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Archive for April, 2014

Apr 27 / Caro

Running Hugs and Raspberries

Thomas, like a lot of toddlers, has a host of fairly unendearing habits, such as wiping snot across his face and throwing food across the room. But for every one of those, he has several more that bring smiles to faces and make my heart swell with love.

Today we found ourselves at at unexpected loose end wandering along the Thames and, by chance, I managed to capture two of his current favourite behaviours on camera: The running hug and the raspberry blowing challenge.

The running hug is fairly self explanatory. When Thomas sees someone he knows and cares about – usually myself or Ian, or one of his grandparents – from a distance, he launches himself at them in a running hug. Even these pictures, of course, cannot quite capture what it feels like to have a small person come full tilt at you like a cannonball, landing in your arms with enough force to knock you off balance. What these pictures do capture is the joy in his face and the focus on his goal.

I know that one day he will be too old to give his mum a hug in public. And he certainly won’t launch himself missile-style in to my arms anymore. So I want to remember these moments that currently are an ordinary part of our days, but have the potential to soon fade to a forgotten memory.

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The raspberry blowing challenge is a little more unique, but it is still pretty much as it sounds. Thomas likes to invite us to “give him a raspberry” on any exposed body part. This will often be on his tummy at bath time, or his feet before putting his shoes on. It never fails to reduce him to a mass of quivering giggles as he begs “again again”. It’s not often that we play this game out of the house, for obvious reasons, but today, sitting on a quiet wall by the river, recovering from a trip over a step, it seemed cruel to refuse.

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These are little quirks that I don’t want to forget, no matter how grown up or serious my little boy gets!

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Apr 25 / Caro

Egg Hunting

This Easter, Thomas and I almost shared a first together. But then he beat me to it.

I’m talking Easter Egg Hunts.

Egg hunts, and the whole Easter Bunny concept, were not something that we ever did as children. Of course we had chocolate eggs, but these arrived at the breakfast table, and there was no mystical bunny involved, just Mum and Dad. In fact, in later years I distinctly remember choosing my own egg at a local shop each year. In those days Easter eggs invariably seemed to come with a small egg in a little egg cup – I still have a collection of such egg cups and use them to this day! So breakfast was usually a boiled egg, eaten from the egg cup. We were never allowed to break open the chocolate until after lunch!

We had other Easter traditions too – painting egg shells and roast lamb being chief amongst them. But no egg hunts. I used to be unsure whether it was simply our family that didn’t have this tradition, but having spoken to other children of the eighties, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Easter Bunny brought the idea of egg hunts with him when he travelled across the pond.

Given their absence from my own family tradition, I hadn’t really given any thought to organising an egg hunt for Thomas until the last minute, when I thought it might be fun to do it together. But then they organised one at nursery, and Thomas got to go on his first egg hunt, at the age of two, before his mother, at the age of (ahem) thirty-four. But he absolutely loved it. Apparently he could hardly contain his enthusiasm at the time, and he came home talking nineteen-to-the-dozen about the “big egg hunt”.

Fortunately for me, however, my sister-in-law had arranged a hunt over the Easter weekend whilst we were visiting. So Thomas got to get excited all over again, and I got to participate in my very first Easter Egg Hunt. Sadly I didn’t get a look-in on the loot (but then, Thomas received a grand total of eight Easter eggs, so naturally mummy has been “helping” to ensure they get eaten! Ssssh,,, don’t tell, but no two year old needs quite that much chocolate!)

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He hasn’t forgotten the excitement of his egg hunts yet, but fortunately he stopped demanding chocolate every day after just a couple of days!

Apr 23 / Caro

Getting Back in the Saddle. Or…Erm… Stirrups

I found myself in an unusual position one lunch time a couple of weeks ago, having shifted my working day around to pop out between patients. It was the flat-on-your-back-with-your-legs-in-stirrups-whilst-someone-rummages-around-down-there type of unusual position. Except, when you have fertility issues and you’ve been through IVF, that position isn’t so unusual.

Yes. I’m back on the horse. Or back in the stirrups, at least.

Well, they do say you need to get right back on, or else you never will.

The decision to try again hasn’t been straightforward though. What it really comes down to, however, is the fact that I just couldn’t finish on a miscarriage. Or at least, not on one miscarriage. If it goes the same way again, at least we’ll know that we tried to shift the odds. I won’t be left wondering if one miscarriage was just bad luck. To end it here leaves me in far too much danger of regret. Add to that the fact that, at the moment, the desire to have another child of my own remains strong enough, irrepressible enough, to drive me to do this again. To have another chance at a chance.

