On the care and keeping of uteruses

What’s interesting, from a sort of detached sociological point of view, is the effect of my infertility on other women.

Mostly, it brings out kindness: in the past few weeks, two friends have confided to me that they are pregnant in the most thoughtful ways possible. Lots of “I’ve been trying to figure out the best way of telling you” and “I feel so bad” and “if you want to avoid me for the next few months I will understand”-type stuff. In short: apologising profusely for the crime of having a fully functional uterus.

There is the odd bit of unsolicited advice, which drives me mad but is essentially well meant: “Have you tried acupuncture? It worked for my friend’s sister’s cat…” is a classic.

More rarely: “Are you sure you really want this? You have to really want to be pregnant for it to work”. Those are not good people.

Last week, though, I went to meet J and some of his friends for a drink. They were already pretty far ahead of me, booze-wise: J had entered that charming stage where his words stop having spaces between them.

While he was talking to (slurring at) someone else, his friend looked at me meaningfully.

“Emma, how are you? After the IVF, I mean?”

I took a deep breath. “Well, it was really hard at first, but you know we’re getting through it and-”

“Because when I had my abortion, I just felt so much guilt. That I had to make this choice. That some people can’t make this choice but I had to… it was awful.”

It’s important to point out I am a big fan of this person. She is kind and has supported J through some hard times. She has recently experienced a family loss and is, I imagine, struggling through that. She was in a committed, loving relationship and on a stable income at the time she chose to terminate her pregnancy (ie. it wasn’t hardship that drove her to do it), but I absolutely respect her reasons for doing so. Also, at this particular moment in time, she was drunk.

Still, though. I had no idea how to react. Clearly this had been a hard decision for her: years after, she is still grappling with feelings of guilt it gave her. But it felt almost as though, as her opposite – the “not fertile enough” to her “too fertile” – she needed me to validate her decision. To say it was ok, she made the right choice.

I couldn’t, of course. Even I, the noble (hah!) sufferer, cannot make that guilt go away. I could sympathise, but I couldn’t empathise: I’ve never even seen two lines on a pregnancy test – I can’t even begin to imagine what it feels like to wish one of them wasn’t there.

What it did remind me, though, is that this uterus-owning business is a complicated one. Whether you choose to use it for its intended purpose, or decide not to, or like me you don’t have a choice – or even, as Lena Dunham has done, you choose to get rid of it altogether – what’s certain is that you will experience a profound amount of guilt.

Good luck out there, ladies.

ps. OMG Lena! It’s a post for another day – but I cried my way through the whole thing. What a brave, beautiful piece of writing. Thanks, Lena, for putting into just the right words thoughts I can scarcely bear to form in my head. Read it here if you haven’t yet – and have a box of tissues ready.

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Career advice, please

Just before Christmas, after the failure of our first round of IVF, and after I had quelled some of the ensuing grief with the eminently well thought-through decision to get a cat, I threw a tantrum about the fact I had put my career on hold for the two and half years we have been trying for a baby, and decided it was time to get a new job.

I interviewed for two positions. One was at a Very Serious News Organisation which has things like a pension and half price gym membership and medical insurance and a wellness programme. The other, a bit of a curveball given my career so far, was referred to me by an old boss who for some reason thought I’d be good for the role: editor-in-chief of a well known kids’ media brand.

I signed the contract for the Very Serious News Organisation a few weeks ago, and handed in my notice, and I’m due to start at the end of next month. I lay awake for a few nights, worrying about the implications for my next cycle – but given the hysteroscopy I was supposed to be having today has just been pushed back by another month (thanks, NHS!), I have resolved to stop worrying about things moving along too quickly…

Then, last week, after more than a month of radio silence, the kids’ brand got in touch: can I come in and do a presentation? What would I do with the brand in my first 60 days? How would I make kids return to its website? How would I run the team?

I’ve been quite fragile in recent weeks (cf. “operation pushed back by a month”), so I almost turned it down. But ever since I was a kid, my dream job has been to run Smash Hits magazine (or similar, given its sad demise in 2006). In the end, I decided I owed it to my 11 year old self to at least have a go.

