All of my life I have suffered from endometriosis. I won’t go into the gory details of it here but it involves a lot of pain, nausea and blood. Menstruation is sometimes tantamount to being executed at dawn. I have had several surgeries, all of which have names too long and Latin-sounding to pronounce; which are also impossible to spell. Some have helped, some have not.
When I was 25 (and married for 3 months,) I was told by my gynaecologist that I would never have children. NEVER. It was the most final word I have ever heard, a horrible-sounding word that rolled off my tongue like a curse. It was like a door being slammed in my face one thousand times in a row.
You will NEVER have children.
It was much worse than being told by Sister Benedicta when I was in Kindergarten that I would NEVER amount to anything because I was a sinner, a sinner, a sinner. I was five years old and I had picked a daisy from the convent garden.
Time is a remarkable thing. After almost a year of tears, self-recrimination and vacillating in and out of a state of depression; I decided that I could cope with not having children. Maybe adoption was the answer or having lots of pets. I realised it was time to stop wallowing and time to get on with things. It was only 1992 but I decided to party like it was 1999.
The next few years passed in a vodka and cheap wine-induced haze. I think I single-handedly kept many wineries and bottle shops afloat at that time. There were some wonderful moments, some wild moments – notably the wet T-shirt competition without the T-shirt – which I am legally bound to never discuss again.(Only joking, I still have the photos!) My friends and family thought I was partying to forget, but I was partying to remember that there is more to life than the finality of one word.
It happened when I was 30. I thought I had food poisoning after a dodgy curry but a visit to the doctor revealed I was, in fact, pregnant. I wasn’t surprised – I had been dreaming of a child for weeks. A little boy with chubby cheeks and blue-green eyes. Somehow I knew the little boy I was dreaming of was going to be mine someday.
The gynaecologist was unimpressed. “This is a very dangerous situation for you,” he said, consulting his clipboard. “There is a possibility you may become too ill to carry the baby to term or that you may, in fact, miscarry. It may be wise to consider a termination.” Threats of pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes and uncontrolled bleeding floated in my head but I didn’t waver – “No one will take this child from me,” I shouted. “No one!”
Nine months later, after a trouble-free pregnancy, my little bundle of joy came along. He was exactly like the baby in my dreams, as if his very existence had been foretold. When I was single and uninterested in children, I had always scoffed at the term : bundle of joy, but when my little buddy came along, I embraced the term with open arms. A little bundle of joy he was then and a bundle of joy he remains (if somewhat larger.) I thank God every day that I didn’t take the doctor’s advice and have a termination. I cannot for a moment imagine life without my son.
About a year after giving birth my endometrial problems worsened. More surgery ensued yet I didn’t give up hope of having another child. For 2 months I didn’t have a period and the dreams began again – this time it was a little girl with blonde hair and blue eyes, who looked exactly like my mother had as a child.
The blood tests were inconclusive. I had an ultrasound and it was discovered I had an ectopic pregancy where the egg mistakenly lodges itself in the fallopian tube. The body thinks it is pregnant when it obviously is not. This condition caused a lot of complications and I ended up losing one of my ovaries. Prognosis of getting pregnant again – worse than unlikely. I knew in my heart that this time never really meant never and grieved over and over for that little girl who looked so like my mother.
Around this time ( at age 35,) many of my friends and acquaintances were having their second child. I don’t like people to feel sorry for me, so I kept my condition to myself but it became harder and harder to bear the comments made by those people who regard childbearing with the same vigour and enthusiasm as they do a sport.
“You’re not getting any younger.”
“You don’t want there to be too big an age gap between the kids, they might not get on.”
” The longer you wait, the harder it will be.”
“Pregnancy is much riskier is your late 30s.”
I could have explained, I could have deflected the comments painting me as a selfish person raising an ‘only’ child, but I couldn’t stand divulging a painful part of myself over and over again; I couldn’t stand saying out loud that the little girl I had dreamed of was gone for good.
As the years passed and my son grew older, the comments desisted. I thought I was home free until a few months ago when the comments began again after a rash of pregnancies in women over 40 at my son’s school.
“You should do it,” people said. “It’s never too late.” Except that in my case, never actually does mean never.
When I was a child, a friend of my grandmother’s fell pregnant at 42. “It’s disgusting,” I remember my Gran saying. ” Just imagine – at her age!” How times have changed. More and more women these days are having children over 35, over 45, some even over 55. I’m all for it, if it’s what the woman wants but sometimes being too old to have any more children, is a comfortable place to be. And much less painful to explain. I am glad that at 42, being too old is in fact, old enough.