How does time do it? How does it have this emotional rebound and distance function? Years can feel like yesterday. Yesterday like years. Everything yet nothing can change in twelve months. We spend a good part of our lives wishing we were in the next place, convinced it will come with exceptional cerebral bonus, that we’ll “feel better”, that “we’ll be ok”, “that all this will be behind us.”
That we’ll be a mum.
This Mother’s Day, I will have just turned 42. It will be a far physical cry from last year in lockdown when our second donor egg embryo was just about to hop on board and my progesterone injections thanked my ancestors for my Botticelli bum. This year I am moving, chronologically and physically at least, through pregnancy after loss. Staring down the barrel of a John Lewis nursery essentials list. And do you know something? Out of everything I expected to feel and wanted to think, I’m not ‘there’. I’m here. Still holding my emotional breath. Treading psychological water. Believing yet not quite believing. Living more in the moment than I ever thought possible because rewinding or going forwards doesn’t work for this leg of Maybehood. They say babies come with an awful lot of stuff but I suspect it’s nothing compared to what I’m going to need to unpack, at some point, if, when, this happens.
Ten years trying. Nine IVF rounds. Eight embryo transfers. Unexplained infertility. Two IVF pregnancies. My genetics retired, gracefully, like a ballerina who’s danced around the houses and come to the Artistic Director role. Watching my stomach grow bigger I marvel at the science, the luck, the epigenetics. In my head my writing is travelling at a million miles an hour through the umbilical cord, words fizzing in the placenta. I comfort myself that our baby will have all the best bits of us both and maybe find passing Maths and Science GCSEs a damn sight easier, that they won’t find public speaking such an ordeal. In the absence of knowing my mind has caressed the imagination and it has been a balm to rival the infamous Burt’s Bees. For us this was absolutely the right decision – the quiet joy, the wonder at carrying our child. Like everything in the world of infertility and loss, this game of life has come at a price but it is one I would pay over, and over again.
I am in love with my baby and this keeps me going through the days and nights of classic, one hundred percent PAL. The catastrophising. The acceptance, again and again, of no control, no say, not knowing. Self-soothing. Weighing up odds. Fear. Self-soothing again. My love for Pumbaa fuelled me through the relentless five years gap between them. You can endure an awful lot for love, I’ve discovered. Now it grounds me, reminding what I, and women, are capable of.
I’m beginning to see that the ‘there’ I defined in my thirties as ‘becoming a mum’, the so called glowing pinnacle of personal success (I’ll speak for myself here) may as well be the top of the Shard at night. I can see it if I squint from the bog in our south east London bathroom but I’m never going to reach it because a) I’m not a professional abseiler and b) depending on the time of day, season, or world event, it changes colour and illumination. If I allow my mind to grope gently into the near future, I see with fifth decade clarity that even a live birth won’t deliver ‘there’. It will always be evolving, some new life goal post that either society, or worse I will have in my mind. Managing matrescence, the physical, emotional, hormonal and social transition to motherhood. Self-evaluating my and our parenting. Wondering how to get through the day to day hard knock life of early parenthood. ‘There’ will always remain lit like a cocktail sign in the distance, changing to suit the life circumstance, the emotional need, the psychological promise of tantalising, better future days.
What can I report back, for what it’s worth, from over half way in the Maybehood ocean? It’s been a heck of a long journey and hell knows I’ve had the time to think. Caught between both landfalls, Mother’s Day – like Christmas, Valentine’s and your birthday – is the arbitrary 24 hours to celebrate the archetypal feminine icon. It can press buttons like nobody’s business because very few of us – perhaps none of us – live in a Hallmark TV candy cutter world. We feel our humanity deeply on this day because fundamentally all of us have been birthed by a mum. It can shine a light on both the quiet, mundane, messy magic of motherhood, and the desperate sense of displacement we may feel in relation to our own sense of being a mum, perhaps our own mother, our own place in the world. And in a very real sense, the day demarks those of us who have live children and parents to parent and those of us who don’t – and the longer I sail the good ship infertility and watch all the women in my life, the more I want to call this out.
Some of the most maternal, loving acts have come from friends and women I know who do not have children. Some of the most maternal, loving acts have come from friends and women I know who do. Motherhood is not a route to perfection, the only route to complete fulfilment, to getting ‘there’. Mothers are to be celebrated in exactly the same way all women are who show others love, empathy and strength, irrespective of the fecundity, productivity and personal choice of their reproductive systems.
I have been in that shower, howling, before, during and after Mother’s Day, always tucked so neatly around my birthday. I have felt my heart pierced again after yet another miscarriage and seeing small people do their small people thing, wondering and never knowing the answer as to what our child would have looked and sounded like. What they would have said and done. How they would have seen the world. I have spent many Clinton cards days existentially battering myself and wondering and if I may, I’d like to offer you this.
This Mother’s Day needs to be a glorious, no holds barred, celebration of you. Every little bit of you, your thoughts, desires, needs, hopes, dreams. Everything you’ve done. Everything you haven’t. An outpouring of love for exactly who and where you are right now. It can take any form you like. Cards, flowers, chocolate, meals, champagne, rum, gin, wine, walks, treats, spa treatments, a lie in, a relaxing cup of tea, a meditation, a walk with friends or loved ones, a run, an all-day binge marathon of Love is Blind, Married At First Sight Australia or Homes under the bloody Hammer. I don’t know, but you most certainly do. If the global greeting card calendar gives us 24 hours to celebrate ourselves and the women in our life, who are we to disappoint Moonpig and Funky Pigeon?
It’s kind of like the Shard. It can look all twinkly and magical but sometimes up close it can be blowing a howling gale as you dangle at the top. But you have a head for heights and a competency in emotional abseiling that would make a professional blush. It’s why you’re reading this.
Happy Mother’s Day.
This blog has been inspired by Tommy’s At every moment. Of every journey. “We See A Mum” campaign, and the wonderful women in my life.