‘Underneath the desire to be a mum, for all of us, is an even deeper desire to simply be content, whatever the components of that contentment might be. I’m so tired of not being content. To carry on chasing this rainbow against increasingly difficult odds only delays my chances of finding that contentment. I’m sick of keeping this particular ball in the air. I’m sick of everything I do, every plan I make, every decision, being viewed through the lens of ‘whether or not we have kids’. I want to get on with my life; it has the potential to be such a good one, I’m no longer prepared to put it on hold. It is dangerous to believe there is only one route to happiness, and the bravest and most liberating thing any of us can do, in the face of such crushing disappointment, is to imagine a different future.’
I wrote these words in, I think, 2007. I tapped them out and printed them, and stuck them on my office wall. On the 3rd January in that year I had lost a second baby to miscarriage. We’d grimaced our way through three rounds of IUI with only one miscarriage to show for all the agony and effort, then caught pregnant naturally – how, we do not know (well we do know how, but you know what I mean). Christmas was spent enjoying the feeling of breathing out, and then the scan date turned up and blew that particularly happy party right out of the water. I specialise in what the medics term ‘missed miscarriages’, the ones you only know about when someone in a bland room, in a large building, tells you they can’t find a heartbeat.
I thought, at the time, that this paragraph might make it into a book I planned to write about infertility. I spent 2007 doing as I had outlined, trying to start a business and imagine a different future. I’d been on weekend courses – and even run one myself – to come to terms with my involuntary childlessness. I had read everything there was about childlessness, (Sweet Grapes is a crackin’ read if that’s where you’re at) and about being childfree. I had sucked the marrow out of the experience, learnt what I could, and was ready to just get on.
If you are a regular reader you’ll know that these experiences remain close to the surface for me, that I am always paying my respects to the women I know, and those I don’t, who live with the hideousness of involuntary childlessness, day in, day out. It is never far away, and I still feel attuned, poised if you like, to defend women feeling this particular brand of despair. I feel a bit of a charlatan, now that I have two kids, but still, my mental thermostat is still set to ‘sensitive’ when comments aimed at childless couples and childless women hove into view.
Yesterday evening,while on twitter (when am I not on twitter?) a comment popped up from someone we’ll call Freezer. Now I don’t ‘know’ Freezer. I started following her because she was retweeted by someone I do know, and I found her amusing, so clicked the follow button. She wrote, ‘I don’t understand why, with a population of 7bn, and half of them starving, and all of them screwing up the planet, we doing IVF for anyone at all’. I’m pretty live and let live, but, as I say, with my thermostat set to notice such things, I responded; ‘If you haven’t felt the chill of being unable to conceive when you are driven to do so, it may be hard for you to comment.’ A little more, let’s say, responding, took place, and I was moved to click the ‘unfollow’ button. Not quite on a par with Dominic Cummings, but I didn’t come out of it with any sense of having been engaged in a debate with a person who grasped the point I was trying to make. Later on, Mariella Frostrup used twitter to highlight her impending presence on Newsnight to discuss IVF and women over 40. I didn’t watch it – I will on the iplayer – but she’s usually a very reasoned woman, so I’m guessing she would have done a good job. And thankfully Gaby Hinsliff has put all the right arguments in all the right places for us in The Times today. Her piece lays to rest, hopefully for good, the notion that infertility is a ‘lifestyle problem’ endured only by a ‘woman selfishly sacrificing her fertility for a place on the board’. She presents many clear reasons as to why the postcode lottery that determines women’s access to fertility treatment must be brought to account.
Thus yesterday was one of those days that used to make me rant, cringe, and stay indoors. In as much as whenever the media is discussing ‘women’ but referring to ‘you’, it stings. I’ve blogged before about how, when you are childless, the media can trash your day in two minutes flat. And like, I say, I don’t really have any right to get angry anymore, seeing as how I got lucky enough to cross over – but somehow I still do. There is a feature peculiar to infertility that has most ‘endurers’ stuck in an eternal, internal argument. You know that having a child is not a ‘right’, or something that one cannot ‘expect’ simply because you’re here. But the random-ness that leads some folk to get one, three, five or more chances to cuddle a newborn, but leaves others destined to never experience that exquisite moment, is spectacularly cruel. And, when it is happening to you, you can’t run from the cruelty because the media waves it under your nose. Every. Single. Day.
You’d be right to think that I could go on and on about this for a good while longer. But I think I’ll try to finish on a brighter note. The workshop I attended in January 2007, seeking a route, a path through the pain, did me so much good. The marvellous Meredith who ran it, along with her colleagues, is still offering workshops a couple of times a year. You can find out more here. I also found a tonne of support via Fertility Friends, using message boards that were, some days, the only ‘places’ where I could speak. And, for those who have suffered the loss of a pregnancy, there is a relatively new charity, Saying Goodbye, who are gaining momentum as they run memorial services across the country.
I won’t be writing that book now, as I have no insight into what it is like to be a permanently childless woman. I’ve stepped through those particular sliding doors. But as Meredith taught me, Motherhood is (just) one way of using our creativity, and there are a lot of other ways to use your time here on planet earth. If you’re right in the middle of this horror story at the moment, then this will offer you no consolation. If it seems to you that you will forever thus feel inclined to have your head under the covers, I can’t say that it won’t. I accept that I am no longer in a position to offer you any comfort. But I truly hope that something does.