My friend has just been diagnosed with cancer for the third time. The first time was years ago, before I knew her. The second time was about two years ago, or maybe three. It was before B was born and we were trying to have a baby.
Back in those days we were positive, because we thought she’d beaten it once and it was just a lump in her breast that needed to be removed. She went through months of gruelling chemo followed by radiotherapy that burned her skin and left her with open wounds.
But she beat it again. And we had about a year of being in recovery and being cautiously optimistic. Waiting for the big op to reconstruct her boobs and make her feel whole again after so much else had been taken for her.
Aside: I think people don’t realise how much cancer can take. Not just the danger of life which is devastating in itself but the dream of parenthood. My friend had to deal with knowing she would never have a child as they removed her ovaries and womb. She was newly married at the time. But at least she felt that they’d managed to save her life.
Until now. Only a year or so since she finished radiotherapy and she has to go through it all again.
I think life is unfair. It saddens me to see my friend having to gear herself up to fight another fight. I don’t know what you can do as a friend, other than be there.
I sent her these chocolates. She’s northern and so it sounds like a northern pronunciation! She loved them. But I wish I hadn’t needed to send them.
I saw this cartoon last week and really liked it. I hated school. Was bullied pretty much every day for nine years. Around the seventh-eighth year I got a (male) best friend, started hanging out mainly with the boys (they didn’t have girl dramas and fallouts) and stopped caring.
The best way to deal with them is to not care what they think. Easier said than done, I know. But by the time I left school at 18 I’d gone from lonely weirdo to weirdo with a massive gang of other weirdos, because our gang was inclusive and everyone was welcome.
One of the things you realise eventually is the “popular” bullies are very fragile and rule by fear, so they don’t really have true friends. When you start measuring friendship differently, you realise one good friend is worth much more than ten fickle ones.
As an adult in my (eek) early 40s, I think I’ve gotten to a stage where I have a much higher level of self acceptance. I recognise I’m a pretty flawed human being, but that I’m also a pretty awesome human being (though not to everyone’s taste! And that’s okay!).
And honestly, I’ve spent too much of my life beating myself up and not enough of it just enjoying it. I’m too old for that s***. I may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but to the people who matter, I’m exactly what they wanted. (*Hot chocolate / milk / gin / bubbly / wine / latte – delete as appropriate)
Merry Christmas Eve all! I’ve spent the day off work with my one and only, and my overwhelming feeling is gratitude. (Well, that and realising I really dislike wrapping.)
It took a while to get here. I was told I’d never have kids naturally, and after over a decade of infertility and loss, operations, IVF and immune therapy – we had our son last year.
I feel so lucky that I get to experience all this – Christmas through a child’s eyes; the beginnings of him understanding the magic of Christmas… visiting Santa… Christmas shows… trying to persuade him not to open all the presents before tomorrow… and all the matching clothes before he gets too good at talking! 😂
All of us who have “only” one child are conscious, I guess, that we will only do this stuff once. And that can feel bittersweet. He’s not yet two and I’ll never get to have a baby again. A bunch of friends are on #2 now and we’ll only ever have #1.
But once is one better than I ever thought I’d get. So I’m going to enjoy all the only times. Because we are so lucky.
I have friends who can’t have any and I still remember what that felt like. I have people close to me who’ve been fighting battles I can’t even begin to imagine. I have a friend who lost her battle this year. We never know what life will bring.
I say parents of onlies are lucky because they’ll always be our #1. And #1 is a pretty awesome position to be! We are the ones who get the time to savour it, and that’s a privilege I hope I live up to. (And I hope we still have a few years of twinning left! 😂)
Merry Christmas to you and yours! You’re all awesome! 💕
I received a text message from my old uni flatmate this morning.
“Sad news. Call me. x”
I thought – this is it. She’s gone into a hospice. Our other uni flatmate M, and her best friend – has had lung cancer. (Did you know lung cancer is the #1 killer cancer? And yet it’s unfairly stigmatised because sufferers are thought to have brought it on themselves.)
The thing is – M never smoked. She was a clean living freak. Not in the yoga way, but in the hale and hearty British gal way – she cycled everywhere, and only ever drank in moderation, and ate healthily. I remember back when we were at uni – she and I were both cycling devotees. She would be on her grown up bike and I’d be on my BMX, which was useless for the city’s hills – and we lived at the top of a hill – but I was proud then, and trying to convey something with my quirky persona. M was always M. And whereas I gave up the ridiculous BMX biking (I couldn’t do any stunts; it was literally for show), she carried on cycling into her forties. (We made it to our fortieths, M.)
Back when she was first diagnosed, M went to the doctor with a persistent cough she couldn’t shake off. Not one of us would have ever foreseen that it could be The Big C. They told her it was terminal. Imagine! A wife and mother of two young children, ages 5 and 2. How? Why? Cancer is so bloody unfair. I mean, even if you smoked forty a day you don’t deserve cancer – but a mother in her prime – a mother with two little children who need her – how can that happen?
