Catch 22

All artists, writers, actors and others in the public eye, such as politicians, are inadvertently open to criticism if they open up and speak their truth (or voice their opinions). The same holds true for someone standing up and sharing their journey of hardship. I’ve often deliberated back and forth between going public with my infertility journey. I certainly do not regret sharing it publicly; but I do wonder how far I should go with it – how much of the truth should I tell? By letting my story out, I am completely vulnerable and can be a subject of matter discussed – open to judgement. By (over)sharing, it’s like putting myself (and my husband) in the firing line. But if we (as society in general) keep hiding and covering up reality, we will never move forward. Believe me – it is so easy to ignore a situation. It is the ‘safer’ option. But perhaps, in order to shed light and bring awareness to a situation, we have to bite the bullet. I have found that more than being vulnerable, our story has actually struck a chord with many and, hopefully, given others some strength in knowing that they are not alone. It is the first step at chipping away the stigma that is infertility.

By writing (or using any kind of expression as a form of delivering your story), I feel you have a responsibility to be truthful and take ownership of your views. And the truth does not always taste sweet. (Ah, the bitter truth.)

In her weekly column for the Daily Mail, ex-Vogue UK Editor-in-Chief Alexandra Shulman’s post on Sunday was what I term to be ‘controversial’ journalism – it created a lot of debate but resulted in more readers being offended than agreeing to her views, and prompted Ms Shulman to delete her post on her Instagram page. (‘Good’ journalism, in my opinion, generates debate, where both sides can be argued with valid points and without name-shaming.) Her post was addressing the issue of not dressing ‘age-appropriately’. I personally tend to agree to a certain extent. Sure, everyone should feel empowered enough to dress however they see fit. But, there is a fine line between acting blasé and looking tacky.

I once attended an event a few years ago (I cannot even remember what kind of event it was – it was that uneventful), but it was full of culturally minded people – Indians. Anyway, there was a ‘mature’ lady sat at my table who was dressed in this absurdly inappropriate gown that showed a bit too much flesh.

(I know, you may be aghast that I, as a woman, am judging on how another woman dresses and whatever happened to letting each to their own and women empowerment? Well, I’m not one to shy away from voicing and owning my thoughts. I’m always up for a good, solid debate so I invite you to be a worthy adversary. To add; just as one aspect of women empowerment holds the flag for ‘freedom of choice’, another aspect celebrates differing opinions.)

Back to the above point of the lady and her choice of styling. I kept my initial thought to myself (I display some tact when necessary). After introductions, she found a need to voice her thoughts and proceeded to ask me outright, “Do I look like mutton dressed as lamb?”

(Full credit to her for being so direct.)

The question left me baffled for only a moment, after which I simply replied, “Yes”, whilst the other members of our table averted their gaze in, somewhat, confused fashion.

(Full credit to the both of us for being honest.)

Now, let’s refer back to the article by Alexandra Shulman. Where her argument fell short, was the fact that she specifically pinpointed Helena Christensen and her choice of a black lace bustier to a party. (I personally do not think the issue was about age appropriacy because Helena does look fabulous; the issue for me was wearing underwear as outerwear purely because, even if I was in my twenties, I would not dream of wearing that. Tsk tsk – fashion these days is just not that simple.) Name-shaming, regardless of how valid your view may be, just reduces your intention to pulp. Hence, this article generated a great deal of controversy. One could argue that without giving examples (i.e., naming), a more ‘general’ view may not be ‘juicy’ enough for the tabloids or for your story to gain traction. I think it’s safe to admit that any good journalism includes a bit of controversy – it’s only good ‘reading’ when the topic irks or resonates with you completely. Otherwise, we all tend to just bypass and ignore it. That’s why the politician with the most controversial viewpoints is discussed most and we pay attention to them most, whether we agree or disagree with their views. That’s why anyone who puts themselves out there is at the forefront of interest. Sideliners, unfairly, get forgotten. It’s the way of life. By putting yourself out there, yes you are vulnerable and open to judgement and objection. But it also gives you a platform to really open discussion on topics that are otherwise not understood.

I was quite surprised to find that Ms Shulman had taken down her post on Instagram, as I would have hoped that she ‘owned’ up to her views and stood her ground. Perhaps, it was a case of trolling? Whatever the reason, since the post is public on the Daily Mail, why let trolls or people with other opinions bring you down? (This is a topic to explore further … maybe in the future.)

It’s a catch 22 – by putting your views out there you should expect backlash.

(Because we all know that saying where we judge someone by what they read, etcetera, I better address the fact that I read the Daily Mail. On most days [not daily], this is where I get my information about the happenings of the world. That and flicking through the news on television. I’m not ashamed to admit this as it gives me all the information I want. I also read many books, occasionally read the New Scientist, follow many writers and artistically inclined individuals, and catch up on other worldly events on social media. That sums up my reading ‘material’.)

I had left a comment on Ms Shulman’s Instagram post (sadly since the post has been deleted, you nor I can refer to it anymore). Amongst other things, I wrote about how, in my opinion, celebrities only make up a small part of the community and the problems we face at large; they do not need more fickle exposure. She (Shulman) has the platform to actually write about something more valid and she should use it (the platform). If it has to be celebrity-centric (since she is of that ilk), why not talk about meaningful issues that we all face today?

For example, in an interview in February this year, the actress Selma Blair spoke about her multiple sclerosis diagnosis on camera for the first time. It is so brave and heart-warming to see someone in the limelight who is so honest about what they are going through. Did she think she would be vulnerable once she is opened about her diagnosis? Probably. Did it stop her from getting her story out? Nope.

I can probably count the number of celebrities (or women in the spotlight) who have come forward with their struggles with infertility; Michelle Obama, Chrissy Teigen … okay I can’t think of anymore at the moment, but there are a few names we all have come across.

Kudos to them all for raising awareness and for letting individuals like myself, know that we are not in this alone. That infertility is not taboo; it is real. And that is affects our lives profoundly. (Actually, my husband would probably disagree with me a little. You see, he bought Michelle Obama’s book ‘Becoming’ because he was interested in reading about her infertility journey. Turns out, she mentions it and that’s it. He [my husband], felt a little deflated that that was all to it [infertility]. He was expecting so much more to help and reassure him that, yes, there are powerful individuals who have had the same difficulty as we have. That we are not alone in this. [I cannot comment as I have not read the book].)

On the other hand, how many ‘Indian’ celebrities do you know of that have come forward with their infertility stories? You know, whilst doing the rounds at the various fertility clinics and meeting individuals in the same boat as us, you hear whispers from the grapevine about certain Indian celebrities who have had fertility treatments in the same clinics that we have visited; yet, this is all just ‘gossip’ since these celebrities have not come forth to claim the stories. Is it a cultural problem, to not address this head-on? I’m not convinced. Are we prone to more secrecy in our lives? I’m not sure. (I would refer to this attitude as ‘The Indian/Cultural Lie’ – a good title for another post, no?)

It takes a lot more guts to ‘confess’ and be open about something so deeply personal. But perhaps, it takes just as much strength to hold it in and not let the world see your pain. One releases your pain but relinquishes your privacy; the other maintains your privacy and keeps your ‘image’ intact, but you never get to share your struggle (at least not with the ‘public’). However, I have no doubt that either way you choose, you still live with the wound(s).

It’s a catch 22. You are damned if you do or damned if you don’t.

Coming back to the beginning of this post where I explained how I’ve often deliberated back and forth between going public with my infertility journey, and how any good ‘debate’ requires solid arguments from both sides, here is a take from another view. A couple I know had no trouble conceiving their first child. However, they experienced secondary infertility and had to go through IVF to conceive their second. Other than a select few people, they have not told anyone about this. Their reasoning was that, “We didn’t go around announcing to everyone that our first was conceived naturally, so why should we go about announcing how our second was conceived?” Truly valid points. It is actually nobody else’s business how they had their children.

Everyone chooses what aspects of their lives they wish to share with the world. My belief is that if you have the platform, you should use it to share because however raw, difficult and painful it can be for yourself and those involved, you may be able to help someone else.

If you prefer to keep it to yourself, that is okay too.

