The pandemic put our baby dreams on hold

For would-be mothers for whom the biological clock is ticking, this past year of lockdowns is time they can’t afford to lose. Here four women bravely reveal how: The pandemic put our baby dreams on hold

  • In a normal month, the UK fertility sector carries out 6,000 IVF cycles
  • Pandemic has made dating near impossible and fertility clinics have been closed
  • Writers share how a year of covid-19 restrictions have impacted their fertility 
  • Katie Glass, 39, who lives in Cornwall, reveals lockdown ended her relationship
  • Singleton Charlotte Smith, 38, who lives in London, decided to freeze her eggs 

Twelve months since the first coronavirus cases were confirmed in the UK, many of us feel as though we have lost nearly a year of our lives to lockdowns and restrictions.

Understandably, there has been much concern over the students missing out on the formative experiences of university life; the parents attempting to meet the impossible challenges of juggling homeschooling and careers; the pain of ageing grandparents unable to see their beloved grandchildren for months.

Much less talked about are the single women who feel their biological clocks ticking. For them, with dating near impossible and fertility clinics closed during the worst of the pandemic, a lost year could mean the difference between conceiving a longed-for baby or not.

In a normal month, the UK fertility sector carries out 6,000 IVF cycles — at the height of the pandemic this spring, almost all private clinics closed while NHS staff were redeployed to Covid wards.

Four UK-based writers share their experiences of a lost year of fertility, including Katie Glass, 39, (pictured) who had her IVF attempt and wedding cancelled 

All of us are finding our lives temporarily altered by forces outside our control but, for these women, the pandemic may have a far more profound affect.

Here four writers share their experience of a lost year of fertility…


KATIE GLASS, 39, lives in Cornwall. She says:

It was my fiance who really wanted to have children, so perhaps this should be his ‘lost year of fertility’ because, when I left him at the start of lockdown, his chance to have children was also suspended.

Still, I am 39 years old (six years older than my now ex), and biology being what it is, the question of how, when and whether I can have children is a more urgent problem.

When I was with him, I was totally invested in the idea of us raising a family together. Practically, it made sense. We had the means to bring up a child and my fiance, who came from a big, extended family, seemed like he would be a wonderful dad.

I was more hesitant. But I was in love with my partner and romantically caught up in the idea that out of our love we could grow a new person that was a combination of us, to pour our love into.

We got engaged and, for two years, tried to have children (which is not exactly a hardship for a newly engaged couple). But when it didn’t happen naturally, I sought the help of, first an NHS doctor, then a private one to avoid waiting lists. I was 38 then, and conscious my age meant I shouldn’t wait.

A Harley Street doctor prescribed me fertility medication, which I had just started taking before lockdown began.

Once the pandemic hit, my follow-up appointments were cancelled. But, more significantly, a few months into lockdown, my fiance and I ended our relationship.

The break-up was shocking for both of us. We never fell out of love but, instead, the stress, miseries and worries of lockdown left us too anxious and angry to go on.

When I walked away from our relationship, I knew I was also walking away from the chance to have a child, which made the decision more heart-breaking.

Katie said she tortures herself thinking about the day she will see her ex-fiance and his children by someone else (file image)

After I left him, one friend suggested that I carry on taking my fertility medication. ‘You never know,’ she winked. But even if I planned to go out and get knocked up by some random man (I didn’t), lockdown made it impossible to date, let alone have sex.

At times it hurts, thinking that this year I have given up my last chance of having my own biological baby. I torture myself thinking of the day I will see my ex-fiance and his children by someone else.

Still, there are other ways to become a mother. I have had serious conversations with a very close gay friend about how we might embark on IVF together.

More interesting, to me, is the possibility of adopting. I had a difficult childhood and I like the idea that my background might enable me to give understanding, love and encouragement to a young person who has had a difficult start themselves.

Enquiries to adoption charities have boomed over lockdown and, though those services are curtailed right now, they’re not shut completely. You can start the process but, because no one can meet in person, you can’t complete it.

When some friends consider the prospect of childlessness, they find it agonising. As for me, I vacillate between wondering about the special bond motherhood brings and thinking there are other ways I can better give back to the world.


CHARLOTTE SMITH*, 38, lives in London. She says:

It’s the three little words no woman hopes to hear after a first date: ‘I’ve got symptoms.’

