All too often women without children are subject to pity and questioning. But, says Julia*, not getting pregnant turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to her
Waiting anxiously for the second blue line to appear (or not) on my pregnancy test, my heart pounded. My period was five days late and I had convinced myself I was expecting. My breasts were swollen and the smell of a friend’s cigarette made me nauseous.
Thomas* and I had only been together a few months after meeting online and falling silly in love. But we’d decided, on our third date, as he walked me home from a night out, that we’d forgo birth control and start trying for a baby right away. He was 38, I was 41, and the tick-tock of my biological clock wasn’t slowing down. The year was 2009 and I remember thinking that if I was going to be a mum, it was now or never.
The test turned out to be negative, just like the half a dozen or so other pregnancy tests I would take over the next three years. At the time, it was one devastating blow after the other. Despite having constant sex, taking my temperature upon waking and calculating when I would ovulate, every 28 days, without fail, my period would appear. After 18 months, we turned to IVF, even going so far as to visit a state-of-the art facility in Prague – twice. With every soul-destroying outcome, I’d be left sobbing at the unfairness of it all. Now, nearly 10 years on, I thank my lucky stars I never conceived.
Thomas broke things off abruptly in 2012, shortly after the second round of IVF failed. There were no warning signs. He simply decided one day that he no longer loved me. It came after a series of painful events, including the untimely deaths of two close family members and a botched surgery that hit me really hard for months. His timing was horrific. I was at my most vulnerable. I was in a desolate state and felt utterly empty. Were I pregnant, he told me, it wouldn’t make an iota of difference. Our relationship was over.
‘See it as a blessing in disguise,’ my close friends said, as I cried and cried. How right they were. At the age of 44, I moved into a beautiful flat with high ceilings and a small garden. As I’d sold all my cheap furniture before moving in with Thomas, I splurged on Danish design. My mum told me to surround myself with pretty things and that’s exactly what I did, filling the walls with artwork. With every expensive household item I bought, I felt like I was investing in myself and a future – as gut-wrenching as it was to admit – without children.
Soon, my girlfriends, all working wives and mums, were coming over regularly for wine. They’d express their envy, admitting they often fantasised about living alone, how peaceful it must be. And I’d be lying if I said I’d have it any other way now. When Thomas left, I panicked about how I was going to be able to afford living by myself and took a position teaching English at a private school – a job I’d never have considered before, having been an actor and journalist all my life. Suddenly, I was accountable for classrooms filled with children. And although I loved the kids, I found out I also loved closing the door behind them at the end of a busy day and coming home to a quiet flat.
That New Year’s Eve, I set out on my first solo trip to Fuerteventura. Thomas, a keen rock-climber, had told me that one of the reasons he ended things was because I wasn’t the rock-climbing type. I signed up for a course and discovered I was good at it, something that tickles me still. I flew home at the start of 2013 feeling euphoric.
My happiness, I realised, was my own responsibility and, over the years, I travelled to Dubai, Egypt and Morocco, pampered myself at detox retreats in Thailand and Spain, and spent a long lazy weekend in Ibiza. Spontaneity came easy, not having a toddler, and I discovered an adventurous side: this summer I am heading to Bali for two-and- a-half weeks. There, I will do whatever I want.
New friends entered my life, one in particular who encouraged me to take part in two Tough Mudders, as well as run a half-marathon, and inspired a new fashion sense – all of which sent my self-confidence soaring. I went on crazy Tinder dates, had an affair, and started a friendship-with- benefits with a man 20 years my junior. I have never felt more fit or more attractive, despite turning 50 last November – a day I marked riding bikes with three girlfriends through Barcelona.
When I learned last year that Thomas had become a father (his girlfriend is half my age) to a baby girl born 11 weeks prematurely, I was stunned and resentful. Sympathy for his daughter followed. My own desire to have a baby died the day Thomas said goodbye and, truth be told, I do not envy the daunting task he has of raising a child.
When a door closes, another opens to reveal a world of unimaginable opportunity, which is how I feel about all the goodness that has come my way since not getting pregnant. I’m currently working on my MA in cultural studies, something I’d never have done if I was a mum. Instead of dwelling on what I don’t have, I’m focusing on what I have – and it’s quite a lot.