Time On Our Side
When babies didn’t arrive and the treatment failed, I felt the need to get away from all the stress…
By Vivien Brown
Ihad never really considered childlessness as an option. I’d grown up as so many girls do, wondering how many children I would have one day, whether they would be boys or girls, what colour hair and eyes they might have…
Later, as I went through my teenage years, I started to picture their faces, imagining them as miniature versions of whichever boy I had a crush on at the time. Tiny Johnny Smiths, with wavy hair and crooked teeth just like his, or Sean O’Connors with faces full of freckles, and wearing glasses. I suppose, secretly, without wanting to sound vain, I wanted them to look like me too.
When I was twenty-three, Simon Crawford got down on one knee in the park and slipped a ring on my finger. I loved him and he loved me. We started planning and saving, and three years later we had a fairytale wedding and bought a small house with two bedrooms and a little patch of garden.
It wasn’t long before I knew the time had come to stop dreaming of imaginary babies and start making plans for welcoming a real one into our lives.
Who would have thought it would be so terribly hard?
The doctor was a grey-haired old man with a serious face, a cluttered desk and years of experience.
We had been trying for less than a year. Not long enough, he said, for any major concerns. It was far too soon to subject ourselves to unnecessary tests and treatments. Much better to simply stop worrying, relax, and make the most of being a couple. Time would almost certainly work its magic and, according to him, we had plenty of that on our side.
He smiled and patted my hand, and gave Simon an unexpected wink, which I’m sure I wasn’t meant to see, as we left.
“That’s reassuring, isn’t it, Jules?” Simon said, buying me an ice cream on the way home. “I’m sure the doctor knows best.”
I wanted to believe it, but it wasn’t easy.y Planning the wedding had taken a lot of time but we had known, without any doubt, that it was going to happen just as we wanted it to.
It had been pretty much the same buying the house. Seeing the mortgage adviser, the estate agent, the solicitor… all steps on the way towards Simon carrying me, giddy with excitement, over the threshold of our very own home.
But with both of those things I had always felt in control. Wanting a baby just wasn’t the same. Who could say when, or even if, it was going to happen? Suddenly my childhood Will it be aboy or girl? and What colour hair? questions didn’t matter any more. I would have accepted whatever nature decided to give me. But nature had clearly decreed otherwise.
“Trying for a baby should be fun,” Simon said one night, more than a year later, as I took the thermometer from my mouth and scribbled down the
It all became a MILITARY EXERCISE with POOR SIMON called to DUTY
result. He gave me one of those exasperated looks I’d seen far too many times lately and sat up in bed, shaking his head. “Not a chore.”
He was right, of course. The whole sorry business had stopped being fun months ago. Relaxing and just being a couple had been fair enough, but it hadn’t lasted long, and the pile of infertility books and print-outs from self-help websites piled on the bedside table told their own story.
Baby-making had become more like a military exercise, with poor Simon as the soldier called to do his duty whenever my temperature charts dictated that the time was right.
“I’m sorry,” I said, trying to hold
back the tears. I saw his face soften as he pulled me into his arms.
“No, love, I’m the one who should be saying sorry. I shouldn’t be snapping. I want a baby just as much as you do, but it’s not happening, is it? I think it’s time we accepted there really is a problem now, one we’re going to face together. Two years has been long enough…”
To be fair to the doctor, he did take us much more seriously the second time around. And that was how we set out on a long round of tests and tablets and treatments that frustratingly failed to find anything obviously wrong.
“Unexplained infertility,” the specialist said, but I could tell she was having trouble looking me in the eyes. “I’m sorry, but on the face of it, everything is in good working order. There is no specific drug, no operation I can offer you…”
Well, how could there be? It’s not easy to correct something that nobody can even put a name to.
We plodded on for a while longer, half expecting a miracle, half knowing one was unlikely. And so, just as we turned thirty, we turned to IVF. The cure-all wonder treatment that could bring egg and sperm together in a dish, before returning a perfectly formed embryo back to its mother’s body. That was the theory anyway.
We were booked in for early October, and it was an intensive and emotional month of drugs and scans, leading to not one but two tiny embryos being placed oh, so carefully inside me.
I hoped and I prayed, and I did everything I was told to do. I even started imagining what my baby would look like again, only this time there was a very definite and handsome man’s face I desperately hoped it would resemble. And in my wildest dreams, both embryos would survive and we would have twins. One of each…
But then came the terrible day when we were told that I was not pregnant. Our treatment had failed.
