Thursday, 31 December 2009

Why did I worry?

We have a very dear family friend who is like a third grandmother to me. She's the only person left in the world who remembers my mother as a baby, and she was great friends with my grandparents. Having no family of her own, she adopted ours, and has always taken a great interest in all of us. When we were little, she used to knit sweaters for us, and she was one of those adults you were never bored to visit as a child, because she was so loving and always found something for us to play with.

She's now 96, has osteoporosis, wears a hearing aid and is almost completely blind, but she still has all her marbles and is still as interested in the goings-on in our family as she ever was.

H is loved by so many people, and is full of compassion - one of her big current concerns is that one of her neighbours is going to be 90 soon and has nobody to celebrate with. H has talked about how our family made her 90th birthday so special, and how sorry she feels that her neighbour has no family or friends to do the same for her, so H will be going round to see her with a cake and trying to make the day special for her. She also accompanies friends (young spring chickens in their 70s and 80s) to hospital appointments and has been there to help several of them through their grief on losing their spouses or partners.

For at least the last 10 years, she's been telling me that she won't die until she's seen my children. This summer, one of my uncles came over from Australia and when I saw him, one of the first things he said to me was, "So, when are you going to make H happy?"

I knew exactly what he meant, and as we were waiting for our first appointment at the clinic when I saw him, I just said that we were working on it. My childless uncle, who was over 50 when he married, turned out to be the world expert on infertility and informed me that all I needed to do was relax, and I was probably trying too hard. If only he'd told me that earlier - we'd have been celebrating our baby's first Christmas by now...

Anyway, my mother has been telling me that I ought to tell H what was going on. She said H was not stupid and must have guessed that things weren't going smoothly for us - but knowing the hopes that H had for us, I didn't want to disappoint her. I suppose I was also hoping that I'd be able to tell her that our IVF had worked and that she would soon be seeing our baby.

Yesterday DH and I went to see H. She was on good form - usually, we take food with us and cook her some lunch while we're there, but this time she insisted on taking us out for lunch, and she ate like a horse.

When there was a quiet moment, I said to her, "You know we can't have children?"

I don't know if she already knew, but she's 96 - she's seen everything, and she must have realised there was a problem when no baby appeared after all this time.

She just nodded and gave my hand a little squeeze.

I said that since there was going to be no baby, she would now have to live forever, and she said, "A person gets tired, you know. All my contemporaries have died, so I made new friends - and now they're all dying too."

A bit later, she asked, "Is it definite?"

I told her about the two IVFs and said we would have one last try.

Again, there was a pause, and then she said, "You're the one I care about. It's sad, but you still have DH, and you love each other. I want the two of you to be kind to each other, and be happy."

And suddenly, I can't understand why I was so worried about telling her, and why I thought she wouldn't be able to handle it. She said a few other things in the course of the afternoon which I know were references to our situation, and as always, she just poured out so much love for us, and so much understanding.

Oh, and on the way home, I said to DH, "I'm not so sure that I'd want to live to be 96", and he promised that he'd do his best to drive me into an early grave, so there's another positive I got out of the day...

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Preparing the ground

I had a bit of a lightbulb moment during Midnight Mass last week.

I was thinking of my first ever Christmas away from home. I was 23, had been in China since early February, and I wasn't well. I'd been ill since the beginning of December, and on Christmas Day all I could eat was half a bowl of Chinese egg and tomato soup.

After I'd been ill for about a week, the guy who was in charge of foreign affairs in the college and was nominally responsible for my colleague and me took me to see a doctor. I heard the word 'ganyan' mentioned and remembered it so I could look it up in the dictionary when I got home.

Over the next couple of weeks, I was carted around all the best hospitals in the town. At each one, 'ganyan' was mentioned early on in the consultation. I now knew that this meant 'hepatitis'. But never once did anyone give me a blood or urine test to confirm the diagnosis. Instead, they wheeled out their most expensive and high-tech machines to do increasingly complicated tests on me. I had electrodes stuck to my scalp as they did a scan of my brain; I was put through huge machines that looked inside me in all sorts of different ways; I was poked, prodded and jabbed with all sorts of weird and wonderful instruments.

I don't know if it was because they wanted to make money out of a supposedly rich foreigner (to them, all foreigners were rich, even those who had left home in their early twenties to do voluntary work and had not a penny in the bank back home) or because they wanted to show off that they had all this advanced technological equipment. Either way, it wasn't until a friend took me in hand in the week after Christmas and took me to her own doctor that anybody thought to take a bit of blood from me. Instantly, I had my diagnosis - and sure enough, it was 'ganyan'.

As I sat in church this Christmas Eve, thinking of that first Christmas away from home, I realised that we've done a similar thing with our infertility. DH's sperm are a bit rubbish, and so are my eggs. Instead of asking why they're a bit rubbish and whether there's anything that can be done about it, we've gone straight for the technological big guns. DH has only ever had one sperm test, and he's never had a physical exam to see if the low volume that he produces could be caused by a blockage.

Before we met, DH was a confirmed bachelor. He literally didn't know how to fry an egg, and he lived off the hospitality of friends, microwaved ready meals and a lot of takeaways and toast. Although his diet has been healthier since he met me, who knows how much damage all those years of eating crap did to his system?

We both eat too much refined sugar, and we're both a bit overweight. We don't smoke, and we don't drink much, but if you are what you eat, we're great big lumps of fairly unhealthy stuff with a few vegetables and a bit of protein thrown in for good measure.

So here's the new plan - after the new year, we're going to get in touch with Foresight. We'll get our hair analysed to see what nutrients we're short of and what we have too much of, and then we'll take whatever supplements they recommend and go on whatever diet they suggest to get our bodies, our sperm and eggs and my uterus into the best condition they can possibly be in to help conceive and nurture a healthy baby.

I hate faddy diets, but we're both prepared to follow this as strictly as we possibly can for four or five months in order to give ourselves the best possible chance of producing healthy eggs and sperm when we go for IVF #3 - hopefully in the late spring/early summer. (And if it doesn't work, we'll probably live on chocolate and wine gums for the following four or five months...)

So if you see a pair of weirdos walk into a restaurant after the new year with big clumps of hair missing at the back, loudly demanding organic mung beans and dandelion coffee, do pop over and say hello to us.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Understanding

We actually ended up having a great time at my SIL's. Because it wasn't Christmas Day itself and was so different from my own family Christmases, I was able to do my grinch thing and pretend to myself that it was just another ordinary day and we weren't trying to celebrate the most family-friendly and child-centred day of the year, and that made everything much more bearable. But it was also great that I got to know my SIL a bit better.

We were doing some clearing up in the kitchen, and for the first time since we arrived, she and I were on our own. I knew DH had told her about our IVF attempts, and as soon as everyone else had disappeared, she said, "I'm so sorry about the IVF."

We then had a really good chat - I filled her in on some of the details and what our next plans are (they've changed a little bit - I'll fill you in over the next couple of days). We talked about how hard it is, and I even confessed that although I was sad that our plans had had to change because of the snow, I had also been a bit relieved because I didn't know how I was going to cope with such a child-centred family occasion so soon after our BFN.

And you know what? She understood! And I finally felt close enough to her to be able to ask the question to which my DH hadn't known the answer - did she and my BIL have to wait long after they started trying before their first child came along? I had suspected they might have had problems, partly because they'd been married for 13 years when their first child was born and partly for other reasons.

And sure enough, she said that they were trying for over two years before she got pregnant with the first one. And she understood about people making insensitive remarks, and about how soul-destroying it is to be disappointed month after month, and about how difficult big family occasions can be.

And suddenly I feel as though I have another ally in all of this. I hate this being the connection that I have with her, but I'm glad I've made a real connection. I just hope one day I'll be able to produce a little cousin or two for her children.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

In the starting blocks

The snow and ice began to melt yesterday, and hopefully the roads won't be too bad today - Christmas has happened, and tomorrow is a bank holiday, so we're hoping that most people will already be where they were travelling to for Christmas and won't be on their way home again yet. So we're off to my SIL's this morning, and should be back in time for DH's next driving lesson on Tuesday afternoon.

See you soon...

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Wonderful neighbours

Since it became clear that our plans for Christmas were going to have to change, we've been inundated with invitations.

On Christmas Eve, we went round for supper with some neighbours. The wife is Czech, and she served a delicious traditional Czech meal for us. We had a lovely evening, and then the husband came with us as we slithered and slid through the ice to Midnight Mass.

Yesterday we had two invitations, and we went with the one we received first. After opening our stockings and phoning our families in the morning, we walked up the hill to spend the rest of the day with some friends who live three streets up (and I mean UP) from us. Another couple of friends were there - in fact, it was all the members of our pub quiz team.

Our four-course meal was spread out over the afternoon - between the first course and the main, we slithered and slid (again) down the hill to the park to feed the ducks. The meal we had was delicious and not entirely traditional - not a turkey or a goose in sight. And how can you complain about Fortnum & Mason's Christmas crackers that, instead of a flimsy plastic toy, yield up a miniature bottle of booze? (Jeannie, mine was a little bottle of Amarula!)

