The author and her mother in Montreal. (Photo: Sarah E. Richards)
“You don’t need to come,” I told my mother who had offered to fly last minute from San Diego to Montreal to accompany me to get my eggs frozen. “No, seriously.”
“Well, I am, and that’s that,” she responded.
My head was buzzing from hormone medications, and my heart was broken from wrenching myself away from my long-term boyfriend who didn’t want kids. I didn’t have the energy to argue with her. “Alright,” I said. “I’ll get you at the airport.”
I’d never heard of Montreal being a destination for my peers’ annual “mom bestie” trips or meaningful “bucket list” sojourns when they learned their mothers were sick. It usually occupied a solid slot in the “someday” category — a great place to check out someday, thanks to its stately parks, first-rate museums, and incredible food: poutine at La Banquise; foie gras at Au Pied de Cochon; bagels at St-Viateur; and smoked meat at Schwartz’s Deli.
Nighttime in Montreal. (Photo: Thinkstock)
It wasn’t an obvious destination for medical tourism, either, but I got a good deal on the fertility preservation procedure that would require me to take hormone medications to retrieve about a dozen eggs that would be frozen until I was ready to become a mother. Yet even though egg freezing is largely viewed as empowering to women and — dare I say — even a little cool these days, I was still kind of embarrassed. I’d thought that at this point in my life, a trip to Montreal with my mom would involve shopping for French baby clothes on the Boulevard Saint-Laurent — not rescuing the last bits of my fertility.
I didn’t want her sympathy or her hints at what was now painfully obvious: I shouldn’t have stayed in two long-term “go nowhere” relationships during my 20s and early 30s, when time really mattered. Yet, when I pulled up to the airport curb and saw my mom looking frazzled and holding a bag of Tim Hortons’ Timbits because I was late, I realized that spending a long weekend with her bloated cranky daughter probably wasn’t her idea of a great getaway, either. I was suddenly grateful she was here.
The exterior of La Loggia. (Photo: Booking.com)
Over breakfast at La Loggia Bed & Breakfast, which has an “urban garden” and rooms decorated with sculpture by co-owner Joel Prevost, we planned a relaxed sightseeing itinerary, in case I was wiped out by the hormones. It was understood that our mornings on this trip would be mostly about egg freezing.
As we climbed Mount Royal to reach the castle-like Royal Victoria Hospital, where the McGill Reproductive Centre was located, we chatted about architecture, the merits of socialized medicine, and the fashion sense of the Montrealers (“so practical and so much black,” mom said). She watched the monitor during my ultrasound as the doctor pointed out the dark orbs that represented my growing eggs, and she made dumb jokes about “putting her grandbabies in a Canadian freezer.”
Enjoying a Montreal afternoon. (Photo: Sarah E. Richards)
We spent a lovely afternoon strolling Vieux-Montréal and the Old Port of Montreal, later gorging ourselves on several kinds of foie gras at Au Pied de Cochon, which was probably one of the best meals of my life.
But even the distraction of a jam-packed schedule couldn’t completely relieve the underlying tension. Although my mom was trying to be supportive and cheery and say all the helpful things you’re supposed to say to someone after a breakup, she lobbed a doozy: “So what kind of wedding do you think you’d want?” she asked as we drove around Le Village neighborhood for nearly 40 minutes in search of parking.
“I don’t know,” I responded.
“Well, where would you have it?” she persisted. “Would you want bridesmaids? What kind of dress do you imagine wearing?” I knew what she’s doing. She was trying to say “I get that you’re 37, and this isn’t where you’d thought you’d be in your life. But I’m your mother, and I believe in you. So let’s just pretend this is a little hiccup.”
Still, I hated this question, which has made me bristle every time she’s asked it over the years. Unlike other women who apparently have been planning their dream wedding since the morning after their prom, I’ve never fantasized about mine. I wasn’t sure if it was because of a defense mechanism or lack of imagination, but all this Quebec cuteness wasn’t helping.
“I guess I’ll have to figure it out then,” I replied sullenly. We parked, and I headed straight for the bathroom to give myself my shots, so she couldn’t see all the drug paraphernalia or bruises on my tummy from nearly two weeks of injections. I went to bed at 7 p.m. wearing earplugs to block out the Law & Order reruns she stayed up half the night watching.
Montreal’s Canal Lachine. (Photo: Emmanuel Huybrechts/Flickr)
On the day before my surgery, I was feeling sluggish, so we skipped the heavy-hitting Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and decided to rent bikes to ride along the Lachine Canal, which connected the Old Port to foodie haven Marché Atwater. The path along old trestles and deserted factories was well-maintained, and the ride was relaxing. When we stopped for salted caramel gelato at Havre-Aux-Glaces, she told me about the industrial history of her hometown of South Bend, Indiana. We ended the day at Restaurant L’Express on Rue St. Denis. The sleek bistro with classic checkered floors and zinc bar was so noisy we didn’t talk much and plunged into comforting French dishes like pot au feu and duck confit.
On retrieval day, mom held my hand as the doctor rooted for mature eggs to suck out and eventually plunge into liquid nitrogen. In the recovery room, she brushed the hair away from my eyes, like she did when I was a little girl. “This was the right thing to do,” she says.
A vegetable stand in Marché Atwater. (Photo: Jamie/Flickr)
That evening, I let her fuss over me. I bundled up in a blanket on the couch in our hotel room, and she made dinner in our little kitchenette with the bounty we scored at the Marché Atwater: summer squash, late-September tomatoes, and sausages. We had ridiculously creamy Brie with Cortland apples and Bordeaux and watched Jeopardy! as the evening light streamed into the room.
In the middle of the night, I got up to use the bathroom and noticed she had fallen asleep with a book on her chest and the light on. I studied her face and wondered when she would get old. I also thought about what I would be like as a mom. Would I know when to take care of my grown daughter who didn’t know she still needed me?
Sarah E. Richards is the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It.
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