In the end, celebrities are just like all of us. Some are brave enough to shed light on important issues; some are brave enough to not let it affect them. But, thankfully, no matter the access to platforms or the bank balance in our accounts, we all have moments of fashion faux pas.

So, so stoic

The human body consists of 12 biological systems that carry out specific functions necessary for everyday living. The circulatory, the digestive, the endocrine, the immune, the lymphatic, the nervous, the muscular, the reproductive, the skeletal, the respiratory, the urinary and the integumentary (skin); all systems that keep us alive. We also have many organs; five of which are vital and essential for survival – the brain, the heart, the kidneys, the liver and the lungs. Just as we are so reliant on the effective functioning of our human body, we are just as reliant on our human spirit. They come as a pair, this human spirit and this human body. Unflinching and resilient, they can be put through the test – time and again – and still triumph over adversity, with their resolve still intact and carrying their bruises as proud badges of honour. If one falters, the other overcompensates, never letting go. Like a pact. Like a promise. Like yin and yang.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about just how remarkable these two lifelines are. During the last 2 weeks, I’ve been watching episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale. Fictional – yes. Plausible – probably not. It is set in the future of mankind. Other than an already-exhausted storyline of a ruling fundamentalist regime that treats women as property of the state and where fertile women are forced into sexual servitude, it is largely based around the notion of collapsing fertility rates as a result of sexually transmitted diseases and environmental pollution. I do not know about the worldwide prevalence of STDs, but I do know that infertility is on the rise. And many people believe it to be because of environmental and lifestyle factors.

The hardships, pain and trauma inflicted on the handmaids got me thinking about concentration camps of the past – and present. It got me thinking about the people whose bodies and spirits go through so much; and about those that survive. This led me to reflect about traumas that near, far and dear ones have faced – or are facing – and how they have survived. I further pondered over ‘smaller’ inflictions, injuries and discomforts that we all face. How we endure and overcome illnesses, both in our physical selves and those around us. And how our body – time and again – stands tall. How our spirit – time and again – has proved that it cannot be broken unless we break it ourselves.

On the 16th of January, I started the preparation for my 4th IVF cycle. A period of downregulation followed by stims (injections) again. Then the egg collection (in sedation), fertilisation, followed by the 6-day wait to blastocyst stage. If you’d like a re-cap on the whole process, have a read here.

(I am still finding it difficult to comprehend that I have been through multiple rounds of IVF. I once had vouched never to go through more than two rounds, and I cannot believe I’m done with number 4. Again, I reiterate: could IVF be disguised as an addiction after all?)

Did you know that the brain is the only organ that can ‘sense’ pain? When we feel pain anywhere in the body, it is the brain that is ‘feeling’ and sensing it. It is the body’s pain receptor. That is why, when the brain is being operated on, there is no pain because there is no other sensor in the body that can, well, sense pain for us. FACT. (This side story has a purpose.)

I have come to develop a ‘method’ whereby I can ‘minimise’ any pain felt by simply thinking outside my brain. It is actually really difficult to describe in words, but it’s something that I have stumbled upon accidently whilst going through the various physical pains over the infertility years. For example, during the IVF cycle just gone, I found I could somehow reduce the pain during the injections by simply ‘thinking outside my brain’. It lasts for a few seconds only, but it’s there – the pain subsides. As bizarre as it sounds, it is real. Not only does it work for injections, but for other inflictions and interventions too. (Again, this side story has a purpose too.)

On the 27th of February, we found out that this cycle was unsuccessful too. That’s 6 weeks of putting my body and spirit through the test again. And we survived.

On the 16th of January, I also underwent a ‘mock’ embryo transfer (or ET, as we like to call it), in the form of ERA. The Endometrial Receptivity Analysis (ERA) test is a biopsy to determine the window of implantation (i.e., to determine the period that is most receptive for me to have an embryo in the uterus for higher chances of implantation.). It is sensitive to the hour (± 3 hours). For most women, the period of receptivity is standard. For others, it can be shorter or longer, and this test is advisable if embryo implantation has not been previously successful. The results demonstrated that I am indeed late responsive. In other words, I needed to have the ET done 12 hours (±3 hours) earlier than standard.

As I said before, the ERA test is a mock ET. This essentially means that the body is prepped as if it was going to be receiving an embryo; but instead of the embryo, a biopsy of the endometrial lining is taken. So, the drugs to prep are the same as before. This time, I had some undesirable side effects; the not-so-glamourous haemorrhoids and a fissure. (I thought I had gotten all the prodding covered; it turns out there was still one more hole left.)

You know, we were actually advised and offered to take the ERA test last summer, before we had the ET. However, after much consideration, we decided to not go for it because, “Many people get pregnant naturally. I’m sure Jaya’s embryo doesn’t know that it has to reach her womb on Day 5, and Isabelle’s embryo doesn’t know that it has to reach her womb 12 hours earlier.” (That was my reasoning. And my gut instinct was against going through the ERA test. In addition to actually feeling physically sick every time I thought about more treatment, more tests, another 7 weeks of more drugs, and so on, I had no energy left. I had already been ‘on treatment’ since April 2018.)

(And, just to be clear, both Jaya and Isabelle are figments of my imagination.)

Then, when the ET failed in September last year, it was obvious that the next plan of action would need to include the ERA test. I couldn’t go through another round of IVF without having the ERA test. It would not make any sense.

As I normally do, I voiced my thoughts with people around me. I was explaining my reservations of ERA to two of my friends. Upon hearing me out, one of my friends stated the obvious; “In natural conception, it’s biology that is doing the work. And biology knows best.” So simple; yet so true. (One of life’s mysteries is biology. Or so I believe.) This simple statement made me warm towards ERA.

The biopsy is actually undertaken in the consultant’s room. It does not require theatre-action. In the comfort of the room, in the presence of the consultant, the nurse and my husband, this ERA biopsy is the most painful thing I have come across (unsedated). Yet, I didn’t flinch. My body was patient and brave. My spirit was strong. I did that thing where I ‘think outside my brain’. And my doctor was impressed. She said that I am “So, so stoic”. And because of that, she was able to go in and take not one, but three biopsies. Because both my body and spirit have shown – time and again – just how resilient they are.

“So, so stoic.” This is what I remember most from that day. And I wear it as a badge of honour.

The preparation for the ERA test began on the 31st of December 2018. I had my biopsy on the 16th of January 2019. That’s 17 days of putting my body and spirit through the test. And we survived. Again.

[Stoic (noun). Definition: a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining.]

This is what all human bodies and human spirits have in common. In face of hardship, we survive. And thrive.

One a day

Somewhere, in a far, far away land, lives an individual who writes to me almost daily, detailing snippets of their day-to-day life, weaving stories amongst the mundane and often voicing thoughts for no particular reason other than knowing that they will be heard and understood.

Welcome to our world of what we call, ‘One-a-day’. It consists of some fun between two friends; a way to keep in touch regularly so that the already-strong friendship survives the nautical miles that sometimes can create an intangible distance.

We believe the one-a-days began back in December 2009 (by calculation, this year we will be celebrating a decade); but we seem to have lost some content between us whilst trying to keep track of the different email addresses we’ve been assigned to over the years. The idea behind the one-a-days was to email each other some information every day – whether it’s a single sentence or a long paragraph – letting each other know the happenings of our lives as we build on and live through our respective ‘lives’.

‘Why not simply send a message via WhatsApp or text’, you may ask? Or how about writing a letter?

WhatsApp and text messages comprise of sending information quickly and intermittently throughout the day. They may consist of mundane content, but do not actually contain much detail. The random, meaningful thoughts that pass through our minds cannot really be expressed over WhatsApp. (Sure, I WhatsApp my family every day; but I follow it up with a phone call to actually have meaningful discussions.) I believe in order to sustain a friendship, you would either have to try and meet somewhat regularly, or have some form of regular communication that can surpass distances and time zones. It requires effort. Keeping track of each other through social media is hardly a friendship. Strong, solid friendships can easily take off from where you last left; but regular contact is necessary especially in a time where communication is so easy and relationships so fickle.