Back then, she rallied. She set up a funding page because she wanted to feel she could do something, anything to provide for her family when she’d gone. She always was a provider. A nurturer. She underwent chemo, and she took a cocktail of drugs. Because her lung cancer wasn’t just lung cancer, but a rare form of lung cancer and They didn’t know exactly what it would do – only that it would kill her eventually.
But kill her it didn’t. Her page racked up the funds and she announced that she’d be donating it to lung cancer charities. Because she didn’t feel right taking it. Take it, we urged. Even if you’re fighting cancer and not dead from it – you deserve to have a buffer. You should give up work, have some fun. And yet she didn’t, because M was proud of her work, because she didn’t want to sit around at home feeling sorry for herself. We all wanted to go and visit her but she didn’t want that because it would be like saying there was a reason for saying goodbye, and she didn’t want to say goodbye.
We spoke on the phone. I didn’t know what to say when I found out, and I blethered on too much via SMS probably, and she said why don’t we have a chat on the phone. So we did. It was way back, pre-B, and we talked about everything, and it was probably over two hours or something whilst we poured our hearts out. She told me all about her husband (who I’d met once when he was her boyfriend – but they live a while away in a different country) and her two kids, and how she felt when she first found out about the cancer (suicidal – why don’t they tell people in a better way?) and how the cancer had responded to the drugs and somehow, miraculously, the cancer they’d said was terminal in a few months receded. In turn I poured out my heart about infertility and loss and she urged me to keep on trying and sympathised with me about the unfairness of it all. (The unfairness of which pales in comparison with a healthy young person struck down in their prime. I even knew that then.)
In the last three years she led an almost normal life, sandwiched around bouts of chemo. They holidayed. The kids got older, and she saw their milestones – the little one graduating from kindergarten, refusing to wear the gown and sulking; riding bikes… the school plays… The children making a video to raise money for lung cancer – heartbreaking; her daughter looking just like I remember M, earnest and passionate. Just a few weeks ago she went on a painting retreat and just like everything else she excelled at it and made a wonderful painting. She looked the picture of health. It was hard to believe she had lung cancer. And yet.
It only receded. Borrowed time. We’re all on borrowed time, in our own ways, but somehow – unjustly – some of us have borrowed less than others.
I called back our friend this morning, after I’d finished feeding B, and she broke it to me, her voice breaking:
“She passed away last night.”
I knew this day was coming. I knew she had terminal lung cancer. But if anyone was giving the middle finger to cancer, it was M. She was feisty and jolly and wouldn’t bloody give up. She still cycled everywhere, and was still going to work until last week when she had to be admitted to hospital, and finally a hospice. The end was quick, apparently, and she didn’t want everyone knowing, didn’t want them traipsing in to say goodbye. She left this life as she lived it – fighting, hoping. Hoping to see her darling children grow up. Fighting to stay with the love of her life.
Hold your loved ones a little closer today. Tell someone you love that you love them. And raise a glass (or a mug of strong British tea) to M, our brave, funny, wonderful friend who’s gone too soon.
To M. Mother. Wife. Daughter. Sister. Friend. Crazy cycling lady. Fighter. Horse lover. Artist. Whisky connoisseur. Red clothing wearer. All these things, and too many others. A lifetime of things. Too short a lifetime, but an amazing, full one. With love.
* * *
If you are able, please donate here to help fund lung cancer research, in honour of a wonderful woman who’s gone too soon. https://www.roycastle.org/donate
I’ve talked a lot about infertility before – that’s the reason this blog started in the first place. But once you’ve been through it all and ended up with a baby – what are you? I’m still technically infertile, but I am a mother. I don’t feel like I can properly call myself infertile, aligning myself with the many women still in pain, still trying to deal with infertility, when I have our longed for child.
I talked about the strange hinterland of post infertility on one of my previous blogs. It’s that way we’re a particular kind of mother, an ever-grateful mother, a mother who doesn’t take having a baby for granted. I feel like a mother in an everlasting state of wonderment and joy that I get to be one. (It’s kind of sickening how happy I am about the whole thing, and I can assure you I don’t go around pooping rainbows – I just hold the happiness in my heart when my baby giggles or reaches for me, or does just about anything…)
I also feel The Fear for others. I have friends who get pregnant and announce straight away and I have to stop myself from saying, – Stop! What if?! and How can you be sure? – because those are my anxieties and not hers. It’s a strange place to be because we know what could go wrong, and we are those Miracle Mamas, the Mamas Against All Odds, and so our very being is confirming to them that good things do happen, and so we can’t be the ones to rain on their parade even though we know that not all trying ends up with a pregnancy, and not all pregnancies end up with a baby, but we nod along and smile because that’s what we do.
One of the things that’s come up a lot lately is the idea that one might not be enough.
And that’s something that’s just so alien to me, I can’t even imagine how it must feel to have that degree of sadness from having an “only”.
