• Nicole

Christmas cards seem like the easiest part of Christmas. Sending a message of love to those who mean a lot to you. What could symbolise the spirit of Christmas more? Cards have always been important to me. I love receiving cards and I write them a lot, or used to.

However, for many years now, they have been exceedingly symbolic to my perceived place, or lack of place in society. They have embodied a lot of my feelings. As my friends married, I would write the cards to Mr and Mrs ‘same surname’. Meanwhile, I still got cards addressed to Miss. I mean the obsession with using Miss for any unmarried woman is a particular bugbear of mine. In France, unless you are very clearly still a young girl, you are called Madame, not mademoiselle. Your marital status has no bearing. My inner feminist hates that a woman’s status is symbolised so blatantly, I stopped early on declaring any kind of status on my cards and simply wrote names, no Miss; Mrs (or Mr!). I felt strongly about it, but I pretended to ignore it.

Then, I was single. For years. Not only were cards addressed to Miss, but I could only sign off with my own name. The significance of that, when I was still struggling to come back from the loss of my soulmate, my heart was shattered, it stung. I was now down to just the one name, but seemed to be adding more names to the cards I was writing. The lowly Christmas card was ensuring I was fully aware of my place in society. Unmarried, unattached, progressively feeling more and more unlovable and also childless. Year after year. But I ignored it.

I’ve said before how spinster and barren are two words so shrouded in shame but also blame. There is a reason you are still single, there is a reason you are childless. People will deny they think this and yet this underlying thought is felt with every well-meaning, ‘helpful’ suggestion. The “why don’t you try online dating?”; “why are you so picky?”; “why don’t you give him another chance?” Even more personal remarks, which I was genuinely told “don’t sound too clever on the first date”; “don’t get all political”, making a loud and clear judgement that somehow I was the one to blame for my singleness. Similar to the ensuing, “‘it’ll happen when you stop thinking about it” or “why don’t you try eating this”, when trying to get pregnant. The well-meaning advice is given, because the reason you are single and childless is because you are doing something wrong. If you had done things correctly, like everyone else had, you wouldn’t be here, therefore their ‘helpful’ advice is coming from a place of experience and knowledge. I acknowledge that these comments come from a place of trying to help. It is very probably that in my vulnerable state of hurt I took comments to heart which I shouldn’t have. So works heartache. But from the outside, I smiled through and never said a word. I tried to ignore it.

I’ve digressed! Back to the Christmas cards. After the hurt of having to sign my solitary name after the heartache of losing my little family unit, I eventually met Soulmate #2. But then things get weirder! I was pregnant over Christmas. I was a mum, albeit an invisible one. The dream, a mum for Christmas. I wrote my cards with two names, glowing in the pride and knowledge next Christmas I would have another name to write. I lost that baby, but the following month I was pregnant again. Still going to have another name in the card. Except next Christmas came and there was no baby, no name, just a screaming hole where the names should have been. Receiving cards also, with no name, my babies’ names were missing in every one. My babies which hadn’t existed to anyone but me. But I ignored it.

The following years followed the same pattern. I was pregnant through another two Christmases after that, but still no additional name to write or receive. A huge elephant in the room, in my life, but Christmas cards were exchanged once more with no acknowledgement of my babies, or my loss in general. Everyone ignored it. I ignored it.

This year, I have not written cards. I cannot really explain why, when for so many years I ignored my emotions around them. This year I am closer to having my family than ever, we have been approved for adoption. And yet this year I cannot bring myself to put pen to paper. This year I’ve really struggled. Not with acute, gut-wrenching fresh grief, but with longer-standing milder grief as it is now, as part of my acceptance of my infertility. And yet this grief feels more determined somehow.

I have worked so hard to heal, perhaps my grief is telling me this is as far as my healing can go? Maybe I finally feel my emotions are valid and therefore deserve to be protected? Perhaps its simply that lockdown has made me more reflective, or perhaps because it has shaken every single one of my normal habits and customs, then why not one more? Why this year when, I am so close to being a mum do I chose to not send cards?

There are only two cards I want to write this year. One to my lost babies, whom I like to think of as stars. I don’t believe in any deity and therefore, no afterlife and no angels, but I do know that we are part of a huge universe and as such, poetically made of star dust. I say poetically, since this is my layman’s, romanticised view of astrophysics, of which I cannot claim any decent knowledge of.

The second card would be for my yet to be found babies, the ones who will make me a legitimate mum.

