Friday, 23 May 2008

In which Ms Heathen lets off steam

Sometimes I wonder, is this really any sort of world to bring a child into?

A Very Nice Man has just been to mend my cooker. 'Don't worry,' he exclaimed, peering into the nether regions of the oven. 'I know exactly what the problem is. I'll have you up and running again in no time.' He explained that the element had gone. 'I see this all the time. How long have you had the oven for?'

'Three years,' I replied.

'That's about the length of time I would have expected,' he answered. 'Manufacturers no longer build these things to last; instead they hope that, when they do break, you'll just go out and buy another one.'

Since he left, I have been thinking about this a lot. Apparently, we now live in such a disposable culture that, when something breaks, we simply replace it with a newer model. But what happens to everything we throw out? We live on an extremely small island; all this rubbish has to go somewhere. All morning, I have been haunted by visions of vast stacks of discarded white goods being piled up in fields across the country. If we do have a child, will it grow up to consider itself fortunate if it finds an abandoned chest freezer to live in?

The ice caps are melting, the polar bears are drowning, and yet we carry on consuming. The way in which we lead our lives really does seem to me fundamentally unsustainable. It is at moments like this when I am sorely tempted to decamp to a small holding somewhere in the wilds of Wales, where I can grow my own vegetables and spin my own yarn...

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Reality check

When I switched the cooker on last night, there was a loud bang from inside the oven... and then nothing. The hob and the grill still appear to be working, but now the oven will not heat up.

And so we decided to go out for dinner. As we settled into our seats in our local Italian restaurant and ordered a bottle of Chianti, we suddenly felt carefree and childfree, rather than gloomily childless.

But, over the course of the meal, our conversation inevitably turned to the topic of our infertility - in particular, what we might do should the FET be unsuccessful. I said that I thought that there was still an outside chance that we might conceive spontaneously; we managed it once before, after all. "I think we're about as likely to spontaneously combust," retorted Mr H.

As he himself is fond of telling me, one of the main reasons I married my husband is for his excellent sense of humour!

Thursday, 15 May 2008

A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose

The ever-thoughtful and generous Luna has given me a pink rose!

The Pink Rose Awards were inaugurated by Kymberli, who blogs over at I'm a Smart One. She explains why she started this fantastic initiative:

In this blogosphere we read and feel each other's joys and pains. When people can't hope for themselves, we try to have hope for them, even if we feel that all hope is lost on our own situations. No matter how we express it, what I think we feel but do not often say about hope is this: we hope will have the strength to live through whatever is handed to us, and that come what may, we will be alright. How many times have you wanted to let someone know that they are appreciated and that you find them and their words beautiful? How many times have you wanted to lift someone up and said a silent prayer that she or he would be able to heal? How many times have you felt a fellow blogger's isolation and wanted reach out to let them know they weren't alone? Here's your chance. Give the Pink Rose Award to those who inspire you or need to be inspired, to those who have encouraged you or those who need encouragement.

The rules are as follows:

1. On your blog, copy and paste the award, these rules, a link back to the person who selected you, and a link to this post: You will find the story behind the Pink Rose Award and other graphics to choose from there.

2. Select as many award recipients as you would like, link to their blogs (if they have one), and explain why you have chosen them.

3. Let them know that you have selected them for an award by commenting on one of their posts.

4. If you are selected, pass it on by giving the Pink Rose Award to others.

5. If you find that someone you want to nominate has already been selected by someone else, you can still honor them by posting a comment on their award post stating your reasons for wishing to grant them the award.

6. You do not have to wait until someone nominates you to nominate someone else.

I would like to send a whole bouquet of pink roses right back to Luna, not least because today is her birthday. Luna has been through so much over the past six years, and I wish with all my heart that things could have turned out differently for her. She writes so movingly and yet so beautifully about the intense pain of infertility, and I feel that I have learnt a great deal from her wise meditations on grief and loss.

I'd also like to send a rose to Pamela Jeanne: another brave woman who tried and tried. On her blog Coming2Terms, Pamela Jeanne explores how infertility continues to take its toll long after treatment has stopped. As motherhood begins to seem an increasingly remote possibility, I am grateful to Pamela Jeanne for reminding me that life can and does go on, even if that positive pregnancy test never happens. PJ is a wonderful writer, and I hope that she finds a publisher for her book very soon.

