‘I would give it all up for just one more cuddle with my little boy’: Grieving mother, 43, put her career before having a family… then watched her longed-for baby die aged just one month
There are some statistics you blithely believe won’t apply to you, no matter how often they’re bandied around. In my case, even if never have said it out loud, I felt a secret certainty that though the (oft-cited) odds of conceiving over 40 are low I would, surely, be the one to beat them.
After all, at 42, I knew little of life outside the most successful few per cent. A combination of carefully mapped goals and ceaseless ambition had seen me achieve everything else I’d ever set out to: rising to the top of the finance profession, building a beautiful home and finding a wonderful man, a surgeon, right on cue.
So when a longed-for little blue line finally appeared, in March 2014 and my fiancé Kamil excitedly wrapped his arms around me, I wasn’t just overjoyed at being pregnant with the baby we’d dreamed of, but at having timed everything perfectly. I was going to be one of those lucky women who really did manage to have it all.
Had things gone to plan then our beloved son, Harvey would now be seven months old. He would be gurgling happily in his perfectly appointed nursery in our family home in Southampton, overlooking our child-haven of a garden – the reason we bought this house in the first place.
I wouldn’t even have had to return to work. One of my many reasons for putting off motherhood was to build up a property portfolio that would allow me the income to stay at home with our baby for as long I wanted, before going on to have another. Instead, all these carefully laid plans came to naught, because Mother Nature had some ruthless revisions in mind.
Devastatingly, at three months pregnant, antenatal tests revealed that our baby had Down’s syndrome. Although doctors suggested a termination, after much soul-searching, Kamil and I refused. We wanted this baby, no matter what.
Sadly, it wasn’t to be. Harvey was born 13 weeks early, last August, and despite everyone’s best efforts, tragically passed away just a month later.
I used to hear people say nothing can be worse than the death of your child. But given I could only imagine, in abstract, just how much overwhelming love a child would bring, let alone how magical it is to see the man you love as a tender father, I had no idea how much it could hurt.
Although Harvey’s short life was only measured in days, they filled me with more happiness than all my years of career achievement put together, and his death has wrenched such a hole in my heart that I can’t imagine anything will ever fill it.
I look back now and feel everything I worked so hard for was pointless. Why did I put in all those hours, why did I sacrifice so much if I was not going to have a child to leave it all to? I would give it all up – every accolade, every penny – for just one more cuddle with my little boy.
Instead, I am facing a hollow future I certainly did not plan for, one not just without Harvey, but without any child or grandchild of my own. If falling pregnant naturally at 42 was chancing the odds, as I approach the age of 44, I have to face the unpalatable truth that I have left it too late for another roll of the dice.
Worse, I carry the knowledge that after successfully managing so much in my life, I miscalculated the biggest risk of all.
I know I’m not alone. Like many women in my 20s I believed I had my life all mapped out – and while children (I hoped to have three) were always very much a part of that plan, they didn’t figure in it until much later.
The youngest of two children of an accountant father and a full-time mother, growing up in Cottinham, East Yorkshire, I have no idea where my burning ambitions came from. But from the age of 11, I dreamed of a job where I travelled the world. I excelled at school and have always been fascinated by business, order and organisation; making lists, setting goals, reading self-improvement manuals.
By my late 20s, with a degree in finance and marketing and chartered accountant qualifications under my belt, everything was progressing to plan.
But although I had a boyfriend of six years who I loved, I was too passionate about my career to even consider settling down. When he said he was ready for marriage and children I responded by taking a job in Australia.
I don’t regret that move, if I hadn’t left, I would never have gone on to meet Kamil, who I consider my soulmate. Maybe if I’d met Kamil in my 20s I might have put my career aside for him. But all that mattered at the time was making a professional name for myself, bolstering my financial security and ego alike.
Over the next decade I moved from Australia to New York for promotion after promotion, eventually living in three continents and commuting between 17 different countries. While I understood the risks associated with fertility and age – like every woman, I had read countless times that the chances of getting pregnant decreased at the age of 35 – I decided that delaying motherhood was a risk worth taking.
Back then, stepping off the career ladder as I approached its peak – and might struggle to get back on it altogether – seemed the far bigger gamble. In fact, I thought the friends and colleagues who began actively looking for husbands and having babies in their twenties early were the ones taking a risk. How would they reach the top with a baby in tow?
