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My daughter is about to turn four. One day I’ll tell her all about how long we waited for her.
We didn’t realise we had a problem, and even now, I can’t tell you exactly what it was; “unexplained infertility” is the technical term. Not very technical really. We just realised that we may need help when we had been consciously trying – at the right moments – for a year, and nothing was happening.
That’s the thing with most couples, from what I can gauge. You decide to have a baby, and think, we’ll try, and then blush happily as you mention to loved ones that a small bump may appear imminently. Only sometimes, it doesn’t. One assumes it will all work out from the outset, so issues are more often than not faced with surprise and shock. At least, this was the case for us.
We had everything checked: his sperm, my tubes, blue ink run through to make sure there were no blockages, blood tests, the lot. Still nothing conclusive, so we decided to take action.
My husband is the pragmatic sort; he likes numbers, figures, Excel. So the idea of looking at data and making an informed decision was his analytical take on things. For me, it all came down to feeling. Would it hurt? How would we feel if it didn’t work? Would anyone know that we were going through this? Feelings, everywhere.
We started with a round of IUI (intrauterine insemination). Your cycle is monitored, you take drugs to stimulate your egg-producing follicles, use a probe to assess when your egg will be released, and when it is, insert the sperm, giving it the best chance of finding and inseminating your egg. Call it a sort of timed helping hand. In the world of assisted conception, it’s the closest it gets to natural. But no dice.
When we got the negative result, it was disappointing, but we were already gearing ourselves up for IVF. I felt as close to the right headspace as I could be for what might come next.
Only it wasn’t so straightforward. I hyperstimulated, which meant my ovaries overreacted to the drugs and produced too many egg sacs (follicles). That was a blow as we had to wait another few months before we could do anything. The hormones and drugs threw me off emotionally and my resilience was paper-thin as I felt every life bump with crashing violence.
When we finally got through a full round to egg retrieval day, I was nervous as I headed in to see the anaesthetist. I remember hearing Joao Gilberto’s “The Girl from Ipanema” playing as I went under, and musing how it might be a good sign given how much I loved that song. And then I woke up and it was over. We waited to see how many eggs they’d got. Six. Another day’s wait to see if any embryos would form. Then more waiting to be called when they’d transferred the embryos.
Nobody explains to you about the waiting. Another two weeks, in a cautiously optimistic state – but really if I’m honest, we were optimistic. I was yet to learn what cautious optimism was, and acceptance too. But again, no dice. The worst part was having to go back to the clinic to confirm after my period had come that I was indeed not pregnant.
I felt completely out of control. You can try to be kind to yourself, practise mindfulness, try not to be attached to the result. But really, how can you do any of these things? The truth is, it’s a lot to put your body through and not be disappointed. You are attached to the result, no matter how pragmatic. My husband was disappointed too, and the worst part for him was seeing me go through the physical side and not be able to do anything other than support me.
Then fate stepped in and sent us from London to Australia for my husband’s job. We put it all on hold to move and thought we’d pick back up again when we got there, with a more laid-back mindset. A change of scene, pace. Some sea air and blue skies. Surely it could only help.
I took it easy. Once the last box was unpacked and our new place became home, I signed up to yoga, pared back the travel for work, left behind crazy schedules and focused on reducing stress.
Then another round. My husband made it home every night to do my injections and administered them every morning too. Sometimes he would come home just to give me the injection and then head out again to a work dinner. And again, no dice. And this time the disappointment hit me hard. Not the hormones so much, but I’d expected all these life changes to have had an impact.
We had to ask ourselves when would we call it a day. I’d heard of people who had gone through 12, 15 rounds. It could be an endless cycle, but what was our limit? Financially, and emotionally?
We took another break. More focus on life, living, non-attachment to the result, and then back to egg retrieval again. I tried a couple of extras, like a scratch on the endometrial lining pre-transfer to help the embryo stick.
This time I decided I wouldn’t check, I wouldn’t take pregnancy tests, I would just wait and see what the lab tests came back with. It was harder, because in theory, I would have known before, but I wanted to keep a distance from the result. And then, lo and behold, a positive. I couldn’t believe it. I could hear the nurse smiling down the phone.
It dawned on me suddenly that getting the positive result was one thing, but trying to keep calm and hoping I could hold on to the pregnancy was the next hurdle. We set off for the incredible Great Barrier Reef, overlooking crystal blue swathes of sea, watching sharks and whales swim from above – but I can’t say I enjoyed much as I moved through this new fog of anxiety.
Unlike the typical 12-week scan for those finding themselves pregnant the old-fashioned way, after IVF, the checks come earlier, at around seven weeks. Seeing and hearing the heartbeat was wonderful, and as we left again, another bout of anxiety until the 12 week mark.
Of course, nothing prepares you for when the baby actually arrives. This is not only applicable to those who have struggled to get pregnant, but perhaps to all of us first-timers, and in my case, only-timer. Having a child is the single most life-altering thing. It’s beautiful and humbling, painful and frustrating. Ultimately you’re in charge of this person who has their own mind and needs and feelings, and you do everything you can to meet them, but it’s not always easy. I’ve never been so challenged in all of my life. Then I look at her perfect cheeks, and feel her hands grip mine, or she tells me she loves me more than anything, and I squeeze her body so tight and smell her hair… and it all just evaporates, every sleepless night and inconsolable tantrum (hers, not mine), and my tank of tolerance and love fills right up to the top. Because I look at her and my heart grows three times bigger, just like the Grinch.