In the evening, we played Trivial Pursuit, played a quiz game on their X-box and then watched a DVD. DH and I finally left at about 1:30 this morning. There was another deep frost, and even walking down the middle of the main road was hazardous, but we got home in one piece.

It was a wonderful day, and so totally different from any family Christmas celebration I've ever been involved in that I was able to forget the high expectations I usually have for Christmas and just enjoy the company, the food and the occasion.

Of course, there are reminders that stab at me and remind me of what I'm missing - the friend who by the end of yesterday had posted millions of photos on Facebook of his family Christmas with a status update announcing that he "continues to marvel how much more magical Christmas is once you get to share it with your own children", the running gag from the stand-up comedian on the DVD we watched last night about irresponsible parents, with the refrain "If you can't look after them, don't have them", the tiny little toddler footprints in the snow at the park - but the day was so much better than I was anticipating.

Today we have another invitation, but DH is not as sociable as I am and said last night that he doesn't want to go. We'll see...

And finally this morning there are signs that the snow and ice might be beginning to melt, and I'm hopeful that we'll make it to my SIL's tomorrow - and I'll cope with the family atmosphere, because it won't be Christmas Day.

Friday, 25 December 2009

So this is Christmas

This is a poem which I found here. - I hope the author doesn't mind me repeating it here.

Another Christmas with empty arms,
As the bells chime to ring in the season,
We spend another year in childlessness,
And try to understand God has a reason.

Others take pictures of children in bed,
While they stay up late hiding gifts near the tree,
Our traditions remain in limbo,
We have no one for whom to create legacy.

We’ve watched as friends and relatives’ families grow,
As their children multiply and mature each year,
While we remain a family of two,
And the number may never change, we fear.

Well wishers remind us that God has a plan,
For He loves and wants good for us,you see,
But, when you beg for one gift that you never receive,
It is easy to ask, “How can that be?”

So, with heavy hearts and a tear in our eye,
We will focus on Jesus’ birth long ago,
Celebrating Christmas without our long awaited child,
Is much harder than most will ever know.

I wish all of you the best Christmas you can possibly have, and I hope next Christmas will be the sort of happy day we're hoping for.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

A chink of light

DH made it home yesterday afternoon, and yesterday morning I actually managed to get a little bit of Christmas spirit as I did a bit of shopping for our snowed-in Christmas.

I got little things to go in DH's stocking, a couple of presents for his family and a few bits and pieces for the celebration we're going to have with my family at new year. I considered getting some turkey breast or something for tomorrow, as there's no point in having a whole turkey just for the two of us, but ended up settling for a hunter's pie - something completely different from usual Christmas fayre, but also a little bit special.

It rained quite heavily last night, but the snow didn't melt, so we now have a thick layer of ice on top of the snow. I've only seen one car trying to move so far this morning, and substantial amounts of digging were needed - twice - before it was able to get going. Our car is definitely not going anywhere today, so we'll definitely be waking up in our own bed tomorrow morning.

We talked last night about our next steps. He really isn't interested in adoption, so we've discounted that for now, although I have asked him to keep it in the back of his mind as something that we'll at least discuss again if all else fails. Given how selective his hearing has been about everything else in this process, I'm not sure that he will...

He obviously hasn't taken in a word I've said about embryo donation/adoption. The first thing he said about it was that it would be a shame that any baby we had wouldn't be genetically mine, but at least we'd be using his sperm.

I thought we'd talked about the fact that, as his sperm are as crappy as my eggs (if not crappier), if we went down the donor route we'd go the whole hog. I also thought we'd talked about the fact that embryo adoption is much more acceptable to the Church than egg or sperm donation alone. And I thought he knew the difference between an egg and an embryo.

Once he finally understood that we were talking about embryo donation and not egg donation, he said that, while it's not what he really wanted (as if either of us ever wanted any of this business), he's willing to give it a try.

He agrees that there's no point in trying again with our own eggs and sperm if there isn't a realistic chance of success. We'll go for our appointment in January with Mr No Nonsense, and I'll ask him what he thinks our chances are and whether there's any chance of improving them. If he just offers us exactly the same protocol again, we won't do it.

We also won't consider changing clinics in the UK. We both agreed that this business is stressful enough without having the added difficulty of juggling daily appointments at a clinic that's a lot further from home with work and other commitments. Many people do it, and I admire them for it, but it's not for us - not now that we know how low our chances of success are.

But even before we have that appointment, he's agreed that I can contact the clinic we would go to for embryo donation and make initial enquiries.

So we have a new plan, and we have a little bit of hope again. We're both sad that we almost certainly won't be having a child that's genetically related to us, but our dream of parenting a child isn't completely over yet.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Change of plan

Well, we still have six inches of snow on the ground - and a good couple of inches of compacted snow and ice on our road, which is on a hill and is too narrow (and unimportant) for the gritters to come down. This morning we have freezing fog, and the temperature is forecast to be well below zero for the next 24 hours.

This is the road I live on - as you can see, it's on a hill, and there's a right-angle corner at each end to take you onto a road that goes across the side of the hill. Several vehicles have got stuck on that corner and had to be towed or pushed out since the snow began last week.

This is the road that runs along the bottom bit - the road itself is as narrow as our road, but you can't actually see where the road ends and the pavement (sidewalk) begins. It looks in this picture as though the pavement is very wide, but that's actually the entrance to a car park.


And then there's another right angle here before we go UP this road, turn right at the top and eventually get to the main road.

This is the view from our attic room window yesterday morning.

And this is the view from our front door yesterday.

Some of you may be looking at this and thinking "that's a pathetic amount of snow - how can that bring everything to a standstill for several days?", and the answer is that this country is not set up for snow. We don't get it every year, and the last time I can remember having this much snow for this long was January 1987. We had two or three days of major disruption in February this year, and that was unusual in itself - and many councils used up their gritting supplies then and haven't restocked adequately.

Our cars aren't built to deal with snow, and we're not used to driving in it anyway - so the roads are littered with cars abandoned by people who got caught in a snowstorm and discovered that their wheels had no traction on the road. A lot of the road closures are caused not by the snow itself but by the fact that it's not possible to get past all these abandoned cars.

What all of this means for us is that there's no way we're going to be able to get our car out to the main road tomorrow, so Christmas is cancelled. We'll go up to my SIL's when the snow has cleared - and I can cope with that, because Christmas Day was the day I was really dreading, and now it's going to be as unlike Christmas as it possibly can be.

Mind you, I say 'us' and 'we' - I haven't seen DH since Monday morning, as he set off before the latest snowfall began to take the train over to visit his parents and do a bit of shopping for them. They only live 20 miles away, but there are no direct trains, so it takes him almost two hours at the best of times. Plus we're in one of the worst affected areas of the country, with disruption on the trains as well as the roads.

I told DH I'd rather know he was at his parents' house, safe and warm and looking after them, than stuck on a broken-down train somewhere, so twice now he's trudged down to see what the station looked like and then decided that he wouldn't risk it. He did say last night that he'd come home today no matter what, so I'm hoping he'll be back this afternoon.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Christmas pity party for one

Yesterday, Mel asked how we were going to get through the holidays, and first my answer was too depressing to put in the comments, then it was too long...

I love Christmas. I always have. When I was little, I used to be so excited on Christmas morning that I would be awake well before 5, and would have a pile of picture books by my bed to keep me entertained until my brothers woke up and we could go and see if Father Christmas had filled our stockings.

As I got older, one of the things I grew to love as much as any other part of Christmas was Midnight Mass. For several years, I played my violin at Midnight Mass in my own parish and would then leave home at 6:00 am on Christmas morning to get to my parents' house 200-odd miles away just as the rest of the family were waking up. It was the best day of the year for driving, because there was no other traffic on the road, and I would coast up the motorway singing along to Christmas songs on the radio at the top of my voice.

Since we got our result on Friday, the main feature of being in church for me seems to be that it makes me cry. During my niece's end-of-term Mass on Friday morning, I blubbed. During Mass on Sunday, I blubbed. And to be honest, I don't hold out much hope for Midnight Mass on Thursday night.

On Sunday, I glanced at the parish newsletter before Mass began. It informed me that the fourth Sunday of Advent is a day when we are particularly asked to pray for expectant mothers. My voice wobbled a bit during the opening hymn.

Then we had the bidding prayers, during which we prayed out loud for expectant mothers. And my response was silent, because I couldn't get any words out.

Then we sang 'The angel Gabriel', and every time we sang the refrain of 'Most highly favoured lady', all I could think was, "Not me, then". And I couldn't sing the bit about the blessed babe being born - by that time, I'd given up trying to stop the tears from falling.

This year, we're due to spend my first Christmas with DH's family. It'll be different, and my way of coping with the whole situation will be to pretend in my head that it's not Christmas at all, but some previously unknown celebration which is unique to his family. I have to deChristmasify the day, because I can't cope with the way I'm feeling on a day that's meant to be special and happy and all about families and the joy of a baby being born.

