You’ll forgive me if my posts are getting predictable, even depressing. I’m stuck.
It is usually much later in life that people find the need – and perhaps have the time or inclination – to look back and do a frank assessment of what they have achieved. Of what has made their life worth their – or anyone else’s – time. But sometimes, forks wedge themselves in earlier. At 42, I find myself looking back at a chunk of life to date to figure out what it’s been worth, to try and see the “nothing” that my husband assesses it to be.
I’ve been with him for close to 20 years. Almost half my life. We met in our 20s. We were so much alike – loose canons, ambitious, loved being around each other. It was intoxicating. A few years in, we got married and made love like rabbits. I gathered we had several near misses. But they were still misses. Sometimes, in an especially cruel moment, he’ll say he should have paid better attention to the fact that we never found ourselves pregnant then. Perhaps I should have, too. But we were buoyed by life, sex, fun, partying. And incredibly distracted by all of it. We knew we wanted children. We assumed they would eventually come.
In my early 30s, I started to worry. He didn’t want to get tested, so it prompted a dalliance with Clomid, in hoped that it would turn me into some kind of hyper-ovulating beast. The thing is, though (and I’ll consider this fair warning to anyone at that early point in their journey), the more you need to have timed sex, the less appealing you’re able to make it. We never got pregnant. I’m not sure if it was biology, the massive blow ups we managed to have almost every time the time was right, or just arse luck.
But time crawls when you still see yourself as “young”, and you imagine it always will. What we did have was no mortgage, a tiny bit of liquidity, soaring careers. IVF was a bit of a non-option – it was frightfully expensive, with the zeros on the potential bill outstripping any extras that we had in our bank accounts. He remained resistant to checking for problems. More Clomid, I asked the doctor? No point till we know where the problem lies, was his response.
As my desperation to have a child grew, so did his impatience with me. For a while, we grew apart, and life found a way to thrust us back together.
We filled our lives in other ways – and there were actually moments in which they actually felt full. We got a beautiful dog and became “mummy” and “daddy”. Often, we would warn her that she wouldn’t always be an only child. She developed a natural affinity towards and gentleness around small children. It was a sign, I thought. The “dog” would send me Mother’s Day flowers. As a couple, we learnt new things and drew closer to family and friends. Every now and then, we’d have a massive booze-fuelled row. We’d have passionate make-up sex. I always hoped for a miracle. I made some dramatic lifestyle changes to help it along.
We travelled the world, picking up trinkets and treasures. We’d stopped at random temples and churches – in Siem Reap, Galway, Bali, Southern India, Hong Kong, Prague, Thailand. I said the same prayer. God heard something else. Our respective careers soared. We finally squirrelled away enough money to buy our first home, the design of one room was left adaptable enough for a new addition.
From the outside, our lives probably looked idyllic. Most assumed we loved the freedom of being child-free. Few knew we were simply childless.
As I approached 40 and the possibility of natural conception became more remote, he became more open to the idea of parting with the cash for IVF, and finally getting tested. I took on extra jobs to be able to foot my part of the bill. I joked that I worked for IVF. I was never really laughing.
It’s hard to imagine it, but there was still some romance to it at the start. Yes, romance. We made playlists to keep me company during the shots, for the retrieval and transfer, for the two-week wait, and he suggested adventures of distraction. I had never seen anyone more happy than my husband when we got pregnant on our second try. His spirits climbed with our HCG numbers. He cooked lavish meals and was high on life as we counted down to the 7-week scan for the heartbeat. We were so sure it would be there. Days before, we told my mother, and his, and our siblings. We really should have waited, but this was the kind of excitement that could not be contained. As I woke like clockwork to pee at 5am each day, seeking out a glug of milk after, I felt, for the first time in life, like a complete human being. I let myself go online and order a little baby onesie, with an elephant on it, for luck. I ordered him a book, something funny about being a first-time dad. He left the house with new instructions each day: behave, you two. I was finally a real wife. It was bliss.
But everything came crashing down. Ectopic, MTX, rising HCG numbers, ruptured tube, broken hearts. Emergency surgery that insurance wouldn’t cover. Perhaps because he saw how destroyed I was both emotionally and physically (the MTX left me sick for months), he insisted that we would try again. It will work again, he said. He held back before serving up a side order of bitterness and blame.
I don’t blame him. It was a massive blow. One of several. After that near miss, success remained elusive. Even when it “worked”, it didn’t. As we went from cycle to cycle, I ended up making my own playlists. I tried to do everything right. I changed my diet, got regular acupuncture. Paid for extra help during the two-week wait so I wasn’t lifting or carrying or straining. Tried to keep the hardest and shittiest bits of IVF light and happy. I was protecting him, I told myself. The reality, though, was that he was increasingly disengaged, and less willing to hope. An act of self-preservation, perhaps. I tried to hope for us both. But by our last cycle, failure was almost entirely expected when it came.
IVF – and infertility – wasn’t a powerful strike to the head. It was a debilitating and progressive body blow. It unravelled us, mauled our self-confidence, killed our passion. I try not to think about what it did to our financial security, though I am constantly reminded that the money we spent could have been a down payment for another house somewhere, or been a start to a more secure retirement. He had maintained from the start that adoption, surrogacy, and embryo- and egg-donation were not options. But when there’s nothing to hold on to, how you get back up on your feet?
So now what? How do we chart a way forward? I’m not sure.
I am still figuring out what to do with myself. I know it’s too late for a do-over, with him or anyone else. In my days, I work, and in my dreams, I mourn – the lost children, the lost chances, and the lost love. But I also look back and realise it has been years since he – or the dog – sent me flowers. Like hope, I had started fading some time ago.
He seems to be rediscovering life before this whole IVF and infertility mess. Finding his own fun. Deeming our marriage and life together a waste. I could say something about how his behaviour has affected us. I won’t. But he does wield cruelty like a weapon. During our gazillionth fight this week, he said: “How can I live in a childless marriage with a woman who is still desperate for children?”
I don’t have the answer to that question.
And perhaps that’s just it. He can’t see the next chapter – or any others after that – because, deep down, he believes I will never be able to. Even if I’ve always found a way to roll with the punches, this, to him, has been the knockout punch to my life, and our marriage.
And infertility wins.