Suddenly faced with the prospect of a life without the children she always assumed she’d have, Lou Conran quickly found – and lost – herself in a world of fertility tests and potential-filled pots.
Illustration By: Louise Boulter
Fuck, I’m 38 and I forgot to have kids.
This reality was brought to me very abruptly one day when I received a text from my sister: “Hi, just been to see my gynae; she says I’m peri-menopausal and thinks you need to get your eggs frozen. Love sis x”.
Booking into a fertility clinic to have the initial tests done, I assumed I’d be ok. I wasn’t. My eggs are few and far between, so freezing them would be pointless.
I’ve always wanted kids. Since I was a kid I wanted a kid, but unlike the other girls at school, I was more into the band Wet Wet Wet, than getting that way over the class stud.
I simply took it for granted that one day it would happen. It hasn’t.
And so it began. Countless blood tests: I was tested for my FSH levels, my AMH levels, my something or other levels. I was scanned. I peed on sticks. I was googling what it meant to be barren (not recommended: it led to a page about vagina dentate, which I was convinced I had. That and rickets). I was advised if I wanted to have a baby, I should try now. Right. How do I do that then, when I have one vital component – a quality sperm-shooting penis – missing?
My behaviour became irrational. I debated phoning the blokes I’d already had in the hope that one of them would come and pump me so I could get pregnant. Luckily I remembered the reason I don’t let them pump me anymore is because they’re idiots and to breed with them would be doing mankind a huge disservice.
I cried. A lot. Started thinking that life had never had meaning, never had worth, and that all those years spent getting pissed and being carefree might be the cause of a premature menopause and a relationshipless existence.
My family tried to give me dating advice. They think I must just be “too picky”. That there must be something I’m not telling them, because they simply, “Can’t understand why I’m not with anybody”. No. I can’t either. I’m bloody ace, a catch.
I grieved for something I never had, bereft for the what ifs and my vision of how it could be – should be.
Then denial: if I wait, surely he will come (literally). Surely the clinic will ring and say they’ve made a terrible mistake and I’m good for another few years. But no.
Apparently there’s just a year before I join the peri-menopausal gang. As initiation to this particular club, I’m already sporting sanitary towels under my armpits because of the onslaught of irrational sweating (panty liners are probably more practical if you’re wearing a thin top).
In black and white. Do I want kids? Yes. Do I have a partner? No. Is this medically the only time I have to produce a child of my own? Yes. Are there any options? Sperm donation.
The actual process of signing up for IUI (intrauterine insemination) was incredibly easy. The clinic’s doctor gave me the bare facts: “You have a low egg reserve, of which the quality is poor. You need to act fast.”
They checked to see whether I was mental (totally passed – get in!); they checked to see if my womb was bunged up (insert medical term here); lastly they checked I was actually ovulating. I was, so it was back to the doctor and a lot of paperwork. This red tape was basically my consent for my future child’s name to appear on the national register of donor children. This register exists so that if they meet someone when they’re older, who happens to be another donor child, they can ensure they’re not banging their brother or sister – I know! I hadn’t even thought about that.
Once you’re ready to begin the process, you monitor your ovulation, ring the clinic, and it sends over the list of men that match your ‘wish list’. This is as basic as hair colour, eye colour, height and build. The men get to write a letter to the child. Some explain why they decided to donate, some just say hello, some say they like football but they don’t like cheese (who’d choose a man who doesn’t like cheese?).
My dilemma: to choose someone I would’ve wanted to go out with, or just someone based on the aforementioned basics? A friend who’d been through this process (and as a result has two wonderful children) said she was so grateful to have the chance to be pregnant, the details didn’t matter. I could understand that if you’d been trying for a while, but I still felt that I’d probably choose someone that I’d potentially be attracted to.
It was as simple as that. On paper anyway.
This was my life for about eight or nine months: wake up thinking about my situation; go to bed thinking about it; spend every minute of every day totally consumed by it. Then “We’re all set,” they told me. “You just have to pick your donor.” And that’s when the whole process stopped – because I stopped it.
After months and months and months of struggling with whether it was the right thing or not, I realised that I was panicking and not thinking like a normal person. Like a person. Like me.
There’s never a right time to have a baby. I know that, you know that. What I also know is that if I’m going to choose to bring a child into the world – actively pursue having a baby this way – then financially I need to be able to care for it, provide for it, and house it. Love in abundance has never been in question. But for me to consciously make the decision to get pregnant? That means providing a standard of living that’s comfortable, manageable and sensible. Put simply: I can’t. I can barely provide for myself. I tick over, of course I do, I only have me to think about, but bringing someone else, some little person into my life of ticking over is not something I can do.
After months and months and months of struggling with whether it was the right thing or not, I realised that I was panicking and not thinking like a normal person.
Were I to get pregnant accidentally, the decision would be either keep it and manage, or don’t. Either way, an accident is very different to choosing to go ahead with sperm donation.
My last experience at the clinic didn’t help. I went with my friend, and we were sitting in reception. As this was the last meeting and test before the go ahead, I was really nervous. Jayne was struggling with the new coffee machine, and there was a man at the counter, desperate to deposit his load.
Nurse: You’re a week early. Can you come back next Thursday?
Man: Please…I’ve abstained. For four days…
Nurse: Sorry, we’re on staff training; there’s no one here to filter it.
Man: Please, just give me a pot – I’ll be ever so quick.
Jayne: This is just a cup of white stuff, there’s not a drop of coffee in it. What use is that?
No woman wants to hear that from any man. Especially in a fertility clinic, with the scent of lukewarm milk shoved under your nose. “Mummy, who’s my daddy?” “Your daddy, darling, is a man that didn’t have a wank for four days so you could be shot into a pot.”
So this is me. Since I’ve made my decision to climb off the baby gravy train, the relief is immeasurable. I can breathe again. Without pain in my heart and without the constant watchful eye on the door to see if the next man that walked in could provide me with sperm.
I am me again. Whether or not I am blessed with a child, or a man, I remain at peace with my decision, knowing that I thought about it – really thought about it – and am content with my lot for now.
Lou is a comedian, writer, actor, lover of curry and cheese, and is also a giant simple child.