Almost two years have passed since Aiko Foster resigned from her fast-paced career in Tokyo and migrated to Melbourne with her Australian husband, Rupert, to start a family. When her thirty ninth birthday comes and goes, Aiko obsesses about getting pregnant as she watches her temperature rise and fall like a day trader reading stock prices. While trying hard, Aiko fears her opportunities to have a baby may be running out.
After the couple is diagnosed with infertility, they start a roller coaster emotional journey through several in vitro fertilization treatments while Aiko struggles with her age, cultural differences, and in-law troubles. When Aiko finally becomes pregnant, she is beyond thrilled. But her dream quickly transforms into a nightmare. Nevertheless, Aiko's journey to build a family continues in unexpected and mystic ways.
In this poignant novel, an ex-career woman embarks on a cross-cultural quest for a baby where she comes to realize that there is something to life beyond this physical world.
|Publisher:||Balboa Press Australia|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.81(d)|
Read an Excerpt
IVF at 40
By Ako Mak
Balboa PressCopyright © 2015 Ako Mak
All rights reserved.
My Thirty-Ninth Birthday in Melbourne
I'm at 36.9°C! Oh my goodness, it's even gone up one-tenth of a degree! But isn't my period supposed to start today?
I quickly pull out the file of my Basal Body Temperature charts from the bedside table and check. Yes! Yesterday was the twenty-seventh day of this cycle, and I had the same high temperature of 36.8°C, although it normally would have dropped a couple of days ago. And today, to my surprise, it's even increased a bit, which means, as every woman who has recorded a BBT chart must know, I might be preg —
But this hopeful thought is immediately interrupted by my judgmental inner voice. Wait, Aiko, you at least should know that life's not so easy. So check it again before the party.
My mornings have started with a clinical thermometer for the past half year. Every morning, I've checked my body temperature, recorded it on the chart, and planned my day — like preparing for a romantic night because ovulation should be happening soon or just becoming dysfunctional as I wait for my period because there has been a 0.1 degree decrease. I'm desperately moved by these subtle changes of numbers, just like a day trader watching stock prices. How ironic when I remember that I quit my career as a business consultant in Tokyo because I was exhausted by the ever-changing numbers for client sales, profitability, and cost performance, and then immigrated to Melbourne with my Australian husband to enjoy a more relaxing family life. So here I am, dominated by tiny changes of my own body temperature, and there's not much to map out regarding strategies for conception, compared with business management.
The thermometer chimes. Yes, it's 36.9°C again! Normally my temperature would be around 36.5°C this morning, and my period would start today. But somehow it's increased! Looking at my records, I see that every chart is clearly divided into two parts, a low temperature of 36.5°C and a high of 36.8°C, with red period signs marked exactly every twenty-eight days. How many times have I wished for a delay of even one day, so that I could have a taste of hope? But now I can see a difference from this dreadful pattern.
"Look, darling." I almost wake my husband, but then I freeze. Wait, today is ...
I wish I hadn't remembered, but it's my birthday today. Suddenly my excitement fades away. I've turned thirty-nine, which means I'll be forty next year. Of course I'm not the type of woman who believes that younger is always better, but I still feel gloomy when I check my body temperature for conception, not for contraception.
Thirty-nine years old. I think the ninth year is quite delicate, just one year before the next decade. Because you naturally think about things you haven't done yet in your teens, twenties, or thirties. Me in the forties ...
My girlfriend Clair told me that the years around forty are also critical in Australian society, the so-called "mid-life crisis". She said that you see yourself coming to the end of nearly half of your life and standing on a hill — behind is the path you've managed to climb, neither beautiful nor dramatic. You see a dull path continuing in front and realize that all you can do is slowly go down it. But because you can still smell the smoldering ashes of hope, you may suddenly dash toward the cliff and dive into another world.
Oh dear, I might have already jumped off the cliff and put one leg into the coffin when I immigrated to Australia in my late thirties. Almost two years have passed since then. The adventurous time is over, and now I can't stop asking myself — will this kind of life continue forever?
Oh no, Aiko, you're in negative mode again. Don't worry, you still have 364 days more until you turn forty! Remember, "Where there's a will, there's a way."
