Monday, 27 July 2009

Just Call Me Saint Steppie

Well I've been in line for stepmotherly sainthood this week and the kid's not even here!

A few months ago, I actually had a chat with the BM that didn't involve abuse being thrown in my general direction. BM mentioned their holiday (that they are on now) and could we give SD a bit of spending money for it. Guardedly, I said with my sweetest smile, that I would ask DP but I was sure it wouldn't be a problem.

It came to the trip, and DP and I were skint. DP had manky leg which required prescriptions. Prescriptions cost buckaroos. We had none spare for SD, because we were only just able to scrape through until my payday.

Come payday, I had a moral dilemma. I had money. DP didn't. There was still an opportunity to get money to SD, because Her Supreme Chavviness wasn't joining SD, her cousin and grandparents until this weekend just gone. DP didn't ask me to part with any cash for SD, and I respected the fact that he didn't ask me to, because (repeat after me) not my DNA, not my problem, not my financial responsibility.

So little Devil Steppie sits there on my shoulder. No, this isn't your responsibility to do. She isn't your kid. She gets enough stuff as it is, not having money to spend on souvenir tat isn't a big deal. And why should we provide that money, after all BM doesn't if she comes on holiday with us. If she takes SD on holiday she's responsible for the cost, not us. Shit happens, on this occasion we couldn't afford it.

And then annoying little Angel Steppie pipes up on the other shoulder. SD would appreciate it. And they are probably telling SD right now how mean we are, not being able to give her anything for her holiday. I know DP doesn't feel great about her not having any money, and he would appreciate it too. Just because I hate BM doesn't mean I should not give SD something, right? And surely, acting with compassion and kindness would be better than shrugging my shoulders and going "tough, not my problem". Is that the kind of person you wanna be, Wicked Steppie? Really?

So I drove to the witch's lair on my lunch break and dropped off a tenner in an envelope with a brief note. Pretty damn near crapping myself when I pulled up at the house, so imagine how I felt when I couldn't get the sodding envelope through the letterbox! I heard someone inside, either BM or her partner, shouting and swearing at the dog to get out of the way and thought shit, shit, shit, she's about to open the door....but I was saved by some houseguests who turned up at BM's door and offered to hand it to her. I have never got out of anywhere so fast, drove my Citroen Saxo like Lewis Hamilton out of that street!

When I told DP, to be frank he wasn't really that impressed....though I tell myself I didn't do it for the credit, it would have been nice for DP to acknowledge a kind gesture, and - here's the key bit - SOMETHING I DIDN'T HAVE TO DO. I guess he'd give his little girl the moon and stars if he could, so he's not gonna be that impressed by a tenner is he...but hey, I got a nice Wicked Steppie glow, and no it wasn't the reflection of the fires of hell for once. I felt.....better inside. Better than I would have done had I gone with my first gut reaction. Not giving the money would have had only one outcome - a disappointed SD and provided ammo for the BM to use against us. Whereas giving the money - well, there is always a chance that it could have a good outcome, even though I know that BM will be BM.

Just goes to show that sometimes it's our own inner demons that are the hardest, and there are many times that I've allowed them to take over and prevent me acting in the manner that I would prefer. Self protection and preservation sometimes takes over, and those are necessary things, because we naturally put the barriers up when we sense a situation is threatening to us. But those barriers can sometimes make me act in a way that's more wicked than Wicked, and it felt good to smash them down for a change. Sometimes the same old tired ways we act carry on having the same old tired results, and it's time to shake things up a bit. So, am I on the way to the pearly gates yet? Hmmm, the jury's out on that one, and I'm still quite attached to my hand-painted hell-bound handcart, so I don't think I've turned on the road to steppie sainthood....just slowed down a bit to watch the scenery on the way!

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Public catharsis

As if I'm not already far too addicted to steppie networking and blogging on the internet, I discovered the Stepfamily Letter Page recently.

It's brilliant, moving, and open in that it gives a voice to anyone who is part of a blended family. You can sense the raw emotion in the letters, whether joy, sorrow, anger or confusion. And the anonymity of it means that it could be anyone from the person who served you in Tesco yesterday to the Prime Minister.