Except I can't do that when we're in church. There aren't very many Christmas carols that don't talk about joyful news, a special mother and the birth of a new baby. So I'll sing when I can, grit my teeth when I can't, paste a smile on my face and hope against hope that I can hold myself together enough not to ruin anyone else's Christmas.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Hormones and frustration

At one point on Saturday, DH snapped at me about something and nothing, then a few minutes later came to find me and said, "I'm sorry - I suppose we're both very hormonal at the moment."

Once I'd picked my chin off the floor, I quickly explained to him that "hormonal" doesn't mean "grumpy" or "bad-tempered", or even "sad", and that while we are undeniably both devastated at the moment, only one of us is suffering the physical effects of loads of extra hormones disrupting the balance of our body chemistry.

I could have added that only one of us is also suffering the physical manifestation of our failure in the form of a very crampy, uncomfortable and heavy period, but I did have a little bit of forbearance.

He spent a couple of hours on the computer yesterday, and he did read a bit about both adoption and embryo donation. I don't know how much, though, because he also spent quite a lot of time on cricket websites following the test match in South Africa.

The frustration comes from the fact that he's going through exactly the same thought processes and exactly the same realisations that I did almost six months ago. And since I explained those thought processes and realisations to him at the time, the fact that he's presenting it to me as if it was new information just makes me realise how little he listens to what I say - or perhaps just how little he absorbs.

I think I'm going to be biting my tongue an awful lot over the next fortnight. All I can do is pray for him to reach the point that I'm at a bit quicker than I did - when I first started to research the process of adoption seriously, I was completely daunted and thought it would be so impossible for us that it wasn't an option, and it took a good three or four months for me even to be willing to start thinking about it again.

Why didn't he listen to everything I said at the time, so we could have gone through all that together? Is it going to take him as long as it took me to get his head round it? And will he ever get his head round it?

Sunday, 20 December 2009

A different book

It turns out I was right - DH and I weren't just not on the same page about what to do next. I don't think we were even in the same book.

We're still snowed in - I watched two cars get stuck in our road yesterday and have to be towed out, and we've had more snow overnight, so we now have fresh snow on top of packed ice, all on a reasonably steep hill - so nobody was going anywhere yesterday. In fact, I never even got out of my pyjamas, until I had a bath in the evening and changed into a fresh pair.

This gave us plenty of time to talk, and because I was crying through most of the conversation, I found talking difficult. This meant there were often long silences, which DH would eventually fill - he isn't much of a talker usually about this sort of thing.

Before we were married, we agreed that we wanted children. Somehow, I already suspected that it would be a struggle, and we talked about what might happen if we couldn't have our own children and (I thought) agreed that in that case, we would seriously consider adoption.

Then when we were told we couldn't have children on our own, we discussed all the options and ended up (I thought) agreeing on a plan of action - Plan B, which we would try first, was IVF with our own eggs and sperm. Plan C was embryo adoption, Plan D normal adoption, and Plan E, which we hoped never to reach, was to live child-free.

As it's become clearer that Plan B might not work, I've been researching Plans C and D. I've told DH about my research, and he's been very dismissive and hasn't wanted to discuss it. The things he was saying yesterday morning suggested that he didn't even want to consider raising a child that wasn't genetically his.

In my already devastated and hormonal mind, he was pulling the rug out from under my feet, going back on our previous agreement and taking away any chance that I might ever have of being a mother. I don't think I've ever felt so hurt by another person.

We talked, and I cried, then I cried and we talked, then we went off and did other things around the house, then we talked and I cried again. And I think this is where we are now.

When we decided to try IVF, he put all his hope into that and immediately dismissed all other options, because he was so sure that the IVF would work. For him, there was no need to explore other options, because this was the option we had chosen and we would keep going until we succeeded.

He is now devastated that our second attempt didn't work, and beginning to realise that it might never work. He wouldn't say it in so many words, but he's desperate for us to go for our third attempt, because he's not willing to let go of his dream of having a baby using our own eggs and sperm. He's not ready to accept that we've reached the end of the road, and until he has accepted that he doesn't want to consider any other options.

For him, although we've discussed it many many times before, this is the first time he's seriously considered the possibility of bringing up children that he's not genetically related to - and on first consideration, he doesn't like the idea.

We talked about how low the chances of success are, how hard we've both found it emotionally this time round, and how hard the whole business is on me physically (not just the actual procedures and side effects of the drugs, but the logistics of juggling treatments with work and fitting everything in), and agreed that if we're given no more hope than we were offered last time, it's probably not worth trying again with our own eggs and sperm.

We've pretty much agreed that if Mr No Nonsense just offers us exactly the same protocol with no changes to dosage, drugs or anything, we're not going to put ourselves through this again. We also don't think we want to go to another clinic, as we like and trust the staff at our current clinic and the logistics of going to one further away would just make everything harder.

So we'll be spending Christmas grieving for the probable loss of any chance of having our own biological children. I'm actually hoping we stay snowed in, because the grieving process would be a lot easier for me if we weren't in a house full of his parents (who don't know anything about our IF struggles), his sister and BIL and their three children, his BIL's mother, two boisterous dogs and who knows who else. You see how selfish IF makes you - I'm willing for a large swathe of southern England to be dreadfully inconvenienced and have their Christmas plans ruined just so I can sit at home in my dressing-gown and feel sorry for myself...

But during his time off over Christmas, DH has also promised to do some reading about both embryo donation and adoption and to start trying to get his head round it. I told him I don't want to make him do anything he's not comfortable with, so unless he brings it up the subject is now off limits for the next few days.

So the Christmas gift I'm hoping for now is that DH will decide that bringing up children that aren't genetically ours is preferable to living without children.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Dealing with it

Yesterday was my busy day of looking after my nieces and rushing from one activity to another with them. This is what my back garden looked like when I got up yesterday morning.



We had about six inches of snow overnight. Fortunately, I had left my car out on the main road - our road is narrow and on a hill, and was completely impassable. I still had to do a lot of digging to be able to get the car out and set off, and the 17 miles to my sister's house took over an hour. This country doesn't really know how to cope with snow...

Fortunately, the snow wasn't as bad where they live - they only had a couple of inches, if that. I met my sister and Niece #3 as they were walking away from the school, having dropped #1 off and given #2 to someone else to drop at playgroup. We loaded #3 and my sister into the car and I drove to the hospital and dropped my sister off for her appointment.

The church and the playgroup are only a couple of hundred yards apart, so I parked between the two. Before getting in the car, I phoned the clinic to tell them my result. I think the person who answered was one of the embryologists. #3 was making a bit of noise in the background, so I explained that I was looking after her while her mother was at an antenatal appointment.

The embryologist replied with something along the lines of, "Isn't it ironic the way that works out? But you're really lucky - you get to have the fun and then you can hand her back when you've had enough."

I wanted to scream at her, "Why do you think I''ve put myself through all this? I want a baby that I don't HAVE to hand back", but I meekly muttered, "Yes" and then had a little cry before getting #3 out of the car. I left the pushchair in the car and just carried her down to the church. She showed no inclination to walk on the funny white stuff.

The children walk from the school to the church for their end-of-term Mass - a distance of a little over half a mile. The whole school walks together in a long crocodile, with a couple of policemen to stop the traffic for them when they have to cross a road, and it's quite a sight. #3 and I watched them arrive, spotted #1 and said hello to her, then went into the church.

#3 applauded every hymn, clapping her hands enthusiastically and saying "hurray". I should have shushed her, since we were in church, but it was so cute!

Meanwhile, as soon as I heard the sweet voices of 150-odd children singing the first hymn, my eyes started leaking again. I kept surreptitiously wiping the tears away, but it wasn't as easy to wipe away the sadness.

At 18 months, #3 can't ask what's wrong, and I'm not sure she even noticed that I was crying - but I think she did know I was sad. She was extra-cuddly, and she kept putting her little hands on my cheeks, gazing into my eyes and then pulling my head forwards to bump her forehead gently against mine. Then she would nestle her head under my chin for a cuddle before pulling back and putting her hands on my cheeks again.

We had to leave the church before the end of Mass to get to the playgroup for #2's nativity play. She was a cherubic little angel with pink wings and a sparkly wand. She sat there looking beautiful, joined in all the songs, and was a total star - and my sister arrived from the hospital just after the play finished. It was very sad that she missed it, but I got a few good photos, and I think a couple of her friends did as well.

By the time the play and the party afterwards were over, I had better control of myself, and when #1 was out of school, I played in the snow with #1 and #2 while my sister had a bit of a rest and then pottered about getting a few jobs done.

When I got home, our road had turned into an ice rink and I skated down the hill to a parking place. It was scary, and I'm not taking the car out again until the snow has cleared, if I can possibly help it.

DH had his office Christmas party last night, so I had the house to myself. I spent most of the evening looking at adoption websites, including a couple with profiles of children who are waiting for adoption.

We're not making any firm decisions until after we've had our follow-up appointment with Mr No Nonsense on 11 January, but I think we've reached the end of the road with our eggs and sperm. We're never going to have our own biological children, and since DH seemed very luke-warm the last time we talked about other options, this may be the end of the road altogether for my hopes of ever being a mother.

