Mind Your Own Motherhood.
My path to motherhood has been a struggle. And not in the way you might have imagined like infertility issues, battles with IVF, hormone treatments. Maybe I forgot to regularly take my uterus around the block every few years before it completely seized up? Classic mistake but no.
I’m one of those mothers who committed that most heinous of crimes, I waited. To many people, who made it clear to me, I waited too long. I’m trying not to write this while oozing with sarcasm like a split yolk, but it’s hard. Years of commentaries on my personal choices have left me a teeny, tiny little bit hostile. I’ve tried not to let it get the better of me.
I was a bit of a late starter in growing up. After years of false starts I was in need of a clean sheet. At the age of 25 I took myself out of Ireland and off to Edinburgh to attempt to get a degree and a rewarding career. It worked. I beasted university, working full-time to support myself while studying my little mid-twenties ass off and earning a 1st in my degree. My love life was on the up too.
I met Bryan through a mutual friend and it really was like one of those heart-stopping moments from the movies. I still vividly remember ten years later, the image of him walking around the corner, adorably double-strapping his backpack as cheerfully ambled towards me in his (frankly hideous) neon Adidas trainers and cargo shorts. Reader, I fell for him hard, trainers and all…and married him five years later.
We routinely get comments from people about how we’re the most solid couple they know and they’re probably right. We don’t fight. We really don’t but before you throw your device in the bin rather than read on – spoiler alert – we didn’t get the fairy-tale, ‘excuse me while I get sick in my handbag’, ending.
That moniker of ‘the perfect couple’, borne mainly from the fact that we are pretty inseparable, has probably been the sole reason why we have been so hounded about becoming parents. From the day we moved in together nine years ago, there has existed a running commentary around us –
“When are you going to have kids?”
“Why haven’t you had kids yet?”
In many ways it’s nice that people were so keen to see us produce a mini -version of us. But the truth is, we just couldn’t be bloody bothered for the most part. You, the questioners, the mums and dads who desperately wanted us to join their club, you made it look so hard.
Because it is! Of course it is. It’s not easy. You didn’t shield us from the fact that you never slept, that you can’t remember the last time you had a night out or even had sex that wasn’t hurried and quiet for fear of waking your little monsters. Obviously, we knew you wanted us to experience the unadulterated joy of it too.
An ambitious recent graduate, who was bringing beans and bread to work because it was all she had left in the cupboards, does not a good mother make. You had the wrong audience, folks.
We were enjoying just being us two. We were enjoying indulging ourselves with the things we wanted, which at that time just didn’t include a baby.
We wanted holidays and gadgets and a big wedding and a home of our own and we knew that a child could put paid to any of those plans. But truthfully, we didn’t NEED a child. We didn’t long for a child. We didn’t covet anyone else’s babies and try as they might to convince us it was the BEST thing you could do with your life, the questions were always answered with “no thanks”.
We didn’t even say ‘not yet’ because we didn’t even know if there was an ‘ever’. We didn’t explore it. We thought we maybe would want to but weren’t sure when. I was so cracked about him I was amused at the thought of producing more mini-Bryans but I wasn’t prepared to allow my career to stall yet. I had worked so hard and time was already against me. So, as I entered my thirties and became a married woman it seemed I was defying everyone’s expectations of me. As soon as that ring went on my finger, all hell broke loose.
The questions came even more thick and fast and they brought with them some sinister follow-ups –
“You don’t want to leave it too late…”
“Doesn’t BRYAN want kids though…”
“You need someone who’ll look after you when you’re old…”
And my personal favourite. “There’s nothing worse than an old mother.” Can I interject here and point out that, yes, there is. There are junkie mums, absent mums, suffocating mums, violent mums and mums who somehow found themselves with children despite being wholly NOT up to the task.
Then there was the sheer unfairness of it.
Because Bryan simply never got asked.
No one seemed to care whether he was in any kind of hurry to have children. Yes, as a couple it was a running narrative but no one seemed to care enough to ask him alone whether it was next on his agenda.
I got asked all the time; by friends, by colleagues, by clients and perfect strangers.
On one occasion I found myself toasting a colleague as she headed off excitedly on maternity leave. At the tender age of 31 (no ticking yet) my boss approached me in the middle of the hubbub and asked why I hadn’t yet had a baby? He followed it up with ‘you should, assuming you can before it gets too late, it’s the best thing you could ever do.’ Meanwhile, my happily married 36-year-old, childless male colleague was sat between us somehow immune to the scrutiny. I asked if it would be appropriate to ask him about why he hadn’t had kids yet and was told “God no, I don’t want to put him on the spot. Maybe they can’t.”
