Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Back to school

It's THAT time of year again, when universities the breadth of the country are once again flooded with a fresh intake of students. Picking my way through the crowds to my first class yesterday afternoon, I was once again led to ponder that perennial question: are students getting younger, or am I getting older? At nearly 37, I am now at least fifteen years older than the third years whom I teach; in many ways we are of different generations. I wonder whether I must seem terribly old in their eyes.

Over the past few years, I have seized upon every teaching opportunity that has come my way. When you are struggling with infertility, it is very difficult not to let those feelings of hopelessness and despair seep into other areas of your life. In my case, the profound sense of failure associated with my inability to conceive translated into an absolute inability to write. For months and months, I sat in front of a blank computer screen and cried. If nothing else, teaching forced me to get out of my pajamas and interact with the world: while I seemed to be going nowhere fast as far as the thesis was concerned, teaching became the one area of my life in which I could at least retain some sense of myself as a competent professional.

Even though I absolutely love teaching, I still find it just about the most nerve-wracking thing in the world. Every year, the responsibility that has been entrusted to me weighs heavily on my shoulders. As I take that first deep breath and bang confidently on the lecturn to call them all to attention, I am shaking inwardly. As I start delivering my lecture and as they start frantically scribbling down every word I say, doubts are running through my head: do I really know what I am talking about? Am I able to communicate what knowledge I do have effectively? Somehow, I can never quite escape the feeling that I will be exposed as a fraud, that the students will complain that they want a 'proper' lecturer.

This year, however, I had to contend with an entirely new anxiety. Over the past few days, I have been really struggling with morning (noon and night) sickness. Would I make it through a two-hour class without vomiting into the wastepaper basket?

Thankfully I wasn't sick, nor (to my knowledge) have any of the students complained that I don't appear to know what I'm talking about. And so I have managed to conquer my anxieties for another year.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Further Thoughts on Crossing That Line

I am so grateful to everyone who commented on my last post. I am glad that my words were received with such sensitivity, and found each and every one of your comments helpful in enabling me to clarify my feelings on this very complicated topic.

Several of you suggested that this blog is my space, and that I should feel free to use it in whatever way is most helpful to me. On one level, this blog does indeed function as a kind of personal journal, in which I document my shifting experiences of, and feelings about, infertility. And yet there is, I think, an important difference between a journal and a blog: while a journal is primarily a private document, a blog is written (at least partially) with a particular audience in mind. Whenever we hit that 'publish' button, we do so in the full awareness that others may well read what we have written. Obviously, there is nothing to prevent me from using this space to chronicle my pregnancy symptoms in repetitive detail, but I think that we should at least try to be mindful of the effects that our words may have on other people (and, frankly, are any of you really going to be that interested in my sudden aversion to Marmite?). Perhaps I could follow Hekateris's example and start a new blog specifically about my pregnancy, but, as IG Lisa (as opposed to HMS Lisa, for this is how I think of you, my dears) pointed out, my experience of infertility has had a profound effect on the way I feel about pregnancy, and so it doesn't really make sense to try and separate them out in this way.

One of the reasons why I started blogging (as opposed to simply keeping a diary) is because I wanted to connect with others who were also struggling with infertility. In the process of sharing my story, I have come to realise that that story is part of a larger patchwork of stories, that I am part of a much broader community of women. But, as Luna pointed out, that community is necessarily a fluid one: some people stay just long enough to get that BFP and then move swiftly on, while others continue to ponder the profound impact infertility has had on our lives long after we have finished treatment - whatever the outcome of that treatment. We were all of us drawn to this community by a common inability to conceive, yet ultimately may end up in very different places. Although it can be difficult to accept, sometimes we may find ourselves on very different paths from those to whom we had previously felt particularly close.

HMS Lisa asked an interesting question in this respect: when someone who has struggled as we have finds success, are they capable of offering the level of support they offered when they were still struggling? It is a very tricky question to answer. I don't think that I will ever forget the depths of despair to which infertility took me. But if I offer my support to those who are in similarly dark places, do I run the risk of sounding pitying or patronising? Does the mere fact of leaving what I imagine to be a supportive comment inadvertently remind them of what they cannot have?

As Pamela Jeanne suggested, however, pregnancy/delivery don't have to be a barrier if both sides are sensitive to the difficulties and make the effort to be deferential and accept that that there will always be a modicum of guilt and envy regardless of the outcome. We're human and we make mistakes but we can always learn from them. And this really is perhaps all any of us can try to do: to document our own stories, while continuing to remain sensitive to the stories of others. And yes, Pamela Jeanne is right - we may make mistakes in the process, but that seems a risk worth taking.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Crossing the Line

One of the many difficult things about infertility is the feeling that you are standing still while everyone else is moving forward with their lives. While many of my contemporaries have now completed their PhDs, and in some cases even published their first monographs, I instead embarked on a gruelling round of tests and treatments. Over the past six years, I have stood by and watched while many of my RL friends have gone on to have babies. One of my closest friends, who started trying after we did, now has a son of school age and a daughter aged three.

