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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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…

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.

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.

Of course it didn’t work

So, yeah, it didn’t work. Obviously it didn’t work. It was just… nothing. No bleeding, no particular symptoms, just two weeks and then a negative pregnancy test. The absence of a line. Just like all the other ones, only we had to wait six months to get to this particular negative test.

We went to Cornwall after the embryo transfer, and spent a week in a chalet looking out to sea. Partly because we both badly needed a holiday – all my leave this year has been used up for recovery after ops – and partly because I wanted to avoid the stress of my job.

We went on walks and ate pasties and tentatively began discussing, for the first time, the practicalities of having a baby: what sorts of names we like (we weren’t stupid enough to mention any actual names – just sorts of names), how we will fit a cot and a bed into our spare room, what our lives will be like.

Then we came home and tested, and those conversations seem like foolish over-optimism. How dare we begin to hope?

God, it hurts. I spent Sunday in tears. J and I sat on the sofa Googling “UK adoption process” and “how to come to terms with never having children” and “puppies for sale London” (well, come on).

Those hopeful discussions we had on holiday were inverted: what will our lives be like if we never have a baby? What will we do instead?

I texted my mum to tell her the news, then stopped answering the phone until my sister showed up on my doorstep with a Poinsettia and a box of Lindor and a look of sorrow on her face.

What doesn’t help is my clinic’s crap response system. They gave us an email address to contact if we had a negative pregnancy test. When you are grieving, an auto-responder saying “You will get a reply from the nursing team within 5 working days for non urgent enquires” seems unnecessarily callous. And the clinic’s counsellor is booked up until just before New Year’s Eve. So that’s great.

I know this sense of bleakness will lift eventually, but right now it is like a punch to the gut. I’m back at work, but all day I have had moments of being stopped in my tracks. I blink and try to remind myself we will try again. But the pain is so very, very bad.

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.