There’s a spare room next door to our bedroom which has spent the last four and a half years moonlighting as a laundrette cum potensch nursery. It’s got the Victorian fireplace, neutral paint, obligatory laundry paraphernalia and faint hints of south east London’s finest coming from next door. The window looks out onto the side return and garden outside. If you look up at the sky, you can see the house scape, local library and sunsets that seem to envelop the Shard, currently lit in NHS blue.
It’s not the first nursery in waiting not to be filled by a small person and I’m afraid it won’t be the last.
So convinced were we that my due date would bring home the baby bacon, we pressed go at seven weeks pregnant on a loft conversion. We spent ages discussing ‘where the parents would stay’, where ‘the bubba should go’, who needed the more room (one parent travelled with more luggage and accessories than an actual baby).
Suddenly the future held great nesting excitement. At last we had hit peak middle class baby on the way grand designs! Bring on Kevin McCloud! Our little Victoria terraced house was heading the way it was supposed to in the Timeline of Life. A chubby little butterball high on Farrow and Ball dreams with a Dulux colour match budget (IVF in some women really puts the bloat on, and I was packing it), me, baby and progesterone looked at room dimensions, swatches and then had a three hour nap each afternoon. Add finding the best decaf local coffee from the now sadly closed Bianca’s and being signed off work under strict orders from my consultant, I was winning. I felt that our three and a half years’ trying hardship and immense first IVF round was behind us and I could look happily, if still nervously, to the future. (the immediate future being slicing my vag in half giving birth to what both mothers jokingly termed a big baby, given the height of my husband and the width of our faces).
Not to be a Debbie Downer, but it was the last time we would feel this clear sense of life direction.
The loft conversion company found out I had miscarried and sent me beautiful flowers with the most thoughtful message. It turned out the owner and his wife had been through an identical experience. The team who subsequently did the base build and second fix navigated us sensitively, even coming to our house one evening to discuss light fittings and ending up discussing wombs. You know you’re onto a good man when he can build and openly sympathise with baby loss.
By September that year we had a second mortgage, a finished but empty loft conversion and a due date in October that would never be met. On the upside, we had relative biological youth, an amazing NHS consultant and five frozen good quality embryos at our local hospital. No more Gonal F and cetrotide stimulation injections! (Famous last words). No more feeling like a burning sausage about to pop and wanting to throw myself under a bus! No more ovulation trigger injections at 2am and an egg collection 36 hours later (although the cup of tea and bourbon biscuits I had post operation was spot hit. We didn’t need Covid-19 to tell us our NHS and NHS staff are top quality). This was going to work out! Our baby’s brothers and sisters were on ice being taken care of by the best embryologists in London, in the best hospital in London, the hospital where I found out I was pregnant – how’s that for a positive omen – with the best, most stylist consultant who told me “you will have a baby.” Parenthood appeared a horrible, grief stricken delay, not a denial. Going back to work, feeling irreversibly changed, anxiety, panic attacks – the fact I had survived IVF and then this just meant I and we had to keep going, no matter how terrible we felt. So, on we kept. Sucking it up.
It’s surprising how many years you can Yoda your way through a crisis. Infertility reaches the point where, having spent a bloody long time turning yourself and your lives inside out for the Happy Ending, you psychologically beg for an Ending. (To give an idea of timespan and potential breaking points, friends of ours had had three children). Any Ending will do, as long as it provides certainty, an End To All This Shit, and an opportunity to start pointing your life and heart in a new direction. Having been battered on the waves of Ocean Infertility, the greater part is now so exhausted, so beyond the realms of coping it thinks it would accept not reaching Motherhood Island. You’re basically Edward Munch’s silent scream, crying out for an end to this adulting agony.
Then you see a baby, or a toddler, or a family and it reminds you of what you were on course to have. Suddenly you know an Ending will never be enough. You will never stop wanting the right ending. The thought is both galling, frightening and guardedly hopeful, a pause in the storm. I am a mother to babies I have never met full term and it is only now I begin to understand how much a human and a couple will endure.
Do I even know what the right ending is anymore?