The socks were a warm grey. And so soft. Pink squiggles ran all around. They were decorated with dots and streamers in a celebration of green and yellow and blue. Each cloud of cuteness was barely the length of my finger.

I bought them on a whim. Stepped off a train while on a work assignment abroad, popped into a shop across the road, purportedly to buy presents for friends who were new parents, and walked out with baby socks I didn’t need.

Even when I was paying premium for that something-something-save-the-world cotton, I knew I didn’t have anyone to gift a pair of 0-3mos socks to. And I didn’t want to gift it to anyone else.    

So, for two years, the socks just sat there at the back of my cupboard. The pair unused, unopened and hidden by piles of lint-covered, well worn, holier, normal ones that had somehow survived scores of wash cycles and suitcases.

But slowly, the tiny socks grew. Remaining unseen, but increasingly intrusive.

Taunting me.

For, what socks have no feet?

When a woman says, “my ovaries exploded” at the sight of a cute kid, laugh at her joke but then believe that she may not be kidding at how strongly she’s been hit by the biological need for childbearing. (If said cute kid elicits shudders and the woman says “na-ah, no thank you,” then believe her then too.) I had scoffed at the idea until then, but at an age, my ovaries exploded and melted and twisted and left me with a longing that made me make inexplicable life choices such as buying overpriced socks nobody needs at a shop half a hemisphere from home. And weep when some celebrity four years younger announced her pregnancy on Instagram. I was happy for the celeb, really, but I would bawl. And I would be that creepy person that saves pictures of strangers’ cute babies on my phone.

I didn’t want to be that woman whose preoccupation is procreation. I didn’t want to be party to the “tyranny of the tick-list of husband, house, baby”. I have a New York Times subscription (she said huffily). An education, a job, a career, a rich life. I Know Stuff. I didn’t need children to feel complete. I’ve read enough about the virtues of choosing to be childless. Better for the environment. Better for my physical and mental wellbeing (maybe, it’s complicated). Better for my finances. Better for my career. Better philosophically. Given the state of the world with rising sea levels, rising childcare costs, rising inequalities, I know that more people my age are opting out of parenthood. The logic for not having kids is compelling, if you think about it. And I did think about it lots. That work trip I was on when I bought the socks? That could well be my last one if I got pregnant.

But I also thought about those damned socks. And I yearned and I wanted.

Biology is evil when it gets into its just-wanting-the-species-to-survive mode.   

I thought about the socks with every period, with every month of youth and fertility flushed down the toilet. It was the hope that bled: Every month came a niggling thought that this might be the month, that maybe I’d better say no to that drink, that maybe these cramps are different; and then I’d just feel stupid for such flights of fancy.     

I thought about them when our IVF doctor told us our results weren’t great. And a couple of months and too many tablets later that they still weren’t great. I subjected myself to be poked and prodded and hmmed and hawed over. I volunteered to have medical things go where I really didn’t want them to. My credit card statements came back the other month and they were all for doctors and medicines and tests. I went through a traumatising procedure only to learn my ovaries looked like an inverted teapot so gee thanks. I found myself on the gynaecologist’s table in my backless medical gown, legs spread wide in stirrups or whatever the fuck those contraptions were, general anaesthesia replacing a haze of anxiety.

But I did it all, and then some more, because of those socks. If only they weren’t so cute.

One day, I did finally pull them out to glare at them.

It was the day after my doctor had told me her medicines weren’t working. We’d started with a 35% chance and she was now down to a last resort 2%, willing to try for another couple of days in the hope that they might kick in, or as she called it, a “miracle” might happen. Not only had I become that woman desperate for children but now I was also that one counting on miracles. Just fantastic. My husband laughed kindly as I joked that the money we saved on our non-existent child’s education could be spent by me bungee jumping and dying my hair blue. (I’m risk averse, so the punchline makes sense; but never mind, he got the joke, and that’s what mattered.)

I joked and I knew the math and I knew we’d be OK whatever happened, but the heart still broke.

Stupid socks.

That day, I finally pulled the socks out of their plastic. (Still perfectly uncreased!) They were as beautiful as ever. As soft, as delicate, so full of joy. And, for all my resentment, they made me smile. It was probably the first moment I allowed myself to acknowledge just how much I really wanted a little person. And I enjoyed that feeling. It didn’t make me a lesser woman for wanting. It didn’t make me special, either. I packed the socks away for another day, and I got back onto the IVF roller-coaster.

Long story short, the socks no longer just sit there. The IVF worked. The doctor hailed the Miracle and I went along with it. There are four tiny feet at home. They shed socks everywhere. Now I’m on the market for shoes.