My pregnancy was so enjoyable, and the baby felt so healthy and strong inside me, that I was stunned when routine tests revealed Down’s syndrome
I reasoned my chances of having problems getting pregnant later were low. There were no fertility issues in the family I knew of and, as a slim dress size 6 to 8, I was always in rude health. I had lots of energy, regularly exercised (even completing half marathons at one point) and ate healthily. And the odd article I read about the difficulties having a baby in your late 30s and 40s was always offset by so many more examples of other women or celebrities having families even into their 50s.
My one worry was finding the right man – aged 35, with none suitable on the horizon, I even looked into having my eggs frozen – but when I met Kamil, a plastic surgeon, through friends when I was 37, I congratulated myself on having steered my life in the right direction and refusing to compromise.
Tall, handsome and loving, with a wonderful sense of humour, I immediately knew he was my Mr Right.
He did, but that took three years from the point of meeting him. And even then, when we both decided we wanted a family, we played for time, looking first for the perfect family home – a stunning three-storey house, close to excellent schools – and then waiting another six months for Kamil to get settled into a new job before we began trying.
Now 40, and head of finance with a major high street bank, I had finally reached the pinnacle of my career, but although I adored my job I was ready for the next stage in my life.
I wasn’t worried when I didn’t fall pregnant immediately, but 12 months later – keen that this stage began sooner rather than later, now the rest of our lives were in perfect order – we embarked on private fertility treatment; certain some money and a helping hand would speed things along.
Instead, I was stunned when the consultant told me tests showed I was already peri-menopausal and and this ruled out taking fertility drugs to make me produce more eggs. My eggs were of ‘poor quality’.
They managed to harvest one natural egg but it didn’t develop into an embryo. I discovered at my age on average only one egg in 12 will be of good enough quality. To me, the menopause was something I’d go through in my 50s, I had no idea I could start entering it up to ten years before. My periods were regular and I certainly didn’t look or feel even middle-aged, so it was a crushing blow to realise my chances of having a natural pregnancy were so low.
Our only option was a donor egg. Kamil and I began to research the possibility but, three months later, before we had to make a decision, a miracle happened. I missed a period and in March 2014 I stood there in the bathroom looking at the positive test, screaming, ‘I’m pregnant!’
My pregnancy was so enjoyable, and the baby felt so healthy and strong inside me, that I was stunned when routine tests revealed Down’s syndrome.
I think medical staff believed we would have an abortion, my own research discovered shockingly that 90 per cent of women in my situation will opt for a termination. While we grieved for the healthy child we believed we’d have, aborting this longed-for baby – who we now knew was a boy – was just not an option. We also felt lucky he’d survived this far, I discovered over 50 per cent of babies with Down’s are miscarried.
Despite the fact Kamil didn’t actually want children when we first met, which was a really hard blow, I stayed with him, believing and desperately hoping he would change his mind eventually.
In fact, although it had never been part of the plan, within weeks I’d mapped out an exciting new life for all of us, where I would campaign for Down’s sufferers. Kamil and I even took professional advice on how we could adapt our rental portfolio to provide accommodation for disabled tenants.
Then, in August 2014 Harvey stopped kicking to the Vivaldi he’d always vigorously enjoyed in the womb and I knew there was more bad news. Tests revealed he was suffering from Hydrops, a life-threatening condition where parts of the body swell up with fluid, and if he wasn’t born straight away, he would die.
After an emergency caesarean at Princess Anne Hospital in Southampton at 27 weeks, Harvey was whisked straight into special care before we could even hold him. Over the next four weeks we willed him to make it but his little body finally succumbed to an infection and he died in my arms.
I will always be grateful that we were allowed to bring Harvey home after he died, and spend precious hours showing him the cot, the nursery, the garden where we imagined he’d grow up.
Months on and I still feel my love for Harvey in every cell of my body. I know in many ways I’m lucky, many women never know what it feels like to be a mother at all, even for such a short time.
But while we haven’t given up on thoughts of having a baby, be it from a donor egg or perhaps adoption, for the first time in my ordered life, I truly don’t know what will happen next.
The hardest thing of all is that I have only myself to blame. Having always thought my contemporaries who put family before career were the foolish ones, I can see they’re the ones actually having it all. Now in their early 40s, their children are growing up, leaving them free to pursue their old careers as ambitiously as ever – or even begin exciting new ones.
Would I still be a mother now, if Kamil and I had put our careers to one side and started trying when we first met, instead of waiting for the perfect moment? I have no idea. All I know is that in trying to make nature fit my carefully laid plans, I left the most important thing in my life to chance – and lost.
Originally posted on Daily Mail