• Nicole

I’ve written my blogs so far about the past and some of the more painful elements of my journey, so I thought I needed to counter this with something positive about the future.

I’ve had to work hard to feel the positive, but I knew that I had to absorb and process my story. I had to be ok about not being able to have my own biological child, before I adopted a child, because I didn’t want my child to ever feel that they were plan B, that they were a substitute for what I had been unable to have. They are what I want. A child, a family, motherhood. Writing has played a huge part in processing my childlessness and baby loss.

Its easy when you start the adoption process and start reading all the recommended books to focus on the tough stuff. I am very nervous about how broken my child could be and how I’ll cope with any behavioural impact of the potential abuse and neglect my child may have experienced or simply because of the trauma of being removed from everyone and everything they know and love and moving in with someone completely new and unknown. Such brave little souls, needing to trust that adults will look after them as they have no other choice, whilst also having been let down by the adults who were meant to care for them. New routines, new smells, new bedroom, new emotions. Their bravery is humbling.

I am under no illusions. Parenting is a tough gig, regardless of how you came to be one. But, just sometimes, I allow myself to dream. I allow myself a little look through the rose-tinted glasses of happiness and excitement. Of having a baby seat in my car, at last; of finally pushing a pram with my child in it; of hearing the word “mum”; of feeling a tiny little hand in mine; of waking up with the knowledge that my baby is there, in their cot/bed, waiting to start the day with me. The joy of hearing a beautiful giggle. I live close to a primary school and in summer with the windows open I can hear playtime. It’s a bittersweet sound. I love it, its so joyful, so normal, but for such a long time it has hurt beyond belief to hear it. I am so looking forward to this precious sound being restored in its rightful place, as one of the best.

I love reading, I cannot wait to read books together. I want to play in the garden together. I cannot wait to see my amazing boyfriend be the patient and kind father I know he will be. I can already see that he will be good cop in our good cop: bad cop parenting routine. He will have just the right mix of fun and discipline. He will have a huge impact in grounding our child when they have a meltdown because their past trauma is too tough to deal with.

I don’t yet know what age or gender our child will be but I’ve been looking at children’s bedrooms on Pinterest all the same , I know the style I want, I’ve stopped short of buying anything yet. Yet! I suspect as soon as we’ve got some carpet down upstairs, I won’t be able to resist for long! I cannot wait to start filling the room with toys and books. I even cannot wait for my living room to be covered in toys. Well, more toys, since Chloe (my dog), pulls out all the toys she is going to need for the day from her toybox, every morning and scatters them over the living room rug, ready to be played with at any chosen moment. I love how much our living room floor looks like a family home when she does that.

I’m excited about awakening my inner mum. A part of me that I have always felt would make my soul stop its endless searching, for its missing part. I cannot wait for a random stranger to ask me, “do you have children?” and to finally be able to say “yes!” and to continue by telling them my child’s name and age and if possible, list all their beautiful traits which make me so proud that they are my baby. “Yes, I am a mum”. Words at times I felt, I may never get to say. A response to a question, which has so often made me feel ashamed of my story.

I think the most exciting thing, is that I already love my child. I have loved them forever. All I need is for them to be here so I can love them in person. I cannot wait to shower them with their rightful love. I am looking forward to getting to know them. I cannot wait to look into their eyes. To see the missing part of my soul reflected back at me. I cannot wait to hear their voice. A voice that will spark joy when I hear it. A voice which I think will feel familiar the moment I hear it. My baby’s voice. I want to know every part of them, in a hope that with love I can support them to not feel shame for their past, which is so often the case. To feel pride as they face things they have felt scared about. To help them process their own story and hopefully support them in becoming confident and kind beings.

I don’t know how to put into words the feelings in my heart as I write this, the joyful anticipation. These days, I am wary of too much excitement. I felt excitement with every one of my pregnancies and each one was crushed. It does tend to shape your experience of excitement, when 100% of your most exciting times turn to devastation. But you can’t keep a good emotion down and the excitement is building the closer we get to our Panel date. My motherhood is the closest it has ever been.

