Monday, 31 December 2007

Taking stock

When we first decided that we wanted to have a child together, we thought that we'd just stop using contraception and wait and see what happened. A few months went by, and I didn't get pregnant. Christmas came and went, and we told ourselves, 'maybe this time next year, we'll have a baby.' Since then, another four Christmases have gone by. Many of our friends now have children, while we have gone for appointment after appointment, endured test after test, and been put on waiting list after waiting list. Our conversations about our future have slipped from 'when we have children' to 'if we have children.'

When you are dealing with infertility, Christmas, New Year, birthdays and anniversaries become endowed with a new significance: they remind you that another twelve months have gone by, but you are still no closer to fulfilling your dream of becoming a parent.

This last day of 2007 thus seems an appropriate time for taking stock. Looking back over the past year, I realise how much of my energy has gone into trying - and failing - to conceive a child. I never knew how exhausting infertility could be - and here I don't just mean the countless trips backwards & forwards from the clinic, or else the invasive and painful procedures which many of us have to endure in order to have a child, but also the endless cycle of hope and disappointment that one lives through on a monthly basis.

If infertility has taught me one thing, it is that, even with the best will in the world, you cannot always achieve what you set out to do. This year, I won't be making any new year's resolutions. Instead, I will hope...

I will hope that this cycle of IVF takes us one step closer to our dream of having a baby.

And I will hope that all of you out there who are longing for exactly the same thing will finally get that BFP.

Friday, 28 December 2007

The devil makes work for idle hands

Mr H has taken the period between Christmas and New Year off work. He has decided to take this opportunity to re-build our home PC, and to upgrade to Windows Vista.

When I work, I surround myself with pieces of paper - previous drafts of chapters, photocopied articles - as well as great tottering stacks of books. I look at my desk, and see a carefully ordered work in progress. Mr H looks at my desk, and sees a mess, which needs to be cleared out of the way before he can begin to check his email or do anything else on the computer.

The Great Upgrade has been going on for several days, and is apparently now pretty much complete. The PhD has survived intact, and I now have email again. Chapter Three, however, is still randomly piled up in a corner of my study.

All this does explain why I have not had a chance to thank all those who took the time to stop by and wish me luck for our first appointment. I really do appreciate all your kind words of support: somehow, it is easier knowing that I am not the first person to go through this process.

Monday, 24 December 2007

First appointment

When I was three, Father Christmas brought me a doll's cot. It was painted lemon yellow, and was made up with teeny-tiny sheets and pillows, and a patchwork quilt (I later learnt that my grandmother had made all of these, and had sent them up to Lapland for Santa to deliver). When I peeked under the quilt, I found a ragdoll lying there fast asleep. I immediately named her LoobyLoo, and she remained one of my most stalwart companions over the next few years.

A few years ago, when my father moved house, my doll's cot was unearthed in one of the farthest corners of the loft. My father and stepmother insisted on packing it up and taking it with them to their new house, 'for when we have our grandchildren over to play'. It now sits, empty and reproachful, in their garage. Unfortunately, LoobyLoo has gone forever; she did not come to light in the move.

Thirty-three years later, the doll's cot remains My Best Christmas Present Ever. This morning's IVF goody bag does not come close: unpacking my very own miniature sharps bin does not fill me with anything like the same sense of wonder and excitement. I thought I would feel more gung-ho about finally starting treatment, but have to say that the whole thing felt like a bit of an anti-climax. We had been told that the appointment would take about an hour, and I'd assumed that the consultant would spend the time talking us through the protocol he had prescribed for us, and that we would have time to ask any lingering questions. In fact, we were in and out in fifteen minutes: a quick probe with the dildo cam confirmed that I had ovulated this month, and was OK to start treatment, and then the rest of the time was taken up signing various consent forms.

For the down reg phase, I was given a choice between Buserelin injections, or Nafarelin nasal spray. Because I'm still a little freaked out by the thought of injecting myself, I elected to go for the Nafarelin (3 sprays a day, eight hours apart). Have taken my first spray, and am now waiting for the first of the long list of side effects listed in the information leaflet to appear!

Friday, 21 December 2007

What my unconscious is telling me

In waking life, our impeding cycle of IVF continues to have a vague air of unreality about it: I still cannot quite believe that our first appointment is on Monday morning.

In my dreams, however, the anxieties come thick and fast. I dream that I am in the bathroom, syringe in hand, but that I cannot bring myself to inject myself. I dream that I do not fully understand what medication I am to take when, and that I inadvertently miss an injection, thereby screwing up the whole cycle and sending us back to the very bottom of a six-month waiting list. I dream that I am to give a lecture on my experiences of infertility: the lights in the lecture hall go down, I open my mouth to speak, but no words will come out.

