Next week I am attending a talk in London by Jody Day, of Gateway Women, the amazing support group I have just joined, online. A group founded by Jody, for women childless by their circumstances, be they medical or any other. None of these women are childless by choice, some are still hoping for a child, while others are on their Plan B for life or Plan C.
It’s my first valid opportunity to encounter women like me, face to face. Women who are finally opening up to each other, sharing their ongoing experiences and offering each other support. In other words, on this occasion, good old chat about it,in public. A major step for us all in this (stuck in the mud) unchosen secret field.
Since I exposed my infertlity within the outside world, I’ve reignited my writing for self therapy. As a result, the ever present complexities involved in guarding my relationship with my childlessness are creeping into my consciousness.The potholes and blockages I encounter, when confronted. The painful process of opening up in public. I call it, Privacy and the Pain of Exposure.
There is something deeply invasive and profoundly personal about my inability to have a baby. It is the flawed part of me, the damaged beyond repair part.The part I cannot explain or justify or apologise for. The only part of me, that hurts me continuously, more than any man ever can.It is my vulnerability, my shame and punishment, my cross to bear and my sorrow.It is the worse thing that has happened to me in my life as a woman and I live with it everyday.Rarely a day goes by when I forget.
If think about being honest when telling unaffected people, people with children I mean.Telling them the actual, raw agonising truth of it. A large lump appears in my chest and spreads out between my ribs setting like a thick clay.If I’m not careful, it hardens, like a stone, too heavy to move and I am pushed back inside myself, unable to speak any honestly at all. At other times, this stone weighs on me and pulls me into emotional voids ,dangerous and reclusive, rendering me useless and incompetent,grieving…and I haven’t ever known what I can do to stop it.
Throughout the years its ever-presence has taken its toll, at the same time my maternal instincts have demanded I stand up to my responsibility. Never to be self indulgent under any of this grief, to straighten my back and hold up my head, while all the time it stays with me, quietly humiliating and torturing my dreams and probably my misplaced pride.
I am sensing that meeting these women may start to ease that stone out a little bit. Allow me to breath more calmly.To lay my angry armour down and restore my energy. We have missing pieces in our puzzles and ones that don’t fit. Our lives are different from the ones we’ve imagined and strived for. Years of wanting desperately, to have a child. And each woman takes just one careful step at a time ….the next high or low step demanding her full attention, taking the joy of spontaneity out of her life.
A Bit of History
When I was first diagnosed? (thats not really the word). I couldn’t even say silently.Not even to myself silently, it exposed me to too much mental shock and eternal fear…..and it made it true.
They were words from another planet, I was an 18 year old girl, who thought she was a woman.I could hardly get the words out“They told me there’s a high probability I might not have a baby.” I nervously misquoted a couple of times, to my Mum.She wouldn’t have a clue what to do or say, apart from to tell my Dad, who didn’t either.
It was something like “Ah… that’s very sad, that’s a real shame” and then when I said something about maybe, should I perhaps? go back to the hospital about it?. It caused concerned looks and “You don’t want to have a baby now, do you?” and that was pretty much it!……and I thought ‘Yes ! actually. I do want to have a baby now’ …and from every single moment since.
It was 11am in a London NHS Gynae Ward.I had gone to A & E the night before.Not for the first time, twice previously I’d been sent home.Last night ,I had arrived (under strict instructions via my boyfriends Aunt, she was a nurse) clutching the evidence! My excessive blood loss. Collected in a plastic vanilla ice cream carton (it had a blue lid on it). I handed it over with a look of determination to take me seriously.It worked and they did. I was kept in overnight and taken to surgery for a laparoscopy under general anaesthetic, I was at risk of having suffered an eptopic pregnancy, something women die from…..Now it was done,the morning after the night before……
“There’s a high probability you that you won’t conceive” They were the words used by the middleaged sister and only because I had asked her. ‘What had they found from the operation?’ Unsympathetic, I saw a trace of disdain on her face.Ten minutes later, as I attempted to keep my head and attract her again. I wondered, if she was a bitter woman with no man or child in her life? Or did she just think I was a teenage slut who deserved everything she got.
I finally did get her attention.Slightly annoyed as I was interupting her work,she said “It happens to alot of women,they get used to it.You will too.”
Evil Bitch! I thought… That dialogue would never happen now.
The 1st time I saw the Doctor was on his 2pm round.He examined my double stitch belly button,remarking in his soft aged upper class accent,”Well that’s healing nicely, you can go home today.” I did ask him, could he please explain it a bit more to me. He muttered,barely audibly “inconclusive” and “cant be sure.”
I certainly wasn’t sure, I didn’t understand at all and I fell into a state of shock…The ‘ High probability?’ My only experience with probability was in maths, I started to wish I’d paid more attention in class, I knew it meant not conclusive, but what did that mean? Nobody seemed to care! Who was going to help me? Who could I ask ? Was that it?
