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?

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…

 

That’s that

Well, I can officially say the Clomid didn’t work: cycle number three reached an undignified end when I burst into our bedroom yesterday morning, covered in snot and tears, brandishing a negative pregnancy test. J was less understanding than I would have hoped. He managed a croaky “I’m sorry” from under the bedclothes. To be fair it was 6am.

Wednesday was also the day we went to see the infertility specialist for the first time. It took us almost six months just to get the appointment, so I guess a part of me was hoping to come out with some kind of miracle – or at least another few rounds of Clomid. Or, you know. A newborn.

We didn’t get any of those. We also didn’t get much eye contact, or much of her looking at anything other than her screen. We told her our entire story – what felt like the 6,000th time we have gone through it with someone in the NHS – and then I started crying, and she had no idea what to do other than push a box of tissues across her desk.

(NHS tissues are tiny, by the way. Each one is designed to absorb a single tear. I used almost the whole box, then I felt bad for wasting NHS resources. Welcome to austerity Britain.)

She referred me for an HSG, a delightful little procedure whereby they inject dye into your uterus and fallopian tubes, then x-ray you to assess whether there are any blockages, and also yet another, internal, ultrasound. (I didn’t even know you could do an internal ultrasound until all this began. Imagine my surprise when they first whipped out the wand…)

When I woke up this morning I felt… bleak. Until now, there’s been a glimmer of hope that we can do this naturally, or as naturally as possible, without more involvement from doctors.

But yesterday the gynae all but told us outright IVF is likely to be the only way forward. That means more prodding, more poking – and months and months more waiting.

It’s the waiting that’s killing me. The earliest follow-up appointment, after the tests are done, is in July. For someone as impatient as I am, 18 months of trying has been a peculiar kind of torture. The suggestion it will be another seven months before we even begin to proceed with the bureaucracy surrounding IVF might just destroy me.

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

 

Some questions on Clomid

The last you heard of me (before I started moaning about my age), I was celebrating my enthusiastic new GP.

To be fair, she was great. But the pace of the NHS could be beaten comfortably in a race by most glaciers, and so I have lost patience and gone temporarily private.

I knew I wasn’t ovulating, for I have been diligently using OPKs and tracking BBT for months. Thus, I was pretty sure all I needed was a couple of rounds of Clomid and, boom, a baby would ensue. At the time, it made sense that I went private.

I’ve just started my second round and… I dunno.

The trouble is, there’s no one to ask. Mr Private Doctor is an appointment only kind of guy. I have exhausted the GP’s pretty limited knowledge of infertility (although her “aww honeyyy…” face cannot be improved upon) and it turns out literally no one in real life talks about infertility. Apart from on internet forums. Which make Donald Trump look like a beacon of accuracy.

So, here are the questions I would like to ask about Clomid, but that I have no one to ask. Answers on the back of a postcard, please.

  • When actually counts as the first day of your cycle? Because, you know, the bleeding started about six days after ovulation this time around, and progressing into more of a… gradual buildup. So I kind of guessed what my second day might be.
  • Related: does it matter if you take it on the wrong day? Am I going to die of that?
  • Related: today I felt a bit fainty. Is it because I took it on the wrong day? Am I destroying my (admittedly already not entirely functional) reproductive system?
  • Is it normal to feel like there is something sitting on your chest, all the time? Sometimes it’s about the weight of a small dog – a chihuahua, say – and sometimes it’s more of a three-year-old. Either way, breathing is not always completely easy. But that’s cool, right?
  • You know how Clomid is supposed to trick your brain into thinking it needs to release chemicals that make you ovulate? And you know how if you’re stressed you don’t ovulate? What happens if taking the Clomid coincides with your most stressful week ever? Will it still work?
  • Say, hypothetically, I got pregnant, and then I started bleeding because that’s pretty much what I do, and then I took more Clomid? What would that do? Really more as a thought exercise than anything at this stage.
  • Does my level of positivity have an impact on it working? Because right now, I cannot visualise getting pregnant. I’m trying to be super positive… but I just can’t imagine it happening.
  • Will you hold my hand please?

By the way, I have an appointment with an NHS specialist in February… but honestly, I can’t help but feel a new geological era will begin before the NHS works out what’s going on with my inner workings.

Old

My mum was 25 when she had me. To me, at 30, it seems ludicrously young. By the time she was my age she was a full-time mum with two girls, and an expat wife to boot – we spent five years living in Europe, following my dad’s job.

I think giving up her career and her freedom to raise kids while she was so young was probably harder for my mum than she has ever let on.

But her youth was always complimented by my friends’ mothers, and I was proud of her. She listened to Bjork and Radiohead at full blast and wore clothes from Karen Millen (it was quite edgy back then, you know) and big stompy boots and let me drink Smirnoff Ice. One time she even got stoned. My friends’ mums listened to The Beatles and wore clothes from Marks & Spencer and made them do their homework at the same time every day.

J’s parents were the other extreme – although his mum was 30 when she had him, his dad was 40. He remembers his friends all being better at football than him because they spent weekends playing with their dads (probably on t’moors, for he is a proud Yorkshireman) – but his dad was too old and couldn’t join in.

One of the over-arching themes of my wee-hours-of-the-morning, can’t-sleep angst sessions is that, by the time the infertility tests are done and a diagnosis is decided upon and a cure is administered and miscarriages have been had (see “translocation”) and IVF has been carried out and a child is produced, I’ll be old. I’ll be an old parent. A geriatric mother.

What’s worse is, J will be old too. He will be too ancient and creaky to play football with his sons. If that happens, it will break my heart.

Let’s face it: our combined gene pools are hardly likely to create the next David Beckham. But if they’re not going to spend their school football lessons crumpling like Bambi every time they are faced with kicking a ball, these kids are going to need all the help they can get. Geriatric parenting isn’t an option.

Eating for one and a half

Can we talk about the size of my arse please?

Can we talk about the size of my arse please?

I’m 5’11, and have been a “curvy size 10”, as an elderly Italian gent once euphemistically called my size 12 frame, since I was 15 years old.

But lately, an increasing emphasis is going on the “curvy”. Probably because, for the past nine months, my emotions have yo-yoed between “pretty sure I’m eating for two” and “depressed. Need cake”.

There’s probably a week at the beginning of the cycle (currently 45 days long) where my giant appetite isn’t a problem. But other than that? Cake.

Has anyone else had this…? I just don’t really care what I eat any more.

Moving away from confectionary for a minute, I won GP bingo last week. No one has “a doctor” at my local surgery – they just hand out appointments based on whoever’s free when you need them. I got a new lady this time. I was ready with my sob story: “I know we haven’t waited a full year but my husband has translocation and conception is just the first step and…”

She looked at me like I was mad, then proceeded to refer me for every test there is. “You had an ultrasound on your ovaries last year? Better get them checked again. Let’s try and get you in with the consultant.”

Recent experiences have suggested the NHS can be a mixed bag if you’re not actually at death’s door. But when you win, you win big. If this level of gusto persists, I’ll be pregnant by next Wednesday.

Think I might have a slice of cake to celebrate…