Top novelist AMANDA REVELL WALTON is glad she could never be a mum
Be careful what you wish for, the saying goes. And isn’t it true that, sometimes, when you don’t get what you wished for, what you end up with can be so much better?
That’s certainly true for me. Recently I came to the dramatic, and uncomfortable, realisation that I’m actually glad my IVF didn’t work. I’m happy I don’t have children. Yes, really.
I know there will be some people who will say that I am simply trying to convince myself that this is the happier life, to make myself feel better as a defence mechanism against the pain of the years of physical and emotional hell that go along with failed IVF.
But I have to say, hand on heart, that this really is not the case. Honestly, I know that if my fertility treatment had been a success, then there would have been no way I would have achieved the professional success I have, or be living the life I do, a life that I’ve no desire to change. I know this is quite a bold admission and what surprised me even more in the aftermath of this ‘Road to Damascus’ moment last week was that it was followed by feelings of guilt and shame.
Amanda Revell Walton said she recently came to the dramatic, and uncomfortable, realisation that she’s actually glad her IVF didn’t work
Was it wrong for me to feel happy that I was not a mother? Unnatural? Was there something wrong with me that I was glad I’d not been able to have children? For a while I kept my revelation to myself. It was as though I felt afraid to admit it.
But why? Why did I feel that I couldn’t be honest about how I felt? Was I worried that people would ostracise me? Or that all those mothers out there would think I was implying that my child-free life was better than their life with children? (I’m not.)
There’s no denying there was a time when I desperately wanted the IVF to work. I was in my mid-to-late 30s and had been trying to have a baby with my husband Paul, whom I married in 2006, from the moment we fell in love.
I’d always wanted to be a mum and revelled in being auntie to my nephews and niece. I had images of them becoming best friends with my children. My sister and I have always been close, and it just seemed natural that our offspring would be too.
When nothing seemed to be happening after Paul and I had been trying for six months, we were referred to a gynaecologist who told us we hadn’t been trying long enough and to come back in 12 months’ time.
A year later we were back in the same consulting room and the tests started: a dye was squirted through my fallopian tubes to make sure they were working, and my ovaries were scrutinised.
Everything seemed fine. An analysis of Paul’s sperm quality and mobility was carried out. The production of that sperm sample caused a mixture of relief . . . not just that poor, mortified Paul had been able to do the deed on demand, but also that everything was normal.
No one was able to see any reason why I wasn’t able to fall pregnant. I was diagnosed with ‘unexplained infertility’.
There’s no denying there was a time when I desperately wanted the IVF to work. I was in my mid-to-late 30s and had been trying to have a baby with my husband Paul, whom I married in 2006, from the moment we fell in love
We waited a little while, and then raised the necessary funds for IVF since we were not entitled to treatment on the NHS because Paul already had children with his first wife (surely a ridiculous case of gender bias).
Then we were referred to a private clinic and entered the insane world of in vitro fertilisation.
During my two cycles of IVF, each of which lasted around three months, I snorted drugs up my nose, injected them into my stomach and the top of my leg, took pills to shut down my reproductive organs, stuck more needles into my stomach to bring my ovaries back to life, had countless internal ultrasounds, inserted progesterone pessaries to thicken the lining of my womb, endured the ‘harvesting’ of my eggs under sedation (not a pleasant experience, made more so when I woke up during the middle of it all).
Then there was a nail-biting wait to see if my painfully retrieved eggs would actually fertilise in a Petri dish with Paul’s sperm, then another uncomfortable appointment on the bed with the stirrups while two embryos were implanted into my (by now) thickened womb.
Then — and this was definitely the most mentally torturous time — came what is known in the world of infertility as the ‘Two Week Wait’ (2WW).
The first time I didn’t have to wait for two weeks to find out the treatment had not worked. It was bloody awful. Literally. The second time was worse still — certainly crueller — as after the 2WW I did a test which showed I was pregnant, only to then suffer an early miscarriage.
The follow-up blood test delivered a body blow to surpass all body blows, and showed that at the age of 42 I was going through the menopause early. There’s no two ways about it: I was heartbroken.
I felt cheated. Hard done by. Resentful that I’d subjected myself to two cycles of IVF (never mind spent more than £10,000) and now my reproductive organs were shutting up shop, about a decade before they should have.
And yet, that blood result actually did me a favour. It stopped me trying for cycle three and God knows how many thereafter, and it forced me to put the whole idea of becoming a mother behind me — and just get on with life.
(I didn’t want to go down the adoption or donated egg route.)
I have heard and read about couples who have parted because the woman couldn’t or didn’t want to have a family and the man did. I was fortunate that this was not the case for my husband and me.
Paul had children from a previous marriage, so, although he also really wanted to have a family with me, for him it was not a game-changer
As I’ve said, Paul had children from a previous marriage, so, although he also really wanted to have a family with me, for him it was not a game-changer. Yes, he was upset and frustrated and sad, but his main concern was for me and how I’d be affected.
