• Nicole

Unlike Carrie Bradshaw, there was nothing sexy or cool about my time as a single 30-something in a roaring metropolis. I did not lead a glamourous lifestyle and did not spend more time in coffee shops and fancy bars than at work. I didn’t have as many gorgeous shoes either.

I wanted my blogs to cover all aspects of my story, for anyone who may find themselves at any junction of it and feel alone. This includes one of the elements which at the time I felt most ashamed of. Nine years of being single in London. A huge city full of busy bars, hundreds of eligible and single men. How did I manage to not find a single one which suited? I guess with a population of close to 9 million, along with all the commuters, it was like a needle in a haystack, so maybe I was the naïve one to think anything different. But, at the time, I felt the amount of people should have provided an advantage and the fact that it didn’t must have been a reflection on me. No one else seemed to have the same difficulty.

My first brush with infertility was with social infertility. A term which I think has yet to be adopted by the Oxford English Dictionary. A term which potentially some people do not understand or relate to, but I do. I wanted children. Desperately. My singleness was a blocker to having my family and one which I fought tooth and nail to rectify, whilst unwilling to compromise on finding true love. I’d had the dream, like so many others. Meeting the love of your life, dates, holidays, the wonderful wedding with your family and friends, followed by a baby. I thought that was the journey I had been on and found letting go of the promise of this really hard. But whilst I felt an urgency to begin my motherhood, I was not willing to settle or to compromise on true love. It was always really important to me to be with someone because of who they were, not just because they happened to bring sperm to the table.

Being single was a very lonely experience for me. I know that seems obvious, but it wasn’t necessarily why you would think. I don’t mind my own company and actually quite enjoyed living alone and having my own little flat. My little inner-feminist was overjoyed at me, born in a sleepy little market-town me, living in the biggest city in the UK, in my very own flat, with no one who loved me close by. No one. Who loved me. Lived close by. I was truly alone in the big city.

I spent a long time heartbroken over the loss of my first soulmate. It had been an entirely unexpected split on my behalf, I hadn’t seen or felt it coming. One day we were a little family, a team, soulmates. The next we were strangers and all that had been and would have become was just erased. The grief I felt for a loss with no bereavement, was all-consuming. It did mean I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about filling the boyfriend gap with a poor substitute. I dated all the same and became quite disillusioned about what the ‘market’ looked like.

I wasn’t the only single in the city, but I seemed to be the only enduring one. I was surrounded by people who were either paired up or generally finding dating a breeze, remaining single at most a few months. I went on many first dates, but rarely a second. My childlessness grew ever more evident as all around me families blossomed and the pain of my social infertility became increasingly overwhelming.

Many seemed to feel that somehow I was doing dating wrong. Including me. I was told I was being fussy, I was expecting too much, I was told to settle to have my family. I was told to change me, be more this…..; be less this……I was absorbing all this helpful advice as additional evidence that I was the problem. Whilst trying desperately to convince myself that I couldn’t be THAT bad? I felt invisible.

I read all the books doing the rounds at that time, to be better at relationships, things like ‘Men are from Mars’ and ‘He’s just not that into you’. I read every magazine article I could find about ‘How to keep a man’, a long list of things I needed to change. Make sure on a first date you say this and do that. As a girlfriend you should do this in the kitchen and that in the bedroom, wear this, look like that..... I should also avoid various subjects of conversation, never frown, never mention wanting a family. Feminism may have begun years before but had a LONG way to go, to reach Women’s magazines in the late 2000’s. With my esteem at rock bottom I couldn’t help but feel that all these were directed specifically at me. I was clearly doing everything wrong.

One date springs to mind, a gentleman who talked about his ex-wife the entire evening. He clearly was not ready to date and I had just been his counsellor for the evening. He wanted to meet again. Nice friendly ear, to talk through his divorce, of course he did. I declined. And yet somehow I felt that I had done something wrong. I felt that I was the one who needed help in how to date. All I wanted were sparks or at least a flicker of something which could lead to sparks. I never felt that was asking too much.

