Australian author and former TV journalist Theresa Miller’s debut novel The Spin Doctor’s Wife draws on her personal experience with IVF.
Ms Miller is an IVF mother, author of Making Babies, and member of the IVF Australia Ethics Committee.
The Spin Doctor’s Wife is set in Sydney’s fashionable Eastern suburbs against a backdrop of corporate cover-ups and the cult of celebrity. It tells the interconnecting story of an egotistical spin-doctor, his infertile wife, and his TV celebrity lover.
The baby shower
Megan arrived at her neighbour’s baby shower with a plate of her best homemade almond friands. Gretel answered the door and hugged Megan’s slim frame against her bulging belly.
“How sweet of you to come. The girls are in the other room. We’re playing a baby shower game. You have to guess how big my girth is.”
Megan felt an urge to touch Gretel’s enormous tummy. “May I?” she said tentatively.
“Be my guest. It seems my stomach’s public property now,” Gretel laughed. Megan put her hand on the protruding navel and soaked in the warmth. A little kick made her pull away as if she’d touched a flame.
Gretel laughed again. “It’s a boy. We reckon he’s gonna play footy like his dad.”
“Maybe he’ll be a drag queen and do the can-can in La Cage aux Folles,” Megan laughed. What she really wanted to say was that it was bloody unfair they were expecting their ‘surprise’ third baby.
In the living room, a lively crowd of women and babies sprawled across the sofas and rugs. Megan suddenly wanted to drop the pastries and flee. All morning her tummy had been cramping, and she’d prayed that it didn’t mean what she knew it must. But here she was playing the role of cheery next-door neighbour come to join the celebration.
Hey Megan, come and have a guess at Gretel’s tummy size. There’s a bottle of champagne for the winner.”
Gretel’s younger sister, Cath, handed a ball of string and scissors to Megan and invited her to join them in the circle of cushions. Megan measured out the string and snipped it off at a random spot, while the onlookers clucked encouragingly. It felt both comforting and disturbing to be amongst so many mothers. Eager to be out of the spotlight, she quickly passed the yarn and scissors to a woman holding a doe-eyed baby. Megan smiled at the infant, who scowled and buried his face in his mother’s breasts.
Looking around the room, Megan watched as if she were a fly on the wall. Two women shared a joke and one threw her head back and hooted loudly, her large teeth pointed to the ceiling. A baby crawled into the centre of the circle, picked up a gift and tore the wrapping. His mother swept him up with one hand while throwing back a glass of bubbly with the other. A plump, dirty-faced toddler sucked on a discarded champagne cork while three younger women giggled as they compared toenail polish. Some people seemed to sit so comfortably in their bodies.
“Okay, ladies, the moment of truth has arrived,” Cath beamed, her hair swinging like satin. “We’ll go around the circle and everyone will have a go at putting their string around Gretel’s tummy. The one whose measurement is the closest wins!”
While Gretel sat regally on the sofa, each woman approached with her length of string. When it came to Megan’s turn, she nervously fumbled around Gretel’s belly. As if sensing her unease, Gretel gently took the string from her and wrapped it around herself. “Good guess,” she whispered kindly. “It’s the closest yet.”
Megan wrapped the string tightly around her wrist until it bit into her skin. She was relieved when a young auburn-haired woman won the prize.
When they opened the champagne, Megan slipped into the bathroom. She pulled down her knickers and the bright blood-flower on her white gusset mocked her. She sat very still as if hoping to stop the potential life ebbing away. Rocking silently on the porcelain, she practised her breathing exercises. Her lower abdomen cramped as if a brick were tied to her groin. How many times had she sat on a toilet seat and cried? From the lounge room, Megan could hear laughter, and women clinking glasses and congratulating Gretel. There was no way she could face their bright smiles.
She opened the door a crack and tiptoed down the hallway, past the nursery with pastel, beribboned gifts piled high on the change table. She eased open the back door and felt sudden relief as she stood in the herb garden with the cool air on her skin. It reminded her of her days at the boarding school, just after her mother had died. The other girls had sneaked out to buy sweets and magazines but Megan had walked through the nearby paddocks, stroking the horses’ soft, warm necks. Their breath on her hands never failed to calm her.
Now she hopped over the low side fence and as soon as her feet landed on her manicured lawn, she hugged herself. Inside, she found a tampon and took a Valium to calm her nerves. She lay on her bed and stared at her old friend the ceiling rose. Laurie was out running and would be gone at least another hour. The old waves of panic began to surge and she breathed deeply to hold back her rising tsunami of anxiety.
As her eyes closed, she braced herself against the flare of a familiar image of sharp sunlight flashing through paperbark trees and a small sweaty hand beseeching her. Megan’s fingers strained to reach but, as always, failed to connect. And then the scream, the gallop of racing rocks, the bodily thud. Megan surrendered gratefully to unconscious.
This is an edited extract from The Spin Doctor’s Wife by Theresa Miller.