“When you’re pregnant, let’s call it Sprout,” said my partner.
We were in the kitchen preparing dinner, laughing over some of the names friends were using to refer to their unborn babies. We’d talked before about how we might go about starting a family, but this was the first time I actually felt confident it was going to happen.
The dream was short-lived. There was a string of appointments at the women’s hospital for form-filling, blood tests and ultrasound scans to check my fertility, and everything looked good for having a baby using donor sperm. But it was not until the night before the appointment with the consultant to discuss options that my partner dropped the bombshell. She had decided it was time to end the relationship.
Looking back, of course, I know it was the right thing to do. I had tried to ignore all her increasing signs of insecurity and focus on the positive days. But now when I think about the eight years we spent together, I remember all her controlling and bullying behaviour more strongly than the good parts. Calling me useless, stupid, abnormal; frowning and gesticulating as she listened in on calls to my family; stopping me going out with friends; screaming at me until I couldn’t even think in words, let alone speak. She even convinced herself (wrongly!) that I was having an affair with my line manager and began threatening to tell his wife. Was she ever serious about us having a family, or was it only an empty promise to keep me investing in the relationship? Either way, despite the fact she was only ever a dream, Sprout still feels like my first child and even now there is a hole inside where she should be.
Fast-forward 18 months and I am on another continent, sitting in another doctor’s clinic, nervously awaiting more test results. I took a job overseas when we split up, and after a lot of counselling, I felt ready to again pursue the dream of having a family. I’d come to terms with the idea of conceiving using reproductive technologies when I was with Mia – the big difference now was facing a future of raising a child on my own.
The doctor was pretty blunt when he broke the bad news. “You have very low AMH. Your chance of success is five, maybe ten per cent. Don’t waste your money.”
While visiting family at Christmas, I went for a second opinion at a private hospital in London. The doctor there was much more willing to discuss technicalities with me. “Well, most of these tests are carried out on women that have been struggling to conceive. So a low result in someone who has never tried to get pregnant doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing. There is no reason not to try.” So I tried. And after only one round of IVF, I was pregnant! I went back home to Kenya with a huge bag of drugs and a lovely warm feeling of contentment.
The next big decision was where to have the baby. Although I had initially taken a short-term contract, repeated extensions meant that I was now settled in Kenya, with a lovely and supportive group of friends, a comfortable little house, and even my cat, shipped out from the UK. I wanted to stay, but the big unknown was always the job (and hence the visa), scheduled to end shortly after the baby was due. However, while I was mulling over my options, my boss confided some exciting news. They had just won a new project, and there would be six positions at my level. I would be an ideal candidate, and probably get a three-year contract. Perfect! I set about planning for the birth and a future for me and the baby in my Kenyan home.
Maisie arrived safe and well, and I was completely enchanted from the first. We soon settled into new patterns, and I was busy learning all the new things that come with parenthood and loving all of it. Everything looked bright, until the next cloud appeared on the horizon. The leaders of the new project had decided they would use the money to expand and take on some new staff. I could have three months employment once I came back from maternity leave. After that… “Well, we’ll see.”
I was absolutely furious. I felt like I had been lied to yet again, to keep me where I was, and this time I wasn’t going to stand for it. There didn’t seem any prospect of finding another job in Nairobi, but I was offered one in the UK, so once again, I was faced with moving continents. This time, it was a real wrench, dismantling the “nest” that I had spent months preparing for Maisie and me. The new job was in Surrey, and all I could afford to rent was a tiny one-bedroom flat. I was miserable, missing my friends, knowing no-one and feeling squashed into a place I grew to loathe.
We moved again last year. Not back to Kenya, but to Kent. At least here, I can just about afford to rent a house and pay the costs of childcare. It’s still lonely – we moved only six weeks before lockdown, so we have met very few people as yet, and with Maisie now almost three and a half, she is clearly longing for some friends. But we both love our house and garden, and our cats, who Maisie always talks about as part of our family; and have been lucky in finding a wonderful childminder and another new job, this time with a supportive management and an open-ended contract.
For me, it has been a journey not just about the people, but also to find the environment that supports our little family, and I hope this time we have found a place where we can be secure and grow together.