What’s it like to want to start a family but not be able to? The second in an occasional series by Kat McKenzie, who writes about the hopes, fears and medical practicalities of trying to be a mother.
It starts in your gut. It’s that feeling you get when you realise you’ve forgotten something really important. You’re sitting there, holding your cup of tea, with a smile plastered on your face, frozen in time for just a moment. Your friend repeats herself: “I’m having a baby.”
Your stomach plummets. You’ve just graced the curve on a speeding rollercoaster and hit the drop. You’ve just come over a blind summit on a winding Wairarapa road. Your stomach is surely in the earth’s core itself by now. Then it moves to your chest and throat. A lump forms. You’re determined not to let it reach your eyes.
She is kind. She speaks softly. She smiles and reaches a hand out to rest it on your wrist. You keep up your goofy smile. You reply a little bit too cheerfully, eyes wide. A little too effusive. A little too obvious.
You’ve learned to cope hearing it this way. No one has sprung a group announcement on you yet, given your “situation”. Your friends seem to be split between the occasional text to check in on you, and those that don’t ask at all. I guess it’s hard to know what to say. They are all busy with babies growing in their bellies or sleeping in cots; newborns attached to slings on their chests or toddlers tugging at their hands. They’ve never been where you’ve been, and they don’t know how to imagine it. You don’t blame them.
The best announcements come via text. Individual messages ahead of group get-togethers mean the most, to avoid a situation where you have to grin and keep tears away. To give you a chance to gather yourself and breathe again.
It’s not that you’re not happy for them – you are thrilled. You can’t wait to see their wee ones and watch them become parents, some for the second time.
You just want to do it too.
It’s been 18 months now.
You RSVP yes to a girl’s night, two weeks after the latest pregnancy message. You started your period yesterday – another month of disappointment, worrying that you’re broken.
The room is buzzing with the excitement that another there is pregnant too. The two women chat excitedly about their first trimester feelings and symptoms. You dig your nails into your palms and turn your attention away.
The doorbell rings and another arrives, carrying her newborn in a carrier that seems to engulf her. She is beautiful and delicate – born too early and catching up – with tiny features and dark downy hair. You make your third trip to the bathroom that evening to fight with yourself to keep your shit together.
The baby is passed around. You ask the friend to your right to take her so that you don’t have to hold her for even a moment, in case you lose it and sob into her gorgeous tiny face. You barely speak to anyone. You leave early.
Your palms are raw with deep half-moons.
You start to worry that infertility is turning you into a recluse. Most complain that they never see their friends with kids – for you it’s the opposite. They all have kids, so they only see each other. You’re often included in plans but those plans usually involve many bumps, babies bounced on knees and pregnancy chat. You love seeing their happiness as they discuss their plans for their new arrival. You chime in with information from studies you’ve read – years of knowledge you can’t yet put into practice. A look of concern often crosses their face. “How are you getting on?”
You discuss your possible treatment plan with many and explain what you feel comfortable with. Or what you think they will be comfortable with.
Seven babies are born in six months. You buy a lot of cards. You cross stitch a lot of names. You spend weeks making a quilt. You always want to visit but you can’t always bring yourself to go.
Everyone agrees it’s bad timing. To be infertile when everyone is having babies. But that’s always been the case – everyone is having babies but you.
At a wedding a friend jokes, “Well I guess statistically it had to happen to one of us!” and as horrifying as that would be from anyone else, from her it’s just what you needed that day. You laugh. A big belly laugh for the first time in ages. You grab another glass of champagne. Yes, I guess that’s true. If you don’t laugh you’ll cry. And today is not for crying.
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Today the world is okay. Today I think I might still become someone’s mum. Someone will make us a quilt or give us hand-me-downs. Little hands will grab at me and my arms will no longer feel empty.
One day I’ll be out in a café and someone will look at my bump or my baby with the same look of tender longing and I’ll know. I know that sad smile. And today I have to believe it will happen. Tomorrow everything may hurt again, but today? Today I can see it.
Kat McKenzie writes for The Spinoff Parents about trying to have a family the unconventional way. You can find her on Twitter at @koruandthistle, and on her blog at koruandthistle.com. When she’s not writing, Kat is a singer/songwriter, Netflix-binger, and talks to every baby and dog she sees.
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