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.

I have a story

It’s been 6 years since we moved in to our house, 6 years of trying for a baby and I’m still here, 6 years later, with no baby in hand, but at least I now have a story.

Phew! It has taken every ounce of my courage to bare all to you, the world, which comprises of friends and family … and acquaintances. We all have a story; our life story. For some, days go by and life goes by as planned. For others, life doesn’t turn out the way you always imagined it to be. And these are the stories that are most interesting because, well, everyone loves to gossip about the person who is in woe or who is going through a ‘difficult’ patch, right? So, I thought long and hard, and before anyone makes my story the headline of their storytelling, I thought I’d better take the lead role.

I got married when I was young – just shy of 25 years. Life had always been good, and I’d already been dating my husband for 7 years prior to marriage. We were in no rush to start a family, both building a career and both happy together. After 4 years in to marriage, we decided we were ‘ready’ for kids. (I know some of you mums out there might snigger and say, ‘Can you ever be ready for kids? You don’t know what you are getting yourself in to!’ Well, it’s a life choice and yes, some like me, make a conscious decision of it.) Simultaneously, we started searching for the perfect house to be our forever home. We’ve always led our lives by planning, managing and living within our means. It’s what being reasonable and responsible is all about, right? We found the perfect house. Like many a folk, buying a large, family house signals one thing in particular to the rest of the world; they’re planning for a family. It’s funny how everyone has preconceptions about everything.

So, whilst we settled in to our new home, the trials and tribulations of making a baby started. 1 year, 2 years, 3 years, 4 years, 5 years and now, 6 years all went by. (I note each year because I wish to stress the enormity of it all.) 6 whole years … and counting. 6 years of trying for a baby. That’s 72 months of disappointment each time. That’s 72 times of pulling myself through in the hope that the next month will be a positive. That’s 312 weeks of planning my life around thinking, ‘When I have a baby…’ That’s about 2200 days of always having the thought of a baby at the back of my mind. Oh, and throw in three rounds of gruelling IVF and we’re still with a no show of baby. If only you could ‘think’ a baby in to existence. (I challenge anyone in to thinking that they can ‘will’ the universe in to producing what they want. Ever read ‘The Secret’? Well, it doesn’t work.)

We are struggling to conceive the one thing we desire most and to top it all, we can’t even travel half the world because it’s been taken over by a deadly superpower, Zika! You’d think the TTC (that’s ‘trying to conceive’ for all you fertiles) couples have enough on their plates already than to worry about where they can go on holiday to unload their stress!

The good news is that my marriage is stronger than I would ever had imagined it to be. Plus, I no longer fret about body image since I’ve had more than two dozen individuals prod and look through my lady parts. Also, I’ve learnt a whole new language and abbreviations that only the infertiles have the privilege of learning, such as TTC. (That’s the most basic abbreviation btw; like learning the alphabet. I’m dispensing knowledge to you slow and steady, so don’t worry of getting bogged down with the new lingo). And finally, I’m no longer hiding the fact of what I’ve been through. It’s a burden I need to shed; a form of therapy if you like.

So, buckle your seats and follow me whilst I share my journey, and let’s see what it brings out. Raw, short stories, anecdotes, anger, my own true feelings … I’ve included it all. I don’t know what I hope to achieve, but as I said, I have a story to tell.

Culture be damned

Judge: What is the motive?

Jury: Culture

Us Indians (referring to all from Indian origin) are culturally inclined. Our food, our family life, our clothing, our mannerisms, our relationships … all tend to include our great heritage.

Or, with all things, we like to have it included in some areas of life, whilst not really caring for in other areas. We like to pick and choose. The problem this creates is a form of lost identity. You cannot pick and choose your identity. You can create a whole new identity. Or you could embrace the identity you have. Unfortunately, it’s not something that can be split.

Over the years, I’ve observed how we, the generation Y millennials, like to shun away from cultural associations and activities. Yet the very next day, we drag our offspring to some activity to impart some ‘culture’ on these innocent minds, because, god forbid, they grow up to be brats with no ounce of tradition or culture whatsoever, or identity of where their predecessors come from.

I’ll give examples (much to the distress of my readers) as it’s easier than beating around the bush. The last few weeks and coming weeks have been full of festivities and celebrations in the Indian calendar – Paryushan, Navratri, Diwali, etc.

Navratri – 9 days of celebrations, including garba

How many Gen Y millennials actually went for garba, or usually partake in these celebrations yearly? Answer is, usually the same individuals who like to celebrate this festival. So the regulars.

