Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Things I have learnt from having the builders in

  1. That all tradesmen can drink copious amounts of extremely strong tea and are 'quite partial to a biscuit should you happen to have any in the cupboard, love.'
  2. That the plasterer does not hold with women working. We should all stay at home and bake cakes, apparently.
  3. That the plumber is 'so fertile that he only has to look at his wife to get her pregnant.' He has as a consequence had a vasectomy. So too has the plasterer.
  4. That the electrician is a man of few words. For this small mercy, I am grateful.
  5. That the joiner is a huge Michael Jackson fan and can hit nearly all of the high notes when singing along to 'Bad'.
  6. That, given all the dust, noise and general upheaval, it is now looking increasingly unlikely that I will manage to submit my PhD dissertation before the baby is due.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Home improvements

On almost every pregnancy-after-infertility blog that I have ever read, sooner or later it becomes time for the obligatory 'decorating the nursery' post. Even now, I find these posts difficult to read. I look at the photographs of the crib, of the rows of little outfits hanging expectantly in the wardrobe and of the lovingly stencilled bunny rabbits scampering around the newly painted walls, and I wonder, how can you forget so easily? How can you read of the terrible losses that occur each and every day in our little community and somehow assume that you are safely immune from such tragedy?

At a little over thirty weeks, I have yet to buy so much as a bootee. I still find it difficult to make the imaginative leap from 'pregnancy' to 'baby'.

My husband, on the other hand, has decided that we need to start Making Plans For When The Baby Arrives. We live in a teeny-tiny, two-up, two-down terraced house that was initially built by an enlightened Victorian factory owner to house his workers. For the two of us, it is perfect. Factor in a child, however, and it starts to seem very cramped indeed. In the current economic climate, now does not seem the right time to attempt to sell the house, or indeed to take on a bigger mortgage in order to buy somewhere larger, and so Mr H has decided to embark upon a series of home improvements, designed to ensure that we have room for a baby as well as for all of our existing stuff.

I currently use the second bedroom as a study. Now, however, I need to be re-homed so that the baby will have somewhere to sleep. Mr H has hit on the bright idea of turning the cupboard under the stairs into a workspace for me. This in turn means that we have to find somewhere to put everything that previously lived under the stairs. Mr H's master plan is to incorporate into the house as much built-in storage as possible. In addition to my new under-the-stairs workspace, we are having additional shelving built in the living room and new wardrobes fitted in our bedroom. His plans for the re-model have got progressively more ambitious and now also include having new flooring fitted throughout the house, as well as additional lighting in the dining room and kitchen. Last week, he decided that, while we were having all the work done, we might as well also have the boiler replaced and the kitchen ceiling replastered.

Having formulated this master plan, he then promptly disappeared to Geneva on business, leaving me to schedule these various works. The joiner is currently assembling the new bedroom wardrobes, the electrician is chasing holes in the dining room and kitchen walls, while the plumber appears to flit between the kitchen and the loft. Tomorrow, my band of merry men will also be joined by a plasterer, who will begin making good where the other tradesmen have been. I have had no heating or hot water since Tuesday, and the entire house is covered in a thick layer of dust. Various radios, all of which appear to be set to competing stations, are blaring forth, and the loo seat is permanently left up.

The cat and I have retreated to my study, which we now share with a mountain of precariously stacked boxes. In the evenings, we move downstairs to the living room, where, after having wiped up the worst of the dust, we huddle together for warmth under a blanket. Mr H certainly knows how to schedule his work assignments!

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Family planning

While waiting to see the midwife a couple of weeks ago, I read a magazine article which suggested that having four or more children is, in certain circles at least, regarded as a symbol of both wealth and status. The author of the article interviewed several women who were married to high-earning bankers or lawyers, and who commented on how lucky they were to have been able to afford to have a large family without having to continue to work themselves. The article went on to contrast their situation with that of 'most women', who choose only to have two or, at the most, three children, for primarily financial reasons.

