Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Great Expectations

Infertility has made me feel a failure - as a woman, as a wife, but also as a daughter.

My father and, perhaps more particularly, my stepmother have for some years had a palpable longing for a grandchild. While many of their friends have gone on to become grandparents, they have been forced to sit back and watch helplessly. My two stepbrothers show absolutely no signs of settling down in stable relationships, let alone reproducing, and so all their hopes have been pinned on my rapidly ageing ovaries. Although they have been very supportive of our decision to undergo IVF, in all the time I was struggling with my own complex feelings of guilt and failure in relation to my inability to conceive and carry to term a child, I was also acutely aware of just how disappointed they too were.

Eventually, they befriended a French couple of around the same age as myself and Mr H whom they met on holiday. I met this couple for the first time over the summer - they are lovely people, who have clearly been to hell and back as far as infertility is concerned: after several failed cycles of IVF, they eventually adopted two little boys from Estonia, a process which took them over four years (the question as to why we too couldn't 'just adopt' has often seemed to hover, unspoken yet reproachfully, in the air). My father and stepmother absolutely dote on these two children: they go to visit them as often as possible, and have even talked about moving to France permanently in order to be close to them. Their house is filled with photographs of the French family, and every time I go to visit them I feel even more guilty for not being able to provide them with the one thing that they seem to want above all else.

Since we told them that we were expecting a baby, they have been absolutely beside themselves with excitement. While we have yet to buy a single piece of baby-related paraphernalia, their plans for the new arrival seem to be well under way: my stepmother has already knitted a small stash of hats and bootees, while my father has been leafing through back issues of 'Practical Woodworking' in search of something he can make for his first grandchild (we had tactfully to reject a rather wonky looking crib on health and safety grounds).

Yet somehow the sheer weight of their expectations continues to press heavily upon me. Even at 25 weeks, I find it difficult to believe unconditionally that there will be a baby at the end of this process. While everyone around me makes plans, I am still very much living from moment to moment of this pregnancy.

Friday, 2 January 2009

In which Mr H puts his foot in it

When you yourself are battling infertility, it can be very difficult to feel much sympathy for those who moan on endlessly about their pregnancy symptoms. I have in particular very little patience with those who complain of feeling fat and unattractive during pregnancy. About eighteen months ago, we had an extraordinarily difficult weekend visit from Mr H's best friend and his pregnant girlfriend, who spent the whole time going on about how big she thought her arse was. It took every ounce of self-control that I had not to tell her to shut the f**k up. 'Why can't you see just how lucky you are?' I felt like shouting at her. 'Have you any idea of what I would give to be in your shoes right now?'

During my own pregnancy, I have been determined not to fall prey to such culturally induced self-loathing. I have tried very hard to embrace my changing body shape, and to focus on feeling voluptuous and womanly. Yes, I have suffered some minor discomforts, but they seem a small price to pay for the privilege of becoming a mother.

My fragile self-confidence has, however, recently taken a knock. The other day we went round the January sales. Hr H pointed out a cardigan that he thought I might like. 'You'd probably still fit into that,' he commented.

The cardigan in question was in the window of a shop specialising in plus-size clothing. I am a UK size 8 (around a US size 6); this particular store starts at UK size 18 (US size 16). Once this was pointed out to my darling husband, he immediately started back pedalling. He wasn't for one moment suggesting that I should try on the cardigan; he was simply pointing it out as a particularly fine example of its kind.

My position on the moral high ground of the relationship is now assured for the next few days at least. From my vantage point, I am rather enjoying watching him squirm!