Letters and writing letters are actually my favourite. Who doesn’t love receiving a hand-written card or letter in the post? Heck, who doesn’t love receiving post that does not include bills and leaflets? But, letters have their limitations in that they take time … time to send and receive. This ‘waiting’ has its own beauty, and is reminiscent of romance and bygone eras. It is nostalgic. Some of my most cherished treasures include handwritten letters that my parents and grandparents wrote to me whilst I was in boarding school. I only kept a few because I was not aware of their importance back then; but now they form a link to my childhood.

So, what is so special about the one-a-day emails? Well, it’s the freedom to express whatever we wish, knowing that it will be received in current time. It’s the notion of being able to write your thoughts down as they flow, without having to pre-plan. The sheer randomness of our conversations and the ability to go off-tangent immediately in the next sentence, makes it exciting and interesting to read. It’s actually getting to know each other better, even though we have already spent so much time together. It’s finding out new nuances and characteristics that we would not have otherwise known. It’s about giving us the time (and opportunity) to discuss things that matter to us – things we perhaps may not have time to discuss when we meet up because meeting up always consists of short periods, where you try and fit everything together. It’s a form of keeping an already strong friendship, even more solid.

The non-revolutionary ‘one-a-days’ … for friends, by friends.

How long is a piece of string?

What do you classify to be an experience? How does the duration of that experience matter?

For example, to experience snow, is it enough to just step outside and feel the snowflakes falling on your cheeks? Or do you experience it fully when you build a snowman? What about if you stay outside for too long and catch sinusitis? Is that then the ‘full’ experience?

My brother once explained that a job interview is just as important as the job itself. I’ll elaborate. You could easily ask for a job and get hired; thus, missing out on the valuable experience of actually preparing for – and getting through – an interview. The outcome of the interview is irrelevant; it’s what you gain from the experience of the interview that counts and will help mould your future.

On that basis, it got me thinking about the duration of my fertility journey. I’m always questioning why this journey has chosen me. Why 6 years (and counting) of TTC? Lately, I’m beginning to realise that many of life’s experiences are lessons in disguise. So, what is the lesson in this for me? The more I delved in to it, the more my traits became stark and the more I admitted about myself. Knowing the way that I think, I act and I behave, I came to realise that I’m an achiever. An achiever who gets through it by putting in the work. An achiever who doesn’t take shortcuts without feeling guilty. An achiever who is willing to try many new things. An achiever who is not afraid. An achiever who will only feel satisfied when I know ‘I have done my best’. Of course, I falter and often question my path; but then I pull myself right up again and continue. This is me; this is my personality. You can call it a flaw(s), but this is my DNA. Therefore, in this warped mind of mine, I realised that if I experienced infertility for 1, maybe 2 years, before successfully conceiving, I would not have felt as if I ‘really’ experienced it at all. Perhaps I wouldn’t have called it a struggle at all.

(This is no disrespect to anyone out there. I am just explaining how I deal with things.)

So, if I don’t want a 1-year infertility journey, do 6 years make it viable? This brings up my next question: “Is a hardship deemed ‘hardship’ according to the number of years you go through it?”

How long is a piece of string then?

You know, when we first started TTC – when you’re at that stage where you are excited and naïve and sometimes spill your plans to an unsuspecting individual – this individual mentioned that it usually takes couples 1 year to fall pregnant. I was a little taken aback I must admit, as I thought it just ‘happened’ when you wanted it. (I have been told by a few couples that this has been the case for them.) But, I was ready to put in the ‘work’ for the year.

My grandfather always used to say that couples should try for a baby soon after marriage. Should we have tried earlier? Or would we still be in the same position as we are now, but with only more years under our belt? Or perhaps, would we have been blessed with our babies earlier? Hindsight. Plus, the notion that everything happens at the ‘right’ time. I know for a fact that we would have been different parents if we had conceived earlier or with little difficulty. Our thinking, our priorities and our outlook has changed dramatically for having gone through this journey. It’s inevitable. Perhaps, that is the lesson, laid bare.

Is part of the reason for going the ‘whole hog’, as explained in my last blog post of more IVF, (if that fails) donor treatments and (if that fails) ultimately, adoption because I am not ready to give up and willing to put myself through it all, because I know I can? (These are real thoughts that go through my mind. I could sit here all day and have a conversation in my head!)

This week has been particularly difficult for me because I’m preparing for an ERA test (more on that in another post), and have some horrendous side effects, so much so that I’ve had to remember 11 different time slots to take five different medications. I’ve had moments where it all gets too much. Then I remind myself of my commitment to the treatment, commitment to our babies and, most importantly, my commitment to my husband and to us.

But everyone has a threshold. Was mine the 6-year mark? Conceivably so because that was when I decided to pen my thoughts? Or perhaps not, because I’m still going through further treatment? Or actually, have I reached my threshold and now I’m on the home-stretch because in some way or the other (after our decision to adopt if we need to), we will get our babies?

In school, my two favourite subjects were Art and Physics. Art nurtured my creative side, and Physics nurtured my analytical side. It made sense. I wasn’t one for memorising or cramming. My favourite theory was Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. I tend to find that I apply it in my daily life. (As you do.)

Are experiences all relative then? Are experiences all that matter?

Early on in the TTC journey, around the time when I was going through my first IVF, I met up with a friend for lunch. This friend had also gone through some difficulty with conceiving and was successful in the end. They pointed out something that has stayed with me all these years. According to them, miscarriage is better than not getting pregnant at all. Their reasoning was that in a miscarriage, at least you know you can ‘get pregnant’. The chances of conceiving again are there. Your body has been able to conceive with your egg and your partner’s sperm. If it has achieved this once, it can (hopefully) achieve it again.

I have never been pregnant in all these years. Sure, I have been a few days ‘late’, but have always tested negative. I have had every symptom and sign under the sun, and then some. I have also had that ‘you just know’ feeling that many attest to. But, still no pregnancy. And I tend to agree with my friend’s point above.

During the last summer when we found out that the ET had not worked, my mum tried to console us by saying that the pain could have been worse if we did fall pregnant after having gone through all the IVF, but then miscarried. I can completely understand her point. Having gone through all the various treatments, then to fall pregnant and then to lose the baby is beyond awful. However, I related the story above from my friend and explained that at least then I would know that I ‘can’ get pregnant. I would at least have got to experience being pregnant, however brief it was.

(I am not in the slightest assuming that a miscarriage is easy. I am just honestly laying down my true feelings. I just hope that I am never in that situation to have to go through that too.)

On top of it, even though we only had an embryo, it was still our ‘baby’. The grief we felt is akin to losing a baby. It actually felt as if we had lost a member of our family. Grief, like love, is absolute and cannot be measured in time. Either you are grieving, or you are not. Either you love someone, or you don’t. You cannot half-grieve or half-love.

It’s all relative in the end. Our experiences are relative to what we know. And, perhaps, experiences ARE all that matter in the end. For without these experiences, how would we come to know what we know?

Lest we forget.

Gaga over baba

Have you ever been in a situation where you are the minority in the crowd? As a result, you feel uncomfortable and get a little anxious? Take, for example, a dinner party where all the other couples at the table are pregnant, and your coupling (made up of your partner and yourself of course) are not (pregnant). Awkward.

It’s purely awkward because all couples with child tend to only talk about babies and all things baby-related. Snippets of the conversation may go like this:

“Where do you shop for your fancy maternity dresses?”

“Oh man, the nausea is extreme.”

“Have you planned your baby shower?”

“Do you know what you’re having?”

“I feel like a whale”. (Okay, I’ve taken a bit of poetic licence for this one.)

“Can’t wait till the baby comes along with all those sleepless nights.” (Chuckles) (As in, they chuckle whilst I hide a groan in my drink).

“I’ve been gyming and going for weekly yoga and pilates. Need to stay fit and keep off the weight as much as possible”.

“Oh, I swim.”

“Have you been to those hypnobirthing classes?”

“Doesn’t my little cherub look just like his daddy in this 4D scan?”.

“Would you opt for a caesarean? I think it’s so much easier.”

“OMG, my obstetrician is so attractive!”

“You have to book yourself in at the Portland; the scones are to die for”.

