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…

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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.

Career advice, please

Just before Christmas, after the failure of our first round of IVF, and after I had quelled some of the ensuing grief with the eminently well thought-through decision to get a cat, I threw a tantrum about the fact I had put my career on hold for the two and half years we have been trying for a baby, and decided it was time to get a new job.

I interviewed for two positions. One was at a Very Serious News Organisation which has things like a pension and half price gym membership and medical insurance and a wellness programme. The other, a bit of a curveball given my career so far, was referred to me by an old boss who for some reason thought I’d be good for the role: editor-in-chief of a well known kids’ media brand.

I signed the contract for the Very Serious News Organisation a few weeks ago, and handed in my notice, and I’m due to start at the end of next month. I lay awake for a few nights, worrying about the implications for my next cycle – but given the hysteroscopy I was supposed to be having today has just been pushed back by another month (thanks, NHS!), I have resolved to stop worrying about things moving along too quickly…

Then, last week, after more than a month of radio silence, the kids’ brand got in touch: can I come in and do a presentation? What would I do with the brand in my first 60 days? How would I make kids return to its website? How would I run the team?

I’ve been quite fragile in recent weeks (cf. “operation pushed back by a month”), so I almost turned it down. But ever since I was a kid, my dream job has been to run Smash Hits magazine (or similar, given its sad demise in 2006). In the end, I decided I owed it to my 11 year old self to at least have a go.

So here I am, still resolutely childless, trying to get into the minds of eight year olds to understand how they use the internet, and feeling kind of weird about it.

In the unlikely event I actually get it, would immersing myself in a world of kids be the right choice? Would interacting with them on a day to day basis cushion the blows of infertility, or would it serve to emphasise the fact I can’t have my own? At nearly 32 years old, I am a sucker for kids’ cartoons and books. Infertile or not, I would genuinely  rather spend an afternoon watching Nickelodeon than Sky News. But does that extend to spending time with actual kids? I’m not sure.

On the other hand, if I did ever have a baby, the job in question would make me the coolest mum in the playground. I’m a little worried that on some subconscious level it’s the hope – one day this will make me a cool mum, thus I will surely definitely have a baby in the next few years – that is causing me to want this job.

Maybe it’s time to be realistic and stick with the sensible one. On the plus side, that would mean I wouldn’t have to do this presentation.

 

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.