I was one of four siblings, and we got on well. It was complex, for sure – having two bios and two adopted. It was harder for the adoptees, but overall it was good – we had a fun childhood with lots of family games, kids going on adventures, and lots of freedom to play together. I don’t know why I never pictured myself as a mama of many. I guess I knew from quite a young age that I would find it difficult to have children. (I had been told something fleeting when I was much younger, which was never repeated by later doctors, but then told I had extensive endometriosis and likely fertility problems in my mid twenties.) I’ve always been someone who didn’t wish for things I didn’t think I could have. So the most I ever wished for was one.
Also, personally – I think I would have enjoyed being an only child. I don’t know if this is to do with being adopted or just my personality. I always felt as one of four that I didn’t get quite the amount of attention I would have wanted. And I don’t mean this in a drama queen way (although I had plenty of that) – I always felt needy, and maybe that is an adoption thing. I would just wish sometimes I could have a day of my parents just to myself. Don’t get me wrong – I do get on with my siblings. But I also enjoy now that I’m an adult that I often see my parents on their own and I don’t have to share them with anyone else! I guess I’d have been what they call now “a high needs child”!
So when I was told I probably couldn’t have kids, I just wished for the one, and when that wish was granted (by a lot of medical science and a fair amount of money and effort, rather than the Fertility Fairy!), I felt – gosh, life couldn’t get any better.
I see a lot of stuff now on FB about people worrying about only children. People worry they’ll be spoiled, or socially inept, or not know how to relate to other kids, or not able to function as adults, and I find it interesting because I wonder – where are they finding these terrible only children who grow up to be dysfunctional adults?! All of the single children I know have grown up to be just fine as adults. I don’t think they’re any better or worse functioning than the general population. And one thing they all had was a good relationship with their parents. B has been in nursery since a young age and he’s probably more socialised than a child who stays at home with his mother who doesn’t have a sibling for a few years. He enjoys seeing his friends at nursery, but he’s also securely attached to me. (And to his dad, and dog brother!) I figure so far, so good – he doesn’t seem like an irreparable weirdo!
For us, the lengths we went to in order to have B were pretty gruelling. (Though not a patch on what some have to go through. We were lucky.) I know that for me, I couldn’t be the mother I want to be to B if I were to continue going through additional treatments. It’s most likely I’d need another endo op, possibly another fibroid op, more IVF, more immune therapy. It was hard physically, but it was harder emotionally. I already feel a degree of loss that I have to go to work and B is at nursery during the work week, even though I know he’s absolutely fine. I wouldn’t want to be under emotional strain as well, trying to conceive a sibling, when I don’t think he needs one to be happy. I hope that by giving him a full life, and living in an urban area where there are a lot of kids about, that we can counter any potential loneliness he might have as an “only”.
I understand that being okay with one is not “normal”. Most people have more than one child. And maybe there’s something a bit strange about having no siblings, or not having multiple children. I don’t know. I feel sadness for people who can’t have children, including those who can’t have a second child and desperately want one. I just don’t feel the sadness of being a mother of one myself.
I never thought I’d be “that kind of mother”. I sort of thought that the baby phase would be kind of boring, that I’d probably find it a little bit of a drag until toddlerhood, until some kind of doing stuff like walking, eating, talking… but it’s been a joy. I thought I’d find it hard, because everything leading up to having a child has been hard, but it’s been relatively easy. And I don’t take that for granted at all. I’ve seen others struggle with breastfeeding and reflux and post natal depression and sleepless nights and I think we’ve been lucky, because it hasn’t been that hard for us. No tongue tie, no breastfeeding problems, no ongoing health issues and the sleepless nights I was used to due to my job! So whilst the adjustment has been monumental in some ways, it’s just been a case of slotting in as though he’s always been here in other ways.
And the thing that’s bittersweet as a mother of one is that I know that every time is the only time, and every last time is the very last time.
I’ll never have a tiny little baby again. B is my one and only (human!) baby and he’s now one, toddling about, vocalising, making his feelings known. (He’s a terrible tweenager already! Just like his mama used to be!) I’ll never see a baby take their first steps again. I’ll never see my baby roll for the first time again, or the time he worked out how to giggle and it made me cry with happiness – that’s the first and last time. We’re coming to the end of our pumping journey – and it’s been a slog. But the last time I pump breastmilk for him will be the last time. I can’t even think about the last time I breastfeed him. The last time I babywear. The last times are all the last times.
But… I feel so much gratitude that I even got to experience the firsts. And even if the firsts are also the lasts, I’m at peace with it, because it’s more joy than I ever thought I’d have.
I thought for so many years that I would never even have one, that I’d never be a mother. So to me, B, my “only”, my boy, is the most amazing thing. (I hesitate to call him a gift, because he’s not an object. He’s his own person, who has his own ideas of what he wants to happen in life, and most of those involve chocolate or bubbles). He’s an amazing, wonderful – and completely run-of-the-mill all at the same time, because that’s amazing also, the way we take the normal stuff for granted, the giving of life, the joy of family – little boy I never thought I’d have. So I guess I just never had the time to wish for another, because I was so busy wishing for him.