One last hope.

There are things, too, that we can do differently. Chief amongst them the procedure that led to me lying in stirrups on my lunch break: The endometrial scratch. It’s a procedure that last October hit the mainstream news as a radical IVF breakthrough, boasting dramatically increased live birth rates – as much as doubling them, according to some studies.

The procedure itself is exactly what it says on the tin: scratching away at the endometrial lining. And yes, it’s every bit as unpleasant as it sounds, certainly worse than a smear test or the insertion of a coil, but fortunately it’s a very quick procedure – clearly, given that I achieved it in my lunch break! It’s carried out once or twice in the cycle preceeding IVF, and the basic theory is that it sets up an inflammatory response in the endometrium which in turn makes it more receptive to an implanting embryo. To understand this slightly counter-intuitive principle, you have to remember that the endometrium essentially wants to reject anything and everything that comes close to it. When an embryo fails to implant, or to stick, the endometrium has essentially done its job properly. But of course, when you want to be pregnant, you want the defences to fail.

There are continuous developments in fertility practices, as more is learned about conception and processes are refined. There are also fashions and fads. It’s quite possible that endometrial scratching is just that, and longer term it might not reveal the promise that early studies show. But that is a lot of promise. And it’s a cheap and easy procedure that seems unlikely to do any harm. Our consultant even cited some research which is beginning to show that it may address many of the issues that other, more expensive, trends in fertility treatment have aimed to treat – things like intralipids. The way he put it is that – for me, at least – it should address any causes of implantation failure or early miscarriage that aren’t chromosomal.

I know that with the limited supply of sperm a chromosomal abnormality is the most likely reason for my failure to stay pregnant (that is, the sperm used to fertilise my eggs probably aren’t those that out of a pool of millions would be the strongest and therefore the ones that actually made it to the egg in the first place) but opting for the scratch in this cycle means I can’t wonder if I should have tried anything else.

It’s about that need to move forward without regret again.

It’s taken me a while to write this post, and to make the decision to share it. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted everyone to know that we were going through more fertility treatment. The number of people who know “in real life” is certainly much smaller this time. A lot of people knew before partly because I wanted the support, and the ability to be able to talk about it when it was all so new and daunting. Telling friends we were having IVF was also a way of opening up about the fact that we’d been trying for a long time, that I was desperate for another child and that, yes, it did really hurt when they all kept getting pregnant so quickly!

I wouldn’t change having told the number of people I did for that cycle. Having several people to tell when it didn’t work out really wasn’t the most awful thing, and I did get a lot of valuable support. But this is cycle two. And this time I’d like to keep the pressure and expectation down. I don’t particularly want to talk about it in real life. Keeping it a secret this time feels ironically liberating.

Online, as always, is a different proposition. I can dip in and out of the fertility support communities I’ve established and I can control totally my participation in them. Trying to stay quiet and not being able to respond to a discussion on Twitter because I don’t want to reveal what we’re up to to everyone is more stifling than it is liberating.

So here I am, opening up.

Later today I’ll attend for my second scratch and collect the drugs for this next round. And then I’ll just be keeping everything crossed for success.

Well, everything that is, apart from my legs!

Apr 22 / Caro

Where’s the Plot?

You know the unintentionally funny phrases that are prone to slipping from the lips of our cherished offspring? It’s not really wrong to cry with laughter, is it?

This weekend, whilst Thomas was playing quietly with Grandpa’s Hornby mode railway coaches, I seized the opportunity for a cup of tea and a quick catch up on gossip with my mum. He was totally absorbed, lying on the floor beneath our feet, chattering away about junctions, signals and derailments. If you’d asked me, I would have said he was barely aware we were even there.

I was wrong!

Somewhere during the conversation, my mum threw out the phrase “lost the plot”. Moments later Thomas’s head popped up, quickly followed by the rest of his body.

“Need to go find it” he said, with absolute conviction. “Need to go find a plot.” He set off across the room with the determination of a mountain explorer.

“It’s okay poppet” I tried to reassure. “We haven’t really lost anything.”

He turned slowly to look at me with such a serious, earnest expression, I couldn’t hold back a laugh. “We must go” he said firmly, retracing his steps towards me to indicate his wish that I join him on his search. “Need to find a plot.”

It was the intrigued tilt of the head and the look of bewilderment on his face that we weren’t all taking him seriously that drove our laughter on, as he repeatedly declared that we must find the plot, and wondered aloud where it could be. We tried to explain, through laughter, but in the end chocolate served as a distraction and the search for the plot was forgotten.

