Without wanting to sound melodramatic, as midnight struck on my birthday I burst into tears. “I don’t want to be 35,” I sobbed unmelodramatically, as my husband patted my back. The dread has been creeping on for a while. When my oldest friend called us 35 earlier this week, I blurted out, “I am 34!”, like Patsy Stone correcting a waiter with “madame-moiselle”.
In rational terms, I have no problem with ageing. It means experience, skill, one step closer to becoming Monica Bellucci. But I feel like I’ve been warned about 35 since I became an adult. We are surrounded by a background murmur of articles about “career women” delaying their chances of having a family, women “leaving it too late” or that awful phrase “elderly primigravida” – all conspiring to make me feel about as human as the Grand High Witch. There’s rarely any allowance for simply not meeting a nice, loving, family-interested partner or for problems conceiving. We meet, marry and mate, or, those articles suggest, we fail.
Despite many blessings, I feel guilty and I often feel ashamed. I am married to my favourite person. I’m surrounded by friends, family, animals and children whom I adore. And yet, despite two years of our best efforts, my husband and I have yet to bring the world’s tallest baby into the world. Like so many people, we would love to be parents, but life has had other plans.
The last year has been spent toing and froing from tests to bloods to clinics via acupuncture, fertility specialists, supplements (I rattle like an MP’s closet), even an operation. I have been desperate to find out what is wrong so that I could fix it and every new test has felt like a chance to find something definitive.
In September, we ran out of places to go. At the fertility centre at Guy’s, a dead ringer for Margaret Atwood gently told us that our infertility was unexplained, as it is for so many people. In a year, she could refer us for IVF.
“Thirty-five is fine,” she said, as I mopped my face with her office Kleenex. “If you were 45, I’d be worried.”
As ridiculous as it sounds, turning 35 felt like the last few seconds on Countdown and I hadn’t found any words
But all I could think was next year I’ll be 36. Again, I know parents who are much older – but, in my mind, they’re different, simply because they’re not me. They’re the ones who are sensible for having a baby when they’re ready and when they’re able. Me on the other hand – irresponsible! Couldn’t get knocked up before 35! I was letting everyone down, with a body I felt like I’d lost the sodding user manual for. I had drunk the anti-35 Kool Aid and was going back for more.
At lunch, I told my friend how antsy I was feeling now there were no more tests, no more possibilities. As ridiculous as it sounds, turning 35 felt like the last few seconds on Countdown and I hadn’t found any words.
“Darling, I’ve known you for years,” she said. “You’re Type A, like me, and you need a dragon to slay. It’s very difficult when you don’t have one. But maybe this year is what you need – some time for you both, together, and to know there’s nothing you can do other than look after yourself.”
I knew it to be true as she said it. As anyone who’s ever had to wait for anything knows, it can be unbearable. Forums are filled with chat about the “2ww”, or two-week wait – the time after your fertile period when you’re waiting for your actual period to arrive. I’d find the first few days fine, and easy not to think about. Life was positively golden with possibility. But as I got closer to the date – sometimes even passed it – I’d allow myself to think: “Now? Has it happened? Am I ready?” And then my period arrived, another chance gone.
As I sat on the bus home, I thought of what my friend, my therapist, my riding instructor, even – worryingly – random people in the gym have said: “You need to be kinder to yourself.” “You do deserve good things. Good things will happen.” A friend from my bookclub gave me a wonderful postcard that I have pinned on my mirror: tell the negative committee that meets in your head to fuck off.
So, I might not be able to “do” anything but, until such time as that changes, I will endeavour to worry less. I’m 35 – well done, me. I’m more capable and less of a mess than I was at 25 and I’m still here. Age is not a number; it’s a bloody word. And if I am ever lucky enough to be an elderly primagravida, well – I’m going to be the prima-est damn gravida I can possibly be.