Finally, I'd like to send some roses to two other bloggers who are having a tough time at the moment: Malloryn and the Babychaser. Malloryn had a particularly difficult Mother's Day, yet responded with tact and dignity to some highly insensitive comments made to her by her mother and aunt. The Babychaser recently received a negative from her third IVF cycle, and is struggling to remain positive as she heads towards a FET. I think that both of them deserve a bouquet of flowers.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

When is enough, enough?

At what point do you decide that enough is enough? When do you accept that it is time to let go, to move on?

Over the past couple of weeks, I've found myself inexplicably drawn to the IF message boards. I spend hours scrolling down through the animated emoticons and the liberal sprinklings of baby dust searching for women in a similar position to myself. What I suppose I'm really looking for is hope: hope that our one embryo may emerge from the freezer unscathed and then implant, hope that I may yet have a better response on a different protocol. I read about wheatgrass, DHEA supplementation and oestrogen priming protocols. I torture myself with stories about those who had repeated cancelled cycles, and who then went on to conceive naturally after a course of acupuncture. The boundaries of what is possible with ART are constantly being pushed forward, and the temptation is to assume that there must be something else out there - a different clinic, an experimental new protocol, or some kind of complementary therapy - that may make the difference for us.

A few months ago, several British newspapers reported the story of a couple who had eventually conceived after fifteen attempts at IVF. Over a ten year period, they had spent nearly £65,000 on fertility treatment. They had twice remortgaged their home, and had each worked two jobs to cover the cost of those repeated cycles. They finally brought their baby daughter home from the hospital in January of this year. Implicit within this story was the assumption that, if you want it badly enough, and if you just keep going, you'll get pregnant in the end.

It's an assumption which, it seems to me, also haunts the infertility community. I've recently read a couple of posts written by other IF bloggers wondering whether or not to put themselves through another cycle. In these posts, I could not help but detect a certain note of guilt and anxiety lest they should be perceived by others still in the trenches as having 'given up' too soon.

There is no set number of treatments you should have to go through before you decide that enough is enough; each of us has our own individual limits. Given my poor response on these first two cycles, the chances are that I will be prescribed high doses of FSH on any future cycles. I remain concerned about the possible long-term effects of those drugs. If I choose not to put myself through repeated high-dose stimulations, then it doesn't mean that I want a baby any less than someone who is willing to undergo multiple cycles of IVF. Stopping treatment does not in any way deaden the aching desire to become a mother; in many ways, it brings it into even sharper relief.

I'm not ready to let go just yet: while we still have that one embryo on ice, there is still hope. But I think that I am beginning to move towards an ending, and to acknowledge that that ending might not necessarily be the one that I'd hoped for.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Forbidden fruits

Hidden down a quiet side street, yet only five minutes' walk from the Minster, lies one of York's best-kept secrets: a tiny, but incredibly good, delicatessen that specialises in Italian artisan food. If you venture right to the very back of the shop, you will discover a small terrace, where they serve simple food such as salads and crostini, all made with the very best of ingredients.

We went there for lunch on Saturday, and ordered a selection of cheeses and cured meats from their tasting menu. They brought us ruffled slices of prosciutto and bresaola, a hunk of wild boar pate, a mild yet unbelievably creamy goat's cheese, another, rinded soft cheese that oozed invitingly across the plate, a particularly pungent blue cheese, olives, preserved artichokes, sundried tomatoes, and a basket of wonderfully fresh bread.

They also serve a wide selection of wines by the glass, and are more than happy to offer recommendations based on your own individual preferences: Mr H, who likes big, heavy, full-bodied reds, had a glass of Barolo, while I chose a Sangiovese. One of the benefits of not drinking regularly, we decided, was that the occasional glass of wine feels like far more of a treat.

As we sat out in the sunshine, sipping our glasses of wine and talking about Mr H's new job, the dark cloud of infertility lifted - just for a moment, I felt almost like a normal person again. And so, without agonising about it too much, I ordered a double espresso.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

A glimmer of hope

Much to our surprise, they managed to retrieve six eggs yesterday.

