'How trying to get pregnant prepared me for lockdown'

Miranda Ward
·6-min read
Photo credit: Unsplash
Photo credit: Unsplash

From Red Online

Miranda Ward's new memoir Adrift is all about the unique place of 'almost-motherhood' when you're trying for a baby, that limbo state of waiting and wanting and hoping and despairing.

On publication day, Miranda writes exclusively for Red about her experience of 'almost motherhood' – and how trying for a baby prepared her for living through the COVID-19 pandemic.

'When my husband and I decided to have a baby, I thought it would be easy. I thought the hard part – the decision itself – was already behind us. I thought I knew what would happen next; after all, I had seen it play out in films and on TV.

A few months of trying, and then one morning I would wake up, I would make myself coffee, go about my usual routine, and suddenly a wave of nausea would roll over me.

Photo credit: Miranda Ward
Photo credit: Miranda Ward

I would vomit into whatever receptacle I could find – a wastepaper basket, a handbag – and think, that’s strange. Then I would look at the calendar, count the days back to my last period, think, oh! And that would be that.

That is not, of course, what happened. What happened, instead, was nothing: weeks of nothing, months of nothing. A year of nothing.

When, eventually, I did become pregnant, I hardly had time to adjust to my new state before it ended in miscarriage. What followed was a period of intense uncertainty, punctuated by events that only seemed to magnify my own lack of control over both my body and my future: another miscarriage, an ectopic pregnancy, IVF, a third miscarriage.

By the time of that third miscarriage, I had been living in a state of suspension – what I came to think of as almost-motherhood – for five years. I was stuck, it seemed, in a present-tense place, a place characterised by waiting and wanting.

Without really meaning to, my husband and I had put everything on hold, deferring decisions about our careers, about where we would live, what our life would look like. All around us it seemed like everyone was moving forwards – friends and acquaintances were busy getting promotions, buying houses, adopting pets, marrying, divorcing, moving, having babies.

Whereas even our travel plans had to be weighed up against the great unknown: where could we go that would be manageable if I found myself pregnant? Could we accept that invitation to a wedding in California later in the year, or would that be too near a yearned-for due date?

It’s a funny way of living, when you can’t plan for the future. I’d never realised before how much of the structure of our everyday lives is dependent upon the picture we have of where we’re headed, in both the grandest and most mundane sense: it’s easier to get through a particularly tough work day when we know we have that weekend getaway booked next month, just as our bigger-picture goals inform our thinking about longer-term plans.

But when you find yourself confronted with nothing but uncertainty about how a story will be resolved or a question will be answered (will I ever have a baby?), it can feel a little like being stranded on a calm flat sea. The wind will not fill your sails; you are powerless here. Rescue will come, or it won’t, and in the meantime all you can do is wait, and drift, and feel the world move around you.

For me it took a long time – too long – to realise that the only thing to do was to make my home there, at sea, with myself.

I’m reminded of this feeling, of course I am, when I think about the pandemic, and all the futures, the certainties, that it has cost us. These days it’s impossible for any of us to plan ahead, except in the most small-scale of ways – a trip to the supermarket, a walk, a Zoom call.

The world feels fragile, and the things we took for granted, the things both big and small that gave shape and structure to our everyday lives, have largely disappeared, replaced by a great question mark. What will the world look like in a week, a month, a year? Where will we be? What will be possible – and how will we be changed by what we’ve gone through?

Anyone who has ever undergone IVF will be familiar with what may, psychologically speaking, be the hardest part of the whole process: the infamous ‘two-week wait’, the period of time between embryo transfer and pregnancy test, during which there’s no way of knowing whether the transfer has been successful. You might be pregnant. But you might not.

Either possibility is as real as the other, and it’s dangerous to commit to either, to let your mind drift towards either fantasy or despair. Instead you have to toe a line between optimism and overconfidence: hopeful but not recklessly so, cautious but not defeated.

In the autumn of 2019, more than six years after my husband and I first made our decision to have a baby, we embarked on our second cycle of IVF.

It would be a lie to say that I had come to terms with everything that had happened – the losses, the waiting, the years spent fluctuating between hope and doubt – or that I had reconciled myself completely with the possibility that we might never have a child. But I had begun to see my life in less future-oriented terms; I had begun to learn something about what it might mean to actually live in the spaces in between. I had thought that my husband and I had put our life on hold, but in fact, I now understood, we had all the while been making a life together, a home together – a family together.

The poem that found me, the day before our embryo transfer, was Kim Addonizio’s To the Woman Crying Uncontrollably in the Next Stall, and its explosive last line: ‘Listen I love you joy is coming’. Lying in bed I read that and I felt with a rare conviction that one way or another – whatever happened at the end of the two-week wait, whatever happened after that – I believed it was true.

Photo credit: Miranda Ward
Photo credit: Miranda Ward

I wish I could tell you that what I learned in the years I spent trying and hoping and failing to get pregnant, that the coping mechanisms I developed for living with uncertainty, have equipped me to navigate the pandemic without fear or doubt. But I can’t. I don’t think anyone can honestly claim to be immune from the disorientation we’re all experiencing.

What I can say is that on the darkest days it does me good to remember the certainty I felt on the eve of that embryo transfer, that one way or another, joy is coming – and that for the time being, it can be enough to know that our lives are lived just as much, as fully, in these in-between moments as they are in the big events that we cannot control.'

Adrift: fieldnotes from almost-motherhood by Miranda Ward is published by W&N today in hardback, eBook and audio download. BUY MIRANDA'S BOOK HERE.

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