Christmas week - what a great time to be dealing with that.

Friday, 18 December 2009

The answer to my prayers

When the spotting slowed down and then stopped, I started praying really hard. Every time I thought about it, and every time I wiped and saw nothing, I said, "God, this is great - I'm getting excited about this. But if I'm going to get a negative result on Friday, I'd actually rather have a heads-up now. Please don't give me false hope and then let me come crashing down on Friday morning."

And now I have the answer to my prayer. And the answer is a big fat NO.

If He couldn't give me a baby, couldn't He at least have given me that?

For the record, I now know that not only do different people react differently to Cyclogest, but the same person can react differently on different cycles, even if the medication and dosage are identical on both cycles and they're only two months apart.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Obsession

So far, I've managed not to crack and test early, and now I only have one more day to wait.

The spotting slowed down considerably after I posted on Tuesday morning, and yesterday I had hardly any until the evening. I veer almost by the minute between total despair and thinking that there is some hope after all, and it's that bit of hope that makes it easier not to test - because I'm terrified of testing and getting a BFN. I'd like to spend another 24 hours living in my little dreamworld where a BFP remains a possibility, however remote.

In the meantime, I got quite a good demonstration yesterday evening of my level of subconscious obsession. I had written some notes on Business Property Relief for work, and as I proof-read them afterwards, I realised that several times instead of 'BPR', my fingers had automatically typed 'BFP'. Good job I checked before sending the stuff to print...

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The Christmas pudding and the gap

When my brother's sixth child (and fourth son) was born in September 2003, one of my aunts sent a little outfit for him to wear for his first Christmas. It was a cute little red Christmas pudding outfit with a hat to go with it, rather like this:



He wore it for his first Christmas, then it was sent to my sister in the UK for UK Niece #1 to wear for her first Christmas in 2004.

In 2005, it was the turn of SA Nephew #1. Because Christmas is in the summer in South Africa, Jeannie said she would take him into a refrigerated bottle store to dress him in the Christmas pudding outfit and take the requisite photo.

In 2006, there were two contenders - US Nephew #5 was born in May and UK Niece #2 was born in October. US Nephew #5 is a chunky little chap, so the outfit was too small for him and UK Niece #2 wore it.

In 2007, SA Nephew #2 wore it.

In 2008, UK Niece #3 wore it.

In 2010, my sister will be maintaining her record of claiming it back for every year that ends in an even number.

2009 was meant to be our year. When we got married in May 2008, everyone knew we would start trying straight away. There were all sorts of comments about how we would be needing the Christmas pudding outfit in 2009. After UK Niece #3 had worn it last year, my sister said she was putting it away and would keep it safe for me.

But there were no new babies at all in our family in 2009, so for the first time in seven Christmases, the Christmas pudding outfit won't be worn this Christmas Day.

That gap in its history will always be there, and will always remind me of the issue that dominated 2009 for me. There's a place in our family history that will always be empty - and I just don't know whether the corresponding empty place in my heart and in my home will also remain that way.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Welcome to the funfair

We've got it all here - (mood) swings, (emotional) rollercoaster, lucky dips...

Before I launch into it all, I just want to thank you all so much for your comments yesterday, congratulate Lin on her Christmas miracle and wish all good things to Egghunt, who is a fantastic cycle buddy and who I really really hope will be getting good news this week.

The day of my embryo transfer, I was plunged into a deep depression. I was sure this wasn't going to work, and I couldn't stand the thought of having to go through all this again - but deep down, I also couldn't stand the thought of stopping. I was looking towards a three-pronged fork in the road, with one prong seeming to be blocked off to me and the other two both leading to places I didn't want to go, and was afraid of going.

Gradually, I foolishly allowed hope to creep in. I experienced symptoms I hadn't had before, and I imagined writing in my BFP post, "I knew something was different this time" and listing out these symptoms. But something still held me back from excitedly posting them as they happened - as I would have done on IVF #1.

Saturday came and went with no spotting, and although I barely had time to think with my nieces here, by the end of the day I had a perfectly-honed BFP post in my head, all ready to be written and posted in the few minutes before I have to leave on Friday morning.

And then I woke up on Sunday like a bear with a sore head. I felt horrible, and in the shower I noticed that the prominent veins that I always get on my boobs during the 2WW had faded, as they always do a day or two before AF shows up.

While I was out shopping in the afternoon, I felt that old familiar feeling - and sure enough, when I got home I went to the loo and found that I was spotting. It continued yesterday - still light, still brown, but gradually increasing in volume, just like it did last time round, and accompanied by cramps, just to make sure I couldn't forget about it.

And as that horrid brown gunk trickles out of me, so does the last shred of hope for this cycle. I'm going to try not to test before Friday, because I've never had a good outcome when I've tested early, and I still have this irrational feeling that if I wait until the official test day, perhaps the universe will reward me for my patience by giving me a BFP.

But in my heart of hearts, I know it won't.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Whinging again

As we came out of church yesterday, there was a woman walking in front of us with two small boys. The smaller was dragging his feet, whinging, whining and whimpering: "I'm too tired. I want to be carried."

We got into our car, and I said to DH, "I feel like that little boy today. I'm in a really horrible mood."

He gave me a disparaging look and just said, "Yes" - and that single syllable seemed filled with disapproval and accusation.

We had some shopping to do, and he clearly didn't want to go with me, so I dropped him at home and took my miserable mood off to the shops.

Several hours later, I arrived home laden with shopping, and the first thing he did was apologise for upsetting me. I said I couldn't understand why he had reacted that way when all I was asking for was a bit of much-needed sympathy and comfort.

"I figured it out while you were gone," he said. "There's something else behind this, isn't there? Is it about the IVF?"

I said I was almost certain that there would be no good news for us on Friday, but I was also desperately tired and had felt as though there was a pressure cooker building up inside me in the morning. I told him the fact that I know most of the symptoms I'm suffering are just side effects of the Cyclogest doesn't make them any less real or any less uncomfortable.

And then, for the first time ever, he put his arms around me and started to cry with huge, gulping sobs, and we stood there for several minutes, holding each other and both weeping.

And today I'm waiting for our world to end and still feeling like that little boy outside the church.

I'm tired. I want to be carried.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

More fun with the nieces

Last week saw the arrival of our sixth cleaner in a year. I don't know what we do to them, but we seem to be the kiss of death to a budding house-cleaning career. Anyway, I really hope this one stays, for two reasons - first, because she did the most amazing job of cleaning all the areas that some of the others have missed. And second, because I kind of dread the inevitable question when I show them round the house. You see, once they've seen this...


... and then this ...

... and this ...


... they start to look a bit confused, and ask things like, "And who's looking after your children today?" And then I have to explain that I don't have any children, and they look at me as if I'm the Child-Catcher or something, and go home to their families and tell them they're cleaning for some crazy woman.

Anyway, being all set up for the children does make things much easier when the nieces come to stay, and they've stayed often enough that they're totally at home here.

I could have wished for a slighter later start than 6:00 yesterday morning, but the children were content to play in our bedroom (while DH moved into Niece #1's bed to finish his night's sleep) until a slightly more respectable breakfast time. One thing I did discover is that having a 1-year-old sitting on your chest is a very good way of establishing whether or not you have sore boobs.

I gave #1 and #2 their morning apple juice in a doll's tea set, which they thought was very cool - #2 declared the breakfast "the best tea party ever". ("Why do you have a doll's tea set?", you may ask. Well, it's made by the maker of our wedding china, in exactly the same pattern, and a friend gave it to me for my birthday.)

After breakfast we made the dough for the biscuits* (note to self: next time, make the dough the night before, because it would have been twice as quick without 'help'. Oh, and forget trying to make mince pies at the same time - I lost the will to live way before they were ready to 'help' with making the pastry) and then left it in the fridge while we went to the Christmas tree farm on the pretext of getting a wreath for the front door.

Actually, it was so they could see the cool mechanical models of Santa's workshop, Father Christmas being pulled in a sleigh by a reindeer, and various woodland animals in the snow. As a bonus, there was a live horse at one end of the farm, and its feed was on our side of the fence, so that children who hadn't refused to put their wellies on could have gone through the mud to pick some up and feed the horse. So that taught #1 and #2 a lesson...

We got home and set ourselves up round the kitchen table, where #1 and #2 did a pretty good job of rolling out the dough and cutting out and decorating their biscuits, although the lurid red and green sprinkles didn't stick as well as I had hoped.



I did give #3 a little lump of dough and a cookie cutter as well, but as expected, she promptly ate the lump of dough and then just played with the cookie cutter for a while.

#1 was very insistent when her parents arrived that they shouldn't be allowed into the kitchen, because she wanted to surprise them with the biscuits after lunch. So when she was dancing around in excitement, barely able to contain herself, saying, "We've got a surprise for you" and #2 said, first to my sister and then to my BIL, "Yes - it's some biscuits that we made", a certain amount of smoothing of ruffled feathers was needed.

