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I gave up on IVF and became a stepmother instead

Elizabeth Kesses reveals why she chose not to have a baby, but how stepmotherhood changed her

I’m 47 and a proud stepmother of three. But I’m also very proud I didn’t choose to have my own child. Yet for ten years I felt I had to. From the age of 36 to 46, when my friends were all popping babies like they were champagne corks, I tried to conceive. Not because I desperately wanted a baby, but because I thought that it was one of my fundamental roles in life.

I procreate therefore I am.

I was and still am also married to the love of my life (after a disastrous first marriage) so a baby was the natural next step. At dinner parties people told us it would be the fruit of our love, so we should go for it. A little E and D would be the cherry on the cake.

But what if our love for each other was the actual fruit?

The first time I fell pregnant was just after our wedding. Everyone said it was meant to be, except me.

The first time I fell pregnant was just after our wedding. Everyone said it was meant to be, except me. I felt invaded by an alien, not my self at all. But I told myself I would settle in time. Early on months I started wearing long baggy dresses and stopping anything vaguely physical including sex. I guzzled bread and butter, put on pounds and slouched in front of the TV all day. I was having some form of maternity meltdown.

The romantic ideal of a blossoming mother-to-be was very opposite of my bloated, nauseous and pale self. I tried so very hard to like it all. I let myself dream about names – Eleanor, Harriet, Percy, Archie -but it was if I was choosing a name for a favourite doll. None of it felt real at all.

None of it felt real at all.

Deep down I knew something was wrong with the whole thing and it was.

At three months I had the first scan. I remember staring at the grainy screen. There was the empty bag, the Hermes as I now call it euphemistically.

The baby’s heart had stopped. The baby had gone.

My body had heard the message even though my heart refused to listen.

I was devastated and the cytotec pills didn’t help matters. It didn’t help that I miscarried on the day my father died, the 17th Dec so Xmas was doubly doomed.

Most of all I felt a failure – I couldn’t produce the simplest thing, a child. I was great at uni, at work, I had a fabulous husband, a cosy home….why couldn’t I be a mum? I hated telling people I had lost the baby. I avoided dinners for months.

Then I went to see a new gynae, a pushy IVF one who said it was now or never. I was already a geriatric mother…

I became obsessed with the idea of succeeding and went through various surgical procedures to make my uterus less ‘hostile’. One gave me pelvic inflammatory disease. The other worked but ended up as another miscarriage. I started to lose weight, my old eating disorder rearing its ugly head, as I couldn’t achieve this basic goal.

It wasn’t about the baby any more, I just wanted what I didn’t have. My body had heard the message even though my heart refused to listen.

I was already a mother, and the kind I actually wanted to be.

Meanwhile I helped my husband raise his kids on weekends and over the holidays. I made roast dinners, talked about periods, went clothes shopping. I dealt with their colds and held their hands when their Granny died.

I really couldn’t see the glaring truth before me – I was already a mother, and the kind I actually wanted to be. One of older children, not a baby, one that didn’t carry the ultimate responsibility.

After the fourth horrid miscarriage I decided to hang my baby boots up.

Nature is a powerful force and if the baby never incarnated, I truly believe now it wasn’t meant to be. My whole life I have been searching for sense of self worth and I realize now that this meant I didn’t ever really want a baby. It’s hard to explain in words but I needed to find ‘me’ first, even if that meant the biological clock was going to run out.

I have now understood you can be maternal in so many gratifying ways.

I have now understood you can be maternal in so many gratifying ways. I have an esteem charity that helps teens with anorexia and depression. I take care of nieces and nephews, my dear godchildren. I love time with my young adult stepchildren now and will love their kids if they choose to have them.

But there isn’t a day that goes past when I thank my lucky stars I didn’t fall into the trap of forcing myself to have a baby. It would have been fine, but it wouldn’t have been the best path for me.

Ironically, I saw a new gynae recently who told me that I would never have been able to carry a child to term. It could have endangered both our lives. Surrogacy would have been the only way and in France that’s impossible.

So things always have a habit of working out.

The same is true for women who want a child at all costs. One of my good friends has a little girl via an egg donor and she has never been happier. Or another who adopted a baby from Vietnam.

The real issue is social pressure. Women are still expected to marry and have a child. Despite all the progress we have made it is still incredibly hard to stand up and say – I’m single and I’m fine. Or I’m ok not having a baby. Or I’m bi. Or gay. Or whatever we want to be.

We start life with so many options and avenues before us, our childish dreams imagine travelling to the moon or being Queen or travelling to far flung exotic lands. As we grow older these close down. We have to grow up, settle down and be more responsible. Yes of course we do, but we should still be free to fulfil our heart’s desires.

Real happiness should be our birthright, even if it doesn’t result in another’s.

– Elizabeth Kesses

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