A Ride On The Rollercoaster Called Infertility
Words by Leanne Cloudsdale
The indescribable pain of knowing you'll never become someone’s biological mother is unrelenting. When I overhear women talking about childbirth (and other pregnancy related woes) I have to stop myself from saying, "Contractions don't last forever but infertility does." I never imagined that my own wretched biology would mean I'd never be drenched in sweat, mascara down my cheeks, primal screaming in some NHS maternity unit at 3am whilst a team of dedicated professionals work hard to help me safely deliver my new born baby. The privilege of creating life was snatched away from me by a bastard called early menopause—my ovaries had packed up and left the building when I was about 37. Possibly even earlier. I'll never know, because just like most women living in London, I was too busy working, travelling and generally having a good time to give my ailing reproductive system a second thought. I bought tampons every month like everyone else. I ruined good pants. I bled through the mattress protector sometimes. I thought I was “normal”.
After years of blood tests, internal examinations and dildo shaped cameras being shoved up my vagina, a letter from my specialist arrived through the post. I don't know what I found more upsetting—the contents, or the fact that it contained news deemed so insignificant that it didn't even warrant a first-class stamp. Inside the envelope (franked second class) was a sheet of folded (low grade) A4 paper (which was dictated, but not signed) confirming that yes, I was officially a barren freak. There are still dents in my beautiful painted floorboards from the stuff I chucked around in absolute heartbroken rage that day. Indelible reminders of my reaction to finding out that the demise of my family creation hormones was irreversible (and not my fault).
Through the regular bouts of snot and tears I periodically remember a conversation I had with a female photographer friend in a restaurant near Lambs Conduit Street in 2003. I recall almost choking on my second Negroni when she said she was paying to have her eggs frozen. Oh, how I guffawed and ranted, “But why are you shoving good money down the drain now? You'll be alright, surely? Jesus, have you lost your mind? What's the urgency?” A quick scroll through Instagram silenced my inner sceptic a few months ago when I saw a post about her 7lbs 3oz bundle of brown-eyed joy.
Being told you can't have a son or daughter (via the traditional route) does strange things to your Google search history. Late night visits to female-run infertility forums, with hours spent scrolling through hundreds of desperate entries; most of which are so full of abbreviations (BFP, AF) that you have to open another Safari tab to Google their meaning. Lunch breaks spent downloading donor egg IVF price list PDFs from clinics in countries you've never heard of and trying to decipher what the final cost might be, whilst simultaneously searching for evidence of whether character traits can be transferred via the placenta. Let's not even get started on the amount of money I've spent on acupuncture, expensive herbal supplements, private hospital appointments and fertility drugs. A total fucking waste of time. I should have used all that money to overpay my mortgage instead (or spend 6months on a yacht in the Bahamas wearing top-to-toe Lemaire and Loewe).
Children are everywhere and what's strange is that you never really take much notice of them—until you've been told you'll never have them and then suddenly, they're all you see. Controlling my anger about the situation I'm in is one of the hardest parts of every day. Each sideways glance at a “Baby on Board” badge, every full-on stare at blooming expectant professionals sauntering around the supermarket in Birkenstocks and oversized Breton t-shirts, or even the seconds spent with my foot on the brake behind estate cars or hatchbacks at red traffic lights, eyeballs vibrating at the sight of occupied rear child seats and a folded up Bugaboo in the boot—it's all bad for my Cortisol levels. Don't even get me started on being subjected to the “Have you ever thought about adoption?” chorus, which makes me want to yell, spitting with rage "YES, THANK YOU, OF COURSE I FUCKING HAVE! EVERY. FUCKING. DAY!"
Perhaps my agony is exacerbated because I have been pregnant in the past, so I know that my body was capable of doing what women are supposedly put on earth to do. Abortion brings with it another layer of sorrow, grief and torment, all of which only add to my utter despair. Sometimes I try and reassure myself that what I did was right for me at the time (aged 19), but in the main, I hate myself for terminating what might have been my only chance at motherhood. The self-loathing seeps into every cell, nerve ending and follicle. There is no respite.
Recently, I was introduced to a woman who had been on a similar journey of avoiding baby showers, 1st birthday parties and being robbed blind by fertility 'experts'. I coyly admitted to her that each time I discover a new female writer, personality, actress, editor, whatever, I immediately type their names in Wikipedia to see if they have children (and if it's a 'yes', it's a big heavy sigh, followed by further probing to find out when and how). She nodded and said, "Yep. I do exactly the same." This was a life-changing moment. Sitting opposite me in a hotel restaurant was a charismatic, intelligent person who truly understood me and didn't flinch when I started sobbing – because she too had been on the receiving end of all the stupid things people (medically trained or otherwise) say (without realising) to infertile women. I wasn't alone anymore. Confiding in her has altered my opinion about adoption, and I'm slowly coming to terms with the notion that at 44, this might be my only way to becoming a mother. Although nothing would make me happier than attending antenatal classes, being woken throughout the night by a teething baby or frantically doing the school run before turning up to a client meeting in odd shoes and shit-stained trousers, I have to be realistic. Nobody will inherit the gap in my front teeth, my bandy legs or the working-class chip on my shoulder, but maybe, one day, they'll grow up to be a little bit like me.
Leanne Cloudsdale is a design journalist and communications consultant.