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.

 

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?

Six things not to say to your infertile friends

I’m pretty open with my friends and family about infertility. Partly because, well, I find it difficult to keep my mouth shut – but partly because I thought it was an important issue which no one talks about.

Having discussed it at length with various people, at varying degrees of inebriation, for a year now, I now know what to expect. At the beginning, though, it was hard.

If you know someone in a similar situation, here are some oft-uttered lines to avoid.

1.”It’ll happen”

Honestly? It might not. It doesn’t happen for thousands and thousands of people every year. Positive thinking is a great thing – but unrealistic thinking will only end in heartbreak. Right now your friend needs to protect themselves from that.

2. “You just need to relax”

People love this phrase. Remember when you were 25 and everyone had a boyfriend except you, and people kept saying you will find love when you least expect it? This is that all over again.

When your body is giving you mixed messages for two weeks of the month – that’s literally half your life – “relaxing” is not an option. When everywhere you turn, babies and pregnant women and advertising (for it is targeted at women of a certain age) remind you of the one thing you don’t have, turning your conception radar to the off position is impossible.

And if you really think about it, this phrase is a form of blame. For months, I honestly believed the reason I couldn’t conceive was my own inability to chill out. This is victim-blaming at its finest. Stop saying it. Please.

3. “A year? That’s no time!”

Firstly, do you know what? It feels like an age. It feels like geological eras have passed since I started trying for a baby. It feels like if I ever do birth a child, humanity will have evolved to the point where it will have gills, or the ability to move objects with its mind, in manner of X-Men.

But my other point is that a woman may not want to share with you the exact details of what’s going on with her body (I will: I bleed. All. The. Frickin. Time) – but there’s a good chance she knows there’s something wrong. If someone is upset about not being able to conceive, it doesn’t matter how long they’ve been trying. They just need support.

4. “You can just have IVF/adopt”

Last year I had a heart procedure in which they sliced into my groin, stuck tiny wires up my arteries, and a cauterised a nerve in my heart. It was horrible.

The prospect of going through months of similarly intrusive and unpleasant – not to mention expensive – tests and procedures just to do what most people do without much effort? That’s horrible.

The prospect of going through it all and it not working? It’s difficult to even fathom.

As for adoption – of course we will think about it if all else fails. But I’m a woman – the desire to carry a child is ingrained. Not being able to do so will be very, very hard to get over.

5. “Maybe you should stop trying for a while?”

So if I finally conceive, I’m even older?

Yeah. Great plan.

6. “My friend drank raspberry leaf tea/had acupuncture/went to see a specialist and conceived straight away”

Babes! I’m so happy for them! Thing is, I’m a bit emotional at the moment and, depending on what point of my cycle I’m in, there’s a chance I’ll rush off to the supermarket, buy all the raspberry leaf tea, drink 18 cups a day and then be utterly inconsolable when it doesn’t work.

Ditto getting pregnant through the very act of going to see a specialist, or doing acupuncture (also, hello? $$$), or taking Clomid, or any of the solutions that worked for everyone else’s friends except me. Advice is nice but such is the emotional rollercoaster Team Infertile is on, there’s a good risk it will make us feel worse when Big Red arrives and we’ve done exactly what your mates did and it didn’t work.

Basically, my message is this: your infertile friends don’t need advice. Particularly if the most effort you went to while trying to conceive was lying back and thinking of England. Just because you have made a baby does not make you an expert at it. It just makes you lucky.

Them, on the other hand? They’ve already spent more time than you can possibly imagine Googling pregnancy symptoms and the likelihood of luteal phase spotting meaning a negative pregnancy test and whether having an achy big toe means they might be up the duff. They could write books about this stuff. They may not be great in practice – but their knowledge of the theory is unbeatable.

Basically, all they want is a cup of tea, and someone to listen. That’s it. So go forth, and be supportive.