Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Another year older...

Last week one of my students asked to speak to me after class. She had various questions she wanted to ask with regard to assessment, but also wanted to say how much she was enjoying the course. 'I'm just so interested in all these women artists,' she exclaimed. I suggested that, if the module had whetted her appetite that much, she could always think about applying for a Masters.

'Oh, I couldn't possibly,' she replied, 'I'm far too old for that type of thing. I'm practically twenty-three, you know.'

I said something to the effect that these things were all relative. 'It could be worse,' I pointed out, 'I'm practically thirty-seven.'

Her jaw dropped in what appeared to be perfectly genuine amazement. 'You're never,' she exclaimed, 'I don't believe it for one minute.'

But, in spite of my student's disbelief (or possibly her shameless attempt at flattery), I will indeed be thirty-seven on Friday. I have now reached the age where, as Dr Abrupt once pointed out to me, my fertility begins to decline ever more sharply (in order to reinforce his point, he very helpfully drew a rudimentary graph on the back of my notes.)

Mr H is working in London this week, and so tomorrow I am going down to join him. I am to have a night in a fancy hotel, a birthday dinner at a Michelin starred restaurant and also intend to take in the Rothko retrospective at Tate Modern. We are then going up to Shropshire to stay with my father and stepmother for the weekend: I can only hope that they are more excited about our news than Mr H's mother - when Mr H told her that I was pregnant, she said very triumphantly, 'I knew it. I always said that all Ms Heathen needed to do was to relax!'

Thursday, 16 October 2008

An irrational thought

What if there's been a mistake? What if I'm not really pregnant?

The other night, I had a dream in which someone from the hospital called me to explain that there had been a mix-up with my records. They were terribly sorry, but I wasn't actually pregnant after all: they had accidentally confused me with someone else of the same name. She was expecting a baby, I was not.

There are some dreams whose meaning is so obvious that they do not require psychoanalytic interrogation. Even though I have had three scans, even though I have seen with my own eyes the visible evidence of my pregnancy, even though I have had three separate letters from three separate doctors confirming that pregnancy, I still find it hard to believe. Somehow it still feels as though the rug may be pulled from under my feet at any moment.

I am now a little over thirteen weeks' pregnant. Despite all my anxieties that something would go wrong, I seem to have made it safely into the second trimester. The sickness has all but gone, and the crippling fatigue appears to be lifting.

But somehow the lack of symptoms makes it all the more difficult to believe that everything is still OK. While I was battling wave after wave of nausea, I could at least reassure myself that that was a sign that all was still well. Now I simply have to try and put my faith in the fact that, deep within my body, this invisible and mysterious process is continuing.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

A difficult decision

On the weekend when we discovered that our second attempt at IVF had gone really disastrously wrong, we were desperate to find some respite from the hell we were experiencing. We hit on the plan to drive out into the Yorkshire Dales, and to have Sunday lunch at a pub we know that serves excellent food. As we drove into the village where the pub is, we spotted a man walking a Welsh terrier. To most people this would not be cause for undue excitement, but I am absolutely crazy about Welsh terriers: every year, I sit through the whole of the television coverage of Crufts, just in the hope of catching a glimpse of black and tan, bearded gorgeousness (picture above, for those who may be unaware of just how adorable Welshies are).

By the time we had parked the car, the Welshie had caught up with us. And so I did a very bold thing: I went up to the owner, and told him how much we liked his dog, and commented on how unusual it was to see a Welsh terrier (they are not a terribly common breed). He replied that it was even more unusual to meet someone who actually knew what type of dog she was: most people tended to assume that she was an Airedale puppy. 'Oh, I like Airedales,' I remarked, 'but I much prefer Welshies.' 'Me too!', the Welsh Terrier Man exclaimed. By now, we had clearly bonded, and so he told me all about his dog: how her name was Jenny, how her beard wasn't normally that colour, but she'd been eating beetroot that morning, and how she was Very Good With Children. Then he asked me if I would mind very much looking after Jenny for a couple of minutes, while he popped into the village hall to deliver some leaflets.

And so, for a brief moment, I got to live out my fantasy of owning a Welsh terrier. Jenny stayed with me trustingly, and I got to see her being Good With Children.
When the Welsh Terrier Man returned from dropping off his leaflets, he mentioned that they were thinking of breeding from Jenny later in the year, and would we perhaps be interested in taking a puppy? We said that we certainly were, and gave him our email address.