I was however, never able to be anything other than me. Even with useful advice I received, like: “don’t laugh so loud”; “don’t always be the first/last on the dancefloor”; “don’t be so opinionated”; “don’t be so independent”; “don’t appear too clever”; “don’t be too sarcastic”. I couldn’t help it. I could not put on a more ‘dateable’ me. All the while these comments only served to confirm that the issue with my singleness was me.

A couple of years after I became single, I came up with my 5-year plan, which was my fall-back, my plan B. In the unlikely event I didn’t find someone suitable, I would do Solo-IVF. Most of the 5-year plan was taken up saving. Saving to move up from my one-bed flat to a two-bed, with a garden. Also, since my local authority did not support IVF for single women, I had to save up for that too. I optimistically felt sure that I wouldn’t need to go through with this. I would find someone. Everyone does.

When four of the five years had passed, I realised I needed to make a decision. It was a decision I found really difficult to make. When to accept that love was no longer on the cards for me? How can you chose between love or a baby? I kept thinking another 6 months won’t hurt, whilst painfully aware my fertility was ebbing away. I decided that there was no time limit on love, but there was on motherhood. So began my journey to solo-IVF, which is a blog for another day.

Being single in a world of couples is tough. I had a few relationships which lasted a few months, but nothing of consequence. I attended weddings; baby showers; christenings; first birthdays; Christmases; BBQ’s surrounded by couples and families, feeling more and more disjointed with my peers and as the years went on, with younger and younger friends and contacts. I saw happiness everywhere. Life was continuing all around me whilst mine felt on hold. Stuck in a loop.

I put a huge amount of pressure on myself to find someone, because I wanted a family, but I also just wanted love. I had had a wonderful relationship where I felt entirely seen and understood. I had been part of a team. I struggled meeting strangers who didn’t know me. I wanted to pick up where I’d left off, but there was no familiarity. I was hurt, I was ashamed of my long-lasting singleness and felt certain it was proof of my unlovability.

Now I look back, most of the dates I went on wanted to meet again. I was the one saying no. A lot of them did seem quite socially awkward and entirely unsuited to me, but maybe that’s all I was attracting. So keen was I, to prove I wasn’t being picky, that I accepted any date offered, which in hindsight anyone could have seen from the outset wouldn’t work. I felt it was a numbers game, the more I met the more likely I’d be to meet The One. What I was doing was exhausting myself trying to make conversation with the wrong people. I was also tainting my view of ‘the market’ and became very jaded. I wasn’t unloveable, I was not able to love. For a long time also, I was probably not in the right frame of mind to love.

I don’t know exactly what changed but I met my boyfriend just after I lost my first baby, following solo-IVF and as I was starting round 2. I broke all the rules, we talked family early on, we had to, I was likely to get pregnant using donor-sperm. I laughed too loud, I talked too much. I was opinionated and sarcastic. I was me. To the right person, all the things you do ‘wrong’ are right. There was an instant connection, in the time we had been chatting to when we had our first date, we already had some in-jokes, we already felt familiar. This felt like a continuation, to my story. Being mid IVF, the timing couldn’t have been worse. But, it just felt right. We fell in love.

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  • Nicole

I’m an over-thinker. Always have been. As a teenager I would over-think Every. Single. Thing. Who I was, how I was, why I came to be who and how I was? To the point where I asked my mum if it was possible to self-psychoanalyse, since that is what I felt I was doing. I’ve always spent a lot of time in my own head. I’m not sure if its normal or if it a particular trait of only some. Since I only know what it’s like to be me, I cannot say. It certainly plays havoc in terms of my peace of mind. In fact, it drives me mad, but in difficult moments its where I retreat to and I don’t find it easy to break through the fog it seems to shroud me in.

I wonder if this trait of mine hasn’t made things worse for me over the years. Not only do I need to process things, but in my brain, it seems one round of processing my thoughts isn’t enough. I need to process and process and process until finally I can move on and over-think something else.

The same is true for my infertility. I’ve been trying to come to terms with it, whilst at the same time still fighting my childlessness. It feels counterintuitive. Surely, I’m still fighting infertility. I want to adopt, we are approved to adopt, we will start the New Year hoping to be matched to our little family. How to separate the two, infertility and childlessness, when they have been part of the same pain for so long? How do I learn to accept one whilst finally saying goodbye to the other? I’m finding it really difficult to get my head around the fact my childlessness will end, but my infertility will not. It feels like a contradiction. In the same way that although I will have children, I will also have lost my babies.

