Be careful what you wish for…

I’ve hesitated to write this post because… oh for a million different reasons. Partly because it felt like the blog ended nicely, on Mother’s Day no less, tied up with the bow of a baby — finally — after all this time. Partly because I’ve never seen a post like this by anyone who writes about infertility. Partly because I wasn’t sure I wanted it down in black and white. Partly because I wasn’t sure when I would actually have the time to arrange my thoughts and get them down. 

But then I’ve never been anything other than brutally honest on this blog and I know that there are people who have gone through fertility treatment who read this blog, and I kind of wanted to write about this for them, as much as for me — because part of the problem with this whole thing was feeling, a bit like I felt when I was first freezing my eggs, that it was just me. And I’m fairly sure it’s not just me. Anyway, I’ll stop caveating and get to the point…

Anyone reading this blog knows how wanted this baby was. How much time, effort — physical and emotional — went into getting us to a point where we had a baby. And although I wrote about not feeling ready and about my worries about what I was giving up by becoming a mother. I think I’d just assumed that all of those worries would just evaporate the moment I held my baby in my arms. And, to be fair, in the warm glow of those first post-birth days, that I wrote about in my last post, they were the furthest thing from my mind.

But a few weeks in, not only did they not evaporate, in many ways, they intensified. I’ve lost count of the number of times over the last few months that I’ve desperately wanted my old life back; that the words “be careful what you wish for” have played on a loop in my head; that I’ve sobbed “there is no part of this that I’m enjoying”; that I’ve — at times — hated and resented my baby and my new life as a mother with a passion I genuinely didn’t think possible.

This isn’t post-natal depression, although, as I said to my GP at my 8-week check-up, I guess most women who have post-natal depression don’t think they have post-natal depression. But I really think this is a completely normal response to the situation I’ve been confronted with. 

I was recovering from major surgery (a planned c-section), had a huge number of hormones still floating around my system, was wildly sleep-deprived with a baby who didn’t seem to want to sleep so no prospect of that changing anytime soon, and I felt like we’d just exploded the very nice life we used to have that was full of fun and spontaneity and the ability to get stuff done. 

Honestly, I was fucking miserable. I struggle to recall a time in my life when I felt more miserable and less able to see a way out of the misery. It felt relentless and, unlike other points in my life when I’d felt unhappy, I couldn’t imagine ever not feeling that way. I also felt like the worst person in the world for feeling like that when everyone was asking me if I was “loving being a mummy” and telling me to “enjoy every moment”. I thought there had to be something wrong with me because I wasn’t loving it and enjoying it, I was hating it and enduring it.

Given that the baby is the result of a donor egg, you’d be forgiven for wondering if this was all my worst fears coming home to roost. You know, the ones that I wrote about when I was getting my head around the idea of using donor eggs — the deep-seated fears that, when the going got tough, I wasn’t a good enough person to parent a child that wasn’t genetically mine. But the fact that we didn’t share DNA didn’t come into this. I can’t tell you how I was so sure of that, but it just wasn’t about that. In some ways it helped that it wasn’t just me, B felt similarly. The baby is genetically his, and yet he felt the same way I did.

As with so many things, talking honestly — to each other, and other parents, helped. We realised there wasn’t anything wrong with us, and that other people had, in these early days, felt the same, even if they don’t talk about it. I think the conclusion that I’ve come to is that this bit, the horror and misery, is such a small part of the whole, that people forget about it, or block it out. Because it gets better. Everyone says it gets better. 

But that doesn’t help when you’re mired in the depths of it. When you don’t think you can tolerate another hour of this, let alone another day, when you’re wondering if you could live with yourself if you left, or gave away your baby, someone telling you that “when they smile at six weeks, it feels less unreciprocated” or that “three months / four months / six months is the game changer” or that “they do all eventually sleep” just doesn’t help. 

I think part of the problem — broadly — is the cult of parenting, and the fetishisation of motherhood, that has grown in recent decades. So admitting that you hate life as a parent, and worse still, hate this poor defenceless creature who literally didn’t ask to be born, is — to use an overused trope — the ultimate taboo. 

I also think that if, like me, you’ve struggled to get, or stay, pregnant, friends quite rightly think it’s insensitive to bleat on about how much they’re hating the one thing you’re trying desperately to achieve so you don’t hear about the downsides. I get that, it’s one of the reasons I hesitated to write this post. I feel hugely ungrateful. I know there will be people reading this who would give anything to be in my position.  

But I think that even when people do talk about it, you have selective hearing. You think that it will be different for you, that your baby will be different, that you’ve wanted this for so long that you can suck up any temporary hardship that comes with this hard won prize. 

You also think that people are joking. When I say that on three separate occasions, B and I looked into adoption, it sounds like the punchline to a joke. It’s not, it’s deadly serious. We just — repeatedly — got to the point where we felt that there was something wrong with us, that we were despicable people who were entirely ill-suited to being parents, that we clearly couldn’t look after this child, so we should try to find someone who could. 

