“It’s all systems go but, wait, how did we get here? Are we sure, am I sure…?”
I have never actively wanted children. There’s been no longing, no assumption, spoken or otherwise, that I would one day be a mother. That’s not to say I haven’t thought long and hard about it. In fact, during my first marriage, my then-husband and I decided we would join the club engulfing all of our friends, so I came off the pill in my early thirties. I did not become pregnant and I do not think either of us were bothered. We certainly didn’t seek to investigate the cause of the problem or consider other options.
Life went on and, as it happens, we divorced some years later, although not because we were childless. He is now remarried and has a toddler of his own, plus two primary school age daughters he has inherited.
Through separation, divorce and the subsequent rebuilding of my life, the issue of babies and children was relegated. I had more pressing and practical things to think about. Then I met a man who didn’t have children but wanted at least one; perhaps only one. At that point, well into my thirties, I was more sure of my own mind than I had ever been, and I told him I didn’t want children. Just being the two of us would be enough, he told me. Great.
Two rabbits, several holidays and one mortgage later, I find myself having done almost a complete 360. Babies are back on the agenda and the “trying” has again proven fruitless. Naturally, I now assume it’s me as my ex-husband has successfully fathered a child. This fact changes things and I feel at fault, as though I am a fraudulent imposter of a woman. Many peers are on their second, even their third, child. Friends who went through IVF and other fertility processes are all now mothers.
It can feel like a lonely no-man’s land of a place, especially when conversation turns to potty training, school admissions and Peppa Pig. I’ve nothing to add to the conversation and can feel like a second class woman, sat on the other side of a clear screen as the happy chat continues without me. Oh, how fulfilled these fertile women seem.
I find myself visiting my GP, asking for tests to understand where the problem lies. My male GP is caring and obliging and so the scrutiny begins. I have multiple blood tests to gauge my hormone levels, a swab to check I don’t have chlamydia and an X-ray to confirm whether my fallopian tubes are clear or blocked. My partner is troubled for a semen sample.
The conclusion is inconclusive. Everything is as it should be and there is no medical reason that we have been unable to conceive. We join the waiting list and, after not too many months, we find ourselves at the NHS hospital infertility clinic where we are offered a referral for IVF, the first round on the state as we are both childless and under the threshold age. Hurrah for small mercies.
Because I’m still not sure I want to go ahead with physically carrying and birthing a child, I investigate adoption at the same time. A social worker visits us at home, wandering through the house making notes before conducting a preliminary interview in our living room. She tells us that because I, in particular, have no childcare experience and no support network in the Derbyshire town we now live, we cannot begin the process. She advises me to volunteer at a day nursery and (somehow) befriend someone whose door I can knock within 10 minutes of my own, for tea and sympathy when motherhood inevitably overwhelms me.
We’ve lived in this town - and county - for 12 months and both work full-time. Women I’ve been friends with for 10, 20 and more than 30 years live an hour away but are seconds from me by phone. I have great workmates who live between 25 and 45 minutes away. Don’t most new mums make friends with other new mums through local baby and toddler groups? I could perhaps go along with my rabbit to get the ball rolling.
We return to IVF with apparent conviction. Another blood test is ordered and I have a pre-treatment internal scan at the very nice private clinic. Again, I pass the tests with flying colours so feel hostage to my unwilling body which, it seems, has the casting vote. My partner and I meet with the doctor who goes through all the test results and optimistically discusses the process of IVF.
It’s all systems go but, wait, how did we get here? Are we sure, am I sure? Do I just want to be pregnant to know how it feels? I imagine for me it could be like really fancying a bag of crisps and being unable to stop grabbing and eating them, but then instantly regretting the fact that I’ve spoilt my tea.
I’m able to stall treatment until after our wedding in October. Possible side effects caused by being pumped with many months worth of hormones in a matter of weeks, include extreme period-like symptoms, both physical and emotional. A turbo period in the run-up to my wedding sounded like a bad idea. Plus, what if it all went wrong? I didn’t want to forever ruin the memory of our wedding by binding it to a failed attempt at IVF.
I’ve always joked about having a low pain threshold and in recent years I’ve learnt that my emotional resilience is poor, so daily DIY injections, soaring hormones, the inevitable anxiety and potential crushing disappointment really scared me. Can it be worth it if you don’t really, really covet the prize?
I need time to think. I tell my Catholic mum that perhaps it’s just not God’s will for me to have a baby and that we should respect that. Happily, she agrees, which makes me feel relieved. She is already a grandmother twice over.
If I was a man I’m pretty sure I would encourage my wife to have a child or two. It is the thought of becoming the primary carer I most dislike, of having to dedicate myself and my life to a child and all the mundane domesticity and banal trivia that accompanies it. My partner earns more than me and doesn’t want to become a stay-at-home dad anymore than I do a mum. I know because we’ve talked about it.
But why should I give up a career or downgrade for a part-time job because we, as a couple, decide to have a child? This assumed sacrifice on the woman’s part is so unjust and so sexist that I find it immensely frustrating. I feel defiant in refusing to perpetuate this societal expectation. It may cost us a child but my principles won’t easily allow me to capitulate. This is perhaps a bigger issue for me than I realised.
Now, it’s time to take stock. We’re married, the honeymoon has come and gone and we’ve written almost all of the thank you cards. I’ll be 38 in March so the clock is seriously ticking. I’ve seen the IVF charts and how they nose dive after 37. Truth be told, I’m glad I stalled before the wedding because I didn’t call the clinic when I could have, when I was supposed to, when I got my period at the beginning of November. This was the trigger for treatment and I shied away, taking action through inaction.
I am quite sure I will never say I definitely don’t ever want children; that’s too sure a statement and I don’t have that clarity of mind. But if I cannot say, even to myself, that yes, I want a child, then I shall give motherhood a wide berth.
Wedding photography: Megan Wilson Photography
Other images: Unsplash