People have different ways of dealing with hard times but for me, the latest one involved How To Get Away With Murder marathons, Tana French’s back catalogue and shrinking my world down to as little human contact as I could manage. I was going through fertility treatment and all I wanted was to pause life until I saw a positive result on a Clearblue stick and with some luck (and by luck I mean hormones and science) resume being me again.
It was different to how I’d dealt with other rough times, which had been generally by going to the pub. But lying awake at 5am Googling the impact of white wine on your ovarian reserve and beating yourself up for eating chips (Chips! How would I ever get pregnant if I ate chips?) takes away the joy of the boozy night out and instead, I battened down the hatches with my boyfriend until it was over, hoping that at some point, some month, I could put it behind me and forget it had ever happened.
Except when it came to it and after two and a half years of trying, I got pregnant from IVF in November, a guilt kicked in. “You timed that well!” commented more than one friend because we’d just bought a house and I was 34 and from the outside it looked like the rom-com perfect time to have a baby. I was tempted to stick fertility issues in a box and bury them after they’d dominated my mind for so long and I also didn’t want to be the martyr that ruined the lovely news with a “But did I tell you about how AWFUL it’s been and how long we’ve been trying for?” caveat but eventually I did. Because I didn’t think it was fair not to.
I’ve lost friends and work, I developed a stress rash all over my face overnight, and I’ve clutched a bag of syringes to my chest at rush hour on the 73 bus
In the UK, one in six couples have problems conceiving but often you won’t know. How would you? Fertility issues are an odd, complex, devastatingly personal thing to deal with and they don’t necessarily play out in public, even for women who share most other things in their life. I may have friends who have just spent the afternoon sobbing because their period came and I may not, but if I do, I want them to hear a true story behind the subject, rather than just seeing a glib pregnancy announcement on social media and feeling even more like they’re the only one.
If I glossed over the years of hospital stays and drugs and failed rounds of IUI, there would be an assumption that my biggest motherhood-based stress was what colour to paint the bloody nursery. It wasn’t and it isn’t but it’s what I would have presumed before I got pregnant too: I was so blinkered that I filed away every woman sporting a “Baby On Board” badge as having had no more of a boost than an extra Negroni and a House of Fraser underwear sale. The fetishised “Motherhood Challenge” type representations of the whole thing didn’t help but human stories like Kat Lister’s for The Pool or Eleanor Morgan’s on freezing her eggs for The Guardian went some way to muting them. Model Chrissy Teigen talking about being bruised and bloated on her Sports Illustrated shoot was revelatory; celebrities aren’t immune from those one-in-six statistics and yet the conversations about it from within that world are barely existent.
So, here’s the truth from me. Motherhood so far has involved injecting myself in restaurant toilets (sorry your lamb went cold waiting, Helen), being on first-name terms with awesome NHS doctors, learning to make brownies with veg, Googling the dangers of scented candles and being distracted from my reflexology zen when I realised the woman holding my foot had been in a deodorant advert. It’s involved ditching books at page 20 when the protagonist got pregnant, talking loudly down the phone about my eggs on a packed train platform, developing weird superstitions around the dishwasher and turning off Homeland because Carrie was weeing on a stick (I knew I wasn’t safe with One Born Every Minute but I thought I’d get some pregnancy respite in a show about terrorism). It’s involved having a panic attack on a bollard in central London, losing friends and losing work, alarming those close to me when I developed a stress rash all over my face overnight and clutching a bag of syringes to my chest at rush hour on the 73 bus. It’s also involved knowing that when our baby arrives in July, I will always avoid rose-tinting what it took to get there – as militantly as I used to avoid those chips.