After lunch #1 and #2 decorated the tree - all by themselves except for a bit of help with stringing the lights. Not bad for a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old, I think:

All in all, a pretty action-packed 24 hours. If only every day of the 2WW could go that quickly...

* By which, of course, I mean 'cookies' if you're American.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Diversion

Well, looking after three small children certainly helps to keep your mind off symptom-spotting.

Last night we went through my box of cookie cutters and sorted out all the Christmas ones. We also brought in last year's Christmas tree from the garden and Niece #2 watered it, then walked several times through the water she'd spilt in the process, each time coming to me to get her feet dried.

Meanwhile, Niece #3 was having great fun climbing up and down the stairs. I always knew when she was off, because my dad has a little song he's sung with all his children and grandchildren that goes "Upstairs we go, upstairs we go..." (or "Downstairs...", depending which way you're heading), and every time she headed for the stairs, she started to sing it. She doesn't say many words yet, but the tune was definitely recognisable.

We're going to make biscuits and mince pies this morning, then decorate the (rather manky-looking, now I look at it) Christmas tree and put the crib set out.

Niece #1 was somewhat horrified last night when I brought her downstairs again after I'd put them all to bed. There were carol singers outside, and they knocked at the door, so while DH opened the door I went to see if Niece #1 was still awake. Finding that she was, I brought her downstairs, and to her great bemusement took her to the open front door, where several people were standing in a semicircle singing Christmas carols while another was holding out a big basket of chocolates in her direction.

As I took her back upstairs, I said, "Wasn't that exciting?"

She gave me a rather disapproving look and replied, "I'd better put this chocolate by my bed for the morning. I've already brushed my teeth, you know."

I'm obviously designed to be the fun aunt rather than the sensible mother...

Friday, 11 December 2009

Halfway

I'm officially halfway through the two week wait, and I haven't gone totally crazy yet! In reality, if the result is going to be negative I should know long before the two weeks are up. My normal luteal phase is about 12 or 13 days, usually with at least a couple of days of spotting towards the end.

The side effects of the Cyclogest really started to kick in yesterday - I think largely because this is the stage when my progesterone levels drop, and my body isn't used to having them kept artificially high. It's like nature and the drugs are fighting a little battle, and my body is the battleground.

I have plenty to keep me occupied over the next week, which I'm hoping will ease the impact if the result is negative. Here's my schedule, and just for fun (?) I've included in square brackets anything significant that was happening at the equivalent stage in the last IVF cycle.

Today (9 DPO) - I'm working from home. I have my acupuncture appointment this morning, then after school this afternoon my sister is dropping her three children off for a 'nightover' (as the five-year-old calls it).

Tomorrow (10 DPO) [the day I started spotting last time, though I also had taste aversions and unusual 'have to eat now' hunger] - Christmas preparations with the children, sister and BIL coming for lunch and picking up the children, out in the evening with our pub quiz team to spend our winnings for the last few months on a slap-up Christmas dinner.

Sunday (11 DPO) [more spotting last time, though still not heavy, but still hopeful because I still had taste aversions and unusual appetite] - Mass, then either shopping or quiet afternoon at home with DH, depending how I feel.

Monday (12 DPO) [spotting heavier - realised it was probably all over and had total meltdown last time] - working from home all day, then DH is out in the evening for his first proper driving lesson. Serious willpower will be needed to keep my mind on my work.

Tuesday (13 DPO) - in the office; going out for lunch with girls from the department to celebrate our administrator's birthday. DH has his second driving lesson in the evening.

Wednesday (14 DPO) [POAS - first BFN] - working from home all day, then putting in brief appearance at gym Christmas party before going on to our book club Christmas party.

Thursday (15 DPO) - working from home again, then going out in the early evening for a meal with Forum Friend.

Friday (16 DPO - official test day) [POAS again - official BFN] - have to be at my sister's before 9 to take the little ones so she can drop the eldest at school then get to the hospital for her antenatal appointment. Drop Niece #2 at playgroup, take Niece #3 to Niece #1's end of term Mass, probably have to leave Mass before the end to get to Niece #2's nativity play, go from there to the school to pick up Niece #1, who's finishing early because it's the last day of term - at some stage during all this, ring the clinic to tell them the result of my POAS. If by some miracle it's positive, rush back from my sister's place to the clinic to pick up a new Cyclogest prescription. I've been invited to a party in the evening, to which I almost certainly won't go, but DH definitely won't be at home, as he has his office Christmas party.

It's going to be a busy old week, and I'm hoping against hope it won't have bad news at the end of it - or in the middle...

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Obsession

I'm very proud of myself, because this morning it's five days since I last took my temperature, having charted religiously since February. (I'm pretty sure, though, that the Cyclogest is making it higher than usual, as despite having fewer night sweats this time round, I've had a heat rash on my neck since Tuesday night and it seems to be growing.)

However, I'm glad I have twelve cycles' worth (yes, I have SHORT cycles) of information stored on Fertility Friend.

Yesterday I started to let a degree of obsessive symptom-spotting creep back into my life. I'm not halfway through the two-week wait yet, and I'm determined not to get as obsessed as I did last time.

When I started getting major cramps yesterday, I went straight to my record on Fertility Friend and had a look at the symptom analyser. It told me that in precisely six of the last 12 cycles, I have recorded cramping on 7 DPO. Rather than spend the next two or three hours pointlessly Googling, this information enabled me to let it go and get back to work, knowing that the cramps tell me precisely nothing.

Being a recovering obsessive is a great help in ... errrm ... recovering from an obsession.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The accidental stalker

During my last two week wait, I went for coffee on the middle Sunday with a couple of people I'd met on a fertility forum. They're lovely people, we understood each other perfectly, and because we're all being treated at the same clinic, we were able to share our experiences of the clinic and its staff. At times we sounded like a meeting of the Nurse Perfect Official Fan Club, as the others share my high opinion of her.

When we parted to get in our cars and go home, all three of us were staggered to find that a little over three hours had passed while we chatted. It was only the second time I'd met one of them and the first time I'd met the other.

Well, the one I met for the first time that day has e-mailed me a few times since then. She was hugely supportive when I got my BFN, then she got a BFN a few days later and we propped each other up. Let's call her Forum Friend.

Yesterday I had an e-mail from Forum Friend, in which she said she understood that I might not have felt like answering any of her text messages, but she wanted me to know she was thinking of me and hoped everything was going OK.

I hadn't actually received any messages, and we eventually worked out that when she put my mobile number into her phone, she transposed two digits.

I find the idea of some random stranger receiving the messages that were meant for me rather funny. Just imagine some spotty teenager or self-important businessman going about his day, minding his own business, and suddenly his phone beeps with a message saying, "Thinking of you today. Good luck with your egg collection."

Hours later, his phone beeps again, "Hope all went well. How many eggs did you get?"

Later still, another beep (after Forum Friend had got my e-mail update): "Yay! Four eggs! That's fantastic!!"

The recipient must have thought they were being pursued by a stalker with a chicken fetish!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Briefly emerging from the closet

I know I said I wasn't going to tell my family about this cycle - and that's still mostly true. But Jeannie obviously knows about it, and my sister and her family will be visiting Jeannie for Christmas.

Also, to carry on the theme of slightly unfortunate timings, I realised at the weekend that I already have something in my diary for Official Test Day. My sister is being pulled in several different directions that day, so I'll be looking after Niece #3 and taking her with me to Niece #1's end-of-term Mass followed by Niece #2's playgroup nativity play, while my sister is at the hospital having an antenatal checkup for Niece (or Nephew) #4.

When talking to my sister yesterday about the plans for that day, I thought it was only fair to warn her what else will be going on that day - having sworn her to secrecy and warned her several times that she's not to mention it to my parents, on pain of death.

Her first reaction when I told her what all the timings were was, "So you're pregnant right now this minute!"

"No," I replied. "I'm PUPO - just pregnant until proven otherwise."

I said I hadn't intended to tell anyone, partly because I didn't want to ruin their Christmas as well as ours if we get another BFN, and partly because of some of the insensitive (if usually well-meaning) comments I got last time.

She said, "What if I accidentally say something insensitive?"

I replied, "I'm confident you won't."

But she persisted, "I'm sitting here surrounded by antenatal stuff, though, and I've asked you to look after my children while I go for an appointment. That's a bit insensitive."

And that concern and understanding that she shows is why I absolutely meant it when I said, "There is nothing that could ever happen to me that would make me anything less than happy for your good fortune."

It amazes me that here she is on her third pregnancy in a little over three years, and yet she totally understands and is sensitive to my situation. I'm so lucky to have her, and if being babysitter of choice for her children is the closest I get to my dreams, I know I'm still luckier than a lot of people.

(I'd still love to be able to give them another cousin, though...)

Monday, 7 December 2009

Advent

It's kind of appropriate to be enduring the two week wait during Advent - traditionally a time of hope, expectation and waiting.

