On talking

Whatever the opposite of a compulsive liar is, I am that. If we ever have more than a cursory chat, at some point during the conversation (maybe one or two glasses down), the thing occupying my mind the most will come tumbling out, like a confession.

Thus, since we started the IVF process, we have been telling people all about it. At dinner parties and barbecues, we have wondered at the marvels of science. Over glasses of wine with contacts from work, I have discussed the mechanics of egg retrieval. During hair appointments, I have explained how to self-inject. Almost everyone in my life knows about it – family and friends, obviously, but also colleagues (selected colleagues, admittedly, but far more than is strictly appropriate), friends of friends and everyone in between.

So it seemed natural that, when I got my negative test on Monday, I shared it. I posted a picture of this little cardigan, which I made when we first started trying for a baby back in 2015, and admitted our first cycle had failed.

The response bowled me over. I received dozens of messages – from family, from close friends, from those I should see more, from people I haven’t seen since school or university. People sent flowers and chocolates. People told me to stay strong and not to give up and that we were in their thoughts . Only one person recommended acupuncture – a record!

The outpouring swept me up when I should have been at my darkest, and has carried me through the rest of the week. I honestly think without it, my week would have been unbearable. It was a completely unexpected response to a post aimed more at showing others in similar situations they are not alone than anything else.

Obviously, as IVF becomes less of a novelty and more a part of our routine, the circle of people we talk to about our experiences will begin to shrink. But if I have learned one thing through this process, it is this: if you give people the opportunity to show they care about you, they will seize it with gusto.

 

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Of course it didn’t work

So, yeah, it didn’t work. Obviously it didn’t work. It was just… nothing. No bleeding, no particular symptoms, just two weeks and then a negative pregnancy test. The absence of a line. Just like all the other ones, only we had to wait six months to get to this particular negative test.

We went to Cornwall after the embryo transfer, and spent a week in a chalet looking out to sea. Partly because we both badly needed a holiday – all my leave this year has been used up for recovery after ops – and partly because I wanted to avoid the stress of my job.

We went on walks and ate pasties and tentatively began discussing, for the first time, the practicalities of having a baby: what sorts of names we like (we weren’t stupid enough to mention any actual names – just sorts of names), how we will fit a cot and a bed into our spare room, what our lives will be like. 

Then we came home and tested, and those conversations seem like foolish over-optimism. How dare we begin to hope?

God, it hurts. I spent Sunday in tears. J and I sat on the sofa Googling “UK adoption process” and “how to come to terms with never having children” and “puppies for sale London” (well, come on).

Those hopeful discussions we had on holiday were inverted: what will our lives be like if we never have a baby? What will we do instead?

I texted my mum to tell her the news, then stopped answering the phone until my sister showed up on my doorstep with a Poinsettia and a box of Lindor and a look of sorrow on her face.

What doesn’t help is my clinic’s crap response system. They gave us an email address to contact if we had a negative pregnancy test. When you are grieving, an auto-response saying “You will get a response from the nursing team within 5 working days for non urgent enquires” is not the ideal response. Something a bit more… human would have been nice.

And the counsellor is booked up until just before New Year’s Eve. So that’s great. 

I know this sense of bleakness will lift eventually, but right now it is like a punch to the gut. I’m back at work, but all day I have had moments of being stopped in my tracks. I blink and try to remind myself we will try again. But the pain is so very, very bad.

Two days to go

Well, here we go. After months and months of waiting, which included 45 days of menstrual misery as my body trolled me in between egg collection and the beginning of my pre-transfer cycle, my first frozen embryo is due to be transferred on Thursday.

We’ve got everything planned: on Friday we’ll drive to Cornwall, to a little chalet overlooking the sea, where we will spend a week roaming and playing music and drawing and very definitely not lifting anything heavy or eating nice cheese.

In the meantime, I am lurching between extreme optimism – “OMG I’m getting pregnant this week” – and extreme negativity – “there is no way my body will ever carry a child”.

These swings are interspersed by periods of intense Googling: I can’t help obsessively reading IVF stories and trying to figure out why they went wrong. She has blocked fallopian tubes and it didn’t work – but did she have endometriosis too? No one ever says what goes wrong. I need to know, dammit.

J and I keep having nightmares. Just as we did in the weeks leading up to our wedding, we have both been jolting awake drenched in sweat on a fairly regular basis. My dreams are pretty straightforward: I’m pregnant for eight months but then realise I don’t have a bump or I go into labour but nothing ever comes out or I go to the clinic for the transfer and they cheerfully tell me it’s going to be another five-week wait. J is more… innocent. He dreams about monsters and ghouls and things that go bump in the night.

Meanwhile, the kindness of those around me has been profound. Because I’ve been so determined to talk about this, everywhere I go people are sending me their love. I keep getting messages from friends and family: “we’re thinking about you”. It is overwhelmingly nice. I don’t want to let them down.

And all the while, though, the spectre of the pregnancy test looms. I’ve developed a pathological fear of peeing on sticks. I can’t imagine what it feels like to see two lines in that little window.