“We fell pregnant by accident and I had my first when I was 40.  I was so thrilled when my doctor announced that I have eggs of a spring chicken”.

Blah. Blah. Blah. And the conversation continues. Even the masculine halves of the couples interject and lend in to the conversations.

Two words: baby obsession. It’s as if once you fall pregnant, all you can talk about is baby. Suddenly, you seem to lose your identity as an individual and only promote yourself as a mother. Normal, adult conversations give way to baby talk.

I guess you can tell that we have been ‘stuck’ in such a situation before – my imagination does not reach such heights on its own. The dinner seemed to drag on for about 9 months. The fact that the others knew about our struggle to conceive didn’t seem to alter the topic of conversation, because – I suppose – that is what their new baby-brain has wired them to do henceforth (that is, talk about baby only).

My husband has a knack for cheering me up when I’m down and in this case, there was no exception. He explained, “These pregnant couples probably had nothing else in common to discuss and so that’s why they talked baby all evening”. In my non-pregnant brain, I interpreted his explanation as, “They are boring, so I wouldn’t have been able to have a suitable conversation with them anyway”. Anyway, never again. Lesson learned.

(Have you ever wondered how the term pregnancy and all its affiliations are so loosely used to add importance to every situation, to make a complaint more profound, to bestow attention to an already inflated ego and to add weight to every stand? If so, I discussed just this is a previous post here.)

Through observation when we are out and about, the one topic of discussion that comes up most is the lack of sleep caused by newborns. Don’t get me wrong; lack of sleep can be detrimental to your productivity (whatever that is). But, the first obvious trait of a newborn is that they wake up every few hours. To feed. To poop. To cry. Everybody knows that. You don’t have to be a parent to register that in your head. Yet, when parents talk about it, it’s as if they never knew such a thing exists (“Baby or the witching hour?” – I hear you ask).

Newsflash to parents: if you are pregnant and get to full term, you will result in a baby. If you result in a baby, be sure to ‘budget’ for sleepless nights.

It’s tragic, but most people with children tend to complain about life as parents. Homo Sapiens have been reproducing for over thousands of years. Our ancestry dates back to many generations. Many of us have lived in the same era as our great-grandparents. Yet, our generation feels that being a parent is a novel idea and nobody else can understand their position. This got me thinking … are we made up of a society of serial complainers? The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced. I voiced my thoughts to a friend who has a baby but has never once complained to me about parenthood. I asked this friend why is it that they never feel the need to complain like the others? This friend simply pointed out that their baby sleeps fairly well and eats well most of the time. Plus, they have help with their cooking and cleaning. This enables them to not be totally exhausted. Fair point(s).

Okay, let’s get back to understanding all those who complain regardless. My friend’s reasoning strongly supports the age-old saying about ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. This prompted me to conduct a little research of my own. I listed down names of all the couples (parents in my generation) who I regularly associate with and then collected data based on their habits. I found that an astonishing 91% of these people have at least some form of help (e.g., nanny, house help, grandparents, night nurses – the new rage, etc.) Of these, only 20% are purely grateful for their situation and have never complained (to me at least); 30% seem to complain at every given chance (or whenever anyone is prepared to listen to them), and mainly discuss sleep deprivation; and the rest (50%) have expressed the occasional ‘obligatory’ complaints, but generally tend to ‘get on with it’.

Conclusion: we are most definitely a society comprised of serial complainers. It is not only the ones who have presumably conceived easily that complain (you could almost forgive their naivety); even those that had some difficulty in conceiving tend to have complaints.

I can completely understand how difficult it can be for parents when a child is unwell and does not sleep or rest properly. But if the reason is because that’s what babies do (poop, eat, [lack of] sleep and cry), then zip it.

I’ll have you know that for all the lousy ‘lack-of-sleep’ complaints you make, there are thousands of infertile couples who would gladly be in your position and would fully ‘embrace’ the night-time episodes of parenthood.

Looking around in today’s world (well, at least a world based on most of the people who I’m associated with), the ‘village’ has been replaced by ‘household names’, such as nannies, house help and grandparents. The ‘enjoyment’ in bringing up children has been replaced by strict regimens, timetables and inflexibility.

With all the obsession over babies, having babies, pregnant with babies, nursery decoration, millions of toys, schools and everything else baby-related, adults tend to forget their own individuality and identity. I think that we have already established this point. Yet, what is also frustrating is that somehow parenthood makes you forget all that you had, including the people who were around you prior to babies. Children are priceless; but so are the relationships that we have built and nurtured over the years, pre-kids.

If you recall in my last post, I wrote about how we had no plan for 2019 other than deciding if we should (could?) go for another round of IVF. Well, one Saturday night a few weeks ago, we got the clarity we needed. We both (my husband I) decided that we would not settle for ‘life without children’ and are willing to go the ‘whole hog’ to having our baby (babies). This means that we are willing to go through more IVF, (if that fails) donor treatments and (if that fails) ultimately, adoption to achieving what we desire most. Because we are whole as a couple, but incomplete as a family. Because we are damn good people with a lot of love to give. And because we will make damn good parents.

And once we become parents, I’m going to try my damn hardest not to forget who I am and the relationships I have nurtured; the two things I’m most wary of after witnessing it around me. Affirmations completed.

Curve ball

It has been a while since my last post, Summer of ’69. It’s actually not because I have run out of stories to write about. On the contrary, when I had first come to the decision to tell my story, a whole storyboard began to formulate in my mind. Almost chapter-like, all these emotions and thoughts started to automatically slot themselves into subjects. The subjects began to create titles. All at once, I had this indescribable urge to note down the million thoughts, each fighting to get noticed. It’s as if the sheer act of making the decision to tell my story instantly prompted my brain to override and overflow with information. I had to keep a notebook to record all these thoughts; often jumping out of bed – just on the verge of sleep – to pen them in my shorthand.

However, I was thrown off-guard as soon as I published the last post. I was not quite prepared to have a surge in emotions once I had actually written it all down. It felt like a release; as if all the emotions I was bottling up finally came to the surface and overran.

And then someone said something, which threw me over the edge.

They casually but strongly explained that couples going through IVF should go through at least nine embryo transfers before they should ‘give up’. According to ‘statistics’ that their doctor mentioned, by going through nine ETs, you should end up with at least one baby. Their reasoning is that for fertile couples, it takes 1–12 months to conceive a baby. So for those having difficulty, nine ETs are recommended.

Now, give yourself a moment to take it all in. We have been through three rounds of IVF and have only produced two embryos, which resulted in two ETs. It’s not rocket science to work out how many rounds of IVF this person expects us to trudge through to get to the ‘optimum’ nine.

How did I respond? Exasperated! But, I did keep my cool and was cordial – again, credit to my nerves of steel! (For someone who is generally short-tempered, I can actually be very patient. A paradox in itself.)

My next ‘planned’ post in my storyboard is quite light-hearted, with some dry humour. I have not managed to pen it yet. I was an emotional wreck in the aftermath of the comment said above, right after my last post. I just felt like life was so unfair and everything appeared to be going wrong at the same time. I was just no longer interested nor inspired on all fronts; life, work and family.

Having released all the pent-up emotions of our conception struggle through writing, the uncertainty of it all suddenly became stark. For someone who thrives on control and planning, I do not know how my life is going to be next year. (I know no one knows the future; but at least we can all plan certain things – simple things such as holidays, things we wish to do and achieve, many plan when they want their babies, etcetera.)

My only plan involves deciding if we want to try IVF again. I simply cannot begin to comprehend beyond that. Usually at this time of the year, we start to wind down and reflect on the past 11 months. But it is also the time to plan the strategies for the new year; work strategy, life strategy and individual strategy. For the first time – as far as I can remember – (I was going to write ‘as far as I can remember in my adult life’, but as children, we also have a sort of plan since we know what the next year will bring in terms of schooling and goals), I have no strategy or plan in place.

I came across this piece of text by Jeff Foster that completely resonated with how I’m feeling:

If you are lost.

If nothing makes sense anymore.

If all your reference points have collapsed.

If the old life is crumbling now.

If the mind is foggy, tired, busy.

If the organism is exhausted and longs to rest.

 

Celebrate.

