TERRY PRONE: Pressure of bringing a child into the world can sunder the strongest of bonds

Despite exploring every avenue when it comes to conceiving, some couples are fated to remain childless, straining their relationship.

Here’s the story, with the names changed to protect the innocent, because everybody involved in it is innocent. That’s the sad part. Or one of the sad parts.

They met in university. They looked like a couple. Sounded like a couple. Settled into being a pretty damn perfect couple for nearly a year and then broke up. Civilly. No, don’t laugh. 

They still managed to stay in the same circle, still managed to have fun within that group. A few of their peers, whose own breakups had been uncivil, disorderly, chaotic, and characterised by electronically-thrown mire and physically thrown crockery, held them up to each other as the perfect model of how to do a mutual parting.

Not all of them, though. Some of their pals at the time looked knowing and opined that the real reason behind them doing the separation so ostensibly well was that it wasn’t going to last. 

These knowing friends didn’t quite tap the side of their nose with a stiff forefinger and invite those listening to mark their words, but they nonetheless, by their every inflection and expectant pause indicated that these two were made for each other and would get back together, sooner or later. It followed as day follows night.

It was deeply satisfactory to these friends when the re-join-up happened. They expressed their satisfaction in the quietly nodding way that acknowledges what is right and proper and foretold by the gods. 

It was meant to be and it was. Just as the golden couple’s understated, nicely organised wedding was meant to be and it was.

Nobody figured on them announcing a honeymoon baby, so nobody was disappointed when they didn’t. It was clear that this was a couple with a lot of individual career-building to do, and parenthood could wait.

The career-building happened, oddly in the same multinational, albeit in different divisions. He did well. She did well. Are we talking stellar? We’re talking stellar. 

Promotions, bonuses, and progress. Even during the recession years. Not that the two of them made much of it. They weren’t that sort. 

She kept and wore the designer clothes long enough not to look like a clothes horse, he gave up golf because, he happily told anybody prepared to listen, he was so spectacularly lousy at it.

They flew off to Croatia to celebrate their tenth anniversary, coming back just in time to stand as godparents for the latest sprog produced by two of their friends. 

Best godparents in the world, their pals would say. Best uncle and aunt, even if the status was bestowed on them out of affection, rather than being derived from blood relatedness.

Their guy friends didn’t talk much about their childlessness. The girlfriends occasionally mentioned it among themselves, the bitchier ones covered in baby spit subtly indicating that maybe she didn’t have the selflessness to do what her peers were doing: Raising families. 

Nobody said it directly to them, of course. The unspoken limits to what you can say to a friend are unmistakeable and uncrossable.

In fact, it was two years before the tenth anniversary that they decided it was time to start making babies. No more contraception. Time to go for it. Which they did, right willingly and optimistically. 

Nor were they bothered when nothing immediately happened. She had half-heard someone saying that being on the pill for a long time can suppress your fertility for a while, so what the hey?

After a year, they got bothered. After a year and a half, they got bothered enough to begin to ask experts. After two years, they were way past the “relax, it’ll happen” stage. 

They went to an open seminar about fertility — just for the interest, like — and made copious notes. The good news was that they were so fit, such non-smokers, such moderate drinkers, so slim, so well-nourished, that all should be well. But that was also the bad news. 

If they were the poster boy and girl for babymaking, why wasn’t it happening for them?

That’s when they began the secret fertility treatments. Secret because her period arriving like clockwork was difficult enough to bear on their own without a crowd of sympathisers. And that was the reality. 

Each of them went through diagnostic processes. Each of them waited to be found individually guilty. Neither of them was. It was just one of those things that required a series of actions that messed up their daily lives, hers more than his. 

It was she who had to get to the bathroom at a particular time to inject herself with some hormone or other. It was she who experienced the ups and downs consequent upon the injections. 

He would ask her about the miserable symptoms until she said: “D’you know what, it doesn’t help. I know you care, but let’s keep on keeping on and not talk about it.”

The elaboration of their attempts escalated, not that anybody knew. They simply seemed to be the cleverest in the world when it came to making the most of weekend breaks, not to mention one of them getting a cheap flight to accompany the other when the other was on a “business trip”. 

They became masters of obfuscation, creating a parallel universe for the fertility issue, while performing as superstars in business and — of course — as godparents, aunts, and uncles.

He once nearly got honest with an old friend who asked him where he’d been the previous week.

“The X clinic in Switzerland,” he truthfully answered without thinking. 

“What the…?” the friend asked. 

“Oh, Jesus, I thought it was that suicide place and one of you had that thing Joe DiMaggio had, you know? The disease?”

Wrong sportsman, the traveller pointed out. That was Lou Gehrig. The misunderstanding gave him time to back out of the near-revelation on a series of meaningless assertions. 

Listen, I’m grand. (I’m not) Not important, in the scheme of things. (So important, it brings the scheme of things to its knees). Maybe when we have more time. (Never as long as we both shall live)

It was costly, the whole thing, but they could afford it without a second mortgage, so they paid out to get whatever held promise. 

For seven years, they filled in charts, kept records of temperatures, underwent this examination and that procedure. They saw petri dishes in their sleep.

It was he who stopped it. Unilaterally, as she bitterly pointed out. It was not a relay race, he bitterly pointed out. She took that as a swipe at her athletic past. He told her to get a grip. But even that terminal fight was oddly without energy. 

Neither had any left. Like their first break-up, this, too, was civilised. Neither tried to take exclusive custody of any friends.

Now and again, as the months of separation and then divorce happened, she wondered if there were any other good couples out there, sundered and destroyed by their quest to have a baby. 

She suspects there are many. But it’s not something you talk about. Nobody does.


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