I love to read (although the Internet has cut substantially into my reading time over the last several years...!) & I love the Beatles. (One of my earliest movie memories is of my mother taking me as a pre-schooler to see "Help!" which, coincidentally, is just being released on DVD for the first time this week. For years afterward, I had dreams about falling through trap doors into cellars with tigers, Ringo's ring stuck on my finger.)
So I couldn't resist snatching up Pattie Boyd's new book "Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Me" a few weeks back. Pattie, for those of you not familiar with her, was a top British model during the Swinging 60s who met George during the filming of "A Hard Day's Night." (She plays one of the schoolgirls who are thrilled to find the Beatles aboard their train to London.) George wrote the beautiful ballad "Something" about her. George's best friend, Eric Clapton, also fell for Pattie & wooed her with the passionate song "Layla." In the end, Pattie left George for Eric.
My love for all things Beatle (& my weakness for celebrity memoirs!) aside, Pattie's story intrigued me for another reason -- because I had heard that she left Clapton when she learned that another woman was pregnant with his child, after years of trying to have a baby herself. (Sadly, the child was the little boy, Conor, who died after tumbling out of the window of a 53rd-floor apartment in New York. Clapton wrote "Tears in Heaven" about him.)
"I had been trying to have a baby for twenty-one years, and this woman had slept with my husband once or twice and was carrying his child," she writes on page 246. "I thought my heart was about to disintegrate."
On the next page, she writes of hearing about the baby's birth while staying with friends in France -- two of whom were pregnant at the time. "Everyone seemed to be pregnant except me. I was thrilled for them of course, but I found it hard. I was forty-two and my marriage was on its last legs, so I had to face the unpalatable fact that I might never have a child." Later, on page 255, she writes, "I met friends for lunch and felt as though i was in a bubble, watching us eating and chatting: I had nothing in common with their world of husbands and children."
What infertile woman could not relate??
Pattie does not mention any of the many miscarriages she is rumoured to have had, and her struggles with infertility are only a small part of the book -- yet I found myself marking those few pages & going back to them over & over again. Infertility is so seldom written about, particularly as part of a person's broader life story, so it's nice to see someone being frank & open about such as sensitive topic and the impact that infertility has had on their life.
On page 166, she writes "Cooking was my thing. Having given up modeling full-time, and with no children, I needed to find some role for myself, some raison d'etre. Preparing wonderful meals for George and all the people who came to Friar Park became a passion." She later writes of the emptiness she felt when she realized her marriage was over & her chances of having children had run out. Eventually, she finds a new passion behind the lens as a photographer.
Finding a role or "raison d'etre" in life is something that all women struggle with, I think, and infertile women in particular. If I'm not going to be a mommy, then who am I and what am I going to do with our life?
Running into an old acquaintance near the end of the book, Pattie introduces herself, saying, "I used to be Pattie Boyd," and the friend responds, "You still are!" It is so easy to become defined by labels -- "George's wife" -- "Katie's mommy" -- "Senior Manager of Widget Production" -- and lose touch with the essence of who we are. For many women, the role of mother is all-consuming -- but once the children are grown up and have left home or carved out their independence, they find themselves struggling with questions of who they are and what they want to do with their lives now. Those of us who thought we were going to be mothers but never did just have to answer those same questions at an earlier stage in our lives.
Personally, I am still fumbling my way toward the answers -- but I've always believed -- had to believe -- that a meaningful life without children is possible -- and that my life has value, regardless of whether I can procreate.
Clapton has written his own autobiography, which I also just purchased, but haven't read yet. It will be interesting to see how his version of events stacks up against hers.