Trust.

This is a rite of passage, not an error.

 

You are healing in your own original way.

 

Contact the ground now.

Breathe. In, out.

Make room for the visitors:

The sorrow, doubt, fear, anger.

An ancient emptiness –

They just want to be felt.

They just want to pass through.

 

You are a vessel, not a separate self.

You are a sky, not the passing weather.

 

An old life is falling away.

A new life is being born.

 

Others may not understand.

But trust anyway.

Celebrate.

Contact the ground.

 

Life has thrown me a curve ball.

And as of a few days ago, I have come to accept it.

Was my last post a trigger to initiate the recovery? Was it the defining moment to create a cathartic release, rippling through my very core? Are all these circumstances pre-determined, so that a rite of passage can be established? Do we have to ‘feel’ and go through these emotions of uncertainty to achieve clarity? Maybe having no plan is for the best. No more planning for ‘When I have a baby…’ No more planning for ‘How to be successful in work…’ Maybe having no plan is the key. The mind can rest.

Or perhaps, I’m in a better place today, a I write this, than I was during the last few days?

Or perhaps, I’m excited as we’re going on holiday soon.

Or maybe, time is the reason. The tolling of minutes into days plays a large part in how we perceive things.

Whatever the reason, it has worked (its magic!).

I wrote to a friend and mentioned that I literally want to ‘bum around’ for a while. “For once in my life, I want to stop trying too hard and I just want to be. Is that wrong? And if it’s not wrong, how long can I do that before it is wrong? As in, how long can I bum around for before I need to be productive?”

‘Rest and Digest’ mode – no more in the ‘Fight or Flight’. For I’m tired. For I deserve this.

My friend’s response was encouraging, and along the lines of: “It’s perfectly fine for you to bum around, for it’s not in your character to be a bum for life!”

I guess that settles it then.

And so, this post is ‘off schedule’, but timely.

Summer of ’69

Pun intended.

This is the summer where it all happened … baby-making was in full swing. I wish I could say that this was the summer where we were acting out like rampant rabbits, trying out all sorts of ‘positions’ and just having fun. Wedded bliss, eh? Nope. This was the summer where love-making gave way to sharps bins. The summer of IVF(s).

So actually, pun UNintended.

And even more actually, ’twas the summer of 2018. (Choosing a title asSummer of 2018’ just doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as ‘Summer of ’69’. What it lacks in pizzazz, it makes up in content. And I’m exercising my rights to freedom of speech since, well, it’s my story.)

What people do not realise is that preparations for IVF begin months prior to actual treatment. It’s not a decision that you wake up to one day and begin the next. It is never that simple.

Let’s rewind to set the scene.

We had been trying naturally for a baby for 2 years before we embarked on tests and, ultimately, IVF. Our first IVF was in the summer of 2014. (The failure of it took me a whole year to get over; both emotionally and physically. Hence, it was a very big decision for us to agree on another round.)

During the 4-year period in between the IVFs, we explored every other avenue possible (e.g., acupuncture, nutrition, hypnotherapy, spirit babies, etc.) – I listed the crux of it in my post, Extremes of TTC. Although we achieved optimal results that demonstrated we should be able to conceive naturally, we never did. Not ever in all these years.

So now it was time to re-think our baby-making plan.

The year is 2017; the month: December. The decision to go for another round of IVF was set in stone. Preparations begin by getting inital tests done via my gynaecologist.

January 2018 – more tests

It’s now my husband’s turn and all necessary tests are done via his andrologist.

February 2018 – the hunt

Scouting for a clinic that we will be most comfortable with, which aligns to our priorities and principles, and will (hopefully) help us achieve our dream. We did not want to go back to the previous one – bad experience of which we’re better informed now. We attended several open evenings at various clinics. (Something I highly recommend you do because you can gauge it pretty well and also, it’s free. Otherwise, you’re paying a fee for every initial consultation.) By this stage, we had plenty of experience under our belt to suss out the right one (if any) for us, and by sheer luck, we came across one such clinic that resonated with us – IVI London.

March 2018 – tending to affairs

This is really about sorting life out, getting tedious things out of the way, putting work on the backbench and essentially clearing our diaries to make way for the IVF. We also undertook a stringent set of tests at the clinic (IVI London) in order to determine our treatment protocol. Some of these results take weeks to arrive; therefore, it’s always a waiting game.

April 2018 – it all begins

We’ve been to see our nutritionist again. We all know that natural conception is very different to assisted conception. It’s no surprise that nutrition-wise, this law also applies. Different supplements; different do’s and don’ts; different everything.

April 15th

I’m on a different protocol (drugs-wise) this time around on the IVF compared with the one in 2014. My AMH level (known as Anti-Müllerian hormone; key for all fertility issues) is remarkably low and that means I have a lot fewer eggs left than 4 years ago, and there could be a quality issue too. (You will start to notice IVF jargon surfacing from this stage on, including names of drugs. When I first started to formulate this blog post in my head, I wasn’t sure how detailed I would get in to it. I still am not sure at this stage; I only trust that the story will be revealed the way it’s meant to and the way it wants to.) I begin Norethisterone 5mg tablets, taking them twice daily for 15 days. These are hormone tablets designed to give the ovaries a ‘break’ and, once I stop taking them, I should have a withdrawal bleed 2–3 days later. This week, I also received delivery of my injections.

May 2018 – stims

May 4th

Day 2 of my cycle. (A cycle refers to the monthly cycle of a woman. Day 1 is the first day of the bleed, or period.) I have my baseline scan at IVI and all appears to be okay. Thus, I begin the daily injections, which are administered in the sub-cutaneous fat around the belly – remember I had mentioned that having some belly fat is advantageous? I’m on a protocol of Bemfola 300IU, Menopur 75IU, as well as Cetrotide 0.25mg. That’s three injections daily. The Bemfola and Menopur must be taken every night between 9 and 10 p.m. The Cetrotide is introduced on Day 5 of the stims (that’s short for stimulations) and needs to be taken between 6 and 8 a.m. I opt for 9.30 p.m. and 7.30 a.m.; timings for the evening and morning injections, respectively. The injections must be administered at precisely the same time each day; they are hormones after all.

The role of the Bemfola and Menopur is to encourage the follicles in the ovaries to grow. Usually in natural conception, only one follicle grows and becomes the dominant follicle each month (i.e., the follicle that grows to the optimal size and the one that releases the egg; all others die). In IVF or assisted conception, the aim is to grow as many follicles as possible to the optimal size. The function of the Cetrotide is to help prevent spontaneous ovulation. (When follicles reach a certain size, the body’s reaction is to naturally ovulate – or release the egg. In IVF, you most certainly do not want this to happen as you then cannot harvest the eggs.) I’m on a much higher dose in this protocol, with a total of 375IU of hormones injected. Last time I was only on 150IU.

The next few days pass by with the daily routine of injections, followed by visits to the clinic for scans and blood tests every other day to monitor the progress of the follicles. I administer the injections myself; I don’t trust my husband to do them (!) and at least this way I have some control of this whole process. They are so painful, and I soon run out of injection sites.

I have days when I’m bloated, moody and have headaches. With each passing day, it takes me that little bit longer to psyche myself before each injection, and frustrations mount when trying to calibrate the solutions for the injections. Then, I have days when I’m happy, full of energy and feeling positive. I take long walks in the woods, manage some light yoga and spend hours in the sun, reading. To help me get through it all, I have recurrent bookings of head massages and acupuncture sessions, and I alternate between the two.

All other life is on hold; I fill my days with things that make me happy; I only meet up with people who I want to see; I prep meals in advance; evenings are taken over by the injections, with a whole array of needles, syringes, antiseptic wipes, vials and, of course, the sharps bin, all reigning over the dining table. I feel like an apothecary, mixing powders and solutions with drawing needles and inserting needles. The perks of IVF.

May 13th

Day 10 of stims. I took my last Bemfola and Menopur the previous night. Today is the last day for the Cetrotide. Then the ‘triggers’ are administered in the evening. These are two sets of injections that must be taken at a pre-determined time, exactly 36 hours prior to the egg collection (EC).