I think I’ve just started my period. It’ll be the first one since we started IVF cycle 2 – the one that resulted in baby B. I think we started in April 2016! Strange to think I haven’t had one since then!
I was sort of hoping I could hold off the periods indefinitely as I’m still breastfeeding B. He’s just under a year old now. I feel strangely emotional as I was hoping I could at least make it to his first birthday without having one, but I guess it wasn’t to be. It’s especially strange as today’s his first day back at nursery after the Christmas break, and I have been breastfeeding him more than usual (as he’s often away from me during the day), so I didn’t really expect to get a period now.
Agh. I hope it isn’t a period. But I think it might be.
For many years all through infertility and then loss, blood was a sign that my body wasn’t doing stuff right, wasn’t getting pregnant and wasn’t remaining pregnant.
I had really bad periods with endometriosis and fibroids. Could knock me out for days.
I don’t feel like that now but I do feel really run down because of flu – which I managed to get on Christmas Day and am still in recovery.
Have breastfed through it all. The one thing that’s gone right is our breastfeeding journey. I’m even hoping to make it to two years unless B wants to wean in between time!
Anyway, there you have it… The end of an era!
Confession time. Sometimes I can be a real bitch. That’s over a decade of infertility for you! Sometimes I feel the old jealous, mean feelings coming back.
I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while and it’s probably just going to sound like a massive whine. But I keep meaning to blog more, for good and for bad, so here goes.
We are having a small naming ceremony at home for B. In our new flat! It’s going to be mainly home made stuff and a small group of friends and family and hopefully will be really lovely, but I don’t want to write about it too much on here because it’s a nice thing and this venting is not, so I’ll write it up separately.
The reason I want to vent is because I just feel hurt that it’s very likely none of my siblings will be attending. Now they all have reasons, some of which are better than others in my opinion, and I know this is all mumzilla and B won’t give a flying poop about any of it, but to me it’s about something deeper, which is the fact that I never thought I’d get to have a baby and it’s a special occasion I want to mark and none of my siblings can be arsed to attend.
This is unfair of me of course and that’s why I’m venting on here. But I’m finding it hard not to feel salty about it. Well mainly about my sister.
One of my siblings can’t attend because of living in a different country that’s very far away… Efforts were made but it isn’t going to happen, sadly. But they (sibling plus partner) are going to record a reading and try and FaceTime in to the ceremony, so at least they’re making an effort.
My brother who lives not that far away is probably not going to be able to make it with his family because of my niece’s (medical/developmental) problems. I get that it’s hard. I can’t imagine how hard it is. (Although she’s been fine when we have seen her sporadically including a few weeks ago when we went out for a family gathering – it was closer to their home though.) They seem to not want to take her out anywhere. Again. I get it. But they can go out for things they want to go out for. Just not for me/us.
I know it’s not quid pro quo but I went to her christening around what would have been my due date for PB (my first pregnancy, after IVF, that ended in miscarriage). I didn’t want to go but I sucked it up and even though I felt crappy about it, I turned up.
I probably would feel madder with my brother but ever since they identified my niece’s health problems I’ve felt all my jealousy for his perfect life dissipate. But my sister in law didn’t come to my baby shower and nor did my sister. In fact none of my family came.
My sister has point blank refused to come. My new niece was born a month ago and she says it’s too far to travel. I’m sure she has a point. It’s about a 3hr drive between us. She says that the car seat manufacturers say the baby can’t be in a car seat for more than two hours at a time and I’m like… Haven’t you heard of rest stops?! It’s not like she would be driving anyway – I always sit in the back with B and T drives us, and we have driven way longer than that and B is perfectly fine. But she’s very highly strung and she won’t hear any of it and anyway she’s really stressed about feeding and whatever and sticks to some convoluted schedule that apparently she can’t deviate from by a minute.
I also felt during my pregnancy that I couldn’t really be happy because my sister then was going through IVF (a frozen transfer not a fresh cycle) and she was completely nuts about it so I wasn’t able to celebrate it. I always have to mute my feelings for hers because she’s so prone to anxiety and depression and I’m always the one talking her down from the ledge.
She’s super demanding as well, even when it’s not convenient for us. She insisted she wanted the Sleepyhead (cot cushion) and I could have sold it locally for £70 as they hold their value (cost new £110), but instead I walked to the post office in the rain and queued up for ages so that she could have it on next day delivery because she needed it right that minute and kept asking me to send it straight away. Bearing in mind I was doing her a favour and saved them £110 and lost myself the resale value of £70! And it cost me a decent amount to send!