Reading the WhatsApp message, I could almost have laughed. The challenge of trying to find a life partner — no easy task at the best of times — has taken on a level of difficulty that has crossed into the absurd.

Charlotte Smith, 38, who lives in London, said she cried about being unable to meet anyone, when restrictions were put in place last March (file image) 

After a positive Covid test, my date later let me know he’d recovered, but my chances of starting a family any time soon aren’t looking so healthy.

Last March, as it was becoming clear just what kind of restrictions would be placed on our lives and, crucially, how long they might have to stay in place, I admit that what it meant for me personally was foremost in my mind.

‘I’m not going to be able to meet anyone,’ I cried down the phone to my mother. Shallow as that might sound, I was brutally aware of what was at stake.

Every woman at the tail end of her 30s who wants children is more than familiar with what I think of as the maths of doom: ‘If I met someone now, we’d have to be together for so many months as a minimum before we might start to try…’

With most of my contemporaries settled with families, pre-virus I was already using dating apps to meet men, like most of my (few) still-single friends.

But what the pandemic has done is almost completely removed the chance to meet someone organically. Gone is all the social churn — nights out, weddings, parties — that might throw you into the path of someone new, a friend of a friend, or even a stranger.

That has left single women such as me with dating apps alone — and now, of course, a blanket ban on meeting anyone new in the flesh.

So, as another birthday passed in the summer, I decided to freeze my eggs. After I started to investigate the procedure seriously, it all happened remarkably quickly: an online open evening at the clinic a friend recommended; a Zoom consultation with a doctor; some in-person scans and blood tests.

A fortnight of injecting myself with fertility drugs was made more lonely by doing so during a pandemic — I had to isolate ahead of the operation to collect my eggs, so as to be extra careful not to catch Covid (a positive result for my pre-op test would have seen the procedure cancelled); and I have spent around £6,000.

Charlotte said she isn’t ready to have a baby by a sperm donor and worry about meeting a partner later (file image)

But I was lucky to get a good result in terms of the number of eggs collected, though I know there are no guarantees as to conceiving if or when I use them.

Immediately afterwards, I felt calmer about my situation; hopeful, even. And then the case numbers started to rise again, and it became clearer that we were nowhere near the end of lockdowns and restrictions.

My sister (married and a mother) has suggested I go it alone now —have a baby by using a sperm donor and worry about meeting a partner later. But ,while I’ve friends who have done that prior to the pandemic, that’s not a step I am ready to take yet.

I know that I am not alone: thousands of women feel caught in the same trap (and have reached the same decision as me — fertility clinics reported that inquiries jumped by 50 per cent at some centres).

Meanwhile, I am cheered by two women I know who have, against the odds, fallen in love this year. Both are already talking of starting a family — and one’s begun trying. There’s a seize the day feeling in the air — why waste time when who knows what the future could bring?

But for now, I wait — and cross my fingers that we get out of this soon.


LAURA BARTON, 43, lives in Kent. She says:

Last spring was a strange time. After years of miscarriages, I’d broken up with my long-term partner of four years the previous summer. Now I decided to pursue solo IVF using a sperm donor.

This alone seemed a monumental decision, but my local NHS trust would not treat single women. (Each health authority has it’s own rules — some won’t treat women above a certain age, which can be 40 or 42; and some won’t treat single women at all.)

In the end, I chose to go to a fertility clinic abroad.

Laura Barton, 43, (pictured)  who lives in Kent, was devastated when her fertility treatment in Crete was unsuccessful last spring 

So, on March 14, I flew out of London just as the world went into Covid freefall and, for the first six weeks of the pandemic, I found myself marooned in Crete.

There, I followed the news with horror, while anxiously awaiting the arrival of donor sperm from a cryobank in Denmark, and wondered how on earth I would get home.

The treatment was unsuccessful. I was devastated. When I returned in late April, it was with the intention of starting another round of IVF.

It is rare for any woman to undertake IVF just once; with each round of fertility treatment you learn more about your body, the treatment itself, and the fertility industry in general. But back in the UK, fertility clinics were shuttered along with shops and pubs and restaurants.

When they did reopen, there was a backlog of patients, and strict controls to avoid the spread of the virus meant that many clinics had been forced to reduce the number of women they could treat at one time. My options seemed few and, for a week or two, I floundered.

A friend put me in touch with a consultant in London who was kind and honest in a way that struck me as deeply refreshing in the realm of fertility.