I was totally inspired, and my early morning insomnia led me to write this - my letter to the BM, which was published remarkably quickly on the site!

She is the one person in my blended family scenario that I know I will never, ever get the chance to tell my side of the story to - firstly because she would never care enough to listen, and secondly, even if by some miracle she did care, she's incapable of listening to anyone else's point of view but her own. But to get it out there was incredibly cathartic and I felt something release as I sent the email off and crossed my fingers that it would be up there for other stepmums to read who are going through similar stuff with BMs and realise they're not alone. Since I've been a member of the wonderful worldwide community of step-parents, I've realised that my situation is by no means unique, which is sad, because it means there are an awful lot of innocent kids out there suffering the effects of divorce and parents who cannot move on from their vendettas against the ex.

At the same time, the Stepfamily Letter Project served also to remind me that we are all fallible and capable of making mistakes in our stepfamilies. Handling things clumsily, or getting territorial. And the kids are an inevitable casualty in one way or another, however well your blended family gets along, which is possibly why it's so darn hard for people to embrace the positive side of stepfamilies. They blossom from an initial tragedy. I have a hard time, for example, believing my DP when he tells me that it was worth going through all those horrendous times with BM, if it meant he got me at the end of it. Was it really worth it? Surely, he would rather have been happy first time around, had a simple uncomplicated family, not had to carry the guilt of his daughter growing up between two homes, not suffered years of marital abuse. I cannot help but feel that what we have is somehow inadequate for SD, because surely, the ideal is for the parents to stay together, and that is surely what she would wish for had she a magic lamp and a genie? I would disappear in a puff of smoke, wouldn't I? And so would her mum's partner of some years, I reckon. Bless her, she's a dear considerate little thing, and she knows that her parents are happier with different people now, but the cost to her has been dear and that cannot be denied. It shows on her little face.

"You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear" they say, but an ironic truth of life, unless you are one of the fortunate few who live a charmed life with barely a scrape, is that some of the best things in life can actually rise out of the ashes of the worst things. Perhaps this could be so of stepfamilies, dare I suggest?

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Why stepkid visits are like periods

Sometimes, as I've said before on this blog, kid-free time can have it's downsides for me. The downside is that I like it far too much, and get far too used to DP and I ticking along nicely in our own way. When I think of the inevitable return to normality, I panic a bit.

I admitted today to DP that I like having a break from it. He wasn't particularly happy about that fact, because of course, if he had the choice, he'd NEVER take a break and have SD 24/7 (though I suspect once that reality hit he'd actually be craving a night off after a week). I get one on one time with DP, without a slightly jealous kid trying to hang off his arm all the time. I get to make the food I like, and don't have to cater for the tastes of a ten year old who seemingly doesn't like rather a lot of stuff that I do and has a penchant for all things fried and processed. DP and I can laze in bed in the morning and cuddle, without him having to rush out of bed so he crams in all the paltry time he can with his kid on a weekend. We get to have adult chats and not have to censor what we say in case little ears put two and two together and make five, and then rush off to tell the BM. I feel closer to DP, simply because I'm not always conscious that there is someone who has a greater claim on him during this time.

But I cannot like these things and be open and honest about liking them, because by liking these things, it means by default, I like kid-time less. And yes, that is probably what I'm saying - strike me down if you like, but I prefer having my man to myself. Yes, I'm a bitch today.

I'm not saying that kid time is all bad. It can be fun. When SD's in a good mood she can be very good company, she's not often bratty, and I do consider myself lucky that in general I've been pretty well accepted, barring the usual female territoriality issues you get with girls and their daddies. But when I get out of kid-mode, I get out of it big time, and find it hard to then get back into the rhythm of it.

The other thing I find REALLY tough is letting BM into the house. Metaphorically speaking I mean - hell would have to freeze over a thousand times before BM would cross my threshold! But through SD, BM finds out about how we live our lives, what we do together, what we say, what our opinions are. And through SD I get to find out more than I ever wanted to about this crass woman. Call me a snob, but BM's not the sort I'd have associated with in a gazillion years, and I really have no interest in her menagerie of skanky animals, what dodgy schemes she cooks up, how big the carrots on her allotment are compared to ours, or how she drives all wonky after she's smoked joints. But I can't tell SD not to talk about her mother. My own SM, I know, found this very difficult, potentially being judged by a person she didn't even really know or give a shit about. It was an area where she felt a great lack of control, which is part of why the SM gig is so tough, because there is so much stuff you have absolutely zero control over. And that's the crux of why the kid weekends are so hard - because like periods, they happen whether you want them to or not!

