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.


Standing in the way of control

Well it’s all go at the moment: not only am I six weeks into a new, extremely difficult job, but we’re also well into the process of buying a house. Oh, and we’ve been given the go-ahead to begin IVF round two, too.

Back in December, when the first round failed, the grief was compounded by a sense of being out of control. I decided it was important to get on top of parts of my life that I could control: primarily work, which was making me miserable, but also our living situation. Fast forward five months, and all the changes are beginning to come to fruition – but the enthusiasm I felt then now seems kind of… cavalier.

After a meeting with the consultant last week, I have decided to try a natural cycle for the next frozen embryo transfer. That means no ducking under my desk four times a day to sniff buserelin, no icky progesterone pessary-related situations (sorry) – and most importantly, no lengthy recovery period as my body tries to get back on track after the hormones. It could work out really, really well – or the uncertainty and stress around when the embryo transfer will be and not being able to explain sudden absences to my new bosses could work out really, really badly.

In the meantime, I am giving myself another month to settle into my job, and kind of enjoying being the one who has control of when the next round starts. And I am also getting back into the swing of using ovulation tests each morning.

Today’s test run seemed fine, until I got a text from J: “I just found an ovu stick in my pocket. It must have stuck to my phone this morning. Gross.”


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.

Here we go again

It’s laparoscopy/hysteroscopy day, yo. I had an alarm set for six o’clock so I could get up and eat  (as per general anaesthetic fasting instructions) but I’ve been up since four, Googling.

I should be an old hand at this by now: this will be my third general anaesthetic in a year. But I still feel that familiar sense of anxiety creeping over me, which I know will make me impossible to live with until the moment the surgeon comes to tell me everything is/isn’t ok.

It doesn’t help that all of these investigations were supposed to have been done last June. I’m supposed to be on to my second embryo transfer by now.

Luckily, while I am stressing about the possibility I will be told there is no hope for me today, J is entirely relaxed. “Go and make yourself some toast, then come back to bed,” he cooed as my alarm began chirping this morning. So much for those hopes of being served breakfast in bed. At least lack of sleep won’t be a problem today.

I heart the NHS

Let me start by saying this: I love the NHS. I am deeply, deeply grateful for its existence. It has saved my life not once, but twice. It has given me the potential to one day give birth (having originally completely destroyed it – but we’ll gloss over that). It is an extraordinary institution, and I feel lucky to live in a country where it exists.

But! But…

Yesterday I went to my local hospital for an appointment entirely unrelated to infertility.

I arrived 35 minutes early, as is my wont, but couldn’t let anyone know, because all the stupid electronic check-in kiosks were turned off. There were no receptionists at the reception desks. Because I know how the NHS works, I sat down to wait.

Another woman, about my age but clearly less knowledgeable about the ways of the NHS, was lingering near the kiosks, clutching a coffee and looking around anxiously. She wandered, haltingly, towards the reception desks, paused, and wandered back to the kiosks. She lingered for another minute, shifting from foot to foot, then wandered back to the reception desks.

After about five minutes of this, she spotted a man with an authoritative-looking lanyard, and strode over.

“Do you know how to check in?” she asked, gesticulating at the kiosks. “They’re all switched off.”

The man gazed in the direction of the empty reception desks and said: “You need to tell the receptionists.” She looked at him wonderingly. He shrugged. She sat down, muttering violently.

After I had checked in, three minutes before my appointment, I took a seat.

Another three-quarters of an hour passed before I was seen. Which is fine, because the NHS works at its own pace, and waiting is a small price to pay to benefit from its services.

But as I waited, I felt a familiar anxiety begin to rise in me. Have I been forgotten? Did the receptionist check me in properly? That woman over there arrived half an hour after me and has just gone in – is there a special password to be given priority?

Meanwhile, people were being called into their appointments on a PA system which was simultaneously quiet and almost completely obscured by reverb, which meant every time an announcement took place, the entire room had to fall silent and strain to hear. If a baby was crying, it was game over.

The point of this rant is that so much of the anxiety and stress of NHS appointments could be prevented by decent expectation management. A screen showing patients’ names (or NHS numbers for anonymity) and where they are in the queue would solve a huge amount of the stress patients experience.

I get the same anxiety when I’m at my IVF clinic, for the same reasons. I know enough about how the place works by now to know several different clinics are run from the same waiting room, meaning some people will go in ahead of others. But waiting is still stressful.

Managing patients’ expectations would go a long way to solving a lot of the anger and aggression experienced by patients in the NHS. It’s something to think about, anyway.

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.