Saturday, December 11, 2010

After four IVF attempts, I might never be a mother - but I'll love being a wife

By Kate Silverton

Bride-to-be: Kate Silverton prepares for her wedding on Saturday

It's 3am, I'm listening to Abba's Dancing Queen in my pyjamas, wrapped up in hat, scarf and bedsocks and pondering whether I have finally succumbed to the lunacy every bride I've known has told me comes just before their wedding.

But given that this is the third late night in a row and there is still a week to go until the big day, I think I might have peaked a little early.

I was certain I would not succumb - after all, I'm not your typical bride. It has taken me 40 years to get to this point and, frankly, I was not sure whether marriage was for me.

At the start of this year I could not have even contemplated this day. I was in a rather dejected state because my fiance Mike and I had been trying for a baby for more than two years. I'd had three failed IVF attempts and was on the fourth, pumped up on hormones and steroids and focused on having a baby. Yet with each attempt my heart sank as I realised that perhaps it wasn't meant to be.

Then some friends invited Mike and me to join them in Italy for a short break. On our final evening together one of our hosts asked us why we were still engaged and not yet married.

We had been together for a few years and were very happy; so, he asked, why had we not set a date? It was obvious, I thought - we had to focus on trying to have a baby.

But he pressed me further, and I realised I was stuck in a cycle - one that was probably not so healthy. We came home and were introduced to the Ven David Meara, Archdeacon of London and Rector of St Bride's Church on Fleet Street - the ' journalists' church'. I loved the fact David said the church welcomed all faiths. 'Muslim, Jewish, even no faith,' he said with a smile.

Mike loved the fact St Bride's has such a long association with my industry - because it is his industry too, albeit indirectly. He is a former Royal Marine and trains reporters going into conflict zones. Indeed, that is how we met, five years ago this month, when I was sent on a hostile environment course by the BBC to prepare me for the rigours of war reporting in Iraq.

Perfect couple: Kate Silverton with her fiancee Mike Herron

We both felt a strong connection with the memorial that stands next to St Bride's altar - remembering those journalists who have been taken hostage or killed in action.

Presenting my BBC Radio 5 Live programme on Sunday mornings meant we could not attend the early service, so we started going to evensong. I loved it. I could just switch off and listen to David with his sensible, thought-provoking readings as the choir, all professional singers, sang so beautifully.

We soon set a date - December 18. I had always loved this time of year, with the feeling of goodwill that seems to run through the season.

One of the biggest lessons I have learned this year is that it's too easy to underestimate the sense of happiness that comes with having strong bonds with family and friends. I also believe that life is about timing, and about achieving a sense of harmony and balance.

We have such a mechanistic way of looking at the world now - IVF included - as we try to replace and better the natural wonder of conception. I wonder if perhaps that was why I had also lost perspective about what really mattered.

In Italy, I took the view that if one door was refusing to open, then perhaps it was time to try another. That door for me was the wedding, and once we had set a date, everything happened so easily.

Mike and I worked as a team, we took advice from friends - especially two girlfriends who are wedding planners - but essentially we wanted to plan our day ourselves. I wanted it to be a family affair, with friends helping us rather than strangers, and with a sense of balance as well as budget.

I set my heart on a sample dress at a fraction of its original price. I was not the first, and won't be the last, bride to baulk at the prices of dresses, but this was the only item my mother put her foot down about and I will be wearing a dress by the same designer, but new.

My family has been rallying round us. My mother has made many round trips to London from Essex in her trusty little Renault, attending every fitting and tasting with me. My sisters have been dispensing advice and my nephews are beside themselves to be wearing morning suits and 'helping Auntie Kate' up the aisle. They've been regaling their schoolteachers at 'show and tell' (or 'show off and tell' as my sister calls it). My fifth nephew Oscar, who's 12, will be an usher 'proper', while my niece Isabella, 14, will be bridesmaid.

A very old family friend, Michele Gascoine, is providing the flowers. My cousins Steve and Alan White ( drummers with Paul Weller and Oasis respectively) are organising the music, and we are holding our reception in my local livery hall, which has links to both the Royal Marines as well as the print trade.

The planning has been a joy. I have not felt stressed - even now as I sit here at 3am I feel more excited in anticipation than fearful or worried. I have waited long enough to find the right man for me and now it has happened, everything else is falling into place.

