Just before we started fertility treatment, my partner left me

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Alamy</span>
Photograph: Alamy

The dilemma I’m in my mid-30s and was in a relationship for 10 years with someone I love very deeply and thought I’d grow old with. We recently started to have medically assisted IUI with donor sperm (we’re lesbians) and then my partner left me two days before our first insemination. I found out she’d been having an affair with a mutual friend. She came back for a while, and we had a lot of love and intimacy, yet she then left again.

I’d been going to our clinic for three weeks, and I feel so sad and as though I can’t let go of what I thought was going to be our baby. It also doesn’t feel as if there’s any language for this as fertility treatment for lesbians is not really in society “speak”, so I’m struggling to even name what’s happened to me.

I also understand that affairs are symptomatic of wider problems and I want to own my part in the breakdown – our communication had entirely broken down as my partner now says she really didn’t want our baby.

I realise now that my partner had been slowly withdrawing over the two years of planning (we chose names, schools, places to live, saved money, talked about how and when we’d have our second child) and while, at the beginning, I tried to talk to her, she stonewalled me so much that in the end I just got angry and needed some sort of connection, even if it was a negative one – like a toddler I guess.

How the hell do I process and accept all of this, and how am I meant to move on and be OK? I can’t get beyond feeling as though I am a failure and have hugely malfunctioned, which isn’t rational, I know but I feel so floored. I’m also not sure if I ought to pursue motherhood solo. Would I be enough for my child? It feels very punishing. And so lonely.

Philippa’s answer I’m so glad you wrote in. You need listening to. It seems that your partner loved you, but her body was telling her that she didn’t want children. You loved each other, but wanted different things. You want a child so much that you didn’t want to interpret her withdrawal as a sign that she didn’t. You are right: affairs are so often about problems in a person’s primary relationship. Her affair sounds like she wanted to escape not necessarily you, but parenthood.

Of course you are devastated. You’ve lost her and you’ve lost the dream of parenting with her. It seems you were right for each other in so many ways, except that your dreams for your future were different. She found it hard to tell you, maybe she found it hard to tell herself – well, she’s told you now. She may be phobic of conflict, which would make it hard for her to bring up difficult subjects. You have a lot of insight into what happened and why, but this doesn’t stop the pain you are going through right now, which sounds as if it is exacerbated by shame.

Of course you are devastated. You’ve lost her and you’ve lost the dream of parenting with her

You know cognitively that you have nothing to be ashamed of. This isn’t a failure, it is something that happened to you, but that doesn’t stop the feelings. It’s like a bereavement. You are experiencing loss. When a person leaves us through divorce or death it can feel that we also lose the part of us we were when we were together. That gaping gap in us can feel like a raw wound. You’re thinking, this hurts so much, how can I ever recover? The shock will feel less raw over time. You will grow around it, there’s no speeding that process up, but in a year or two’s time in relationship with your friends, your work, your interests, the wound will heal.

You feel punished, you are suffering with excruciating feelings of shame, but that doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. You haven’t. It sounds like your ex-partner didn’t know until insemination was imminent that this was definitely not what she wanted, so you cannot be expected to be able to guess what she herself didn’t yet know.

If possible, take some compassionate leave from work, stay with the people who know and love you best, maybe your parents or a sibling. Allow them to look after you and maybe have people to stay for a while when you return home so you are not alone until you are ready.

And the other person that has left you is that baby you dreamed of, the baby and the person they would have developed into. How do you move on?

You are enough for your child solo. You will need the support of friends and family, but you are enough. Research shows us that the happiest families are not necessarily the two-parent ones, and children thrive with one, especially with a supportive community. It’s socio-economical factors that make a difference more than how many parents a child has.

If you have a question, send a brief email to askphilippa@observer.co.uk