On Being Infertile

I never thought of myself as infertile before. I was baffled when my GP used the term. OH and I sat in the fertility clinic filled with hope and excitement, though feeling a little awkward that all the other couples were straight. We knew they might have gone through years of trying to conceive naturally, only to find out that there was a problem, and that for some, this appointment would be their desperate last hope. Not so with us. Our TTC hassles were behind us – we had a sperm donor and the funds for treatment. Starting IUI in August, I thought I had a very good chance of being pregnant by Christmas.

I didn’t know, of course, that I would have a miscarriage. I could never have imagined that even though we knew from the start the pregnancy wasn’t viable, it would take over two months to resolve. I had no idea my consultant would request further tests and these would take time to organise and carry out. I didn’t know that when we tried to resume treatment, my ovaries would fail to produce a mature follicle, or that our second IUI would raise our hopes with the same symptoms and that very faint pink line – only to result in a big fat negative on the official testing day. Chemical pregnancy or side effects of Ovitrelle? My breasts feel as though I’ve been pregnant, but I guess we’ll never know.

I have never forgotten the second scan I had during the miscarriage – the one where I let a man see my vagina for the first time ever. Afterwards, he took us into a little room and asked whether we had any questions. I opened my mouth and was surprised to hear this little voice come out, asking whether the miscarriage meant I would have problems conceiving in future. Surprised, because I already knew the answer to that question. I’m a medical translator, for heaven’s sake. He replied with the same statistics that I used to give other women, and rather than thinking of them as positive, I realised I was terrified I’d be one of those rare people who cannot carry a pregnancy to term. I still am.

Then there’s fertility treatment itself. It’s hard to explain what it’s like to someone who’s never been through it, how it magnifies every emotion tenfold. Back in August, I imagined we would simply have IUI every month until we succeeded, and now we’re finally in a position where we might be able to do that. Do you know what that means? It means that in week 1, I have my period and can’t take effective pain relief because the only class of drugs that work for me sometimes impair fertility. In week 2, I have clinic appointments every other day – sometimes even every day – to check my follicles in the run up to treatment. This involves a good two to three hours out of what would be my working day, so it’s fairly exhausting juggling it all. Weeks 3 and 4 are the two-week wait, where I’m on tenterhooks, getting strange symptoms from the Ovitrelle and constantly reminded I might be pregnant by the list of things I cannot eat. Then if the test is negative, we’re right back to week 1 again. And that’s before you add in the superovulation drugs I’ll be moving onto if the next cycle doesn’t work (more injections, more scans and blood tests, and probably some chemically induced mood swings too). Or our dwindling bank balance and the precarious tightrope of earning enough without spending too much.

I feel surrounded by women who simply come off their contraception, shag a bit, and are giving birth within a year. And women who get pregnant without even meaning to. Women who have the confidence to say, “My sister’s having a baby next year,” although said sister hasn’t even started trying yet. It hurts so much. I also know many women who are having difficulty conceiving, or can’t have children due to their circumstances, or who have lost babies, but these are mostly private confidences. We suffer in secret while the rest of the world blithely clings to the idea that if you’re ‘normal’, starting a family is easy.

My excitement and expectations resurfaced with the crocuses a month ago, but I don’t know whether they will again. And I think this is a healthy thing. I don’t mean I’ve given up hope – we will certainly keep trying and we know that in the long term the odds are good – but I can’t go on imagining the next cycle will be ‘the one’. I need to try to live in the present more and trust in God’s timing, that it will happen when it’s meant to happen. How well I can do this, I don’t know, but I need to try. And with that change in perspective comes a certain amount of grieving.

Now I agree with my GP. It’s called situational infertility, and it means that because of our circumstances, OH and I face significant barriers to having a child. It’s not just about finances, as I once thought. It’s one hell of a difficult journey.

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Candles

Yesterday OH and I went to Durham Cathedral to light a candle for the baby we lost last autumn, and a candle for Little Sun, whose maman very kindly did the same for us in Notre Dame earlier this month.

It wasn’t quite the peaceful pilgrimage we’d hoped for. First, there was a family with eight misbehaving kids on the bus – all sitting in different places, shouting conversations at each other, getting up and running around… We were very relieved when they got off at the stop before us. Then we arrived at the train station to find it swarming with stag and hen parties – there was even a man dressed as a penis – and no trains. That’s right, there were engineering works on the line, so we had to get a bus all the way to Durham – hardly ideal when OH gets travel sick. Still, we made it. 🙂

This is a photo of the Cathedral from the train station:

Durham Cathedral from the train stationWhen we arrived at the Cathedral, a choir was rehearsing the St Matthew Passion for a concert that evening, and the main body of the church seemed a little chaotic, so I headed straight for the Galilee Chapel, which I knew would be quiet. I like this chapel because it has a lighter, airier, more humble feel to the rest of the Cathedral, and it’s where I feel closer to God. It is built below the western towers, and right above a steep drop down to the river, which from the outside is one of my favourite views in Durham:

Durham Cathedral's western towers

Durham Cathedral’s western towers, viewed from the opposite bank of the river. This photo was taken last summer, shortly before I became pregnant – hence the brighter weather!

Inside the chapel, we found a place that we both felt was right for commemorating our baby. It was by Bede’s tomb, below an inscription that is very meaningful to me in my grief. The text reads, “Christus est stella matutina qui nocte saeculi transacta lucem vitae sanctis promittit et pandit aeternam,” or in English, “Christ is the morning star, who when the night of this world is past brings to his saints the promise of the light of life & opens everlasting day”:

I light candles beneath the inscription.

I light candles beneath the inscription.

I lit a candle for Little Sun first, praying in English and French for him and his family, and then I lit a candle for our baby. After that, OH and I stood and held hands, listening to the choir sing Bach, and hugged for a long time.

Here are the candles. Little Sun’s is on the left, and our baby May’s is on the right:

Candles for Little Sun and baby MayFinally, we went for a walk in the cloisters, which you may recognise as part of Hogwarts from the Harry Potter films. It was quite sunny by this point:

Durham Cathedral cloistersDurham Cathedral viewed from the cloisters

Our day ended with dinner with friends in a pub in Shincliffe, and then we caught the bus replacement service home. We managed to nab the last two seats on that particular bus, which meant sitting separately – but at least the bloke getting drunk next to me was doing so quietly!

We’ll return to the Cathedral in April for the Saying Goodbye remembrance service for anyone who has lost a baby during pregnancy, birth or infancy. In the mean time, although I’m grieving a lot (both for baby May and for the outcome of my most recent treatment), I feel a little consoled to have put May to rest in such a wonderful place.

BFN

It’s official: I’m not pregnant. I went for a blood test this morning, and it has come back negative.

Right now, I mostly feel relieved. I was so scared of another long drawn-out miscarriage, and although I’m sad things didn’t work out this month, we should be able to try again soon.

My gut instinct is that this was a chemical pregnancy, but it’s impossible to know one way or the other. I’ve decided that next time, I will either use a slightly less sensitive pregnancy test, or I’ll test the Ovitrelle out of my system.

Thank you so much to everyone who has supported OH and I over the last few days. We really appreciate it and couldn’t get through this without you. 🙂