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  • Nicole

Recently I’ve been struggling with the grief of my babies. I feel almost like I should apologise about this since they were all pre-12-week miscarriages, surely that doesn’t warrant grief, certainly not for years? However, I always felt as if I had lost a fully formed, living, breathing baby. This may sound odd, but at what stage of pregnancy does a baby become a baby to its mum? Is there ever a stage when a woman is ok about losing her baby? I remember my mum telling me she had had a miscarriage between my sister and I and that she thought it was for the best, there was obviously a reason the baby had not lived. I always thought I would feel that way too and I did initially, for my first miscarriage. I actually felt hopeful that next time would be it, my body would know what to do.

However, I was then told by a consultant that I would never carry my own child. Suddenly that lost baby a few months earlier became my only baby. Suddenly the loss of an immediate hope became the loss of a life-long expectation, the loss of my future and the loss of my motherhood and identity. Suddenly the grief overwhelmed me.

I went on to lose another 6 babies before switching my path to motherhood from carrying to just having and loving. The grief has at times felt insurmountable. I, like every other griever, felt like my grief was the worst, there could be no pain worse than this, because it was my world which had collapsed around me, my world where the lights felt forever dimmed. But there is no hierarchy of loss. Where there was love, there will be grief. End of. Everyone may feel it differently, or deal with it differently. There is no right or wrong way, only your way. Whatever it takes.

I didn’t just grieve my babies, I grieved any future pregnancy; I grieved my motherhood and my place in society. Childlessness in a world of families is endless grief. Not only women my age, but slowly women 5; 10 and 15 years younger were becoming mums. I saw the life I had anticipated slip away. Even once we agreed to look into adoption, I grieved being a ‘real’ mum (inverted commas since a real mum is nothing to do with biology but one who provides love and care), and being her from day one. I grieved going through the rights of passage of a new mum, the birth or c-section, the hospital experience, breast feeding struggles, all the firsts. I grieved my genetic link. The family bond. The family characteristics. I have even grieved being able to pick my child’s name.

At the time, saw triggers everywhere, I came off social media for a few years, I learnt to deal with it as I could. I could sense pregnancy announcements before they came and would stop texting to ask how a friend was, so I could avoid receiving the “we have news” message. I slowly came out of the dark fog of loss and now feel fine most of the time, but there are still times when my grief gets triggered and the emotions are as intense as they ever were. Thankfully I never stay there so long now. I never know when it’ll hit. I can see expected triggers like pictures of new born babies, scans, pregnancy announcements and not bat an eyelid (sometimes). But then I'll see a picture of something seemingly innocuous, a wedding day, a couple full of promise and hope, not a baby in sight, but I feel winded. Maybe because grief at its deepest feels like a lack of hope. A lack of colour.

Grief is such a horrid emotion and yet nothing reawakens your senses so much and, as healing happens, nothing makes you appreciate life more. It will touch everyone at some point in their life. Grief is not always due to a bereavement. You can grieve after any loss, be that a relationship, a redundancy, a friendship.

I didn’t know whether to post anything on grief. It makes people very uncomfortable, even though everyone will feel it. As if it’s a feeling to be ashamed of. Just as baby loss is still not discussed openly, nor is loss of any sort. You get an initial amount of sympathy and understanding and then there’s an expectation that you move on; that you cheer up; that you no longer mention it. Anyone who has experienced a deep loss will know that although there is initial shock, the hardest thing is that life moves on. So yes, you go back to work, you start doing ‘normal’ things again, but that doesn’t mean you are ok, exactly the opposite, you have a mirror life where you do everything you did and yet you are constantly aware a huge part of your heart is not coming with you.

I unfortunately don’t have any secrets to share about grief or how to bounce back. It’s a journey you have to go through, there are no shortcuts. All I can say is that for me, it has become easier. For a long time I didn’t want it to. My pain was my only link to my babies, to my motherhood. But like it or not, healing has happened. The grief still surfaces but I am much better at coping. I have learnt self-care. If I need a break from social media I take it. If I need to pick what I watch on telly carefully, I do. I try not to deny my feelings anymore, since that only ever seemed to keep them simmering for longer. I look them squarely in the eye and say “lets do this” in the confidence, now, that I will feel joy again.

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  • Nicole

My infertility journey has happened in the shadows of work for the last 9 years. It has never been something I felt comfortable talking to my various bosses about. When I was going through IVF I was sneaking off to appointments, as if I was off to get a sandwich or had a meeting in another building. I was hearing news about the progress of my embryos and making huge decisions, such as which sperm donor to use at work. I remember the embryologist telling me about the letter my sperm donor had written to any perspective children in the office stairwell.