“We can try again, Jules,” Simon said, clutching at my hand as we sat outside the clinic, the rain beating down hard on the roof of the car, neither of us able to face the long drive home straight away. “Lots of people do.”
But I had had enough. And I was fairly sure that he had, too.
“No,” I said, sounding a lot more decisive than I felt. “This thing has taken over our lives. We’re not happy any more. I think we’ve forgotten how to be. And the last thing I want is to drive you away, or to lose you.”
“That is never going to happen. We’re in it together, remember? I love you, whatever happens. Baby or no baby.”
“I know.” I snuggled against his damp coat, breathing in the warm familiar smell of him. “And I love you too. But let’s stop fretting over something we can’t control. Maybe later, in a year or two, we can come back to this, but for now I think I’d just like to get away from it all, learn to be ourselves again, find something else to concentrate on…”
The orphanage was in Ghana. They were crying out for volunteers. Anyone with a teaching or a nursing background, people who could work with wood, help to build toilet blocks, decorate classrooms, lead music or play sessions, dish out food…
It was the photos of the children, with their thin little legs and their big brown pleading eyes that did it.
“We could do this,” I said to Simon, beckoning him over to sit beside me on the sofa so he could see the website I had been looking at on my laptop. “So many children who need help, and here’s us with all this time on our hands, and all this love to give.”
“Steady on, Jules. You’re surely not suggesting we go out to Africa?” “Yes. Why not?” “Well, there’s the cost for a start. Look, it says we have to pay to take part. And then there are the air fares…”
“No more than we’d pay to go away on holiday – and it’s certainly cheaper than another round of IVF,” I argued. “And it would be an adventure. I feel I need one of those after all the worries of the last few years.” “But… Africa?” “Why not? It says here that Ghana is the safest country on the continent. We’re not going to catch some scary disease or be robbed of our life savings! It’s somewhere we’ve never been, and we could do some real good. I’m a nursery nurse, you’re a carpenter. We’re just what they need. Come on, let’s do it. I dare you!”
He didn’t take a lot of persuading in the end. We might not have a child of our own, but we could help make a real difference to children who didn’t have parents of their own. It felt like a fair swap.
So we both booked a month’s leave from work, packed the bare minimum of clothing for ourselves and stuffed our suitcases with pencils and nappies and toys and all the other little luxuries that the children might make use of, and then we were off.
Ghana was a whole new world to us. Yes, it was hot and the food was fairly basic, but the orphanage was such a busy, happy place.
I spent my mornings playing with the smallest children, building towers of bricks, showing them how to complete a second-hand jigsaw, or teaching them songs.
After lunch I would organise a lively game of rounders or sometimes help with the laundry and cleaning, while Simon disappeared off to a different area with some of the other men, armed with saws and hammers and paintbrushes.
Our evenings were spent on the beach, cooking, chatting, getting to know our fellow workers, and at night we all slept in two big shared huts, the men in one and the women in the other.
There was no time to sit and mope. I could feel all the stresses gradually melt away in the slow, relaxed pace of life, the cuddles of the children and the constant sunshine.
One day all the volunteers were taken for a day out to a much larger town where we could explore the market stalls, try some local delicacies and soak up the lazy, laid-back atmosphere.
“We meet back here in three hours,” our guide said, wandering off into the shade of a small café.
And so, for the first time since we’d arrived, Simon and I had a little time to ourselves.
We paused to watch an African woman weaving bracelets out of what looked like string, threading colourful beads into the mix.
Simon bought me one, slipping it on to my arm just as he had slipped the ring onto my finger in the park all that time ago. I felt his warm hand close over mine as he stopped to kiss me.
“I love it here,” he said softly. “Such a simple way of life. Such great kids. There’s only one thing wrong with it, really.” “What’s that?” “You sleep in your hut, I sleep in mine!” I laughed. “Not for much longer, love. We fly home next week.”
Of course the guide didn’t turn up on time. Time didn’t seem to have the same meaning in Ghana as it did back home. We stood by the side of the dirt road, with the others from our group, waiting for the little bus to come and pick us up, showing each other what we had bought, and for a moment I really couldn’t have cared less whether we ever went home again.
But we did go home. We went home as a much more relaxed, happy and stress-free couple. And that doctor we first saw may have been old and seemingly unsympathetic, but he was right. Time can work wonders.
Just weeks later, back together in our own bed, without a care in the world or a thermometer in sight, I found I was pregnant.
Our daughter looks exactly as I always hoped she would. A little bit like Simon, a little bit like me, and a whole lot happy!
For a MOMENT I couldn’t care whether we EVER WENT HOME again