It has to be pointed out, though, that our situation during this time was very different to many other couples trying for an IVF baby, for just before we were about to embark on our first cycle, Paul, then aged 43, was diagnosed with a metastatic cancerous tumour on his neck and a primary occult (hidden) tumour on the back of his tongue.
There was a huge question mark over whether he’d be around to see any children we might have grow up. In the midst of his diagnosis my determination and desperation to have Paul’s child became stronger.
If he died (a very real possibility) then I needed more than anything to have his baby — to have a part of him with me after he’d gone.
When nothing seemed to be happening after Paul and I had been trying for six months, we were referred to a gynaecologist who told us we hadn’t been trying long enough and to come back in 12 months’ time
After multiple biopsies, an operation to remove the secondary tumour, a neck dissection to remove his lymph nodes, a cancer recurrence, and six weeks of the most intensive radiotherapy a human body could tolerate, we were both just happy that he was alive.
So while the two unsuccessful IVF cycles were heart-wrenchingly soul-destroying, I could not dwell too much on the sadness and grief of not being able to have children. The prospect of losing the man I loved put my reproductive failure into perspective. And the joy of him surviving (always fingers crossed) dried my tears.
If you read plenty of testimonials, you will be led to believe that IVF treatment stands a good chance of success. Fertility stories, like mine, that end with no baby, are few and far between.
When I first pitched an idea for a book I had entitled The IVF Diaries (I had written a column for a popular women’s weekly magazine charting my fertility journey alongside my husband’s battle with head and neck cancer), publishers said that they loved it but . . . they all only wanted the book if the story had a happy ending.
That happy ending being that the final chapter described the joy of actually having a baby. I argued that this was the whole point of the book — that IVF can and often does fail, but that does not mean it’s the end of the world, that life can still be fun and fulfilling and that there are other happy endings to be had. But it was to no avail.
So I threw myself into my work, and a while later I was asked to dream up an idea for a series of books set in World War II which involved a group of women doing war work.
I’d always wanted to be a mum and revelled in being auntie to my nephews and niece. I had images of them becoming best friends with my children. My sister and I have always been close, and it just seemed natural that our offspring would be too
Ironically, this opportunity only came about because an editor had read my infertility/cancer novella and really liked my style. She asked me to sketch out an idea for a series and write the first 30,000 words.
To my amazement and delight she came back with an offer for a six-book deal, even though I’d never written any kind of fiction before — never mind historical novels.
Let’s be honest here, had my IVF been successful and I’d had one, possibly two children (IVF often comes hand in hand with twins as they generally implant two embryos), there would have been no way that I would have been able to juggle being a mum and working as a freelance journalist, while, in my spare time, thrashing out the first third of a novel.
But I wasn’t having to be mum so I could devote myself to it entirely.
Likewise, having accepted a book deal, I simply would not have been able to keep to the requested deadlines of knocking out a novel every six months.
I also would not have been able to up sticks and move back to the North East, to my home town of Sunderland where the books are based.
It would have been impractical, and very unfair to take any children out of school and away from their friends.
I am coming out of the closet now about how I feel about my inability to become a mother because I want other women who have faced the same fate not to give up on the future
When I first started writing The Shipyard Girls and I learnt that handing over the first draft of a book to an editor is called ‘delivering’ a book, I thought it a little ridiculous. I actually laughed.
‘ “Delivering” as in a baby?’ I asked. It felt a little perverse — probably more so after my many years of trying to conceive.
But as time has gone on, I’ve realised that, like a baby, a book is something I have created — just with my mind rather than my body.
In the past six years I have written 12 books — most of which have become bestsellers and in total the series has sold more than half a million copies and been translated into foreign languages. And presently there is interest to acquire dramatic rights to make the books into a TV drama.
Thanks to being railroaded off the track I thought I so desperately wanted to travel all those years ago, I have not only made my peace with not being a mum but, more than that, I have realised that my happiness and the success I have today is actually because my IVF failed. Because I don’t have children.
When I first started writing The Shipyard Girls and I learnt that handing over the first draft of a book to an editor is called ‘delivering’ a book, I thought it a little ridiculous. I actually laughed
I am coming out of the closet now about how I feel about my inability to become a mother because I want other women who have faced the same fate not to give up on the future.
You might not be destined to walk down the Yellow Brick Road, but — and I can’t stress this enough — there are other, just as colourful, just as enchanting, just as exciting roads to be skipping down.
And, like Dorothy, you won’t be doing it alone, because there are plenty more women like me out there.
We just need to come out of the shadows, shed the guilt or, in some cases, the feeling of being an outcast, and embrace the life we have all been gifted.
- Amanda’s new book Shipyard Girls Under The Mistletoe, written under her pen name Nancy Revell, (Arrow, £7.99) is out now.