He wasn’t supposed to be the one. I went to university with plans to reinvent myself, explore new relationships and broaden my cultural horizons. As it was, by the time freshers’ fortnight was over, I had met my life partner. He was funny, wrote love limericks and had curtains that perfectly framed his delicate face. I had found a fellow nerd, but one who had come through the other side of his shy teenage years.

We had a tempestuous relationship early on, with a few breakups. After another split in my final year, we got back together at the graduation ball. He moved for graduate training and I followed, but we went our separate ways shortly after in circumstances that felt final. I decided to travel across the US, spending my savings on a flight to New York that flew out on 9/11. I came back to the UK a month later to restart my life near my parents.

Time passed, we became friends again, and then a couple, before finally moving in together, six years after we first met. A serious family health scare made marriage seem right suddenly. I was 30 and ready to settle down, but he said he wanted to wait a year before trying for children. I assumed most women are very fertile until the age of 35, so I acquiesced. I had no idea that we were about to embark on a five-year journey of unexplained infertility.

After about a year of trying, we took a holiday in the Lake District to reconnect and relax. It rained constantly and, while taking refuge in a little town, we came across a music shop. I hadn’t been in one since I was a child. I had lessons then, but shied away from taking exams. In the window was an electric piano. It piqued my curiosity. The shop’s owner insisted on giving a demonstration, despite my protestations that I was on holiday, hadn’t played in years and had no space.

The seed was sown. When we got home, I rejigged the front room and found a local piano dealer who sold me the model I had seen in the Lake District. He was an old guy, almost blind and hard of hearing. For 20 years he hadn’t played, but eventually went back to the piano and loved it so much that he opened a music shop. I took this to be a positive sign.

I taught myself the pieces I thought I had forgotten. The tiny muscles in my fingers were weak at first. Thirty minutes’ practice felt torturous, but I felt the strength return. The desire to improve the sound coming out of my headphones was addictive. Playing the piano consumed the acres of spare time you can have as a reclusive infertile couple, which I felt we had now become. When every month’s unwanted period felt like starting back at square one, the piano allowed me to feel a sense of progress.

At the same time, I repeatedly questioned why we had waited well over 10 years into our relationship to try to conceive. The only person to whom I expressed our infertility fears was my GP, as I was determined it would not define us. Keeping our own expectations in check was enough.

My social life slowly contracted: I avoided drinking with friends because it felt as if it could jeopardise our diminishing chances of getting pregnant. I worked in a coffee-fuelled environment, but resorted to excuses of caffeine-induced tooth-grinding to account for my change in drinking habits.

I retreated into what could have been a very destructive place. The choice of pieces I learned reflected my sense of isolation. One day, I found myself playing Ralph McTell’s Streets of London. The arrangement had beautiful arpeggios that lifted my mood despite the loneliness of the lyrics.

It made me realise that I could lose myself in the melodies I was playing, even if the narrative of my life was in a minor key. I am sure playing the piano positively rewired my brain. I have no natural ability and only play for my own pleasure, but I discovered that finding pleasure was the key to feeling relief.

Finally, at the age of 36, on our second round of IVF, I became pregnant with twins. Forceps and an emergency caesarean later, I found a new all-consuming passion, with two mouths to feed and entertain. My early 30s could have been bleak, but a chance rediscovery of my childhood hobby was the key change I needed.

source – https://www.theguardian.com