Now for what’s possibly the most tragic part of it all; I wasn’t sad when she left, not even slightly.
I was relieved.
I felt like I could breathe, I can remember hearing my own breath, the inhale, the sound of my lungs expanding and the steadiness of its release. She was suffocating, stifling, actually because she was frightened. If I had to compare her to an object which I'm aware no one's asking me to do but I’ve always loved a visual aid; A pillow.
Confusing things pillows; soft, comforting, the thing you gravitate towards when it all becomes too much. They also have the potential to suffocate you, don’t they? With help I mean, not on their own. Don’t panic, I don’t know something you all don’t. You can rest easy tonight, we’re all perfectly safe. What I'm trying to say is that her illness was the constant aid behind her suffocation of my personality, my whole being, the stifled household of which I grew up in, there was no freedom to express, no opinions of your own, the only comfort you felt you could turn to would turn itself on you whenever it took its fancy. When it was soft though, it was nice, I liked it. I write this part as a newly turned thirty-four-year-old woman with tears streaming down her face wondering why it’s taken a society too long to understand the critical need of consistent, unconditional love in early years. The judgement passed on generations of adults gone by before anyone even considered to question the crux of it all; Childhood.
I didn’t sleep for nights after I saw her again listening to my heart pounding through my eardrum wondering what the f**k had just gone on. I replayed it all, her opening the door asking who the hell I was before realising who the hell I was, then inviting us both in for a cuppa. I thought about her hands, her teeth, her hair. I saw her living room, her bathroom and the empty tea canisters in the kitchen.
I thought about the way she tried to touch me and how unwanted that was.
I thought about how screwed up and sad it all was.
I thought about what makes a mum.
She asked if I would write,
I said I couldn’t.
She asked if I’d forgiven her,
I said no.
She asked if I loved her,
I said yes.
We had the love story, the white, media worthy wedding. Got the semi decorated to a high standard, feature walls, open plan kitchen, bit of decking, pot plants, you know the drill. Secured careers, built up a good circle of friends had exemplary credit scores. We were so ready, we needn’t ought to even bother having sex I should have just noted I was pregnant one morning over my Nespresso machine, an immaculate conception for being so organised.
Only we were bothering, a lot. There was scheduling, charts, trackers and ovulation kits. Lying upside down, rehydrating only with pineapple juice, consuming green food only. That’s usually the first kind of crazy shit you start doing when there’s a glimmer of an infertility issue on the horizon; eating green stuff, anything you can get your hands on, grass isn’t even safe. Why? Because you recognize very quickly this whole pro-creation malarky is very much out of your control but you cancontrol your leafy green intake so you buy a Nutri bullet, hold your nose and pretend to enjoy it. There were all sorts of strange things going on in our house but month after month, the cramps I would try to deny were happening, the blood I tried to pretend wasn’t there, simply was. Every month for a year.
Something else that starts to happen during this time of scheduled conception attempts is a developed heightened awareness of what’s going on around you. You suddenly become that really reliable radio station that never dips out of signal. You can sense which one of your friends are pregnant before they even tell you. You note exactly how many months it took a friend to get pregnant from the date they first mentioned they were trying. You sit on wooden steps together in the sunshine hiding your mouth in the cup of a warm tea for fear she might see just how painful it is for you to swallow after her happy news.
You listen to the well-wishing and stories of a woman who conceived octuplets after two years of trying because she had some acupuncture. You smile and you nod, you take the hugs then you go home, stuff that pillow back inside your mouth and you cry your soul out. Because you know. Deep down, something isn’t right, that we wouldn’t sit within that 84% I just instinctually knew by this point we would be a part of ‘the others’ The one’s no one really talks about but all secretly hope they won’t become. This book by the way, I’ve partly written for you, for us.
We ignore each other for a few moments, which is really quite difficult in this instance because what you’re actually doing is ignoring the only other living, breathing person on the planet right now that’s feeling the exact same levels of anxiety, at precisely the same time as yourself. (I think they call it self-sabotage.) Not long after the initial stand-off we both give in because we’ve finally had this epiphany ourselves. I stare at him and him me, we just sit there in silence simply looking at each other. It’s a different type of look, the one you give your partner when it simultaneously crosses both your minds for the very first time, you might not be able to have children. It’s vulnerability and what makes it vulnerable is the flip side to this teletherapy we’ve both just inherited means we both know we’re each looking to the person who has always been able to offer some comfort in times of unknowing, only not today. We can’t do it for each other today because we’re both frightened.
