Sam sat in the waiting room watching porn on her phone. There was no one around. Regardless, it was still a perverse secret mission. In the back corner of the room, with her eyes darting from entry points and back to her phone, Sam plugged in her cheap headphones and turned the volume down as low as possible. Opening a new incognito tab, she typed the words red tube. Scrolling through videos, she clicked on the first one with a high rating. A self-described staunch feminist, she momentarily wanted to deconstruct the porn rating system but shook her head—there was no time for that now. Sam was on a mission to create a hospitable environment in her uterus. Without knowing what the term meant, or if watching an 89 per cent rated video of three people banging would help, Sam figured it couldn’t hurt. Nervously, she watched.
Melbourne IVF’s level four waiting room was familiar to Sam. Dr Alison Chan was due to implant an embryo inside her as she had done many times before, this occasion unique only because it was Sam’s last embryo. She should have had another in the freezer, but last month one didn’t thaw out properly, and was destroyed. This threw Sam’s much thought about embryo count into disarray. At a clinic appointment a few months earlier, Sam asked Dr Alison to implant two embryos at once to increase her chance of getting pregnant. Dr Alison said it didn’t work like that. The quality of the embryo isn’t the problem—it’s the hospitality of the environment. Sam thought about her inhospitable uterus. She imagined it holding a sign that said Fuck off while giving the middle finger, and then she hated Dr Alison.
The image of her mean-spirited womb stayed with her, and after a quick waiting room Google of how to create a hospitable environment in your uterus and realising she had no immediate access to bone broth, Sam settled for watching porn. Despite no internet evidence to support her, Sam clung to her made-up theory that she would get turned on and somehow, this baby would stick. Sam couldn’t come back here again. Being inside this building physically hurt her. She cupped her phone in front of her and watched as the sexy Romanian college girl straddled one man while simultaneously giving another a blow job. But Sam wasn’t turned on. She was distracted. By bone broth and her diminished sick leave and her dirty hair. And the waiting room was purple. Instead of a blue/grey colour palette and plastic or vinyl chairs, this room was pale purple. The comfortable couches were soft pink, and the magazines were recent. There were flowers on the counters and the reception staff spoke in gentle sympathetic tones. This was not an environment in which one watches porn.
Sam’s partner Will arrived. Because he rode his bike to work it was a novelty for Sam to see him in his work clothes. He was handsome and seemed even taller than usual. Sam repeatedly hit the back button on her phone and clumsily dropped it into her bag. She kissed Will as he sat next to her. She locked her eyes onto their hands, which automatically entwined. He stroked her arm but neither of them spoke. Sam wanted to tell him about the porn, but instead, she silently recalled accidently watching a sex scene on TV with her parents when she was a kid. Eyes closed, picturing her childhood lounge room, Sam’s body conjured up the same gut-sick feeling it had decades earlier. How could the ABC betray her like that? How could a show called Brides of Christ do that to her? She remembered her dad, also in apparent agony, sending her to the backyard to turn off the pool filter. Relieved, she did what she was told. The memory filled her with shame and embarrassment, more so than watching porn on her phone on a pale pink couch in a public waiting room. She was back in the room again. She had to watch the porn.
Sam’s name was called out and she and Will entered a sterile little room. Sam couldn’t remember how many people had seen her naked in the past two years. She regularly had doctors manipulate cameras inside her vagina and there were at least ten hospital staff present when her bare legs were in stirrups during egg collection surgeries. Going behind a little curtain to undress and don a hospital gown, when only Will and Dr Alison were on the other side, seemed redundant, almost prudish—but that’s what you do. So that’s what Sam did.
Sam lay down. She and Will locked eyes only briefly but managed to convey hope and love and despair all at once. They held hands and waited.