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Facing the F Bomb: Forty & Fertility

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Facing The F Bomb: Forty & Fertility - Angela Brightwell - Funny Matters

I turn 40 in a few weeks time.

It feels ridiculous to say that out loud. Like I’m play-acting. Pretending to be a grown up.

But no. There it is. On my driving license: 11.12.1975.

I have this distinct memory of being a kid at primary school.

Chatting excitedly with my friends about the mystical Year 2000 and what we’d be doing.

I’d be 24.

Well of course. By that age. I’d obviously be settled down and happily married. (To George Michael if possible… ah yes, the naivety of the 80s).

I’d have a house with its own dumb waiter… (who doesn’t want that, right?)

And I’d have a family of my own.

A big family.

In fact. The specific term I’d used was: ‘a football team’s worth of children’.

Of course. The reality 15 years later – at Y2K (who the hell named it that?) – was predictably, quite different:

  • In and out (mostly out) of dead-end relationships.
  • Flogging gas and electricity door to door in the dodgiest parts of London.
  • And running off abroad to travel around Europe with questionable theatre companies.

But to me, then.

As a kid of single figures back at primary school.

24 felt the epitome of grownupdom.

And yes, that is the official term.

Thank God I don’t remember what I thought I’d be doing at age 40.

I have a sneaking suspicion I’m way behind schedule.

Since reaching that ripe old age of 24 though. I’ve never really given much more thought to my age.

It’s always seemed pretty insignificant.

I certainly didn’t have one of those meltdowns at 30 like some idiots do.

In fact. I remember quite liking the idea.

I looked forward to feeling more sorted, settled and secure.

And as far as the big Four Oh is concerned.

I see it as the decade of fully detangling myself from the grips of caring what other people think.

What’s not to like about that?

And anyway. Forty schmorty. It’s just a number… right?

Turns out. Maybe not.

***

So. Just to bring you up to speed with the full Jeremy Kyle-ness of my family:

I have a 15 year old sister.

1/2 sister technically (same Dad, different Mums) but I’ve never liked to fractionalise her. A sister’s a sister.

She was born in 2000.

When I was – oh yes – 24.

Back in the day when I wasn’t married to George Michael. Didn’t have a dumb waiter and had absolutely no prospect of that football team.

Despite the age gap.

And the fact she’s born & bred Catalan and lives in Barcelona.

We’ve always been pretty close.

And. Perhaps bizarrely. We do behave like sisters.

She and my dad were over in the UK a few weeks back.

They’d come for an open day of a sixth form college that she’s considering going to next year.

It’s round the corner from where I live. So I trundled along too.

The place was buzzing with people.

Earnest tutors. Enthusiastic current students. Over-eager parents clutching on to college prospectuses. As if they were inflatable life-rings out at sea.

And then there were the poor old prospective students themselves.

Looking disinterested and lethargic. In only that way that 15 year olds can.

My sister, my dad and I wandered around the campus. Block by block.

Collecting the relevant leaflets for the subjects she was interested in.

Hovering near the tutors to speak to them.

The three of us approached one. Asked a question about something. Syallubus content or what not. And the tutor replied.

But here’s the funny thing.

The tutor didn’t address my sister (Prospective Student).

Nor my dad (parent of Prospective Student).

But me. The mere sister of Prospective Student.

I didn’t really notice at first.

I was genuinely interested in hearing about the assessment point scheme. What extra-curricular activities she was expected to take part in. And the size of the classes.

And I figured. Perhaps he just wasn’t very good with people. And was sticking to the first person he’d had eye contact with.

But then the next tutor did it. And then the next.

It didn’t seem to matter whether it was my Dad asking the question.

Or even my sister.

Everyone automatically just shifted their gaze towards me.

As the conversations went on. And each tutor kept eyeballing me. It slowly sunk in:

‘They think I’m her mother!’

(Slow motion) ‘Nooooooo!!!’

Yep. They all thought it. All the tutors. Other students. Parents.

In every room we went. They all assumed I was my sister’s mum.

Even when we escaped for a quiet coffee. Tucked away in the college library. Some woman still honed in on me. Like a heat-seeking missile.

Handed me a leaflet titled, ‘A Parent’s Guide to University’.

It certainly shed some light on the earlier disapproving looks I’d got from the prospectus-wielding mothers.

When I was running around the psychology classroom.

Sticking my fingers in plastic models of brains.

Just to make my sister laugh.

We left the college later. Feeling rather bemused and amused by the whole thing.

Especially my sister.

Who saw it as a great opportunity to take the mickey out of both me and Dad.

“My lovely Mum” she’d say to me patronisingly. As she patted me on the head.

“Come on, Grandad” to my displeased Dad.

But then. It all just got forgotten about.

In the way things do

***

About a week later.

I realised that a dark mood had been hanging over me all week.

I felt uncharacteristically low.

Negative about my life. The future. What I had to offer.

That I hadn’t achieved half of what I’d meant to in my life.

