At 29, in fine health and with a vigorous appetite for my about-to-be husband, I fully expected our baby to be born within a year of our abandonment of contraception
Instead, she took six years, arriving almost to the day after we started trying for her. This is what happened in between.
I remember the initial sense of disbelief when I didn’t get pregnant immediately.
Then, of course, the sense we were being silly, expecting too much somehow – after all, no-one gets pregnant the first month, do they? Except they do, and we all want to be that person: the badge of honour, the supremacy of that man’s sperm. It’s an affirmation, the sense that baby is special because it was made so swiftly. It’s bollocks of course, no baby is better than another because it took less f**** – well, no baby is better than any other baby at all. But, still…and then the idea arrived: what if I were doing something different? What if it were my fault?
And, so it started. The pre-conception vitamins that were, at first, fun to buy.
Then they run out and the next 90 are purchased, a reminder that three months have already passed and no pregnancy. Websites first perused in interest for guidance on diet, exercise and sexual positions become a guilty pleasure, then compulsive and then an increasingly desperate search just in case a crucial, baby-giving tip has been missed. Drinking was minimised and social life timed around one’s menstrual cycle: some booze allowed in the first week, less as ovulation occurs, then none towards Possible Pregnancy Day. With blood comes permission to get s***-faced.
Blood: every month the blood. Met with disappointment and sometimes tears and a shitty, knawing frustration of being unable to influence this thing that seemed to come so easily to all these glowing, pregnant women and their proud, protective partners.
You know, the ones that suddenly appear everywhere. It’s the fiercest cruelty of trying to conceive, the friends that breed as soon as breathe. One Christmas, in a room full of friends, one couple announce their impending: all eyes turned to me – because of course, we’d been hopelessly open about wanting kids as soon as we could – as I smiled and trotted out congratulations (NB: all eyes DID turn to me and not my husband: but more of the gender thing later). Presents were always bought for these new children, cards sent with hearty, genuine messages that hopefully managed to hide how much it hurt and how much time I spent crying in the loo after meeting these new, always gorgeous things.
What else did we do?
Well, the monthly joyless rutting (to paraphrase Hadley Freeman) continued apace, never less than dispiriting. There was acupuncture, which in fact I rather enjoyed. My practitioner turned out to be a fantastically good-looking American man and suddenly I renewed my interest in fancy, matching underwear that never failed to gain a compliment from the man with the needles (I know this is pathetic but I’m trying to be honest here). I trekked to the other side of London for herbalist diagnosis with this incredibly nice lady who made me up foul potions to no discernible effect. I took my temperature every day, first thing in the morning, jumping up to mark it on a graph – the largest consequence was that it killed any sleepy early morning falling into each other’s arms. There was reflexology, which was great if only because I love a massage. Both of us were on particular diets, garnered from the internet with no particular thought or consistency, but it made us feel like we were more together in the struggle. Because by this time, perhaps a year in, it was a horrible struggle. It had taken over everything: what we ate, drank, talked about. On our first wedding anniversary, even though we’d just bought our first house and I had my first job I really loved, I cried all day.
So, we went to the doctor with referrals for us both
Bloods taken, ovaries measured, sperm sampled – although I recall with fondness one moment of levity as my husband despaired of ‘another f*** razzle wank’, a phrase I admire to this day (made especially good as he has a marvellously broad Scottish accent). I was put on Clomid to increase the amount of eggs released each month. This gave me acne, caused immediate weight gain and caused spectacular mood swings.
One romantic evening, as I shrieked at my husband ‘Why don’t’ you want to have sex with meeeeee!’, we realised I was not compatible with this drug.
It was discovered I had polycystic ovaries, which meant further monitoring as all the puss-filled sacs on my balls of eggs competed to see which might reach the biggest. It was disgusting and did not result in a baby. It did get me used to stirrups however, which is a sentence no woman should have to write! The whole thing just lacks dignity. We were diagnosed with ‘unexplained infertility’, which tells no-one anything and allows the imagination to run riot. It’s because fertility is itself unexplained – the chemical reactions of embryo growth and implantation remain a mystery and without knowing how it works, why it might not work is baffling.
So, after these rounds of diagnostic investigations and treatments, I was advised it might be my job that was preventing conception.