I was secretly terrified of what this unknown undreamed of event would ultimately mean. Although I didn’t show it, I felt the very foundation of life was being pulled out from under me. I was in a living nightmare that I desperately needed to wake up from.
After the initial shock.My brain spun out into a mental state of overdrive, racing and crashing in confusion, causing severe headaches and irregular breathing.Already a stone overweight, I expanded further. It felt like I was on very bad drugs, partly I’m sure due to my sugar cravings and erratic sleep patterns … I swung around feeling in danger of going mad. I tried to be rational. Whatever it was?…surely it couldn’t last…. I wandered like a lost soul through Mothercare on my own, mentally picking out my favourite baby things and watched TV in misery ,flicking through the programmes to find the ones with babies in them, pushing my emotions. I exhausted myself with crying sessions that lasted 2 days at a time, couldn’t leave the house and to say I felt sorry for myself would be an understatement.I was beyond anything, hoping for anything! I thought I would cry until I broke through to the other side, where a kindly Doctor would rescue me, acknowledge my pain, and help me to have a baby!!!!!…
So this fairytale of desperate logic finally developed itself into a plan by time I was 19. I got fit, lost 2 and a half stone, slapped on my warpaint and marched to the Doctors in hope of finding my ‘Knight in a White coat.” Mission underway.
The way I saw it, it might take a year to conceive, then I would be pregnant for 9 months, by which time I would be 21 and that wouldn’t be too young. ……I started the process of hospital tests. The blood test, the dye test, the scan…..they were all 6 months apart. I was like a tragedy in my own soap,waiting for my happy ending. During this period, my best friend got pregnant, which was a very good thing for me. It kicked me a little further toward the reality of what I was really facing and what I wanted.. and between those tests, I started to toughen up a lot…. and I haven’t stopped..since then, its been pretty much, tough girl all the way..
It’s tough to break through your own tough fragile skin on demand, it hardens you in ways you don’t imagine, or maybe thats my personality! (although I tend to think that being childless has shaped my personality a great deal) I have been told I’m arrogant and insensitive , that I just go in for the kill and….wait for it…that I’m…’Not a real woman’ ( thats mainly from rejected men, that don’t know )
I am passed caring. Don’t tell me what to be sensitive about ! When my balance is somewhere in the stratosphere,I am completely in my own world and I have no interest at all in other people and their petty dramas that could easily be solved, “It just depends on how I am feeling that day”….. I am constantly accommodating myself, I can’t accommodate everyone else,not anymore, I have tried..but to know what to say to people when you have 20 seconds, at the drop of a hat? …..Somedays you don’t want to open that wound,for fear of bleeding to death and it is after all, None of their business.
My ‘None of your businesses’ always made it worse. Attack tactics ultimately lead to anger and tears, mine.
And my “Oh,I’ve had years to deal with it.”
The point is. What I don’t want to do, is to be drawn into a conversation about it, leading to puppydog eyes looking at me till I confess, when I’ve got things to do, like live ! A level of living that requires me to be upbeat and without mascara all over my face when I’m dam well making the effort… In truth. I’ve had 28 years of ‘it dealing with me!’….and the intensiveness has turned back in on me, mentally and emotionally affecting my attitudes…Perhaps I should just say that “I dont want to talk about it because I dont want to think about it,because it makes me feel like crap! And that I wont do it, to satisfy their need to be caring or nosey or both?”.I may sound bitter and to a certain extent rude and very ungrateful.I’m sorry if it comes across that way,it’s a complicated issue. Not only has the subject been taboo, it’s one of fascination and reassurance for many, that it hasn’t affected them…. And those other looks! Those smug bad actressy ones full of patronising pitying.The ones that say ‘I can get pregnant and have children, there’s nothing wrong with my womanhood.’ Not all mothers are like this but there are enough.
Even hospital appointments are difficult to handle. My infertility arises practically every time I have an appointment for anything…it is forced out into the harsh reality of the cold, on a form or a computer screen….and I do a quick run down for the Doctor and brush it off, while I pretend to focus on the real reason I’m there. Everytime. It rips me apart. Instead of staying calm, it starts to eat me from the inside out.. an all consuming ‘hunger’, that wakes up and forces itself thru. It fights my self esteem, my intelligence and my mental stability.
Most working situations are a given. Usually about a month or so after meeting colleagues, you get to know a bit about each others personal lives, your status, where you live etc. As the child statistics are raised around the kettle, I sense questions in waiting. If I’m working I often want to it keep out of the conversation completely, even if people do know. Married at 23. Full invasive surgery at 24 ,chlomide to increase my monthly egg count for 3 years!!!.(I think it’s less is now, if they’re still prescribing it ) The expectant questioning from women can become increasingly persistent almost to, telling me off! for not getting on with it.”Ooh..You don’t want to leave it too long!”. What right do people think they have?
