My Musings

Life on Hold

Best laid plans (idiom):An expression used to signify the futility of making detailed plans when the ability to fully or even partially execute them is uncertain

We’re supposed to be enjoying the pre-child years, even though we’d rather have a child. It’s definitely not as easy as it should be: do we make plans as if we are going to have a baby, or shall we assume we’re not? The obvious answer is “don’t make plans”, but that’s not as easy as it sounds.

When you’re trying to conceive, or even just contemplating it, everything gets stopped in its tracks. At first, the forward-planning (filled with hope) can be fun and the sacrifices are a small price to pay. After a while however, when it becomes an extended journey/process (whatever you want to call it) and you’re still not pregnant, you find yourself frozen, unable to move forward. You realise that you can’t make decisions, just in case you get pregnant or just in case you don’t: you’re stuck. We’ve been this way for a few years now.

“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry”
Adapted from the Scots-language poem written by Robert Burns in 1785

I recognise that what follows is a discussion of VERY first-world problems, from a couple in a very privileged position, but I write it to emphasise how baby loss and family planning can impact so many aspects of your life, so please read this kindly, through the lens in which it was intended.

Life on Hold #1: Moving House
My most recent example of our life being on hold, is deciding where to live. James and I would like a bigger house, but do we need one? We both have large families and most of our friends have children, so we’d like to have more bedrooms for when people come to stay. If we have one child, the house is a reasonable size. If we have two, we would likely want to move. But what if we never have children? Why buy a five bedroom house (and the mortgage to go with it!) if people rarely use them? We’ve been so stuck with this round-and-round thinking, that we recently decided to extend our home instead. The plain is that in 5-7 years we will stop and see where we are then. I love our house and never want to leave, but if we never leave, it means our family didn’t grow.

Life on Hold #2: Career
When planning to have a child, it is so easy to put career plans on hold, to try to engineer a role that you can slip out of and slip back into after maternity leave. But what if that leave never comes? What if you’ve spent months taking your foot off the gas, preparing for an event that doesn’t materialise? This was my key takeaway from Sheryl Sandberg’s bestselling book Lean In; so many women lean out of their careers, at the exact time they should be doing the opposite. Women wanting a family should be taking on more challenges and creating a role that they love (you’re more likely to want to return to work this way). If on your return, it is all too much, then adjust accordingly, not before. This is great advice, which I’ve tried to live by, but it’s still easier said than done. I’ve thrown myself into work for years, but I’ve also been hoping that I’ll be off on maternity leave at some point. I’m back at work now, but I shouldn’t be. I’m working on projects that I should know nothing about. I should be leaning-in to career opportunities, but I’ve never felt more apathetic. My over-arching goal is not career based, my goal is to have a family.

Life on Hold #3: New Car
I’m not the best driver, I dislike James’ large car and I want my own smaller one. I haven’t ever needed one, I work in the City of London, so the tube and trains serve me fine, but I just want a little runner, to whizz about in. For over a year now, I’ve been unable to make a decision. If I had it my way, I’d just buy a tiny berry-coloured Mini. If we have a baby however, I’d likely need a five-door with a spacious boot with room for a buggy. So I’ve not been able to make a decision, I’m stuck because it’s a fairly large decision, but I just don’t know what the future looks like. Do I buy the car I’d like for now, or do I buy the car I’ll need for later? Flipping heck, more than one whole year wasted on this and still no further forward (James’ car also needs replacing and it’s a similar ‘dilemma’).

Life on Hold #4: Travelling
I’ve mentioned previously that James and I love to travel, it’s a big part of our life. We rarely repeat restaurants, let alone countries! There’s a big world to see and we want to eat our way around it all.

In 2015/2016 there was a global Zika outbreak and the health advice was that pregnant women should not visit countries with high cases of Zika. Couples trying to conceive were also advised against travelling to these countries and if they did, to wait 5-6 months before trying to conceive. Given this advice, the last time we visited a country with high cases of Zika was when we went to Bali in April 2017. Later that year (after the 6 months were up!) we decided to start trying for a baby. Since then, we have avoided all ‘Zika embargoed countries’. Every time we go on holiday, we consult this map (which I’m pleased to see has much improved in recent months! We seem to be winning the battle against Zika, COVID on the other hand…)

With every month that passed without getting pregnant, it was more and more disappointing on so many levels. We are desperate to travel around South America, but Zika is why we’ve only visited Chile. It’s easy to look back with three years’ worth of hindsight and say “we should have gone!” because we also should have a baby by now, or if you want to be illogical about it (as I often like to be): we should have had three.