He talked to me about treatment options, but also showed a dedication to investigating the reason for my recurrent miscarriages. I joined his waiting list, began selecting a new sperm donor from another cryobank, and counted the days.

It is an unassailable fact that time dwindles our egg reserves — at birth we have some two million eggs; by the age of 37, 25,000, by our early 40s, that reserve has further diminished, as has the quality of our eggs.

But it’s important to note that each woman is different. I was profoundly lucky to have heartening fertility test results.

And, while I know better than anyone the possibility of miscarriage, the chances of me conceiving remain high. Still, in November, as I shuffled up the waiting list, I turned 43.

The months since March have felt like an increasingly desperate holding-pattern. I do not see anyone, do not have a bubble, for fear that catching Covid might jeopardise my treatment. I have taken more prenatal vitamins each day than seen friends this year.

Meanwhile, underlying everything is a deep, unresting grief — for the babies I have lost, for the failed IVF, for the inescapable sense of a world in mourning.

It is hard not to feel that fertility treatment is an indulgence at such a time. As lockdown has returned, the clinics are closing once again; doctors, nurses, anaesthetists, embryologists are being re-directed urgently to Covid wards; life-saving cancer surgery is being delayed; thousands are dying.

For those of us awaiting IVF, hope now seems a fine and fragile thing. But still a hope remains.


LUCY HOLDEN, 30, lives in Bath. She says:

In APRIL, two weeks into our first lockdown, I left my future, as I’d seen it, in London.

My ex-boyfriend and I, despite only being together since the previous summer, had decided we wanted to get married, have kids and had chosen their names.

Margot, we hoped, would come first, then maybe Olive, then perhaps a boy. We’d bring them up by the sea, we agreed.

When I left him it was therefore a complete picture of our dreamt-of future that I had to wrench myself away from, too. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I had no choice.

Lucy Holden, 30, (pictured) who lives in Bath, said it was hard not to feel that she was being left behind, when two friends and a cousin announced lockdown pregnancies last year

The person I’d wanted to have children with was now someone I didn’t want to be anywhere near: jealousy had turned love to hate near Christmas and a spiral of despair stayed for months.

The sense of loss that hung over me in the silence that followed my move back to my parents’ house in Bath was absolute.

Loneliness swelled in pandemic isolation. Looking for love was on-and-off illegal, but I was too heartbroken to start.

By the end of the summer, two friends and a cousin had announced lockdown pregnancies and, while I felt only excitement for them, it was hard not to feel — as we all do when our contemporaries progress to the next milestone of life — that I was being left behind.

I will soon be 31, so my fertility is not yet a huge concern, but I mourned what might have been and what has seemed increasingly impossible.

By the time lockdown eased last summer, I’d started to see dating as an answer to the void I felt in my life. But soon dating only exacerbated the depression that meeting someone great on an app was less than likely.

None of the people I met had half the charm, intelligence or wit of my ex-boyfriend. While they probably had none of the negative qualities, either, I didn’t want to settle any more.

Maybe it was the mood of the pandemic, but I saw dates with strangers as so vacuous compared to time on Zoom with my real friends and family. Plus meeting anyone in person raised the risks for my parents, both aged around 70. It was better for all of us if I just didn’t try.

Lucy said before the end of last year, she came to like being alone and realised the wrong relationships only take away from you, rather than add (file image)

To start with, bleak doesn’t cover how I felt about the freedom to try to meet someone being taken away from me.

One night I dreamt I was stamping on two dozen egg boxes. ‘You know what that means, don’t you?’ my therapist asked.

‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘Fertility. And that I think I’ll never meet someone in time to have kids, and live at home for ever, and have to have children alone, if I ever do.’

Yet my attitude changed, with time. Before the end of the year, I found I’d come to like being alone, seeing that being single wasn’t ‘less’ and realising again that the wrong relationships only take away from you, rather than add.

The rose-tinted glasses I’d glued to my face as my relationship worsened had smashed. I felt strong for leaving. I knew I’d rather have Margot alone than with him.

I have a fourth friend expecting around March and she’s different in that she’s in her early 40s. She just hadn’t met the right man — then finally she did, at 40, amid the increasing frustration that more time was passing and that she might never meet anyone.

Suddenly, it all seemed worth waiting for, and she made me wonder whether many of us imagine we’ll have children with a man we meet in our youth, but end up having them later with another partner who’s actually a wiser choice.

* Name has been changed

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