I later found out that whether or not I would soon be heading off on maternity leave came up for discussion in a board meeting.
One thing you should know about me however, is that I am a stubborn brat. Tell me I can’t and I will move heaven and earth to prove I can. Tell me I should and watch me defy you. So, we waited and we ignored all the comments and told ourselves we would wait until we knew for sure it was something we both wanted.
I’m sure there are people who say that for whom the time never comes and here’s the kicker… that is fine. It’s fine if people don’t procreate. The planet could do with a break anyway. For us however, it did. Much like the way we met, it happened in a single moment. We were at a friend’s wedding. It was one of those weddings that are bursting at the seams with children. Instead of a boozed up throng on the dance floor rocking out to ‘Thunderstruck”, there was a mum swaying softly to the music with her new-born and dads twirling their little girls around. We looked at each other through misty, wine soaked eyes and said, “We want that, don’t we?”
Slowly but surely we talked it through.. We agreed we didn’t see our lives without a family. Though we weren’t particularly broody outside of that wedding and it would be a stretch for us emotionally, financially and quite literally physically, we agreed that if there ever was a time, it did in fact need to be soon. I was 34 and of course not oblivious to the slings and arrows about my biological capability.
So we decided to try for a baby. Only life got in the way. For five months the universe thwarted us. Whenever the time was right, one of us was missing from the picture. My work sent me to London, to Florida, to Liverpool; I visited my family, while Bryan was off on stag dos and various catch-ups with his mates. It was so frustrating! We needn’t have worried because when we finally found ourselves in the same place at the right time, I fell pregnant.
We were terrified and excited all at the same time. We worked out that I would be 13 weeks on our Christmas trip home. Bryan’s brother had tragically passed away on Christmas Day a few years previous and so we were thrilled to be bringing some good news home.
Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. At our 13-week scan we found out that the pregnancy hadn’t progressed and I was having a ‘missed miscarriage’. It was described to me as the body’s way of having a trial run and is really common in first pregnancies. I clung to that fact. No, I wasn’t defective. This was just ‘one of those things’.
Christmas was horrendous. We kept the news to ourselves and I spent it in agony as it seemed my body had caught up to what was going on. We discovered at New Year’s it hadn’t actually twigged and I was technically still ‘pregnant’, so I was booked in for a D&C procedure. Devastating as it was, we didn’t allow ourselves to get dragged under by the disappointment. Because that was what it was, disappointment. We had allowed our hopes to be raised and had them dashed. Luckily for us, there was no baby to mourn and there never really had been.
So, we found ourselves back at the starting blocks physically and mentally ready to try again. We were fortunate to fall pregnant on our first try. This time, we were so reticent. We barely believed it ourselves and hesitated before telling anyone. We headed for a private scan at 8 weeks, not really willing to believe that there would be a heartbeat. There it was, a blob with a little spark at its centre, thriving, our Milo.
At 12 weeks, it was still there, only this time it was clearly a beautiful little baby-shaped thing. At 16 weeks I found out I had been gifted a little boy. He became so real at that point. He had a personality jumping out of the screen. We laughed when the sonographer told us he just wouldn’t stop touching ’it’. I allowed myself to fall head over heels in love with this little man in the making. At 20 weeks, there he was again! Every bone and organ looking perfect like it should. At 32 weeks he made another screen appearance, finally head down and getting ready to meet us.
His favourite time seemed to be when Bryan and I would settle on the sofa together. He would kick his daddy’s hands for hours, showing off. At night-time he slept when I slept and helped me to breeze through pregnancy. But we were still cautious. At times we could barely believe it was happening, we struggled to imagine how upturned our lives were about to become. After 7 months we started buying all the things we needed to be prepared for his arrival. I had the energy I needed to sail through and keep working right up to the end. At 39 weeks I waved my colleagues goodbye started nesting in earnest.
The midwife promised me a sweep at my appointment that week and I was desperately hoping it would trigger labour before I hit my due date a couple of days later. Only I arrived in to meet a new midwife who said she’d rather not. I was so disappointed. I was so eager to get on with the job of giving birth. I was so eager to get on with the job of being not just a mother but his mother but she promised that at my next appointment I could have one and who knows, I might start all on my own anyway. Only I didn’t. My due date came and went and no baby. He was clearly happy enough where he was, still kicking like crazy every day.
