Sunday, 24 February 2008

Bloggering off!

For much of the past week, York has been enveloped in a fog of Dickensian density - and so we are fleeing south to warmer climes for a week's holiday.

We've managed to get a cheap flight to Malaga, and from there plan to make our way to Granada.

Sunshine and tapas here we come!

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Does my bum look big in this?

Yesterday, I called in at the supermarket. In addition to a vast array of highly processed food stuffs, it also sells a range of clothing for both children and adults. It currently has in stock some long sleeved tops designed for little girls of age 5 and under. Emblazoned across the front of these tops, in pink glittery writing, is the question 'does my bum look big in this?'

Do we really need to instil body consciousness in children so young? Or is that in fact the way the beauty/diet industry works - by catching them at such a tender age? By the time our girl children start school, have they already learnt to measure their own bodies against the airbrushed images offered up to them by an ever-more celebrity obsessed culture? Do they even then feel inadequate in comparison?

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Other people's children

I tend increasingly to make excuses not to see friends with children. As time has gone by, I find that we have less and less in common. Where they have progressed smoothly down the road to parenthood, we somehow took a wrong turn and found ourselves on the lonely and inhospitable path marked 'infertility'.

On Sunday, however, our friends Jonathan and Amanda came over for the day, bringing with them their son Richard, who will be three in April.

Luna and Pamela Jeanne have both recently written thoughtful posts on this very topic, in which they suggested that what is difficult isn't necessarily the children themselves, but rather their parents. Mr H has a tight knit circle of friends who I have labelled 'the smug fertiles'. Since the first couple announced they were expecting a child, there has been something of a domino effect amongst the smug fertiles - whenever we see them, someone else is either pregnant or has just recently had a baby. Last time round, it was Mr H's best friend and his wife who were expecting - after telling us the news, he actually said to us, 'don't worry, I'm sure you'll be next.' ('I'm sorry,' I replied acidly, 'I didn't realise that it was a race to the finish.') To some of the smug fertiles, our infertility has become the elephant in the room - they will go to any lengths to avoid mentioning it. To Mr H's best friend, on the other hand, it appears to be a source of some considerable fascination - he likes to ask detailed questions about our treatment plans, most particularly about their cost. Perhaps he is trying to show concern, but his questioning comes across as, at best, patronising, and, at worst, prurient.

Jonathan and Amanda, on the other hand, are different. Jonathan was left completely infertile after treatment for testicular cancer at the age of eighteen, and Richard was conceived on their fifth and final attempt at IUI using donor sperm. Unlike the smug fertiles, who appear to see parenthood as an automatic right, they take nothing for granted. On our walk into town, Amanda confided in me that she would never forget what they had to go through to build their family. And this is why I find it far easier to be around them, and to share in the joy they have in Richard. The last time I saw him, he was still a baby. Now, however, he is an excellent conversationalist, who asks questions ('why don't you have a playroom? where do you keep your toys?') and has decided opinions ('this isn't fizzy water; it tastes like it's from the tap').

Within five minutes of their arriving, the living room was strewn with toys. I tried not to wince as Postman Pat's van was crashed at high speed into my antique side table. After they had left, we scraped the mashed banana out of the carpet, cleaned the sticky hand prints off the TV screen and spent half an hour coaxing the cat down from on top of the wardrobe, whence she had fled in fright from Richard. Parenting a toddler was, we decided, a non-stop activity.

After a day in Richard's company, we were both struck by the enormity of how much our lives would change should we be lucky enough to have a child. We would surely learn to be less precious about the house. Time to ourselves, both individually and as a couple, would become a thing of the past. We would make sacrifices, and in return we would be rewarded by watching our child grow. Yet the moments of joy and unconditional love would doubtless be tempered by moments of boredom and frustration. And I could not help but wonder, am I ready to become a mother? I have spent the last seven years slogging away writing a PhD. I have just had my first piece of research published. How would I balance an academic career and a child? If I have a baby, would there perhaps come a moment when I longed to leave it to cry, to go into my study, shut the door and get on with my research?

Friday, 15 February 2008

Strange sightings and new experiences

Yesterday, I followed two Viking warriors into town. They were evidently off-duty, because they were carrying their helmets and daggers with them in carrier bags; one of them was on his mobile phone, while the other was drinking a cup of takeout coffee. Eventually, I turned off the main street to go to the acupuncture clinic, while the Vikings continued on into the centre of York - possibly to rape and pillage, but more likely to entertain the vast queues of school children waiting to visit the Jorvik Centre.

