Infertility uniform

You know how every celebrity who has ever got knocked up has a line of maternity wear? Can someone please consider doing a line of infertility wear?

You know what I’m talking about: an outfit that doesn’t press on your abdomen when you’ve just had surgery or you’re half way through stims and you look three months pregnant, and one which hides the ugly deep vein thrombosis stockings you have to wear for three days after surgery. And, preferably, something which provides, ahem, easy access. Even in winter.

Because dammit, we deserve to look as adorable as any actual mum-to-be. Especially during treatment.

This week I have mainly been rocking dungarees (because they don’t press) and high tops (hiding the stockings), with very greasy hair (because I Must Not Shower). Fashion week, here I come…

ps! In case anyone’s interested, I start my new job at the Very Big and Important News Organisation next Monday. I didn’t get the kids’ one, which is a blessing really. Apparently they decided not to hire anyone for the role, which kind of makes me feel better…

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Sterile AF

Now I am not only infertile, I am officially sterile, as a doctor casually remarked about three minutes after I woke up from my anaesthetic.

Those who haven’t been blessed with artificial sedation as frequently as I (three times in nine months – have I mentioned that?) may not be familiar with the deep, seductive grogginess that comes with waking up from an anaesthetic.

All the cliches are true: it’s like being dragged up from a beautiful, comfortable, underwater cave. You want to stay there forever, but you suddenly find yourself in a hospital ward and it is bright and you can’t move and you can’t think and your brain is made of candyfloss and marshmallows.

Then, about three minutes later, a young, male doctor appears and goes: “Hey Emma. How are you doing? We disconnected your second tube but your uterus looked fine. Laterz!” and skips off. And you can’t answer, because your brain isn’t connected to your mouth yet.

So you are left alone, and your mind is swimming with the thought that there is now a zero per cent chance of your ever conceiving without the aid of medicine or the deposit on a small flat. And you cry, but not one notices because your partner wasn’t allowed to sit with you as you woke up.

Obviously I wasn’t going to leave it there. The awkward conversation happened about 45 minutes later, as he tried to slope out of the ward.

“Maybe next time you are telling a woman she will never conceive naturally, wait until she is able to respond?” I said.

He had the good grace to look sheepish. “Sorry,” he replied. Then he went home.

Here we go again

It’s laparoscopy/hysteroscopy day, yo. I had an alarm set for six o’clock so I could get up and eat  (as per general anaesthetic fasting instructions) but I’ve been up since four, Googling.

I should be an old hand at this by now: this will be my third general anaesthetic in a year. But I still feel that familiar sense of anxiety creeping over me, which I know will make me impossible to live with until the moment the surgeon comes to tell me everything is/isn’t ok.

It doesn’t help that all of these investigations were supposed to have been done last June. I’m supposed to be on to my second embryo transfer by now.

Luckily, while I am stressing about the possibility I will be told there is no hope for me today, J is entirely relaxed. “Go and make yourself some toast, then come back to bed,” he cooed as my alarm began chirping this morning. So much for those hopes of being served breakfast in bed. At least lack of sleep won’t be a problem today.

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.

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.

 

We have an answer

When I was 10 years old I had a tummy ache. I told my mum, a nurse, who in the grand tradition of medical parents told me to stop being such a drama queen and go to school.

Two months later, after a series of doctorly balls-ups, my appendix ruptured in spectacular style and I spent two weeks in hospital with full-blown peritonitis, vomiting through a Mos Def-style nose tube (though it should be noted I didn’t wail like a little girl when it was being put in. Well, not every time).

Fast forward two decades and it seems that ruptured appendix not only gave me a wicked cool scar (which got me off PE for like two years), but the two surgeries also caused scarring to my fallopian tubes such that they are now both blocked. This is what we discovered after my HSG last week.

Knowing this feels… kind of a relief, actually. I’m glad we know what it is. I’m glad it’s not some vague unexplained infertility, which in my head means endless rounds of unsuccessful IVF.

“Ah,” my mother-in-law nodded when I told her. “Dynorod.” Well, yes. I am going to have a laparoscopy. Which is not, as I thought, a minor procedure, but a full-blown lights, camera, general anaesthetic jobbie.

(I know this because while I was busy digesting the fact I may never have to use contraceptives again – there are some advantages to this infertility malarkey – J had Googled the entire procedure.

“Did you know they puff air into you to separate your skin from your organs?” he asked, glancing over casually).

The procedure, which requires you to take five days off work, is a kind of multi-tool procedure, which will a) make sure the blockages are not the product of the radiologist’s fevered imagination; b) attempt to clear them; c) if they can’t, seal off or remove my tubes to make sure no gross stagnant water (I’m paraphrasing) escapes from them into my uterus, which could be dangerous for any embryo that goes in there.

(I asked the doctor if that was the same as tying my tubes. She looked as though I had deeply offended her. Pretty sure it is though babes.)

After that? IVF, probably. Coupled with PGD, genetic screening of the embryos. I was so determined to do this naturally – but the longer we’ve been trying, the more upset I know I will be if we finally get pregnant, only to lose the baby because of J’s translocation.

Everyone has told me how marvellous all this is. “You can relax! You won’t have take your temperature every morning! You can have normal, non-baby-making sex!”

Yes. But if you don’t know when you’re ovulating, how do you know when to have sex?