Igave birth to another child in the dentist's waiting room.
Ella is perfectly formed, with light brown hair that curls around her face. I am already dreaming about dressing her in red corduroy jumpers and candy-striped leotards when the woman beside me interrupts my reverie to continue our conversation.
"How old is your little girl?"
I snap back from my daydream and bite my lip in what I hope looks like a mother holding in her pride, but which is really concentration as I try to think quickly.
"She turned 3 last Sunday."
My make-believe children are always toddlers. They seem more appealing to the people in waiting rooms/airplanes/hair salons who ask about the children I don't have.
The woman beside me leans in, smiling, to ask enthusiastic questions about my little girl. I don't know why I can't just make up one fictitious child and stick with that story when asked. Perhaps I feel that I have to give all the variations of my non-existent children a chance in the spotlight.
I answer her modestly, my eyelashes lowering as my tongue circles around the words to describe this miraculous experience that has bonded us together in a rite of womanhood.
I am grateful to have the imagination to spontaneously create material with which to ease her discomfort at meeting a stranger. After all, you can only talk about the weather for so long - even as a Canadian.
When I finally stand up from my waiting room chair, I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror framed with dusty, fake flowers. I notice that my face is flushed with the effort of bringing Ella to life. She is, however, a joy to behold, complete with perfectly straight, white baby teeth and an adorable habit of flushing household items down the toilet.
"Good luck with the potty training," the woman calls out to me as I disappear into the rabbit warren of the clinic.
As I lean back into the sterile quiet of the dental chair, I think, "Why do I do this?" When the inevitable question comes up in stranger-to-stranger conversations, I could simply confess that I don't have any children. But revealing this secret always results in an awkward pause, and the question "Why?" hangs in the air like an unexploded water balloon.
I yearn to relay a tragic story about infertility, a dying husband or a series of miscarriages, but knowing women and couples who have struggled with these issues, I have at least enough self-restraint to avoid misrepresenting their pain.
No, I cannot play the sympathy card. But the "I chose not to" card seems much harder for people to support. No one ever asks a woman with children, "Why did you choose to have children?" Yet I find myself often defending my choice not to be a mother.
Somehow the "I chose not to" card seems to guarantee that I am labelled as cold-hearted and calculating.
The "I chose not to" card provokes, at best, pity and, at worst, indignation accompanied by statements about denying nature, God and our reason for being.
To some extent, the decision not to have children is giving up a child that exists in my heart. It was the right decision but it was not the impetuous or cold-hearted one that "I chose not to" seems to imply.
There are days and weeks when the absence of that child is ever present. But I have no right to mourn, do I? I am not someone who cannot have a child through no fault of my own. My husband and I chose not to have a child, but it was a thoughtful and difficult decision based on personal factors including our differences in age, chronic health issues, career demands and finances.
It was not a decision that we came to easily or without much soul searching. And many people seem to overlook that it is hard to make such a choice without occasionally missing and wondering about what we have not experienced.
But in those moments in the dentist's waiting room, I find myself giving birth to fictitious children for another reason.
I want to be part of the secret club of women with children. This club is filled with shared hardships, joys and sleepless nights worrying about junior's inability to work well with other children. It smells of spit-up and peanut butter sandwiches and teenagers' size 11 sneakers.
Even my closest girlfriends have this "mother place" they go to with each other. They share a visceral human accomplishment and I am jealous. I feel I have denied myself an essential experience that will forever separate me from the rest of my gender.
Whether or not I could have, in reality, conceived or adopted a child is another question. I chose not to pursue the answer and for that, I shall always sit outside the club, my nose pressed against the glass.
I gave birth in the dentist's waiting room and I will again. My Ella, like all the children before her and still to come, is a masterpiece born out of shame, curiosity and a need to be welcomed by others as a contributing member of the human race.
And for those few moments of conversation, I loved her with all my heart.
Christine Fader lives near