Several months on, I know that’s not true. We were just sleep-deprived, shell-shocked new parents. Two people who were used to using logic to solve problems, to getting stuff done, to having their shit together, who had suddenly been confronted with a moderately tricky baby who didn’t sleep. And although we’d taken antenatal classes, and read the books, we felt massively out of our depth and were just desperately trying to work out what the fuck we were meant to do with this ever-present creature that had turned our world upside down.

I feel like an idiot writing this. Like I’m the first person to ever have a baby and find it hard. I didn’t even have my baby in lockdown FFS, I have nothing to complain about. And I’m actually not complaining, I’m just writing this for anyone who’s gone through endless rounds of IVF (or had multiple miscarriages or, for whatever reason, hasn’t found the path to motherhood straightforward) who finally gets what they thought they wanted and wishes they hadn’t. 

You’re not a monster, there’s nothing wrong with you, you won’t always feel this way, it does get better, you just need to do whatever you need to do to get you through to the bit where it’s better. 

In my case that meant swallowing my pride, admitting I wasn’t coping, and saying yes to the people who offered help — friends, family, almost anyone who would take the baby off my hands for an hour or more. (At one point walking round the local park in tears as the baby screamed in the pram, I thought that if a stranger had offered to do a circuit of the park with the pram, I wasn’t convinced I’d decline.) 

We also threw money at the problem (I know, I know, I’m hugely privileged to be able to afford to do that) and paid for a night nanny to give us a night off when things got really bad and we just needed a few hours of unbroken sleep. It was expensive, but sanity saving.

And I clung on to the most random people who I suddenly felt were my tribe and got it, even though they weren’t necessarily my closest friends. The work colleague who admitted she’d had some of “the darkest nights of my soul” in the first few months of her first baby’s existence, the sister of a friend who sent me long WhatsApp messages and told me that she’d rather “give birth every other week for 12 weeks than go through the first three months of a newborn’s life.”

As I said, I feel differently now. We both do. Time has passed, we got to the bit where there were smiles, and more sleep. I no longer hate and resent my baby. I’m starting to recalibrate what life looks like as a parent, and how I reconcile the old me with the new me. And while I can’t honestly say I have reached the point where I prefer the life I have now to the life I had before, I am able to see glimpses of how the positive aspects of being a parent could begin to offset the aspects of my life that I feel like I’ve lost.

This wasn’t a post that I ever expected to write, but as I’ve found out so many times in the last few years, life is what happens when you’re making other plans. As such, I’m not going to do anything as presumptuous as calling this the final post on the blog… but that’s it. For now.


4 thoughts on “Be careful what you wish for…

  1. Thank you for such honesty on this topic. Having undergone multiple rounds of ivf and now considering donor eggs, I’m really conscious of questioning myself – ‘how much do I want this’. It feels like in a difficult journey you have to think so much more about your choices so maybe when it doesn’t work out how you expected it’s harder to cope with as you are aware you actively made that choice. In the UK we seem to see motherhood as a pinnacle of success (best club in the world) or something to be endured (mummy needs wine) when maybe it’s just like any aspect of life; some good, some bad, some just ok. I’m glad you have support though and things are getting better.

    • I think you’re exactly right. When it takes so long (& you’ve invested so much emotion and time in it), you have much more time to think about what you’re doing than if you just get (& stay) pregnant easily. And I agree, views of motherhood are so polarised when actually it’s just a mixture of good and bad. I can honestly say things are much much better now than they were a few months ago. I’m really beginning to enjoy it rather than endure it! Happy to chat donor eggs any time – just email me, and good luck with whatever you decide, I’m sure it will be the right decision for you x

  2. Another well written and honest post. I remember one of the first nights I got back from the hospital as my son was screeching his head off and I was suffering from pure exhaustion and a hormonal mess “omg, what have I done?!”. My first son was a baptism of fire. I did not enjoy most of it. And the hardest thing about it was all the guilt I felt at not enjoying it not realising that other mothers also don’t necessarily enjoy it, and that everyone’s circumstance is different i.e. how much support you have, if your baby is a firecracker v’s a meek little sleeper,and I think having wanted something for so much for so long the reality of having a baby and what you give up suddenly hits you like a truck.

    What I can say is it does get better and better but it always is hard. I managed to have the courage to have a second baby (boy again), and I can say that the experience was a lot different, and better.

    I just hope that mothers can be more open and honest with each each other about what their situation is like to be truly able to support each other instead of putting on a front that everything is all rosey and they are loving every minute of it !! xxx

    • Thank you so much for your comment. It has got better. And I should probably write a post about that too! But yes I think we need more honesty, but also less fetishisation of motherhood, and a realisation that it really does take more than two people, one of whom is probably working full time etc etc Like you say some people have sleepers, others don’t. (I’ve now taught mine to sleep and it was an absolute game changer for all of us – but that’s another post!)

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