I was reading the Sunday papers yesterday and came across a report of the Pope's homily for the beginning of Advent. It included the following words:
"[T]here are many different ways of waiting. If time is not filled by a present endowed with meaning expectation risks becoming unbearable; if one expects something but at a given moment there is nothing, in other words if the present remains empty, every instant that passes appears extremely long and waiting becomes too heavy a burden because the future remains completely uncertain. On the other hand, when time is endowed with meaning and at every instant we perceive something specific and worthwhile, it is then that the joy of expectation makes the present more precious. Dear brothers and sisters, let us experience intensely the present in which we already receive the gifts of the Lord, let us live it focused on the future, a future charged with hope."

I'm not sure what's going to happen in a couple of weeks' time. I expect to be disappointed, but I still hold out a small hope for a miracle.

But in the meantime, my present isn't and shouldn't be empty, and I shouldn't find this period of waiting so unbearable. I know I have so much to be thankful for - my husband, my family, my home, my friends and so many other things. If I weren't constantly focusing on what I don't have - and may well never have - I would be so much happier.

It's a good reminder. The next couple of weeks will go so much quicker if I can focus on what I have and not on what I'm missing out on.

And this morning I'd better start by catching up on the work I didn't do last week, because otherwise I won't have a job to focus on for much longer...

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Timing

Most Saturday mornings, I spend at least an hour on the phone to my mother. We haven't really had the chance to do that since before DH and I went to Lanzarote, so yesterday we were both looking forward to our conversation. Unfortunately, I was still suffering from Leaky Eye Syndrome (otherwise known as Total Despair), and wondered how I was going to get through the call without her realising that I was, at best, on the verge of tears.

So it really wasn't a good time for her to start our conversation with, "By the way, you never told us what happened at your follow-up appointment with the consultant."

Actually, I had told her all I was ready to share, but I ran through it all again. You know the details, so I won't bore you with them. I finished by telling her that we had decided we might have one more attempt, might have two, but definitely wouldn't have more than three in total. So then she wanted to know when these other attempts might happen, and as we're not telling my family about this cycle until it's completely over (though I'm sure my parents have guessed and she was actually fishing), I said something vague about timing depending on a lot of other factors.

And that's when she hit me with it.

"Well, you need to think about these things, because if you wait too long you'll be too old to run around after a small child, and it won't be fair on the child."

I dissembled a little bit, and then I said I really didn't want to talk about it right then, and we moved onto safer subjects.

But afterwards, I carried on thinking about what she'd said, and I realised she's right. I've wanted to be a mother for as long as I can remember, and my friends and family have encouraged me and said they think I would make a good mother. I happen to think I already make quite a good aunt and godmother.

But now I'm thinking that it's probably true that I could have been a good mother when I was in my twenties and thirties. But now I'm 40. I have a bad back, and I'm not as patient as I used to be. DH is in his late 40s, and is definitely middle-aged. As a bachelor, he was more Timothy Lumsden than Gary or Tony, and at the school gates he would definitely be mistaken for the child's grandfather rather than its father.

Our time never came when we were young and fit for anything, but maybe now it's passed. And maybe we should accept that, because being an only child is one thing, but maybe being an only child of elderly parents is even worse.

And maybe this shouldn't be about us, but about what's best for the person we're hoping to bring into the world - not just the baby that would be showered with love, but the active toddler, the pre-teen who wants to kick a ball around or go on long bike rides with his or her parents, the stroppy teenager, the adult who has nobody to share the responsibility of looking after the ailing parents.

Giving up on our dream certainly doesn't feel like the right thing for me - there will always be a hole in my life where my children should have been. But maybe it's the fairest and most reasonable thing for the child or children that would otherwise have the burden of having us as parents. And maybe it would be selfish to pursue this dream any further.

I hate it when my mother's right.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

A bit of cosseting

So, I was going to be all tough and macho about this round of IVF. I knew what to expect, so I didn't have to be afraid of any of the procedures. And I thought of all those people who get pregnant naturally, and the sort of active life they lead while not knowing that they're pregnant - and I told myself that I should carry on as normal after transfer and not make any allowances for what may or may not be going on inside.

There were two things I'd forgotten.

The first is that the thing that really screwed with my head last time, the thing I'm really afraid of, is the roller-coaster of the two week wait and the almost certain negative result at the end of it. The odds for us are not high - my eggs are too old, and DH's sperm are too thin on the ground, too lazy and too misshapen.

Yes, we have an embryo, but it's more likely than not to fail to implant. And having only got one embryo this time, the odds for success if we try again are likely to be even lower. I feel like this really is our last chance, and I can cope with the physical pain of going through any number of procedures much better than I can cope with the mental anguish of finally admitting that we have nowhere else to go, and that our dream of having our own children will never be realised.

The second thing I'd forgotten is that those people who carry on as normal and have no idea that they're pregnant have usually conceived after a hugely enjoyable encounter with someone they love. They've enjoyed intimacy, exchanged loving words, maybe fallen asleep in each other's arms afterwards.

What they haven't had to go through is a series of injections which give them wild mood swings, a bruised stomach and a feeling of crushing exhaustion.

They haven't had half the population of southern England shoving pieces of electronic wizardry up their bits to see how they're looking today.

They haven't had huge needles stuck through their vaginal wall and into their ovaries to retrieve whatever poor harvest of eggs they were able to come up with, and felt the cramping and bruising that results from that procedure.

They haven't stayed awake through the night of total insomnia which seems to be some people's reward for having gone through a procedure involving anaesthetic ("you may feel drowsy afterwards"? Are you kidding me???).

They haven't gone back two days later to be cranked open with a car jack and have their already bruised bits fiddled around with again, this time with no pain relief or sedation because someone has decreed that this bit isn't painful for most women.

And they haven't suffered the indignity of lying half-naked on a trolley, legs akimbo and feet in stirrups, weeping inconsolably at the thought of the next two weeks of mental anguish and the idea that if this doesn't work, it's probably the end of the road.

So I'm going to be gentle with myself this weekend. Mental and emotional healing will take longer, but at least I'm going to take it easy until my body has physically healed from all that it's gone through over the last week. And then I might do the macho thing and see if I can put this out of my mind for a few days.

Or then again, since very few people in real life know that we're going through this at the moment, I might whinge endlessly and pointlessly to the cyberworld about how hopeless I'm feeling every day for the next two weeks.

Sorry, it's not going to be an interesting fortnight here on this blog...

Friday, 4 December 2009

A tale of two transfers

First, thank you so much for all your comments and encouragement on my last post - they really meant a lot to me. Rucksack did survive the night, and was put back in as a 4-cell, grade 3 embryo - and I don't even have the heart to say that I'm PUPO.

After transfer last time, I felt elated, and I walked out into the early autumn sunshine to call DH and tell him the good news.

This time, I felt violated, and as I walked out into the cold, grey winter air, I texted DH to say the deed was done.

Last time, I had great hopes for our two little embabies, and although the process was uncomfortable, I was relieved that it was at least quick.

This time, there was more fumbling. Mr No Nonsense took out the first speculum he tried and called for a different one, and the car jack had to be cranked several times before he was satisfied with its positioning. I felt as though my insides were being split in two, and wondered if I wasn't meant to get pregnant because my pain threshold is too low to cope with childbirth.

As I waited for the embryologist to check that the catheter was clear, big tears started to roll down my cheeks. My overwhelming thought was that I couldn't bear to go through this again - not with our own embryos, that have such a low chance of survival, and not with donated embryos either. I lay there and cried as Nurse First Time tidied everything up, then I cried all the way through her spiel about what I should and shouldn't be doing for the next two weeks.

I don't want to go through this again. This isn't how it's meant to be. I'm so jealous of people who get pregnant the normal way, and so sad that we had to go through all of this - and it'll probably end up being for nothing.

The naive optimism of the first cycle has given way to the weary resignation of the second. Tomorrow I'll work on trying to be a bit more positive. For tonight, I need to wallow a bit in my depression.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Rucksack II

Well, it turns out Nurse Perfect was right - only two of my eggs were mature, and only one of those fertilised. So unless it splits to give us identical twins, the maximum number of babies we're looking at is one.

When our first cycle came to an end and we started looking forward to the second cycle, I asked DH whether we should choose new names for any future embryos. He was quite insistent that we shouldn't - we've always referred to our future children as Rucksack and Ray-Ray, and he didn't want to change that.

The name Rucksack came about several months before we were married - maybe even before we were engaged. I was teasing DH about what a Mummy's Boy he is, and said that our children would be brought up to be ready for anything and would grow up to be intrepid explorers. We decided that Rucksack would be a good name for our future intrepid explorer, and that he or she would be rugged, adventurous and capable.

So the little bundle of dividing cells in the petri dish down at the clinic has now been named Rucksack the Second, and I hope he or she turns out to be as rugged and adventurous as necessary to survive until transfer tomorrow afternoon. Then I hope he or she brings a tiny little pickaxe and a pair of crampons to help with the burrowing-in process and will then stick around in there for nine months or so before bursting into the world ready for a whole new set of adventures.

I'm kind of sad, because if Rucksack II manages to cling on, he or she will almost certainly be an only child - the likelihood of success in a year or more's time is too remote to put ourselves through the expense and the physical and emotional strain again if we already have a child.

