I’ve alluded to this before, but I can finally be open about it: I can’t have children.
Not ‘properly’, anyway; not in the way that you probably can, or have. We are going through the procedure of waiting for ICSI IVF treatment on the NHS, which began about, oh, two and a half years ago and kicked into life a little more seriously back in May. We are still waiting and will probably be waiting until sometime next year to get the one ‘free’ go on the national health. We are waiting, and waiting, and waiting.
Why am I writing about this? I am one of those people who just writes about things, even if they are personal and unpleasant and don’t put you in a particularly flattering light. I don’t do it to try and garner sympathy or any other reaction; I don’t want your ‘u ok hun?’s or anything like that. I only write about these things because it’s the only way I can really deal with it; and because, possibly, there is a chance that other people going through the same thing might find something in these words that might strike a chord and make them feel less alone.
Because you do feel alone. You feel like the two most lonely people in the world – together alone in a world full of babies. Babies everywhere: people having babies; people walking past with pregnant bellies or babies in their arms; people playing with their kids; other people’s children growing up in Facebook; ‘sharents’ going through all the milestones from first poo to first swim to first tooth to first everything. And there you are, together alone, alone, infertile, incapable, unable, hopeless, lifeless, losing.
You don’t dare tell anyone, because it’s not the sort of thing that’s easy to share. And besides, you hope that it’s going to go away. Something will happen: something will work out. Maybe if you do that differently, or do this differently, or do something else differently, something will change; maybe your luck will alter, and everything will click into place. You start becoming obsessed with days of a cycle and fertility; you start reading and reading and reading up on how to make a baby, all the time knowing that, for most people – or so it seems – it’s not even something to worry about… they seem to pop out babies like shelling peas. It’s not really that easy for anyone else, of course, but it seems that way.
You doubt yourself. You doubt your partner. You doubt everything. But it’s not the despair… You hope, and hope, and hope… until it goes so far that you realise that you can’t dare hope. Hope is just a joke. Hope is something that mocks you. Hope is that part of you that can’t come to terms with what’s happening; hope is the part of you that can’t see what’s happening – that you’ve got real problems.
Eventually you find out. There’s a meeting in a plain carpeted hospital room somewhere. And you’re told that it is your fault, the reason why this is happening – or rather not happening. The thing you want most in the world is the one thing you can’t have, and the one reason you can’t have it is because there’s something wrong with you. It’s not even something that can be explained; it just is the way it is. You just are the way you are. And that’s that.
You start to live a strange double existence. In private, you are desolate, damaged and devastated; in public, you attempt to replicate the kind of ordinary life you had before all this happened. It’s like living with grief, in a way, but a kind of grief that’s stretched out over a long, long period of time, and which has no ‘closure’, no mourning and no burial. It is a kind of grief that will never leave you.
Meanwhile, babies are still everywhere. Babies on Facebook; babies in the street; babies as you walk around; babies on television and in films. Everywhere, babies. Look, all these people can have babies – good people or bad people, there is no god that discriminates or decides who can or can’t have children – but you can’t. All you know is that you can’t. You can’t and you might never be able to, even with all the help that science can bring, or that your money can pay for.
There’s a reason why people have children: it’s something that dwells inside you, the yearning to make a tiny person. It’s something that is there, whether you like it or not, for most of us – though not everyone. You’re not less of a person if you don’t want to have children, and the happy childless, while frowned on by society in many ways, are people for whom I have a lot of time, and envy… I just wish I could be that way, but I can’t. I can’t be happy with being childless. I wish it didn’t matter, but it does. It’s there, every day. I can’t have a baby. We can’t have a baby. It’s all we want and it’s all we can’t have.
I shouldn’t feel like less of a person, but I do. Rightly or wrongly, other people do judge you on the things you have or haven’t done in your life. I am 38 and I don’t have children; some people wonder if I just hate children or just can’t be bothered; some people don’t care. Some people view it with suspicion. Some let a stray fragment of pity wander off in my direction, but as I’ve said I don’t want pity. I don’t want anything except one day for this to end, for things to work out, for us to have a child.
We don’t need advice. We don’t need to be told we should try this, or try that, or try something else. We’ve read all the books and seen all the websites. I’ve read thousands of words, more words than anyone should ever have to read about the mysteries of human reproduction. We don’t need to be asked if we’ve thought of adoption or if we should just ‘try to be happy’ despite everything. We don’t need to hear anecdotes about Person X or Person Y who magically got pregnant when they thought they couldn’t. I believe in the science, and it is not going to happen for us. The success rate of the treatment we will have, when we finally have it, is about 45 per cent. The odds are very slightly against us.
Yes, hope is good, and being positive is good. It becomes increasingly hard to have any hope when setbacks become bigger setbacks, when every chance recedes.
It starts slowly at first, this feeling of being crushed under the weight of it all. You have to hide so much, because on the one hand it’s good to be open and tell the people who matter to you, but on the other hand there’s nothing to tell: nothing is happening, and nothing will be happening for months, so why go through the explanations and the horrible embarrassing details?
What I have learned, though, is that the people you need to be able to rely on – the family and friends who really matter – come through for you. They do understand and they don’t give you pity. They’re just there.
As well as that, instead of making your relationship with each other shaky or painful, it brings you closer together. You have to fight together and be a team. You have to go through all of this together, so you point in the same direction. You help each other when the other person can’t cope; you pick each other up.
We make a good team, you know, the two of us. We’d probably make good pare… well, you know.