourning period), she did the whole moth emerging from the chrysalis and became… well, let’s just say the words prim, proper, and self-control around the opposite sex would never describe her.

But you don’t need my family history right now. You just need to understand that I’m romantically challenged.

Things were going well with Mike and me, but because I was a member of the bridal party, I thought twice about bringing a date. No one likes to be stuck eating with strangers while his girlfriend sits at the head table surrounded by friends. Turns out I should have thought three times about bringing him.

The ceremony had just ended, with the priest pronouncing Ethan and Darcy as husband and wife, and the guests had gathered outside in the early June sunshine to heap congratulations on the happy couple. Being part of the bridal party, I was one of the first ones outside. After a couple of minutes looking for Mike in the crowd, I popped back inside the church to see what had happened to him and found much more than I expected. I found Mike—boyfriend of twenty-six days—in the coatroom of the church. Not that this is a bad thing, but the fact that he was performing a sexual act of an extremely intimate nature on the twenty-one-year-old stepdaughter of the matron of honour certainly was. A bad thing, that is. Even though Mike and his new friend were obviously very excited about finding each other, suffice it to say, I wasn’t too thrilled about it.

“Do you mind?” asked the girl in a snotty tone as I stood there staring at my boyfriend doing what he was doing to her. If someone walked in on me in her position, I don’t think I’d take the snotty route. I’d be pretty embarrassed, to tell the truth, and possibly apologetic if the person walking in on us was the girlfriend of the guy. But not this chickie.

“Do you?” I retorted incredulously. “He’s my boyfriend! Or he was.”

I then proceeded to tear a strip off of Mike—actually not really, since I couldn’t get over the shock of my discovery that quickly and because I’m not good at confrontations at all. I did tell him I was taking his name off the present, however. I know, what’s the point, especially since I bought the silly gift, but it’s really difficult to come up with anything pithy when you’re in that situation. I would have really liked to make a few comments about his sexual prowess or size of his member, but since I have no knowledge of the former and I couldn’t help but notice the bulge in his pants happened to be fairly sizable, I was left with nothing. So I had no choice but to let them be, barely managing to paste a smile on my face as I left the church and headed to the waiting limousine. I guess the car was waiting for me, because the rest of the wedding party was already inside and the Bentley that Ethan hired to drive him and Darcy had just pulled away.

Once the car started, I turned to Michelle, the matron of honour/stepmother of the boyfriend-stealing tramp I found with Mike. I didn’t know her name—the name of the girl I found with Mike, not the matron of honour. I think it’s something like Mindy or Mandy, or it could be Mambo Betty for all I care. Michelle was sitting in the rear seat across from me with her hand resting on her great lump of a belly. Remember she’s about eight months pregnant, not just lumpish.

You get the picture that I wasn’t having the best of days? Seeing matron of honour Michelle, the laughing, pregnant stepmother of the tramp, lounging in the seat of the limousine with hand resting on her great pregnant belly with the smuggest of smiles—it just pissed me off. I vividly recalled her laughter at my expense earlier. I’m not normally a bitch, but like I said, it had been a bad day.

“Did your stepdaughter ever go to Sunday school?” I asked Michelle, with an innocent expression as the car pulled away from the church.

“Why?” Michelle looked bewildered.
“I would have thought going to Sunday school might have taught her a little respect for the church,” I said conversationally. I couldn’t help but notice that Michelle had kicked her shoes off, and her toes resembled little stumpy sausages. I fervently hoped she wasn’t able to get her shoes back on.

“What? Amelia?”

“Oh, is that her name? I’m sure Mike didn’t know either. Just so you’re up to speed, I just walked in on Mike—who was my boyfriend as of about four minutes ago—going down on her in the coatroom at the church. And unless she stuck a very tiny coat up her who-who, I really think they were in the wrong place to do such a thing. And, sorry, but I really wasn’t impressed with her attitude about being caught in the act, but what can you do? She’s still young.”

Michelle’s smiling face transformed into an “O” of shock. “You saw her what?” she asked in a strangled voice.

“Being a very dirty little girl with my boyfriend. Who isn’t my boyfriend any longer, so she’s welcome to him, but it might have been nice to have a little advance notice.”

“You can’t be serious!”

“Oh, I’m pretty serious. I can give you the details if you like. I know she’s wearing pink underwear—I think it might have been a thong, but I can’t be sure since it was dangling off one of her ankles.”

Michelle looked to the other bridesmaids as if asking for help defending her stepdaughter’s honour. I found it interesting no one stepped forward.

“I’m just letting you know what went on. So when she brings him over to you as her new guy, you’ll know how she got him.” I gave her my best and biggest fake smile. “Wow, your ankles are really swollen. Or is that their normal size?” There was a muffled cough from somewhere in the car.

“Could I have the champagne, please?” I asked brightly.

Ari, one of the ushers, held up the chilled bottle. “Why don’t you let me do it, just in case the cork takes somebody’s eye out?” He expertly maneuvered the cork out with his thumbs. Then he handed the bottle over to me, and I proceeded to take a huge glug out of it. “Not much for sharing, are you, Casey?” he asked me with a wink.

I took another big drink, then another, conscious of the nervous glances of the rest of the wedding party floating around. “I’m a kindergarten teacher,” I told Ari after another mouthful, trying to avoid burping aloud. “I’m all about sharing. Except for champagne or boyfriends.” And that was about the extent of the conversation in the car until we got to the reception.

I like to think I behaved myself during the rest of the evening. I pasted another smile on my face during the endless picture-taking, laughed at the appropriate times during the speeches, and even enjoyed dancing with Ari the usher. I did manage to sneak a piece of cake onto Mike’s chair just as he was sitting down to dessert, which left a lovely butter cream icing smear on his fine ass for the rest of the night, forcing him to keep on his jacket to hide it, when I know he sweats a lot.

Boy, was I wrong about Mike. I can’t get over how wrong. And the worst part is how utterly stupid I felt. I had no idea he was such a fast-moving player. I met him at Second Cup, for goodness sake. Although I did agree to go to dinner with him the same night we met, so maybe that should have told me something. I just thought I was particularly irresistible that day, what with having a good hair day and wearing my lucky unders. I had no clue he’d turn out to be such an ass. He never once apologized either, and I was blown away that he actually stayed at the wedding. He even looked like he was having a good time, before the buttercream icing incident, of course. My night, on the other hand, was pretty much ruined.

You know how sometimes the idea of getting drunk is just the best option? That wedding was a perfect example. I like drinking to begin with—something that I do take care to watch, with the whole father being an alcoholic and such—but there’s something about a wedding that really brings the party animal out in all of us. Maybe it’s the free bar, countless bottles of wine on the table, and numerous champagne toasts. Plus, unless you’re family, there’s a good chance you won’t be seeing these people ever again. In any event, by the time Darcy and Ethan took the floor to sway to “You Look Wonderful Tonight,” I was well on my way to becoming quite shit-faced.