In line at Ikea, I saw her. I had an hour to kill in between appointments and Ikea was right there, so I decided to get some lunch. In their restaurant there were bins chockfull of vegetable stuffed animals. The bright orange of the two-foot tall stuffed carrots drew me to them. The size was almost baby-like. Not nearly as heavy, but still reminiscent of my own little carrot. After lunch I headed to the checkout, squeezing my new find with a warm sensation in my chest. As I waited in the ridiculously long line, I saw her. A woman I used to work with, a young doctor. A few rows over she was about to checkout, with a baby on her chest in a carrier and a toddler by her side. I watched as she reached the cashier before me and sighed in relief that she would be gone before I got to the end. But then she bought some food at the stand. And then forgot the bottle of water she wanted. As she crisscrossed in front of me, my heart pounded in my chest.
I didn’t know her well, but she might recognize me. I’ve referred patients to her. If she were alone, I would have been less anxious. What scared me were the babies. I envisioned her coming right up to me with a baby in on her chest, in my face. She doesn’t know me well enough to know my situation, so I would be forced to make awkward small talk with her, unaware of the torture she was causing me.
After I checked out, I kept my head down and walked out, avoiding any contact. I was free. But that warm feeling I had holding my newfound carrot was gone. My carrot felt too light to replace my baby. And the foreshadowing of future interactions was discouraging. A momentary reprieve. I avoided her, but there will be others, many others.