The embryologist has just phoned. Three were immature, one was damaged as a result of the ICSI procedure, one showed initial signs of fertilisation but did not develop overnight, but one fertilised. The resulting embryo will be frozen, and put back in a later cycle, once we have dealt with the polyp. She also said that she did not think that there were any major problems with the quality of the eggs retrieved.

Obviously, there is still a long way to go - there is a chance that our one embryo may not survive the freezing process, let alone implant. But today I am going to allow myself to feel hopeful that we have this one chance, and grateful that I am part of this community: I went into retrieval knowing that you were all there with me, willing this to work out. I like to think that all those waves of positive energy made the difference!

Monday, 5 May 2008

A kick in the guts

I feel - literally and metaphorically - as though I have been kicked in the stomach.

As I continued on with the meno.pur injections over the course of last week, my abdomen grew progressively more tender. I interpreted that pain and discomfort as a sign that the drugs were working as they should. With every twinge, I visualised the follicles appearing on my ovaries. I imagined them growing to a good size. I attended Saturday's scan feeling optimistic. I was expecting a better response than last time round.

Since our first attempt at IVF was cancelled, I have trod that fine line between hope and caution. I have listened to those who told me that there was every reason to expect that I would have a better response on a shorter protocol, and with an increased dose of drugs. I have done everything I possibly could to try and ensure that this cycle worked. I have given up alcohol and caffeine. I have eaten as healthily as I possibly could. And nothing - not the weekly acupuncture sessions nor the expensive anti-natal vitamins - appears to have made any difference. The polyp is just the final fucking straw.

Yesterday, we toyed with the possibility of simply cutting our losses, of not going ahead with the retrieval. After my lap & dye test three years ago, I suffered a particularly bad reaction to the anaesthetic. I am exhausted by the prospect of having to undergo two sedations, and two unpleasant and uncomfortable gynaecological procedures in a short space of time: one to retrieve the eggs, another to get rid of the polyp. Neither of us are optimistic that this cycle will result in viable embryos. I have only two follicles, either or both of which may turn out not to contain a fully mature egg. Even if we get two eggs, they may not fertilise, or may be damaged as a result of the ICSI procedure. Any embryos we do get may not survive the freezing process.

I suspect that there may well be a problem with the quality of my eggs, as well as with the quantity. I have reached the point where I need to know whether there is any point in us continuing treatment; I'm not sure whether I can go through all this again. If we go ahead with the retrieval, then at least they will be able to give us some indication as to whether we have any chance of having a child that is genetically related to both of us. And so, at exactly midnight last night, I stabbed one final needle into my bruised, aching and swollen belly and administered the HCG shot. We will return to the Great Big Infertility Clinic for retrieval tomorrow morning.

Right now, I just want this to be over. I feel angry, let down and betrayed by my body, empty, barren.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

In which things go from bad to worse

For the past week, I have been taking the maximum recommended dose of 450iu meno.pur per day. Today, we went back to the Great Big Infertility Clinic, where the dildo cam revealed that I have precisely two viable follicles, each measuring 16mm. There is another one currently limping along at 11mm, and a number of smaller ones which will not catch up in time for retrieval.

As if that was not bad enough, a polyp has suddenly appeared on the wall of my uterus.

We are going ahead with retrieval on Tuesday. Even if the two viable follicles do both contain fully mature eggs, and even if those eggs then fertilise, any resulting embryo(s) will have to be frozen until the polyp has either been shed with my next period, or surgically removed.

Crap. Crap. Crap. Crap.

Dr Approachable tells me that I should not give up all hope. He is not willing definitively to diagnose diminished ovarian reserve until after retrieval, at which point they will be able to assess the quality of my eggs. There is still a chance that the two follicles may yet yield two high quality eggs, which may well go on to fertilise. He reassured me that, if this is the case, our chances of a successful pregnancy will not be substantially reduced if we do have to freeze the resulting embryos. But I am not getting my hopes up. It seems that more and more obstacles are being placed in our way. And so, on the way home in the car, we had our first serious conversation about what we will do if we cannot have a child through IVF/ICSI: do we go down the donor egg route, do we begin to explore adoption, or do we start trying to come to terms with involuntary childlessness?