In my 20s and early 30s I didn’t really think about having children
I had a great job, a great flat and a great social life. I suppose I was commitment free and loving it.
It’s not that I didn’t like children, quite the opposite. I loved spending time with friends who had children, being scooped up into the bosom of a chaotic family for Sunday lunch was amazing. Living alone was what I wanted, but on Sundays it always felt like there was something missing, something that was fulfilled by being part of family life once a week, before heading back to the job and lifestyle I loved.
I had married, and divorced, young, so the last thing I needed was a relationship, which meant that having kids just wasn’t a thought
But then, in my mid 30s, along came a guy and I fell in love. I happily settled into being one half of a couple who loved the freedom to travel, go to festivals on a whim and enjoy each other’s space, free from the expectations and demands of society to get married and have kids.
Eventually, this freedom turned into a deeper love which developed into a yearning for a child to add to our eclectic mix. We stopped using contraception and kind of left it all in the hands of the universe. But over time, as each month passed, a sadness washed over us as we slipped headfirst into a life of ‘TTC’.
Months turned into a couple of years and by this time I was hurtling towards my late 30s. My doctor suggested some blood tests, which all turned out to be normal apart from one. My egg reserve was really poor and my chances of falling pregnant without any help were estimated at around 6%.
I was crushed, and immediately blamed myself. I’d left it too late, society was right after all, why was I so into my career and having fun for so long? All the things women without kids are accused of in the media, I was feeling. I felt guilty for being ‘selfish’ enough to have not had kids earlier.
Friends of course told me I hadn’t been selfish, that I’d only met someone I thought worthy of having kids with later on and that I’d been sensible to live my life.
Part of me wishes I could tell this story as someone who’d always wanted kids. I wish also that my story had a happier outcome. But neither are true. I’ve since been accused of not wanting it enough, and for living it up too much, and for being what I feared, selfish. Somehow, in the eyes of some, I deserved it less and should have felt less pain than someone who’d wanted to be a mum all their lives.
I discovered that women supporting and empowering other women sadly didn’t necessarily exist outside of my support network
But the truth is, I had turned from someone who didn’t think about kids to someone who wanted more than anything to fall pregnant. So no matter how long I’d wanted it, I wanted it now, and that pain and heartache was all consuming.
And so, our IVF journey began. We were lucky enough to live in an area that funded three rounds of NHS IVF. (That’s no longer the case as sadly, like in many areas, funding is now cut.)
IVF hit me in the face with a harshness I didn’t expect, pretty much from day one. The biological struggle between what my ovaries naturally wanted to do and what they’re being forced to do was physically and mentally hard. I guess no one said it was going to be easy but wow did I experience some weird discomfort and extreme hormonal lows (and outbursts).
But I kept the faith, and eventually egg collection came, and so did the day five blastocysts. Amazingly, we had two embryos that were transferred. Each stage ticked off, each with growing hope.
Then the heartbreak I felt from that familiar cramping (trying to convince myself it was implantation cramping) and then the bleeding. It was indescribable.
I don’t know how I survived that day. We discovered that our first round hadn’t been successful on the day my beautiful baby sister gave birth to her first born, making me an auntie. Holding my nephew later that day, I was so full of physical and emotional grief, but overwhelmingly, I was full of love for this little being. He made everything ok and he no idea of the power he had.
This love fuelled our second round of IVF
It was full of extra drugs, extra treatments and extra hope. But it still wasn’t to be. Afterwards, my body and my mind told me I wasn’t strong enough for that third round. The chances were so slim and by this point I hated my womb. It wasn’t fit for purpose and it had let me down.
The months that followed were extremely dark. We cried, we shouted, we felt envy and we felt such a deep sadness that we never thought we could pull ourselves out of it. Much of it is a blur now. But with the help of everyone around us, we allowed ourselves to feel whatever we needed to feel, and slowly we emerged from the darkness.
Now, a few years on, I’m an auntie to a niece as well as a nephew and I’m godmother to a friend’s little boy. And I’ve truly found the Hannah shaped slot in the universe that’s meant for me.
I’m the cool auntie and godmother, the one that doesn’t have the same boundaries that other adults who have children do. I don’t know how much chocolate cake is too much chocolate cake and I always have time for one more story even if that means going to bed late. I still have emotional moments, but I’ve found my groove as a woman kids love to see.
I can’t tell you how I got here. I think just plain ol’ time. Lots of soul searching and simply being. Allowing the tears to come and feeling whatever I needed to feel. I’m not a cliché fan, but that famous one about time being a healer? It’s true.
If you’re in the depths of infertility grief, take your time shaking it off. Don’t play to anyone else’s rules apart from your own.
But know that there is life after a negative IVF experience
The pain of the text or social media post announcing another pregnancy will fade. From woman to woman, I promise you that. When my friends need a rant about how hard parenting is, I’m there with a bottle of wine. They all know they don’t have to be awkwardly grateful that childbearing came so naturally to them.
My negative IVF experience doesn’t define me. Instead, it’s helped me find my purpose. I’m more than a barren womb. I’m a friend, daughter, sister, auntie and godmother. I’ve even given up the city life and career. I’m now a successful freelance writer, eco warrior, almost vegan, wine lover, runner and wannabe Buddhist. That’s all the stuff that defines me.
Find your you, and embrace it. At 43 I’ve embraced who I am, not who I thought I was, and I’ve made peace with infertility. Infertility tried its best to break me, but in the end, I won. It was so hard, but I won.
I invest my time in spending quality, cherished moments with the children of my loved ones
I cherish them, and they love me for it, because that’s what we all want, isn’t it? Unconditional love from a small person. Just because my womb didn’t produce small people, it doesn’t mean I can’t receive love from them. And it’s the best kind of love there is.
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