May 15th

EC day. All this happens in the theatre, under sedation. The theatre is full with five clinicians; the doctor, the anaesthetist, the assistant anaesthetist, the embryologist and the nurse. And me of course. (Somehow, noting these details are important to me.) Hospital gown and hairnet in place, I prop my legs up on the stirrups to be securely fastened. It’s all very exciting. The oxygen mask goes over my nose and mouth, the anaesthetist administers his drugs through the canula on my wrist, I feel a cold sensation and a dizziness overcomes me. Within 5 seconds I’m knocked out.

It’s all over in an hour. I’m awake, back in my room; the doctor comes to inform me that they drained five follicles and collected five eggs. (Not all follicles contain eggs. This is true for all women. I was lucky that these five did.) After some tea and biscuits, and once they are happy with my vitals, I am released to go home. All medication is stopped for now so that my body can recover back to its natural state. No pills; no injections; nothing. Only my supplements as recommended by the nutritionist. Now, it’s just a waiting game.

We will get a call on Days 1, 3 and 5 from the embryology team informing us on the progress of our embryo(s). At IVI, they use the time-lapse guided method to monitor the embryos. This is when a camera continuously records the development of the embryos, so that the embryologist is not required to take them out of the incubator to examine; thus, avoiding any disruptions. Time-lapse at IVI is not an ‘extra’; it’s already part of the treatment plan. At other clinics, it’s an optional add on.

May 16th

Day 1 of embryos. The embryologist called in the morning to inform us that we have two embryos that are doing well. Out of the five eggs they collected, one wasn’t mature. The other two disintegrated as soon as they injected the sperm. (It is worth noting at this point in the story that our protocol involved ICSI – it’s a step up from IVF, whereby the sperm is directly injected in to the egg. It is all technical and the best sperm is chosen under a high-powered microscope. In simple IVF, the sperm and egg are put in a petri dish and allowed to fertilise on their own. For all our treatments, we did ICSI. You can look up the full meaning of ICSI yourselves; or e-mail me and I can explain more.)

By now, I am getting quite anxious that I may need to go through another round of stims at this rate.

May 18th

Day 3 of embryos. The embryologist phoned and reassured us that both embryos were doing well. They were developing correctly for this stage. Phew! Now to get through the next 2 days so that they could reach the blastocyct stage, after which they will undergo PGS testing and be frozen until the PGS test results are back.

May 20th

Day 5 of embryos; normally marked as the blastocyst stage. The embryologist called; the news was not that great. One embryo was lagging and still in the cellular stage. The other had not quite yet reached blastocyst and they want to give it another day. We were so deflated. We were heartbroken and so sure that this embryo will also not make it because, well let’s face it, luck has never been on our side when it comes to babies. So we did what all sane people do; we went shopping. Nothing quite like retail therapy to keep your mind off things!

May 21st

We had been waiting for the call from the embryologist. No longer nervous, we had succumbed to the impending outcome. Lo and behold, our little Trooper had been ‘busy all day yesterday and was ready!’ We were elated! I cannot remember the last time we felt such extreme happiness. It felt as if the baby was here already, in our arms. So. Much. Joy. Trooper was indeed a trooper! The other embryo did not make it.

They now take some cells from the embryo to send for PGS testing. They then freeze the embryo until the transfer. PGS testing is to check for any chromosome abnormalities. The result takes about 2 weeks to come back. If it comes back abnormal, IVI discourage transferring the embryo back in the womb as it would most certainly lead to a miscarriage. Along with the time-lapse method and blastocyst development, PGS testing is another one of the principles IVI believe in and stick to. So is frozen embryo transfer (FET). More on that later.

During this week, we had a long chat with our doctor at IVI and came to a decision; we will pursue another round of IVF. There are many reasons for this. First, we know that the PGS test takes 2 weeks to come back. Statistically, there is a 50% chance that the embryo is normal. I would still have to prep my body with drugs for the transfer; hence, another couples of weeks before the actual transfer takes place. If I do fall pregnant with this embryo and it results in a full-term pregnancy, the earliest I could do another round of treatment in the hope of baby #2 would be at least 18 months later. By then, who knows what the situation of my eggs will be like. Also, if this embryo is abnormal, we have no other left. So, in the grand scale of things, we would delay the whole treatment plan by 2–3 months and get another IVF cycle in, compared with a possible lifetime decision if we did not go ahead with it. It was the sensible thing to do.

June 2018 – IVF #3

June 4th

We had our nurse consultation to plan for the next IVF cycle. The clinic had some great news for us; the PGS test results of Trooper came back NORMAL! This means that the embryo has no chromosome abnormalities and should have the best chance of implantation.

June 8th

I’m at Day 14 of my cycle. I begin the down-regulation phase by taking Norethisterone 5mg tablets, twice-daily for 10 days. I cannot wait for the stims phase and have consoled myself that the only reason I am doing another round is purely to secure the possibility of a second child. I have no doubt that Trooper will be our first. (Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be ‘one of those’ people who have multiple rounds of IVF. I never knew I was strong enough, and I never thought I would succumb and surrender.)

June 22nd

Day 1 of my cycle and Day 1 of stims. I have my baseline scan and everything appears to be in order. All set to begin stims. I’m on the exact same treatment protocol as last time and I begin the Bemfola and Menopur injections that evening. I’ll start the Cetrotide on Day 5 of stims.

June 24th

It’s a Sunday and we’re celebrating my husband’s 35th birthday with a BBQ at home. (After 2 months of only concentrating on IVF, you inevitably get back to other life’s routines and commitments.) We had some friends and family over and it was fantastic. But by the evening, I was flat out. Exhausted from all the cooking and entertaining, the injections took longer than usual, and really hurt. I could no longer continue this way and needed to get back in the ‘zone’. I could feel the angst building up. It was all too much and we had to reign ourselves back.

June 25th

Happy birthday to my husband! We spent the most wonderful day together. Just what we both needed.

July – EC and a little break

July 3rd

It’s EC day! Same story as last time; but this time they drained eight follicles, which contained eight eggs. So far so good.

July 4th

Day 1 of embryos. The embryologist called to announce that out of the eight eggs, only six were mature, which they injected with sperm (again, using ICSI). However, four of these disintegrated, and we only have two embryos in the running again. F*CK. (Excuse my French. Lately, I have a tendency to swear.)

‘Nerves of steel’. ‘Nerves of steel’. I repeat, ‘Nerves of steel’.

July 6th

Day 3 of embryos. Both embryos are still doing okay.

July 9th

Day 6 of embryos. Yesterday, the embryologist informed us that both embryos were still at the cellular stage; so not looking good. They were going to give them one more day to see if they perk up and get to blastocyst stage. Today, they have not developed any further. So that’s the end of this round #3.

It’s alright. We still have one embryo.

Since everything is dependent on my cycle, the preparation for embryo transfer (ET) will still not be for another few weeks. What we love about IVI is that it is very focused on research. Their studies show that it is optimum to have the body recover after the stimulation phase. They prefer FETs over live transfers. This is partly because they prefer the body to get back in to its natural rhythm following from all the drugs taken during the stimulation phase. You can imagine that with such high doses, the oestrogen levels in the body have sky-rocketed. In a ‘normal’ conception, the oestrogen level in the body is around 1000. In IVF, the level could be around 5000 (in my case anyway). The other reason is that they advocate PGS testing, and results for this test take 2 weeks. So, it’s advisable to let the body recuperate while waiting for the results.

We take advantage of this recuperation phase and host another BBQ to make the most of the summer. We get back in the social scene and enjoy other people’s company for a few weeks. We also take a few days off to enjoy some sun, sand and sea.

Now we are all set for the big transfer phase.

July 30th

Preps for the transfer have begun. It’s the first of 10 days of another round of Norethisterone tablets.

August – ET

August 15th

Having discussed all our options whilst planning for the transfer, I agreed to have a hysteroscopy to increase our chances of implantation. Back in the theatre, sedated again. It’s my third sedation in the last few months. I’m an advent fan of it! Honestly, I get such a great feeling and for those few minutes, your mind is at ease. Not thinking or worrying. Think of it as an addiction. Again, the perks of IVF!

(Food for thought: could IVF be disguised as an addiction after all?)

We have also discovered that I have a slight clotting issue. This means that in addition to taking baby aspirin tablets, I will require further injections – in the form of Clexane – for several weeks. Clexane is notoriously known to be painful and cause severe bruising. Fun times ahead!

Hysteroscopy all done; I begin the dose of Progynova tablets. They need to be taken three-times a day, for possibly 10 weeks if successful implantation occurs. I will soon also start the twice-daily progesterone suppositories. Again, these will need to be continued for approximately 3 months if implantation is successful.

August 30th

ET day! The embryo had to first survive the thawing process, and it did. (One more hurdle overcome.) Back in theatre, but this time fully awake and alert, with a full bladder ready to burst any minute. (It’s not by choice – a full bladder makes for a clearer ultrasound.) It’s all very emotional. My husband accompanies me in theatre and holds my hand through the procedure. The nurse is pushing against my bladder whilst the ultrasound probe gives a visual of my uterus. The doctor is ready to begin. The embryologist is on alert, ready to hand over the long tube containing the embryo. It’s actually uncomfortable and painful; bit like a smear test. We get to see our little Trooper on the monitor as it’s been placed back inside my womb. All done, and the doctor reassures me that I can go relieve myself. The act of peeing will NOT in fact drop my baby out! The evening routine of Clexane begins.

September 2018 – the 2-week wait

This is the bit where you just have to rest and relax. Nothing strenuous; no heavy lifting; just taking things slow and easy. Another alteration in supplements and diet. It was great because my mum had flown in from Kenya to be with us and look after us. She had arrived just a few days before the ET, and I cannot express just how grateful we were to have her here with us, looking after us.

We had opted to have a blood test done to give us the outcome of the ET. We could just as easily have used those home pregnancy tests, but you know how I loathe peeing on those sticks! Usually, the test is done 11 days after the ET. However, to play to superstition, I opted to push it to 12 days. The reason being, in the first IVF we ever did (back in 2014), I started my bleed the day I had my blood test after the transfer. Hence, I figured, ‘If only I could get through the actual day of the test. If all is well and the day goes by smoothly, then surely it’s a positive?’ What’s one more day of waiting?

The test was booked in for the 11th of September. The weekend before the Tuesday, I was in a foul mood. I had cramps. I also had a feeling that the treatment did not work. Yet, I consoled myself that cramps could mean anything; even implantation. (Side story – another friend of mine was going through IVF around the same time as me. Even though she started her treatment after my first one in April, she had finished hers way before I began my second round. Different protocol; different clinic; different plan. Anyway, like me, a few days before her pregnancy test, she had cramps and some bleeding. I had reassured her that they could be implantation cramps. I was right. She tested early, and it was a positive!)

September 10th

Went well without any hiccups.

September 11th

D-Day! The morning of the test. Still no bleed (my period) so feeling really optimistic. My doctor comes to see us whilst the nurse takes my blood test. She’s feeling very optimistic and envelops me in a hug. (So much love from everyone at the clinic. So important emotionally.)

The results will be in that afternoon.

5.00 p.m. – my doctor calls and gives us the shattering news … ‘It’s a negative’.

As my husband pointed out, we just had our own 9/11.

So, this is how our summer went … all 9 months of it. The time it takes for normal individuals to make and have a baby. All I have left to show for it is an empty sharps bin, leftover medication, a bag full of syringes and needles and a face full of zits. Lots of them that still lurk and re-surface, continuously reminding me of the summer that passed.

How did your summer go?

(I could only recollect in such detail above because I kept a journal for each IVF cycle. I’ve lost count the number of times I wrote down, ‘This will be the last set of injections’; ‘The last IVF’; then, ‘The FINAL IVF’. Just to psyche myself up. Just to carry on. I now know what makes me tick … ‘I got nerves of steel, baby. NERVES OF STEEL!’)

The milking shed

In the end, everything is a business. Milk is a business. Health is a business. Fertility is a business. Life is a business. Minding-your-own-business is a business. By preying on someone’s weakness, you’re making it your business. Okay, I’m digressing. Let’s rewind.

Like I said, milk is a business and fertility is also a business. The similarities, if you look close enough, come two-fold. First, you get pumped with hormones. Second, you get ‘milked’ (the monetary way when dealing with fertility!). Hence, a fertility clinic is much like a milking shed, only with unfortunate humans replacing the cows. (As a side note, I love milk, regardless of hormones and all. So if you think I’m promoting other lifestyles [like veganism], you’ve misunderstood both me and my point.)

So, how do you come about the important business of choosing a fertility clinic once you are done with your child’s play antics? Do you go via the NHS route or the private route? Or both? For all three IVF treatments, we were fortunate enough to choose the private route. Through the NHS route, you first need to meet certain criteria and qualify to be eligible. Then you are put through a pecking order and have no real guarantee as to when to expect your turn to begin treatment. Going private, the decision is in your hands and are free to choose your start date (obviously everything depends on your ‘cycle’). I recently read a paragraph that I wish to share and will help enlighten you further on the differences between the NHS and private medicine when dealing with infertility. From Adam Kay’s book ‘This is Going to Hurt’, he explains:

“In most aspects of private medicine, you get a mild upgrade on the NHS, but no huge difference in actual care. You get seen a bit quicker, the receptionist’s got all her teeth and there’s a decent wine list for your inpatient stay – but ultimately you get the same treatment. When it comes to infertility medicine though, the private sector is leagues ahead – they will investigate and treat you until you have a baby (or an insolvency order)”. (I’d like to point out that this can be true or false; it depends on the couple and when they wish to stop. If they have an unlimited supply of cash and emotions, then by all means carry on till the cows come home.)

Back to Adam’s explanation, “The NHS requires you to fit into quite a narrow demographic to qualify for any treatment, and it’s often not enough to achieve a positive result. I understand there’s a limited pot of money, but you don’t ever hear this said in other corners of medicine. ‘We don’t treat leukaemia – there’s a limited pot of money.’ ‘We only treat fractures on the right side of the body – there’s a limited pot of money’.” (Clearly Adam’s a man of my heart; at least our humour is alike.)

So back to this post. Through the years, we have visited five different clinics and heavily researched another, and we can easily categorise each into three types. (I should point out that it’s only after our extensive ‘learning’ that we have been able to differentiate them. We had no clue when we first started out.) For ease of clarity, I’ll use traffic light symbols. (They work well; also, I had a temporary lapse in imagination.)

Red. These are the clinics that are hardcore and have military-style regimens; more than double the injections, more scans, individually tailored (to some extent), involves every test imaginable, involves trying to ‘correct’ every result no matter if it’s good or bad for the body (I’m referring to immunology here), no real sense of privacy, known to work in a ‘trial-by-error’ fashion and heavily based on experimental techniques. We came across two clinics that would fit snugly in this category. They appear to get results and so are very popular (think battery-farming for infertility); but all this is achieved at the cost of your soul (and your wallet).

Orange. These types are the ones that think they are doing you a favour and trying to portray a professional atmosphere, when actually they are in it for the business. Again, no real sense of privacy, false empathy and inconsistent consultations (you see one doc today; another tomorrow). As soon as you step in to the clinic, you need to first pay for your day’s appointment (consultation, scan, etc.) before proceeding further than the reception. Quite placid; bit like the orange traffic light. Our first IVF was at such a clinic. At that point in time, we did not know any better; but now, we recognise its flaws.

Green. This category comprises of those that operate on evidence-based results (i.e., every technique is highly researched before being offered). They are pioneers in technology and do not offer add-ons simply to ‘tick all boxes’. They stick to their principles and proven techniques. Any techniques or tests that their research has shown as beneficial and necessary are automatically included in their treatment plans; they are not optional add-ons. Likewise, any that are experimental or ‘hearsay’ are not offered. They advise you correctly and are honest with you, even if that means you need to re-think your family-planning scenario. They do not prod and dig until there is nothing left of your soul. They treat you like an individual. Every staff member (right from the receptionists, to the accountants, to the nurses and doctors) is so kind and caring – one of the most important necessities for couples going through IVF. They go above and beyond. They make you feel good (yes, I was shocked that in such a scenario, you could be made to feel good) and look forward to your clinic days. Their facilities are second to none. Everything is in-house – the consultations, the scans, the labs, the theatres … all under one roof. Yes, this list is exhaustive, but essential. And we have only ever come across one clinic that fits the spec. The one we swear by.