I'm also kind of apprehensive, because we now really do have all our eggs in one basket. Last time we had three embryos at this stage, and one didn't make it. What if Rucksack II is the one that doesn't make it this time, and we end up not even making it to transfer? Would that actually be preferable to the two weeks of torture I went through last time, only to end up with the same result? And if Rucksack II isn't going to make it in the end, wouldn't it be better not to have to go through the embryo transfer, which for me is the most uncomfortable part of this whole process?

But I'm also kind of excited. I can't write my little explorer off just yet, and I'm hoping and praying that we make it to transfer and get to see those two pink lines in a couple of weeks.

The next 24 hours will be long, and hopefully the two weeks after that will be even longer. But I hope Rucksack II gets to come home with me tomorrow, back where he or she belongs.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Managing expectations

Remember how last time I was expecting (hoping for) four eggs and ended up with six?

Well, this time Nurse Perfect seemed pretty confident that we wouldn't get more than 2, and maybe not even that many.

So thank you so much for all your prayers and encouraging thoughts directed towards my right ovary, because we actually got (drum roll please)..... FOUR!!

And I didn't have to be intubated this time, so they didn't need to give me the extra level of anaesthetic - in fact, if they hadn't insisted on keeping me until I had a normal temperature reading (the room was really hot again and my temperature when I asked if I could go home was over 38C/100.4F), I could have been home at a fairly decent time.

I did tell them that we'd had the same problem before I went down to theatre last time, but rules is rules, so the window was opened as wide as they could manage it, the heating was turned off, my blanket was confiscated, I was told to drink lots of cold water (the full cup of water I managed to spill all over my bed probably helped a bit too) and keep my draughty hospital gown on, and the fan was turned on full blast. After an hour and a half of that, I felt that hypothermia was about to set in, and my temperature was declared normal.

In keeping with my determinedly relaxed approach to this second cycle, and thanks to the delay in me being released from the hospital, our friend drove us straight from the hospital to the... errrrm... pub! We do a pub quiz once a fortnight, and tonight was the special Christmas Quiz, so we couldn't let our team down. And sure enough, we won - this week's winnings were only £32, but still a healthy contribution to our team Christmas dinner on Saturday week.

I do have a lot more cramping than last time - partly, I think, because they didn't give me a heat pad this time in recovery, and I really found the heat helped to keep everything relaxed. And DH is off my Christmas card list, as when I asked him to carry my bag out to the car from my hospital room (you know, having just been under a general anaesthetic and had nasty things poked in my bits) he said I was "milking it".

But I'm really pleased with how it went today - and now I'm praying for a good fertilisation report tomorrow lunchtime.

The chatty commuter and the smouldering volcano

I nearly erupted last night. I was already pretty exhausted from the 3:15 am trigger shot - although it was undoubtedly better than the 4:45 am timing I had last time, it still meant I woke up every half hour for most of the night, anxious that I would sleep through the vital time. And by the time I'd turned the light on and stuck a needle in my stomach, I was awake enough to have a pretty good Insomnia Hour after doing the shot. So I really hated my alarm going off at 6:15 to tell me it was time to get up for work.

Then there are the horror-moans. The fact that I know it's all hormonal doesn't make the pressure cooker that builds up inside me any less intense. I wasn't sure yesterday evening whether I was going to yell at someone or burst into tears, but the latter actually felt a lot closer.

So it wasn't a good time for the trains to be screwed up, and for Mr Chatty-Chatty to spot me and make a beeline for me as I was changing trains on the way home in the evening. Mr Chatty-Chatty is someone who usually commutes on the same train as us in the morning, but he finishes work earlier than us, so we don't often see him in the evening. He likes to Talk, and he loves a captive audience. In one way, it's fine - you don't need to do much more than smile and nod every so often as he sustains his monologue for the full hour it takes to complete the journey.

In the morning, I can take it. Although it's early and I don't feel very sociable, I've come to accept him as a feature of the 7:16 into London.

But in the evening, after a hard day at work, I don't even want DH to talk to me. I just want to retreat into my little world, read the Evening Standard and quietly process my thoughts. That way, by the time I get home I'm ready to cook the supper and ask DH about his day.

Last night I didn't have DH there to act as my foil, and I didn't manage to hide in time. Mr Chatty-Chatty started talking at me as we stood on the station waiting for our train, and then he sat down opposite me and carried on talking, even though I said pointedly at least three times that I was hoping to finish reading my Evening Standard before I got home. It was open on my lap in front of me, but he wouldn't take the hint.

We had to change trains again, and again he followed me, sat down opposite me and kept me from my paper.

By the time I got off the train, I was a mini-Vesuvius, just waiting to erupt. My quiet time had been ruined, and I was in no mood to do anything remotely civilised.

As I reached my front door, my mobile began to ring. I took it out of my pocket, opened it up... and the person hung up as I answered it. Then I heard the phone inside the house begin to ring, and fumbled to put the mobile back in my pocket, get out my key and get it into the lock. The house phone stopped ringing just as I got to it, and the person didn't leave a message.

DH took one look at my face and hurried off to get me my drink of choice - a mug of hot milk. When he brought the mug through, with milk all over its outside, I knew that he had set the microwave for too long a time and let it boil over. I asked him to wipe the outside of the mug so that I wouldn't get milk everywhere. He took it into the kitchen, then returned with the very bottom of the mug wiped, but milk still all round the outside. I pointed out that the mug was still covered in milk, and he took it back into the kitchen - and brought it back with one side wiped and the other side still covered in milk.

The reduction in my stress levels over the last three weeks is amply demonstrated by the fact that DH didn't end up wearing a light coating of warm milk for the rest of the evening. I managed to hold myself together, but the volcano continued to bubble away and I remained out of sorts all evening.

I think someone might have left the front door open, because when I announced at about 9:00 that I was going to have an early night, a huge gust of wind swept through the house.

Or maybe it was just poor DH's sigh of relief.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Acupuncture and stress

Thank you all so much for leaving such lovely encouraging and supportive comments again yesterday. I think all your comments mean even more to me at the moment, because we're keeping as quiet as possible about this round to people in real life. As well as finding it very difficult having to tell people we'd failed, I had some issues with people making insensitive comments or asking intrusive questions at inappropriate times last time, so this time we're doing it without so many real-life cheerleaders.

And what with the fact that it's only just over a fortnight since we came back from the most relaxing holiday ever, combined with the fact that I'm keeping busy to try to keep my mind off worrying about the IVF (helped by the fact that most people don't know that we're having another go, so they're not asking about it every five minutes), my stress levels are much lower than last time. In fact, they're much lower than I remember them being for months, if not years.

This was borne out by something my acupuncturist and I both found very interesting yesterday.

When he's sticking the needles in me, he pokes up and down various places in my legs, and there are several places on the outside of each of my legs where when he presses gently with his finger, I usually practically have to be peeled off the ceiling, because it feels as though he's sticking hot skewers into fresh wounds.

He has often told me that he has never known anybody on whom those points are so sensitive, and that this sensitivity is linked to stress. The channel that the points are on is the gall bladder channel, which runs all the way down both sides of the body. Apparently in Chinese medicine it's often thought of as being like a seam. When you're very stressed, it's as though you're trying to hold your body together and this seam gets overstretched.

Anyway, he was halfway through his poking and prodding yesterday and I suddenly realised that I hadn't felt any pain. I mentioned it to him, and he pressed some of the areas that usually have me jumping ten feet in the air, and all I felt was - well - someone pressing his fingers lightly on the side of my leg.

And then he finished putting the needles in, left me to relax, and I promptly fell asleep - something I've actually only done once before in nine months of having acupuncture.

So I may be about to have a busted IVF cycle, I may be totally exhausted after a Gonal-F-fuelled weekend of hectic activity, and I may be a bit emotionally wrung out from spending yesterday afternoon at a funeral, but apparently my body is more relaxed than it has been for months.

It's kind of good to know...

Monday, 30 November 2009

The unexpected

Well, my body has an endless capacity to surprise (and disappoint) me.

I've just got back from another scan. The two follicles on my left ovary have grown to 18mm and 19mm. The two on the right (the third little one we saw on Saturday wasn't really visible at all) are stubbornly stuck at 10mm. As they haven't grown at all since Saturday, it looks as though the egg count we're looking at is two.

Given that the ones on the left are pretty much ready and the ones on the right don't seem to be growing, Nurse Perfect decided we might as well go ahead with egg collection on Wednesday. That's right - we were aiming for next Monday or possibly this Friday, and it now turns out that I'll be doing my trigger injection at 3:15 tomorrow morning and then going in for egg collection the day after tomorrow. I just hope DH can get the time off work at such short notice - he's on his way to work at the moment, so he doesn't know yet.

I'm kind of gutted that we might only get two eggs. On the plus side, that would be a whole lot better than none at all. And if they both fertilise, that's all we need. But I don't like the odds. Last time we had six eggs, of which five were suitable for injection, three fertilised and only two survived to transfer. That's a survival-to-transfer rate of one in three, and if we don't even get three eggs this time...