Or so I thought.

Ten minutes later, he wandered over to me, resting his head against my knee.

“Where’s the plot Mummy?” he asked in a quiet voice.

I wish I knew, kiddo. I wish I knew. But to have lost the plot, I think you needed to have it in the first place!

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Wot So Funee?
Apr 13 / Caro

The Disservice of False Hope and Internet Insincerity

Women are well known, collectively, for frequently being fond of so-called “over-sharing” online, and, particularly in light of much of what I’ve written in the last few months, I’d have to include myself as one of those people. The voice of disapproval for our readiness to document all the details of our lives is also easy to hear. My response to that, for the most part, is that if you’re not interested, don’t read. No one is forcing you to, after all, and what harm does a little online sharing do, so long as all basic online safety rules are followed?

In fact, I’ve frequently gone so far as to lean completely the other way, in praise of the value of online communities for support. That factor was a contributor in my decision to live blog our recent IVF cycle. It’s the very reason I’ve come back to blogging, albeit in slightly different guises, over and over again in the course of the last nine years. I could digress for hours, but simply put, writing and sharing online has the capacity to make me feel better about tough situations, and also better about great situations too.

But just recently, I’ve begun to see things from a slightly different perspective.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the Internet is full of insincerity. It’s awash with people who will tell other people just exactly what they want to hear, regardless of whether they are qualified to offer advice, or whether what they are saying has even the remotest basis in reality. Online, people will tell half truths with absolute conviction and say things that they wouldn’t say directly to your face, because their own faces would give away what they really thought.

None of this is done through malice, or has even the slightest resemblance to “trolling”. It is probably driven more by an insatiable need to please, or to reassure or to be supportive. Knowledge of the existence of these behaviours is not in itself new to me, but the thought that it may be harmful is. What if, far from supporting other women, it’s actually doing them a disservice?

A case in point is a recent discussion thread I was party to in which it was clearly apparent that the thread starter was most probably experiencing an early pregnancy loss – or, to use a horrible, clinical term, a chemical pregnancy. Difficult for me, of course, because it so closely mimicked my own recent experience.

In summary, a woman at five weeks of pregnancy, experiencing ongoing light bleeding and pregnancy tests having shifted from showing positive to showing negative, asking for advice and help and reassurance.

The thread followed a familiar pathway. Immediate supportive noises along the lines of hoping that all is ok. So far so good. But then begins the stream of false hopes. How it was probably one of those notoriously unreliable tests. Tweed ample was too dilute. It was done at the wrong time of day. “People bleed all through pregnancy all the time” type stories. And then it escalates to the realms of true false hope – the suggestions that it must be “The Hook Effect”. Yes, I had to Google it too. It’s an apparently rare (very rare) phenomenon that occurs when hCG levels become so high that they can’t be read by a standard home pregnancy test. If it happens at all, it tends to happen after 12 weeks and at hCG levels exceeding 200000 mIU/ml. For someone barely five weeks pregnant, it’s clutching at straws.

The thread is punctuated by responses from the original poster about how much reassurance she is getting. And then of course that it “must be the Hook Effect” and lots of love and thanks all round.

In the midst, someone pops along to sympathetically share their own, less good outcome and the information that they were given by their doctors. That, however, is givem short shrift and they are told in no uncertain terms by the original poster that they will only trust advice from their own doctor.

Which leads me to wonder why on earth the question was posted in the first place. Why ask for advice, only to throw it back in someone’s face? The answer is that people are seeking to hear what they want to hear. And that, naturally, is things which will make you feel better, and tell you that it is all going to be OK.

Sometimes I want to be the voice of dissent, the one telling the different but wholly realistic story. Pointing out that only time, not strangers on the internet, will tell if it’s going to be OK. But I don’t. I’m mindful of what my grandmother taught me: if you can’t say something nice then don’t say anything at all.

And perhaps that is the motto that too many people live by. Perhaps it is what forces them to send false hopes out over the ether in response to other women that they have never met. It’s nice to be nice, but I’m still shaking my head, because the other thing I was always taught was to be truthful and sincere.

How is doing anything else helpful in any way? It may make the person you are responding to feel better for a short time, but there is still a good chance that their new found hope and optimism will come crashing down around their ears very shortly. A cycle of building hopes, having them fall, then be raised again and finally crash down has to be considerably more emotionally exhausting and overwhelming than just dealing with the bad news from the outset. I honestly think that false hopes can be the cruellest of things.

