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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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.

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…

Pass the tissues

There has been one, modest blessing from all this trying for a baby (apart from all the sex. *glances anxiously at J*): taking pre-pregnancy pills, in all their zincy goodness, for more than a year and a half has meant 18 months free from colds. Hallelujah.

Until three weeks ago, that is, when J had a light sniffle – and two weeks and six days ago, when my face liquified and the contents of my head leaked out of my nostrils. Then, two weeks ago, J gave a gentle cough, and the following day I contracted a mild case of Ebola.

So yesterday, when J touched his forehead and exclaimed “why, darling. I do believe I am beginning to feel under the weather”, I ran. I ran for my life.

It was too late. It is 6pm and I am in bed.

This saga is frustrating for many reasons: firstly, being ill is crap and I thought I had found the glorious secret to avoiding it.

Secondly, I have to present a live podcast, in front of an audience, with people who are actually professionally good at it, this week. My hair is a mess and my roots are several inches long and I have nothing to wear and I don’t really know what I’m talking about and who does this podcasting bollocks as a career anyway? It’s not even a real word. It sounds like something a Teletubby would do.

But lastly, it is crap because this is not the time I am supposed to be ill. I have reserved that time: it is 5 June and the week thereafter, and then the run-up to my IVF, and then hopefully also for three months after my IVF, when I will merrily vomit my guts up before settling into a rosy, pregnant glow.

The period before that, though, is supposed to be our chill-out time, when we go on holiday a lot and drink too much and get so thin people gasp and go “to be honest, I think she’s lost a bit too much weight” and have lots of youthful, carefree sex. Being ill is not part of the plan.

Besides, I literally cannot take time off at the moment – I feel far too guilty about the five-day doctor-designated rest period after the laparoscopy (followed, ahem, by a three-day jaunt to Ireland for a friend’s wedding).

Urgh. Pass the tissues.

Coping strategies

I have a strong memory of a trip to the supermarket with my mother and brother that took place when I was but a girl of 12.

At the time, my little brother was five. Because he was autistic, he found it hard to understand why he should be shoved into a shopping trolley once a week and carted up and down the aisles of a grocery store. He screamed the entire time. Screamed. When you’re 12 and a boy you like works at the supermarket in question, it’s not a cool look.

During this particular trip, though, my brother was quiet. We were a couple of aisles in when I figured out why: my mum was feeding him grapes out of a bag she had picked up – one of those ones they weighed at the checkout to determine how much you should pay.

“But mama,” I cried in anguish as another grape disappeared into my brother’s gob. “You are such a moral, upstanding woman. How could you so cruelly deceive the kind, gentle folk who put the food on our table?”

“Coping strategies, dear,” she replied. “We all need them.”

It’s day 23 of my cycle and, despite the blocked tubes and the laparoscopies and the IVF we are currently in the process of jumping through hoops for, the Little Voice of Hope piped up today.

“You’re not PMTing like you usually would be at this time of the month,” it whispered. “You had a dizzy spell earlier. You’re not spotting. You’re probably pregnant. Go on. Take a test…”

But like my mother before me, I am cunning. I have worked out a coping strategy, too. I let the voice whisper its sweet nothings to me. Then, when it is finished, I shout, at the top of my voice, “SHUT THE FUCK UP”. 

And then I get on with my day.

Other people’s babies

I’ve been up since 6am, stress-eating cheese left over from last night’s dinner party, for today is my godson Max’s third birthday party.

This means not only must I endure a room full of three-year-olds (and quite possibly their younger siblings) – but I have to face his other godmother, who Max’s mum awkwardly informed me last week has just had her 12 week scan. Ooof.

My babied-up friends were quick with the quips about how infertility will feel like a blessing once I’ve spent an afternoon in a room full of screaming toddlers jacked up on sugar and boshing e-numbers like they’re, uh, smarties.

But going to events like this and not being part of The Mum Club is hard. Telling self-deprecating stories about little Ottilie’s latest adventures in bed-wetting is how parents bond at these things. It’s all they talk about.

If you tell them you don’t have kids, they laugh and shake their heads and start to reminisce about late nights and being able to be spontaneous. I don’t know how to respond to that, other than suggesting that, if it’s so galling, they just need to say the word and I will whisk little Ottilie home with me, never to be seen again… No, I thought not.

With impeccable timing, this morning my best friend, who lives in Bristol, texted me to ask whether she, her other half and her 18-month-old can stay in a couple of weeks’ time.

I said no.

Turning my oldest and dearest friend down makes me feel deeply, deeply selfish. I can tell she is annoyed at me. But the prospect of a baby (especially one as cute as Ava) sleeping in our spare room, the room in which our baby should be sleeping? That is too painful to bear.

This part of infertility – the social side, if you will – is one of the toughest parts of the whole, horrible fiasco. Babies are everywhere and the older I get, the more of my friends announce their little bundles of joy. I know I have to suck it up – but being faced on a daily basis with the one thing I can’t have makes the pain worse.

In other news, I have my HSG – injecting my uterus with dye and then x-raying it to see if my fallopian tubes are, er, tubular – tomorrow. I am trying my best not to think about it – particularly as, despite it being day 10 of my cycle, I am still spotting slightly. If it’s still going tomorrow, they might not be able to do the test.

So, yeah. Trying not to think about it…