I suppose that what all these dreams are telling me is that I'm scared: I'm scared of the injections, I'm scared of the egg retrieval, I'm scared it won't work, and I'm scared that if it does work, I may miscarry. I thought I'd feel ready to do this, but I don't.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Literary confessions & opening lines

In one of David Lodge's comic novels about academia, a group of English literature professors play a parlour game in which they each have to name a book which they really should have read, but haven't. As Lodge recognises, academics cannot resist a bit of professional one-upmanship, and so they are all only too ready to admit to the gaps in their literary knowledge. The game culminates in one of them confessing that he has never read Hamlet and, if my memory serves me correctly, losing his job as a result.

Because I blog anonymously (Ms Heathen is not in fact my real name, nor is it to be read as a statement about my religious beliefs), I can here confess with impunity that I have never in my life read a word of Derrida. I am writing up my PhD in a department that has a formidable reputation when it comes to critical theory, and this would be considered a scandalous oversight by many of my peers. I am sure that one day I will be caught out: I will be asked a tricky question about deconstruction at a graduate seminar, and my ignorance will be exposed for all to see.

I have also never read anything by any of the great Russian novelists. It was with this in mind that last week I bought a copy of Anna Karenina (Derrida, on the other hand, I think I can manage without).

I was hooked from the moment I read the opening line:

"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Along with Gertrude Stein's "rose is a rose is a rose is a rose", this is one of the sentences I would most like to have written. On its own, it stands as a concise yet profound statement on the intricate dynamics of our relationships with those to whom we are inextricably tied by our upbringing. As the first sentence of a novel, it introduces a theme and opens up a world for me. Already I know that, whatever unhappy family I am to encounter between the pages of this novel, it will be more interesting than any conventionally happy family.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Countdown to Christmas

Christmas is a difficult time for those struggling with infertility - somehow it reminds you of all the things you can't have. A while ago, Loribeth had a great post which neatly captured all poignancy of a Christmas without children, which I went back and read as I began to think about our own plans for the holiday season.

Over the years, Mr H and I have created our own Christmas routine. We try not to get caught up in the relentless consumerism that appears to grip the entire country at this time of year. Going round the supermarket yesterday, I was faintly sickened by the excess of it all - the shelves were groaning with processed, over-packaged, fat-laden, Christmas-themed goodies (stilton & cranberry flavoured crisp anyone, or perhaps a white chocolate topped mince pie?). People were already beginning to stockpile loaves of bread, and a couple were having a bitter exchange of words next to the packets of bread sauce mix. Looking around at the overflowing trolleys in the queues for the checkouts, I couldn't help but wonder: how much of this food will go uneaten into landfill sites when people clear out their fridges and cupboards in the new year?

We don't bother with turkey and all the trimmings; for the last couple of years, we have instead had a shellfish platter from the fabulous Ramus Seafood Emporium. We generally treat ourselves to a bottle of champagne, or else a really good dry white wine, and buy each other one small gift each. We spend most of the day lazing in front of an open fire, reading, chatting or watching the television (if I have my way, we will also play board games, although Mr H is not as keen as I am!) If the weather is nice, we may go for a walk in the afternoon.

This year, however, I am counting down to Christmas for a very different reason: our Day 21 appointment is scheduled for 8.20am on Christmas Eve.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Dashing about...

Over the course of the past ten days, I have:

1. Driven from York to London.

2. Coped with my mother-in-law for three days (coping with Mr H's mother in fact warrants a separate post in its own right, or even a separate blog - possibly entitled 'You'll never believe what my mother-in-law has just said').

3. Been asked a series of intrusive and insensitive questions about our forthcoming fertility treatment by Mr H's friends, who are henceforth to be known (with a nod to Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary) as 'the smug fertiles'.

4. Held & admired the smug fertiles' six month old baby.

5. Dealt with nos. 2, 3 & 4 without losing my temper or crying.

6. Taken a group of 15 students around the Louise Bourgeois show at Tate Modern.

7. Driven back to York from London.

8. Spent a day battling around the shops in York looking for something suitable to wear to a funeral.

9. Spent £50 on a black jacket I didn't particularly want, and couldn't particularly afford.

10. Been awarded a £30 parking ticket (suddenly, that jacket got even more expensive).

11. Driven from York to Shropshire in order to attend a family funeral.

12. Driven back from Shropshire to York.

13. Prepared for and taught a four hour class on women's art practice in the 1960s & 70s.

In the midst of all this dashing about from one end of the country to another, I have lain awake at night, my mind racing with all the things I have to do and places I have to be, my body tense with stress. I always thought that I would reach some magic place where I felt physically & emotionally ready to undertake IVF. Instead, I'm going into it exhausted from a term's teaching, and worried about the fact that I have been too busy teaching to make as much progress as I would have liked on my PhD. So now I'm lying awake at night, going over and over the possibility that, if the IVF doesn't work, it will be because I'm too stressed... and if Mr H's mother tells me once more that, maybe if I just relaxed and stopped working so hard, I would somehow magically manage to conceive, then I really will find it difficult not to tell her exactly what I think of her!