After our miscarriages, exotic holidays became consolation prizes. Last year we travelled to China, Turkey and Jordan – all places that we knew we likely wouldn’t travel to if we had a child, and all trips booked very last minute. It was like we were saying “ok, we can’t have a child, but at least we’ve been able to go to XYZ” – a very bittersweet silver lining, when you think about it. We were saving English-speaking countries like lots of the US, Australia and more of Canada. In our heads (rightly or wrongly) these would have been easier to traverse with children.

I realise this is a first-world problem, but I just want to highlight how difficult it is to plan things. You choose a country, hoping you’ll be pregnant, but then when you’re not, you have to pretend/make it ok anyway.  It’s why this pandemic has been particularly hard. We’re finally not trying to conceive, we can finally climb Machu Picchu or backpack around Thailand! We can finally enjoy being child-free and ‘achieve’ something from this cr4ppy time, to find that silver lining… Oh, except we can’t, because the world’s in quarantine. So we’re all at home, dwelling on what could and should have been.

Life on Hold #5: Mini-Breaks
Even short breaks can be tricky. Last year we booked a weekend away with some friends, choosing accommodation which had a hot tub. When we booked, I hoped that by the time October came round, I’d be pregnant and not allowed in the hot tub. I wasn’t, and the hot tub ended up being another consolation prize. Then for my birthday, we booked a weekend at a fancy-pants spa I’d been eyeing up for years. This time I WAS pregnant (with Summer) and I couldn’t use any of the spa facilities. I ended up going to the gym?! and having a boring ‘pregnancy friendly’ facial. The sacrifices were obviously happily made, but the pregnancy didn’t even last.

Life on Hold #6: General Happiness
Music does such a weird thing to me, since Summer. It just makes me sad. The radio in particular. Radio at home or in the car, I just always get choked up. I don’t even know why. I think it’s because that used to be one of my favourite things, just listening to music. And sometimes, the perfect song and moment would collide. But there’s no chance of that anymore, is there? There’s no perfect moment. Every happy moment is tinged with this sadness. It’s a sort of realisation in the back of your head, a gentle lingering “something’s not quite right here” and an ache in the chest.

I used to muck about to music SO much. Such stupid dancing in the kitchen, singing in my poshest accent (saying “James, do you think I should go on Britain’s Got Talent? I could sing songs REALLY badly in a loud eccentrically English accent!” He always replied “No”?! I kept practicing) or strutting down the street, pretending I was in a music video. I used to be pretty daft. I guess I still am, deep down. I’ve just pushed pause on it, while life’s on hold.

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(5) Comments

  1. Melanie Shaw says:

    This post resonates so much with me – the family planning limbo is sooooooo frustrating. And the number of small freedoms or important wellbeing saviours that are affected by it or sacrificed is crazy. It is just impossible to plan! I suppose one bright side is that it encourages living in the moment and spontaneity…not that COVID really allows for that right now.

    I hope that your “general happiness” limbo is the first one to subside. I am sure you are still that “daft” Anjulie that used to muck about to music all the time. One day, the right song and moment will collide again, and you will be dancing around your kitchen, even just for a moment, free from guilt and full of life – the Anjulie we know and love xxx

  2. Sally Dennis says:

    Dear Anjulie, I haven’t read everything yet. There is so much to process, so much I would like to share with you. I am listening. Both Geoff’s mother and my mother lost children.
    And I have friends.
    However what has prompted me to write is ,get a car.You can fit a small pushchair in the boot. I did in an early Polo, better check dimensions.
    My sister in law said you need a five door. She had a Morris Minor. Do you heck! You have an extra four year old who undoes the fixings for your child’s car seat, and opens his door! Three doors was safer.
    I know things have moved on, but a car that suits you now can still be child friendly. Hugs.

    1. Anjulie says:

      Thank you Sally! Really appreciate you reading the blog and adding your thoughts and experience. Special thanks for the little nudge re the car situation xx

  3. Ruth Ireland says:

    You bring up yet again another topic worth discussing/mentioning. Some people may find this trivial but we all have to make big decisions in life and they can often make us quite anxious. Dilemmas that actually get us down, as you feel so stuck not being able to make a decision either way. The last thing you want it to have these decisions looming over you and not being able to make a decision either way. I don’t quite know the answers but whatever decisions you make you should let yourself be happy with them. I’m sure you will weigh up both sides and have your reasons and I suppose there’s never a right or wrong choice. So don’t be harsh on yourselves.

    Love you Anj.

    P.S Why not get yourself a car, you can always sell it. You just have to weigh up the potential loss against the enjoyment you could get out of it. You could play any songs you want in your own car too.

  4. Melanie says:

    I am loving the support for getting yourself a new car! Do it!!! Sally is right when she says you can make any car work. And as Ruth says, if you need to, you sell it when the time comes. Simples! Xxx

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