Well, let's just say I'm going to be doing an awful lot of praying over the next 48 hours. And probably also a lot of talking to my right ovary to try to persuade it to pull its finger out and start growing those follicles.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Birthday banquet

Well, I think DH enjoyed his birthday meal. Because we had some meat-eaters and some vegetarians coming, I'd decided to do a Chinese meal so that they could easily pick and choose which dishes they ate from.

During the afternoon I chopped, sliced and diced, until every surface in the kitchen looked like this.


I also made a chocolate birthday cake - it collapsed a bit in the middle, but nobody seemed to be complaining.


And I made DH's favourite pudding - a trifle. I don't know if you can tell from the photo, but the sprinkles on top are in the shape of dinosaurs - a little reference to the fact that he's seven years older than me.


This is what the table looked like before we started. For starters, we had sliced tomato, marinated cucumber, and prawn crackers.


After we'd eaten all ten dishes and before I cleared away for pudding, this is what the table looked like - not too many leftovers, which is always good to see.

It was a great evening with some lovely friends, and now we're looking forward to taking the remains of the cake and spending some time with DH's parents. I must say, though, that I'm looking forward even more to getting home this evening and putting my feet up for a couple of hours...

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Progress

This morning's appointment went well. I have two 11mm follicles on the left, one 10mm on the right and two smaller ones coming up behind on the right. Hopefully that'll be enough...

I had my massive Cetrotide injection. Remember what happened last time? If anything, the swelling this time is bigger, and while I was walking round the supermarket picking up ingredients for tonight's feast, I was really wishing my trousers were considerably looser.

Still, we're moving forward, and I've now changed out of my bloodstained t-shirt (the injection site obviously bled for a little while...) and must start cooking.

Feeling like the Seven Dwarfs

... well, some of the originals and some of their mates. After only two (rhinoceros) doses of Gonal-F, I am now Sleepy, Grumpy, Spotty, Bloated, Sweaty, Weepy and Psycho.

And here's our schedule for the next few days.

Today I have to get to the clinic by 8:15 for a scan, then drop DH off for his first driving lesson (in a simulator so he can get used to the controls before having to worry about dealing with other traffic - I'm so excited that he's finally got round to booking it), do a whole load of shopping, pick DH up again, spend the afternoon peeling, chopping, slicing and dicing, make DH's birthday cake, wrap his presents, cook a meal for the six people who are coming round for dinner this evening, and then collapse into bed hopefully some time before midnight.

Tomorrow is DH's actual birthday, so I'll make him breakfast in the morning and give him his presents. Then we'll go to Mass and go straight from there to pick his parents up (20-odd miles away) and take them out to a restaurant for lunch. Back to their house for tea and cake (must remember to take the cake with us), then home in time to do my jab and collapse for the evening.

Monday - scan very early in the morning, followed by acupuncture, then a two hour drive to go to my best friend's mother-in-law's funeral, go to the wake afterwards and try to speak wise words to my goddaughter, who is apparently distraught at the loss of her grandmother, then two hour drive home in time to do my jab and collapse for the evening.

And then five days' work in four days over the rest of the week, as I don't have enough holiday left to take Monday as holiday.

And all this in the company of the New Improved Seven Dwarfs.

Well, at least I won't have time to sit around obsessing about whether this treatment's going to work...

Friday, 27 November 2009

Ah yes, now I remember...

The chief effect of Gonal-F
Is bringing on a mini-death.
The next few weeks I'll sleep and sleep
And in between I'll rant and weep.

Normality - it was good while it lasted. It took the first dose of Gonal-F precisely two and three quarter hours to remind me of the overwhelming sensation from the last IVF cycle.

Exhaustion.

Wake me up when it's all over...

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Giving thanks

Happy Thanksgiving to all those of you who are celebrating!

We don't have a Thanksgiving holiday over here, either now or at any other time, but I think it's a wonderful holiday, so I'm taking it as a chance to reflect on some of the things that I have to be thankful for at the moment.

First, I'm thankful for my husband. I'd given up on ever finding someone to share my life with when I met him, and now I can't imagine my life without him in it. He is sweet, loving, hugely knowledgeable, totally undomesticated, and the more time I spend with him, the more time I want to spend with him.

Second, I'm thankful that I have such a wonderful family and friends. They're a blessing in two ways - firstly, in the love and support that all of them give me, in good times and in bad. And secondly, even if DH and I end up never having children of our own, I have nephews, nieces and godchildren that I'm very close to. I still get to go to nursery school nativity plays, I still get the notes in wobbly five-year-old handwriting that say "I love you", and I still get the hugs from tiny little arms and the text messages from bored teenagers.

Third, I'm thankful that I live in an age and in a country where I have central heating, an automatic washing-machine, hot and cold running water and a reliable electricity supply. I spent several years in my twenties living without any of those things, and it made me realise what a luxury they are.

Fourth, I'm thankful that I live in an age where infertility is something that can be diagnosed and discussed. I can't imagine how hard it would have been just to keep trying and hoping as we were, month after month after month, until I went through the menopause and realised that it was all over. To know what the problem is and to have a chance, however slim, of overcoming that problem with the help of technology is a wonderful thing.

Fifth, I'm thankful for the internet. I'm hugely grateful for the connections that it creates between people on opposite sides of the world who are going through similar experiences and are able to realise that they're not alone and offer each other advice and support.

Equally, I'm grateful for the contact that it gives me with my own family. Only a century ago, if a member of your family emigrated to the other side of the world, you might have expected never to see them again. Two hundred years ago, it would literally take weeks even to exchange correspondence with them, and you could have nephews and nieces, or even grandchildren, that you never even knew about.

Now, I almost take it for granted that I can pick up the phone and talk to family in the US and South Africa. When each of my nieces and nephews was born, on three different continents, I was able to see photos of them the day they were born. And my youngest American nephews even think it's perfectly normal to be able to chat to us live through the computer screen and show us what toys they're playing with and what pictures they've just drawn, thanks to Skype.

Sixth, I'm thankful that I have a good job and a (reasonably) good work ethic and am able to earn enough money to be comfortable and enjoy all of these things. People who think money isn't important have obviously never been short of it, and I'm grateful that DH and I are not hugely extravagant and that we have built up enough savings to be able to make certain decisions without money being a major factor in those decisions.

And finally, because I have to stop somewhere, tonight I'll be doing my first jab of this second ICSI cycle, and I'll be thankful that the needle isn't bigger, and that I'm not needle phobic!

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

At the starting gates

Thank you so much for all your good luck messages - they really meant a lot. Also, before I get started on my news, CONGRATULATIONS to Sonja, who got her BFP yesterday. I'm so chuffed for her - she has been so supportive to me while going through the most horrible experience in her first IVF cycle, and I couldn't be more pleased that her second cycle has been so successful. And of course, it also gives me hope that a BFP is possible even without perfect-looking embryos.

I went down to the hospital with some trepidation this morning, as I've had some twinges in my left ovary and was afraid there might be another cyst. I couldn't stand the thought of having to wait until after Christmas, especially as I would have been in exactly the same position that I was in when I had the cyst in September, where the lost time was the time that would have fitted in perfectly with work and once my body was ready to co-operate, work would have kicked off again.

Anyway, Nurse Perfect said my lining was coming away nicely and both ovaries were looking good. She could see the beginnings of two or three follicles on the left ovary, and although the right ovary was looking quieter, it also had the possible beginnings of a couple of follicles.

Technically, they count today as CD2, so she told me to start my injections tomorrow. I then picked up my SIX boxes of Gonal-F (a snip at £110 a box - I hope my family don't expect any Christmas presents) and set up my monitoring appointments - the first one will be on Saturday morning.

So now I need to ring my acupuncturist and see if I can get some appointments set up with him, and then tonight DH and I need to fill in all the forms again. There seems to be a new HFEA form since October, so that'll be a bit of excitement for us...

I still don't know how I feel about this cycle. I'm approaching it very differently - for a start, I haven't yet told my family (apart from one SIL who reads this blog - hi Jeannie!) that we're going ahead, and if I do, it'll probably only be one of my sisters and my parents that I tell. I'm preparing for failure already, and since if we get that far, my official test day is likely to be in Christmas week, I don't want to put a downer on everybody's Christmas.

My colleagues will probably know, as egg collection is likely to be the day of our department Christmas lunch, and they'll want to know why I'm missing it. And some of the neighbours might know, because we need them to witness our signatures on the HFEA forms. But they're not emotionally invested in this the way my family and close friends are, so a BFN for us in Christmas week won't impinge on any of their Christmas celebrations.

I also intend to keep as busy as possible (within reason) and give myself less time to dwell on what's happening. I know what to expect at each stage of the process, so I'll try to stay away from Google and rely on my memory of what I've already read and experienced for myself. And it's pretty easy to keep busy in the run-up to Christmas, so hopefully I won't get as obsessed as I did last time - I don't know if that had any effect on the result, but it certainly affected the emotional impact it had on me and contributed to the total meltdown I had and the difficulty I had picking myself up again afterwards.

So, bring on those horror-moans and let's get started!