Sunday, 19 July 2009

The top five stupid things that people say to stepmothers

It has struck me over the time I've been with my partner that society has a very negative view of step-parents, and particularly stepmothers. In a world where 50% of marriages end in divorce, and of that 50% a high number of those are likely to have children and go on to remarry or have new partners, it seems that we're still stuck in the Ark when it comes to our perceptions of stepfamilies. They are nearly always seen as a negative thing, and people fortunate enough to NOT have gone through a painful separation or divorce nearly always seem to have something to say about it. I tell you what, those Brothers Grimm have a lot to answer for with those fairytales, because Hansel and Gretel and ol' Cinders set a nasty precedent for how life, and art, would reflect stepmothers (and stepfathers) in the future. Barring Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, not many artists have had much good to say about us, from the evil Mr Murdstone in David Copperfield to My Stepmother is an Alien.

A few months ago, I was out with some friends of DP's, and we floated the idea of getting married one day. One of his friends instantly came out with the comment "oh, poor SD". When I asked her why (as I was quite hurt that she would think my future stepchild deserved pity because I might marry her father, I tend to think of myself as mostly a pretty nice person!) and she said that it would be a permanent reminder for SD that her parents are no longer together. I'm afraid she has that reminder every day honey - I doubt that marriage is going to make a huge difference to that one! But her argument was that we should not get married and celebrate something that for SD, is essentially pretty negative, because it would look like we were rejoicing in the fact that DP is no longer with her mother (uh, why can't we rejoice at that, pray tell? ;)). Now I could probably understand if I'd been the one to break the marriage up, but I came along 3 years post separation. Oh and now we mention the cause of marriage breakup, how many of you stepmothers out there have had to contend with people's assumptions that you caused it? I've had that a few times and had to laugh out loud! "Actually, my partner's ex wife left HIM for the female nextdoor neighbour 5 years ago....." oh, the looks on their faces, muhahaha.....

So without further ado, here are the top five stupid things people say to stepmothers!

5. "The kids always have to come first".
So the stepmother has to relegate herself to a life in second place? I haven't heard anyone say that when talking about an intact family, it seems to be something that always gets trotted out when the family is divorced and someone's started dating. When you marry a man with kids, yes you accept that there are kids who will need your partner's time, attention and energy. But also when you marry, you become a family, and thus the good of the FAMILY gets put first, not just one element of that family. I always find the irony of this one is it's people who have kids who usually say it, yet those same people wouldn't dream of letting their own kids rule the roost at home.

4. "Well he has to go easy on them, look at what they have to put up with, poor kids"
This is usually the stock response to a stepmother who has issues with the kids' behaviour and their DP's lack of discipline. It's generally assumed that because their parents got divorced, the kids are sooooo traumatised that they cannot cope with the word "No". Let's get one thing straight (and I'll tell you this from the perspective of a child with divorced parents) - having your parents divorce isn't a get-out-of-jail free card. It doesn't exempt you from having to be respectful to people, or generally having to behave in an acceptable manner. Nobody is going to pretend that divorce is easy on children, and usually they are the ones who suffer most (personal experience again there) but it does NOT give the parents a green light to stop parenting and become their kids' buddy/bank account. Parents who quit parenting their kids out of guilt are doing their children a massive disservice. It's an unfortunate fact of life that shit happens, and a parent's job is to HELP their kids cope with that shit the best they can - not give them an excuse to use that shit to get out of their chores/visiting Grandma/doing their homework/and most importantly, being polite to their stepmothers!

3. "You knew he had kids"
Ahhh, that old chestnut. Now I don't exactly know what this comment is ever supposed to achieve. Generally, yes, we did know our partners had kids from the get-go. But I'm not sure that the mere fact of knowing that he had kids is supposed to make us feel better about the mountains of shit that sometimes go with that fact. A strange one, this.

