Menu Sian Prior

Writer, Broadcaster, Singer, MC & Teacher

Personal column for Mamamia [June 20]

(This column was published in Mamamia on June 18th)

Two decades ago I nearly kidnapped another woman’s child. The woman was a stranger, we were both on a jetty, and her young daughter had started chatting with me about seagulls and sharks. The girl was blonde, like me, and fascinated by the sea, just like me. At one point she leaned over the edge of the jetty and was in danger of falling. As I gently tugged her feet back to safety, her mother was looking the other way, oblivious. I would make a better mother than her, I told myself. In that moment my urge to grab the child and run was so overwhelming, I couldn’t breathe.

Then I made myself walk away – fast.

The night before the scene on the jetty I had finally decided to abandon my seven-year long quest to have a child. After three miscarriages, one broken relationship and a year of solo IVF, it was time to find out who I might be if I was not going to be a mother. But the desire to have a child doesn’t just evaporate when you finally give up. It has to be wrestled into submission.

I always wanted to have children. I loved the questions they asked about the world, and how they could turn any activity into a game. All along I assumed that, when the timing was right, I would simply get pregnant and have that long-awaited baby. It came as rude shock to discover that my body had other plans.

All through my early-to-late thirties I kept trying – and failing. Meanwhile I watched from the sidelines as other women planned their families, had the children they’d planned to have, and sometimes had unplanned children. I longed to be in their shoes, to share in the joy and amazement of having produced a new life and a lasting legacy.

When the grief of three miscarriages crashed my relationship, I decided to go it alone. But at the end of a year of IVF treatment with donor sperm, I reached my limit. I could no longer face the prospect of having my hopes dashed month after month. And so my decade of grieving began.

It was a quiet affair, a sadness that dogged me everywhere I went, but remained mostly unspoken. Underneath the sadness there was also anger – with my own body, with the medicos who’d failed to diagnose my health problems, with the man whose children I’d miscarried.

Anger is not socially acceptable in a situation like mine. Sorrow is okay but it should be a modest sorrow. A stiff upper lip is good. Counting one’s blessings, accepting the roll of the dice, highly commended. Some days I wanted to rage against the unfairness of my situation.

Instead of shouting at the world I started putting it all down on the page, as a kind of writing as therapy. And I began asking myself some hard questions: would my life have been any better if had had a child? There were no guarantees. Would I have been a perfect mother? Definitely not.

The more I wrote, the more I realised it was time to turn this situation around. To avoid spending the rest of my life feeling sorry for myself, I had to stop focussing on what childlessness had taken from me and work out what it had given me. The biggest gift of all was freedom. All of my work was then freelance, and much of it was portable. Whilst the parents around me were busy attending to their children’s needs, I was untethered.

So when I turned fifty I bought myself a little campervan and began travelling the country.  Every winter now I head north, visiting glorious beaches, bushwalking in national parks, camping beside rivers, awaking to the dawn chorus. One year I flew to Iceland and hiked up volcanic mountains to view giant glaciers. Another year I visited Italy, Wales and Indonesia, ticking them off the bucket list. Next year I will drive across the Nullarbor.

It’s not the life I would have chosen, but it is my one wild and precious life, and I’m making the most of it.