Barren nest

This blog is in response to the piece I read by Liz Smith ‘All Grown-Up & No Kids Yet’ in the f-word yesterday, which was itself a response to a piece by Abigail Watson ‘The Mother of Ambitions’, also in the f-word.  Liz mentions that she is 32 and Abigail that she is 16.  I have no issue with either of their pieces; they are absolutely right in their assertion that the expectation that they should want motherhood is sexist and misplaced.  If and when they change their mind, then that is their decision, and their decision only.  (I am also totally at a loss as to why at 16 society is exerting this expectation on Abigail, I have no recollection of this when I was that age).

I am 41 and childless.  Over the last two decades I have swerved between the ‘definitely not yet’ camp, the ‘children are not for me’ camp – and the ‘I absolutely should be a mother’ camp.

When I first got married at 24 I was diagnosed with PCOS (poly-cystic ovary syndrome) which I’d long suspected I had, absence of periods for long periods (ha!) and general hairiness being quite obvious signs.  The consultant my GP had referred me to lectured me for some time on the need to start a family straight away, or rather, start trying straight away, as it could take me some years.  My (now ex) husband and I were not ready for a family; both at the beginning of our careers; both young professionals, parenthood wasn’t high up on our list of to-do’s at the time.  And so we didn’t try.

As my 30s approached, and my 30th passed, we decided it was time.  I came off the pill, we tried.  Now, I know that trying to get pregnant means having lots of sex and I know we didn’t have lots of sex (so many stories behind that) but I didn’t get pregnant and I wanted to be pregnant.  PCOS also meant that anyway I was having maybe three periods a year.  Over time, I became very jealous of people at work who were pregnant.  Walking down the street, I’d be noticing all the prams, all the push-chairs, all the swollen bellies.  My green envy became irrational and I absolutely began to understand what pushes baby-snatchers to snatch babies… I’m not saying I would have done, but I definitely understood why.

And then, divorce at 34.  The marriage had lasted 10 years (although with hindsight, we really should not have stubbornly clung to the institution for so long) and so I decided to stridently believe that children would not be for me; I would never trust another relationship to last, and even if I met another man next week, in 10 years I would be 44 and it would be too late.  So, I made a conscious decision to put motherhood dreams behind me.

I kept wavering though.  Life itself took some more twists into darkness with rape, PTSD, depression.  And I knew even through those despairing years that I was also wasting away my fertility, and that really, if I was actually honest with myself, I didn’t want to be. 

A couple of years back, I was still in a pretty desperate place, but I wanted to turn it around with positive action for what I really wanted in the world.  And I wasn’t going to let the small, minor detail of not being in a relationship with a man who had sperm to give me get in my way.  So, I went for IUI treatment with sperm donation, did a 3 for 2 deal, and started praying for my NoSling to arrive.  [NoSling was my term for my baby, Nate or Scarlett]. 

NoSling didn’t arrive.  Sometimes I find myself talking to my NoSling, and then I remember.  Reading those articles yesterday triggered a deep sadness in me, a grief, if you can grieve for someone that never was, and it’s a grief that I feel very regularly.  Because when you’re 41, like at 32 or even at 16, you will still get asked about motherhood.  And it’s not just annoying.  It hurts.  It hurts like hell.

There’s a choice to make when it happens.  Sometimes I pretend that I don’t want children.  Sometimes I tell the truth, and say that I desperately do, but it’s too late now.  That will of course always result in the reply, but you’re only 41, so&so had one at 45/46/47 (etc.).  Usually the example given is not for the first child anyhow, but who says I want to be a really old mum?  (I mean, I would, but I know it’s getting harder with each year).  I don’t have a man right now willing to give me sperm anyway.  And I’ve just started my own business so financially it’s not sensible either (not that it ever is, financially).  People say, well, you can always adopt.  I’m single, bisexual, poly and kinky, don’t own my own house and just starting my own business (i.e. no income) and I know these aren’t definite no-no’s for adoption (and definitely not for parenthood), but the process is so intrusive, and the chances slim.  And also, why would any child want to feel second-best?  I would adopt but only if I was sure I would love the child as if it were my own.  People say, you only tried IUI, why don’t you try IVF?  Well, if I could afford to lose £10k a go, then maybe…  And then people say, maybe I don’t want it bad enough.

I don’t know if I didn’t get pregnant with my ex-husband due to the PCOS, because we didn’t try hard enough, or because of other reasons.  I don’t know if I didn’t get pregnant with the IUI because I was too old, because maybe I just can’t, or just bad luck.  I do know that I wish I’d fooled around a lot more when I was younger, and not worried so much about pregnancy.  Life might’ve been different, but I think it would’ve been a good different.

I know that not wanting to be a mother is quite a taboo in society; it’s something that as women we can do, that most men can’t.  We’re expected to fulfil our biological destiny.  Some of us, however, can’t and want to.  And no-one ever seems to know what to say about that. 

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Starting Again

This is me, starting again.  Again.  The thing about getting older, that they never tell you when you’re younger, is that you start to realise that you never get ‘there’.  I used to think ‘there’ was studying history at university, it was the only thing I ever ‘wanted’ to do.  Then, when I’d done that, I thought that ‘there’ was buying a flat, getting married, having children, going to garden centres at the weekend.  I never had the children (yet?) but when I divorced I didn’t just let go of the dream house we’d renovated from condemned everything (gas, water, electricity, leaking roof, you name it, it needed fixing), and the Boden outfits, I let go of any stability of knowing what ‘there’ was.  At that time, ‘there’ was just figuring a way to be me, just figuring out who me was.  I was, literally, starting again.

And then, darkness.  The world isn’t the fairytale I believed in as a sheltered middle-class white girl.  What only happens to other people, with other kinds of lives, happened to me.  The world let me down, it hurt me.  Justice didn’t exist.  And I began to live in fear, the panic zone being my constant, bravado getting me through and papering over cracks, sometimes failing, falling, sinking. 

Since then, I have started again, several times.  I moved a lot, looking for somewhere safe.  I re-evaluated some friendships, I re-evaluated my career, my life; I re-evaluated my values.  For a while, I was quite ill, but the miracles of psychiatry mean that I am no longer papering over cracks, coping, I am ‘cured’.  I can do this world.

My approaching 40th birthday last year triggered a lot of deep thinking in me about what I wanted to be doing in my working life for the next 20-30 years.  And it wasn’t what I was doing.  I had one of the most awesome jobs on the planet, having a part in defining the marketing strategy for one of the best brands in the UK, but it wasn’t fulfilling me.  A coaching session helped me to visualise what I wanted to be doing longer term and create a plan for getting there.  I got a secondment, I created opportunities to fill the gaps in my experience.  I was creating the future I wanted.

The opportunity to start my own company probably occurred about 6 months earlier than I’d planned; I wasn’t quite ready, I’d wanted some time to let it settle on me, to build some client & project leads, to get my name ‘out there’.  But you can’t pass-up the opportunity to make your dreams come true when opportunity comes knocking.  And so here I am, starting again.

This time, though, I’m not starting again because I’ve been torn down.  I’m not trying to pick up the pieces of my life post-divorce, or post-trauma, or due to a breakdown.  I’m starting again from a place where this is my conscious, positive decision to create the future I want, to help create a world I want to live in and to always be learning, always be curious, always be starting something new.  Again.