Recently I was chatting with a woman I know (not particularly well) and she said something about all the kids we were going to have – to fill the big house we bought. I took a deep breath, and said we weren’t going to be having kids. Her reply was “never say never”. I took another deep breath and said we couldn’t have kids. When she asked whether we’d tried everything, I told her that we’d turned ourselves inside out trying to have kids, and that we couldn’t. For once I was able to talk about it in matter of fact tones (maybe because I don’t know her that well?), I wasn’t choking back tears, I wasn’t afraid I’d break down. I did feel sad, but not engulfed in raw emotion. I finished by saying it wasn’t the worst thing in the world that could happen us. And, I really meant it.
Our last ICSI cycle was full of hope, tinged with an unpalatable dose of realism. We knew, from our previous cycle, it was unlikely to be successful but we still hoped. We still dreamed. We got one stage further in the process, and made it to egg retrieval, and as I waited in the theatre, I could feel myself getting emotional.
To calm myself down, I started singing Chasing Cars in my head. As the drugs took hold I started to hallucinate, I imagined I was in our back garden, playing with our child – I had images of us playing swings and airplanes, climbing a huge apple tree (we had bought a very small apple tree a few days earlier), running around in circles and finishing up lying on the grass beside each other. When I came around, I was very disoriented and the song was still going around in my head.
The following morning, our hopes were smashed. Like a glass bauble, they smashed into tiny pieces that exploded everywhere. They’re still turning up in the most unexpected places, hurting us. I know someday those glass pieces will reform to become a new dream, they will fuse together to become something different and beautiful. But tonight, they are pieces of broken glass.
Despite being an affirmed atheist, I used to love Christmas. Last year, I found Christmas difficult – our first ICSI cycle was cancelled and we weren’t sure whether we’d be able to start a cycle in January. I found myself muttering, for the first time, that Christmas was for children. I wasn’t having an easy time, and was beginning to realise that we might never have kids.
This year, we know we will never have kids. So, in our family, Christmas can’t be just for children. Things have been hectic for me in work recently – we had a big conference this week – so I haven’t really had much chance to think or plan for Christmas. But I realised that I had, without realising it, been wondering how to ‘reclaim Christmas’. So, I’ve decided we’re going to have a ‘sophisticated Christmas’. Of course, M. did snort with derision when I proclaimed this, pointing out our distinct lack of sophistication.
Two things that don’t go with children: candles and crystal. So, I’m busy getting candles of all variety of shape and sizes. I’ve also recently bought lovely crystal glasses, that will get their first outing on Christmas day. And we will have a lovely twinkling, flickering Christmas.
Our tree will be decorated with the decorations we’ve gathered over the years, without any ornament on top. Every year, as the youngest in the house, I’ve put whatever (its varied from year to year) on the top of the tree. We’re starting a new tradition in our home, the top of the tree will stay unadorned.
I wasn’t one of those women who grew up knowing they wanted kids. In fact I rationalised all the reasons I didn’t want kids – the world is overpopulated, I enjoy my career too much, we enjoy travelling too much, our lives are too chaotic, we couldn’t afford to. The real reason was that I felt it really important that I didn’t just wander into having a family, because that was the ‘given thing to do’. I thought that nothing was more important than a child being born where they were very much-loved and wanted, not because it was the usual thing to do. I also thought it important that if we did choose to have children, that we would be able to love and care for them with a reasonable amount of emotional and financial stability. All of this melted away once we did decide to start ‘trying for a baby’ . Once that decision had been made, nothing else really mattered. At first it was great fun and exciting – and of course we expected it would happen quickly. We laughed about those various frights over the years when we were actively making sure we didn’t become parents. We talked about how great it would be, what great parents we would make and how much we were going to enjoy it. Gradually we stopped talking about it, we quietly worried. Afraid that if we verbalised our thoughts, they would become a reality.
We were both anxious not to turn ourselves inside out, that we did not want this (without ever defining this) to take over our lives. We set ourselves limits, there was only so far we’d go. And then suddenly we were anxiously waiting to see when we could start our first ICSI cycle. And then, 6 months later, we were hearing that there was no point attempting another ICSI cycle. Within two years we’d gone from excited anticipation to numbing despair. We went from talking about how we’d be great parents, and how we’d do things differently from everyone else (and I know how arrogant that sounds!) to realising that dreams we’d never fully articulated are never going to happen.