And that’s when I realised how much it had upset me:

The ‘incident’ at the college. Being mistaken as my sister’s mum. The mother of a 15 year old.

Because the reality was. It was a fair assumption to make. I could be a mother to a 15 year old.

Hell. I could even be a mother to a 24 year old.

It suddenly caught up with me. Being almost 40.

Not because I was worried about looking old. Getting wrinkles. Or droopy eyelids.

Okay. Maybe the droopy eyelids, a bit.

But because I was nowhere near that football team’s worth of kids.

In fact. I hadn’t even managed one.

Five pregnancies, yes. But also five miscarriages.

Two years of trying to stay positive.

Having tests that led nowhere.

Trying to be hopeful.

And still no sign of a child.

Then ‘college-gate’ happens. And all of a sudden I’m reminded of reality. My age. Looming over me.

I felt totally and utterly Past It.

Had I missed my chance? Was it time to give up? Accept game over?

I know that sounds defeatist.

Especially when – in this day and age – there are plenty of women in their 40s becoming first time mothers.

But it’s not how I imagined it. Like this. The ongoing struggle. Repeated heartbreak.

It feels. In the words of a 15 year old. “Like, so unfair!”

Especially when it seems that everyone else around me seems to find it so flipping easy.

And anyway.

Isn’t it about time Life gave me a break?

Haven’t I already had my fair share of heartbreak the last few years? Losing Mum and all that jazz.

It occurred to me that maybe it was time.

Time to start thinking about letting go of the dream of having children.

***

A few days later. I was meeting my mortgage broker. Yep. Now I really feel like I’m pretending to be a grown-up.

Anyway. I’ve got no idea how we managed to steer the subject away from interest rates and life assurance.

But we did.

She told me about her sister. Who had her first children – twins, from IVF – at aged 48.

48!

Admittedly they used someone else’s eggs. But 48?!

Wow.

I had no idea that was possible.

I mean. When you think about it. Donor eggs. It makes sense.

But still. It’s incredible.

To be honest. I’m not sure how I’d feel about becoming a mother to twins. At almost 50.

Or even using someone else’s eggs. It’s not a question I’ve properly asked myself yet.

But that’s not the point.

The point is that there were suddenly options. Workarounds.

And best of all. At 39 years old. I was a veritable teenager.

Suddenly my mood lifted.

I felt positive again.

Hopeful.

Okay. So being a mother at almost 50. With someone else’s eggs… that was never quite ‘the dream’.

But life never quite turns out the way we expect, does it?

It’s part of what makes life such a struggle sometimes.

But isn’t it also the part of what makes life exciting?

Everything changes. Anything is possible.

My mortgage broker then shared something her sister had said.

About coming to terms with using donor eggs.

She’d said she saw it like this:

That someone else had given her the ball of wool. But that she’d knitted the jumper.

I love that idea.

Sometimes our dreams don’t quite happen as they were meant to.

Our lives don’t pan out as we’d hoped.

But we have to see the opportunities where we can.

Maximise them.

And from them – make something just as rich, beautiful and desirable as the thing we’d originally hoped for.

***

To tell you the truth. I don’t want to be one of those people.

You know. Who end up letting the rest of their lives drift by.

In an obsessive blur of pregnancy panic.

If I’ve learnt anything the last few years with losing Mum. I know that life is short. And to be lived.

And despite the fact I’ve always wanted kids.

I don’t for one second think that a life without offspring is a life half lived.

Or any similar such clap-trap that some of society would have us think.

If anything.

The freedom of not having children really appeals to me.

On so many levels.

I know that we’d have a perfectly fulfilled and independent life. Just the two of us.

We’d grab the positives. And kick the shiz out of them.

I just don’t want to get stuck.

Stuck in some sort of limbo between the two worlds.

Not benefitting from either:

Getting lost in the pain of failing to start a family.

But never making plans to make the most of a life without one.

At some point. A decision has to be made.

To accept the end of one dream. And to start a new one.

To take whatever ball of wool we’ve been given. And knit a kick-arse jumper.

But. How do I know when that time is?

And am I there yet?

To be honest I don’t 100% know.

I don’t think so.

Not just yet.

But for the first time. I am coming to terms with facing that decision.

And I think I’m ready for it.

To come to terms with the possibility.

To give myself permission. When the time is right.

In the meantime…

I’m sure as hell still working on getting me that dumb waiter.

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2 Comments on “Facing the F Bomb: Forty & Fertility

  1. Richard Pettitt
    November 17, 2015

    Oh my, this subject (children or no children) keeps drifting into my peripheral. I don’t think I’m going to talk about it here but I relate to a great deal of what you’ve written. Life does not go to plan, you are very right, and whether we accept it or challenge it is the question.

    • Angela Brightwell
      November 21, 2015

      Thanks Richard and interesting to know you’ve been feeling similar things… and yes, life (and its propensity to do what it wants!) does seem to cause a lot of struggle doesn’t it? Obviously the answer is to accept it, but that’s a lot easier said than done eh. xx

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