To my lost babies,
My darlings, I wish we could spend Christmas together. The time of year which always meant the most to me, which made me want to be a mum above anything else. I want you to know how loved you were, for every single second of your life. You were so loved, so wanted. Losing you broke me. I felt my soul being severed from my body at the same time as you were. Although my heart beats on, its different. I am different. You made me shine from the inside. You made me feel like I was finally home, that the searching could stop. You made me feel whole.
I want you to know that I will always think of you and love who we were together. I loved being your mum for the shortest time. I feel so conflicted being excited to meet my adopted children. They will be my all. They will make me a mum, as you once did. As you should have done. I believe that we will find the perfect children for our little family. Its difficult to accept that had I not lost you, I wouldn’t now be finding my children. I don’t believe in destiny, had you lived, you would have been my perfect children. No one will ever replace you or take away your special place in my heart.
Merry Christmas my little stars.
Forever your mummy x

To my beautiful children,
I had hoped we would be together this Christmas, but due to the year we’ve had, everything got delayed, including our approval. It makes Christmas feel better to know you are out there, that I will meet you very soon. I cannot wait to share this very special time of my year with you. I really hope I can make it special for you too.
Being your mum will be the best thing I do in my life, but I am truly sorry that you need it. I am sorry that your lives have known so much separation and hurt when you are still so small. I’m sorry this is all happening to you right now and as your mum, I’m not able to protect you from it. My darlings, you will complete me, I will finally be the person I feel I truly am. The best me. I hope that I will be worthy of that feeling and can help you be the best you.
We won’t look alike. We won’t share any DNA. I won’t have carried you for 9 months, but I have carried my love for you for decades. You won’t have grown in my tummy, but my excitement at meeting you grows daily. I won’t know so much about your story. I may not know which side of your birth families you look most like. I may not know what your name meant to the person who chose it. We won’t have started out in the same house or with the same family name, but I truly believe that our little family will just fit. Some days will be really tough. Others will be perfect. And most will be somewhere in the middle, but we will be together, we will find our way.
I wish we could have started our forever family in time for this Christmas, but I will make do with knowing that each day I am one day closer to being with you. I hope you are safe and being cared for this Christmas.
Merry Christmas my brave little darlings, until you come home.
Your forever mummy x

I don’t really know the aim of this blog. Just some thoughts I’ve had and I thought perhaps others may be able to relate or share these same feelings. I guess if you take anything away from this, its to think about the impact of cards to people. What may not feel significant to you (the lack of a name either in the ‘To’ or the ‘From’) can be someone’s entire existence and experience. It may feel like just another Christmas tradition. A job on the Christmas list, tick ✔

But for some, writing and receiving cards is so symbolic of where they are and perhaps more so, where they are not. The simple act of letting someone know you are thinking of them, can also show that although you are thinking of them, you do not really understand where they are at all. Loneliness is not only about being alone. It can be being surrounded by people who just don’t/can’t truly hear or see you.

Next year I will write cards again, because I want to. Regardless of what will have happened. I will fight this card aversion I feel just now, because that's not the me I want to be.

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  • Nicole

I have been feeling progressively worse recently, its crept over me slowly over the last few weeks. Just a sense of unease. I assumed I was fed up with lockdown, with work, the darkening evenings and the lack of social interaction. I also thought maybe this was the result of having finished and published my book, its been such an emotional and personal piece of work. I’ve really not been great at self-care recently, I just pushed the feeling of unease to the back of my mind.

Its got to a point where I feel I have to address it, for my own wellbeing. I thought about what feelings actually sat in that unease. I realised there was a lot of guilt and sadness and some anger, which initially made no sense, since we are now just two weeks away from Panel. A date I’ve been wishing weeks, months, years away, to get to. A date full of nervous excitement. I have butterflies. This is my chance at motherhood. My only chance. My last chance. I am closer than I have ever been. If I get a yes at Panel then I will be closer to motherhood than even when I was pregnant, which sounds so contradictory.

I have realised that the guilt is probably linked to the excitement. For my motherhood. As if somehow by feeling excited I am betraying my lost babies. That somehow my children will remove their importance, erase them from memory. That these children will also wipe out a huge part of what has made me, me. Childlessness changed me. It shook the core of my identity, I had to dig deep to find myself again. Learn to see me again, try to like who I was through a new lense. I’m still learning to forgive myself. Maybe I don’t want adoption to remove that aspect, the strength I have found buried deep within. The confidence I now have in my resilience. Maybe I feel guilty that adoption will somehow wipe the slate clean, remove my childless grief, erase my babyloss grief and in doing so wipe out well over a decade (closer to 2 now) of focus and dreaming and striving. As if the pain I felt and my lived experience weren’t worth the time I spent on them. Years lost to futile hope.

Or, maybe it’s the reverse, maybe the guilt is that I do still feel sad that I won’t have carried my children and I don’t want my children to ever feel that I regret any element of being their mum, even the bits I didn’t get to do. I still feel sad that I won’t be their only mum. I still feel cut up when I hear pregnancy announcements. I still find it so hard when friends share pictures of their babies, knowing that their journeys were a lot easier and a hell of a lot shorter than mine has been. Maybe mine has been too long? I'm just too broken to appreciate the good. I don't know how to be 'cool' about things anymore, my emotions are messy. Will I still feel that when I have children? I feel guilty about that too, my children should be enough.