The thing that really upset me on top of the naming ceremony non attendance was that she’d said when she was pregnant that she wanted the electric rocker… It cost around £150 new and so rather than selling it when B was done with it, we had it in the tiny living room of our tiny flat for the past four months. Like you don’t really get how small our flat is… The frame took up half the sofa and the rocker was balanced on piles of boxes because we had to move it around when we wanted to move around! So I was pretty p*ssed off when she sent a picture of the niece in a new rocker they’d just bought. (Same make but cheaper model than the one that has taken up our living room for four months.)
When I said about the rocker she had asked us to save for them she said she “forgot, sorry.” Yeah that is fine… I mean we’ve been tripping over the damn thing for four months but whatever.
Man, I was so annoyed. I’m sure that this was just the straw that broke the camel’s back and this is just showing what a horrible person I am. I’m also really annoyed with her because all she does is complain and find things hard when she didn’t have to go through a fresh cycle of IVF (though made sure we all felt her pain), has had an uneventful pregnancy, a healthy baby and she gets to take over a year off work when I had to go back after four months. Not to mention their huge house they just bought. (Our dream house is a two bedroom apartment. Theirs is a five bedroom house!) She’s just a Class A whiner.
So I get that I’m being unreasonable, I really do, but I can’t help feeling upset about this. She had previously asked us to reschedule the naming from July or August to September so she would be able to come but then decided she didn’t want to.
I guess… I know I would have gone if it had been the other way round. I know that babies can travel. And B has always been a pretty easy baby. So I don’t have a full understanding of what it’s like to be hating motherhood or whatever because I don’t get why you’d go through everything we’ve been through if you didn’t want it. They didn’t even have half the problems we had! I know it’s not the pain Olympics but jeez.
I also know I’m feeling annoyed because we have a history (as with all relationships) and she’s always the looked after one, and I’m always the one who has to be looking out for her and making sure she’s okay, and just for one day I wanted to celebrate something good that means a lot to me. (Which of course we will still do.)
She’s having a lot harder time with motherhood and probably prone to post natal depression and of course I’m expecting too much. I’ve just spent my whole life with her being the vulnerable one, and the one who needs looking after and building up, and it feels kind of crappy that the one day where we have to celebrate B and the happiest thing in my life, none of my siblings will be there.
I also know that when it comes round to her daughter being christened or whatever that we will all have to go. I haven’t even been to see them yet as she’s weird about people visiting – didn’t want anyone to come when she was born, and said she only wanted a visit for like an hour, which is kind of a crazy expectation on a six hour round trip. Now apparently she’s ready for a visit, we are busy every weekend in September and anyway I feel annoyed about the naming and I don’t feel like seeing them until that has passed and I have it out of my system.
I keep telling myself to suck it up and stop feeling annoyed but I can’t help it. I feel super resentful. I also know rationally that I’ll have a better time without her there, because she’s super high maintenance and usually has a miserable face on her and would want to leave early and whatever.
I also know she’s trying to make up for it but its just ridiculous. Like she sent me £40 vouchers for cheese because I love cheese and I was annoyed about the rocker but firstly what am I going to do with £40 of cheese and secondly the cost of the rocker and the sleepyhead was a lot more than £40. I know she’s trying but I just want her to leave me alone until the naming is over and I’ve had a few weeks to get over it.
I think I’m just sick of being the okay one, the strong one, and I want someone to acknowledge how f*cking hard this has been and what an amazing thing it is that I’m a mother.
Most of the time I’m fine at concentrating on that and not concentrating on the sibling stuff.
So there you have it. I’m not all sweetness and light. I feel pretty bad for having these feelings. I know most people sympathise with her rather than me because people have been feeling sorry for her all our lives because she’s the one who doesn’t cope with things and I always do. I’ve always been the okay one and she’s always been the fragile one. And I know this is a total foot stamping moment on my part and I’m not proud of it.
You can’t pick your family unless you adopt them (ha!) so I am just venting… In a few weeks I’ll be fine, and anyway I want to concentrate on making a really nice day to celebrate B and if my siblings aren’t there then whatever; my friends will be. My aunt and uncle even changed their plans to come from up north (further away than my sister) so that’s nice. And our best friends will be there who know how much this means to us.
Today a friend of mine posted an ultrasound picture on Facebook and gaily announced to the world that their baby would be born next February.
I already knew she was pregnant because I was one of the first people she told. We’d discussed pregnancy and whether she should start trying, and how she was going to persuade her boyfriend to try, and figuring out ovulation and so on. I told her about our experience and encouraged her to come off the pill and try sooner rather than later, if she could get her boyfriend to agree.
I guess he agreed because a few short months later, they’re pregnant. I was kind of surprised by how little time it took, because in infertility-land you get used to talking in years rather than months. She told me how many months it took: three.
Three months! Straight off the pill and up the duff!
Now, I am okay, but a couple of years ago this would have floored me. Why is it always someone else who just has to come off the pill a couple of months and get pregnant?!
