The Baby Who is Not Here

I’ve read enough about conception and miscarriage at this point to have come across, over and over again, the sentiment that a baby is real to its parents from the moment the second line appears on the test. Hell, I’ve experienced it myself. When you are desperate to have a child, all your hopes and dreams seem pinned on that stick and its result. When the outcome is positive, it adds colour and flesh and vibrancy to a hitherto merely imagined scenario, even though it may still be tinged with deep, deep caution. Even though you know that it still may not come to fruition.

When you go through IVF, however, the second line is not even necessary. From the moment that your cycle is planned in meticulous detail, you know roughly when any resulting baby will be due, and that is where it starts. Even when you’ve been disappointed again and again in the past. Even when you’ve had positive outcomes that went on to end in miscarriage. Even when you know that all the odds are stacked against you and your rational head wants to overrule your hopeful heart. Still, the idea that a baby could be joining your family all those months down the line is impossible to resist. And after all, you have to believe that it will work in order to keep putting yourself through it.

Arguably you could think that way about each and every cycle that you try naturally. After all, if you have no cause to believe otherwise, there is a chance each month that this will be the one where the stars align and eggs and sperm meet at the right time in the right place and do absolutely everything that they need to do to make a new life. You could, if you were so inclined, mourn every period not simply because it means that you did not make it this month, but because you flushed your potential child down the toilet.

That is going further than I think entirely rational, though. In the end we all know that the chances in any given month are slim. It’s likely that if you don’t get pregnant, no fertilisation even occurred.

And that is how IVF is really different. A full two weeks before anyone could pee on a stick, days before anything is even put in your uterus, you get the long awaited phone call from the embryologist to let you know how your eggs and sperm “got on”. And assuming you don’t face the heartbreak of a zero fertilisation cycle, in the moments of that phone call, the world tips on its axis. What you hear in the call is how many potential babies you’ve made.

It’s more than simply knowing that you had plenty of unprotected sex and could feasibly be pregnant. You can’t help but see these as bigger chances. This is a real, potential child with all of its genetic material right there is that dish. You know exactly when that child was conceived and therefore you also know exactly when it should be joining the world as a newborn baby.

If only everything else goes right, of course.

When it doesn’t work, that loss is far more similar to the loss of miscarriage than to a negative pregnancy test or period arriving after a “natural” attempt at baby making.

I know this, because I’ve experienced it all.

If our final IVF attempt last year had worked, my due date would have been tomorrow. And as a diabetic with a previous c-section behind me, I would no doubt have come under pressure to have an elective section at 38 weeks. Which means that baby would have been born almost two weeks ago, on our fifth wedding anniversary.

I’ve been waiting for this date since that fateful telephone call last October. Still etched across my heart, despite the fact that no baby has been growing in my belly.

I couldn’t erase it. Nor could I ignore it.

It is impossible for me not to mourn that child that might have been. Even though he or she was never anything more than a collection of our genetic material. It never implanted in to the lining of my uterus. Never grew arms and legs or facial features. It never even had a heartbeat.

But it was my baby.

My last chance at another child.

I’ll never be able to erase the sadness of its loss, either.

Christmas Cake Wishes

Christmas cake is a tradition in our family. An un-breakable, must-be-made-and-eaten-no-matter-what part of the festive season that features in even my earliest memories of Christmas. I still remember clearly perching on high stool as a child, helping my dad weigh and mix the ingredients, chopping glacé cherries with precision and providing my finger to help tie the knot in the string around the brown-paper clad tin. And I’d remember the rich, spicy smell of it baking forever more, even if for some unimaginable reason we never made it again.

It’s the activity that defined the beginning of winter and every single November, until the year I was 24 and living in Devon, my dad and I liaised on a suitable date and I made a pilgrimage back home to help mix and stir and pour our annual family Christmas cake.

