I always thought women who went to fertility clinics were horrid. “They” were super-rich, vain, and wasting a ton of money on something totally selfish. I mean, they could just adopt a kid who really needed a home, right? Looking back now, I realize these clueless judgments were actually meant to keep me from the truth: I was really, really jealous of them. They were able to admit they wanted to have kids.
For years I hid my desire to have a baby, even from myself. I always felt that bringing a child anywhere near my family, which I typically describe as “dysfunctional at best” would be completely unfair. The men in my family all have secret lives of some sort and the women are all denial-ridden enablers. (How many empty crack vials do you need to find before you realize he’s got a problem?)
Since most of my relationships had basically been reruns of my Mom and Dad’s, my Aunt and Uncle’s, my Grandmother and Grandfather’s, I figured, quite logically, that I’d turn out much the same. Even in high school I was attracted to the perfect-on-the-outside boy (class president) who ended up being a sinister creep. This guy not only stalked me after I broke up with him, he cornered me in an empty classroom and literally threw a room full of chairs at me.
Understandably, I didn’t want to bring a kid into this depressing life picture and figured it was forever out of the question.
But something weird happened in my late twenties. I met a wonderful, sweet man who was as awesome inside as he seemed outside, and I fell totally in love with him. And after four years together I started to fantasize (often!) about building my dreamhouse.
For someone who’d had long-term relationships end in tear-filled admissions like “I had sex with my sister Linda the whole time you were in Maryland” or the lovely “I can’t hide it any longer: I’ve been prostituting myself to buy meth for the past six months,” the level of positivity and forethought necessary for dreamhouse planning was a remarkable leap for me. “Dream” implied a future that was fantastic rather than nightmarish. “House” implied actual stability! In my world, that was just crazy talk.
Regardless, I started carrying around a book called Building Your Own Dreamhouse. Chapters like “How to Pour a Foundation” and “How to Chose a Contractor” welcomed me into the world of people who believed that life could be good. I actually began to imagine the idea of a love not fraught with lies or denial or underground tension. If I just found the right piece of stable land, I could build that: a safe place where the bad stuff didn’t keep happening to me.
Planning my dreamhouse as a place for both my boyfriend and me was too much for me at first. I started hyperventilating the first time we went to buy curtains together. I guess the thought that I could believe in something as ultimately doomed as I assumed our relationship was overwhelmed me.
So I took it slow with my dreamhouse. At first it was just for me.
After ripping pages out of magazines and filling several notebooks with sketches, I came up with my design. The lower floor would be a kitchen, bath and living room and the top floor would be my bedroom suite. There would be a spiral staircase leading to it and a hatch at the top like on a submarine that I could close at night. I would also have fire safety ladders hidden in the window seats, so if I ever needed to escape in a hurry I could. It took me about a year to imagine my boyfriend at my dreamhouse, but eventually I did. I even added an imaginary office for him.
Shortly after that I began picturing kids hanging around outside. At first they were just neighborhood kids riding bikes that I would wave to from my dreamhouse garden. But one day I saw myself on my hands and knees digging, and there was a little girl next to me. We were making holes and I was showing her how to put the plants into them.
It is now ten years later. My boyfriend has become my husband. He held my hand as we picked out curtains and doorknobs and even chairs for the beautiful home we moved into together. And while it took some time for me to warm up to the idea of setting up house together, once I did, I became as obsessed with it as I had once been with my dreamhouse.
Our house is full of happiness rather than the dread I felt as a kid. But instead of using ideas from magazines to design our place, I ended up using the few happy memories of domesticity I did have. I’d always loved my best friend’s house. Her mom decorated it in the ’60s and then just left it the same for twenty years. By the ’80s, the once-bright colors had all faded to sun-washed pastels that spoke more of a busy happiness than neglect. That’s what I decided to do too: decorate once and then marvel as things aged.
I also stole some ideas from the set of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Its simplicity always made me feel calm and seemed to reinforce all the nice things he had to say to me. (I have a feeling I am not the only person who cried harder when Fred Rogers died than when certain members of my family did). And of course, I planted a garden, just like the one my mom and I used to work in together.
Our house is a beautiful, safe place full of happiness and possibilities rather than the fear and dread I felt as a kid. Sure, my husband and I fight sometimes and sometimes I get depressed despite the pastels everywhere, but it really has become the home I always wanted. More importantly, after fourteen years I am finally convinced that I am not going to come home to find my husband shooting up with an underage hooker in our kitchen.
And that’s how I, at age forty, found myself in the waiting room of a fertility clinic. The dreamhouse is built; the only thing missing now is the girl in the garden.