I really do feel happy and thankful for my life now. I feel (secularly!) blessed. But I have to confess I had a slight twinge of… something… when she told me she was pregnant. I don’t know what it is… It’s a sort of wistful, “Oh, to be that innocent!” The way they posted it all over Facebook without any worries they might lose the baby. The way they got pregnant so easily having barely tried. I guess I just feel wistful that I never got to have that innocence and that straightforward expectation that nothing would go wrong, that we’d just try and it would happen.
My infertility was measured more in decades. One and a half, more or less.
What do you call yourself when you were previously infertile but by some (secular) miracles and scientific interventions you managed to have a baby?
I’m a mother. But I’m not a normal mother. I’m a pinch-myself-daily-because-I-can’t-believe-I-actually-had-a-baby mother. I’m a Thank You Science mother. I’m a “If you think you might have issues getting pregnant you really should try straight away and let me know if you want to know anything about endometriosis, IVF or immune therapy” mother.
I’ll never have that whole will we, won’t we have another one dilemma. We are over the moon with our lovely One and Only.
I’ll never innocently post early scans on Facebook for people to guess whether it’s a boy or a girl or who the baby looks like. Nobody knew about our pregnancy who didn’t see me in real life. There are still people who don’t know!
I had a twinge of something, a remembrance of loss of innocence, and I’m happy for my friends and I’m happy for us because we are so lucky to have B, but I had a twinge because I remember what it was like to be there, and I’m thinking of all of the people still in the trenches, or those who have had to walk away from the dream of being parents… and I’m sad for them.
So – mothers after infertility. Mothers after loss. I don’t think infertility ever leaves you. I don’t think loss ever leaves you. But we know desperately how lucky we are.
I was looking at old photos of myself on Timehop (God bless Timehop, the regurgitator of past lives!) and realised that I was really skinny. This was something of a surprise to me as I spent a good proportion of my life and most of my adult life feeling fat.
It's like a lot of my old life is something of a shock to me now. I remembered with a jolt the other day that I didn't wear trousers for five years because my ex told me my legs looked a bit like sausages in them. Five years! When did I allow someone else to have such agency over my body?
Even before I met my ex, I think I had some pretty disordered eating. Not quite anorexia – I never really was one for seeing things through – but I did maintain a pretty low body weight that is significantly lower than I am now. (For context: I am around 5'2", and I used to be a UK size 8-10, and now I'm about a UK size 12. Generally not considered "overweight".)
I'm not sure when my disordered eating and strange body image first started. A lot of people (especially girls) start this around puberty, and perhaps that's what happened for me. I think it's a bit deeper than that, though. I was adopted as a baby, transracially, and I grew up around white people so all my life I've looked different from most of the people I was around growing up.
When I went to a predominantly white school, all of this got amplified. I remember that it was a shock because I slowly realised that I was "less than" because of my race. I realised that I was supposed to be blonde haired and blue eyed and I was about as far from that as possible. I started to find myself ugly (and people started to tell me I was ugly to my face). I never had the skinny white girl legs. Mine were muscular and I was just a different build. Really average for my race, as it turns out. But you don't know that as a child if you grow up with people who don't look like you.
Adoption is complex, and I don't know how much of this was tied up in adoption, but I do know I can't separate out being a different race from my overall experience of growing up. My feeling of not fitting in, even though that was all I knew. Anyway, I got kind of chubby. Although looking back, I wasn't chubby. I don't think I was ever actually chubby – I was just short, and not lanky.
Then one time when I was around 16, I went away on a holiday (to learn a language) and when I was there I got pretty sick and I couldn't really eat anything. And I dropped a load of weight. When I got back, suddenly everyone said how amazing I looked because I was skinny. I was suddenly approved of, and I liked it. So I maintained it.
I maintained it for a really long time. The thing is, I'm not naturally meant to be that weight. (It's about 20-30kg lighter than I am now. I don't know exactly how much as I don't know how much I weigh now.) So I got by on some disordered eating that kept me at my magic weight. My magic weight crept up over time… I kept in a 5kg weight range through school, and then it kind of crept up during my time at university, until it was +10kg, and then it was about +15kg in my last few years with IVF and everything. And even +20kg post miscarriage.
For me, I always thought I was "happy" when I was a lower weight. But when I look back, I was always kind of unhappy. I was happy that I'd managed to keep my weight down but I always felt a kind of anxiety about it. I used to weigh myself every day. The number on the scales made me feel like I was achieving something or I was failing something.
When I met T, after I'd split up with my ex – I had to adjust to a new way of being. I was always very controlled with my ex. He wouldn't think he was, but he controlled a lot about me. He had a huge effect on my feelings of self worth (or not). This was someone who had always dated very skinny women and even told me I was the fattest person he'd ever been with. It made me feel pretty bad about myself that I was that. The whole thing with my ex was that I never felt good enough. With T, I felt good enough. He really didn't care about weight. I actually met him when I was still pretty skinny and I piled on the relationship pounds… I let myself go.