I have noticed that I have felt particularly triggered again by posts I’ve seen or conversations I’ve had recently. In fact, I'm feeling almost permanently triggered just now. I've noticed people in my life are also no longer being gentle with me when it comes to pregnancy announcements or talking about babies and fertility. As if now my family is closer, my infertility doesn’t hurt anymore. I’ve spoken before about the assumption from people on the outside, that adoption is a cure to infertility and that now its all going to be ok. There may come a day when it no longer hurts but right now I still feel robbed of a whole part of my womanhood. I’ve had periods from the age of 12, with the one promised outcome, that it meant I would be able to have a child. What with my endometriosis they have not been fun, but the deal with nature was, I put up with those in order to become a mum. I held up my end of the bargain. Therein lies the anger, forming part of my unease.

Maybe the unease is because of yet another loss of self. I’ve become so used to being ‘the one without children’. I’m the one grieving her motherhood, grieving her lost babies. The one who failed. The one who overcame. The one who just keeps going, keeps trying. Keeps fighting. I’ve had to reframe my identity so often over the last few years, maybe there’s a part of me that cannot face needing to do this again, in reverse. To finally welcome my inner-mum into the daylight, after supressing her so brutally before, because her mere existence made mine intolerable. To be the one who is tired because her kids kept her awake rather than her emptiness and grief. To be the one with a busy schedule worked around her children’s needs, not filling time in the ‘Green Room’ of my life, waiting for my turn on the main stage. Always busy in order to not have to feel.

Infertility is so complex. I have been navigating this road a long time and I still don’t have the answers. I have been fighting my reality and mother nature at every turn for years. Its what I do. Its what my mind constantly thinks about. I have become institutionalised by my need for motherhood. So focused that it has governed my every move for years. I just kept pushing for motherhood. What will my quarrel be once I have children? What will drive me every morning with such frightening intensity? Everything has been to this end. Then what?

I am hoping the focus will then be firmly on my children’s needs. That’s what will drive me. It feels almost relaxing (I can feel all the mums out there squirming in anticipation of my rude awakening when the reality of motherhood hits and relaxing is the furthest from what it feels like). What I mean by relaxing is, the denial of my reality won’t be there, therefore the denial of my worth also won’t be there. I may be fighting with children but no longer with myself. Its a subtle difference. The pain of childlessness and the lack of social status that comes with being over 40 and not being a mum will be gone. My identity will finally integrate with my yearning.

I feel scared that I have fought so long for motherhood and that I won’t feel it as I thought I would. What if, and this is the worst thing, I don't enjoy it? Its been all-consuming. It has become what I am about. I’ve always felt I was a mum, its taken so much to accept years of not being one, but not being a good one I think would destroy my heart all over again. I'm scared of feeling happy, as if that somehow leads to everything being taken away again. Its a defence mechanism, which worked for me during my TTC years, but maybe its time to let that go. I'm so scared of being so broken again. Mending a broken soul has taken a lot more than I ever thought. I need to re-learn how to be ok with hope and joy.

Things are (hopefully🤞) about to change 180 degrees for me, or 360....depending on whether you view this as me changing direction or just starting a brand new cycle. What I’ve longed for I shall have although very differently to how I had imagined. As the butterflies are intensifying I realise I need to make time for my emotions, not push them aside to be dealt with ‘later’. I need to forgive myself for how I feel. Infertility has been hard. Triggers are hard. It turns out adoption is a trigger also and I need to forgive myself for that.

I shall pick myself up, dust myself down, work on that wellbeing. I am moving forwards. I shall embrace the excited butterflies and try to relinquish my denial of joy in a bid to protect my heart.

Time to redefine myself once more, this time, as a mum ❤

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  • Nicole

This week is Fertility Week. It has triggered a lot of things within me. Anger at my infertility. Sadness at the loss of my babies. Also a lot of anger at the lack of information I was given. But mostly a desire to change things for other girls and women. There is still so much secrecy around fertility and infertility.

I was always aware that my fertility was ebbing away. I had learnt as a teenager, via a documentary, that biologically the ‘best’ age to have children was around 23. So I knew I was counting down after that. Nothing however, prepared me for being single during close to a decade of my fertile years, with nowhere to turn for support or advice. When I spoke to my GP about fertility treatment he simply asked me if I didn’t like men. Rather than help or discuss options he chose to ridicule my situation. I walked away from his office ashamed of my failure to secure a relationship, although I had been trying so hard! I was angry that my desire for a child was so strong, that I was having to take the step alone.

