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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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.

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.

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.

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…

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.