Perhaps it’s just me. And just because I’m a realist. But the bottom line is, and will always remain, that what will be, will be. No words typed on a screen by a stranger hundreds of miles away will influence the outcome in any way. Of course, neither will rushing straight to your doctor, if we’re honest. But it’s this impatience and need-to-know mentality, itself borne of the instant-information capability of the world wide web, that probably drives people to ask so many questions of others online. It’s all the sharing that we do in the first place that makes us want more, and quickly. It seems we find it so much harder to wait for anything these days.

This shift is potentially harming us all, though, by degrading our ability to be supportive in an honest and helpful way and eroding the true value of so many online communities.

I’ve long known that you can’t trust much of what you read online. But not everyone is so cautious and it seems like we’re slowly but surely turning in to a nation of people who use the Internet to supply the version of life we wish was really happening.

But of course that isn’t real life, so it still hurts eventually.

Apr 11 / Caro

Following Up

Last week, we attended our fertility clinic for a follow-up to our disappointing IVF cycle.

I had absolutely no clue what to expect from this appointment, and a quick trip around the infertility message boards revealed this to be a common thing with lots and lots of posts asking what exactly would be covered. It seemed to me that we knew exactly what happened, and I couldn’t imagine what we’d get out of the appointment that we couldn’t perhaps get out of a phone conversation.

But I was put in to a bit of a spin by a phone call a few weeks back, in the immediate aftermath of our early miscarriage. The lovely nurse on the end of the phone (after enquiring how I was doing – which prompted the response “how do you think I’m doing?”) told me that our case had been discussed in a clinical review meeting. She stated the conclusion (“early miscarriage” – well, duh!) and the said it was advised that we attend a follow-up appointment. That would all have been fine had an earlier phone call from a different lovely nurse not informed us that the clinical review meeting was happening, and said that they would suggest a follow-up if they felt there were things that needed to be discussed. She implied that if everything was straightforward, there might be little point.

Given that I knew, to my mind,exactly what had happened, I couldn’t imagine there was much more to say and so the invitation to this consultation immediately made me think they’d discovered some other over-looked issue, or that they really thought another cycle wasn’t a good idea.

I’ll be honest: this latter thought may well have contributed to my resolve that we were not attempting IVF again. I think a part of me wanted that to be my decision, not something we were “advised”.

Of course, when we got there on a bright spring afternoon, with the sun streaming through the windows and landing right in to our laps, our lovely consultant said nothing of the sort. Once he began to go through things, it made perfect sense to me why we were there.

The opportunity to actually discuss everything – not just clinical aspects such as the medications and how and why the embryos developed as they did, but also aspects like the organisation of the cycle and how we’d felt – was invaluable. We had the last appointment of the day, but over ran by a not inconsiderable margin.

In the course of the appointment my practical concerns about trying again (Can we get more sperm? Will we have the same outcome?) were addressed with some reality (possibly not, and maybe) but also some concrete plans of things we could do differently. Things that would potentially increase our chances based on what was learned from this first cycle.

We learned more about some is the subtler aspects of male factor infertility, and how they may have influenced the outcome,which made things clearer in my head and made it feel much less like a failure, and much more like the hand that fate dealt us.

It was a useful and productive hour of our lives, but one that seemed to add fuel to the “try-again” fire already beginning to burn inside me.

All we stand to lose is yet more money.

And what we stand to gain is priceless.

Apr 10 / Caro

Our Week at Center Parcs, Elveden Forest

We spent the middle week of March on a mid-week break at Center Parcs in Elveden Forest, Suffolk. We booked this trip more than six months ago, and at the time I commented that I could be as much as six months pregnant by the time it came around. How little I knew! As it turned out, the timing was perfect for giving us some space as a family to move past our loss. It was a much needed break, offering us some quality family time and a chance to reconnect with what’s really important in life – each other, health, happiness and fun!

Center Parcs featured quite heavily in my later childhood. I was lucky enough to spend a week at Sherwood Forest the year it opened – and it’s hard to believe that was more than 25 years ago now! We also stayed at several different Parcs across Europe. Not all of these trips were entirely successful, with a broken arm, a broken finger and a broken tooth amongst our tally of Center Parcs injuries. Nonetheless, it somehow never completely lost its appeal. My last visit was actually for a conference (although we stayed for the full mid-week session) almost ten years ago. This time, therefore, was my first trip as a parent. It struck me almost immediately how little has really changed in 25 years, but I also saw it in a whole different light by virtue of having a small person to supervise and entertain as well.