Even here in the IF blogosphere, it is impossible to escape the feeling of being left behind. I know of several women who started blogging at around the same time as I did who are now parenting. Two women who were cycling when I was undergoing my first round of IVF have just given birth.

Lisa recently wrote an excellent post on this very topic, in which she described her reactions to hearing the news that another woman who has been dealing with infertility is now pregnant. She acknowledged that, although she is happy for them, she also struggles with her own feelings of sadness: I no longer think "I hope I can join them soon". My thoughts now are "why did it work for them when it won't work for me?" It's a reminder that these treatments can work....that they should work. So, why not me? I think I've tried hard enough. I think I've done everything I've been told. I think I've paid my dues. So, why not me?

I think that anyone who has ever been through a cancelled or failed cycle can relate to these feelings. But, as hard as it is to hear of other people's pregnancies, it can be even harder to continue to support those who have crossed over to the 'other side'. Sometimes it is simply too painful to look at pictures of scans and bumps, or to be confronted by one of those ghastly animated ticker things counting down exactly how many days are left until their little bundle of joy arrives. And, although I do feel guilty about it, I find that, in many cases, I simply stop reading. I can no longer really relate to what these women are going through. I have no opinion to offer when they ask for advice on what stroller to buy, or what colour they should paint the nursery.

On one level, I envy those who are able to make such a smooth transition from 'infertile' to 'pregnant'. For me, the journey is altogether more complicated. Over the past six years, my infertility has become - for better or worse - part of who I am. I cannot simply switch off those feelings.

And so I am struggling with the whole question of what it means to be pregnant after infertility and loss. How do I write about my pregnancy while remaining sensitive to the feelings of those who are still in the trenches? How much can any of you really bear to hear? Is there still room for me in the IF blogosphere? I am, after all, the woman who cried 'diminished ovarian reserve' and then managed to get herself knocked up without medical intervention. So many of you who read and comment on my blog have been through more than I can possibly imagine. I am humbled in the face of your strength and courage, and cannot help but feel guilty that I should have been the one to have unwrapped the bar that contained the golden ticket.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Blame it on the Poles

The past few years have seen increasing numbers of migrant workers (particularly from Poland) seeking employment in the UK. These migrant workers tend to do the type of poorly-paid, back-breaking jobs that many Brits seem to consider beneath them. The situation has sparked any number of jingoistic, xenophobic articles in the tabloid press: many commentators seem to feel that the UK is being invaded by vast numbers of Poles who are stealing 'our' jobs, and taking up beds in 'our' hospitals, etc, etc. These hard-working individuals are blamed for any number of social ills - from increasing knife crime to the number of uninsured drivers on the roads. And now they are also apparently to be held responsible for the rise in the number of recorded cases of sexually transmitted infection.

Yesterday, I had my first ante-natal appointment with the midwife at my GP's surgery. She took several vials of my blood - far more than I have ever had taken as part of an IVF cycle. What on earth did she need it all for, I asked. She rattled off a huge list of things that I need to be tested for - including syphilis. In my mind, syphilis is primarily associated with nineteenth-century men about town: I think of Baudelaire, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec and Maupassant. I explained as such to the midwife. "Oh no," she replied, "syphilis is becoming increasingly common here in the UK. It's all thanks to the Poles."

Even without this jaw-dropping aside, the appointment was a little overwhelming. We filled out a lengthy form about both my own and Mr H's medical histories, including all my previous surgeries, IVFs and my earlier miscarriage, and she also went through a vast amount of information regarding what care I could expect to receive during my pregnancy, what I should and should not be eating etc, etc.

There was also a great deal of talk about "when you go into the hospital to have the baby" and "after you bring the baby home".

This unwavering certainty that there would be a baby at the end of it is, I think, what troubled me most about the appointment. So far, I've been doing a pretty good job of living in the present of this pregnancy. I focus on making it to the end of each day, possibly to the end of each week. My imagination simply does not carry me any further than that. I cannot project myself forward to some mythical point in the future when I am safely delivered of a healthy baby.

But now it seems that this pregnancy has assumed a momentum independent of that which is going on inside my body. The form which I filled in with the midwife has been sent off to the hospital, and it will be logged in their registers. In due course, I will be sent a number of other appointments: for a 16 week check up with the midwife, for a 20 week scan at the hospital. I am 'officially' pregnant, and there is a paper trail to prove it.

And so, for the first time, I am beginning to feel the weight of the external expectations surrounding this pregnancy - and this before we have told either of our families.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Graduation day

Today, we got up at 5.30am in order to do what I like to term the early morning Dildocam Dash.

