Children were always meant to be in the cards for me. I knew from a very young age that I would follow in my own mother’s footsteps and have a family. I expected to have at least two children by the time I was 30 (so that I was still nice and young and could run around with them without feeling elderly), and that I would be easily able to fulfill the role of “mum,” indulgently imagining all the highs, lows and in-betweens that I saw in families around me.
Nothing changed my outlook as I grew older, but through choice (rarely mine), I didn’t end up with a solid, dependable, husband-material type guy until much later in my 20s than I expected. My anticipated plan was off-track, but we both agreed that late was better than never, and got married, because we were clearly meant to be.
Five incredibly painful years later and here I sit, invisible-mom to two miscarried babies, awaiting the relief which only the arrival of the decree nisi will bring.
My husband’s illnesses and subsequent treatment-induced infertility brought so much trauma to our marriage that there turned out to be insufficient connection between us to survive. Mental illness played a factor, too, and neither of us blames the other, but we both acknowledge that there were many occasions on which we were wrong to proceed as we did. We both agree that divorce is the healthiest step all round (and more importantly are both still here to say so).
However, it means that I’m 32, newly single, and very, very unlikely to trust my heart to another man any time soon, which means the likelihood is that having a child of my own is minimal. That’s been tough to accept. Yes, I could go the route of fostering, adoption or just getting knocked up, but each of those options has been carefully scrutinized and none suit my situation and preferences. Call it a childless bed of my own making, if you will; it hurts no less than the “fate handed me lemons” version of events.
Yet there are children in my life who I feel “belong” to me, even in a part-time, borrowed capacity. My niece and nephew are glorious permanent fixtures, and to have the joy of children with those I’m trusted to take out by myself and keep for as long as I want is glorious. There’s the added bonus of being able to hand them back when the time feels right, and I still get full-body hugs, whispered secrets, silly giggles and small hands pressed into mine in trust and love.
My best-friend-and-flatmate’s children are another two whom I’ve known from birth, and they visit regularly, bedecking the air with their laughter and childish outbursts. We work as a family when they’re here, leaving love messages in foam tiles on the walls at bath time and frequently tag-teaming to make all the things happen. We operate as our own, quirky, beautiful little unit, and it’s wonderful.
I have a goddaughter who is something of a self-launched missile, but who allows me to coddle her now and again and who has grown to an age where she can tell me her thoughts and plans. I marvel at the perfection of this tiny person who has grown into her own self.
There are children scattered around the world, too, whom I have “met” through their writer-community mothers, with whom I have somehow struck up a bond from sheer proximity and with whom I share letters, emails, glitter-bomb gifts, Instagram follows, cross-continental hat-shopping trips and even video chats when they frame-bomb my friends to say hello to me.
Thanks to this beautiful, itinerant crowd of youngsters, I have memories of transcendent whiffs of newborn hair; the sweet, sleepy weight of a tiny tot snuggled asleep on my shoulder and the inevitability of drool down my back. I have school photos on my shelves and artistic creations festooning my hallway and letters and cards in beautiful child-writing, covered with giant “X”s.
I can still recall those long, languid moments of singing to sleep, snuggling close with the damp, fruity scent of kid shampoo tucked under my chin and an insistent, small hand holding my arm wrapped around a body which has molded itself as close to mine as possible. There is keen, delightful nostalgia for each time one of those gorgeous little humans reached out and grabbed my heart with both hands, claiming it for their own. In whatever sunshine-drenched, bright-eyed manner they did it, they let me know that equally, they belong a tiny bit to me.
I’m enjoying the ways our relationships change as they become ever more capable of holding their own in conversation and as they trust me with the thoughts of their hearts, allowing me to understand their developing characters. I love that they share their worlds with me and seek my input.
I look forward to cheering them on as they reach their milestones. I’m preparing to be the one they run away from home to. I’m determined to be there with them through thick and thin, as much as I’m allowed, to celebrate, commiserate, comfort and cajole as they face the triumphs and challenges of life. I want to make sure that I grow and develop alongside them into the best possible version of me, so that I can be a suitable role model and world-betterer for them. Because in the end these children, however sporadic, wherever located and in spite of the odds, are each a little, tiny bit mine and so whatever else happens (or doesn’t) in life, I already have my part-time, borrowed family.
So I will gather them close into my arms and pour out the love from my not-so-wasted-after-all mama heart and know that in the end, love wins.