Since then, Mr H has attempted to buoy me up with thoughts of Welshie puppies. I, on the other hand, have tried not to dwell too much on the idea. I presumed that the Welsh Terrier Man would have got home and promptly forgotten about or lost the piece of paper with my email address on it.

But then, a few weeks ago, we received an email from the Welsh Terrier Man saying that Jenny had had a litter of five puppies, and asking whether we were still interested in taking one.

Mr H has been all for the idea of a puppy. But Mr H spends at least three weeks out of every four working away from home. He was down in London last week, and is in the Hague this week. He then has another fortnight's work in London, before heading out to Madrid for three weeks. Were we to take one of the puppies, that puppy would therefore be primarily my responsibility.

My heart has been saying, 'puppy, puppy, puppy, yes, yes, yes.' I have dreamt of owning a Welsh terrier for years and years, and now I have the opportunity to buy one that has been that has been reared in a home environment, rather than by a professional breeder. I have met the mother, who is a family pet rather than a show dog, and am confident that she has a beautiful temperament. Were I not pregnant, the decision would have been made in a flash.

But I am three months' pregnant, and so our circumstances may well change radically in another six months' time. As I mentioned above, Mr H works away from home a lot, and so I will be flying solo for much of the time. In all honesty, I'm not sure how I would find the time and energy to walk a dog twice a day while also caring for a new-born baby by myself. It doesn't seem fair to make the commitment to having a dog knowing that I may subsequently not be able to honour that commitment. It would break my heart if we finished up having to re-home our beloved Welshie because we could no longer cope with him.

And so I have just taken a deep breath and rung the Welsh Terrier Man to explain the situation, and to tell him that we will not be able to take a puppy after all.
Please tell me that I have made the right decision!

Tuesday, 7 October 2008


Yesterday's scan revealed that the baby had grown to 64mm and that its heart rate was 162bpm. The nasal bone, stomach, bladder and brain were all clearly visible and, in the words of the consultant obstetrician who performed the scan, I therefore appear to be carrying a 'perfectly normal and healthy baby'.

The nuchal translucency was measured at 1.5mm. When combined with the results of my blood work, this gives us a 1 in 3,428 risk of having a child with Down's, and a 1 in 6,147 risk of Edward's or Patau's. I cannot even begin to convey how much of a relief these results are. Given my ovarian reserve issues, I have been worried that I may well be at increased risk either of another miscarriage, or of significant chromosomal abnormality.

But yesterday, as I listened to the heart beat, and watched my baby kick its legs and wave its arms, I allowed myself for the first time to fall in love with it just a little bit.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Emma's Diary

Emma's Diary is a free publication, routinely given out to all UK women at their first ante-natal appointment, and seemingly designed primarily to hook them as potentially lucrative consumers of all things baby related. Among the numerous adverts for haemorrhoid cream, breast pumps and nappies, it contains factual articles on topics such as maternity rights and benefits, and exercise during pregnancy, as well as a week-by-week guide to pregnancy, written from the perspective of the fictional Emma.

By the end of Week 6, Emma has told all her family and friends that she is going to have a baby. In Week 9, she goes shopping with her mother for baby clothes. In Week 10, she has an argument with her husband over baby names: he likes Beth or Chloe, while Emma is convinced she is having a boy, and wants to call him Lewis or Cameron.

I find it difficult to relate to Emma's experience of pregnancy. Reading Emma's Diary, I feel as though I have been transported into a strange, parallel universe, where infertility and, in particular, miscarriage, simply do not exist. Is this publication simply describing what you are 'supposed' to feel during the first trimester? And why can't I too share in these unconditional feelings of joy and anticipation?

I feel guilty that I cannot whip myself up into a similar state of excitement. Measuring my own more complicated emotions against the fictional Emma's, I feel inadequate. If I haven't told everyone I know, and if I haven't as much as looked at a romper suit or thought about names, does that mean that I'm not happy enough to be pregnant? Am I in some way failing to 'bond' with my baby?

I am, of course, unbelievably thankful to have made it this far: every day of this pregnancy has felt like a blessing to me. But I cannot escape the feeling that the rug may be pulled from under my feet at any moment. For some reason, I find it very hard to believe unconditionally in a happy ending.

Tomorrow, I go for my nuchal translucency scan (I am having this done at the Fancy Private Hospital where I had my hysteroscopy, as it is not covered by the NHS). Where Emma would no doubt be looking forward to seeing her baby on the ultrasound, I have been playing every possible worst case scenario over and over in my mind. What if the foetus has stopped growing? What if its heart is no longer beating? What if the scan reveals that we are at high risk of having a child with a significant disability?