This could have been an opportunity for my doctor to explain my options, maybe freezing some eggs? Or at least having some checks on my fertility so I could make an informed decision. I didn’t get any support, I was simply referred to a fertility clinic who seemed happy to take my money for a round of IVF without providing options also.

My blood tests came back as all good, hormone levels fine. I thought I was on track for a baby. However there were still assumptions I made based on my lack of information. I assumed that hormones showing as normal and still being in my mid 30’s, that IVF would simply work. I didn’t know I had Endometriosis. I didn’t know that Endometriosis could impact my fertility. I didn’t realise that you didn’t need to be menopausal to have a low egg count. Then, when I met my boyfriend, and was pregnant within 3 months of starting trying, I didn’t realise this could still mean I was infertile. People kept telling me “at least I could get pregnant”.

I knew people could have a miscarriage, it often seemed to be a first pregnancy and I convinced myself it was the body just warming up, or if something was drastically wrong with the baby. I didn’t know it could happen again, and again, and again……and again. I didn’t know that infertility wasn’t just not being able to get pregnant, but also, not being able to stay pregnant.

At no stage of my life was fertility ever a topic of conversation. Not at school, not with doctors, not even when I went to ask about IVF with donor sperm and most importantly not at the fertility clinic I was referred to, who seemed more interested in taking my money than discussing options. Even more, I remember feeling quite pressured as they went through success rates at my age and then the rates at which they fell over the following 3-5 years. Then, when things went wrong, when I was found to have liquid in one of my fallopian tubes during my first round, which I later found out could have caused my first miscarriage, I was not given any information on which to base a decision. I was not given the option of freezing my egg. I was not given the option to heal and improve my chances. My options were go ahead or abort the cycle. It was a no brainer, I’d invested so much time, strength and money to this already.

After I had lost 3 babies and needed to have surgery following the 3rd miscarriage which didn’t complete, no one said a word to me about what happens next. I was in a state of shock (as well as having gone into actual shock from loss of blood) and so lost in grief, I didn’t think to ask. I went in to see a doctor with regards to something else a couple of months later and saw a different doctor. When he heard about my 3 miscarriages he referred me to a recurrent miscarriage clinic. Had I not gone in, I would not have been referred at this stage. This should have been automatic once my third miscarriage was recorded.

The Recurrent Miscarriage Clinic also did not explain my options. They told me they tested for everything and I trusted them. Its only later I found out how much they do not test for. I not only found out later, but too late. Otherwise I’d have had other tests privately. In hindsight it may have changed nothing at all, but I am still trying to forgive myself for not having done more. For not knowing I could do more.

If I could achieve something this week, it would be that Fertility is discussed more. That girls and women of any age and at any stage in life are aware of their options at that stage and supported. By this I include young girls, before they’re even thinking about having a family but also for those who have hit the end of the fertility road, whatever the cause. Support could make all the difference.

I’ve had two heartbreaking conversations which spring to mind as I write this. One consultant who told me I was unlikely to ever carry my own child, after having one miscarriage and one failed round of IVF. He based this on opinion only, since they’d not done any investigating into what happened. He offered no support, no point of reference, no testing, no recommendations. Just sent me on my way to absorb this, without realising the impact it had on me. I fell apart.

The other was following losing my twins 3 years later. We went in expecting to discuss how we move forwards, expecting to move to donor eggs. He gently let us down. I would apparently continue to miscarry every pregnancy, regardless. He could do no more.

In complete denial I wanted to be pregnant again. Mostly I think because I missed my twins so much and wanted to somehow find them again, I felt so lost without them. I got pregnant again and lost my 7th baby almost a year after the twins. The miscarriage clinic told me nothing, other than that there was no heartbeat. Their view was, get back in touch when you are next pregnant. They didn’t recommend any further tests. Over the years, they didn’t recommend I try to keep hold of my baby for testing, nor suggest ways of doing this. They were essentially of no help and at no point offered any after care or support.

Infertility has been traumatic. The lack of information around fertility and options has made this difficult journey horrendous. This needs to be talked about. This needs to change. Women need to know, not have to scrape around and research themselves. When I started IVF I didn’t know a single other person who had been through it. I had no idea of what I didn’t know in order to even ask the right questions.

Fertility is not promised, it is fragile and finite. For most it does work and does lead to a baby, although not always without help, but for others it’s a devastating journey through infertility which no one has ever prepared you for.

Had I been aware of options, choices and facts earlier, I would have done things differently. It may not have changed the outcome, but I would have felt less lost at sea. I'd have felt less like I was a rabbit in headlights. I’d have felt I had more control and had choices to review. I didn’t need to go through this feeling so ashamed and alone and no one else should have to!

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