It’s bad hearing you can’t have a baby. Worse if, until that moment, you were far from certain that you wanted one. And especially shocking if these discoveries hit after two long years’ striving to get pregnant.
As I learnt four months ago.
An IVF specialist announced that, contrary to past advice, ‘it would be a miracle’ if my husband and I conceived naturally. And I felt as if someone had stolen my innards, then dropped me through a trap door.
Sebastian’s response was more cerebral. ‘It’s like we’ve been given A-star in an exam, only to be told, sorry, you’re gamma minus.’ But he was no less upset. Unsurprisingly, since this baby lark was his idea. Apparently, in this we’re an unusual couple. Yet ambivalence about parenthood always seemed natural to me.
For years he urged, ‘We’ve got to get on with it.’
‘Says who?’ said I, hoping he would reply, ‘Me.’ He didn’t, enabling me to discount the possibility that he truly wanted this.
So the question – to breed or not to breed – lay between us, often mentioned, examined seldom. I vaguely expected to wake one morning, ravenous with ‘baby hunger’, or suddenly go gooey, passing Baby Gap.
But while I adore friends’ kids, that they go home is always a selling point. As a tot, I detested baby dolls. At 6, I vowed to enter a nunnery after channel-hopping into an Open University film, ‘the miracle of birth’. Today, greeting neighbourhood mums with their prams of precious blossom, I’m not blind. After initial exhaustion, most emit a rosy glow, as if possessed of an intoxicating secret, known only to a select group of two: a parent’s delirious love for its child.
Yet my primary feeling for these mothers isn’t envy but pity. Primarily, for the awesome responsibility: to learn how much to give, how little to expect, and – hardest – how to let go.
I didn’t take parenthood lightly, you see, but all too seriously. It scared me.
What changed my mind? Realising the ‘urge’ was as likely to strike me as lightning. That my scepticism was logical, as part of the post-Princess Di generation, reared on the two Cs: contraception, and career. But although my self-pleasing life would never grow less appealing, I might regret the lack of a son or daughter. Ideally, I’d skip parenthood to be a grandmother of the grandest variety, available for tea at Claridge’s, trips to Venice, never nappies or knitting. Sadly, this technology had yet to reach Harley Street.
And yes, the mournful eyes of my husband, as we spoke of our lovely nephews, nieces and godchildren, they got to me. Having researched marriage for my latest book, I was aware that family studies all conclude a marriage withchildren is less happy than one without. On the other hand, how could I deprive him? More to the point: what if he stopped loving me and looked elsewhere? Would that be so unreasonable? When we married I took a vow to honour him. The deal was to put ‘us’ before ‘me’.
And marriage experts all concur: a couple can recover from any breach of trust, if both want to. But one form of incompatibility kills. When couples aren’t signed up to the same life dream.
So maybe ‘us’ had room to expand into a bigger number, like three.
I flushed the pill, waited for my periods to return, only to wish they hadn’t. And then feel relief. Phew. I could finish this book, start another, and oh, that play idea… I made plans, lots. None featured moses baskets.
18 months passed. Sebastian suggested visiting the GP. Referrals followed. Humiliating investigations became second-nature (though never will I see a Star Wars light-sabre without shuddering). Finally we learnt that we couldn’t breed after all.
Were we surprised? Not really. At thirty-five, an age women dread as the start of a sharp drop to menopause, I was amazed other doctors said I was hunky-dory, despite polycystic ovaries and decades of slack personal care. As Sebastian is older than I, and a journalist, for him to emerge unscathed from his roué years seemed far-fetched. No, the shock was how much I cared.
After a sleepless night’s sobbing, I started planning. We’d hold our noses and yes, do the damned IVF. Sebastian looked increasingly distressed. And even as I spewed positive patter, I found myself contemplating the options that medicine offers. Donors. Wombs for hire. Adoption.
How far might our baby-quest take us? Would we lose sight of the thing that always seemed more important to me than parenthood’s spurious immortality – the love that bore us for 14 happy years?
I learnt two things. If I was to have a child, it could only be our child – his. And I did want one, because I’d love it as I loved him.
A week later, we went to a private clinic for more tests.
Guess what? I was pregnant. Naturally.
A week later, I returned to the NHS for a scan. The embryo was at an awkward angle, but hard as she tried, the consultant found no heartbeat. She “couldn’t say it was okay”, she said, turning away, hunching her shoulders and adding, “I’m sorry”.
I knew her well enough to know I was justified to cry.
I rang Sebastian. He told me not to be pessimistic then we ate a ceremonial lunch and agreed the emotion was overwhelming. Just a taste of parenthood’s highs and lows. Did we want it? Then I went to bed, started bleeding, and he kept saying don’t write the baby off. At the week’s end we went together to the consultant.
“I’ve booked the emergency room,” she said.
“For the abortion?” I asked. Watching hope fall from Sebastian’s face hurt more than the words.
Out came the light sabre. I couldn’t look at the monitor, or him.
“Oh,” said the consultant.
“Things have changed.”
“Can’t you see it?” said Sebastian.
“The baby’s heartbeat.”
“I’m amazed. And delighted,” said the consultant.
As are we.
And scared. And delighted, as our unborn daughter grows. I pray the emotional see-saw keeps tilting until I die. Preferably before him. Definitely before her.