If you’ve been married for say 4 or 5 years. They are desperate to uncover the nitty gritty, this is not good if you work In a large office of women, where its not a secret, there is no hiding place.If somebody has even a snippet of outside knowledge on the subject? Then they know the answers!. 5th hand true life stories. If I do start to tell them some details, I can see little worried shocked reactions on their faces, its like top secret information to them. I am cornered into one to one discussions in the loo. They’ve been thinking about what I’ve said. Do I think they should come off the pill and get checked in case.The words”I don’t want to end up like you.” have been used on a handful of occasions. StrangeIy, I can just about take that, even tho it’s a bullet. It’s a truth. This is pretty much every womans worse nightmare.
By the time I was 30, I was single again.Single in the1st half of my 30’s, meant being “Out there” which meant questions from men as well, especially men. Often relentless in their inquiries, to the point of insensitivity,rudeness and accusation. Attempts to be apologetical in their intrusiveness to appear “nice guys” usually failed.Their arrogant pushing and searching ,trying and figure me out, got to me. The more I diverted the conversations, the more they brought them back. At worse, I was anti children But more importantly. What effect could I have on them ?
Usually, guys in their 30’s and 40’s needed to know my age, if I had children and a brief relationship history, to establish I was normal , over a few drinks of course. But once they were into their flow, they’d go for the jugular.”Didn’t you want to have children then?” I couldn’t have any of it.I’d feel everything inside me drop and start to feel sick.Plus, I wasn’t prepared to be some kind of sitting duck. What? So they could have sex with me, knowing there would be no comebacks….? I couldn’t keep a smile after that point, my look was one of a hidden despising man hater.Their caveman instincts would crash through the smooth chat.”But you were married? “Then they’d look at me with distrust..The’You’re hiding something’ look. It was pure interrogation.
They’d either get freaked out and try to end the conversation, or I’d watch their brains tick over,covering all scenarios and hedging their bets,what were their options? Run a mile? I was obviously desperate to get pregnant by any man I could? Or a one night stand, because there was something weird about me and either wouldn’t give a shit if I never saw him again or if I was that weird possibly stalk him. These were men with supposed intelligence and “good jobs” they didn’t have a bloody clue. It was all “what they could get” At this point I’d think of going to the loo and leaving. Whats the point? It was my private business. So eventually, I started to say ‘I’m looking for marriage and children’. I didn’t need to hear their quick crap analasys, they could ‘Fuck off’. However, I did get some satisfaction out of letting them know, I had zero interest in them and they did become a handy outlet for my anger.
In open conversation we are regarded as public property to some extent, especially after a couple of drinks and the pressure is on to reveal, however if we don’t , its easily assumed you have something to hide, maybe something you are ashamed of. Grief in our society is only really recognised in death or seen as a temporary state, for miscarriage.
Acquaintances and friends closer to me , have been more sensitive.They have not pretended to understand. Nor have they found it easy to talk to me about it. But they listen sympathetically If I bring it up.Even a sense of guilt at times comes over them, for their own happiness at having children, which of course I don’t want them to feel. And a few of my girlfriends have not taken their fertility for granted, as a result of my experience , I’m glad to have been able to raise that awareness. If nothing else. ..I don’t wish this on anyone… I don’t want to ‘Rain on their Parades’ and I don’t want to be felt sorry for. However as I entered my 40’s, I found friends children were everywhere, growing into adults, even starting to having babies…it was then, with a distance of generation I was able to start saying “I wish I had a baby.” Its’ the most successful response for me,I am passed the gossip age, too old too care. I’ve had genuine heartfelt looks and exchanges with women, especially mothers. It’s provoked,genuine inquiry and opened up the question of inquiry.”Did I mind talking about it?” ….. “Of course I don’t” and I’d listen to their stories ,you know the ones. About the women who against all odds had got pregnant at and lived happily ever after’….I know people mean well…..I know where they are coming from.In truth, ‘ Just as with grief’ They don’t know what they should be saying. If we don’t tell them,Who will?
I have kept my pain from exposure,because I’ve had no safe outlet and its had no rights of passage …. I am still a bit scared pushing it out now, the physical pain alone that has blocked and gagged me for years.This is pretty deep stuff.
At worst, I feel robbed of everything meaningful and at best,denied a happier life…Now that I am meeting other infertile and childless women.The ‘Upto date me’ is manifesting herself, in this life long relationship with my condition .The long and intricate spell that has woven through me, holding me tight and almost captive,in my very personal grieving sanctuary. Is hopefully about to unravel, away from the harshness of the outside world.