Time On Our Side

When ba­bies didn’t ar­rive and the treat­ment failed, I felt the need to get away from all the stress…

My Weekly - - Contents -

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

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