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We’ve always used the same recipe, without so much as a minor alteration in all the years we’ve done it. It comes from the Reader’s Digest Cookery Year. My parents’ battered and well worn copy was (and still is) pulled carefully from the shelf and dusted off for its annual moment of glory. Slipped between the pages to this day is a lined sheet of paper with my ten-or-so year old handwriting carefully listing the reduced quantities for a slightly smaller cake than that called for in the book, and translating the various cooking temperatures from Fahrenheit to Celsius.

It’s such a staple, and such a delicious part of all of my Christmases that obviously it was a tradition that I wanted to carry over to my own little family. To begin with, Ian and I worked from a photocopy of the Cookery Year recipe. Then, a few years ago, we stumbled across a copy of the exact same vintage as my parents on the book stall at a local fete. We snapped it up for fifty pence, and suddenly the experience seemed that much more complete. I added a similar piece of lined paper with the same quantity and temperature adjustments, stickler for tradition that I clearly am.

The Christmas cake has always been made in early November. The year that Thomas was born, I was determined to get it made despite his November due date. I knew it would be an impossible task once I had a newborn to get to know, so the day before I was admitted to hospital to begin the induction process, we made that year’s offering, with heavily pregnant me struggling to reach the bowl to mix. And that year, for the indispensable part of the ritual that sees family members stirring the mixture with their eyes closed as they cast a wish, my wish was obvious: a healthy, happy baby.

That one came true, although romantic as I can be, I acknowledge that it was pretty unlikely to be anything to do with the cake!

Three years have passed and three Christmas cakes made since then. And oddly enough, my wish for each of those years has been exactly the same.

I know it’s supposed to be bad luck to tell. Supposed to mean that it won’t come true. But in my heart of hearts, I know this one won’t come true anyway.

My wish, each year, has of course been for another baby. The first year I simply wished that we would have another happy, healthy baby, still believing then that we could, and would. The second year, already well down the road of infertility investigation, I wished that it would happen soon.

This year, I just wished with all my might that it may happen at all, despite all the wonders of medical science having not made it so.

If only my Christmas cake were as magical as it is delicious, how different things might be. I just wonder if I’ll ever be able to make another wish over the mixing bowl until such time as I reach the menopause.

If you wish hard enough, shouldn’t your dreams come true?

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Letting Go of Hope

The last week-and-a-bit, since finding out that I’m not pregnant, has been tough.

In many ways, life simply goes on. I’m still a parent, and my son is still needs to have me fully present in that role. Whatever I’m feeling, it’s not fair to let it affect him any more than I can help. He knows I’m sad, but I need to make sure that he sees he is not the cause of that. I spend my days proving that to him, no matter how hard I may be finding it.

But when the day is done, and he’s safely snuggled in his bed, the thoughts and feelings that I spend all day avoiding come bubbling back to the surface.

There have been more than a few tears. Hysterical sobs, if I’m honest. The “denial” part of this process has been strongly in evidence as I’ve found myself desperately searching for alternative options – researching overseas clinics and actually contemplating what it would mean to seek further treatment abroad. Looking at different treatment regimens that could work and the cheapest options within reach of home.

The first morning that I dropped Thomas at nursery after the negative test, I was confronted with a group of other parents dropping off their (same age as Thomas) children and every single one was either heavily pregnant or cradling a younger child. And my reaction was to text Ian immediately and tell him we had to try again because I couldn’t cope with the idea of never having another child.

But deep down, I know that we can’t pursue this.

It simply isn’t going to work.

Or at least, it’s so unlikely that I can’t justify the financial and emotional cost to all of us.

It’s not as simple as saying I’m “giving up”. People seem to think of the idea of “not giving up” as somehow strong. But I’m not weak. In fact, i’ve oft been told that tenacity should be my middle name. But sometimes, it’s a more courageous to stop trying. To face up to the reality of the situation rather than keep flogging a dead horse. And I know it’s fairer to us all to accept what we’ve been blessed with and to try to move on. No matter how much we’ve tried to avoid it, there has been a certain degree of putting life on hold in the last two years, and I recognise it needs to stop.