I'm still conflicted about how I feel about it, because I recognise that my magic weight wasn't magic at all, but a strange idea of how I was supposed to look. And T tells me he loves me the way I am. But it was hard in the beginning putting on pregnancy weight – not just because of the weight itself, but the fear that it might be for nothing, like our first IVF and pregnancy was.
This pregnancy that gave me B also gave me a lot of weight. Firstly I had to take IVF drugs which make you put on weight. And also I had to take steroids which make you put on weight also. I got to halfway through pregnancy in a state of fear that it wouldn't work out, but then when I got halfway I decided I was going to try my best not to fear it any more.
I also decided to stop weighing myself. I have weighed myself every day, sometimes multiple times a day, since I was a teenager. I even recorded my weight every day in an app so I could see how much weight I put on. It's a bit crazy obsessive.
When I was properly pregnant, I gave myself permission to stop weighing myself. And I let myself relax into the pregnancy.
And you know what?
The strange thing is, I have no doubt I'm at least magic weight +20kg. Possibly +30kg. And I definitely have my moments of feeling a bit concerned about it (especially if I catch a glimpse of myself coming out of the shower – stretch marks and overhang and pendulous mammaries hanging out) but I generally feel absolutely awesome.
I don't know how it works for other people but for me – my body was always this thing that failed me. I wasn't the same as my white friends. I looked different. I was ultimately not enough – I wasn't enough for my birth mother to keep me; I wasn't enough for my ex to love me how I needed to be loved; I wasn't thin enough or attractive enough or whatever.
But having B was like all vanity went out of the window. I love myself now, because I know I'm just the same as anyone else – I'm fallible and imperfect, but my messed up body gave me B and I love myself for that.
I love my ridiculous humungaboobs that feed B like a dream… when his dad "flies" him over to me for a feed, he giggles and opens his mouth to latch on. They may be saggy and baggy but they do exactly what they need to do to feed my baby, and I'm proud I've been able to do that and even to pump for him so he's been exclusively breastfed for his entire life, for half a year.
I love my saggy stomach. (This one requires a bit more imagination!) I love that it carried B safely (even though he needed cutting out at the last minute!). I love that I got to experience being gloriously, amazingly pregnant. I once had a big bump that I never thought I'd get to have, and I grew a human in there, and if it looks like a fleshy deflated balloon well – so be it. My bikini days are over anyway and I have an awesome very flattering swimsuit with tummy panels!
I love my fuller face. (Again this is a hard one!) I love that it's the face that my son loves. His eyes light up when he sees me. He giggles and reaches his arms out. We even had to hide the cushion with my face on because he kept staring at it! Yes, I don't have the cheekbones I used to have but they'll come back one day. Or maybe they won't. But I refuse to hate my face because it looks a little bit like my boy's and I love his.
Anyone who sees me now probably thinks I've "let myself go". And I really have.
I've given myself permission to breathe out. (You kind of have to if you had a caesarean, just saying.)
I've given myself permission to not care. I don't have to listen to the whispering voices of bullies from the past, who said I was fat and ugly. I'm not fat and ugly. I am the size I needed to be to carry my baby into existence. I'm the face of my ancestors, who I'm finally beginning to connect with through adoption forums and same race groups, and I refuse to be ashamed of my non-whiteness because I don't ever want to see that shame in my son's face.
Of course I don't advocate being unhealthy. (Well, chocolate notwithstanding.) The thing is, I'm a size bigger than I was pre-pregnancy. But there's a freedom in letting myself have this. I have told myself I won't diet until I finish breastfeeding. Right now, I don't know when that will be. I want to do at least a year. In fact I'm enjoying it so much (never thought I'd say that!) that I joke I'll do it till he's 15… although I think he might decide to wean himself before then! (We have started baby led weaning but B is not interested in the least… It's a messy business!)
I will start exercising again when I have the time, for sure. But it will be just for myself. I miss the enjoyment I used to get from exercise, a bit, but then we are pretty active as we walk almost everywhere and we have Dog, and he gets us out and about. Plus I do swimming with B once a week, if bobbing around in the shallow end counts. (Yes it does!)
The important thing is that I want B to have a healthy self esteem and be happy. And a huge part of that is having happy healthy parents. I don't want him to see his mother dieting or hating the body that he changed by coming into existence. I don't want him to hate half of his race that came from me. We've taken steps… He's in a diverse nursery in the diverse area we live in. So he will never have the experience of feeling the odd one out, like I did.
And his parents are currently happy together and don't argue that much! (And when they do, it's his mama's fault… Hopefully the hormones will have died down a bit by the time he's more aware!) We are hopefully moving to our new place soon, so he'll even have a bit of outside space. And he has an awesome Dog for a buddy, and a load of new buddies at nursery… Life is good… and we are going to focus on the good things we are grateful for, rather than the bad things we wish we didn't have.