Furthermore, I read a brilliant theory in a Japanese women's magazine, which stated that contemporary women should discount their age by thirty percent compared with pre-war women. According to that idea, I'm still the equivalent of twenty-seven years old and not thirty-nine! Well then, it's not so bad. Old documentary images of pre-war Japanese women flit through my head. Women standing in the rice fields, wearing shabby clothes and holding babies on their backs, surrounded by many dusty children — they looked really wrinkly and spotty. In their thirties, they looked like we do in our forties or even fifties, because of their dreadfully hard life. On the other hand, we appear much younger, thanks to the power of cosmetics and fashion. People here sometimes think I'm still in my twenties, owing to my childlike Asian appearance. See, this kind of pop psychology shows how we're still young mentally (or it could be immature). I think this "thirty percent off age theory" can be socially and psychologically verified. But physically? Considering modern medical improvements, how old is the "fertile age" nowadays? Is thirty-nine still in the range? Perhaps, I hope.
"Happy thirty-ninth birthday!"
Rupert interrupts my thoughts. Although I'm annoyed by the clearly stated "thirty-nine", he pulls me into his arms. This passionate kiss must be the result of his Aussie psychology urging him to service his wife because of two big factors — her birthday and the weekend. But the number 36.9 starts blinking in my mind like a hazard light. Lovely if it was ten days ago, but not now. I don't want to lose my baby through unnecessary activity, just in case.
"So, how about brekky in bed, birthday girl?" he asks without seeming to care about his wife's rejection and gets up. It's a sweet suggestion that I'd hardly expect if I had married any of my old Japanese boyfriends.
As Rupert opens the curtains, the morning light of May — autumn here — shines into the room. "It's a good day today," beams Rupert. The dancing sunshine falls on him, and he looks even more handsome. Though, mind you, I grew up in rural Japan, where I never saw any foreigners. In fact, one of our assignments on my high school trip to Kyoto was to speak English to a foreign tourist there (the school believed that all foreigners speak English), and frankly, I wouldn't have been able to distinguish between Rupert, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Mr. Bean. Never mind, he's still a nice guy — (relatively) handsome, intelligent, generous, and most importantly, a brilliant husband.
For example, the T-shirt he's wearing is one he bought ages ago from a discount shop at an amazingly low price, which is wonderful when I remember a boyfriend from my young days who was fashionably good-looking but always heavily in debt to pay for his designer clothes. The reason it's become almost see-through is because he's washed it as many times as there are kangaroos on this continent. Not only washing, he vacuums the carpet if the house gets messy. He cooks beautiful food on weekends for fun, and then automatically puts the dirty plates into the dishwasher after meals. I don't know if it's his personality or an Australian male trait, but it's brilliant compared with my old-fashioned father who believes that a man should never enter the kitchen and wouldn't know a dishwasher from a washing machine. To be honest, I can't believe my good fortune, considering how hopeless I felt about my future husband several years ago. Rupert may not be the stuff of romance or a thrilling lover, but he's definitely an ideal husband, and I'm sure he'll become a wonderful father.
"Oh, don't get up, birthday girl. You can just relax in bed, since your birthday party starts around noon."
"At your parents' house? Do we really need to go? I'm not the age to like having a birthday party, and I'd rather relax at home."
"But sweetheart, it's your birthday party. My mother started preparation weeks ago, and everyone would be startled if you don't turn up."
"But darling, it's also your twin nieces' birthday party. I reckon no one would notice if I'm even not there."
"Come on, sweetheart. Melinda organized her twins' party the other day with her mothers'-group friends. So today is more for the family, and my mother said ..."
Didn't he say "more for my family and my mother" now? Oh dear, here we are again. I know by now that "sweetheart" is not a term of affection, but rather a defensive word that Rupert uses to persuade or/and manipulate his wife to do what he wants as marital tension arises. Oh God, hasn't he said "my mother" twelve times already?
Well, this is the defect of my husband. Family is more important to him than anything in the universe. To miss a trivial family event is a bigger issue for him than losing a competition at his architect's firm by sleeping late or being fined for not voting in the national election. Oh no, he's trying to be more persuasive, almost like a cult member recruiting. He'll go on forever unless I say ... "Okay, I'll come."