It turns out, though, that I may not be completely giving up after all. Because it turns out that the one thing I just can’t let go of is hope. So even though there will be no more treatment cycles – no more drugs or scans or the very best that scientific technology can offer – I still have a lingering dream, and a tiny spark of hope somewhere deep inside that says “this could still happen”.

While “giving up” on the actual process is relatively straightforward, it turns out that turning off a dream is almost impossible. Even when all logic points to that dream being virtually unattainable, and there being almost nothing you can do to make it happen, it appears in can be difficult to quash that little spark inside saying “maybe, just maybe”.

I’m simply finding it impossible to believe that we won’t have the second child I’ve always pictured in our lives. I still believe it, against all the odds. I believe in it to the point that when I booked our follow up appointment at the fertility clinic and could only arrange it for just over a month away, I slipped in to a fantasy that I could be pregnant by then anyway.

I thought it, and felt it and fantasised about it for a full five minutes, despite being well aware that it’s nigh on impossible.

I don’t know if it’s a crazy form of self preservation, or if I’m just setting myself up for an even bigger fall down the line. I don’t know if I feel this way because I stillwant it to happen so, so much. I don’t know if I should be forcing myself to let go of these hopes and dreams.

More to the point, I don’t know if I can.

The Roller Coaster of IVF

I’ve been absent from here for a while. First I was busy focusing on the mechanics of getting through our final cycle of IVF – the injections, the supplements, the blood glucose control, not to mention scans and appointments. Then, as the cycle progressed on, in to the agonising periods of waiting, I could hardly bear to come here. Writing too much seemed to threaten my happiness when things were going well. And when the roller coaster dipped, the idea of facing other blogs and social media that seem chock full of pregnant bellies and new babies was enough to drive me offline, in to fantasy worlds of fictional books or television. Anywhere, really, but here.

But I can’t avoid it forever. Aside from wanting to complete the story of our IVF journey, I also know that not writing about it won’t change the outcome.

The cycle started well enough. The first (baseline) scan of my last two cycles has brought bad news: Cysts on my ovaries and a uterine lining that wasn’t thin enough. We’d diminished the possibility of more bad news this time by having a scan the week before, to rule out or drain any cysts at that point. And it all paid off. The baseline scan was perfect and I kicked off that evening with three injections – two different stimulating drugs and a drug to prevent natural ovulation. It was a bit of an unusual approach, according to our consultant, but worth a try in our quest to get more good quality eggs.

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For a week, I carried out my injections at the same time each evening and began feeling some tell tale bloating and twinges of pain in my ovaries. Despite the positive signs, my first scan after a week was still a bit of a shock. Having high-fived me on my “beautiful ovaries” and “gorgeous endometrium” the consultant kept scanning around for a minute, measuring the follicles as he went. He then asked casually what I was doing on Friday, because whatever it was I’d have to cancel: I was already ready for egg collection. My provisional date for egg collection had been the following Monday, but we’d thought it may even go to the Wednesday, and yet here I was being told I’d be back in two days time instead.

I had to take another couple of stim injections that afternoon to “finish things off nicely”, plus my usual ovulation prevention injection. Then, at 11pm, came the trigger shot. No fancy pens injectors this time. Instead of the usual recombinant (manufactured) hCG, I was using a combination of purified natural hCG (collected from the urine of pregnant women!) and a second hormone to force my body to release lutenising hormone – the body’s natural ovulation hormone. Once again, a change designed to increase the number of viable eggs collected. And that was it. the injection phase of our final IVF attempt was over.

Friday seemed to arrive in a flash. Egg collection went well, despite a few issues reaching all of the eggs on my left ovary. The sedation was heavy enough that I’ve already forgotten chunks of the procedure, but light enough that I came out of theatre already knowing we had ten “beautiful looking eggs”.

