When the long-awaited day finally comes for you to stand before your beaming congregation of family and friends, feeling lighter than air, wearing the most expensive dress you'll ever own and full of hope and optimism for the future, it's easy to repeat those solemn vows. The hard part, as I was to discover, is keeping them.
As my fiance and I turned to each other, rings exchanged, smiling as the hot Ibizan sun dropped down behind the sprawling hills of Santa Eulalia, neither of us had even the slightest inkling of the fate that was about to befall us. Having been together for the previous seven years, we knew each other inside out - our strengths, weaknesses, similarities and glaring differences, and had decided that yes, this was my forever partner.
We weren't perfect (who is?) but we were perfect for each other: a young working-class couple sharing a love of travel, clubbing and all things fun. Of course we'd faced challenges, such as the untimely passing of Liam's father a few years previously, but had come through it closer than ever.
Little did we know as the cameras flashed, the champagne flowed and we danced into the early hours, that our vows would soon be tested to the limit....
Like most couples, we intended to follow that well-trodden path : love, house, engagement, marriage, children. It's human nature to yearn for a partner, someone to share our lives with....then the irrepressible desire to reproduce kicks in and the rest is history....isn't it?
After a few more years of working, holidaying and partying we looked up through the fog of our Sunday morning hangovers and realised that our friends were gradually dropping off the radar, having been struck down with that lifelong disease that is as yet incurable - parenthood.
A fate worse than death, since they are still standing in front of you but their eyes have glazed over zombie-like; sure, they look the same, they sound the same, but they are lost to this condition and one glimpse of them clutching the fruit of their loins in a loved-up fug of oxytocin and you know that your friend, and your friendship, will never be the same again.
It would be easier to accept in many ways if you never saw them again, such is the torment of seeing your buddy in this state - still present, but knowing that your relationship is changed forever. The first time this happened it took my breath away.
We trotted round to visit our fun-loving, clubbing mates, bottle of bubbly in hand, hoping they'd introduce us to their first little bundle of joy...then we could bundle it off to bed and have a party. Not so! Once a baby has been dispelled from the body, a large portion of that woman's personality is lost with the placenta, chucked in the hospital incinerator with the afterbirth, never to be seen again. Did she have a baby or a lobotomy? I wondered.
As we made our way home, sober and sobered by the experience of our lost pals, I consoled myself with the knowledge that soon I too would have a personality bypass as I passed a sproglet.
Only it never happened.
Baby after bouncing baby claimed the fun-loving friends I'd shared so much with, until there were more babies than bird-mates left. It was an epidemic. Except I seemed to be immune from catching this particular contagion. It was like being the only remaining survivor after the apocalypse. I could empathise with Will Smith in I Am Legend.
Years passed and soon I was the only female left on the face of the Earth not pushing a pram and discussing breastfeeding versus bottle or little Johnny's sleeping patterns. Or so it felt. Friends dropped like flies, and I hung around the sidelines, hoping their abundance of hormones would somehow perk up my progesterone, awaken my barren womb.
Reluctantly we surrendered and called in the big guns. The St Barts fertility doctors performed every humiliatingly invasive procedure they could think of (plus a few more seemingly thrown in just for their own amusement), before 3 agonising rounds of IVF. Eventually they gave up on my flat-lining embryos with a sigh, visibly frustrated as they downed tools that my faulty Fallopians had messed up their 25% live birth rate success stats
The decision to stop was far, far harder than the decision to start. Starting something, whilst scary as you step into the unknown, is accompanied by optimism, excitement, anticipation. Stopping is an admission of failure. It's final.
Henceforth followed the demise of my marriage - two painful years of gradual decline into the irretrievable abyss. Sadness, resentment, despair are not emotions conducive to a happy marriage, it turned out.
"For better, for worse, in sickness and health, til death us do part...."
The words echoed around our empty big house until they became deafening and the walls began closing in. Tears flowing, we divided up the accumulated belongings of our 15 year union....and said goodbye.
The following year was the worst of my life. I'd never lived alone before and suddenly here I was, 37 years old, single, sad, alone. My friends and family were very supportive, but everyone ultimately has their own busy lives to take care of and, like a baby (ironically), I had to learn to self-soothe.
Somehow I'd been performing really well at work throughout and had recently been promoted to regional manager, responsible for running 18 London shops. Inside, though, I was dying. I recalled something I'd read, that 'suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem' and tried to tell myself that 'this too shall pass.'
Miraculously, after a tumultuous year of reckless self-wrecking, it did.
I took the decision to resign from my draining management role and fled to Thailand for a month of reflection. The intention to sit navel-gazing in the sunshine, taking yoga lessons and finding inner peace didn't quite materialise, however, as I soon reverted to type and hit the Full Moon Party (Full Moon, Half Moon, Black Moon, I wasn't fussy) but slowly, once the aftermath of the Sangsom buckets had worn off, I started to feel better..
Little by little, with each gradual change in the colour of my skin came a subtle change on the inside too. It was like the sun was warming my soul as well as my bones.
Without wanting to sound too hippy-dippy, I would say I experienced an epiphany, alone on those beaches sipping cocktails and seeing the most breathtaking scenery. I became aware of both my tiny insignificance in the great scheme of things as well as the enormity of the importance of my outlook.
Gradually, my bitterness faded, my great sense of loss and injustice subtly being replaced with....well, gratitude I guess.
I started to see my situation differently. Before, when well-meaning mates had pointed out all the good things in my life in a vain attempt to make me realise how lucky I was, I would angrily shut them down. It dawned on my that only when you are ready to start to open up and see the world through grateful eyes can you truly start to move on.
I re-watched The Secret, which if you don't already know, is a self-help film (and book) which works on the law of attraction, the theory being that positive thinking can create life-changing improvements in health, wealth and happiness.
I started to actually believe that things would be ok. And they were.
Today I have finally moved on.
To quote Elsa from THAT Disney movie, I've 'Let It Go.'
(One perk of not having kids is that I've never had to sit through that bloody film, for a start!)
And there are lots of other perks, it turns out. I can go out on a bender on a whim, buy whatever I like without even the most fleeting feeling of guilt, and the house that once felt eerily silent is now a peaceful haven that I share with my partner, Andy - a fun-loving fella who I jokingly refer to as 'the child I never had.'
So if life is getting you down and you feel like there's no way out of a particular situation, I'm here to tell you that whilst the situation may not change (infertility for example, is pretty permanent), your attitude to it can.
There's nothing worse than someone else preaching about positivity if you're feeling down so I won't prattle on any further, but keep in mind that when you're ready the world will tilt on it's axis and your entire perception of it will change. Then you will truly know that you can find peace and be happy.
Let It Go.
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