Finally, I got my sweep at 40 + 4. I was starting to go stir crazy and very much tiring of the constant stream of texts coming my way.
“Any sign of baby?”
“Any news yet?”
“Has baby made his appearance?”
“Have you tried…(insert TMI suggestion here)?”
Of course I had tried. I had tried everything but my labour just wouldn’t start. When she did the sweep the midwife cheerfully told me he was ready, engaged, I was even starting to dilate and she could detect a good head of hair! When I got home, I got ‘the show’. Yes! I was so excited and scared and elated. It was finally happening. Would I cope well with the labour?? Would he feed easily?? The show was soon followed by some irregular cramps and Milo was in the throes of his usual night-time activity. We headed off to bed thinking it was best to get as much sleep as possible before the big event. Bryan told me he was looking forward to and equally dreading the nudge in the middle of the night saying we needed to head for the hospital.
The next morning I awoke to a crushing disappointment. Nothing had happened. No more cramps. I had an overwhelming sense of sadness. When Bryan woke up I cried in his arms about why it hadn’t started and how I couldn’t bear the thought of another week of waiting before I could be induced. He did his best to comfort me but I was stuck in a fog. We headed out for brunch, looking for any kind of distraction. The weather was as miserable as I felt so we gave up and came home in the afternoon. When I finally sat down and opened a book it occurred to me that Milo had been very still. I headed for a glass of ice-cold water to stir him and put my silly fears to rest. He didn’t stir. So I shared my concerns with Bryan and we agreed to check with the hospital, just in case. He was upbeat, thinking I was just being over anxious.
The hospital advised us to ‘pop over’ and get checked out. I told Bryan I was even worried he thought I was making excuses to get into the hospital so they might just induce me anyway. Maybe I was secretly hoping that was the case.
The car journey and the half hour in the waiting room was truly the longest wait I had ever experienced in my life. What followed next, the minutes, hours, days and months that have followed, as I became a mother in the cruellest way the universe can deal out, have been longer still. I tumbled headfirst in love with all 7lbs 2oz of my little boy but he never took a breath and I never got to see him looking back at me with love. He was given and taken away at the cusp of life.
We later found out, in that last couple of weeks together his placenta had slowly begun to shut up shop. Had my labour started on time or even three days late, we would have been none the wiser to the tortured end our little boy and we were hurtling towards.
It was not my age. It was not anything I did. It was not the choices I made. There was nothing that could have been done. Ironically, had I struggled in pregnancy, I’d have been so closely monitored my son would have lived.
So, I am here, a mother made, with empty arms and a longing heart. I don’t just long for any baby, I long for my baby, with his long fingers and rosebud lips. I covet other people’s motherhood. Not their children, but their happiness.
I’m changed forever by my son, by becoming a mother. One of the small ways I’m changed is in how I’ll answer those incessant questions now. “Yes, I do have a child actually but he passed away.” And even now, having joined their club, they don’t want to hear my answer. Some want to change the subject to anything else as quickly as they can. Some try to empathise but they can’t but they want to get as far away from me as possible because my motherhood is too hard to comprehend.
Thankfully my story is not more than I was built to bear. I have so much love in my life. I have so many wonderful friends and family members propping me up when the burden is too much. I have a gorgeous, loving husband who still makes me laugh every day. Every. Single. Day. Even the days that were darker than I thought I could ever handle. There is so much I don’t have but there is so much that I do. I have a birth story. I had a pregnancy and a little boy and memories of him that I treasure just like you do. Ask me questions about them.
Please think gently before inserting yourself into someone’s story and asking questions that are always unwanted. No woman without a child wants to be asked when or if she’s having children. If she did, it would most likely be because she is already pregnant and that’s her secret to share, when she’s ready.
But it’s such an innocent question you say. People are always coming from a good place. Does a man driving a Ferrari go around asking everyone when they’re getting theirs? For some people it might never be possible and they’re doing all they can to come to terms with that reality. For some, they just don’t care about wanting to drive a super car, never mind owning one.
“Surely not? They’re so flash and fast and fun though? My supercar is my favourite thing in the world!”
For some people it’s okay to take one for a spin but they’re not willing to save every spare penny they’ll ever have to drive on every day and spend every single Sunday keeping it clean. For some people they had one, and boy do they know the thrill of driving it but they’ve had their licence taken away through no fault of their own.
You can read more of Mags and Milo’s story at https://www.instagram.com/magsasaurus_vex