I was emptying out my bedside drawers the other day when I stumbled across a half-empty box of oral contraceptives. It seemed like a lifetime ago that I had taken them and so I flipped the packet around to have a look at the issue date. 2001. That’s how long I had been off the pill. I’d never really thought about pregnancy before now. My husband and I believed nature would take its own course. Let it be a surprise if we were to get pregnant, and all the romantic notions that go along with it.
Five years later and nothing.
Time is a funny concept. The older we get, the faster it goes and we’re middle aged before we’ve even had a chance to enjoy our youth. It creeps up on you like those fine lines on your face that we’re forever battling to erase. In those five years that I had been off the pill, I never gave much thought as to why I hadn’t fallen pregnant.
That was until the dreaded baby shower invites started to arrive. Of my ten closest girlfriends, seven were pregnant and expecting within three months. I sighed as I said goodbye to the long ladies’ lunches and designer clothing. It would soon be about 10am brunches in the park, glasses of Maison and baby Dior.
Watching others around me embark on motherhood certainly made me curious to get started. I didn’t want to be left behind but as it turned out, Mother Nature had her own plan. Month after month we tried every trick in the book to get pregnant – Standing on my head after sex, elevating the hips, herbal potions, cutting back on our beloved wine and eliminating all coffee and artificial sugar.
There had to be something stopping us from getting pregnant. Everyone else did it so easily. Why couldn’t we? It was time to do some further investigation. I was 34 and didn’t want to leave it any longer. I didn’t want to reach my forties and be left without a choice. I’d tried everything and was getting exhausted failing month after month. Physically, it was tough but it was getting even harder emotionally. Sex for pleasure was a becoming a distant memory and the schedule was beginning to take its toll on me.
Everywhere I went I was confronted with swelling, pregnant bellies and menacing questions about when we would be starting a family. These would echo in my head night after night. Why me? Why us? What was wrong with me? What was wrong with us? Apparently nothing, I’m told. We are both perfectly healthy and capable of obtaining a natural pregnancy. Yet it hasn’t happened.
It’s called ‘unexplained infertility’. I couldn’t help feeling like a bad egg.
The phone rings. It’s another joyous pregnancy announcement. I do my best, “I’m so happy for you!” while holding back the tears. “How long have you been trying?”
Only one month. The first try. Bam. Pregnant.
I want to throw the phone. I hate you. I don’t want to see you. No I don’t mean that. I just can’t face you right now. I can’t face my own infertility. I’m drowning in grief. Grief for not being able to discover that same joy. I want to pee on a stick and wave it proudly to the world. I want to fall pregnant unexpectedly and tell my Mum on Christmas day. But it’s not my journey.
Instead, I inject myself with drugs twice a day to make my ovaries swell after putting me in a drug-induced menopausal state to switch off my own hormones. I’m now at the mercy of science and daily blood tests. My arms look like a pin cushion and the hot flushes are driving me insane. I get a picture of my three-day old embryo to place on my fridge, right there beside my daily shopping list.
Every affair with the lab costs thousands of dollars. I feel dirty handing over the money to buy a small chance for having a little baby of my own. Everything is riding on that one tiny picture. The closest I’ve ever felt to having life grow inside of me.
So when people smile at me in the street and ask, “Do you have twins in the family?” I smile proudly back at them and say “No, these are my IVF babies…Five years in the making”.
PS: I loved you before you were mine. I loved you before your heart started beating. I waited so long to meet you and at times I just didn’t know when, how or why. But now it’s all so clear. If I had not waited, I wouldn’t have you. And it is you that is the perfect soul for me. It was you that I was waiting so long for and it was worth every living moment. I love you my dear child.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem