In the lead up to Mother’s Day, there’s a hint of festivity in the air. Retailers are vying for our attention and family are making plans to get together. I’m fortunate, I still have my Mother and she’s a strong presence in my life. I know others are not as lucky. For me, it’s also a time of reflection. You see, I’m not a Mum myself and whether I like it or not, feelings stir in me at this time of the year that make me pause and consider my life choices.
I never felt strongly about having kids, it was always something I was going to think about later. I’m an average, everyday person but there were times over the course of my life that I felt a little different to everyone else. Internally I challenged society’s norms, I could never quite see myself living the 9-5 kind of life or marrying and having children. The entire notion of this bored me but I couldn’t admit this to myself. You see, I’m from a big Italian family and it’s an expectation that you leave home only when you’re married and shortly thereafter, you start churning out babies. But surely there was more to this routine based existence. So, I blocked it from my mind and got on with life, thinking I’d come around one day.
Before I knew it, I was in my mid 30’s, in a long term relationship but not married or with kids and still no idea if I wanted them or not. I did know that my delay tactics would only hold out for so long – I was getting older and my fertility was declining. The pressure to make this life decision was sometimes overwhelming and it had been since my late 20’s. I couldn’t work out whether I was denying my true desires or whether I was simply fearful of missing out on something everyone else had.
My partner and I decided that when I reached 37, irrespective of our situation we’d stop contraception and hand it over to God or the Universe to decide. I was ok with that, it took any real decision out of my hands. Then I turned 37. At that time, our relationship was rocky to say the least. We were battling mental illness and its impacts; we were upside down and unstable, so making things more normal came first. It wasn’t the right time to try for a child so I decided to leave things – I’d think about it later. I could hear my biological clock ticking away in the background – sometimes it deafened me and other times I completely ignored it. Despite this I still didn’t really know what I wanted.
Life got back on track and I knew that if we were to have a child it was now or never. At 41, I fell pregnant naturally. I had defied the odds, it was a miracle. My partner was delirious with joy, and our families were ecstatic, but I didn’t feel that way. I was devastated, and sick, and depressed. Was it my hormones? All I could think about was how much I wanted, I needed, to travel, and with a baby this wouldn’t be possible, at least not in the way I’d known before. I felt like my life was over.
But then I stopped feeling so nauseous and that made me more positive about things. We’d find a way to travel and nurture my soul somehow, perhaps this was meant to be after all. What I didn’t know was that a couple of weeks earlier I had miscarried. For anyone who has ever been in this position I am so, so sorry. It is gut wrenching and I will never forget the nurses numerous questions when she couldn’t find a heartbeat at our scan, or the look of devastation on my partners face who had worked it out before I did. On top of everything, I felt guilty. Had my negativity and misery caused this? I believe in life that you get back the energy you put out, so had my prayers been answered in this horrible way?
After that something changed in me, there had been a shift on the inside. I couldn’t look at a baby the same way.
TV commercials and anything baby related would make me cry and I felt like there was a hole in my heart. So we started our IVF journey when I was 42. For the next one and a half years, my life was not my own. We became so emotionally and physically invested in doing whatever it took to have a child that the rest of my life was on hold. The physical and emotional pain, the highs and lows of IVF are indescribable and etch themselves onto your psyche forever. One step forward was followed by three steps back. I became addicted; ‘just one more cycle, it might work this time’ became my mantra. I couldn’t believe I was so obsessive about something I never really wanted before. All the while my partner and the doctors were giving up hope and I struggled to hold it together. Why couldn’t I have this and why oh why did I leave it so late? I would dream of holding our baby in my arms and I could feel its love and warmth touching me and I just wasn’t prepared to give up on that.
In the end, the IVF doctor refused to treat me unless I used donor eggs. My body was entering peri-menopause and he said I would not fall pregnant without them. For a brief moment I felt relieved, this obsession could stop. Besides we could always adopt, use donor eggs or find another way to have a child. And then the grief set in. I would never love my own child. I would never talk about whether our child had mine or my partner’s features, I would never be a Mum to my own biological child and it felt like someone had punched me in the guts.
My grief led to adrenal fatigue, which physically wiped me out. There were days when a simple corridor conversation at work would leave me breathless. So for another year I shunned life. Not intentionally, it was a survival mechanism. I didn’t want to talk about what had happened or how I felt or what was next and I didn’t have the energy to. I could do the bare basics only. I cried a thousand tears and slowly started putting all of my broken pieces back together, thanks to time and the love of some special people around me including my partner. He was hurting too, but never stopped loving and giving to me when I needed it the most.
I know I have options, I can be a Mum if I want to be…but here comes that indecision again. I worry that one day I’ll be old and will have no-one to look out for me. My partner will pass (I’m convinced he’ll leave this world before I do), my parents will be gone, my brothers and sister will have families of their own and my friends will have grandchildren. I will then be all alone. But on the flip side, am I too old now – it’s not fair on the child; would I love a child that’s not biologically mine; would my family, and can I really be bothered? This all hangs over my head. I’m a person who goes after what I want with all I’ve got so why can’t I make a clear cut decision about this?
A counsellor once said to me, not making a decision is actually making a decision – so maybe in a way, that’s my answer.
Only now am I starting to see the sunshine through the clouds again. The tears still rear their ugly head sometimes, but less frequently. I have a great life, and I’m mainly feeling happy again. I’m surrounded by beautiful and caring souls, I’m challenged and mentally stimulated, I’m wondrous about life and what’s in store for me and most importantly, I am completely surrounded by love. I am blessed in so many ways. Having biological children doesn’t seem to be part of my life’s purpose (and yes, that’s still hard to acknowledge at times). There’s another reason why I’m here, although I’m yet to work out what that is. I’ll need to find another way to leave a legacy and use my nurturer skills that come so naturally to me.
This Mother’s Day, I’m adamant that I won’t get upset and cry for the first time in years (although I’ve already shed a few in the lead up). I’m going to concentrate on serving others and celebrating the beauty of Motherhood and in particular my own Mother who selflessly gives to her children. I will think about the child we lost and that’s ok, because he or she deserves to never be forgotten.
To all the Mothers of the world and women in general, I salute you. Either you already have or one day you will give consideration to your fertility and decide on whether you would like to have children. Irrespective of your outcomes, these are brave decisions.