Elveden is ideal for us to visit, since it’s just under two hours from home, which is a good journey time for a toddler. We timed our arrival for just before lunchtime and took advantage of the sunny weather for a spot of exploring and duck chasing on the beach.

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This may well have been Thomas’s favourite part of the whole holiday. Certainly if you ask him now about what he did on holiday he will say that he went to the beach, and talk endlessly about the ducks, and in particular the white duck!

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One of the most loved features of Center Parcs is staying right ion the heart of the forest, often with views over water. Our villa this time did not disappoint, and we had plenty of visits from the resident wildlife including rabbits, ducks, geese and even a young deer on our first night. Thomas absolutely adored feeding the ducks on our patio, and it was a race each morning to see who would be waiting by the door first – him or the birds!

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We hired bikes, as to my mind no trip to Center Parcs is complete without them. We’ve not had a lot of success in getting Thomas to wear a helmet previously (and helmets, for this family, are a non-negotiable part of getting on a bike). Surprisingly he loved his “hel-met”. He also loved being in his seat – and was comfortable enough that he even fell asleep in there after one exhausting afternoon!

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We also spent a lot of outdoor time in the play areas. After the beach, this was Thomas’s top destination. We couldn’t go anywhere or do anything without plaintive requests for both the beach and “the park”.

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If you read online reviews of Center Parcs, the “tip” that comes up time and time again is not to book too many activities. No one ever seem to define what “too many” actually is, and although we scheduled quite a lot for our stay, I think it was about right. Activities we attended included a toddler music session and a children’s magic show on the Tuesday, a multi-activity stay-and-play type session on the Wednesday, and a messy play session and teddy bear’s picnic on the Thursday.

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This still left plenty of time for our outdoor exploring and some time in the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. The toddler area here is absolutely awesome, with multiple water slides, and even kiddy-sized flumes, and lots of water jets and squirters, all themed around a pirate cove. Thomas is still going through a phase of not really enjoying swimming (not helped by the fact that our local pool has unfortunately been closed for three months) and he was quite clingy in the main pool, but kept requesting to go back to “Pi-wate cove” and could have stayed playing with a series of pouring spouts for hours! It also worked out well for me because Ian is a bit of a water phobic and won’t go in water deeper than mid calf. Since there is no water deeper than mid-calf anywhere in the toddler area, he was able to supervise Thomas there whilst I went off to try out all the slides and rapids, and Elveden’s newest attraction: The Cyclone water ride, which was fantastic, but can basically be summed up as like being flushed down the toilet! (And of course, none of these things would have been possible had I still been pregnant!)

On the Wednesday afternoon, I took myself of to the on-site spa for a bit of much needed relaxation. I had a full body exfoliation and massage, which was heavenly.Meanwhile, Ian took Thomas pottery painting, which resulted in my Mother’s Day gift. I just love the thought of them enjoying this activity together, and the fact that they did it behind my back still makes me feel all gooey and sentimental (but I’m blaming hormones of some description!)

On Wednesday evening, we took advantage of the babysitting service. This was actually the first time that we’d left Thomas with someone he and we don’t know. This is partly because my parents usually fulfill any need for babysitting, but also because I’m a little bit funny about having people in my house without me there. I don’t really know why, but it makes me uncomfortable. Since we weren’t in our own home though, this concern didn’t hold me back. Thomas was exhausted from such a busy day (including play session, swimming and pottery painting) that he had his earliest EVER night. He was fast asleep by 7pm, leaving us time to get ready before our sitter arrived at 7.30pm

We enjoyed a drink, followed by dinner at Cafe Rouge, and a bit of drunk cycling home! It was lovely to have a bit of couple time, and apparently Thomas did not even stir, other than to mumble some things about trains and ducks which were audible over the monitor!

Other highlights included a meal at “Huck’s” restaurant (complete with a soft play area in the centre, and Macs for older children) and shopping in the Parc Market with the child-sized trollies. Thomas is obsessed with buying milk, so each time we passed near to he shop he would rush in, grab a trolley and try to stock up with milk (that we didn’t need!)

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Our relatively short journey home meant that we were able to make the Friday part of our holiday, with a final trip to the Swimming Paradise, and a picnic lunch.

Overall we had a fantastic week. There is so much to keep children occupied, even without booking the extra activities, and plenty for adults too. Although supervising a toddler is always hard work, it’s easier when there are so many great distractions for them. We will definitely book another trip at some point, although I think we may try leaving Thomas in the creche next time and trying out a joint activity. Or I may just spend twice as long in the spa…

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