Linda Locke became a mum at 43 after five IVF attempts over one and a half years, quitting her successful advertising job along the way. And then the hard part began – fighting to find time for her baby.
I always suspected I would have trouble conceiving, partly because I am a workaholic running at a million miles an hour, and partly due to plain intuition. In addition to that, my first husband did not have any interest in children. My final request to have a child was rejected and with that our marriage reached its end. I was 36.
I remarried at 40. Two years later, despite taking fertility drugs, there was no sign of pregnancy. The reason? Crooked fallopian tubes. It was a blow, but I was not ready to give up on my dream of having a child. From a very young age I loved children.
In family photographs, I am usually holding someone’s child. As I got older it felt like a primal need, an anticipation that there was a soul or souls out there waiting for me.
Determined and undeterred, I asked what options there were. IVF was the best possibility. The (then) head of Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology at NUH told us that we only had a 2 per cent chance of conceiving. When my husband asked me, “What do you think?” I told him, “He is going to help us make our baby.”
(See also: How to Ensure IVF Success)
Trying Hard to Conceive
Well, we didn’t succeed on the first try in late 1994. Nor did we succeed on the second try, when my uterine lining disintegrated. However we did manage to fertilise and freeze six healthy eggs out of the 12 retrieved.
On our third attempt, a gruelling round of fertility drugs to thicken and strengthen the uterine lining ended in disaster when all six eggs fell apart. We couldn’t replace them. I had not been warned that this might happen and was psychologically unprepared for it. Utterly devasted, I cried for days.
We tried again a couple of months later. Four lovely eggs went in and the lining was nice and thick, but I had no feeling, no sense of a ‘presence’.
My fifth and last egg cycle was tough as I needed higher levels of drugs to get as many eggs as possible to develop. Two days after fertilisation, we learnt that only one egg had survived.
After one and a half years of trying, this was our very last chance, and we had just one egg. I wasn’t sure about proceeding.
The senior staff sister scolded us and said that she had seen worse odds and that it was down to God’s will. I decided that if the professor said the egg was good, we would proceed. He did.
As soon as the fertilised egg was placed in me, I could sense my son’s presence. My professor asked, “What now?” I answered, “Baby boy.”
I didn’t know if he believed me. He just told me to go home and rest. While waiting for my car, I heard the name “Jack.” I rang my husband and told him the baby wanted to be called Jack. He agreed to Jackson, Jack for short.
Her IVF Baby, A little Man
The name is also an homage to my father, who died earlier that year in this same hospital where Jack was conceived. Dad’s name was John, and Jack is a derivation of John. Before my dad passed, he pointed at my stomach and said his last words to me, “We have to fix that.”
I eventually quit my stressful management and creative job in advertising to protect and enjoy my pregnancy. At the grand age of 43, I gave birth to our son.
I share my story because having a baby is so easy for some and for others – for one reason or another, almost always none of it their fault – it is hard, and sometimes impossible.
My husband was my rock through each cycle, enduring all the mood swings the drugs caused. He told me it was like my having PMS times four!
He never questioned me when I said I wanted to try again, and again, and again. His unswerving support, the nursing sisters at NUH (National University Hospital) and my utter conviction this baby was waiting for us helped me keep going.
(See also: Why Being a Mum Later in Life is Oh-so-Cool)
Balancing Baby and Work
I started reading to Jack when he was still a baby. We read interactive books that were tactile and full of surprises. Those moments we shared were sacrosanct and I held onto them even when I went back to work.
Advertising is an all or nothing type of career and trying to balance work and a personal life is very challenging. My work days lasted 10 to 12 hours and often included weekends. Long-haul travel was a monthly event, and regional trips frequent.
I was wracked with guilt at leaving my son behind, but as the major breadwinner and burdened by the knowledge I was an “aged” mother, I felt I had a shorter earning life ahead of me. I wanted to create enough wealth to see my son through university, and be able to retire. Not working was not an option.
My routine involved rushing home between 6pm and 7pm to play with my son or bathe him, and then snuggle up in bed with his favourite books for our nightly reading sessions. We never missed this unless I was overseas, or there was a work emergency.
(See also: The Joys of Being an Older Parent)
Learning to Let Go
As Jack grew older we read picture books like the Beatrix Potter series, Thomas the Tank Engine, Clifford the Big Red Dog, as well as classics like Goodnight Moon. We devoured The Giving Tree, Rainbow Fish, Elmo and the Mysterious Island and many more. Jack would share his day with me and ask questions like, “Why do people cry when they are happy?” and “Will I grow old?”
I would force myself to think of answers that would not frighten or confuse him. I promised myself that I would try and write my own books based on them, and share these experiences with other parents and their children.
After we finished reading, I would tuck Jack in bed and cuddle him until he fell asleep. This was our ritual, our special time.
Until one night.
Jack was almost 12. I was about to lie down on the bed with him when he said, “You can go now, Mama.”
I stopped in my tracks, shocked, heart sinking. Then I left his room, despondent and bereft.
We had crossed into new territory. I found myself having to build a new type of relationship with Jack. He was a young man who was becoming self-aware, who kept me at arm’s length, with only kisses on the forehead permitted. The loss of the sort of intimate relationship we had was hard to adjust to, but we had built a strong bond that sustained us as our interactions evolved at each stage of his maturity. It continues to sustain us today.
My journey to motherhood was a rocky one filled with disappointment, determination, optimism and ultimately, triumph. This difficult road has made me all the more appreciative of the limited time I have with my son. I would encourage all parents to make time for your child from the beginning and not to trade a single moment with them. There is no rewind button.
Linda, 65, is mum to Jack. Even though he has already entered university, she still occasionally loses sleep over him. Linda is the author of the Jack Is Curious picture book series, which was inspired by Jack, and the co-author of Agnes and Her Amazing Orchid, about how her great-grandaunt Agnes Joaquim created Singapore’s national flower, the Vanda Miss Joaquim. Her books are available at epigrambooks.sg and localbooks.sg
Photos: Courtesy of Linda Locke