As we walked the long, lonely walk down the corridors of the hospital to the Great Big Infertility Clinic, Mr H wondered how many times in total we'd walked that walk. Sitting in the waiting room, flicking unseeeingly through a magazine, I thought back to all the other times I'd sat on those sofas. I thought about how I'd started out on this particular journey with such high expectations, and how those expectations had rapidly spiralled downwards following two poor responses to stimulation, a polyp and a diagnosis of diminished ovarian reserve. My dates with the dildocam generally have not yielded positive results, and I worried about all that could have gone wrong this time round. Thoughts of a missed miscarriage swirled round and round in my head.

Eventually, the nurse called me in to see Dr Approachable, who was wielding the dildocam this morning. The heartbeat is still going strong, and the foetus has tripled in size over the past fortnight to 1.84cm in length. Based on my last period, I am currently 8 weeks and 1 day pregnant, however the foetus is measuring in at 8 weeks 3 days.

Afterwards, we had a brief conversation as to why this entirely unexpected pregnancy might have happened. Dr Approachable reckoned that it was all down to the removal of the polyp, and quoted various journal articles in support of his theory. I explained that I thought that it was thanks to the Chinese Fertility Goddess. Dr A conceded that acupuncture could be helpful in encouraging patients to relax. "Come on, Dr Approachable," I retorted. "If all any of us needed to do was relax, then surely you'd be out of a job?!?"

But then it was time for us to leave. "You will send us a picture in seven months time, won't you?" asked Dr Approachable, as he shook our hands.

And so I appear to have graduated from the Great Big Infertility Clinic. From now on, I will receive standard NHS antenatal care.

But, as we walked away down the corridor, I realised that, even though I may have left the Great Big Infertility Clinic behind me for the time being, it is a lot harder to leave behind the feelings associated with being infertile.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Man vs. Cat

Mr H and the cat are currently locked in a battle of wills.

A few months ago, the cat developed a urinary tract infection. The vet gave her a shot of antibiotics, and recommended that we switch her from dry to wet food. Because I love my pet very much indeed, I immediately dashed off to the supermarket and bought the tastiest-sounding wet food I could find. It is conveniently packaged in individually portioned pouches (so no more wrestling with unruly tin openers) and comes in a whole range of gourmet flavours, including such delights as 'flakes of ocean fish with whole prawns in jelly' and 'succulent duck and turkey in a rich meaty gravy', all of which the cat absolutely adores.

The brand in question is advertised on television by a large Persian cat, a fact which may play a role in the current face-off: Mr H distrusts all Persian cats on principle, as he is convinced that they are all secretly plotting world domination. He feels that 007 made a fatal error in not recognising that the cat, rather than Blofeld, was in fact the real brains behind S.P.E.C.T.R.E.

Unfortunately for the cat, I can no longer stomach the smell of her food (the sickness has really kicked in this week), and so Mr H has had to take over on that front. He returned home the other evening bearing a box of supermarket own-label premium cuts in jelly. 'Look at these,' he exclaimed, 'they're half the price of those bloody gourmet things you insist on buying.'

Gone are the flakes of ocean fish, the recognisable prawns, the succulent duck and the rich meaty gravy. Instead, Mr H has served the cat a range of rather more prosaic (and far smellier) options - 'beef', 'lamb' or the generic 'poultry' - all of which she has so far refused to eat. She is digging her paws in; Mr H is digging his heels in. Both of them appeal to me: the cat cries piteously, while Mr H presents me with detailed costings showing exactly how much we could save over the course of the next six months, if only the cat could be persuaded to eat the premium cuts in jelly.

Though I have made it clear to them both that I do not wish to get involved in their dispute, I'm secretly convinced that the cat may prevail - she is capable of exhibiting, if not dogged, then perhaps catted, levels of persistence, particularly when there are gourmet pouches involved!

Monday, 1 September 2008

Uncharted waters

I am now beginning to understand how my experience of this second pregnancy has been overlaid by memories of my first pregnancy.

On Thursday of last week, I suddenly experienced a wave of intense anxiety. I crawled into bed and gave in to the fear that I would once again miscarry. "I can't lose this baby," I sobbed to myself. "I simply can't go through all that again."

It was only later that I realised that I was at that point six weeks and four days into the pregnancy - the exact time at which I began bleeding last time round.

But I didn't start bleeding. And somehow it feels very significant to have made it beyond that point. I have only just realised that I have been so completely focussed on the idea that I would miscarry, that I haven't really considered the possibility that I might not.

But now I am entering into the seventh week of pregnancy. I am sailing into uncharted waters. And, although I remain acutely aware of all that still could go wrong, I am no longer as convinced that it will necessarily all go wrong. I am slowly learning to balance the terror of another miscarriage against moments of unconditional joy, when I am able to accept the fact that, against all the odds, and without medical intervention, I am in fact pregnant.