WE WERE at dinner with friends when I saw the bonny baby at the next table. A new-born covered in a light muslin wrap, protected from the too-cool air inside.
His mother was cuddling him in the warmth of her arms. She rocked him back and forth, swaying rhythmically in her seat.
Her beloved one had just woken without protest, but she was soothing him with the closeness of her body, the soft murmuring on her lips.
I was mesmerised. Trapped in a zone with them I could never truly share.
There were no tears from him, no raucous babble; he simply stared up at her with fixated wonder. His mother.
The yearning inside me was powerful, like I’d been sucker punched without warning. It hurt in a distant part of myself I’ve tried to bury. But it’s always there; it grows stronger with age.
It rears its ugly head sometimes when I pass a pram in the street and glimpse the soft skin of infant feet, bouncing with the movement created by the street. My stomach lurches; I look away.
Or like the day when I was walking behind a man carrying a sleeping child in his arms and I put my hand out as if to touch a silken baby cheek. They moved out of reach and I let my possessed hand fall back by my side.
Every so often I cross the road to save myself the heartache. I don’t always have a choice.
This night, I stopped the conversation at our table mid-stream: “Oh god, look at that beautiful baby. Just there. He’s so sweet! Look how tenderly she’s holding him.”
My companions politely indulged me for a moment. I wanted to go over and hold that baby to my chest with a ferocity of feeling that shocked me.
It took all of my strength to resist the urge, but I wrangled it, pushed that dreadful longing down into the dark where it belongs. There’s no cure for it anyway.
So, I don’t tell anyone that it’s there. It’s a private pain that ebbs and flows.
Instead when I’m asked by strangers for the millionth time why we “only” have one child, I say: “No, I can’t have any more children, but really we were happy to have ‘just’ one.”
Or: “IVF was so very hard that we didn’t have the strength to go through it all again.”
And: “Our daughter has challenges and needs so much extra help and support. It was meant to be this way.”
We are lucky. We live with grief. But we have no regrets.