Desperation and the end result play a large part in how we tell a story. It’s easy to forget the journey if we get to the result we desire. It’s no different with infertility. Every couple will have (some) good things to say about the clinic that gave them their ‘take-home baby’. No matter the experience with the clinic or how gruelling the whole treatment was, in the end if you have your baby, you will definitely be sharing contact details of that clinic to the next person looking for recommendations. We, on the other hand, have the upper hand. Yes, we do. Since we do not have our ‘take-home baby’, we are objective in our reasoning. (Infertility: 6; Sita: 1. I’m slowly catching up.)

The clinic you choose plays a crucial part in your mental state. Of course you want the one that demonstrates good results; but you also want to be treated kindly. Whenever we speak to people about IVF clinics, the first question uttered is, ‘What are the success rates of that clinic?’ Well, my husband and I don’t dwell on those statistics. (Shock! Horror!) Stats are only numbers, formed by a collective whose results are specifically chosen to be included in the ‘theory’. It means nothing to us. Our success rate is not dependant on other people’s. There is always a statistic to dispute another. Your life is not dependant on a collective statistic. (I’ll elaborate – I’m surrounded by very fertile family members and I am one of three children, so surely by some statistic I should be quite fertile? Oh wait, there is a statistic to dispute that, which says 1 in 6 couples are infertile. And so on.)

So, let’s re-count the number of clinics we have visited: five in total, with a heavily-researched sixth. You know, the world is full of well-meaning individuals that genuinely care for your wellbeing. We’re lucky to be surrounded by such people. In our quest to have a baby, they also make it their quest to wish and pray for our happiness, to the extent where they have more hope of things working out when we, frankly, have run out of hope. But hope is a sucker; a life-sucking power. This summer, a concerned friend suggested we go for a second opinion. (Patience is a virtue; a virtue I have come to possess in bundles.) A deep inhalation followed by an exhalation; “Forget second; we’re way past our third.”

Child’s play

Over the years, I have had well-meaning advice from many friends, family members and the general public who I’ve chosen to share aspects of our story with. Some are obvious, some are downright hilarious and others are, well, at that point you just go with the flow and try everything.

Stop the caffeine and alcohol. Great if you conceive within a year or two. I think minimising is being more realistic when you’re as far gone as I am. At least when you’re preparing for, and in the midst of, IVF, one should cut down on these vices. Now I’m back to my ‘usual’ content. (Side note – how many babies have been conceived on a drunken night out?)

Temperature monitoring. This is relevant if you don’t know your cycle or if you need to figure out when you’re ‘ripe’ and ovulating. I, on the other hand, am so in tune with my body that I can recognise every twinge, every cramp, every gas-related change; hence, I scrapped this really early on. (Knowing your body is a good thing. But it really messes with your head too.)

Put some weight on. (Remember, the advice applies to me directly; for others it could be the opposite.) Actually, no one told me about this as my bodyweight is fine. Incorrect; actually my GP mentioned it in passing; but they didn’t really know much about infertility so they were just passing comments as their way of being helpful (as GPs do). But, it really helps to have some tummy flab when going through IVF; those injections need fat. With washboard abs, I’m afraid things are only worse. Thankfully my bikini body is better suited for a swimsuit.

Legs up in the air and cycle baby, cycle. This is a good one. Once you’ve done the ‘deed’ (let’s call it sex), proceed to lift your legs up in the air and cycle. I have been reassured that this has worked twice for someone. Bang. Cycle. Boom. Baby.

Pillow under buttocks. If you haven’t figured it out, this is similar to the previous one, and the pillow props you up to keep everything inside.

Be stress free. Been there, done that, moving on.

Amulets and talismans. In my quest to try ‘everything’, I’ve worn an amulet for 6 months. Other than chafing my arm, I don’t think it served any purpose. On that note, I also drank a concoction of things that I still don’t know what they contained, nor do I wish to.

Testing early. Man, those peeing-on-stick things can be so sensitive these days. You can test literally within a few days of copulation and know if you are with child or not. I did a few. Then did some more a few days later. And more when I actually should have done them. Zilch. Na-da. Now I just don’t pee on anything.

No smoking. I don’t so didn’t apply to me. Didn’t apply to my husband either. (Although, I’m not sure how accurate the whole smoking-related-to-infertility thing is. Many a folk have reproduced irrespective.)

Stop spinning. As in spin classes; as in cycling. Only applied to my husband. This journey even took that away from him. (Again, I’m dubious. Are [male] cyclists all infertile?)

So, there you go. A show of hands for all those guilty of the above please? I know of many people who have followed one or more of the above and fallen pregnant. I think they are worth trying if you are still in your first or second year of TTC. After that, consider it as child’s play.

This is a f*cking joke. (Excuse my French.) And the joke’s on me.

Extremes of TTC

Why choose now to share my story? I told a friend about my plans of writing and telling the world. The friend rightly said, ‘Not hiding is great; but posting is totally different to not hiding’. It’s true. I’m conscious of the fact that once it’s out there in the open, I’ll be vulnerable, and I could be a subject of matter discussed. However, I’m already feeling vulnerable having gone through this and gossip is already rife. That’s what has prompted me to write. Perhaps it might resonate with others, or not. Perhaps it’s just something I need to do. Whatever the reason, I feel it’s the right thing to do. For now, at least.

I’d like to point out that those who are already going through this journey know exactly how it feels (even though circumstances are different for all and each story is different, no matter the journey), and they can each provide you with their own version; they’re pros in this field after all. I’m writing to let the other side of the world know; the ones who have no inkling as to what this journey involves.

So, what does 6 years of TTC involve? Other than your life been taken over and now my biggest fear is peeing on sticks (it has surpassed my previous fear of swallowing pills), for me it has involved a whole bunch of things.

Hundreds of medical tests (I once had 21 vials of blood drawn out – no, this is not something I would joke about), nutritional advice, various supplements (the fear of swallowing dissolves after popping about eight different pills in one sitting), hypnotherapy (with the promise of continuing to hypnobirthing if one should ever get to that stage; ha, the irony!), theta healing, acupuncture, reflexology, yoga, meditation, spirit babies, a laparoscopy, dye test, immunology, a hysteroscopy, injections after injections and IVF. Multiple IVFs. I think that covers it all. (All the while, hoping and praying each month that I’m pregnant.)

Hey, at least no one can fault me for being mediocre.

I. HAVE. DONE. IT. ALL. And still no baby. And no, don’t tell me that I just need to ‘relax and let go’. (FYI – Don’t ever tell that to anyone who is trying for a baby. It takes all their willpower not to punch you in the face.) ‘Let go’ of what exactly? The hope and dreams that millions of others have and achieve? Or to surrender and accept a different reality? (You know, one of the lures and advice that some IVF clinics use is to explain how in war-torn countries and others who are in horrendous situations [like rape] still conceive. You can agree or disagree with this.)

I do not know if it a society thing or if it is in-built in to our human psychology; but, we are engineered to always put all our efforts and concentration into something we desire. Live it; breathe it; feel it … isn’t that so? So, for those who think the solution to my lack of baby is that I need to relax, how exactly should I carry on without putting effort in to it? How do you propose I go in to IVF half-heartedly and really ‘forget’ about what it involves? How exactly should I ‘let go’ of something that has been a part of my life for all these years? Perhaps writing this is my way of letting it go. Perhaps accepting a different alternative is. Just how unfair is that? I agree, when all else (science and the likes) fails, you are almost forced in to a position to accept a different reality. But don’t minimise the gravity of TTC by belittling it and sugar-coating it with the word ‘relax’. It is not a sweet anyone wishes to savour.

And what if I have relaxed? What if I am (and have been for several months at a time) at that stage where emotionally and mentally I am calm? I do meditate after all. I’m doing things that make me happy. I’m not over-exerting myself. Then what? I’m still in the same situation I was as before.