I was a text-book full-term home-birth breast-fed sling-worn well-loved baby. I loved food, was sturdily built and my mother says I had ‘womanly’ hips and a waist from a young age. I distinctly remember chasing and accelerating my own maturity until my teens, whereupon I instinctively halted this terrifying progress after realising just how my physical presence affected adult men. I did not want THAT attention.
I felt ambivalent toward newborn babies with their soft fontanels and gelatinous limbs. I admired newborn foals and lambs that stood up moments after being birthed and got on with living. I enjoyed the chatter of young children and their curiosity. I barely imagined my own children, expending my energy in the pursuit of happiness with a fiery determination to avoid any inconvenient accidents. Teenage taboo lists always included promiscuity, pregnancy, abortion, drug addiction and crashing cars. I sailed through, volunteering as the designated driver, reputation unblemished, always cutting loose before any relationship reached the precipice of seriousness.
So many men, so many flaws. I dated and flirted and enjoyed the journey of meeting people more than the reality of commitment. Humans are repulsive in so many obvious ways, beyond looks and smells; some have terrible music taste and can’t swim properly! I dated an autistic cyclist who regaled me with the inane details of his training sessions. A narcissistic triathlete who said: “I was‘pretty… but” as he cast his eyes over my body, leaving me scarred for years. I even went on a date with a guy who sent me poetry that left me cold – and I told him I didn’t want a romantic involvement but if he still wanted my company for dinner then I’d join him. In this fickle state of mind, I chatted one evening to a South African student at Cambridge University. My parents demonstrated everything I needed to know about South Africa, when they made a point of NOT buying Cape Golden Delicious apples in Tesco’s. I kept my guard up, but this guy made me laugh. He asked for my number and then failed to call. TEN days later, Mr ‘if he calls now it’s too late and I am not interested’, phoned to invite me on a date. The rest is a blur, but the boy could swim, had a Beck t-shirt AND a Colnago road bike. He even won my parents love. Within three months we had completely dovetailed our lives and began to discuss our future together, with a family.
In my mind, I combined our baby photos, dreaming up highly intelligent and attractive fantasy babies that would smile and cuddle, and I, as earth mother supreme, would never raise my voice. We would appear easy going, but with our admin all together, like a real-life Boden catalogue family, interacting with the locals as we travelled the world, with toddlers. Big dreams. We wouldn’t need to compromise our current existence as our children would happily follow our passions. I yearned for a tightly swollen baby bump, for a slurping infant nursing, for a thumb sucking toddler on my child bearing hip; I felt purpose, a calling. I was born for this.
And yet. Five years after swapping birth control for ovulation calculators, we remained childless. As the clock ticked, we congratulated friends and family as they shared the news of their forthcoming arrivals, and I sobbed in private. We were both in excellent health, but it seemed we were the ten percent of British couples with unexplained infertility. We focused on each other, and the aspects of life that we could control. Abruptly , in midsummer 2004 I was rushed to hospital with suspected appendicitis. On admission, after a urine test, the nurses congratulated us on our pregnancy. Without a pause, they noted that it was unusual for me to be in so much pain. Twelve hours later, now transferred to a maternity hospital, the nurse found me alone, unconcious and convulsing on the floor of the bathroom. A thirteen week ruptured ectopic pregnancy that has caused internal bleeding was identified after this, and I was rushed away for emergency surgery.
I woke up in a grief ward with tearful women sobbing inconsolably in the little privacy that the cubicles would allow. The doctor came to see me immediately, noting that I was extremely lucky to be alive. Finally, some answers: a pelvic infection, one fallopian tube exploded and the other was blocked. I was told that: ‘IVF was invented for people like you.’
This process involved more doctors. It is a numbers game. One in five women achieve a successful IVF pregnancy within three rounds of treatment. We interpreted this, believing our odds had to be better as we were not average people. I clung to hope, buffering myself from the post-traumatic stress of my near-death experience. I ate the healthiest food, regaining my lost iron stores in record time. We injected and monitored changes, and made exciting backup plans, just in case. My ovaries swelled and the follicles produced a maximum twenty-one eggs, anything over this is considered hyper stimulation, with treatment halted. We were creating a full soccer squad with spares! Hours later, we learned ‘only’ thirteen successfully fertilised. A pang of heartache to think of eight microscopic potential life-forms dying. Two would be implanted, and any leftovers still viable would be frozen for another try.
My breasts swelled, I yawned continuously, and a twin pregnancy was confirmed by early ultrasound. A flippant ward sister advised that most twin pregnancies do not survive. When permitted to join the multiples antenatal classes we heard many alarming stories. We were instructed to ‘keep them inside as long as possible’. I felt invincible and continued to defy the odds, carrying my impressive bump like a large pilates ball, barely visible from behind. I worked until 34 weeks and began nesting. One wasn’t feeding properly in the last week of gestation and rapidly ejected bottom first like a prawn, before being lifted out via emergency c-section. His eyes were wide, and he looked curiously around. Second born was less happy about her arrival, she clamped her eyes shut and fought against the world, often inconsolable.
Nine months of experts telling us it was unlikely, over five years of trying and we found ourselves with a tiny baby each, plus some bonus siblings in the freezer for a rainy day. Lying in glass boxes with feeding tubes and wires, so far removed from the idyllic notion of natural conception, birth, skin to skin contact and breastfeeding bonding; our first-and-second born, science-babies, gifted by the NHS and made in petri dishes in a Glasgow Medical Laboratory.