Above everything, I am scared of the fact that, more likely than not, I will have to go through this all – the heartbreak, the drugs, the endless, endless waiting – again. I genuinely don’t know if I have the strength.

And lo, it came to pass

At my work Christmas party, on the day it finally sank in that my final round of Clomid had failed, a colleague of mine confided in me: she had been trying for a baby for three months. Nothing was working. She’d started tracking her ovulation. 

‘Diddums,’ I thought. Then I told her my story. We both cried. We both got extremely drunk. 

Today I found out, through another colleague, that she is pregnant. It’s the first pregnancy announcement since I received my diagnosis. 

I wish, more than anything, that I could be happy for her. 

The A-word

I started off writing this as a comment on Long Term IVF’s very thoughtful post about PGD (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis – basically genetic screening of embryos) – but then decided to turn it into a post of my own, as this is something I have given a lot of thought to.

She asks:

If you knew your child might only have 18 years of life, would you decide against giving them life?

… and concludes, very fairly, that no, she wouldn’t. She would give birth to that child.

For us, we would rather take that risk, rather than never have children or never try… I don’t want to play God.

Admittedly, I haven’t put a lot of thought into life-or-death situations like that – but I have thought a lot about playing God.

Because of J’s translocation, we have a massively increased risk of either miscarriage or conceiving a child with Down’s Syndrome.

Before we decided to go down the PGD route, J and I had already decided what would happen if we conceived a child with DS. My brother and step sister have severe autism, and J’s cousin has DS, so we have both seen first hand how hard it is to bring up a child with learning disabilities.

We disagree on a lot of things – but one thing we didn’t really even need to discuss was that we would terminate a pregnancy if we found out our baby had DS.

I know, considering all the shit we have gone through, that it sounds like a crazy thing to say. But watching my brother and step sister and J’s cousin grow up into a world that doesn’t always want to make a place for them has been fraught with anguish for both our families.

As J’s mother keeps saying, his cousin has brought “so much joy into the world”.

But equally, none of them can get proper jobs, they all need round-the-clock care and getting any kind of provision for them (care, housing, a frickin job) involves a giant battle with local councils, which has become harder each time as the government cuts services. Once my parents are gone, it will be left up to my sister and me to care for my brother and step sister, which of course we will execute with a heady mixture of devotion and impatience.

Half the fight for most families is simply trying to create a purpose for them. Did you know only 17.5 per cent of learning disabled people have a job in the UK? That’s 1.3m people, many of whom are perfectly able-bodied, who desperately want to contribute to society, but can’t because most workplaces aren’t geared up to help them.

What’s heartbreaking is that my brother, my stepsister and J’s cousin all know the world they live in wasn’t made for them. They are all perfectly aware they’re not getting out of life what others do. They all know no 20-something hangs out with their parents as much as they do. They just want to go to work, hang out with their friends and fall in love, like everyone else does. But the world they exist in finds it hard let them do that.

Of course, this is a highly personal decision for everyone who makes it. Luckily for us, the PGD should mean it’s a choice we don’t have to make.

Return of the bitterness

Ever since I found out about my two blocked fallopian tubes, I have adopted a sanguine, laid-back attitude to fertility. Even J has to admit I’ve been pretty relaxed.

Want to bring your kids round? Not a problem – I’ll supply the toys. A Facebook post on how awful motherhood is? Like! (Or Sad Emoji With Single Tear, depending on how much my heart is wrenched). Pregnant lady on the Tube? Why, of course you must have my seat. I wouldn’t have it any other way…

Then we spent last weekend at my best friend’s house in Bristol. My friend, S, has Baby A, who is now more like Toddler A, for she is 18 months old, saying lots of words (including ‘Dada?’ as she pawed wonderingly at J’s beard) and is generally at a very cute stage. Plus, S has what we jokingly refer to as ‘such an eye’, which means A is always dressed in a little pink tutu or tiny Nike high-tops or dungarees with a kitten on the bum or something similarly adorbs.

We spent the weekend playing with A, making dens with her and generally playing house. On the Sunday morning S and I went for a run, leaving J reading Each Peach Pear Plum with her. My ovaries.

It was fun – but this week I have felt the bitterness beginning to return.

Instagram posts of people’s kids make me cross. Someone I went to school with posted a sad lament at the fact her daughter had stopped wanting to breastfeed and I wrote a lengthy reply along the lines of “at least you have a daughter, you ungrateful bitch” (and then immediately deleted it, of course. I’m not a monster…).

Then, earlier today, I saw a heavily pregnant woman walking towards me, and got the full range of envy/hate/bitterness, all in one rush. I haven’t had that for a while. It took me by surprise. I think it took her by surprise, too – not many people scowl furiously at pregnant ladies.

It’s now just under two months until my laparoscopy. We sent off the IVF documentation to the genetics clinic this week. I just need to breathe, and be patient. And, probably, I should get off social media for a while…