My journey to being a childless mother
I was always desperate to grow up and early on I decided I would never ever end up like my mother. I wanted my own life, house, car, career and independence. I remember declaring age 21 at a family gathering that I wouldn’t be having children. I don’t think any of my family truly believed me and probably what I really meant was “I don’t want kids yet”. I was just desperate to get established in a job, get settled in a house with savings in the bank and maybe then think about it properly; like every sensible good girl is taught.
To further complicate matters, I was diagnosed with bowel disease aged 20, and my boyfriend was born with a rare genetic condition that could be fatal unless he was monitored closely. We both learned how to work around these diseases and for the best part had a good life. I suffered with increasingly worse flares of my illness to the point I had months off work at a time and could barely look after myself. It was at these times that I felt grateful I didn’t have to care for a child because I physically unable, and my family were not able to offer that kind of support. I also ruminated how selfish it would be to have a child that could potentially inherit serious medical conditions just to satisfy our own desire to have a family. It was quite easy to add all this to my growing list of reasons not to have a child.
I remember holding babies a couple of times in my twenties and pushing my niece in a pushchair and it just feeling uncomfortable and alien. I just remember having a real sinking feeling in my gut that this ‘just wasn’t me’ but I just put it to the back of mind and plodded on with life which was actually going well until my marriage started to unravel. It was a gradual thing and I assumed we would muddle through like we always did, but when I hit 35 something changed in me. It was like a switch was flicked and suddenly I was firmly in baby fever territory. After years of watching ‘One Born Every Minute’, and it confirming how much I didn’t want a child, suddenly I was balling my eyes out every episode. I know this was my hormones, my biological clock going crazy, but it was hard to ignore. I think it played a massive part in my marriage breaking down.
We separated and divorced when I was 36 and I moved onto another relationship almost immediately. I met a man who promised to ‘give me a baby’ and we ploughed headlong into a serious relationship. It was crazy loved-up chaos and I was convinced we were going to have this amazing life and family. During our four years together I got pregnant twice. Once at age 37 which ended in miscarriage after six weeks, and again at age 38. The latter pregnancy progressed well, and everything was looking perfect with our baby boy. Shortly after the 20 week scan I learned that there was a problem with my cervix and it was likely he would be born early, maybe 35 weeks the consultant said. When I got that news I felt awful, like a complete failure, but worse was to come. Three days later I started to labour silently, and our baby was born at barely 21 weeks’ gestation. He lived for 2 hours and we took turns holding him until his heart stopped beating. The feeling of hopelessness and failure was immense. I am not sure it will ever go away.
I guess I would be described as a childless mother but I don’t feel like I identify with either of these labels. People with children have told me “it was just one of those things”, a childless family member said “I never even got that far” suggesting I should be grateful for what I had. It is hard to hear these things. I pray one day I will be grateful but I am still too angry and full of grief.
I am 40 and single now. There will be no more pregnancies or a ‘rainbow child’. I learned that I never really had the choice to make, and it wasn’t because of all my previous fears and worries, it was because when I was being formed in my mother’s uterus, my own uterus did not develop properly. It is unable to sustain a pregnancy to the point of viability (24 weeks). Maybe my life-long ambivalence to motherhood was an unconscious way of protecting myself from this physical ‘truth’.
This writer asked to remain anonymous