2. "Well you wouldn't understand what it's like, you don't have children of your own"
This one is often aimed at the especially vilified species of stepmother, the childless stepmother. Well, half of that comment is just pointing out the damn bloody obvious - no shit, think I'd know if I'd popped an object that size out of my you-know-what, don't you? And while we might not have children of our own, we are spending a fairly large chunk of time around our partner's, and in some cases, there are childless stepmums who do the full time gig. Would they say that to someone who had adopted their kids and were having difficulty? I doubt it, but it's deemed fair game to say it to stepmothers. And it's damn hurtful to those childless stepmothers who want their own kids but for various reasons, can't have them (I'm in this bracket). OK, so there might be a tiny grain of truth in it in some ways, because we are not those kids' parents, therefore cannot fully grasp what it is like to be in the parent's shoes, but that works both ways buster - they can't understand what it's like to be a step-parent either.

1. "You knew what you were getting into"
Ooooh, my favourite. It's not unlike #3, just even more moronic. Sure, we knew during the shiny happy honeymoon phase of the relationship just exactly what was down the line for us. We had crystal balls, did we? I didn't know that these days only clairvoyants could be stepmothers. I doubt that anyone would say to a wife whose husband's elderly parents are now unwell and need a lot of care, "well you knew he had parents, you knew they might get old and sick". I doubt that anyone would say to a wife whose husband got cancer, "well you knew he smoked/drank/ate bacon/(insert vice here), you knew he might get it". But like #2, it's fair game to throw this one at stepmothers!

The above snippets of stupidity are the reason why I LOVE my stepmum support network on the UK CSM site and now, through the blogging community and sites like Stepchicks. We give each other non-judgemental support, and there are even ex-stepmothers who stick around to help others cope. Of course, we give each other the odd kick in the bum sometimes when we need it - but with thoughtful, intelligent and mindful sledgehammers!

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Would I be a lady of leisure?

I've been very frustrated at work lately and getting very fed up. I do a job that I don't particularly like (I work in IT) and find very soulless, and it's quite thankless and relentless at times. Sometimes I get really ground down and wish I didn't have to get up and go into work for more of the same crap.

This week, I got my wish. What with DP having leg troubles and having to ferry him to and from hospital and help him out at home while he wasn't very mobile, and now having been exposed to swine flu (SD's case is now confirmed) I've been home since last Friday. But today, I woke up and realised that I actually missed the structure of work, after a few days thinking "hey I could get used to this!"

I have often wondered how people like the BM can justify not working, when they are perfectly able bodied and healthy. And what on earth they do all day. I know she's a mum, and I've nothing against mums who want to stay home for the kids particularly when they're young, but she's on benefits, her living paid for by people like me who do work, and she doesn't get much money so what she can provide for SD is limited, and I also wonder about the kind of example it shows her. I was raised to take pride in what you do, whether it's toilet cleaning, clowning or being Prime Minister, and I just don't think I could, in all good conscience, not earn my own living, unless of course I was too ill to do so.

It was a surprise to me that I begun to miss work, especially after all the complaining I do about my job. However, it's also perhaps a wake up call for me that it's not working per se that's my problem, it's the kind of work I do. I do fantasise about having a job that I enjoy, and that contributes a bit more to society than fixing computers for ungrateful moaning office workers, but to date I haven't done much about doing anything to change myself from bored IT support worker to something I would have passion for. So I think that might be my next challenge, to find out how over the next 12 months I could make some steps to change my future so that I don't have to dread getting out of bed in the morning. Or heaven forbid, follow in BM's footsteps and have a kid so I don't have to....

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Swine Flu Alert

So the latest is that SD supposedly has swine flu. It's gone from a sore throat to full blown swine flu in the space of just hours.....but of course, she's still fine to go on holiday on Saturday!

I know full well there's a swine flu alert on, and that probably the doctor has said for her to stay home and given Tamiflu or whatever as a precaution, but I always get a whiff of BM-drama when these things happen. At least SD is now of an age where she chats to DP or sometimes me on MSN and tells us what's going on, in her 10 year old way, because DP would never get the courtesy of a phone call to tell him his child is sick. And of course, DP doesn't know SD is sick, so he doesn't call her to see how she is, and he gets a barrage from BM's bitchy mother about what a crap father he is because he doesn't call to see how his sick child is, that he didn't know was sick! And when he does call, usually they don't answer anyway, or switch SD's mobile off on purpose, and then tell her that Daddy never rang her.