A smile blooms on Rupert's face. He asks if I'd like eggs for breakfast, and then cheerfully disappears into the kitchen.
Rupert Foster — my husband who's four years younger than me, an Aussie with English roots, born and raised in Melbourne. The son of a man who believes a husband is obliged to bring a hot birthday breakfast to his wife until his very last day on Earth, while I doubt whether my father ever remembers my mother's birthday. And the son of a woman who claims a family birthday should have priority over any social, political, or business obligations, while my mother used to hesitate to even order food for birthdays, worrying what the neighbors might think when they saw the empty dishes with a restaurant's name on them at our front door on the next day waiting to be collected by the staff. So Rupert naturally calls his thirty-nine-year-old wife "birthday girl", although it still makes me uncomfortable. Doesn't that mean "female child" in my English-Japanese dictionary?
Okay, now I know it's not only Rupert. In fact, Clair and I were called "girls" at a café even yesterday although we're absolutely called "Obasan" (elder women) in Japan, and also I witnessed a group of men with large beer bellies being called "boys" at our local pub. After all, these are just little cultural differences. Here I could happily become a "girl" with a walking stick and bifocals someday. And a birthday is so important no matter how old you are that celebrating it is probably considered to be a basic human right.
Anyhow, it's such a nice day. Our freshly painted walls look even brighter in the morning sun. I think my choice of blue was right though Rupert was unsure. Since we've bought this Edwardian house, we've spent most our time and energy on it (not much money because that went on the purchase). I want to complete the renovation before our baby arrives.
While waiting for Rupert to bring my breakfast, I forecast my fortune for this thirty-ninth year with Runes, which are twenty-five oracle stones marked with ancient Celtic and Scandinavian symbols. Clair gave me them last Christmas. I used to disregard things like fortune-telling because I thought it was more rational to perform research, analyze the situation, work out a strategy, and execute the plan. But what strategies can I plot for conception? Each time my careful plans are simply washed away by period blood, I feel myself turning to the occult.
I take three deep breaths as I hold the bag filled with Rune stones. As Clair told me to do, I think of holy images — something like Gods, Buddhas, the universe, or my higher self, and ask the question. Please send me a message just as I'm turning thirty-nine. I choose a stone to which my fingers feel drawn. It is "Berkana", the stone of "growth". According to the Rune handbook, "Berkana represents growth, regeneration, and the new life."
New life! The book says, "Fertility which cultivates growth both physically and spirituality is marked by this Rune."
Fertility! Is this an oracle divining my pregnancy? Is this the reason why my temperature is 36.9°C this morning? Did I finally get pregnant?
Suddenly, I feel that everything is going very well.
Arriving at the house of Rupert's parents, I'm welcomed by colorful balloons tied to the Victorian cast iron gate. Children's cheerful voices floating over the fence. The beautiful back garden with its fountain and flowers has been turned into a playground with a jumping castle today. Kids are everywhere, running and pushing each other.
Well, well, well, MY birthday party. Looking around, I realize that Rupert and I are the only childless pair. Furthermore, I am the only woman who has dressed up (besides the girls in their princess costumes) — Max Mara suit (white), high heels, and a fancy hat just because I got the wrong image of "birthday garden party", something more adult and formal like a scene from a Hollywood movie. But here everyone looks defensively casual, as if they are ready for a sudden attack by random saliva and vomit or by little hands covered in tomato sauce and chocolate ice-cream. If there was a dress code for this party, it would be work clothing or combat fatigues.
"Hello, my darlings," calls my mother-in-law in her usual high-pitched voice. Unusually, I feel a bit better when I see Rose coming towards us waving her hand because of her loud red dress that looks like she came back from ballroom dancing. Wow, it's worse than mine!
"How are you, my little Rupert?" She affectionately hugs my husband (her son, of course) and kisses both his cheeks leaving traces of lipstick.
My little Rupert — despite my slight chillness, she musses his hair. Then she turns around and air kisses me, "Happy birthday, Aiko."
"Thank you, Rose," I smile back at her. Although I don't want her lipstick marking my cheeks, I used to be puzzled about this obvious difference of her manners. Also, I still feel that it's odd to use her name without a title, because the Japanese add the honorific title "san" to each other's names, particularly for older people. If I addressed a Japanese mother-in-law without using "san", she'd surely think that I was declaring war.
