Letting Go of Hope

The last week-and-a-bit, since finding out that I’m not pregnant, has been tough.

In many ways, life simply goes on. I’m still a parent, and my son is still needs to have me fully present in that role. Whatever I’m feeling, it’s not fair to let it affect him any more than I can help. He knows I’m sad, but I need to make sure that he sees he is not the cause of that. I spend my days proving that to him, no matter how hard I may be finding it.

But when the day is done, and he’s safely snuggled in his bed, the thoughts and feelings that I spend all day avoiding come bubbling back to the surface.

There have been more than a few tears. Hysterical sobs, if I’m honest. The “denial” part of this process has been strongly in evidence as I’ve found myself desperately searching for alternative options – researching overseas clinics and actually contemplating what it would mean to seek further treatment abroad. Looking at different treatment regimens that could work and the cheapest options within reach of home.

The first morning that I dropped Thomas at nursery after the negative test, I was confronted with a group of other parents dropping off their (same age as Thomas) children and every single one was either heavily pregnant or cradling a younger child. And my reaction was to text Ian immediately and tell him we had to try again because I couldn’t cope with the idea of never having another child.

But deep down, I know that we can’t pursue this.

It simply isn’t going to work.

Or at least, it’s so unlikely that I can’t justify the financial and emotional cost to all of us.

It’s not as simple as saying I’m “giving up”. People seem to think of the idea of “not giving up” as somehow strong. But I’m not weak. In fact, i’ve oft been told that tenacity should be my middle name. But sometimes, it’s a more courageous to stop trying. To face up to the reality of the situation rather than keep flogging a dead horse. And I know it’s fairer to us all to accept what we’ve been blessed with and to try to move on. No matter how much we’ve tried to avoid it, there has been a certain degree of putting life on hold in the last two years, and I recognise it needs to stop.

It turns out, though, that I may not be completely giving up after all. Because it turns out that the one thing I just can’t let go of is hope. So even though there will be no more treatment cycles – no more drugs or scans or the very best that scientific technology can offer – I still have a lingering dream, and a tiny spark of hope somewhere deep inside that says “this could still happen”.

While “giving up” on the actual process is relatively straightforward, it turns out that turning off a dream is almost impossible. Even when all logic points to that dream being virtually unattainable, and there being almost nothing you can do to make it happen, it appears in can be difficult to quash that little spark inside saying “maybe, just maybe”.

I’m simply finding it impossible to believe that we won’t have the second child I’ve always pictured in our lives. I still believe it, against all the odds. I believe in it to the point that when I booked our follow up appointment at the fertility clinic and could only arrange it for just over a month away, I slipped in to a fantasy that I could be pregnant by then anyway.

I thought it, and felt it and fantasised about it for a full five minutes, despite being well aware that it’s nigh on impossible.

I don’t know if it’s a crazy form of self preservation, or if I’m just setting myself up for an even bigger fall down the line. I don’t know if I feel this way because I stillwant it to happen so, so much. I don’t know if I should be forcing myself to let go of these hopes and dreams.

More to the point, I don’t know if I can.

It’s Autumn!

I’ve always loved autumn. I’m not a fan of grey drizzle, but a bright, clear and crisp autumn day? I’d probably take that over searing heat anytime. I love the fact that the changing weather is a cast iron reason to hole up at home a bit more, with a hot drink and a blanket, and the fire going. And I love the changing colour of the leaves and crunching through piles of fallen red, gold and brown. I always have, and the kid in me always will.

I think I’ve been waiting for the autumn where I could properly share this pastime with my child ever since I knew we’d be having a baby. Last year Thomas was a reluctant participant. He still hadn’t fully got over his hatred of wellies and the look on his face clearly told me that he thought the idea of running through piles of crisp, dry leaves was a bit daft.

But this year, he’s watched with fascination as the trees have changed colour and begun to loose their leaves. He’s asked incessant questions about the seasons and really noticed what is going on around him. He’s really got on board with some autumn craft, spending an hour long walk collecting the best leaves he could find and then sticking them to sticky-backed plastic to hang on his window.

And, perhaps most importantly of all, he’s found the pure joy that is tossing fallen leaves in the air and watching them spiral down around him. And the fun that can be had by running through rustling heaps of dried leaves, kicking them up as you go.

Every time we venture outside, he can be heard declaring “It’s autumn!”

I don’t usually “do” video. By which I don’t mean I don’t record it – I have hundreds of clips of Thomas doing various things. But they all contain someone (usually me) saying something silly across the ending, or large amounts of waiting for the real action to occur. It’s just that I’ve never really understood how to edit videos, and turn them in to something other people might want to watch. But this weekend I finally took a look at the iMovie app on my phone. In the space of 20 minutes, whilst simultaneously doing other things, I’d cobbled together something vaguely resembling a presentable video. I know I’ve got a long way to go, but I couldn’t resist sharing it anyway.

So here we are… It’s autumn!

mummy daddy me

End and Beginning

It’s odd how a make or break moment of my life has come down to a plastic stick and three minutes. That’s not something you foresee when you imagine how your life might pan out.

Of course, they were three minutes that felt like a complete eternity, sitting together in the darkness of our bedroom at 6am, unable to prolong the agony by waiting for the sun to rise.

When the clock had ticked its full three revolutions, we made our way, hand-in-hand, back to the bathroom. And there one life – or it’s promise at least – ended, and another began.