How many took their kids to the kids’ version of celebrations? Answer is – all the rest not included in the above. I cannot fathom why you wouldn’t make time to engage in cultural activities, but have the time to make sure your kids do not miss out.

Diwali – possibly the biggest celebration in all Indian religions

The usual decorum is to perhaps send your kids to learn how to do Rangoli. But when was the last time you did a Rangoli yourself at home, for the joy of just celebrating Diwali?

Dressing up for Diwali needs its own paragraph. This is the time to wear our finest jewellery and traditional attire as it’s a big family celebration. Yet, many choose to wear an ‘Indo-Western’ top over jeans. However, if you look closely at the family unit, the offspring will always be on show, wearing their very best traditional gear.

See the repetition I’m trying to address? It’s all to do with time. We don’t have time for tradition and culture. Yet we want our kids to be fully engaged in it. My point is if we, the Gen Y millennials, are not actively partaking and cherishing our culture, how can we expect the next generation to follow suit? Sure, they will be fine for a couple of years whilst you drag and parade them around. But what do you see happening when they can think for themselves? At the most, they will become like us. At the worst, they will be worse than us. So who suffers in the end?

Judge: What is the verdict?

Jury: Death by suffocation. (Actual death undetermined – culturally inflicted human death, or human-inflicted cultural death)

Monkey see, monkey do

Apart from the obvious physical similarities (hair and all), what’s the common denominator between humans and monkeys? We all love to do what the other is doing. We like to be a collective. We like to fit in with society. Shame on us if we have a different opinion to the other.

(That’s as far as my understanding of monkeys goes. I can imagine that they are less complex individuals. Or they may be just as complex as we are. Clearly, I’m still undecided. Needs more follow-up.)

During my hiatus from the blogosphere, which involved a lot of the writer’s block-type thing and a considerable amount of soul searching, I’ve realised that our biggest and most underused asset is CHOICE.

Choice. Choice to choose from left or right. Choice to decide for yourself. To think for yourself. To know for yourself. It applies to everything imaginable, and then some. We have a choice. So let’s stop following the rest and let’s start firing the neurons to power our own mind. We all want to control our own destiny. Yet, how many of us succumb to someone else’s version?

I’ll spill a little secret that I’ve come to realise. Do you know that destiny is not binding? Every action and choice you make can create a new future? You have the power within you to create a change. It’s all down to choice. The sooner we realise this, the better for everyone.

Resurrection

Of the blog. Not me.

Yearning for a slower pace. Of me. Not the blog.

New found FREEDOM. Of both the blog and me.

I’m back with (what I hope to be) a vengeance. Let’s get this party on.

She’s pregnant! (Screams headlines)

That must have got your attention, right? Such is the power of the word ‘pregnancy’. And no. No I am not pregnant.

Have you ever wondered how the term pregnancy and all its affiliations (e.g., bump, baby, etc.) are so loosely used to add importance to every situation, to make a complaint more profound, to bestow attention to an already inflated ego, to add weight to every stand? Let me elaborate.

Why is one, when making a complaint about a certain something to a certain customer services, compelled to list a whole set of events about how much unnecessary time, money, effort, annoyance they had to dispel all the while having their pregnant wife be witness and an accomplice to their troubles? For example, you are not happy with a certain manufacturer for supplying faulty goods. Do you think the manufacturer really cares that your pregnant wife had to come all the way with you to return the faulty goods? The fact that the wife is not pregnant (yes, I know these people!) is beside the point. Why do you need to make her pregnant to create more of a fuss?

Or, how about the scenario when you just drop the ‘bump’ so causally, in the hope that what you are trying to emphasise will suddenly make more of an impact?

This morning, I came across an advertisement on the radio informing listeners of the dangers of cycling and to watch out for cyclists. The sketch was really well written from the point of view of a woman, who was warning motorists to just keep a watch for her cyclist husband because, you know, accidents happen. That is all well and good and easily understood. Then why does it have to take an almost hysterical turn saying she would love for her cyclist husband to be able to come home to her and her bump? Really? Isn’t her life important enough to her husband and humanity, that only if we mention ‘bump’ would it seem more profound?

Since when did pregnancy, and all things related, become a benchmark for importance? Why is the world so fixated with these terms?

Don’t get me wrong. Pregnancy is a wonderful thing and you are very lucky to have ever been pregnant. I for one have been trying to get pregnant for years, but it will happen when it’s meant to happen. But let’s quit devaluing the sanctity of it by portraying it as feeble, weak and poorly. Heck, I’m told that when a woman is with child, she is ‘glowing’ and has this inner power and wisdom about her. Seems more apt a description of a warrior princess than a poorly, helpless woman who needs to be used as a pawn to gain sympathy.