When I was pregnant, I would imagine my joy at being able to let work know I was taking maternity leave. I couldn’t wait. I had always worked out when my maternity leave would start almost as soon as I knew I was pregnant (I’ve had a few boring jobs!). When I lost my babies, only once did my boss at the time know. I didn’t take time off, since I felt leave wasn’t warranted, I wasn’t ill and I felt that others would not think it was a real bereavement. I could luckily work from home, which I did since I could not face the world.

I was always worried about talking to my bosses about what was going on privately. I was worried it would jeopardise any future career aspirations. I felt if it was known that I wanted to have a baby, worse, that I was actively working towards this goal, that I would be overlooked for opportunities, for promotions. I have stayed far too long in roles I had no interest in because I wanted to hold on to a decent maternity package.

Work was what made me so good at hiding my true emotions. I had to. I just pasted on the work face and cracked on with the day, regardless of the often devastating news I’d learnt that day. But I also owe a lot to work, which gave me a focus when life didn’t make sense anymore and friends at work kept me going, even when they were not aware of what I was going through. They were a distraction. I could be ‘normal’ for a while.

Now I am working towards adoption and I’m finding it even more difficult to talk to my boss. When do I have to say something? Its so ambiguous. If we get approved in December, then I have no idea how long it will take to be matched with a child. It could be really soon after. Our Social Worker matched a child with a couple one week after their panel, but it potentially could take months. I really hope not years! I won’t have the nine months of pregnancy to figure it out. If it’s a quick match, we may have only a few weeks notice before we start the process of getting to know our future child. Then I’d feel I’m really landing my boss in it, they will have no time to prepare or advertise for cover. But, if I tell them now and nothing happens for the next year, then I may not get an opportunity or when a new project starts, I may not be asked to lead it.

I know that the world of work is meant to have moved on, in terms of women’s careers and yet still I don’t have the confidence to be open about it. I don’t want my boss to think of me as out of the picture already, when potentially I will still have a long period of time working with them before I do take adoption leave.

I hate that work has played such a huge, silent and oppressive part in my journey to motherhood. I’m not sure how things could change, if the shoe were on the other foot and it was my business, would I entrust it to someone who has a higher priority? Or someone who may not be here long enough to see a project through? Probably not. But, would I want to know that someone’s world had crumbled and that if they seem distant its not because they are disinterested in what they are doing but because life outside work has taken a downward spiral? Yes absolutely. I would think it was my absolute duty to support this person. It’s a fine line and I don’t think equality in the workplace is anywhere near close to facing this.

Work is such a huge player in the infertility game, but its usually not even discussed in the workplace. Women carry the weight of needing to continue performing at the same level when they are sometimes going through the toughest moments of their life. It has in the past shaped whether I have taken a job or not because I wanted to ensure I had a ‘safe’ job with decent maternity pay. Decisions I have sometimes regretted. I have held back from some options because I knew that I would soon be off on maternity leave. Only for that ‘soon’ to drag on for years. It is still now shaping what I do and career conversations I am having with my boss, unable to be entirely open about my short-term work plans. Not to mention the strain infertility, baby loss and fertility treatments can have on partners who will also not be getting support at work.

I think infertility should be talked about more in the workplace. It is such a difficult path to tread anyway, without the added pressure of having to sneak about or having to stay quiet about something which is so life changing and consuming. I’m not sure if I’m just more aware of it now or if more people are actually having treatment, but if it’s the latter, then the workplace needs to move with the times. If those conversations were happening more widely, perhaps I and thousands of other women walking this path, would not be holding back but could have meaningful career conversations with their bosses about real options and choices. It would also make dealing with the disappointments and heartache easier. I guess this is linked to the taboos still hovering around infertility and baby loss. Another reason these things need to be bought into the open.

Workplaces are getting more engaged in the idea of supporting colleagues, for instance with mental health issues, I think its only a matter of time until fertility struggles are also recognised. I have actually taken the opportunity to speak up in a focus group who were looking into maternity and adoption leave at work. A far cry from actually speaking to my boss, I want to be part of the change but still value my career.

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