Reading this article, I realised how alien the whole concept of 'family planning' now feels to me. When you are dealing with infertility, you hold tight to any possibility of having a child, no matter when or how that possibility comes along.

I was reminded of this article over the weekend. My old friend from university and her fiance came up to visit (let's call them Jane and Patrick). The four of us went out to dinner to celebrate Jane's 37th birthday, which was on Saturday. Over the meal, our conversation turned to the topic of children. Jane and Patrick are 'definitely' going to start trying for a baby in around eighteen months or so. First, however, they want to get married and then move to a bigger house. Jane has a very successful career as a lawyer, and also wants to try and make partner before she has to go off on maternity leave.

I have another friend, Victoria, who is around the same age as Jane and myself. Victoria is an academic, and about to publish her first book. She then wants to secure a promotion at work and apply for a period of research leave. She thinks that she'll probably start a family after that, once her second book is well underway.

It strikes me that both Victoria and Jane have fallen for one of the great urban infertility myths: that it's OK to wait, because even if things don't happen naturally, there's always IVF. Over dinner, Jane made a comment about wanting to 'get it all over in one go', by having twins or possibly even triplets.

But it seems to me that my friends are taking one hell of a risk with their fertility. I want to grab them by the shoulders and tell them that, at the age of thirty-seven, their fertility is already in decline. I want to tell them that IVF is by no means a guaranteed treatment, and that success levels fall rapidly once you are in your late 30s. I want to tell them about my own diagnosis of diminished ovarian reserve, and about how, after two poor responses to stimulation, I was forced to think long and hard about whether it was worth continuing with assisted conception.

But is that perhaps the equivalent of someone with no apparent fertility problems suggesting to me that I should simply relax?

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

The Scarlet Letter 'I'

When I was caught up in the day-to-day struggle of infertility, I tended to avoid the company of those who were either pregnant or raising small children. Sometimes, it was simply too painful to be confronted with such a tangible reminder of what I myself could not have. At other times, I found myself bored by lengthy conversations about the intricacies of weaning or potty training - let's face it, other people's children's toileting habits just aren't that interesting. But what used to infuriate me the most was the ever so slightly smug, self-satisfied and patronising attitude that certain (though by no means all) women with children tend to adopt towards those without children. I can well remember having a (rather one-sided) conversation with a fellow PhD candidate who had recently given birth herself about the joys of motherhood. 'Of course,' she said to me confidentially, 'you'll only really understand what I'm talking about once you have children of your own.' I resent the underlying implication behind such statements: that those who remain childless - whether by choice or as a consequence of infertility - are somehow to be considered 'less womanly' than those who are mothers.

But I also found that my resistance to spending time with these women was often matched with a certain discomfort on their part. As we grow increasingly vociferous about our condition - whether as individuals or as a community - we force others to confront an uncomfortable truth: that infertility can happen to just anyone. We serve as visible reminders of the fact that it could just have easily have been them with their feet in the stirrups. To certain members of the 'mummy brigade', the realisation that pregnancy and motherhood are by no means a 'natural' or inevitable stage in every woman's life strikes deep at the very core of their identities.

Yet now I find that my pregnancy appears to have afforded me automatic entry into a club that had hitherto eluded me: other pregnant women catch my eye in the supermarket and smile conspiratorially; harassed mothers struggling to deal with tantrumming toddlers ruefully tell me that I 'have all this to look forward to.' For the past few weeks, I have been attending a weekly 'yoga for pregnancy' class. I'm finding it helpful not only to stre-e-e-e-e-tch, but also to pick up practical tips on how best to prepare for and cope with labour. But on another level, I find it difficult to accept that I really belong in this room full of pregnant women. I cannot escape the feeling that I still have a scarlet letter 'I' for Infertile emblazoned across my chest for all to see, and that, sooner or later, I will be found out and asked to leave.