My anxiety all along – after the last cycle’s poor haul of eggs – had been to see how many were actually mature and able to be injected with sperm. This was soon joined by a second worry.

As usual, we’d supplied a fresh sperm sample in addition to having one remaining frozen sample. The fresh sample was the one that gave me the most hope from our last cycle. It was the one which had a “countable” number of sperm in it. Yes, it had been low, but it was the sample that made me hope that the sperm numbers were going in the right direction. I’d really hoped that this time the sample would be even better. But last time, they’d told us that there were sperm there before I’d even been sedated. This time, the egg collection was complete, and we still had no news. All they could do was tell us to wait. Then, after a while, they informed us that they were thawing out our final frozen sample.

It was an anxious wait, for the sample to thaw and then be examined. All the while I was allowed to tuck in to tea and biscuits whilst Ian remained poised for a possible procedure of his own to try and retrieve more sperm.

I can’t tell you exactly when the news came, but it felt like hours. One of the nurses stuck her head in and told Ian he was free to get a drink. I was sad, and even maybe a little surprised, that the fresh sample had contained no sperm but this feeling was overridden by the relief that we had something. I felt like we were on the climb, upwards. It was all positive. We could do this.

And so then began the overnight wait for the fertilisation report. Thankfully it did not take long for the call to come on Saturday morning and the embryologist immediately told me, whilst I held my breath, that it was good news. In contrast to my zero mature eggs last cycle, this time ALL TEN were mature. And even better than that, EIGHT had fertilised. You can’t argue with an 80% fertilisation rate. It’s fair to say I was elated. Still so far to go, but I felt like my biggest personal hurdle was over. All the experimentation and changing the protocol had worked. All the supplements I’d been religiously taking had been worthwhile. The pay off was ten viable eggs. I was at the very peak of the hill.

If I’d written this post on Saturday or Sunday, it would have been full of happiness and hope. Yes, I dared to hope that this could be it. I thought we’d lose a few, but I figured we might have five embryos by day three and a good chance of several going all the way to blastocyst. I thought we’d have two to transfer for sure. I even dared to hope that we might achieve the holy grail: a frozen embryo.

What I fool I am, to dare to dream.

I should know by now that I don’t deserve hope or dreams. That somewhere along the line I must have done something to anull my right to those things. I should know that happy endings are not assured, least of all for me.

The phone call came early on Monday, whilst I was walking back from the pre-school drop off. I made the walk in a daze, on autopilot, because I’d just been told that seven of our embryos had arrested. They never made it beyond two cells.

I’m not sentimental enough to believe them to be my children at the stage of cells in a laboratory. But they COULD have been my children. They were my hopes. My dreams. My chances. My possibilities.

And just like that we’d lost them.

The one remaining embryo was not exactly top grade either. It was six cells – expected for day three – but its behaviour had been odd with early rapid division, then a long delay. They were waiting for it to divide again to ensure that it, too, had not arrested.

Our choices were to transfer back in to me that day, or to wait it out until day five to see if it continued to divide well and made it to blastocyst stage. The risk in the latter option was that it wouldn’t make it and we’d reach Wednesday with nothing to show for the cycle. Of course, the risk was the same with transferring it, but I simply wouldn’t know about until a negative pregnancy test two weeks later.

In our last cycle, we faced a similar scenario. A single, poor quality embryo.Then, after much discussion and soul searching, we opted to leave it in the lab until day five. I felt, and still do I suppose, that if it doesn’t make it in the lab, it wouldn’t make it inside me either. Transferring it at day three would hence just prolong the agonised waiting to find out. But in that cycle, I always knew, in my heart of hearts, that we’d probably try again. We’d have another chance to get things right. This time, if I didn’t transfer and it didn’t make blastocyst, I would always wonder if it might have been different. And I think I’d have regretted finishing our final cycle in that way forever.

