The hardest part

I’ve written about this before, and I will continue to write about it, because it is one of the most difficult parts of infertility. If the world were only populated by adults and no one else had kids, this would be nowhere near as difficult. But it isn’t, and they do, so here goes:

My best friend is pregnant.

I knew S and her husband had started trying, because we discussed it when we went to Paris together six weeks ago (we drank our bodyweights in champagne, flirted with waiters and she told me off for ‘not being able to lose control’. Go figure.).

What I didn’t expect is that her uterus would be so frickin efficient. It turns out she fell pregnant two weeks later. Two weeks? I have been at this for two and a half years.

Fortunately, Paris gave us the chance to discuss it in advance. “When you tell me, please don’t apologise for having a working reproductive system,” I slurred as we sat outside a cafe in Montmartre. “I just want it straight.”

Despite the extent of our consumption, she clearly remembered the conversation. “We’re going to be best friends for years,” she said. “If you need to take a few months out, I understand.”

Yet despite her kindness and all our careful planning, the green-eyed monster has taken over. I want so much to be happy for her. Instead I feel miserable, and resigned, and jealous.

What she doesn’t know (although does probably suspect) is that in a few weeks we will try again.

Part of choosing to do a natural cycle was to remove the all-pervading headfuckery that comes with sticking to an unyielding drugs itinerary, feeling constantly bloated, and basically constantly thinking about your uterus.

But now the pressure I felt during my first cycle is creeping back, because I want to share this with her. From our clothes to the boy we first kissed to the year we got married, S and I have shared everything. To share my first pregnancy with her would almost make going through this shit worthwhile.

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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.

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…

100/100

O hey. Sorry about the radio silence. I have just returned from a week eating schnitzels and regaining all my Christmas weight in Austria.

Our week away was not, in any way, relaxing, for we were accompanied by my entire, extended family of in-laws, including a seven month-old in the throes of cutting her second and third teeth and two boys, aged four and 18 months, who – well, they are two boys, aged four and 18 months. The result was that our trip was soundtracked by a constant, low-level hum, punctuated by periods of intense shrieking.

On one day, as she attempted to quell the screams of her snot-covered toddler, a cousin, the mother of the two boys, confessed her and her husband’s enthusiasm for a third had begun to ebb.

“We decided both to write down on a piece of paper how much, out of 100, we wanted a third, and he had 60/100 and I had 70/100. The trouble is, now he [proffers toddler] is like this [indicates screaming], we’ve both gone down to about 10/100.”

That afternoon, as it all became too much, I dragged J out for a walk up a mountain. Having gazed at the view (some clouds, a motorway) for a few minutes, we headed down through a forest. I had to ask.

“We’re about to go through a difficult period. IVF is going to be horrible. After this week, out of 100, how much do you actually want kids?”

He paused.

“Right now, it’s pretty much at about 40/100. But on the other hand, I 100/100 don’t not want kids. And I think that is enough.”

One to keep in mind when we are the parents of shrieking, snot-covered toddlers.

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.