Kate Alexander* and her husband hope to adopt a child (or two). In this first column in a series about the process, she writes about what led them to make this decision.
I didn’t know I wanted children until I was 40. It’s not that I didn’t like kids. I love them. They’re funny little bastards, especially when they start talking, and I really enjoy their company and LOVE it when they enjoy mine. I just didn’t really know any when I was younger (apart from when I was a kid myself and that doesn’t count), and hadn’t quite realised how much my own upbringing had curbed my instinct.
When I met David, the excellent man who would become my husband, we were both amazed by how similar we were – in lots of important and daft ways. But in time we began to realise how different we were in one or two key respects: while he came from a large, loving family, where nobody was ever in any doubt that they were profoundly adored, my own background was less warm.
Both my parents had lost their own parents when they were very young, and we had no cousins. There was not much physical affection in the house (my mum and dad hadn’t really had the training in boisterous, tactile family life). It wasn’t unhappy but, ultimately, it wasn’t an inspiring template for family life.
A few months into our relationship – we were in our late 20s – I told David I never wanted children, and his sweet face dropped. I’d had this with previous boyfriends, but it never seemed a big issue, possibly because I’d never been in a relationship that I genuinely hoped would last.
Endometriosis – thankfully later curbed by the pill – blighted me in my 20s and I’d been warned that this horribly common condition might affect my fertility, but that never bothered me.
Over the subsequent years I saw David with his dozens of nieces and nephews, and with his friends’ children, and couldn’t help smiling about what a natural he was, and how drawn to him they were. I started feeling sorry for him, because it was clear that being a dad had been so important to him and he was having to sacrifice that need to keep me happy. I also started thinking it would be a terrible shame for a child to miss out on the chance of having him as a dad.
Eventually, I started to come round to his way of thinking (not because he ever tried to talk me round, mind – he was quietly respectful of my wishes), but I used to worry about what would happen if he and I changed our minds about each other, and, more importantly, what would happen if we had a child, or children, and I changed my mind about wanting them.
I was terrified of childbirth and terrified of feeling trapped and exhausted. Scared of repeating patterns that had made me mildly uncomfortable within my own family. For far too long, these fears were so all-consuming that it didn’t occur to me to think about the stuff that makes parenthood worthwhile for pretty much everyone: love. Sweet love.
“There’s nothing quite like the feeling of a small person reaching for your hand because they just assume that, as an adult, you’ll provide support or safety.”
As I slowly began to acknowledge my fears and shed the self-indulgent notion that I was the only one on the planet who had them, and that indulging plans for worst-case scenarios was a bollocks strategy, it gradually dawned on me what all the fuss was about.
Instead of being scared rigid when someone handed me a baby expecting me to know how to hold it, I let instinct take over and realised how natural it felt. And how wonderfully simple it felt. And how amazing and cry-making it is that a tiny little person knows nothing but to trust that you’ll take care of it.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of a small person reaching for your hand because they just assume that, as an adult, you’ll provide support or safety. When they clamber over you or sneeze right in your face or ask at times ridiculous, at times entertainingly probing, questions, you start to see how the human race ticks along. And you want to help out. And you start to realise you could actually do a bloody good job at it.
Over the course of a couple of years David and I excitedly got to work trying to get pregnant and succeeded quicker than we thought we would. We were madly excited and madly in love and everything felt right.
Then there was some bleeding, a scan that showed no heartbeat, some public howling on my part, surgery, and our plans were put on ice. It took us a while to harness the emotional wherewithal to get back on the horse, and it affected David even harder than it did me.
And then it just didn’t happen, and I tried lots of expensive and pointless alternative therapies. We had a couple of appointments at the fertility clinic, did a few tests, and considered IVF. Because I was in my mid-40s by then we were told we would have had to pay for it, and there was no guarantee that it would work. The doctor even suggested we try to get eggs from Spain, as the health system there incentivises young women to donate.
But – and I don’t mean this in any way to be a criticism of anyone who’s done IVF because I know how much difference it’s made to many, many good people and I’m really happy it’s an option – for us it felt somehow wrong to consume so many medical resources when there was an alternative. And it was an alternative that I’d been thinking about ever since we first started trying to conceive.
Our next step was contacting social services. Next time I’ll tell you what happened.
*The names of the people involved have been changed to protect the identity of the children they hope to adopt.
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Kate Alexander is a serial instigator of peekaboo on public transport and a fan of American chocolates containing peanuts.