Rachel Cathan is a writer from Bedfordshire. In 2001, a mutual friend introduced her to a part-time pub DJ in Southend-on-Sea. A month later, they had moved in together, around seven years later they tied the knot, and a little while after that – just like so many couples before them – they made the exciting and terrifying decision to start a family. And then, like a growing number of couples today, well…not a lot happened.
Throughout the subsequent years of fertility investigations and failed treatments, Rachel kept a diary of her experiences, and it’s from these first-hand encounters in the world of infertility and IVF that her first book, 336 Hours has been adapted.
Rachel is mum to Ruben and Delphine.
Dear Speck of Dust (for that was the size of you when we met five years ago),
You might never know how we used to talk about you, even wave to you on occasion as we drove past the turnoff for the fertility clinic where you lived.
‘Hello, little one’ we would call out, and just for a moment my heart would lurch in recognition of the life that could one day be mine. But then I would check myself, realise my foolishness, and feel the searing shame of knowing that this was as close as I could get to calling myself a mum.
Six months had passed since the day you were conceived, and finally the day had arrived to thaw you out from your frozen state and bring you back to your home.
You won’t recall any of this, of course. And nor will you recall the trusty weekend staff who had given up their Sunday morning to perform your transfer; a compassionate gesture since your mother had (typically) ovulated on a day that was not conducive to normal opening hours. But I can see them gathered around us still, the embryologist holding out a miniature straw, no bigger than a sewing needle, containing our last embryo.
‘Mrs Cathan’ he told me, ‘I need you to confirm this is yours.’
I can feel the sweat trickling down my arms and prickling the skin behind my knees, as your transfer was performed to the sound of Beethoven’s Symphony No.9 in D-Minor. As we laughed uncomfortably at the dramatic choice of soundtrack, I attributed my sweat-drenched self to the uncharacteristic 32- degree heat outside. But we were in a state-of the-art, fully air-conditioned laboratory, and the truth is I was as scared as I had ever been.
I feared so badly that you were destined to be only a dream, like a beautiful town, glimpsed from behind the closing doors of a train, whose imagined possibilities would haunt me for a lifetime.
Is this what you would come to represent? The road untravelled; the opportunity missed; the one that got away?
The next two weeks passed in an agonising time-warp that seemed to last for months. Like Schrödinger’s cat, you were hidden out of sight, arguably both dead and alive. I analysed every twinge, every pulse and every pinch. Even quantum physics could not bend my mind like the days that would determine your fate.
But that was five years ago. It’s 2017, and I now know the result that those two weeks would bring.
All I can say is it’s just as well that the embryologist couldn’t tell us too much when he introduced our embryo in a straw. He couldn’t tell us that what he held between his thumb and forefinger was a time-travelling collector of dinosaur relics, a superhero fanatic, and a swashbuckling leader of a mutinous pirate crew: the infamous Caption Walrus.
He omitted to mention that, if successful, this embryo would be leaping from armchair to sofa by day, a cutlass whistling through the air above his head. And then sprawling diagonally across our bed each night, a tattered blue rabbit fiercely tucked under one arm.
I’m so grateful that there was no information sheet explaining how the contents of our straw would grow. Because how could I ever have borne the responsibility? How could I have survived the two weeks before the pregnancy test, and indeed the nine months that followed, knowing the scale of catastrophe if I didn’t get you into this world?
You had to be here; it’s so obvious to anyone now. How could our planet ever have been complete without that miniature John Travolta dimple in your chin? How could I bear to be awoken without your face a millimetre from mine, demanding I answer an urgent question about the dubious superpowers of Popeye?
It’s just as well, too, that our embryologist was at a loss to share the less enchanting traits of your character: your stubbornness, which would turn every remaining dark hair on my head a solid grey, and your night-time alertness of a bat.
They offered me no advance warning on that fateful August day that you would be a plunderer, not only of treasure, but also of sanity and sleep. I didn’t realise that the world and its many failings would soon be solely my fault, or that I would so often be walking the plank.
But just as you have no idea of your beginnings, you are probably also unaware that I am secretly enjoying these things to which you drive me each day: every eye roll, every coffee, and every sigh.
I will be forever thankful that you pulled me through those closing doors and on to the other side. And that, whatever happens from here on in, I would every minute choose the reality over the dream.
Rachel’s first book 366 Hours is available now from Amazon and all good bookshops.
Right Now I’m….
Watching: Andy’s Prehistoric Adventures on CBeebies and Catastrophe on Ch4 (not with the same viewing companions, I should add)
Reading: The Unmumsy Mum Diary and Hurrah for Gin (must-have reads for bad parenting days)
Listening to: BBC Radio 2 (I’m no longer fighting the fact that I’m old)
Pass it on:
Who would you most like to see featured on this blog? Please suggest 3 people with their Instagram or Twitter handles
Rachael Rogan: @RogansBooks
Rachael owns a fabulous independent bookshop in Bedford and made a trip to London to meet with Lucy Mann and Sophy Henn last year. She would be a great contributor to The Muse!
Rosanna Slade: @RosannaSlade
Rosanna runs her own yoga practice in Bedford – inspiring woman with a great outlook on life and now a new mum.
Delyth Johnson: @Thischangedme
Delyth is the co-creator of the app, This Changed Me – an inspirational way to use technology to create a better work/life balance and achieve personal goals.