It must be tiring, to spend your life on such elaborate machinations - oh, my child's sick, look, a points scoring exercise for me against my ex! Look what a wonderful selfless mother I am, having to care for my sick child and her father just doesn't care....what a way to waste energy! It used to annoy me, and I'd get worked up about it, but now I can stand back and laugh at her daft efforts, because it amuses me that she's actually got nothing better to do with her time. The woman needs a job, or maybe she needs to take up watching Jeremy Kyle instead of creating her own drama out of nothing!

Sadly, it seems to be a common theme amongst these malicious exes. It's heartbreaking to see how many good fathers there are who are cut out of the everyday lives of their kids. DP has, to a certain point, given up, certainly given up on hoping for any sort of cessation of hostilities anyway, and any hope of amicable co-parenting. What can reasonably be done with a woman who berates her ex for not seeing his child enough, and then tells him he cannot see his child any more than his court order permits? Do they not see the oxymoron there? Well, maybe not the oxymoron, but I definitely see a moron!

Monday, 13 July 2009

Tell me why I don't like Mondays

Are they not just the worst day of the week?

This Monday has been worse than most, with the only silver lining being that I haven't been into work today.

DP has a very infected leg, thanks to an accident with a power drill a few weeks back, and we found ourselves in the hospital for the THIRD time since Friday, since the bloody NHS seem to operate a revolving door system that says "slap a patch on it and hope it goes away". They told DP to stop taking the antibiotics that his doctor gave him, and wait until their test results came through. They kept patching the leg up and it kept leaking and swelling and, well, smelling pretty gross and being very painful so that he couldn't sleep (and neither could I), so DP had no option but to go back to A&E this morning. 7 hours later, he's actually got some treatment for it instead of them just covering it up.

The consequence of his infected, ulcerated yucky leg is that DP now cannot go on scout camp in 2 weeks time because the dressing has to be changed by the nurse twice a week and the wound has to be cleaned. DP has not yet broken this to SD, and she is going to be gutted, as she loves to go on camp with the scouts. The bad news for Wicked Steppie is that DP and SD are going to be at ours for a full week. Never thought I'd say this, but thank F**K I have a full time job.

DP now doesn't know whether to tell SD or not that he can't go on camp. He thinks if he does tell her, she might not want to come for the week, as she does tend towards going where she thinks the most fun is, and also that if BM finds out that camp isn't on, that she won't let him have her, or she will put some temptations in SD's way that will make her want to stay at hers and not spend the week with her dad. I suggested to DP that he get organised and plan a few activities to do during the week instead - some trips etc, and have said I'll see if her horse riding stables is doing any summer activities, so he's got some alternatives ready.

Sometimes it all feels like a military operation - strategies, diversions, planning and anticipating where and how the enemy will strike!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

The ebb and flow of the tide

Well, it started off as a weekend that I thought was going along quite well. Sometimes, our little unit rubs along OK, and yesterday, we had quite a nice day. We visited my Nan, who SD seems to quite like. She was fine all day - DP was jet washing Nan's patio, because it was quite slippy and DP, sweet thing that he is, worries that she might slip over. SD and I took her to get some shopping done. She was pretty helpful, trotting off to find items Nan needed, and helping to pack the shopping bags. Later, we went to the beach and off to the pier, and apart from her having a bit of a face on when DP told her no more money for the arcade machines, tout allait bien. A good day, it seemed. But then, something shifted in SD's mood last night - I think she got overtired - and she got very stroppy when DP told her it was bedtime, she stomped off and wouldn't say goodnight to us. There have been a few dramas about bedtime of late, as it seems that at The Other Home, she is allowed to pretty much go to bed when she chooses, and she doesn't like going to bed earlier than the adults at ours.

