Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Mother's Day

When Frog is at home he likes noise. If he’s not playing music or recordings of his own radio programme (broadcast on Exeter University student radio at the moment), he is listening to BBC Radio 2. Last Sunday afternoon he was listening to Johnnie Walker’s ‘Sounds of the Seventies’. When I say listening, I mean that he had it on in every room in the house into which he might venture as well as the shed, which meant that I couldn’t help hearing it too. (I like silence myself, as I don’t need to add to the cacophony already in my head. Luckily Frog goes to work occasionally and I can have things my way.)
            Last Sunday was Mother’s Day.
‘I’d like to remember’, said Johnnie, ‘all those women who aren’t mothers, who have maybe tried for a child for years and years without success.’
            ‘Maybe’, he continued, ‘you had seven children in a previous life, and deserve a rest this time round.’
            Frog and I never discussed children before we married but we turned out to be in accord: neither of us wanted any. We’d both had younger siblings to look after, four in my case and one in his. We felt we’d done our stuff. In any case, all we wanted was to be together. A child would have been in the way. Nor did we understand the urge to perpetuate one’s genes. I looked to the future, to the next stage of existence, whatever that was. I didn’t need to cement my earthly roots. I had environmental concerns too. No way did the world need any more people. And I’d seen how children trapped women. (Things aren’t so bad now, but women’s lib was only just starting in the ’70s.) What’s more, neither of us had particularly enjoyed being children. Why inflict that state on someone else?
            As we approached our forties however, we began to wonder if we might regret our decision and whether we should try for a child before it was too late. Because of our age, I researched everything I could about fertility - writing a book in the process. (It was called The Natural Way: Infertility because it fitted into a series about chronic illnesses, but it was as much about enhancing fertility as it was about treatment for infertility.)
            I was surprised to discover that men’s fertility declines with age, just as women’s does, even though they don’t have a cut-off point. Just as startling was the discovery that these days, because of pollution, in particular chemicals that mimic the female hormone oestrogen, men are as likely as women to be the cause of any problems that a couple might have conceiving.
            We sought the advice of a fertility charity who prescribed mega-doses of vitamins and minerals for both of us and after three months on the regime I was pregnant. I rang the charity to tell them.
            ‘Oh no,’ they said. ‘You should have been using contraception until you’d finished the course. You’ll probably miscarry or have a child with learning difficulties.’
            ‘You didn’t tell me that,’ I said.
            I was rather cross, at their tactlessness as much as their inefficiency, but I didn’t believe them. However, because of my age the hospital wanted me to undergo the gamut of pre-natal tests, and nineteen weeks into the pregnancy I discovered that the baby had Down’s syndrome. I decided on a termination.
            It wasn’t a pleasant experience (involving, at that stage, induced labour) and I don’t think I’ll ever recover from the sadness of losing the baby, but I don’t actually - so far - regret not having children.
            So all I’m trying to say, I think, is that childlessness is not necessarily something to be pitied. There are many reasons why people don’t have children. If you do want children, don’t leave it too late and be careful whose advice you take. Pre-natal tests are a double-edged sword, doctors don’t always know best and charities may not be professional.


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