The Long Awaited Update

Sunday, 15 September 2013. It’s five days since that disappointing fertility clinic appointment, and I’m in Oxford on business. The meeting yesterday went smoothly, but I wake up feeling panicky. I try sitting mindfully with my emotions for a minute and immediately I find it – that lake of tears just below the surface. It feels like a good few hours’ worth of sobbing, but now isn’t an option because I have to check out of the B&B by ten. I text a friend and arrange to meet for Mass. Church is something I both long for and dread, because I need God but I’m very angry and upset with him. I hate how every service has become an exercise in not crying rather than an opportunity to worship.

Later, my friend gives me a tour of Merton College. In the distance, I see the turreted tower that has been calling to me all weekend – that seems somehow familiar and deeply meaningful. I ask my friend about it and she says it’s Magdalen, C. S. Lewis’ college. She shows me the stone table where Lewis and Tolkien used to sit and drink on summer nights, followed by Tolkien’s old bedroom (which is now her office).

The stone table and bench where C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien used to sit and drink. Merton College, Oxford.

The stone table and bench where C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien used to sit. Merton College, Oxford.

Back home, I scan my bookshelves for something to read and The Problem of Pain catches my eye. Maybe that’s what Magdalen Tower was trying to tell me.

Saturday, 21 September 2013. I stand on the road leading off Holy Island with the sea swirling around my feet. This is what I’ve been waiting for, after over two hours of watching the tide creep across the mudflats.  Thirty minutes ago, OH and I held our breath as a car tried to leave Lindisfarne, only to be forced back at the causeway. The locals are full of stories about tourists who think the safe crossing times don’t apply to them, or who ask, “Where’s the other road off the island? The one I came in by seems to be flooded.” But the tide stops for no one – no matter how hard they pray or how good their reasons for needing to get to the mainland – and nature won’t rearrange itself for me either. The retreat I’m attending at the Open Gate feels very healing, a chance for me to grieve my losses and come to terms with the path I am now on.

The road leaving the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Northumberland, flooded at high tide.

The road leaving the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Northumberland, flooded at high tide.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013. We are back at the clinic for our IVF “consent” appointment. I find myself tearing up when the nurse says we can start down regulation today, if we wish. In the end, for practical reasons, we opt for a date in a week’s time.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013. I stare at the ultrasound screen in disbelief. Egg collection is supposed to be on Friday, but I only have one mature follicle. The nurse leads us into a side room to discuss the findings, and I hear the words “two more days” and “IUI”. At first I think she’s offering us a choice, that we can either delay egg collection or switch to IUI if we don’t want to wait. But no: if my ovaries do not respond in two more days, this cycle of IVF will be cancelled and converted to IUI, the treatment that has never worked for us, and it will still count as one of our three NHS-funded attempts. All I can do is cry.

Later, I research my predicament online and it’s not good. Even if I manage to get three eggs – the maximum the nurse thinks is possible – I will be classed as a “poor responder” with a reduced chance of conceiving. The fewer eggs you have, the less likely it is that one of them will be good enough quality to create a baby. Some poor responders do better on a higher dose of meds, a different drug or a shorter protocol, and it could be that Menopur after down regulation just isn’t right for me. But equally, this could be a sign that my ovaries are on their last legs, and for some women the only options are egg donation (thank God OH is a woman) or adoption. “In conclusion”, states the article I am reading, “patients who are labeled as poor responders certainly face a formidable challenge in achieving a pregnancy.”

Monday, 9 December 2013. Egg collection is the most beautiful thing that has ever happened to me. I couldn’t care less about the needles through my vagina and the catheter used to drain my bladder, which was stubbornly blocking my left ovary – I would go through it all again any day for fentanyl and midazolam. The nurse comes to see me in my blissed out state and tells me they got three eggs. Three! The very best we could have hoped for, and apparently a 100% retrieval rate is quite rare. Of course, I’m too stoned to take in this good news and I have to be told again later.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013. The embryologist phones to say two of my eggs have fertilised. It’s the oddest feeling. I have two potential children, but they’re in a lab somewhere and I must trust someone else to take care of them. I feel strongly that I want them back inside me where they belong.

Thursday, 12 December 2013. I attend for embryo transfer with a full bladder, as Junior Doctor suggested, and it seems to work. The nurse reports that there is only a slight bend in my cervix, although for some strange reason it doesn’t want to be prodded with a catheter, and keeps shrinking back out of the way. Still, our two six-celled embryos are transferred without any major issues. I am slightly surprised not to be given The Talk on the dangers of twins, nor to be asked to consider transferring only one, but I push the likely reasons for this out of my mind.

As we’re leaving theatre, the nurse pats me on the shoulder and says, “They will not, under any circumstances, fall out.” Well, duh, I think, I know that. Then I realise that I am walking in a slightly odd way, as though I want to keep my legs as close together as possible. I put off going for a wee for an hour just in case.

Monday, 23 December 2013. I wake up with trepidation. I’m fairly certain I’m not pregnant, and I can’t put off facing the facts any longer: today is the day I have to pee on a stick and phone the clinic with the results. “Shall we get this over with, then?” I say to OH.

An hour or so later, I’m put through to what must be the only nurse in the clinic who doesn’t know who I am. I tell her our news in disbelief. “Congratulations!” she says. “Is this a spontaneous pregnancy?”