She was right, Our fertility counsellor. The woman we would become very well acquainted with over the next few years. She was right on more than one occasion. She once said; (Mid way through some passive aggressive therapy sofa digs we were throwing at each other) Men are like a waffle. (Hearing her say that whilst looking directly at him was worth the £60 alone) The little squares in a waffle and they need to stay in that square, check out every part of it, before they can move on to another one. The ego fuelled looks I was giving to Mr waffle Meister over there were abruptly wiped off my smug face when she turns to let me know I’m like a boiled piece of spaghetti. “Needing to reach out, explore other parts on the plate even if it’s just to know other parts are there.” Suddenly the £60 doesn’t seem quite such value for money.
And whilst I’m not one for gender stereotyping people into food groups, in our instance I have to say she was on the absolute money. Boiled spaghetti was my exact mental state at this particular time and he made an absolute spectacular waffle. I want to talk immediately after this appointment about every, single, possible option and gloriously catastrophise them all. What if we don’t even qualify for treatment? If it doesn’t work? We break up? I have a breakdown; he has a breakdown. He just doesn’t. He wants only the facts, cold, hard, medical evidence and he’s not going to even allow himself to think beyond the next appointment. This becomes a bit of a running theme and where ‘they’ start to creep in. The non-sensical third person in your marriage; ‘Infertility’
So we wait, he waits (I speculate) alongside the next couple of weeks of blood tests, scans and him doing his thing in a pot for analysis we try to respect one another’s respective food group and hold on to each other the best we can.
Us adults think life is complicated: mortgage repayments, careers, how to avoid sitting next to that family member you loathe at Christmas.
Imagine being a child feeling the need to ask a stranger if you’re going home to live with them. A child with no sense of permanence, unconditional love and a fight for self-esteem.
That’s where it comes from by the way, the passion, the bollocks to jack in a career spanning over seven years to found a fully inclusive brand representing all families, plonk my arse down to write two pages a day until this god damn book is finished.
From these kids.
Because nothing, no challenges in life, no school of hard knocks or short straws compares to the ones these children are facing.
I’ve been asked that a lot since Not a Fictional Mum was created.
Now you have my answer.
We resurfaced from the loo, neither one of us having given the other a pep talk. We’d had a little hug in there, agreed it was going to be rough but not half as rough as it was for those children, so let’s get in there and enjoy the privilege of their gorgeous company for a few hours.
We rode trikes, played table football, laughed, learnt how to play a wooden frog. NFD committed himself to a table of glitter (any excuse). I was locked away for one hundred million years by the miniature Spiderman, only allowed to escape if I were to use his trike to go to Asda and buy his baby sister some nappies.
There we have it ladies and gentlemen, a perfect example of the adult levels of compassion these children are capable of. For a few precious moments he is Spiderman, immersed in a world of high steepled towers, energy balls and fire breathing dragons but not entirely, there’s a part of himself he leaves sitting on the side-lines for his baby sister. The need to know she will be ok, that her basic needs will be met. He can’t allow himself to only play make-believe, he’s been robbed of that.
We played with mini-Spidey and his baby sister for most of the afternoon. He was beautiful, so was she. We did go home that night with a paper copy of their profile in my handbag. You can see why these days are effective, a couple who had never considered siblings leaving with a profile. We’d had the most amazing few hours with this charismatic little Spidey and his adorable sidekick, why wouldn’t we take a copy of their profiles home? I had to restrain myself from standing at the exit point with a whole pile, thrusting them in everyone’s faces in the hope someone looking for siblings would notice them. I knew, I suppose, in my heart of hearts we wouldn’t be able to commit to two children. I knew our threshold, our capabilities, I recognised two children having experienced a level of trauma would be too much. We weren’t prepared to take a risk and just ‘hope it would all work out’. No child deserved that.
I sat with my sister on her bed the next day surrounded by her latest collection of house plants and sobbed for a good hour or so. I felt like a selfish cow, weak, why couldn’t we just get a grip and make it happen for those kids?
I pushed aside an aloe vera leaf gaining access to the mirror, took a good look at myself and told the insult that is ‘adoption saviour complex’ to piss off. No adopter is there to ‘save’ anyone. Spidey doesn’t want parents in search of their grip. He needs a firm hold and a bloody tight web at that.
I want you to know how incredible you are. The little boy I spent no more than a couple of hours with taught me more than any teacher, lecturer or company big bug had over the years.
One of my life’s greatest pleasures, you locking me in that dungeon.
An absolute honour and a downright privilege.
Image credits: Design by Mecob. Book designs, cover and other images are for illustrative purposes and may differ from final design.
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