Today she had one of those days where it was all about DP and she's barely said boo to me. She had to be walking with dad, holding dad's hand or sitting with dad. And when DP took my hand once on the walk we did, she had to run round and take the other one. I'll give DP his due, when I mentioned that I felt like a spare part at times around the two of them, he said he hadn't realised how much of a twosome they could be and he has made more effort to ensure I'm more included and that he does still show me some affection when she's about - because I was starting to get annoyed with him for only turning his attention to me when it came to bedtime!

But today, even my Dad and stepsister noticed it - that they were acting like the couple and just leaving me behind. I ended up walking with my dad and stepsister, and a couple of times, when my dad tried to chat to SD, she was really quite rude - one word answer, or she'd pretend not to hear what he said, and then she'd turn back to DP. It was as if she resented the presence of other people today, and would have preferred to be alone with her Dad. I felt a bit hurt, that she was rebuffing my family, who have made a lot of effort with her in the past. At dinner she barely spoke, and was quite sullen, complained of tiredness but after dinner suddenly had lots of energy to play out in the garden with DP and my stepbrother.

It's hard for the poor kid - she doesn't see her Dad as much as she'd like, thanks to the efforts of the witch who just won't budge on letting DP ever have a minute more than the court order affords him. And she is about to go away with the witch and her family for 2 weeks, so she won't see DP for the next 2 weekends, so she will probably be thinking she'll miss him. It's just hard, when you're part of things one day and then persona non grata the next. I mean, she was OK with me - not rude or anything - but she wasn't bothering to chat to me, hold my hand, or walk with me, and while I understand her wanting to be with her Dad, it's not easy to swallow that you have to just fall into line depending on the mood of a ten year old.

I tell myself that this is just what kids do - that even in "normal" families, kids go through Mummy phases and Daddy phases or phases where they ignore their parents when a favourite uncle or grandparent is around. But I guess when you're a step-parent, because you're not related, you tend to read more into it and wonder if the kid is starting to resent you, or think you're in the way, or competition for their parent's affections. I guess kids are capricious though, and maybe they don't always realise how they're acting. I can't assume that SD has the awareness an adult does of what she's doing, but sometimes I wonder if she has more awareness of it than DP thinks.....and I caught her looking at me a couple of times, as if trying to judge whether I'd reacted to something. I decided neutrality was the best option, and just gave them the space to be together.

This stepmothering game is very much like the tide, and like a sailor on the sea, I have to adapt and adjust to stay afloat and not get swept away or beached on the sand and left behind. It can be a delicate balancing act, and sometimes, just when I think things are going a certain way, the tide turns and I have to adapt to a different dynamic. One thing I have learned is that no two days are ever going to be the same, and that analysing each and every nuance is a sure road to steppie paranoia! I am getting better at just sighing and remembering that she's a ten year old girl being pulled in two very different directions and that I'm the adult here.....

Friday, 10 July 2009

Babies are a sore point.....

One of the things that's guaranteed to upset the Wicked Steppie equilibrium is a social outing to some kind of function where there are loads of young families. Particularly if this happens on a kidless weekend, and I've been successfully pretending we are a normal adult couple with no cares in the world other than enjoying each other's company.

Last weekend, we had one of these functions. I actually wrote this post on Monday, but have been internetless all week, so am only just getting to put it on here now.

Now, Wicked Steppie didn't want kids for most of her adult life, let's get that one straight. Babies? Yucky little puking and crapping machines that scream a lot, and as for nine months of pregnancy without booze, well FORGET IT!! And as for a family home with the white picket fence prison, hell no. Wicked Steppie spent the first half of her twenties hopping around the world having relationships with pseudo-artists (and managing to marry a gay one, but that's another story) who were much happier eking out a living in squalid flats, existing on baked beans, cheap red wine "from more than one country", and spliffs.

But Wicked Steppie grew up, eventually, and met and fell in love with Single Dad. It was something of a surprise to know that there were other kinds of men in this world - men who didn't spend their twenties drunk, stoned and trying to pick up girls. Men for whom the words "marriage" and "family" didn't send them running. Single Dad was devastated when the family that he'd built his adult identity around collapsed around his ears. All he'd wanted was a wife and kids, but he married an evil lesbian gold-digger who'd had a child as a get-out-of-employment-free card. Even after the woman's first affair, my naive sweet boyfriend took her back, in the hope that they could rebuild the family he cherished so much.