Those of you who have followed my blog for a while will know we are massive Disney fans. We have booked to bring B to Disneyland Paris this year, because even though he won't remember it, it's our happy place (and we will save Orlando and the transatlantic flight for when he's older!). We have been every year apart from last year (heavily pregnant) as a couple and now we're going back as a family.
And of course, one of the best Disney songs ever is from Frozen: Let it Go. I don't tell that many people this, but I can barely ever listen to that song without wanting to cry. It's the perfect song that sums up so much of how I feel. (Which is strangely embarrassing given I'm an almost-40 year old definitely not Scandinavian most likely not a princess archetypally buttoned up British-by-adoption person.)
Let it go, let it go
And I'll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone!
So here's the thing… I never was perfect. But I was trying to be, and it was exhausting.
And I never realised that all this time I needed to find acceptance. Not from other people, but from myself.
There are good and bad things about Timehop. I always find it interesting to see what I did on this day a year ago, and the years before that. Although there are always things we'd rather forget and it doesn't seem to filter those out.
This morning's Timehop showed me this scan picture. So strange to think of what time was like a year ago, when little B was in existence but we had no concept of who he was, and now he's here, bright and alive and spreading butternut squash all over his tray table. (I actually hate butternut squash and it turns out he isn't too keen either.)
I am so grateful to medical science that we have this chance to be his parents, that I have a chance I never thought I'd have, to be a mother. As an adoptee, to know someone biologically related to me. To see someone who looks a bit the same. To know I'll be able to offer that comfort of looking a bit like him and he'll never have to wonder where he came from.
And I think back to this time last year and it seems almost inconceivable(!) how much my life has changed. I'm still the same person and yet I'm not.
I may be out of the trenches of infertility but I can remember what it was like. And the fear that haunted me throughout my pregnancy with B. Right now I'm looking at that scan picture and remembering how I felt relief and I cried that there was a baby there. But I also didn't feel happy that I was pregnant because I was so scared that we would lose this one as well.
And a rainbow baby, as B is, is a special sort of baby. All babies are special of course. But a rainbow baby has parents who know the fear of loss and who went through the special kind of hell before their baby was born. Maybe a rainbow baby has parents who don't take parenthood for granted. I know we don't. I feel a ridiculous sense of gratefulness every single day when I look at his chubby little face.
I don't know what I can say to my friends who are still in the trenches apart from, I feel for you and I want you to know you are not alone. I know that I'm just one more of those annoying people who now have a baby. I know what it's like to feel infertility anger and I bear you no malice if you wish to unfollow. But you must know, you are not alone.
When I joined WordPress three or so years back, I felt like I was talking into a void. I needed somewhere to shout and rage about my infertility and to try and make sense of what we were going through. And then I realised it brought up some feelings about adoption I had buried. And I quickly realised that I wasn't alone at all.
I had such support throughout my whole journey of making sense of all of this. Infertility but also adoption, and feelings about all sorts of things from work to friendships.
And I made real life friends. Some I've never even met in real life but whom I consider actual real life friends!
So although this path is hard, and paved with the small angry pebbles of anger and loss (and running with the tears we have shed! Let's make that metaphor work for us!), know that you are not alone. I promise you. There are good people out there! And the great thing is, your blog is for you and it attracts the people who are interested in what you have to say! Who knew?! There are some pretty awesome folk out there and I hope one day to convert some of my real life not-yet-met friends into actual "I know what your voice sounds like" friends!
So, that's all for today really. Looking back is bittersweet. I know we had a long bloody wait to meet our miracle. And I'd be lying if I said I was happy to go through that. But the outcome was bloody spectacular. I'm biased of course, but B is such a happy baby it's hard to complain about the slightly truncated sleep cycles (co sleeping helps) and the over familiarity with poo (how does it get everywhere?!). When my baby chucks back his head and giggles I think there is not a sight nor sound in human history that will ever top it.
This year is a bumper year. We are planning our "big" birthdays and we are going to take B on his first trip to Disney (Paris – not going to brave a transatlantic flight with a baby!). We decided we are going all out and staying in the Disneyland Hotel. OMG Disney fans! Too exciting. Of course B won't really notice it but we will enjoy it! Hopefully our new flat will settle soon (ah the vagaries of the UK housebuying process!) so B will get his forever home and Dog hopefully will too. (I am still hoping I am right in thinking he is a special species of immortal dog who's going to live forever.) A bit of outside space (it has a terrace) is super exciting for us Londoners. I see my friends overseas and their gigantic yards and I think you'd have to laugh at our modest delusions of grandeur!
So yeah, life is pretty good right now. So much has changed in a year. I am so grateful to my lucky stars and whoever else may have had a hand in it. (Doctors and IVF technicians mainly I guess.) I keep telling myself not to worry about something going wrong. It seems hard to imagine because 2015 was such a bad year, but maybe these things all even out in the end.
And you… I've not had as much time as I expected to catch up on people's blogs. My day seems to lend itself more to the intermittency of Facebook. But I do care about what's going on in your lives! Tell me your news!