So here I am, still resolutely childless, trying to get into the minds of eight year olds to understand how they use the internet, and feeling kind of weird about it.

In the unlikely event I actually get it, would immersing myself in a world of kids be the right choice? Would interacting with them on a day to day basis cushion the blows of infertility, or would it serve to emphasise the fact I can’t have my own? At nearly 32 years old, I am a sucker for kids’ cartoons and books. Infertile or not, I would genuinely  rather spend an afternoon watching Nickelodeon than Sky News. But does that extend to spending time with actual kids? I’m not sure.

On the other hand, if I did ever have a baby, the job in question would make me the coolest mum in the playground. I’m a little worried that on some subconscious level it’s the hope – one day this will make me a cool mum, thus I will surely definitely have a baby in the next few years – that is causing me to want this job.

Maybe it’s time to be realistic and stick with the sensible one. On the plus side, that would mean I wouldn’t have to do this presentation.

 

Eight to 12 weeks

It’s been a bad week: over Christmas the consultant realised that, whuuut, no one has had a proper look inside my uterus yet. After one failed embryo transfer, it seemed strange there was still an investigation to do, but she was insistent we take a peek.

“The waiting time is eight to 12 weeks,” said the consultant breezily.

“Don’t worry!” she added after she saw my horrified face. “You’re so young! It’s only a couple of months!’

Then, during a pre-operative assessment today, I discovered the waiting time for a hysteroscopy from right now is – you guessed it – eight to 12 weeks.

“But what if I misery eat and gain my entire bodyweight again in the meantime?” I yelped. “What if my uterus shrivels up while I’m waiting?”

“Don’t worry!” trilled the nurse. “You’re so young! It’s only a couple of months!”

Dear lord. Can we please stop using the word ‘only’ when it comes to interminable waits? Do medical professionals not realise that when you are infertile, your life is measured out in eight to 12-week tranches? I have spent the past two and a half years wishing away entire seasons.

Last night, in a fit of whimsy, I calculated I am now close to the exact halfway point between when we I started trying for a baby, aged 29, and the point at which my fertility falls off a cliff, aged 35. I have spent the majority of that time waiting patiently for eight to 12 week periods to pass.

Still, I guess once that fertility deadline does hit, medics will finally stop saying “but you’re so young!”. Everything has a bright side.

For a fun joke, today I enquired about the cost of a hysteroscopy and laparoscopy if I were to do it privately (the consultant thought she saw some cysts on my remaining fallopian tube, and thinks it needs to be closed off. Goodbye, final, weak hope of ever getting pregnant naturally).

£6,500. Jesus god. See you in eight to 12 weeks, then.

We got a cat

After I got married, my mother gave me a piece of advice.

“Don’t get a cat,” she said. “When it’s time to have babies, just start trying. Don’t give in and get a cat. You’ll only regret it when the baby comes along and the cat keeps attacking the baby.”

Reader, I ignored her. Earlier this month, when most of London was frolicking in the snow, J and I made the (surprisingly treacherous) car journey to Battersea Dogs’ Home and adopted Nora Catty, a 10 year-old, grumpy rescue cat.

I’ve never been a cat person – I was raised around dogs, and all the unconditional adoration they bring. But in a peculiar way, it feels like having an old, bad-tempered cat might be a lot more like having a baby than looking after a dog. She spends most of the day asleep under the bed, only coming out when she feels like it. She gets into spontaneous bad moods. She is sassy, and fickle, and wakes us up in the middle of the night. I’m a little bit scared of picking her up.

But, since we’ve had her, she has absorbed my grief like a sponge. That empty hole in my heart has – temporarily, partially – been filled.

Progesterone comedown?

Last night I dreamt I was at a hotel with all the generations of women in my family, from my great grandmother downwards, and they all wanted to know when the next generation was coming. They kept asking and asking, and my great grandma was angry with me.

Also, J had suddenly inexplicably become really fat, for some reason.

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-responder saying “You will get a reply from the nursing team within 5 working days for non urgent enquires” is ideal. 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, 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.