Yes, the IVF process was extremely hard and six months ago I was in bits, realising that perhaps having a child with Mike was not going to happen. But as I cried, apologising for my body's failings, Mike couldn't have been more understanding.

'We can't help our physiology,' he pointed out. 'Look at me, I am going bald.' His humour has always helped carry us through.

News girl: Kate Silverton in the field reporting for BBC News 24

Another lesson I've learned is the importance of cracking on and enjoying what we do have rather than focusing on what we don't.

Mike is a child of the North East, from Hartlepool. He became a Royal Marine at 17, displaying the grit and determination so many of his fellow troops do.

When I met him on the hostile environment course, I took a shine to him not just because I found him so attractive physically but also because of who he was and the qualities he had. That is to say his strength of character, his intelligence and the moral values we share.

He is the kind of man who has no need to please other people for the sake of pleasing; he is self-contained, kind, funny and a natural gentleman. It is as though he does not belong to these times, refusing to be buffeted by the vagaries of the modern world or interested in its fripperies.

He is incredibly supportive of me. Indeed, I think because he is such a quietly confident man he has no difficulty being my 'plus one' at any of the many parties and dinners I attend in the course of my work. I have a public persona, he does not but he wears the trousers in our relationship - or perhaps, as I like to feel, we wear a leg each.

I have, however, watched career women and other women of my generation slowly emasculate their men. We say we want an 'action man', a man strong enough to take the lead - yet we forever try to change them.

Thank goodness Mike stood fast and gently reminded me of the balance our relationship has through our differences - not a difference in beliefs or values - but a difference in how we approach a task perhaps, or tackle various challenges.

I know that he found our struggle with IVF just as hard as I did, but unlike me he wasn't able to share it with anyone.

For this reason, my agent bought us a diary, which he divided into a page for me and a page for Mike, to document our feelings for each other. I was so moved to find what upset Mike most was my distress. He wanted to protect me from the hurt.

We always knew it might be hard to have a family because I lost an ovary to an ovarian cyst more than ten years ago. Women do manage to have children with just one, but it's harder and, as the years passed, my age began to count against me.

I believe you can achieve anything and overcome any obstacles with enough planning, hard work and determination.

Unfortunately, our journey through the IVF process was an unpleasant reminder that that is not always the case. As unbearable as that period was for me, I am glad I tried; I am left with a much clearer understanding of what my body is telling me.

The biological yearning to have a child is a natural one, yet I have tried to fight my own natural biology to fulfil that. I don't see it as being the end of the road; there are plenty of options for us to consider when it comes to having children in our lives. Mentoring children temporarily or adoption are just two options we will consider one day.

Now, I want to live in the moment, look ahead to next weekend and enjoy the happiness I feel and the excitement I have for our future - regardless of whether we ultimately have children.

We will certainly have wonderful family and friends surrounding us on the day.

There will be a strong military contingent obviously, from burly SAS chaps to generals I have met and become dear friends with through work. On my side too, I joke that it's all gay guys and girls - well, I do work in the media.

Speaking of camp, Karen Hardy, who starred in several series of BBC1's Strictly Come Dancing, offered to help us with the first dance - much to Mike's horror - although we've enjoyed learning the Viennese Waltz.

All I now have to find is a traditional London taxi to take me to the church, not simply to represent the city I love living in but also to reflect my father, who was a London cabbie, and has probably been having a few sleepless nights himself worrying about his speech.

He doesn't have to worry about paying for it though. He did that 15 years ago after paying for my sisters' weddings. He told me he had given up trying to work out when - if at all - I would get married so suggested I took the money he'd saved and did with it what I thought best. I bought a car. At the time, I thought he might have been right.

But now I am committing to the man who is my best friend and soul mate. One who loves me regardless of my idiosyncrasies - including being up at 3am for three nights in a row.

Last night I was up testing sample pots of paint, trying to work out how to decorate the house we have bought to start our married life together. Even after all our adventures, we haven't even lived together properly yet.

In a week's time we will have become husband and wife, something that happens to people up and down the country, even future kings.

To each of us our wedding day is something perhaps we have always dreamed of, or perhaps like me never even dared imagine. But I suppose I am more of a traditional bride than I thought. It has just taken me a little longer to get there.

I am looking forward to starting a new year afresh, with a husband, a new house, oh, and a new puppy. So you see, you can have it all - at least, you can when you accept and are happy with things just the way they are.


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