I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve only been in this situation once before, to my memory; stuck in a holding pen, unable to move forward. It doesn’t suit me. I get itchy. I need dates in diaries, tangible points to work towards. Deadlines. I like to plot the year out. Instead, we sit and wait. We wait for symptoms, for it to strike, for a cure; we stay at home, we don’t move. And we’re the lucky ones.
When I was thirty (and after a year of discussing it, arguing, loving) my partner and I decided to have a baby. We thought that was how it worked. You took the decision, did the deed, got the baby. Well, it was how our friends were doing it. I’d spent my adult life near obsessive about contraception (thanks to a mother who worked in a sexual health clinic), determined it wasn’t going to happen until the time was right. I expected to be up the duff the first time we ditched it. The space of the next year was earmarked for baby-having. We did not apply for new jobs or long term projects. We did not book holidays. We tried to save money. I made a Pinterest board detailing how we were going to change the office space in our flat into a nursery. I ordered the paint swatches.
Back in the past when this partner was still my boyfriend, and we were still trying to impress each other with our wit, I pointed out to him once that of all the films that had tried to predict the future, only Back To The Future 2 had got it right. Everything else thought that the world would change through transportation, I said, probably trying to gesticulate in a sophisticated way. Only Marty McFly and his kids worked it out. They realised it would be communication. All those screens. He was very impressed with me. Probably he laughed, kissed me, in the past.
Now we squint at friends in tiny boxes – actually, let’s be honest – at ourselves, at our housebound faces, while friends talk. The conversations don’t last too long because we’re all anxious, and really, what is there to say? We are all in the future now.
After two years of no baby, they began to investigate us. A cup and a private room, the offer of a magazine. Swabs. More swabs. We still didn’t make any big plans. It could still happen. After three years, keyhole surgery, blood seeping into places it shouldn’t be. It took a while – we understood, we weren’t an NHS priority – but they established, eventually, that our two bodies had reasons why they weren’t able to do this thing. Our bad luck that we’d decided to do it together.
‘So now what do we do?’ I asked the doctor, maybe the sixth or seventh doctor we’d spoken to about it over the years. I was itchy.
‘Now you wait. That’s all. You just wait, and we’ll send you a letter when you reach the top of the IVF queue. I’ll warn you, it might be a couple of years.’
As I said, I’m not good with waiting; not when the wait isn’t something I’ve arranged myself. Not when the wait doesn’t have an agreed endpoint. Not when there’s nothing I, personally, can do to change that.
Another one is Wall-E. We watched it with (spoilers!) our eldest son, the baby that took so long, in a mass screening in a public place, one month before lockdown. There were hundreds of families there; we went with five other families we knew, all ate communal food – pizza, chips – hands touching. Wall-E is set in 2805, long after human ignorance has caused the world to break down. Wall-E lives in isolation; he watches old movies, dreams of holding hands. The humans, when we meet them, are bloated beings who have forgotten how to walk, their needs serviced by a complex system of computers. Our son draws a little model of EVE, the robot who scouts for new life and finds a little seedling, and we attach it to a pot and plant seeds. One of them has just sprouted, a wee promise of something.
The baby that took so long is now almost four, and he wants to know about viruses. He wants to understand the thing that is stopping him from seeing his friends and grannies, from going to nursery and hugging the teacher he loves the best, from putting his bare hands all over the playground equipment. He watches videos on YouTube and tells us about how the virus is spiky, how it attacks the white blood cells. We smile and say to ourselves, maybe he’ll become an epidemiologist. Maybe he’ll be a scientist. In the future. In darker moments we wonder whether the world we’d planned for him to grow into will even exist. Will there be scientists in the way we understand? We can’t go on this way for too long, though. It’s not possible to get these kids through another day and another and brush their teeth if you keep trying to guess the bigger picture. And we’re the lucky ones. We haven’t lived our whole lives like that. What a lovely thing, what a luxury, to have a future that you can plan for. I want to make a promise that I’ll never take it for granted again. I hope I live up to it.
After five years, four major medical procedures, two losses and more nights curled up and howling into my partner’s armpit than I can really remember, I got pregnant and the pregnancy stuck. It took the whole length of it, nine months, maybe longer, to properly accept it was going to happen. I could jinx things if I bought clothes too early or told too many people or accidentally invoked some ancient magic around my cervix. We were broken things, scarred, couldn’t trust in time and events the way we had done. But still they happened, and we beat on. I’m sure we can again.