This weekend, the newspapers have been splashed with images of a heavily pregnant Serena Williams discussing the impending birth of her baby with the headline ‘I’m about to become a real woman’.
“I have so much respect for so many women [for giving birth],” the tennis star was quoted. “I am about to be a real woman now, you know? It’s going to be something incredibly impressive to go through.”
To hear someone such as Serena refer to the fact that the imminent birth of her first child will magically turn her from a regular ordinary run of the mill woman into a ‘real woman’ hurts. Not because it implies that she sees childless women as an inferior type of woman, because I’m sure this is not what she meant and I don’t want to put words into her mouth, but because it plays into all my own insecurities and how I view myself.
Earlier this year, my partner and I decided to use our last remaining embryo. Our one, genetically untested, six-day-old frozen embryo, the only embryo from our last IVF stem cycle. Honestly we were just using it as a matter of course, we didn’t have high hopes for this tiny little life, when all others had tested abnormal or hadn’t survived.
This was the one that hadn’t grown enough to be tested. The unknown one. And the results came back.... POSITIVE!
How was this possible? It must have been a mistake. How could it have been positive? How was I finally pregnant? We tried to be realistic. The only other time I had fallen pregnant from IVF our follow-up blood tests didn't rise like they should have, and I miscarried within a short time. We reminded ourselves that might happen again this time. We were cautiously optimistic. Don't tell people just in case, don't get too excited, we told ourselves.
We started booking in appointments and scans. Making plans. Bringing out the baby things. I ordered some things on the internet. I wrote lists of what I had, what we needed. Where did we put that list of baby names we had selected last time? I downloaded the pregnancy app. Six weeks gestation, our baby is the size of a lentil. Amazing.
We allowed ourselves to relax a little and talk about our future. Our future as parents. Finally after all this time our dreams had come true. Everyone was right, it did finally happen.
Then, suddenly, our hopes were over in seconds. One moment all our dreams had come true, the next the feeling of tearing followed by gushes of blood, pain, warmth, more blood, not slow leaking blood, bleeding, flowing, so much blood, clots, tissue, so much pain. All our dreams and hopes... gone. Shattered. Over. Everything covered in blood.
My body had failed us again.
Listen: Mamamia Out Loud's Monique Bowley speaks about her miscarriage. (Post continues...)
The heartache is... I can't begin to describe it. I'm lost for words, no one word describes my feelings. It's lots of feelings. Grief, sorrow, guilt, despair, anger, disappointment, emptiness, fear, disgust, confusion, ending, ended, final.
I can't imagine adding anymore numbers to our list, no more blood tests, appointment, needles, procedures, scans, money, no more drugs, no more IVF cycles and please no more miscarriages. No more. It's over.
As someone who has not and will most likely never give birth, I’m currently staring down the barrel of a ‘barren’ life contemplating the purpose of my existence on this mortal coil. After 11 rounds of IVF, two miscarriages and eight years of my life dedicated to becoming a mother to no avail it’s a lonely dark place to be. Believe me this is not something anyone should have to contemplate. I’ve always put so much emphasis in my own life on becoming a mother. It is all I have ever wanted, yet it’s so far been unattainable.
This has left me reconsidering what is important to me, what does someone do with their life when they have dedicated it to something that may never happen? After everything, what now?
The feminist in me wants to encourage every little girl to be whatever she wants to be, to reach for the stars, to achieve the very best from life, and not be held back by gender stereotypes, but in reality this is not always possible. In this modern world not everyone has the same opportunities, not every job is obtainable, and not everyone will win a grand slam, despite their absolute best efforts.
The most important thing we can instil in the girls of tomorrow is resilience and the ability to make the most of what you have, despite your situation.
‘Real women’ are everywhere, no one is any more real than the one before or the one after her. Real women are out there everyday doing their absolute best. Little girls may dream of the fairy tale happy ending, but in reality get dealt a low paying job, perhaps a few kids, an absent husband or no husband at all. But they will get on with it. Real womanhood is about owning who you are and embracing it, the ability to deal with life despite what it throws at you, because in reality life can deal you shit. ‘Real Women’ pick themselves up, brush themselves off and make the most of what’s left.
Real womanhood is about resilience and helping the woman next to you weather the storm.
Serena Williams is a real woman. She always has been and will continue to be once she has a child.
For more from Carly Ellen Lee, follow her at her blog Little Miss-conception, here.
If you or a loved one is struggling with pregnancy loss or infertility, support is available at SANDS.