Newsflash – not every family has offspring. Not every woman is with child. Then why should your importance and worth be judged on this?

Critical acclaim versus playing dress-up

The long-awaited Fabric of India exhibition at the prestigious Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) in London opened on the 3rd of October. It is the ‘first major exhibition to explore the rich and fascinating world of handmade textiles from India.’ Some of the finest and most fascinating textiles from the V&A and collections across the world have been used to ‘illustrate the processes, history and politics associated with these incredible objects’.

Following the developments of this thought-provoking exhibition on their blog, I had booked tickets online as soon as they were available. A week after the opening, we were eagerly waiting to enter the V&A, in anticipation of good things to come.

Rewind a few hours earlier and the mood was one of utter disbelief. I’ll explain. The first ever India Fashion Week was to be held in London the same weekend and excitedly we had also booked tickets to watch a catwalk show advertising three designers. Having experienced Lakme Fashion Weeks, we decided this was an event not to be missed. It is sufficed to say that this was the most disorganized event camouflaged as playing dress-up ever imagined.

As seen on the ramp - India Fashion Week, London
Poor styling, as seen on the ramp – India Fashion Week, London

The usual lack of seating arrangements, lack of informed personnel and a lack of certain expectations is not what I want to focus on. The focus should be on the garment; specifically, the sari. The drape, the way it flows, the way it is treated with respect bring out the full flourish of this symbolic 6 yards of joy. One would expect that whoever styles the models on the ramp knows how to drape a sari. Aye, you say, one would expect. Cue exposed shoes and ankles; cue models who look so uncomfortable that you could almost believe that this is the first time they are wearing a sari; cue ill-fitting blouses; cue disaster.

How not to drape a sari
How not to drape a sari

Last I checked, I am 100% sure you cannot pass Fashion School without knowing how to drape a sari. FACT.

Another FACT – you do not need to have attended Fashion School to be a designer. Hence, why the world is full of designers wishing to time pass and those that bury us under their piles of imitated and unoriginal sheets of cloth. A complete and utter waste of resources.

So you can imagine how eager we were to get away and head straight for the anticipated Fabric of India. The day could only get better.

The exhibition is divided into six themes: Nature & Making, How Textiles are Used, Splendid, Global Trade, Textiles in a Changing World and Textiles Cutting Edge. Having a new-found love and respect for the artisans and craftsmanship through my interactions and experiences as Co-Founder of S9 Muses, it was wonderful to discover the techniques not only involved in the dyeing, weaving and embroidering of garments, but also how the textiles are actually made. Cottons, Silks, Chintz…all painstakingly produced to form the finished products that we see and wear to this day.  Using the weft and warp to form the hand-woven textiles, using natural materials such as turmeric to produce dyes, hand-blocking to form exquisite prints, quilting to form textures, using assorted embroidery techniques such as gota work to add embellishments and fine thread work…the many stages and techniques involved in producing finished product can only be credited to the vast experience, skill and knowledge of the artisans. Something that the mass-produced, machine-credited garments threatened to destroy for good. Until that is, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s movement on Kadhi came to force in the 1920s. Gandhi promoted the spinning of Kadhi for rural self-employment and self-reliance. ‘The Khadi movement promoted an ideology, an idea that Indians could be self-reliant on cotton and be free from the high-priced goods and clothes that the British were selling to them. The British would buy cotton from India at cheap prices and export them to Britain where they were woven to make clothes. These clothes were then brought back to India to be sold at hefty prices. The Khadi movement aimed at boycotting foreign goods including cotton and promoting Indian goods, thereby improving India’s economy.’

Today, even though we are surrounded by cheap, mass-produced quick-fashion, there is a whole new movement emerging with many designers reviving old techniques, using and, more importantly, crediting local craftsmen whereby particular skills have been passed down from generations. The livelihood of these artisans depends on the appreciation of their talent and appreciating the quality of their work. The future of heirlooms depends on us, as consumers, changing the way we perceive fast fashion and quick knock-offs, and willing to pay the right price for these labour-intensive jewels.

Pallavi Datta, an advocate for reviving the age-old sari, specifically writes and highlights the issues surrounding this garment on her blog, Pallavi’s Style Diaries. I love her style of writing and detail; worth a read when you have a chance.

The Fabric of India exhibition runs until the 10th of January 2016. Do go and have a look; it certainly is worth spending several hours over.

*Unfortunately, no photographs were allowed to be taken of the exhibition at the V&A, and being the obedient being that I am, I complied.