Monday, 13 January 2014. “I can tell you right away,” the nurse says as she inserts the probe, “you have one baby in the right place.” After carrying out the necessary checks (Sprout is measuring as s/he should, and I’m not having twins) she turns around the screen to show me. I watch in wonder as this little blob pulsates. Our baby has a heartbeat! Once I’ve got my clothes back on, I find the consultant we know from church waiting for us in the corridor. She gives us both a hug as she tells us the likelihood of a live birth is now about 95%, and we have as much chance as anyone.

Our baby 5 weeks after egg collection (making me 7 weeks pregnant). The large black oval is my uterus, and Sprout is the white blob in the corner.

Our baby 5 weeks after egg collection (making me 7 weeks pregnant). The large black oval is my uterus, and Sprout is the little white blob in the corner.

I ask the receptionist for an envelope for our scan picture, and am amazed when she and her colleague squeal over the photo and make us promise to come back after the birth. Everyone is so excited. I feel bad for the other patients in the waiting room – my attempts at discretion have been foiled – and I wish I could hold up a sign saying, “This was our seventh cycle of treatment and it was almost cancelled.” Later, my GP asks to see the picture and laughs. She thinks Sprout looks like a bundle of white cloth, the baby Jesus in a nativity play.

Saturday, 25 January 2013. Which brings us to today. It has not been an easy pregnancy so far: the sickness and fatigue are bad enough that I haven’t been able to work. And I don’t think I dare believe that we will actually be getting a baby at the end of it until at least the point where I can feel Sprout kicking. But I know I am incredibly blessed. From the girl who conceived first time (from IUI), to the poor responder at risk of needing an egg donor, to the woman who conceived first time (from IVF) against the odds – I have come full circle.

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Spain and Beyond

Here are a few photos from our holiday in Spain:

I’m glad we went. It was hard getting it together enough to buy holiday clothes and pack, and I sometimes found it difficult being around so many people (OH’s family) while I was grieving, but it was also healing, being in such a beautiful place and with children. It was on the day of the second photo, meandering along the shore with my niece and feeling the waves lapping at my ankles, that I realised I was going to be all right. This is a broken world where I have lost two babies but it is also a beautiful world of sunsets and oceans and other children to love.

I sat and meditated on a sun lounger one night and I acknowledged that I don’t know what lies ahead of me. Maybe I will have a successful treatment and give birth to a healthy baby – I hope so, and at this point the odds are still in my favour. On the other hand, maybe I am medically infertile. Maybe I will have recurrent miscarriages, and maybe the next few years will be filled with grieving and loss. I realised that if that is my path, I will accept it, and I will do my best with what I’m given. For me, nothing other than a child of my own (conceived by me or OH or adopted) can fill my need to be a parent, but I can still use my infertility and bereavement to support others in the same boat, and my mothering instincts to be a fantastic auntie and godmother.

It feels as though I’ve come to a new place of acceptance. In May, when I realised my spotting might be implantation bleeding, I promised God everything I had if this was a viable pregnancy. I vowed I would give all the remaining money we have saved for fertility treatment to charity, even though we might need it for other expenses. And it turned out I was pregnant – but that still wasn’t enough for the tiny life inside me to survive. It will never be enough because I’m not being punished, and if I have the child I so desperately want, it won’t be a reward. It will just be what happens, happening.

Over the past nine months, I’ve read several books aimed at Christians who are infertile or bereaved, and I’ve seen two explanations for why bad things happen. One is the idea that this is all part of God’s plan and although we might not be able to understand why, it’s for the greater good. At first, I found this comforting, but it’s a double-edged sword: it implies that God is choosing to do this to me. Why would God single me out for so much pain, and shut his ears to my increasingly desperate prayers, yet look at the woman next door and immediately give her everything she wants? I can’t help feeling that a God who does that is cruel, and a God who is cruel isn’t God. And yes, you could argue that good things can come from adversity – I don’t think I would be getting on so well with my sister now if I hadn’t had the first miscarriage – but I’ll be honest: I would never, never, never, never have sacrificed my child to repair another relationship. No mother would.

The other explanation is that this world has been broken by sin, and therefore is a cruel and unfair place where tragedies happen to people who don’t deserve them. Miscarriages, therefore, are not necessarily God’s plan, but he can work with them. I came across this idea in What Was Lost by Elise Erikson Barrett, and at first it puzzled me, but I find myself increasingly drawn to it. I don’t know which theory is correct, if either, but I know this is the one that will allow me to maintain a relationship with God. I need God and I need to believe that God can work with adversity and bring good things out of shit circumstances, but I also need not to believe that he wanted me to lose my babies.

This is turning into a very heavy post, so I’ll finish with some good news. We’re starting superovulation on Thursday! Despite what I’ve written above, I have a good feeling about the treatment and I’m hopeful that the extra follicles (if we manage 2-3) will boost my chances of conceiving a baby with the right number of chromosomes.

Nice Things I Want To Do

  1. Sponsor a cherry tree in memory of Bubble.
  2. Choose a colour to paint the kitchen.
  3. Go for a walk somewhere that isn’t flooded.
  4. Take my old books and clothes to the charity shop.
  5. Start my Christmas shopping.
  6. Book train tickets to visit my sister.
  7. Nominate my favourite mental health blogs for the TWIM awards.
  8. Spend a day somewhere that’s meaningful to me, like Durham Cathedral or Alnwick Garden.
  9. Cook a new recipe.
  10. Look for Christian resources on radical acceptance.