As much as I may pick holes in DP's parenting, there's no denying he's a good and loving father. This should be great for me - after all, I can already see he's good Dad material, right? At least I know that if we have kids, he's not going to run screaming from nappy changes or change his mind, leave me with the kids and go get a Lamborghini and a younger woman. He's a family man. This is a good thing, right? Well, there's just one teeny tiny snag. You see for us, kids are a very big IF. 5 years ago, DP had the snip - as a result of the treatment he got from that witch, he figured there'd be no more family in his future. Well, he was right, for a few years - until along comes Wicked Steppie.

I can't describe how much it hurts, at times, even physically. If I see DP hold someone's baby, or at times when he cuddles SD and looks at her a certain way. A couple of weeks ago, I saw some baby photos of SD with her daddy, and also (ick, ick) the BM and him together with their brand new baby daughter. I couldn't stop the tears. As much as the BM is a nasty piece of work, and I can kid myself that they were never, ever happy, those photos obviously lie really well. I couldn't bear the thought that we might never have that together, and the childish "it's not fair" rose along with the lump in my throat, as I contemplated the expensive, painful and very non-guaranteed IVF treatment that we have to go through in order for us to experience parenthood together. Why, why, why, did he have to have the snip? The day he did it, unknowingly, he broke my heart. Is this punishment for all the sneering I did at Smug Families back in my younger days?

So that's why, these days, I hate functions where the floors are crawling with other people's babies. I sometimes feel there is a suspicion towards me, as a childless woman, and a stepmother to boot, and I sense reluctance at times of the mothers to allow me to hold their babies, where they'll hand them happily to each other or to the grandparents. If they do know of our situation, I think they might worry I'll turn baby-snatcher and refuse to give it back. If they don't know why I'm childless, there's an assumption I don't know what I'm doing. It seems that with the experience of birth, along comes some kind of miraculous knowledge bestowed by osmosis (of course, it couldn't be all those nights sat up reading Gina Ford)....and if you dare express any kind of opinion on child rearing, you are looked at like a cricket commentator who doesn't realise he's mistakenly wandered into a football match.

So here's where I get to admit that I WANT A BABY with DP. I want to see him look adoringly at OUR child, play football with our son, let our daughter paint his nails in glittery pink. I'd like SD to be able to be big sister. And for us to be Mummy and Daddy, not Daddy and I'm-sorry-you-are? I can see what a great dad DP is, but it frustrates me that he's Dad to a kid with someone else. I can only take a tiny bit part in SD's life. DP would like to think in his more fantastical moments that we could treat her like our child, and has sometimes expressed to me that he wishes I could think more this way, but I can't do it. Your own child doesn't talk about their mum's house, tell you how her mum grows carrots or does her hair....because you are their mum!

But....I'm not going to be a Mummy any time soon. IVF costs a small fortune, with no guarantees of success, and since our monthly mortgage and bills add up to DP's entire salary, we can't afford for one of us to be home doing the child rearing. We live on my salary, and after DP's commuting costs are paid, it doesn't leave a hell of a lot. Because of SD, we can't live in a smaller place, in fact we'd need a bigger one to accommodate a child of our own - more expense. And I do worry that SD might not take too well to being a big sister and having to share her dad even more. I don't think DP's that bothered - he's got things how he likes it, his partner, his kid. If he could wave a wand, he'd have SD with us more, whereas I'd wish for our own child! I don't think it matters to him whether we have kids or not, because whatever happens, he'll still be a Dad.

I wonder sometimes if it might be better to try and resign myself to childlessness and get comfortable with it. Would it be easier to deal with that heartache now, rather than trying and failing at IVF? If we fail, I may never be a Mum, but he will always be a Dad. He's never going to have to confront being childless.

I find myself becoming envious of those with uncomplicated situations where there are no previous kids and no bitter exes. No worries about will the kids from the first relationship be jealous or feel pushed out. No worries about whether our child will be as special an experience for DP, because it won't be his first. No worries about whether our child will be treated differently by the family. It must be nice, to be able to start your own family from scratch, both of you doing it for the first time. As long as I stay with DP, I'll never know.....