‘I Was 35 And Told I Was Too Old And Too Fat To Have A Baby. It Destroyed Me’

As part of National Fertility Awareness Week, Ruth Corden - a civil servant and younger sister of comedian and actor James Corden - says that after eight years, she’s learning to live childless.

Fertility Week Ruth Corden

by As told to Louise Burke |
Updated on

Ruth Corden, 38, a civil servant from Bucks and younger sister of comedian and actor James Corden, has been married to Matthew, 36, for 10 years. In support of National Fertility Awareness Week (Monday November 2 to Thursday November 5), Ruth talks about the mental and emotional agony living with infertility and how after eight years, she’s learning to live childless.

'So have you got any children?' The question still haunts me. I’m always asked and for years I would lie. I’d brush people off saying I didn’t want any. And then leave the party and cry hot, angry tears in the car all the way home. I’ve gone through eight years of emotional battering while trying to conceive, experiencing loss and failure over and over again. The trauma has been brutal. But enough is enough.

Living childless and infertile has been painfully difficult to accept. It was one year ago this month that my husband Matthew and I decided to stop trying for a baby and reclaim our lives again. My mental health was suffering massively - not that others would necessarily know, as it mainly happened behind closed doors. Up until this day.

When I met Matthew in August 2010, he fell in love with my energy, my humour and confidence. We moved quickly from dating to living together after two months and then married in 2012. We wanted a family straight away. I’m close to my brother James and sister Ange, and I’ve watched them both have five gorgeous kids between them. I wanted the happy family too. I wanted to be part of the mummy club. Instead I was part of the 'secret sadness club'.

'The truth is my body has failed. Like one in six couples, we struggle to get pregnant and make it to the birth. Not long after we returned from our honeymoon in January 2013, I was shocked to wake up one morning to find I’d flooded the bed with blood. I was devastated. I didn’t even know I was pregnant as it had only been a few weeks. I was so upset, but in the back of my head, I also had this false confidence that I could get pregnant quickly, and easily.

Ruth Corden
©Ruth Corden

I couldn’t have been more wrong. For the next five years, I weed on sticks and waited and watched as the blue line blighted my hopes. I look back at that time as the darkest years of my life. It was a blur of temperature checks, hormone tests, weigh ins, saliva swabs and semen samples. I’d spend some nights lying in my bed mentally torturing myself, willing my period to arrive. It was like the lesser of two evils. If my period came, then at least I wouldn’t have to face the heartbreak after waiting three minutes to stare at a negative ClearBlue.

Scrolling through my insta feed on my lunch break at work, I’d come across a friend’s post of their latest baby scan picture, or their growing bump. What would start as an unpleasant sting would then turn into a deep, stabbing sadness. I’d then imagine the invites to the gender reveal party, then the baby shower, then the birth announcement. And then a forever timeline filled with pictures of their beautiful children.

Our sex life was suffering too. Trying to have as much sex as possible while you’re still reeling from the last negative test is hideous. The impact on a couple’s marriage in general is so underestimated - a new survey from the Fertility Network UK suggests 61% of people rate infertility as more stressful than divorce. The failing, the false positives and potential loss is soul destroying.

I’ve been fortunate that Matthew has been by my side every single step of our journey. But the reality is, I’m at the centre of all of this - whether that’s within our social circle or in the consultant’s room. I think that’s so wrong. Men need to be part of the fertility conversation, have a place at the table. They would find it easier to open up and talk more if they were included.

There’s also a misconception that being childless makes you carefree. We’re not. We’re weighed down with baggage.

There’s also a misconception that being childless makes you carefree. We’re not. We’re weighed down with baggage. And at times, feel desperately lonely. Lockdown this year magnified this. I was stuck at home trying to navigate the depressing fog.

I was silently suffering from PCOS during those five years of trying. Despite many trips to my GP, who would blame my weight for not conceiving, my PCOS didn’t get diagnosed until I was 35 after I was referred for scans and hormone tests. It had been wreaking havoc with my anxiety levels, my weight and mood swings, not to mention my ovaries. The signs had been there. I’d been tracking my periods since we’d been having fertility problems, and sometimes I’d go 60 days without a period. Then when it did arrive, I’d bleed heavily for 16 days. So I wasn’t even ovulating some months. To get the diagnosis was a relief. I wasn’t actually going insane - which is how I’d been made to feel by some GPs and clinicians.

We felt like we’d won a golden ticket when we were offered an appointment with a fertility specialist on the NHS in January 2017. But my hopes were crushed, when the consultant told me bluntly that I was too old at 35 and too fat. The words felt cruel.

After that appointment, I struggled to rid the feeling of shame. My family were really supportive. But I’ll always feel so sorry I can’t give my mum and dad more grandkids.

It felt like a new beginning when we bought our own house last summer. It helped provide us with a sense of security and stability. And in October last year, we made the big decision to fully stop trying and use protection. I had to put a stake in the ground and stop the cycle of hurt.

I started seeing a therapist last month. I need to sift through the hurt of the last eight years and work out what my life looks like without kids. IVF feels like a cruel lottery and I’m not sure I’m strong enough to gamble my body, my mental health and my marriage.

For now, it’s about finding the joy elsewhere in our lives, reignite the flame as they say. Small pleasures like lie ins and spontaneous weekend away help. I’ve also thrown myself into a new podcast with my sister Ange called Finding the Funny. Humour is a big part of our family, so it’s been a brilliant distraction. I also have a very supportive fertility community on Instagram, which I absolutely adore.

I will carry the scars of the last eight years with me forever. I will continue to grieve for the baby I never met or held. But I refuse to pretend none of it ever happened to us. I admire people like Chrissy Teigen revealing the raw pain of her baby loss to her 33 million followers on social media and Paloma Faith honestly admitting it took six rounds of IVF for her to fall pregnant the second time round. The more we have this conversation in the open, the less pain and shame women will feel.”

If you’re looking for fertility expert help or to join a community of like-minded people on their fertility journey, check out @fertilitycircle on Instagram or download the Fertility Circle app for free on Apple and Android.

The Fertility Circle are offering a special price of £2.99 per month for 3 months for premium membership, if you download the app now!.

Instagram: @ruth_corden

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