How do I decide?

10 Apr

I guess I always thought I would be a mother.

Conversely, I’ve never imagined myself as a bride. I’ve sometimes idly thought about a song I might like to walk down the aisle to (Roslin and Adam from the BSG soundtrack, obviously), or what style of wedding dress I like while watching ‘Say Yes to the Dress’. But when it comes down to it, do I actually see myself standing in front of all of my friends, saying, ‘This is the life I choose/this is the thing I can’t bear to lose’? No. The thought brings me out in a rash.

But I have often pictured myself with my children. Small vignettes, like picking them up, rocking them, kissing them. Taking them to the museums or the park. Making them little sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Playing hide and seek.

I know these are all the nice moments and not the physically, mentally and emotionally challenging ones. If we as human beings allowed ourselves to really grapple with the reality of raising a family, would our species continue? And yet, I have friends and family members who, despite being frank about the tough bits, really love their kids.

‘He’s my world’

‘I love this child to bits’

‘So grateful and blessed to be a family’

‘Being Mummy to this little one has been the greatest joy of my life’ etc. etc.

I don’t know. It can’t all be bad, can it? I listen to people talk about motherhood and how it has transformed them. Given them a purpose greater than anything. A love unlike anything they’ve known. I watch them struggle to leave the baby for half an hour, because the pain is too much.

Isn’t that joy meant for someone like me, too?

***

I walked out of my long-term relationship with the most wonderful man you could hope to meet. It was my choice and my fault. And it was the right decision.

But I wasn’t banking on a number of things happening after that point. Not banking on subsequent things not working out, clearly. Not banking on dating being so hard, when it feels like everyone around me just waltzed casually into true love. Not banking on a global pandemic. Not banking on my health letting me down just when I needed it most.

Not banking on these test results telling me time is running out.

The concept of egg freezing wasn’t really on my mind until maybe a year ago, when my Dad dropped it into conversation around the time I got dumped by someone I really loved. ‘If you want to have kids, you should think about it,’ he said. I thought this was something female investment bankers in shoulder-pads did. Anyway, I thought, there was still time to meet someone.

How long does it take to meet the person you love enough to create human life with? Perhaps for those who are good at dating, not long. One of my best friends fell madly in love with his first ever online date, not long after he split from his first partner, and they have a really beautiful child.

I’ve been dating for over a year now, and, well, I’m writing this post so I think that suggests how much success I’ve had. I put myself out there pretty consistently, so it’s not from lack of trying.

The reality of dating as a woman in your mid-30s is that biological reality makes it easier to have clarity about what you want. But time and again I run up against the same thing. Men in their 30s-40s who don’t know. Who aren’t ready. Or who say they are, but maybe in 5 years…10 years…a mythical future.

I don’t blame them. Their bachelor pads are perfect for one. Full spice rack, small DVD collection, a leather sofa, a Playstation. A man’s bedroom with a neutral duvet cover and a tub of protein powder on the chest of drawers. Limescale in the bathroom.

Actually, I’m envious. I’d like to be a man with access to a string of beautiful girlfriends (I’ll take the Brazilian bikini model or the Dutch avant-garde photographer, please), outdoor hobbies and a steel heart.

Anyway, here I am, 35.5 and still single. So, I looked into freezing my eggs. The first doctor I spoke to recommended getting some tests done to see how well I’d respond to treatment.

Better to make an informed decision, I thought.

I went and had a rod jammed about up there, and did a blood test.

Results came back in the middle of a very stressful day. A rather severe-looking blonde doctor told me I have a low AMH and low follicle count. In other words, everything’s going to be rather more difficult and expensive than anticipated. And it might not even work at all. But her advice was to act fast. In the next six months fast.

Although I’d mapped out the different scenarios in my mind, I wasn’t quite prepared for how it would feel in that moment to be told I’ve got the ovarian reserve of someone in their 40s. A body that has betrayed me every step of the way has done it again, it seems. She couldn’t tell me why I’m like this. Could be pathological, could be innate. I come back to my theory that I’m a Chernobyl mutant, although maybe that’s a convenient excuse. But I’m teetotal, don’t smoke, exercise plenty and eat a lot of vegetables. And, like, isn’t bearing children just the function I was born to? What’s the point in being female, with all that entails, if in the end all the bleeding and cramping and sexual harassment and urinary infections were for nothing?