At the acupuncture clinic, I saw the Chinese Fertility Goddess, who is now back from her holidays. She listened to my pulse and looked at my tongue, before pronouncing her opinion to a hushed and reverential group of students. I'm not sure whether I understood exactly what she said - something about liver qi stagnation and blood stasis, perhaps? - but she did pick up on the fact that the pulse in my left wrist was much fainter than that in my right. When I mentioned the fact that my left ovary had not responded to the Menopur, she didn't look at all surprised, and promptly stuck two needles in its vicinity - when she put them in, a great pain shot round to the back of my body. I also had needles in the crooks of both my knees, on both calves, my right foot and my left wrist, all of which were designed to encourage the qi to flow more freely around my body. The CFG warned me that I would feel very tired and emotional after the treatment, and I did indeed have to have a sleep yesterday afternoon.

But when I got back from town, I discovered that the bread maker had arrived. So now, I may not have a bun in the oven (is that a uniquely British colloquialism for pregnancy?), but I do at least have a loaf in the bread maker!

Wednesday, 13 February 2008


The lovely Luna over at Life From Here (who has just won a well-deserved E for Excellence Award) has challenged me to tell you a few random facts about myself. The rules are as follows:

1. Link to the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules.
3. Share 6 non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself.
4. Tag at least 3 people.
5. Make sure the people you tagged KNOW you tagged them by commenting on what you did.

So, here goes:
  1. I am extremely allergic to horses (think full-on asthma attack!). In adult life, this is not a major problem; I simply give them a wide berth. As a child, however, I took it very badly. I read every single one of the Jill of the Gymkhana books, and bitterly regretted the fact that I too could not be off having jolly pony-related adventures.
  2. In the last year of my undergraduate degree, I applied to go to law school. I was offered a place, but then at the last minute I decided to do an MA in Feminism & the Visual Arts instead. I have never regretted not pursuing a career in the legal profession.
  3. I have ridiculously small feet (a UK size 2.5, continental size 35). This means I struggle to find shoes that fit me. People tell me that I am fortunate because I can buy cheaper, children's trainers. But I do not always want to wear kids' shoes. Sometimes, I want to wear impractical, high heeled, strappy evening sandals.
  4. According to Mr H, I compensate for not being able to find shoes that fit by buying Too Many Handbags. Mr H and I have very different ideas about what constitutes Too Many Handbags. Mr H does not understand that different occasions may require different handbags; one handbag should, he thinks, cover all eventualities.
  5. My life increasingly revolves around what's for dinner. I cannot walk by a restaurant without stopping to read the menu; I always like to choose what I would have if we were to eat there. I also love to leaf through recipe books and plan what I could hypothetically make to eat. In my mind, I plan fancy dinners which are far more elaborate than anything I would normally cook.
  6. I am a nervous flier. As soon as I get on board, I read the safety card. I also always check that my life jacket is in fact under my seat where it's supposed to be. Once up in the air, I like to remain in my seat, gripping the armrests, with my seatbelt firmly fastened. If at all possible, I will avoid going to the toilet during the flight - I am frightened that I may somehow get sucked out of the plane, or that we will crash while I'm in the loo, and that my body will be found in a tree, forever frozen in the act of hitching my knickers up (my anxieties in this last respect are not helped by Mr H, who likes to reassure me that, were the plane to plummet from the sky, the chances are that the sudden loss of pressure would cause my body to disintegrate before hitting the ground).

This particular meme does seem to have done the rounds quite thoroughly, but I'm going to tag Lisa at Infertile Ground, Malloryn at Quest for a Lifetime and the anonymous lady over at My Baby Quest, in the hopes that they will be up for the challenge.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Give us this day our daily bread (but no sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate)

I read a lot. Weighty academic tomes. Impenetrable critical theory. Students' essays. Other people's blogs. Recipe books. The occasional magazine. Contemporary fiction. I have a particular weakness for vast, sprawling, nineteenth-century novels and for biographies of obscure women modernists.

When there is no other printed material to hand, I will even read the small print on the backs of packets and jars. And so it was that I discovered that the loaf of bread I bought from the supermarket last week contained stoneground wholemeal wheat flour, water, yeast and salt. No surprises so far, then (although I would not necessarily expect a single slice of bread to contain nearly 1 gram of salt).

But then I continued to read the list of ingredients. In addition to the above, my '100% wholemeal, farmhouse loaf' also contained mono- and diacetyl tartaric esters, sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate, calcium suphate and calcium propionate.

I do not know what any of the above are, but they sound like they belong in a chemistry lab, and not in a loaf of bread - 'farmhouse batch' or not.

Like many people we try to live sustainably. Wherever possible I buy locally produced, seasonal produce; bread is one of the few 'ready made', processed foods I still purchase from the supermarket.

The sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate is, however, the Last Straw. I have gone online and ordered a bread maker. From now on, I will bake my own bread - that way, I can be sure of what has gone in it.

And OK, I admit it - it did also cross my mind that the nasty chemicals we've been consuming along with our daily bread may be responsible for both Mr H's wonky sperm and my recalcitrant ovaries. There is a small part of me that is hoping cutting them out may obviate the need for further medical intervention!

Friday, 8 February 2008

An alternative view

From my obsessive Googling, I've discovered that acupuncture may not only help with implantation but, more importantly in the light of my recent experiences, may also encourage follicle stimulation and improve the quality of the endometrium. Having overcome my squeamishness about needles, I decided that it was perhaps time to give it a shot (no pun intended!).

I had my first consultation yesterday, having discovered that there is a large training college situated just fifteen minutes walk from my house, which offers treatment at reduced rates.

I was seen first by two second year students, who went through a standardised questionnaire with me. I was asked to outline my symptoms, and then to describe how they effected me on a day-to-day basis. What effect did they have on my emotional state? Looking into the future, how would I feel if I was still experiencing the same symptoms in five years' time?

I pondered this one for a minute. At the moment, I cannot see an end to this. I cannot fast-forward to some fantasy point in the future where everything has worked out and we finally have our longed-for child. But equally, I cannot bring myself to think that the time may come when we have explored every treatment option, and are having to learn to live with involuntary childlessness. How might I feel in five years time? Bitter, angry, dejected and exhausted, were just a few of the adjectives that came to mind. My eyes filled with tears. 'What you're describing is a chronic condition,' said one of the students, gently. It was at that point that I decided that maybe they might actually be able to grasp something of the impact of infertility.

We were then joined by a third-year student, who led the consultation, and by a training supervisor. There was a slightly disconcerting moment where I was asked to stick out my tongue, and all four of them gathered round to stare at it, and then the third year student and the training supervisor asked me a number of questions about the various treatments, tests and diagnoses we've had so far, and then a series of more detailed questions about my menstrual cycle. I'd also taken my BBT charts from the last six months with me, which the supervisor seemed particularly interested in.

Where Dr Abrupt appears to see only a malfunctioning uterus & ovaries, the acupuncturists seemed to see a whole person; they listened to my body differently. I am to go back next week for my first treatment, but at the moment feel very positive at having taken this step.

I walked home through the park. York is enjoying a spell of unseasonably warm weather at the moment, to the point where I could take my coat off and carry it with me. It is somehow easier to be optimistic when the sun is shining and the first snowdrops have appeared, and so I resolved to try to leave all the negative feelings associated with the cancelled IVF/failed IUI behind me, and to focus on moving forward to the next cycle.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Big. Fat. Negative.

The title pretty much says it all. The IUI didn't work - AF arrived with a vengeance at the weekend.

I knew it was a long shot, and yet I hoped. After all the unrelenting shittiness we've experienced so far, I thought that maybe, just maybe, we deserved a bit of a break - a bit of good luck, for a change.

But I was wrong. We're not even back to square one - it feels that we've slipped even further back than that. Now we have to deal with my poor response, as well as Mr H's wonky sperm. Our dreams of becoming parents seem further away than ever before.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Looking back to the past

This week marks the first anniversary of what would have been my due date.

I have thought a great deal about how to phrase that sentence, but however I try to express it, it sounds awkward. There is no cultural ritual that would enable me to mark an event that never took place. There is no commonly held discourse through which I might explore my feelings about that not-yet-baby who never fully formed either in my body or in my mind.

When I think back to my pregnancy, I cannot think beyond seven weeks. My imagination does not carry me on into the second trimester, to seeing my belly visibly swell, to feeling the baby move for the first time. I cannot imagine myself preparing for the birth, or bringing a baby home from the hospital. I cannot picture myself as mother to a one-year-old child, making plans for a birthday party.

Instead, I am precipitated back to that hot, airless weekend in June when I miscarried. I remember the cramps that first alerted me to the fact that something was desperately wrong. I remember how, after the bleeding started in earnest, I lay in a small patch of sun at the end of the bed, knowing that my body was ridding itself of the baby I had so desperately longed for, and that there was nothing I or anyone else could do to halt the process. I remember being faintly surprised that losing a baby was such a slow and insidious process - my sense of what it might be to miscarry had up to that point been largely gleaned from television dramas, in which actresses collapse suddenly and dramatically, clutching their stomachs.

Everyone, even Dr Abrupt, tells me that the fact that we did once conceive spontaneously is cause for optimism. But I am haunted by the possibility that that could have been my only experience of pregnancy. What if that was my one chance? Would all the subsequent BFNs be easier to handle if I had not had that one positive?