I ran into attempted motherhood like a wall and it grew to become the worst period of my life. Eventually, a garden of possibility broke through the mound of crap and enabled me to like the unexpected life I am now living.
I was 35 and charmingly, newly in love. With this shiny affair returned my dreams of parenthood. The sword of Damocles of my 40th birthday was just far enough away for me to build an idyllic mental castle: there was me, together with my new beau, and two beautiful children, with the various accoutrements of a comfortable life, including a nice home, close friendships, lots of sex and laughs, satisfying employment, enough money, rah rah rah.
My boyfriend quickly jumped on the baby wagon. After some months of finger-tingling doctors’ visits and loaded up with vitamins and my first armful of facts to increase the probability of having a healthy baby, we went at it pretty joyfully.
Trying to get pregnant is initially pretty hot. The first time we had sex with no contraception was great. So exciting, so hammered full of possibility, the very profundity of life itself and the weight of the decision to dive in and go on this crazy ride with an incredible person I loved so much. That experience is a little fainter the second time, a bit more the third, and from there on in seems to evaporate, leaving “trying to conceive” a really good way to kill a sex life.
Everyone seemed to be pregnant everywhere.
With time passing and no conception, I can now see my boyfriend’s growing reticence over the whole thing. His career had got shaky, his income was small and falling, he was dissatisfied with the city where we lived and ultimately wanted to change countries. While his desire waned, mine grew. My longing coated everything I saw. Pregnancy is such a heady and romantic state, so alluring and filled with the potential for fulfilment, no wonder it’s the harbinger of tremendous desire. The fecund girl, her swollen breasts and belly bursting with life, simultaneously a symbol, vessel and identity with life itself.
I imagined myself pregnant, felt tiny fingers in mine, I dreamt about babies, felt ill with jealousy when I saw pregnant women on the street, on TV and films. When my unknowing acquaintances and work mates would happily share their pregnancy news with me it was a slamming kick in the stomach. Everyone seemed to be pregnant everywhere.
As I sank more and more money into doctors my life became the menstrual cycle. Days one through five, the period. After the initial crushing trauma of bleeding that couldn’t be rationalised away as “implantation bleeding”, I’d proceed to count off the days until the 10th. Then the fertility drug Clomid. There followed alternate days of doctor-recommended missionary sex with a pillow under my butt.
Days 10, 12, 14 and 16 passed like this, compulsory sex following the most thinly-veiled seduction. Then the awful rise of hope, a hyper awareness of my body, I would fill with anticipation as I got closer to day 28 and the nasty biological trick that early pregnancy and premenstrual symptoms are the same. My boobs would get big and swollen, sometimes day 29 or 30 would pass and I would be positively giddy, only to be hurled back down the hill to push my expectations up again next month, Sisyphus-style.
My boyfriend seemed OK with how things were. He was verbally sympathetic but he’d produce little reasons to delay. At first he suggested we wait a bit so I’d qualify for maternity leave; then, my sister’s cat had stayed with us – best have another toxoplasmosis test; then, I might have chicken pox – best not have baby sex for a while; then, I had a miscarriage – he was too upset to try again for months (even though he wasn’t the one who’d had the period with bits in it – oh to experience reproduction from the bleachers). Finally, he insisted we move interstate – best wait till we’re settled before finding a gynaecologist. I dragged along this suitcase with jammed wheels to age 38 when, after following him to a new city on the other side of the country, I went into a full state of emergency.
We were confirmed as medically infertile (not due to my age) which left IVF the only way we could have a child together. This is, of course, massively expensive.
I poured my broken heart into reviewing the masses of material on donor IVF.
What began as a joint project had morphed into “my” project. I was left with the bills and the organisation, justified in the topsy-turvy universe of our interaction on the basis that I was the only one working. At the time I took this as his general laziness rather than dare think that he didn’t want a child … although the evidence of this was mounting. He lost his sperm test form and took weeks to get another; he wanted genetic testing to reduce the risk of disease, adding $ 6,000 to my bill. He wanted to live in another country, a project I’d shoved to secondary status after the baby; he lamented what sex with us used to be like and mourned the origin of his child in a specimen jar.
“We used to have fun,” he said, “Now all we have are big scary problems.” He didn’t attend the last counselling session required for us to start treatment on the basis that he wanted to move overseas and did not believe I would facilitate his dream once I had a child.
This brought me to my knees and I moved out, aged 39 and six months, to go ahead on my own through the single woman IVF program. My eggs were rotting in my ovaries at this point. I poured my broken heart into reviewing the masses of material on donor IVF.
Although I’d converted my application to single status, attended more compulsory counselling, read books on explaining donor conception to children, I stalled at the last minute – much like my boyfriend. Instead, I turned 40, spent my IVF savings on two overseas trips and pulled the pencil out the closing door of reproduction. At least now I could change jobs, I thought. I’d gone down to part-time work after telling my boss I was undergoing IVF. I hadn’t been able to admit the break up for fear of being returned to full-time work in a stressful job with which I could barely cope. The fictitious boyfriend thing had become absurd.
At this time, my younger sister got pregnant. It was the first pregnancy I could not run away from because we are too close. Instead, it forced me to put my face into the centre of the thing that caused me so much pain. When my niece was born, something miraculous happened. I realised that with her I’d got the baby I so desperately wanted.
At the other end of a short plane ride, I could hug this tiny thing and touch her soft skin, listen to her sounds and gurgles, buy her gifts and take her into my life to make us important to each other. This was the way a baby fitted into my life. I didn’t have to have my own.
I was too crushed from the end of my relationship and years of infertility to start motherhood by myself. I had no financial resources, I’d moved to a city where I had few friends and no family to join the boyfriend who was now my ex. The pieces wouldn’t fit regardless of how I shuffled them. My staunchest supporter, a close friend who had a child with a husband but without money, who’d encouraged me to go for it, back peddled.
The kicker was it costing at least $ 10,000 to get pregnant. Most people do that bit for free. When I looked at motherhood on my own I saw a really hard road, with crummy clothes and no money, lugging strollers up flights of stairs with a sore back, a stream of penny pinching, labour and loneliness that would take 20 years of my life. I wasn’t sure anymore that I wanted to become a mum under any circumstance.
I’ve often heard it said that having children is the most profound experience in a person’s life. The love for a child is complete and without experiencing the self displacement of raising children, this love remains inaccessible and incomprehensible. After coming out the other end of attempted reproduction I can say that not having children has been the most profound experience in my own life. The soul-crushing pain of it all has placed me on the other side of a river where I can see life as less of a string of acquisitions (husband, children, real estate, career accolades, objects) and find contentment and satisfaction in what I have. I learnt to live without getting what I wanted. I am so grateful for that.
- Sally-Ann Rowland is an artist and a lawyer