So back it went, despite its odd behaviour. Probably not the embryo anyone would have picked had there been a choice. But there was no choice.

So this is it.

Two weeks of waiting to find out if its stuck.

I have to be honest: I’m all out of hope. If seven of our embryos were so genetically flawed that they couldn’t even progress past two cells, what is the likelihood that the other one will go on to grow in to a baby. It doesn’t just seem improbable; it seems impossible. That call on Monday morning was like the death drop on a roller coaster, and I honestly see no way up.

It’s difficult to get my head around the fact that this is almost all over. We have nowhere to go from here. With my rubbish eggs and the absolute lack of sperm, there will be no “surprise natural pregnancy” following IVF for us. Everything rests on that one tiny embryo.

All along I’ve had an unwavering, deep seated positive belief that we would get there eventually. Even when I miscarried following our first cycle, and even in the moments of despair during our disastrous second cycle, I felt like it was all going somewhere. Our only issue was supposed to be the supply of sperm. I was supposed to have a good chance. I’m only 34 – still considered “young” where assisted reproduction is concerned. I’ve been pregnant before, so we knew it had to be possible. The reason for the acceptance and the composure which have for the most part overridden my sadness and baby-envy in the last year is my private belief that it would happen for us. Yes, it was foolish of me, arrogant even, to assume that the statistics would bend in my favour. Perhaps deep down I realised that all along, otherwise I may have stated it more openly. But imagining, each day, the day where I would hold another child of my own in my arms – seeing it as a real and solid event, not a dream – kept me going.

Now that just seems so unlikely.

Drugs! (Or, Here We Go Again!)

So this week I took delivery of two giant boxes of drugs. The drugs for our third, and final, round of IVF.

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I’ve been a bit hesitant, over the past couple of months, about sharing the exact details of this round of treatment. I wasn’t sure if blogging it “live” in previously cycles had been more of a help, or an extra source of stress – particularly when things went so badly in cycle two. Certainly I wanted the option to keep it all under wraps until the fat lady (hopefully me, with a big pregnant belly!) sang. But gradually, as the weeks have gone by, I’ve found myself letting information slip out, and actually, I’m comfortable with that. I value the support it brings. (So if you feel able to cheer me on, then please, please do!)

So here we are. Two huge boxes of drugs and tomorrow is a date with the dildo-cam for my baseline scan. After six weeks on the pill, in order to precisely time this cycle to coincide with time off work for me and the availability of our consultant to personally perform all my scans, and assuming that all is well with the scan, tomorrow the cycle kicks off properly.

People keep asking if I’m excited. I’m not sure excited is the word. Of course I’d still much rather be falling pregnant in the way nature intended. I don’t want to have to be doing this at all. Injecting all the drugs and dealing with the side effects, having a painful egg collection procedure and an undignified transfer of the resulting embryos back in to their natural home. And after two failures I’m nervous and apprehensive. Especially knowing that this really is the final roll of the dice. But then, in a month’s time, I COULD BE PREGNANT. This is a chance. Yes, it’s our final one, but no matter how small it’s still a chance. And yeah, that bit is exciting.

It’s fair to say that we’re throwing everything we can at this round. The drugs bill this time started out considerably more than for previous rounds, although with some successful shopping around I managed to shave over £700 off. It’s still a huge chunk of money, and even I was a bit shocked at the sheer amount of stuff. In addition to higher doses, we’ve also added two new drugs, and for most of the cycle I’ll taking three injections a day. I’ll be mixing human (natural) and recombinant (engineered) goandotrophins to stimulate my ovaries, and I’ll be using a mixture of natural hCG and a drug to force my body to release natural lutenising hormone – the ovulation hormone – as my trigger shot. This contrasts sharply against the recombinant hCG I’ve used in the last two cycles and that I strongly suspect may be behind my high numbers of immature eggs.

