Last week, many British newspapers featured an item about a woman who had just given birth to a daughter conceived after she had advertised, first in the window of her local newsagents and then on the back of a London bus, for an egg donor. She was fifty-six years old.
This story could - and should - have generated debate about the severe shortage of both egg and sperm donors in this country. Instead, it provoked a range of predictable concerns about the so-called 'selfishness' of women determined to extend their reproductive life beyond what is 'naturally' possible. I listened to a radio phone-in on the topic, in which several callers pointed out that the woman in question would be in her seventies by the time her daughter was a teenager, and would in all probability not live long enough to see her mature into an adult woman.
This is, perhaps, a legitimate concern. Having suffered the effects of premature maternal bereavement first hand, I know how traumatic the loss of a mother during late adolescence/early adulthood can be. My mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer when she was thirty seven, just one year older than I am now. She died two months after her forty-fourth birthday. As I have grown older, I have become less convinced that I am destined to follow the same way, and yet it is always in the back of my mind: if I have a child now, and die at the same age as my mother, then that child will be just seven years old. In my experience, mothers do die, and leave their children before they are ready, and I cannot help but worry that that may happen again.
But this case also sent me back to the perennial question, when is enough, enough? At what point do you decide to let go, to move on, to build a life for yourself beyond infertility? I seem to have spent much of my thirties trying unsuccessfully to have a baby. And I am tired - I am tired of the endless monthly cycles of hope and disappointment. I am tired of the repeated minor surgeries, of the injections and internal scans. I am tired of having to plaster a pleased expression on my face whenever I hear about someone else's surprise pregnancy. I am tired of crying all the time. I am tired of feeling a failure. I don't know how much longer I can keep putting myself through this. I cannot imagine that in another twenty years, I will still be plugging away at fertility treatments, still living from cycle to cycle.
Given my most recent prognosis, I can no longer believe unconditionally in happy endings. Of course I have hope that I may yet have a child, but I am also beginning to confront the fact that childlessness remains a very real possibility. I know that I will be forever scarred by infertility. I feel that it has robbed me of a major part of my identity as a woman. There will, of course, always be reminders of the baby I lost, of the children I might have had. And yet, I hope that, over time, I will journey towards some kind of acceptance. My life will follow a different course from the one I had envisaged, but it will continue nonetheless.
But what happens if, when other women my age are seeing their children off to university, or even welcoming their first grandchild, I am still longing for a baby? What if that deep, visceral ache for a child never subsides?