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Joanne Roberts


I recently visited a cousin who gave birth late last year to her first child, a baby girl. This was the first time in many years I had been around, and held, a very young baby. Prior to that, any close contact with babies came as an Aunt to my Niece and two nephews. My niece is now 20, my nephews are 10 and 15.

I found out at a very young age that I am completely infertile, for medical reasons. This is an absolute; owing to medical circumstances I am entirely sterile, so will never reproduce in this lifetime. For many years I chose to shut down the part of myself which wanted to have children. My life did not unfold the way I would have chosen; adoption became extremely unlikely too.

So I convinced myself it was not something which I wanted. I told myself I would not be a good parent anyway. I listed reasons, in my mind, why I would not have reproduced, even if I could have, and generally suppressed the aspect of myself which ever wanted to have children.

But when I held my cousin’s baby, I realised this part of myself still existed, so I dedicate this piece of writing, such as it is, to the part of me which wanted to procreate, and nurture.

Even writing these words is excruciatingly painful, but I owe it to myself to write about the aspect of me which wanted to reproduce. I became more and more aware of it when I visited my cousin and her baby.

As I walked into the room, I did not at first notice, but the baby, named Isla, was lying on the sofa. Approximately four months old, she was remarkably alert for such a young baby. She was lying with a blanket over her, her little face looking up at the sounds of activity as my cousin let me into her home and I walked into the Living Room. Within seconds of me speaking to her and saying hello, her face lit up. She began smiling every time I spoke directly to her.

As I sat and watched my cousin interact with Isla, it became more and more evident that even by the age of four months old, babies start to develop their own little personalities, and in Isla’s case, this was an amalgamation of alertness, fascination with people, and an open, friendly disposition, characterised by smiles and laughter every time someone spoke to her. No uncertainty regarding strangers was present.

I had felt trepidation regarding the visit, especially knowing that I still had unresolved feelings relating to my infertility, but did so mainly out of curiosity. I had expected the visit would pass without me holding the baby. I did not know if I could handle my grief in company. I do not like to cry any more in front of others, especially strangers, or people I don’t see very often. I feel unsafe to do so, therefore, when the moment came that I had the opportunity to hold a baby, it was a big step for me.

I swallowed down my sobs and my chest ached, but eventually, the visit ended. I saw myself out as my cousin sat with her child in her arms. I felt alone, so terribly alone. My ‘God’, the God I cannot reject no matter how much I want to was, as always, silent and disinterested. Finally, as I reached the end of her street, the sobs rose up out of me and I had to let them come tumbling out. This was a pivotal moment in my life; a snapshot of a particular kind of loss that nature selects to inflict only on an unfortunate few. There are people who reproduce who abuse their children, ignore them, belittle them, abandon them or even give them away. All of this is fine in the eyes of our ‘God’. Me getting to reproduce was not.

I knew immediately upon sitting the baby on my knee, and softly talking to her, that I had not one hundred percent hardened my heart against the idea of babies. My body language softened almost immediately and the warm glow of softness a person feels whenever they hold a baby enveloped my heart. As I looked down at her little smiling face and spoke gently to her I knew I would not have been any worse a parent than anyone else. There were things I could have got right. I would have done my best. I would have held my child for long periods. I would have hugged my child every day. I would have said “I love you” every day. I would have done everything possible in my power to give my child the best possible start I could, and yes, I would have made mistakes, but there are no perfect parents.

The familiar cold and icy stab of lonely grief seared into my heart as I peered into a life which would never be mine, a life which was fated to never be mine. The familiar vibe of “outsider” washed over me as I felt, for what seemed like the millionth time, that the majority of people are part of a club which I have been excluded from.

I sat holding Isla until my cousin returned from the kitchen and desperately fought back tears. I would save them. If I let it out it wouldn’t stop.

As the visit continued, I surveyed more scenes of domestic novelty, watching Isla look at her toys in fascination, but silently counting down the moments until I could get outside and let rip. I would never have this. I swore there and then to write about his very particular form of sadness and grief, the sadness and grief of those whom are infertile; destined to never have children.

My cousin blithely prattled on, completely oblivious to the ocean of hurt crashing around inside of me, as all of the member of my family and extended family always are when it concerns my emotions. It did not occur to my cousin that the visit would contain an upsetting element for me, and of course, it is the kind of family in which I would be accused of being ‘selfish’ for even feeling such feelings in the presence of someone else’s joy.

There were more cries later that day. They were crisp, clear, succinct cries of grief, for the children I would never have. This aspect of my life is only one small part, but I honour it now.

To the part of me that wanted to be a parent I say: I am so sorry for your loss. You are a part of me and always will be.

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