Our consultant has also agreed to do the entire cycle personally, from baseline to transfer (assuming we get there!). It’s normal for scans to be performed by different nurses, but obviously this introduces inter-operator error. The consistency of having one person who now knows me really well for the whole cycle was the deciding factor in staying with the same clinic. I’ll admit after two failures we did look elsewhere, but none of the other clinics could offer us much different and had the massive disadvantages of being further from home (more difficult and stressful to get to) and of not knowing, or understanding our case, or me as a person.

My consultant, on the other hand, gets me. He fully accepts that my insomnia cure of choice is searching Medline and attempting to learn to do his job. He and I work well together, and far from being offended by me making suggestions, or responding with the arrogant air of one who believes the professional always knows best, he seems to like the fact that I question, and challenge him. Many of the changes we’ve made this cycle have been as a direct result of studies I’ve read and suggested we adapt to our circumstances.

I’m feeling positive about the changes we’ve made, and the fact that we’re not simply trying the same thing again and hoping for a different outcome.

But only time will tell. The next four weeks of time, to be specific.

The roller coaster starts here. Wish us luck.

Two Years of Trying

This month marks two years of trying for our second child.

The child who could have been fifteen months old now. All chubby cheeks, wobbly legs and new adventures. The child who could have been around a year old now. Just getting on the move and exploring everything by stuffing it in their mouth. The child who could have been six months old now. Just beginning to explore solid foods, but loving lots of milky cuddles too. The child who could still have been nestled warm and safe inside my swollen belly now, but soon to make their entrance in to the world.

The child who could have been any age in between, but instead does not yet even exist.

There are still moments where I find it hard to believe that we’re here, in this situation, but in almost every other moment of every day I’m faced by reminders of what we don’t yet have.

I spent one sunny afternoon this week at a playdate with NCT friends. Amongst our number, the newest addition was just ten days old – a tiny, scrunched up and utterly adorable newborn baby girl. I love newborns as much as I ever did, but I find it a challenge to cuddle them, to inhale their newborn scent, without letting a fat tear plop on to their tiny heads. As the afternoon passed, as I sat on the floor helping with jigsaw puzzles, it hit me that I was the only one unencumbered in that activity by a second small person. That, despite being the first to begin “trying again”, I’m the only one to have not yet achieved it. My son does not have a little brother or sister in common with his friends. Whilst he may not yet care, I do. Desperately.

The nursery pick up has become fraught with danger for me, as it seems each day another of Thomas’s classmates’ mums has given birth. I bump into them in the doorway, with their infant carriers swinging from one arm, their toddler clasping their other hand. Everyone, children included, coos over the baby, whilst I slip in to retrieve my son, trying hard not to cry until we’re safely around the corner on our way home. “Are you sad Mummy?” Thomas asks, and my heart breaks more thinking about what I might have allowed him to miss out on in the last two years. Not by not having a sibling, but by the extent to which infertility has infiltrated my life, and how that may have affected the kind of person – and kind of parent – that I’ve been.

At work, I’m faced with patients who sometimes forget that I’m not their friend, and that perhaps I don’t wish to discuss personal details of my life outside work with them. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been asked about baby number two. Or even told “You can’t just have one!” or “You’d better hurry up and have another” with an undertone of something terrible to happen if we don’t. I’ve written before about the awful presumption of these questions and statements, and how rude they truly are. Even if we weren’t infertile, one child could well be plenty for us and it wouldn’t make us somehow inferior people or parents. But when you can’t actually create that baby, it’s hard not to take these comments that way at times. It’s hard to keep brushing them off, over and over and over again.

Two years seems like an awfully long time to wait for something that you really, really want, especially when patience has never been your strong point and when there is very little in your control that you can do to help you get it sooner. The old saying “good things come to those who wait” is hard to accept when wonderful things are coming to so many people around us with so much less waiting on their parts. I can’t help the flash of anger and frustration I feel towards “accidental” pregnancies, or towards those families who’ve managed to give birth to a couple of children in the time we’ve been trying to make just one. Please don’t think badly of me for that. WaiTing is wearing.

