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Facts & Arguments Essay

I chose babies over career Add to ...

I had just finished editing my first feature film when I underwent in vitro fertilization treatments. I knew if I became pregnant I probably wouldn't be able to continue doing the same type of work, but I couldn't decide what I wanted more: a career in film or kids. I left the decision up to fate.

At the follow-up visit a month later, the doctor told me I was pregnant. "Go ahead with life as usual," she said. "Do all your usual things."

So I took the red-eye from Vancouver to catch the premiere of the film I had edited at the Toronto International Film Festival. During the screening, I floated on a cloud of elation above the spectators, absorbing their laughter as well as their attentive silences. Afterward, famous people came up to shake my hand and congratulate me.

At the after-party, the lead actress looked stunning in a white crocheted dress exposing her midriff. My friend Jenna and I mingled on the patio until late in the evening. Walking back to Jenna's place in my dress and high heels, the warm, Toronto summer evening air seemed to propel me forward. I fell asleep on a futon in Jenna's attic, focusing on the feeling of life in my belly.

"They've fizzled," the doctor said at my next appointment. The fetuses' heartbeats had weakened to the point where they were highly unlikely to survive. She handed me a paper bag with a plastic container inside. "This is for when you have your miscarriage. Take it to the hospital."

The paper bag became my constant companion; I carried it everywhere. I took a job as an assistant editor on an American TV movie to pay off my credit cards, which were maxed out from the cost of the in vitro treatment. Finally, at work one day, I felt cramps followed by excruciating pain. I called a cab and went straight to the hospital to deliver the paper bag. The hospital was under renovation, so I wandered through back hallways and empty labs like a zombie before finally finding a technician upon whom to bestow the bag.

I went back to work the next day. I decided I didn't need to have babies. I'd make movies instead - they'd be my babies.

Later that spring, I was unemployed and my phone was strangely silent. At the urging of my husband and parents I did another treatment. The night the embryos were transferred into my belly I fell asleep watching Being John Malkovich, and when John Malkovich turned into Peter Mansbridge on The National I woke up feeling like Sigourney Weaver - the aliens were inside me.

I pretended I didn't notice.

I was offered a job editing a short memoir for a filmmaker. "I'm pregnant," I told her. "I can't work 12-hour days." She agreed to a shorter work day.

The film was beset with problems and my work days grew longer and longer, until one day I hit the 12-hour mark. I went home in tears.

"Just quit," my husband said.

"Quit?" I uttered the word as if I'd never heard it before. He nodded as if it was obvious.

So I quit. Seven months later, I gave birth to two healthy baby boys.

At first I resisted going to the mom-and-baby groups. All they talked about was baby stuff - it was so boring, so mundane.

But even though I craved adult conversations, I gradually stopped calling my film friends. All I had to talk about were things they weren't interested in or knew little about: cracked nipples, colic, washing diapers and making the perfect mac-and-cheese. I no longer had the luxury of spending two or three hours every couple of days watching movies.

So I joined the mommy underground of baby groups and story time, head lice and chicken pox. Wagons and tricycles became scooters and bicycles. Sitting for days on end on benches in the park turned into standing for hours in the rain at soccer games or sitting in the bleachers at baseball games.

Then, late one night as I sat in the dark flipping through TV channels while folding laundry, I came across a film awards ceremony. There were all my peers, now in their power years, dressed up and sitting at tables, laughing at the industry in-jokes made by the host. While I had been busy making dinner, they had been busy making award-winning films. If I hadn't had kids, I wondered, would I be sitting there with them?

Suddenly, the high-heeled person I had been in Toronto was standing in front of me. "Well," Toronto-me demanded. "What do you have to show for yourself?"

Even though the room was silent, I knew she couldn't hear the sound of my kids' breathing as they slept peacefully in the next room. I looked at the piles of folded laundry, but I knew that wasn't what she had in mind either.

"Nothing," I answered her. "I have nothing to show."

But Toronto-me wasn't listening. Her eyes had shifted from me to the casserole dish on the table. "Is that mac-and-cheese?" She made a beeline for the kitchen.

"Wow, did you make this?" Toronto-me asked as she shovelled it down. "This is amazing!"

I turned off the TV and stifled a yawn. It wasn't that reflecting on whether fate made the right decision didn't interest me. But it was getting late, and I still had lunches to make.

Janel Johnson lives in Vancouver.

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