Tuesday 12 December 2017

Not being able to conceive is worse than being pregnant

Pre-eclampsia occurs during pregnancy
Pre-eclampsia occurs during pregnancy

Louise McSharry

I remember the first time I thought I was pregnant. I was standing in the grimy toilets in the basement of the Arts Building in UCD, looking at myself in the mirror and imagining what the baby would be like.

I wasn't in a relationship with the other human involved in what I was convinced had been a baby-making night of rubbish sex, but I couldn't help but have tender thoughts about the tiny human I thought was growing inside of me.

All the way through secondary school my best friend and I had spoken in hushed tones about the fact that should we find ourselves unexpectedly pregnant we would definitely be on the first flight to England. We didn't feel comfortable saying it to our larger group of friends. "It wouldn't go down well," we told each other. It's easy to think that way when you're a virgin though. Things change when you're a whopping 18-years-old and on your second sexual partner. At this ripe old age I didn't think I could do it. "No judgment on anyone else," I told the same friend, 'It's just that I do really want to have a baby ... but not now. God, no, not now.'

Fortunately I didn't have to make a decision, because the imaginary baby was just that, and boy, what a relief. However, this was only the first of many imaginary babies I've had in the subsequent years. So many days spent agonising over late periods, so much time spent watching the seconds go by before you can be sure that the negative pregnancy test is definitely negative. This was the story of my twenties. I had things to do before I got pregnant, you see, despite always knowing that I wanted to be a mother.

At some point, the fear of being pregnant became diluted as the fear of not being able to crept in. My feelings about potential pregnancy were changing and over the last few years have become something entirely different. Instead of thinking, 'Good for you but thank God it's not me!' when friends got pregnant, I've started to feel a feeling unfamiliar to me in this context. I've begun to feel envy. A very persistent envy. It doesn't even dissipate when I read friends' Facebook statuses about being exhausted after being up all night with newborns, or bemoaning their lack of social lives. As these feelings have grown, I've wondered if this was what it meant when movie characters told their partners that they were 'ready' for kids.

However, there are things to do first. I have to get married next summer, and then we need the summer after that for our last hurrah (Glastonbury has to be done at least once more, you know, these things are very important). So I've scheduled conception in for Christmas 2016. I say it out loud all the time and people laugh. I can't help but think I'm saying it more wishfully than anything else. Imagine if you actually got to do it at the 'right time'?

My most recent imaginary baby was invented by my brain in March. I counted the weeks on my fingers and realised that it had been eight weeks since I last complained about period pains, and my mind began to wander. 'Not now!' it thought, 'We've just started a new job! We don't get paid for maternity leave! We have to have our last hurrah!' It had a point, but things are different now. I'm ensconced with the man I want to father my children, and not too far from what I have decided is 'the right time'. Maybe it wouldn't be the worst? At least then I could stop worrying about whether I was able to conceive.

March's imaginary baby was invented too though, and since then I've taken countless tests at home, with my GP and in hospital, because my period has disappeared. No sign of it since December. No one seems to know where it's gone, but they don't seem too worried about it. Apparently they can get me ovulating again if I want to conceive. Apparently.

So, I'm worried again about an imaginary baby. This time, I'm in my own bathroom, only slightly less grimy than the one in UCD. And this time, it never existing is the worst thing I can imagine.

Because after all, I've known I wanted to have a baby since the first time my mind created one. I've been building towards this for all my adult life. Perhaps this is just the lot of women who want to have children. You worry about having them until you worry about not being able to. That's just how it goes. It's just that now my body is actually egging me on. Thanks a lot, biology.

First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday's Irish Independent

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