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Feeling Broody - Synopsis

by  Tess

Posted: Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Word Count: 1166

14 Chapters/35,000 words


Tess Broad

Feeling Broody is a memoir of my journey, beginning in the late eighties, where as a ‘wannabe mummy’ I embark on what will be five years of fertility treatment. What follows is the breakdown of my first marriage, a move from London to deepest rural Cornwall and to a final acceptance of childlessness. A journey out of hiding from (at times) a dark place of wailing despair to where I am now, having embraced the role of non-mother. In a fairly Fever Pitchy way I re-trace my steps from that awkward ‘we’re trying for a family’ phase to finding a use for my redundant apron strings.
I introduce the book by explaining why I have found it so difficult to answer the simple question ‘do you have children?’ How it feels to be in a minority that appears to be without a voice. My story begins when my first husband and I decide to try for a family and how that decision seems to require a somewhat cringing announcement to the world that your sex life has taken on a new dimension, i.e. sex is not just for fun any more.
When the ‘trying’ doesn’t seem to be working I am referred to various gynaecologists. I detail some of my experiences under them (so to speak). I quote a joke I heard at the time . . .
Q: What’s the difference between God and a gynaecologist?
A: God doesn’t think he’s a gynaecologist.
Not such a joke as it turned out. I go on to explain how my first gynie did indeed flex god-like powers and that he was not a god of the loving and giving variety but a mean insensitive man who mostly treated his patients like small children. My second experience is an improvement but I find I am largely viewed as a set of ovaries and a uterus rather than as a human being. The last gynie I consult was, for me at least, the patron saint of gynaecology, a man whose sublime professionalism had a lasting impact on me.
I compare the difference between treatment on the NHS and the private sector. The sympathetic, hushed and carpeted hotel-like atmosphere found at private clinics to the sometimes chaotic and insensitive treatment programme I experienced on the NHS.
I talk about how demanding and stressful the treatment programmes are and the disconcerting thought that you might be recognised by your labia rather than any facial features, as you pass through the hands of many gynaecologists. This chapter also covers the effect all this has on the sex life and in turn the marriage. The relentless treadmill of treatment that grinds on through cycles of high hopes building and then plummeting to crushing despair. The sheer embarrassment of the whole thing. The taboo clouding its discussion. How I move through the black cloud of two IVF attempts to a successful ovarian diathermy treatment, but still no baby arrives. I talk about a half-hearted foray into the world of alternative treatments at a time when the word ‘organic’ was some hippy notion that a woman like me, with my ‘80’s big hair and shoulder pads, was bound to struggle with.
I tell of the dramatic event that meant the successful treatment could never bear fruit. The departure of my husband, who announces on New Years Day 1994 (six weeks after ovarian surgery) that he doesn’t feel ready to become a father. He later moves out of the marital home for some ‘space’. Space, I later discover, in which to shag someone else. The next section details how I deal with the breakdown of my marriage and how it wipes out the need for a child. A two-year journey of recovery, aided by counselling, self-help volumes and crème eggs, leads to my meeting my second husband and leaving London for the life of a countrywoman in Cornwall.
The time it takes me to get over my first marriage and to then commit to another means that the few precious years I had left in which to conceive have all but passed me by. I am then to take a different road, towards becoming reconciled with being childless. I recognise that during this period a sort of mourning takes place. Childlessness has been described as ‘unfocused grief’ and I talk about how this ‘bereavement’ can be diminished by a strange need to hide any suffering.
I talk about how other people’s children are such an important part of my life but how at times I feel my lack of experience exposed. How it might be misconstrued that I don’t even like children. How Mother’s Day can leave me feeling isolated and left out, likewise when childbirth experiences are discussed at girlie gatherings. How the honour of being a godparent can feel like a consolation prize, the meal for two instead of the car.
I talk about adoption and all the questions it raises; why I haven’t and the guilt that goes with that decision. Finally I talk about how I have landed in a positive place beyond childlessness. I also acknowledge that it is probably no coincidence that this acceptance of childlessness has come at a time in my life where my natural fertility (had I had such a thing) would have been on the wane anyway.
There are many self-help manuals on coping with infertility; on how to get through it, past it and over it. Most of these volumes are sad, poignant accounts that speak to those in the same dark place. Parts of Feeling Broody are sad, but they are punctuated with humour and the odd rant about Weight Watchers, baby on board stickers and ‘whinging moms’. The childless are in a minority but a growing one for various reasons. Choosing careers instead of family, choosing to be single (or not, sometimes desperately) or simply leaving it too late. I ask questions about the role an increasing number of childless people might have in relation to children’s lives. How it’s supposed to ‘take a whole village to raise a child’ and yet as Elton John said just before his wedding day ‘Gay men are the only group of people who aren’t looked down upon if they don’t have kids.’ I also discuss how the child has become king in our society and acknowledge the increasing pressures parents are under as they are expected to take sole responsibility for every aspect of their children’s lives.
This book will do for the involuntarily childless what Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch did for football fans. It is a place where they can recognise themselves and also use it as a means to help others understand them. It is also a volume, which might provoke some debate as to how we raise our children in a society always looking over its shoulder for the paedophile and in the process denying children comfort and protection from those they can trust.