I then held a fantastically exciting, but extremely time consuming position, that I loved but was exhausting (or so I thought – looking back, it may have been the stress of trying to conceive that was washing me out). I gave that job up, swapped it for work with regular hours that allowed me more rest. I was bored senseless and became frustrated, but it did permit the time for our first round of ICSI.
This felt exciting. It felt constructive. I almost revelled in the injections and the scheduling.
Being given a timetable of when and where and how it felt as if we were applying a proven level of scientific management to what we had so far failed to complete.
Injections stimulated ovaries, we could see the sacs on the screen, we knew there were eggs in there, we got a good harvest at collection, we made a good number of embryos, some of which turned into blastocysts and which were duly transferred.
It had to work, right?
I walked around for those two weeks, holding what I was convinced would become my babies tight where they’d been placed by proper actual doctors. It was going to work. Except it didn’t. It didn’t work that time, or the next time.
On the third go, as we waited post-transfer, there was a conspicuous lack of blood
On the morning of the allotted day, I got up and weed on a stick. Blue lines. Blue lines blue lines blue lines blue lines! The sensation of a positive test was dizzying. We rejoiced. It felt like heaven.
At work, coincidentally, I was shortly after due to travel for an extended trip to the States and for the insurance I had to declare I was pregnant. Doing this so early on felt strange and unwelcome, but god knows no-one wants to be ill in Pittsburgh with no insurance.
Work were happy and supportive and positively coddling, which was wonderful
Two weeks later, when we went in to check the heartbeat and there was none, they were equally brilliant (in a freelance industry, as I worked then, this is not always the case). I stayed at home and cried and it passed and I got over it. Or so I thought.
As round four loomed, I had gone slightly mad
Not in a ‘hey let’s go crazy’ way but in a ‘standing on a train platform gently informing my husband that even if we had a baby this time I was going to leave him because the whole thing had become too much and I didn’t love him anymore, ok?’
Sensibly, he let me finish, neither agreed nor disagreed and suggested we talk about it later. This is the exchange – one of very many of the kind – that illuminates how difficult it is for the partner of the IVF’er. All the drugs and injections and scans and attention and focus is on that woman and for all the stress that that carries, how much is absorbed by the partner, who is then roundly ignored? They are not offered counselling as part of the treatment.
They must remember to collect sharps bins for used needles, to get the correct foods for the correct days, to take their vitamins, schedule their work around appointments to hold the hand of the person who is mostly (in my case at least) treating them not very well at all.
We persevered. Time wise, this was five years of trying
We changed clinics. We had a month apart as I was away working in Scotland. This was also time to think about whether we still truly wanted to be parents together. He arrived for the party on the last night and the morning after we flew to Mallorca, replete with drugs for the start of round four and a renewed determination to enjoy our holiday and each other. I had missed him. We were going to have a baby together.
On we went. I wasn’t working, but instead did tonnes of yoga and didn’t rush to a single appointment!
On transfer day, we walked slowly back to the station, aware of the two blastocysts hopefully implanting within our daze. We stopped and had a fried egg sandwich at a greasy spoon as, for no particular reason, this felt auspicious.
The days passed. It felt OK. Test day arrived. But: only one line. Crushed, I returned to bed to tell him it hadn’t worked again. We had run out of money, there couldn’t be any more treatment. I had run out of love for him and that was it.
We lay in the dim October morning light, sensing that we’d broken each other, that we’d overreached ourselves. I got up, walked into the bathroom and looked balefully at the test stick. Two lines. Two f****** lines. Ladies, when you test in the half-light of a dim October morning, put the big light on… !
Of course, history told us we couldn’t be so sure just yet
Two weeks later as we walked to the clinic to see if a heartbeat could be found, we didn’t have much to say to each other. We were together but the daze remained. It was a limbo state. But there, flashing, was a little blob of cells. I wept and couldn’t stop, the relief flooding out in big breathless gulps of sorrow and joy and disbelief. An actual baby.
She appeared on a roasting June morning, deathly ill and from a disastrous delivery
I’d had a dream pregnancy and this was not what we’d planned, but there she was. She and I recovered (although possibly my husband will never be the same after a night where he almost lost us both).
She is now almost six and is strong and funny and kind and lippy. She is loved as much as any child can be. I still look at her in astonishment, forever unbelieving that she is actually here.
She even has a little brother, but that is another story. It was tough, making her, but I’d heartily recommend it.
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