Sometimes, I feel like I’m getting my life back on track – other times it comes out of nowhere and grabs me by the throat. Despite everything, we turned ourselves inside out in our quest to become parents. We entered into a tunnel where nothing else mattered. Nothing else was within our field of vision. Now, we’re beginning to crawl back towards the light. Blinking a bit at times, and at times wanting to run back into the cocoon of darkness. Trying to get our old lives back, while knowing we’ll never have our old lives back.
I have recently found out that, traditionally, a 10th wedding anniversary is celebrated as a tin anniversary.
It’s our 10th wedding anniversary shortly. We’re going to Paris to celebrate. We’ve never bothered celebrating wedding anniversaries previously. There’s been more than one year where one or the other, or both of us, forgot our wedding anniversary. There was also a year where M. forgot, and I ‘misremembered’ the date. But this year, we’re going to celebrate.
For families with children, family milestones tend to be built around children. Family celebrations are associated with births, first-steps, starting school, going on to college, starting a job, meeting a partner, the arrival of grandchildren. These tend to be shared and celebrated. We’re not going to have those milestones, so we have to mark our own celebrations. Have our own milestones. And celebrate that we are still here and enjoying life together.
We have to create our own traditions and celebrations. So we are going to Paris where we can sit in cafés, lose ourselves in waterlilies, gaze at the architecture and celebrate in Paris.
This week I chatted (separately) with two old friends.
The first I met for dinner on Monday evening. We’ve known each other since college – or more accurately since I was in college, she was still in school. She has known for the past few years that we’ve been trying for a baby and never mentioned it since I told her. I (it turns out wrongly) made the assumption that she wasn’t comfortable talking about it. In the meantime, she became pregnant and had a wonderful daughter who is now over a year and a half old and the light of her life. As my friend became more excited about her pregnancy, we were learning the indignities involved with infertility, she became a mother around the time when we learnt that IVF/ICSI was our only chance of achieving a pregnancy, and her daughter’s first birthday was just after our last failed cycle – just before we were gently told that we had reached the end of the road. Throughout this time she, understandably, became consumed by her daughter and could talk of nothing else. And I became slower and slower to tell her what was happening us. I kept thinking that the timing was wrong, and that I couldn’t tell her what was going on with me given what was going on in her life. I reasoned that she wasn’t comfortable in talking about it if she didn’t ask me. At the same time she was wondering what was happening and thought if I didn’t mention it, I wasn’t comfortable in talking to her about it. We could have both saved each other some hurt if we’d spoken up.
Last night I was chatting on the phone with another friend. We’ve known each other since the first day we started national school, shared digs in first-year in college and then shared a flat together for the next two years of college. I’ve moved around a fair bit since, so we don’t see each other very often at times, but we’ve always stayed in contact – over the years we’ve chatted about nothing, calmed each other down when we were buying houses, getting married, had work crises and the other things life can throw at you. She also knew we were trying for a baby and was one of the first people I told when we were referred to the fertility clinic. I told her about the various injections, the ICSI, the disappointments and the heartache of learning that there was no point in keeping going. At the same time I’ve shared in her delight and panic when she was pregnant, listened to her describe her son’s birth and celebrated the milestone’s he’s reached since. She, and her family, called up to me a few weeks ago when they were on holidays nearby. When we went out for lunch I tried to create as many chances as I could for her to tell me she was pregnant – short of asking her was she pregnant or had she put on an awful lot of weight I couldn’t have given her more opportunity. I knew it was very unlikely that she had put on that much weight in a short enough time, so was fairly hurt when she didn’t say anything. I was even more hurt when she did tell me last night. While we were chatting on the phone, finishing up our conversation she said ‘oh yeah, bit of news, [her son] is going to have a brother or sister’. While I’m delighted at her news, it couldn’t but touch a nerve. And she told me like it was a thing of nothing. And that hurt.