Last weekend we went out for dinner with one of the few couples we know outside of cyberspace who are also experiencing fertility difficulties. The husband is a long standing friend/in law of John's, in that he was originally married into John's family, but sadly his wife passed away at a young age some years ago. Happily, he met his second wife, a lovely vivacious lady, a few years later and they married four years ago. Since then, they have been trying to conceive, and like us, have been through the mill in a huge way. They are currently coming to terms with their third failed IVF attempt.
Every so often we get together for a good old natter and a catch up. With us women, the conversation always turns to how we are faring in the infertility stakes, how we are coping with it, how very few people get what we are going through, and how crappy the whole deal is. The wife and I are both youngest daughters of large families, so we have a fair bit in common when it comes to family dynamics. We both are aunts several times over. We were discussing general life things the other night, when I mentioned that I had been at a christening the previous weekend. "How was that?" she asked, meaning "Did you get through it ok?". "Not bad actually, but then it wasn't a family one, so that's slightly easier". "I know what you mean, it's harder when it's family". A breath of fresh air, not having to explain the emotions behind steeling yourself for the attendance of a family celebration centred around young children. "How about you, any communion or confirmations in your lot this year?". "Yeah", she sighed, "one two weeks ago and another next weekend".
Ah the joys of being part of a large Catholic family. The annual Spring run of communions and confirmations. Back in the 70's, when there was very little money around and my parents had seven mouths to feed besides their own, these occasions involved dressing up in your frock (usually a hand-me-down) or suit, going to mass to receive your sacrament, coming home for a nice family lunch and then visiting your Granny in the afternoon to show off your finery. Nowdays it's a different story. Now in fairness to my family, the communion dresses are still passed on from cousin to cousin to younger sister, and they go in for a lot less fanfare than some of the Momzillas in the town where we live. But it usually involves a get together of aunties, uncles and cousins, with a buffet lunch back in the house, bouncy castle and a cake. (By the way, where does it say in the bible that the twelve apostles finished up the last supper, then bounced for two or three hours on a temporary inflatable structure? Or did this come in with Vatican Two?)
While it is lovely to get together with our families for these occasions, it's still painful when you are the only couple rocking up to the gaff with no kiddies in tow. A couple of smallies run by me, stuffed with rice crispie buns and making for the garden hand in hand, and I think that our little one should be running with them. I join a conversation between my sister and sisters in law, discussing how alike two of their little girls are, and I wonder what ours would have looked like (long curly dark hair, chubby cheeks and pale blue eyes like her mother, I tend to imagine). I hear parents comparing notes on the different stages, like "well if you think the sleepless nights were bad, the teenage years bring a whole different challenge". Sometimes I get through these days fine. Sometimes I dive into a vat of white wine to ease the sting, and end up weeping to myself in the bathroom. Sometimes I just want to scream "I'm an infertile, get me out of here!" John knows if I say it's time to go home now, it really is time to go home, and we make a hasty exit. The overwhelming feeling I always get though is that we will probably never host days like this in our house. And that is the most painful thought of all.
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