The last few days I’ve spent a lot of time in my head. I thought about having been pregnant over Christmas, twice with a single baby, once with twins. The expectation I had that I would have my family by the following Christmas, as is the case with most pregnancies only led to heartache. Everything seemed to trigger me this year. I still struggle with the unfairness of it. I struggle with the thought there was nothing wrong with my babies, they died because my body was trying to protect me from a foreign invader. My miscarriages are still very much seen as an unfortunate medical anomaly by most, not as a child of mine which died. It is still something I want to scream at everyone, that I lost my babies. Real babies. Just as their living breathing children are theirs, my pregnancies were my babies. There was no time during their pregnancy when their babies became more real than mine were. Mine just died.

As part of my over-thinking I also play devil’s advocate for myself, which really only extends the over-thinking rather than being in anyway helpful to me. This Christmas, I started asking myself if having children is still what I really want? I’m so used to being childless. I’m in my 40’s now. I’ve watched whilst everyone else got the dream and I felt the pain would kill me with every loss. But I’m still here. Maybe I should spend my money and time doing what I want, when I want? My whole working life I’ve saved, in order to provide a stable home and life for my family and then also for its creation with IVF. I’ve never been able to travel much but always so wanted to. Should I take this chance now? Waiting for retirement to travel is dangerous game, no one can guarantee how you will age. I’ve thought it, but I don’t want that for me. I’ve fought too long and hard for a family of my own.

I’ve also wondered whether maybe I’m too old and set in my ways now for motherhood? Maybe I don’t have the stamina for the relentlessness of babies anymore? I can’t even have 2 small glasses of wine anymore without regretting it in the morning, or sometimes even already on the night. 10 years ago, I could still polish off 2 bottles to myself and still go to work the next day. This is something which goes round and round in my head a lot, torturing myself as I go. Maybe the fight has taken too long. The happy ending isn’t for me anymore. It’s a young persons’ game.

Heartbreak and loss have a way of altering time. Time slows down when you are in pain almost to the point of standing still. Whilst on the outside, others’ lives seem to continue as normal. Maybe its directly linked to how much time you spend in your head? When I’m in a dark place, I spend more time in my head and feel less able to find a way out. I’ve spent such a long time waiting for motherhood, I’ve spent so many years waiting and wishing and then losing my babies, losing my chance of ever carrying a child. I feel like it’s been my whole life, sometimes I cannot remember a time before pain. What if I don’t know how to not be heartbroken? What if my mind won’t let me?

There is another thought that goes round and round. This fight has dictated my life for so long, what am I without it? How do I become me again? I don’t think that’s even possible. On this quest for motherhood, I’ve lost love. I’ve carried life. I’ve carried death. I’ve felt my soul be ripped from my body. I lost my identity.

This Christmas has been hard. Much harder than I thought it would be. I took myself off social media completely for a couple of days but was still made privy to some of the now everywhere, matching pyjama pictures (why has that become a thing?). I was still heartbroken at seeing images of people with their uncomplicated families. I came back to the community where I find solace, where I feel heard and understood. I read others’ story of hope, joy but also pain and felt a little bit less alone.

I want to start the New Year in a positive frame of mind. I want to leave the battle weary broken me behind, quite aptly in this weird, twilight year of 2020. I want to dive into my motherhood head-first. But I’ve been let down so many times by hope, I’m scared to trust it. What if we don’t get matched?

I want to finish on a positive note, but also want to remain honest and real. I still feel like I’m in a fog just now. I’ve been fighting for motherhood so long. I’ve been wading through heartache searching for a way to soothe my soul since so far back. I wonder sometimes if I’ve lost sight of why. I certainly feel like I’ve lost sight of who I was before heartache, but I will find her. Just as I’ve been learning to forgive myself for my infertility, I will learn how to embrace motherhood, albeit late-onset. I will learn to be the contented mum I’ve dreamt of being.

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  • 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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