A few years ago, I was told I might never have children. My eggs were so dodgy, my hormone levels so warped, the good old NHS couldn't even fund an IVF round.
During that consultation, I did what all polite British people do: I swallowed the tears down, asked questions, even cracked the odd joke or two. But when I stepped outside, I broke down. It was finally dawning on me I'd never see my belly swell or feel the soft fuzz of newborn hair against my cheek.
As the days and weeks went on, something else occurred to me too. Society didn't know what to do with childless people like me. I didn't know what to do with me.
I've been brainwashed, you see. All of us have.
The society we all grow up in tells us being a parent is the ultimate achievement. You know those time-bruised phrases like 'there's no greater accomplishment than becoming a parent' (said the father-of-five serial killer)?
Think about some of the films and TV series you watch, the books you read. There's often one lesson we're expected to come away with: children are the greatest gift of all. Work means nothing. Ambition means nothing. As long as you have children, that's all that matters.
You know which plotlines I mean. Workaholic parent finally has their eyes opened to the true meaning of life: being a mother or father. No-hope ex-cop suddenly becomes a hero when s/he has to save their child. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
It's a form of programming. Keep in line. Procreate. All will be well in the end.
So what happens when that 'wonderful gift' is taken away from your future? For me, my identity began to feel fragile. It was as though I'd fallen in-between the cracks of life, something that became even more evident as everyone around me procreated. Without the fabric of parenthood in my future, it felt like society didn't quite know what to do with me.
Friends and family were amazing. But a few people ran out of things to say to me. They'd had kids and weren't quite sure whether they were allowed to talk about the things I might never have. So they just kind of... stopped talking.
People I met at baby showers, christenings and weddings were left red-faced and wordless when my answer to the usual, 'so, when are you going to have kids then?' question was met with, 'I can't, I'm infertile' (I'd given up on the 'oh, we're too busy having fun' retort months back).
Who could blame them? Society hadn't prepared them for this, a woman without the 'mother' label in her future. Of course, it's nonsense. Aren't there other roles that are just as important out there: for me, it's producer, author, wife, friend, daughter, granddaughter, niece, cousin... aren't they just as viable for me?
And why should the most treasured gift be a child? Why not an experience, a special achievement, another person other than your child... the list goes on.
Lots of people understood that. But many more didn't.
So what was next for me? I started planning a life away from society, maybe move somewhere beautiful, savage and remote. I didn't see any specific role in my future, I just knew I wanted to be. And that felt great.
Then guess what happened next? Yep, I got the stereotypical happy ending. I got pregnant. It wasn't because 'I relaxed and it simply happened'. Or 'I stopped trying and guess what? I got knocked up!' No, I spent hard-earned money and time on ground-breaking fertility treatment.
So now I have my one-year-old daughter, have my views changed? No. But I'm more forgiving of society. The world is chaotic and society tries to make sense of that chaos by assigning expectations and roles.
And what's become clear to me, more than ever, is that we don't have to bend to those roles. In fact, we should accept the chaos, embrace it even, and find our own way through by breaking out of our pre-destined moulds. Most of all, we must treasure everything, not just our children. We should take pride in our work, not just what we've reproduced.
And you know what? Maybe understanding that will make me a better parent than I would've been before.Suggest a correction