A Glimpse Into A Parallel Universe


“How old is your daughter?”

The woman behind the pharmacy counter caught me off guard. I was flummoxed.  I instinctively looked around to see if she was talking to someone else. Then it hit me.

What’s the right metaphor? Had I entered into the land of Oz. Scratch that. Too much around me looked the same.  No, it was more like getting access into a private club. I’m getting closer … hmmm.

Ah! That’s it.  It was as though I had been magically transported into an Infertile’s parallel universe — the mommy and daddy universe.

The thought bubble over my head filled with questions and exclamations: “You can’t really be talking to me? Are you? Wow, you are! You think I’m the mommy!”

That’s right. The pharmacist had completely ignored my brother-in-law after he indicated that my niece needed a stronger type of cough syrup to combat some cold/flu symptoms. The pharmacist had focused her attention, laser-like, on me. She calmly repeated her question. “Now, how old is your daughter?”

I blushed, a small part of me wanting to hold on to the moment as long as possible. My brother-in-law, distracted by the rows and rows of cough syrups lining the shelves, responded immediately, “Eight. She’s eight.”

I nodded in agreement. The pharmacist’s gaze didn’t move from my direction. “Does she have a dry cough or does it sound like congestion?”

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There was no point in correcting her — as if it would matter in this instance. “There’s a bit of rumble, but it’s mostly dry,” I responded knowing well my own cough. I had picked it up, too, after my niece had covered me in spontaneous hugs and kisses in the few days since our arrival.

Earlier in the afternoon my brother-in-law had handed the little cuddle bug off to the responsible parents of another little girl who was celebrating her birthday with a group movie viewing involving 10 of her best friends, half of whom were also sniffling, coughing and sneezing between their squeals and giggles. It was December in Dublin after all.

Now back in my own house in my cozy sweats, sipping tea and fighting the cotton candy in my brain (compliments of jetlag and cold medicine) I’m struck once again by how different the worlds of Fertiles and Infertiles are.  There are no sugary sweet cereals on the table, no other-worldly sound effects from kiddie consoles filling the air, no play dates to arrange, and no one eagerly appearing at my side to request another game of Mad-Libs (one of my favorite classics).

I realize how easy it is for the world at large to naturally assume that all adults of a certain age are parents of some kind. There’s nothing to indicate otherwise. And that’s part of the difficulty in trying to explain the Infertile’s experience of living in a parallel universe.

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18 Responses

  1. Chrissy

    December 29, 2007 4:18 pm

    I am beginning to think that the only way to avoid situations like this is to invent a universal stamp for the forehead that clearly states “no children, but not for a lack of trying” so people could hopefully avoid making assumptions.

  2. Lori

    December 29, 2007 5:33 pm

    That is one bittersweet universe to inhabit.

    Touching post, PJ.

    I’m making a virtual honey/whisky/lemon concoction and sending your way.

  3. Irish Girl

    December 29, 2007 6:33 pm

    I’ve had that happen to me while caring for the kids in our life. It is a strange feeling when someone assumes they’re mine, I guess like having a brief glimpse into motherhood. Secretly I hold on to those moments too. But then it stings and I wish it hadn’t happened at all.

    Glad you made it home safe. Feel better soon.

  4. loribeth

    December 29, 2007 9:34 pm

    I’ve had a few moments like that, mostly with our nephews. I remember taking them to a restaurant, & the younger one diving beneath the table to retrieve a dropped toy. As I hissed, “Adam! Get up, it’s filthy down there!” I can remember thinking that everyone was going to think this was MY kid & I was responsible for his behaviour, lol.

    Welcome back! (I also have a Christmas cold.)

  5. melissa a

    December 30, 2007 1:48 am

    I was directed to your site from the NY Times responses to the fertility diet responses. Thank you! I consider myself an articulate person, but often times I draw a complete blank in putting words to the feelings of not being able to have a child. I just wanted to say that discovering your blog has been very timely and helpful for me and to encourage you to keep writing.

    • Pamela Jeanne

      December 30, 2007 3:29 pm

      Dear Melissa,
      Thank you for your comment. It feels good to know that I’m helping others who are also struggling to make sense of infertility — in whatever little way I can. Wishing you strength and peace. PJ

  6. Deathstar

    December 30, 2007 2:08 am

    Yeah, been there, done that. When my nephew was visiting, people just assumed he was ours when we went out with him. It was kind of nice. But he was also on his best behaviour when hanging out with me. My sister has to 24/7 concern herself with his entertainment, his education, his illnesses, etc. I try to remind myself of the freedoms I have now. Does it make a difference? Not really.

  7. deanna

    December 30, 2007 5:06 pm

    My 3-year-old goddaughter looks, strangely enough, a lot like me (and not much at all like her parents!) When I’m babysitting her and take her shopping or to lunch, people always assume that she’s mine. I only correct them about half of the time. The times when I don’t say anything, it’s a mixture of just not wanting to deal with the explanation, but also just taking those few stolen moments to pretend they’re right.

  8. chicklet

    December 30, 2007 5:38 pm

    It’s strange isn’t it, the way everyone assumes we’re all parents? The way they assume everyone wants kids and can have them easily? Little do they know the stress their assumptions cause.

  9. luna

    December 30, 2007 6:23 pm

    yeah, hard to tell which feeling is stronger — the strange yet compelling desire to embrace that solitary moment of “pretend” motherhood, or that awkwardness and sting you’re left with… no, not so hard, the sting is more powerful. hope you’re otherwise enjoying your holiday! ~luna

  10. g3

    December 30, 2007 7:22 pm

    First time visitor from Mission Impossible. This was a thought provoking post. People do make sweeping assumptions.

  11. beagle

    December 31, 2007 1:51 pm

    This is one of those great posts where I want to comment but am stuck for what to say that will actually convey my thoughts. I’ll try anyway.

    Moments like the one you describe here are so bittersweet to me. On the one hand, they make me want to bask in the moment of “Hey, I could be the mommy” but then the pain of remembering that I’m not is just too great for me.

  12. Yodasmistress

    December 31, 2007 4:31 pm

    I’m often mistaken for my niece and nephew’s mother. It’s freaky and unnerving.

  13. Bea

    January 1, 2008 1:21 am

    It’s true – people make that sort of assumption all the time. It does ensure you have to keep explaining yourself, which is tiresome and also a painful reminder.


  14. kareno

    January 6, 2008 12:57 pm

    Yup, been there done that too. Hated the feeling of satisfaction I had afterwards, after all, I’m coming to terms with living child-free, what’s this huh? When I read about assumptions like these, the following always springs to mind:

    ASSUME = making an ASS out of U and ME

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