Those are rhetorical questions. I know there’s a lot more to womanhood than having kids. But in the moment of being told ‘this thing that you were kind of worried about during your 20s is actually going to be really hard to achieve’ it was pretty painful.

It’s still painful.

So…how do I decide?

***

There are options, but none of them feel good.

I need to sit down and plan out all the variables.

The costs. The difficulties. The realities.

Is becoming a mother worth every penny I have, and many months of physical difficulty (on top of a pretty rough couple of years, healthwise)?

Do I want to put things aside for the future, with a small chance of success, so I could have a chance at finding my loving partner one day?

Do I want to try something now, with all the downsides of trying to do this on my own, but a much greater chance of having a child?

Do I want to create a human life with a total stranger’s DNA?

Do I still believe the right man is out there for me, that I can find him, and that he’s ready?

Should I even be bringing a child into this world that is rapidly heading for civilisation collapse, way quicker than we ever thought?

Would I actually be a good mum?

What about the lifelong physical and mental impact of childbearing?!

But if I don’t do this…will I regret it when I’m older?

What will I do with the rest of my life?

Who will love me and comfort me in years to come?

What will be the replacement for the joy of holding my baby?

How will I feel to cut off my chances, for once and for all?

The questions are financial and practical, but also existential. I didn’t think I’d have to examine every facet like this. Turn the future in my palm like a stone I picked up off the beach, finding flaws on every side.

A friend asked me why I even want this in the first place. Because everyone else has it? It’s a factor, for sure. I’ve cried with jealousy at friends’ pregnancy announcements, ultrasound pics, 2nd birthday posts. It’s complex, and I don’t know how to unpick it. I want the love and unbridled happiness, although I know there’s always much more to it than that.

Then there’s the way in which people with kids act and speak with each other. Like they are part of a club that only they have access to. Some arcane language I don’t understand, punctuated with buggy brands, baby-led weaning tips and the knowing, ‘If you really knew, you’d never do it’. Maybe this isn’t a club I want to be in, but what’s the alternative? The Teetotal Spinsters’ club, drowning our sorrows in matcha latte and cake? Membership: me.

Is it because I think I should be doing it? I don’t know about that. I do have friends who are happily childfree by choice, friends who are polyamorous and freely enjoying an unrestricted life, friends who are set in their single ways. I didn’t ask to wake up one day and want this thing that’s really very scary, but I did. I don’t think I’m such a conformist that I think family life is the only life.

But then again, I think about how I felt about myself as a woman when I heard that news. Picturing my sad little ovaries, weakly chucking out a couple of measly eggs. Maybe it is all social conditioning.

Is it because I don’t have another purpose in my life? My ex, who was already a father, said his daughter did not give meaning to his life. I’m not sure what else he felt was his calling from the universe, as he wasn’t able to articulate that to me. But it is a genuine concern for me. What was I put on this planet for? I have a very busy life and do a lot of things, but they are all *things* that ultimately feel trivial when it comes down to it. Like, me learning another language is all well and good but what does that actually contribute to the universe? What’s my legacy?

As if a nobody from Penge has any right to think about legacy. Shut up with your lofty ideas about yourself, Catherine.

As if my short-sighted, immune-disordered DNA has any particular reason to persist.

And yet.

A woman in a relationship is not usually interrogated like this. It’s not ‘What have you done to prove you’d be a good mum?’ or ‘Why aren’t you babysitting kids to practise being a parent?’ (yeah, I cut that friend out of my life for a good reason). It’s not ‘Why would you want to upend your existence to make room for a new human that’s going to tear its way out of your nether regions?’. It’s expected and encouraged, most of the time.

I’m not lucky enough to be loved and to be in love. But if I want something, isn’t it okay just to want it?

***

‘Relax’. Two exes (with the luxury of Man Time) have said that to me. ‘Relax and it will come’.

Well, no. We’re past the point of relaxing, mate. Sorry. Some of us have to put on big girl pants and make a serious and scary decision. I would much, much rather I didn’t have this kind of pressure, because I don’t know how to navigate it at all. And I know the concept will drive most men a million miles in the other direction (probably into the arms of a very relaxed 25-year-old).

But, here we are. Here I am.

I don’t know where to go from here.

This post is probably TMI and I may delete it. But maybe somebody else out there can relate.

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