For actor and TV presenter Lisa Faulkner, the path to becoming a parent was far from smooth.
She went through IVF three times with her former partner, suffered an ectopic pregnancy, investigated surrogacy and then decided to adopt after finding out she was infertile. Lisa is now a mum to 13-year-old Billie.
But, as Lisa tells Red, she’s grateful for the unexpected lessons she discovered along the way...
'IT'S GOOD TO TAKE A PAUSE
I came off the Pill and expected to get pregnant straight away, but it didn’t happen. It seemed that as soon as my biological clock started ticking, it escalated to a disco beat pretty damn fast.
Over two years, my then-partner Chris and I went from trying to get pregnant naturally to having our fertility tested (everything looked normal) and going through IVF three times.
Every time it failed, I felt my body had betrayed me, that I hadn’t looked after that precious embryo well enough. By the end, I felt lost, emotionally drained, physically exhausted. I couldn’t process that I was 33 years old and completely infertile.
When my doctor advised me against having any more IVF, I threw myself into investigating surrogacy. When that began to look too complicated legally and also too expensive, I launched us into adoption, not taking a breath.
I see now that I should have given myself time before I made each decision. But we were on the fertility treadmill and I was so determined not to fail, I couldn’t stop. That’s why I wrote my book, Meant To Be; if I had read someone else’s story, I might not have felt so lonely and desperate.
IT DOESN'T MATTER HOW LONG YOU'RE PREGNANT FOR
Recently while I was writing the book I found my first positive pregnancy test. I was surprised to feel the grief of that loss all over again.
I took the test eight months after we started trying. Just a few days later I was at work, suffering the worst cramps and pains, and then collapsed on the floor. In hospital, we found out it was an ectopic pregnancy; it was in a fallopian tube, rather than the womb. When the doctor told me this, I had no idea they wouldn’t be able to move the baby to where it was meant to be, that I’d need surgery to have my tube removed.
The grief floored me. It was as if I’d been given the best gift, then someone had snatched it away. I felt like I couldn’t even grow a baby in the right place.
I think the grief was so acute because the minute the test is positive, you map out your whole life with that child. Whether you’ve been pregnant for two days, two weeks or longer, you feel the loss. You’re grieving not only the loss of the baby, but the life you'd imagined together.
MOTHERHOOD DOESN'T HAVE TO BE BIOLOGICAL
For a long time, I couldn’t see the point in having a baby that wasn’t biologically mine. I wanted to grow a child. However, it was being a birth partner to my sister and knowing the love that I felt the minute I held her children that made me realise birth doesn't define love.
I realised what was most important: to love unconditionally, to nurture and mould, to watch a child grow and flourish. I wanted to wash and dress them, to sing nursery rhymes. I wanted the everyday things I saw mums do: finding a high chair in a cafe, putting the pushchair in the car.
Once I had got over this mental hurdle, the world seemed to open up to me. It was Chris who suggested we adopt. Everywhere I went I searched for examples of people who'd been through it, trying the idea of adoption on for size.
YOU FALL IN LOVE SLOWLY
When Billie came to us, aged 18 months, it was with a scheme where she could have been returned to her birth mother. If that didn’t happen, we’d be offered her for adoption.
I threw myself into looking after her. I didn’t want to let her, the system or myself down. But, after a few weeks, I began to struggle, not knowing if she’d stay.
During the routine of the day, I was fine, but in the mornings I felt so vulnerable. One day, when Chris had gone to work, I heard Billie waking up. I went in to her, and saw her standing up in her cot, messy bed hair, dummy hanging out. She looked me in the eyes and I felt myself falling deeply in love. I thought, whatever happens now, even if you go back to your birth family, I will always love you.
Even so, it took me until she was three to take ownership of the word ‘mother’. It was after I put in those days and months of being there to listen, hold and comfort that it felt real.
LIFE DOESN'T ALWAYS GO TO PLAN, BUT THAT'S OKAY
Chris and I split up when Billie was five. Life can be unexpected; my plan was to be in a happy marriage with a biological child, and look how that turned out.
However, Chris and I get on better now than we ever did, I’ve recently married chef John Torode and we all parent together. A blended family comes with its ups and downs, but I don’t think it’s been a bad thing for Billie.
I hope I have shown her what it is to be in a loving relationship, and that life comes with its rips and tears, but they can be sewn up again.
ADOPTION SHOULDN'T BE A SECRET
Billie has always known about her past, it’s been a constant conversation, albeit age appropriate. I see it as Billie’s story to tell.
The idea of adoption is not always easy for other children to understand; they imagine her being picked from rows of cots in an orphanage, like Tracy Beaker or Annie.
Billie knows she can ask me anything, although most of the time she doesn’t want to talk about it. It’s often milestones that bring it up, such as starting secondary school.
We recently went to see the film Instant Family, which is about adoption, with a friend who has two adopted children, too. Us mums were sobbing, but Billie was like: 'Stop it mum, you're so embarrassing!'
SOME THINGS ARE MEANT TO BE
Recently, Billie asked me, ‘Aren’t you pleased that the IVF didn’t work? Because, if it had, you wouldn’t have had me.’ And I replied, ‘Actually, Billie, I am.’ And I meant it with all my heart.
Billie is my daughter and I wouldn’t change any of the things that led up to having her. A friend once said to me, ‘A snowflake never lands in the wrong place,’ and now I know what she means.
I don’t know how Billie’s life is going to turn out, but I will do everything I can to help her be the happiest she can be. We have an invisible line joining us that will always be there; it can’t be broken.
It’s not just that I made a promise to help her. I truly believe it was meant to be. I do believe you are given what you need, although it might not be what you think you want at that time.'
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