"So Aiko dear," smiles my mother-in-law, "Tell me, just how old are you today?"
Though she asks this question innocently while maintaining a gentle smile on her face, it triggers my internal trouble-shooting alarm system that has developed during the last two years. Keeping my smile fixed, I get my mind ready for martial arts. "Thirty-nine, Rose."
Thirty seconds of silence. Then she nods as if patiently reminding herself about her shiftless foreign daughter-in-law. "Oh. But I say don't give up, my dear. You may still be able to have a baby in your thirties, if you try hard and cleverly. Don't worry, dear, I'll support you. I bet you welcome your next birthday with joy!"
"Excuse me! What do you mean?"
"Oh dear, you know what I mean, the female biological clock. Though Albert doesn't say much about this, he's also deeply concerned and we ..."
"Mother! Where are the other birthday girls?" Rupert interrupts her as he notices my irritation, actually my indignation. He also has a twenty-four-hour security system, and a particularly a superb early warning detector for conflict between his wife and mother.
"Oh, where are they now? The little ones were extremely happy today. They must have known about their birthday party, very clever. Even so little, they are definitely Fosters!" She declares and then glances at me, "Aaaanyway Aiko, keep your spirits up and never mind about your age too much. Indeed, there must be a lot of women who first give birth in their forties around the world, I reckon."
"But Rose, I actually never ever cared about that!"
"Really?" She rolls her eyes, sighs deeply, and shakes her head as if saying You should care deeply. Then she starts to walk away, searching for the birthday twins.
I have to control my urge to plant a karate chop on her chubby neck. This woman always brings up the issue of grandchildren.
Rose, I actually am pregnant.
It would be wonderful if I could say that. Remembering my body temperature and the Rune prediction, I almost open my mouth. But I know it's too dangerous to claim pregnancy based only on 36.9°C and the Berkana stone.
My sister-in-law Melinda (the twins' mum) is breastfeeding on the picnic mat leaning against the trunk of a huge gum tree. I still remember the shock when I saw her breastfeeding at first — she deftly fed both twins together, one head on her right arm and the other on her left like two footballs. To be honest I've never seen a woman breast-feeding in public in Japan. Back there, breast-feeding is something so private (almost mysterious) that it is done somewhere secret. On the other hand here, I've just read a letter to the newspaper by a mother asking for breast-feeding seats in the trams. Sure, I'm aware that it's the cultural norm, but I'm still bewildered by this scene and wonder where to look.
"Happy birthday, Aiko." Melinda smiles while scanning me from top to toe in contrast to my hesitant gaze. "You look gorgeous. Are those outfits from Tokyo?"
Excerpted from Someday Baby by Ako Mak. Copyright © 2015 Ako Mak. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsPrologue: A Decade Ago in Tokyo, 1,
Chapter 1 My Thirty-Ninth Birthday in Melbourne, 7,
Chapter 2 Period Again, 24,
Chapter 3 Don't Say Infertility, 37,
Chapter 4 Clair's Vision, 51,
Chapter 5 Preparing for IVF, 67,
Chapter 6 Our First IVF, 83,
Chapter 7 The 5th Baby!, 94,
Chapter 8 Old Eggs!, 111,
Chapter 9 Commitment, 121,
Chapter 10 Life Inside Me!, 131,
Chapter 11 Donors, 146,
Chapter 12 I'm Forty!, 156,
Chapter 13 Nervous Breakdown, 167,
Chapter 14 Suddenly Heaven!, 177,
Chapter 15 The Nightmare, 189,
Chapter 16 The Embryo's Soul, 200,
Chapter 17 A Newborn Baby, 212,
Chapter 18 Time to Move, 229,
Chapter 19 Door to Adoption, 245,
Chapter 20 The Break, 265,
Chapter 21 Baby's Call, 286,
Chapter 22 Healing, 301,
Chapter 23 The Last Wish, 316,
Chapter 24 The Dawn, 332,
Epilogue: Twenty-six Weeks Later, 351,
Author's Note, 353,
About the Author, 357,