Time is supposed to be a healer. To help you cope. Accept. Move forwards. But if it weren’t for Thomas, it would have felt very much like time had stood still in the last two years. And far from healing me, the passing of time has just made it harder and harder to accept that this still hasn’t happened. The longer it goes on, the angrier I feel myself becoming. The more people I find to resent for their fertility.

The more I am edging towards self destruction.

I won’t do that, of course. And in no small part I have Thomas to thank for that. I’m so glad that I have this wonderful little guy in my life and so thankful for every last inch of him, and every tiny quirk of his enormous personality. In the time I’ve been trying to give him a sibling, he’s learned so much. How to walk. How to talk. How to count. And now, he’s beginning to teach himself to read, astounding me with the number of letters he recognises and sounds he can associate with them.

It just reminds me, though, of what a really long time two years is. It’s not just the passing of each season twice. It’s enough time for a baby to grow in to a child.

I almost can’t stand it any more. But there is still nothing else to do but go on trying. Go on hoping. Go on waiting.

Grieving For What Might Have Been

This week has been a tough week on the infertility front. It seems that a whole lot of babies have been in a rush to get themselves born before the school-intake cut off of September the 1st and consequently I’ve been hit with birth announcements on every social media channel as well as by text message and in person. There have been several blog babies born – including the lovely Carrie’s son on Tuesday – and Twitter has been awash with adorable baby pictures. In “real life” a friend also gave birth to a son on Tuesday, and another of my NCT group had her second daughter two days ago.

I’m genuinely happy at the news of these bundles of joy. It would take a heart of stone not to smile at the precious pictures of scrunched up newborns, snoozing contentedly on their mothers’ chests. How can I resent such joy when I know what it would mean to me? There is no doubt at all that it means just as much to all these mothers too. A healthy, happy baby is always news to be celebrated.

But it still hurts. In the deepest part of my heart, where I try to keep my desire for more children firmly locked, I feel it, heavy and sharp all at the same time. I can’t suppress it completely, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to. There will always be a part of my heart that grieves for the babies that might have been. Not just those that were miscarried – although so many birth, and pregnancy, announcements have reminded me that I should have been 31 weeks pregnant right now, counting down on the home straight to welcoming my own new arrival. But I’ll also grieve for the dreams I cherished that can now never come true. I can’t apologise for that. I know life rarely works out how we’d like. Men plan, God laughs. But we all have desires. Ambitions. Goals. Ideals. Hopes. Call them what you will.

In my dream life, my second child would have turned one this month. We’d have spent the last couple of months in a pseudo-debate about number three, but I know we’d have started trying by this month or next. And in another year or so from now, give or take a couple of months, we’d be parents to three children under the age of four. That was the dream, so starkly different from the reality.

Those children will never exist in this life, but they’ll always be in my heart. I’ll feel the weight of them there, even though I cannot feel it in my arms. Even though I cannot possibly rewind to make them a reality, I’ll still feel their presence. Or rather, their absence.

They say that time heals almost everything, and I know the pain and the hurt that I feel with each new pregnancy announcement will gradually fade. I know that we’ll have a lot of fun, as a family of three, or a larger one with bigger age gaps if that is what is meant to be. I know it will all be alright, however it turns out. How can it not, when I have a man that I love, and who loves me, and together we have such a wonderful, funny and bright kid. But locked in that deep, dark recess of my heart will be the babies that never were. The ones that never got a chance to shine. Never had the opportunity to make me smile and laugh the way my only born son does.

I’ll never know how it really would have felt to live that dream. What might have happened if it had come to pass. I’m sure it would have been hard. I’m sure there would have been times when I wondered why I wanted so many children. Perhaps it hasn’t happened for a reason.

I’ll never know.

I’ll only know the emptiness I’m left with. The absence. And wonder if it’s okay to grieve for something that you never even had.

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