How Fish Fingers For Tea Helped Me Find My Family

Author Jo Thomas on how a simple dinner led her to stop fertility treatment and consider adoption.

fish fingers

by Jo Thomas |
Updated on

It all began with a fish finger sandwich. It was the day I decided to walk out of the hospital fertility clinic and not go back.

Fertility treatment cycles had come and gone. We were having IUI and I was beginning to feel like a prized cow being inseminated. It all felt so intrusive and intimate…. And not in a good way.

There are things that you’re prepared for when it comes to fertility treatment and those you’re not expecting.

There was the time my husband’s work hadn’t let him have time off work to attend our hospital appointment and I had to travel with his contribution in a test tube in my cleavage to keep it warm, ready for insemination. Although we worked in the same building, at the same work place, support for men going through infertility was clearly not something they acknowledged as they did for women. It did nothing to help us as a couple going through the process. And then there was the time I was lying in stirrups waiting for the consultant, who I remember was wearing brown socks, with blue trousers - it stayed with me. He walked into the treatment room and said, ‘You don’t mind if the students join us do you?’ and in followed a room full of medical students. I remember greeting them all through the V of my hoisted knees and my dignity disappearing as they discussed my interiors as if talking about a poorly decorated house going up for auction.

I had endometriosis, I learnt, partly through overheard conversation and googling the effects. I was on a drug called clomid. And despite the potential possibility of a child at the end of it all, hoping it might be our turn to win the postcode lottery prize money that month, I was miserable as hell. Mild depression had set in and I was tearful, stressed and life had lost its joy.

In between hospital appointments, temperature charts, injections and counting days, every new announcement of someone getting pregnant taunted me, reminding me of what we couldn’t have. And the children’s section in Marks and Spencer was a complete no go area. An area where people like me felt excluded. I couldn’t bear the tiny outfits, soft toys and excited shoppers. It was like a zoned off area to me, to protect me and my already hurting heart. I carried on working, juggling career, whilst carrying around the hope of one day having a family. The more we committed to fertility treatment, the more we hoped to fill our home with children, the higher the stakes became, working out how we could raise funds for more treatment and invest in our dreams, and the lower the lows were when disappoint came round again.

One evening, on my way home from work, after another disappointing appointment at the hospital squashed into my lunch break,  adding to a rubbish day, I knew there was nothing in the house for dinner that night. I stopped in a small shop and could only find fish fingers in the freezer section. That’s what we were going to be having for dinner then. I hadn’t had a fish finger in years I realised.

I grilled the orange fingers, with thin oven fries, frozen peas and a good dollop of Heinz mayonnaise. Despite my reservations, a full grown up woman eating fish fingers for tea, the crispy coating as I bit into it and soft white flesh that followed tasted delicious. It tasted of my childhood. Tea times at home. This is what I wanted. This is why I wanted to be a Mum. I wanted to be a part of bathtimes, bed times, pyjamas warming on the radiator and fish fingers for tea with my children. It was then I knew that I was going to stop my fertility treatment, stop living my life on a rollercoaster of ‘maybe this time’. I knew then what I was going to do. It wasn’t about birth for me. It was about being a Mum. My husband and I agreed: we were going to adopt.

I went to see my doctor to let her know my decision and ask her how I went about it. I walked into her clinic and she said, ‘You look well!’

I replied, ‘I’ve decided I don’t want any more treatment.’

‘That’s why you look so well,’ she smiled and I told her of my plans to adopt.

The day I met my first daughter was a one I will never forget; walking into the foster carer’s home, holding a baby to hear her say ‘Here comes Mum,’ and placed my baby in my arms.

No, adoption isn’t a walk in the park. There’s plenty to test your patience and commitment during the process and at times it can be really hard. But, it isn’t about ‘maybe’, once approved, it’s about ‘when!’

And a year after our first daughter came home, our second arrived and I had two children to cook fish fingers for tea for. I was a Mum and although shattered I was happy. We were a family. But tiredness really did kick in and it took me a couple of months to realise it wasn’t just ‘Mum of two’ tiredness at the end of the day. Something was up! And that something was child number three. I was pregnant. I’d have given up on the idea of getting pregnant some time ago, the invasive and intrusive treatment, and focused on what I loved, being a Mum. Maybe that’s what my body needed me to focus on too.

From thinking I would never have a family, to having three children under the age of three was quite an adjustment, but one I loved! Family life has always taken place in the kitchen, around the kitchen table and the food I cook for my family. From fish fingers to fondue, Bolognaise to family roasts, celebration chilli con carnes and hot dogs, bubbling lasagnes. My children are all in their twenties now and still I love to celebrate family life with food and friends. Simple food made for sharing with the ones we love. And every now and again, I still love a fish finger sandwich, reminding me of how far we’ve come from those dark days of dreaming of family life. It’s here. It’s hectic, full on, full of highs and lows, it’s family life and I wouldn’t change a bit of it!

Jo Thomas' book, Summer At The Ice Cream cafe, is out now.

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