Negative.

Failure.

There will be no second baby for us. No sibling for our son.

No happy ending here. Just the beginning of an acceptance that you can’t always get what you want. That dreams don’t always come true.

But then I always knew that and perhaps I was greedy to expect anything else.

We clung to each other in the pitch darkness for a long time. Long enough for salty tears to make my eyes to puff up and stick together. Long enough for my neck and head to begin to ache from crying, until I realised that the strange, animal-like sound I could hear was my own sobs.

Grief is completely real even when what you’ve lost is something that you never even had, at least not outside your dreams. I know that now.

But life goes on.

Thomas stirred, and rose from his bed wanting to play trains.

And so there we began a new life. It’s one where hope is gone, but replaced at least with some degree of certainty. The certainty that we are, and always will, be a family of three.

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I know it could be a lot worse. But it still hurts like hell.

The Roller Coaster of IVF

I’ve been absent from here for a while. First I was busy focusing on the mechanics of getting through our final cycle of IVF – the injections, the supplements, the blood glucose control, not to mention scans and appointments. Then, as the cycle progressed on, in to the agonising periods of waiting, I could hardly bear to come here. Writing too much seemed to threaten my happiness when things were going well. And when the roller coaster dipped, the idea of facing other blogs and social media that seem chock full of pregnant bellies and new babies was enough to drive me offline, in to fantasy worlds of fictional books or television. Anywhere, really, but here.

But I can’t avoid it forever. Aside from wanting to complete the story of our IVF journey, I also know that not writing about it won’t change the outcome.

The cycle started well enough. The first (baseline) scan of my last two cycles has brought bad news: Cysts on my ovaries and a uterine lining that wasn’t thin enough. We’d diminished the possibility of more bad news this time by having a scan the week before, to rule out or drain any cysts at that point. And it all paid off. The baseline scan was perfect and I kicked off that evening with three injections – two different stimulating drugs and a drug to prevent natural ovulation. It was a bit of an unusual approach, according to our consultant, but worth a try in our quest to get more good quality eggs.

Injections

For a week, I carried out my injections at the same time each evening and began feeling some tell tale bloating and twinges of pain in my ovaries. Despite the positive signs, my first scan after a week was still a bit of a shock. Having high-fived me on my “beautiful ovaries” and “gorgeous endometrium” the consultant kept scanning around for a minute, measuring the follicles as he went. He then asked casually what I was doing on Friday, because whatever it was I’d have to cancel: I was already ready for egg collection. My provisional date for egg collection had been the following Monday, but we’d thought it may even go to the Wednesday, and yet here I was being told I’d be back in two days time instead.

I had to take another couple of stim injections that afternoon to “finish things off nicely”, plus my usual ovulation prevention injection. Then, at 11pm, came the trigger shot. No fancy pens injectors this time. Instead of the usual recombinant (manufactured) hCG, I was using a combination of purified natural hCG (collected from the urine of pregnant women!) and a second hormone to force my body to release lutenising hormone – the body’s natural ovulation hormone. Once again, a change designed to increase the number of viable eggs collected. And that was it. the injection phase of our final IVF attempt was over.

Friday seemed to arrive in a flash. Egg collection went well, despite a few issues reaching all of the eggs on my left ovary. The sedation was heavy enough that I’ve already forgotten chunks of the procedure, but light enough that I came out of theatre already knowing we had ten “beautiful looking eggs”.

My anxiety all along – after the last cycle’s poor haul of eggs – had been to see how many were actually mature and able to be injected with sperm. This was soon joined by a second worry.

As usual, we’d supplied a fresh sperm sample in addition to having one remaining frozen sample. The fresh sample was the one that gave me the most hope from our last cycle. It was the one which had a “countable” number of sperm in it. Yes, it had been low, but it was the sample that made me hope that the sperm numbers were going in the right direction. I’d really hoped that this time the sample would be even better. But last time, they’d told us that there were sperm there before I’d even been sedated. This time, the egg collection was complete, and we still had no news. All they could do was tell us to wait. Then, after a while, they informed us that they were thawing out our final frozen sample.

It was an anxious wait, for the sample to thaw and then be examined. All the while I was allowed to tuck in to tea and biscuits whilst Ian remained poised for a possible procedure of his own to try and retrieve more sperm.

I can’t tell you exactly when the news came, but it felt like hours. One of the nurses stuck her head in and told Ian he was free to get a drink. I was sad, and even maybe a little surprised, that the fresh sample had contained no sperm but this feeling was overridden by the relief that we had something. I felt like we were on the climb, upwards. It was all positive. We could do this.

And so then began the overnight wait for the fertilisation report. Thankfully it did not take long for the call to come on Saturday morning and the embryologist immediately told me, whilst I held my breath, that it was good news. In contrast to my zero mature eggs last cycle, this time ALL TEN were mature. And even better than that, EIGHT had fertilised. You can’t argue with an 80% fertilisation rate. It’s fair to say I was elated. Still so far to go, but I felt like my biggest personal hurdle was over. All the experimentation and changing the protocol had worked. All the supplements I’d been religiously taking had been worthwhile. The pay off was ten viable eggs. I was at the very peak of the hill.

If I’d written this post on Saturday or Sunday, it would have been full of happiness and hope. Yes, I dared to hope that this could be it. I thought we’d lose a few, but I figured we might have five embryos by day three and a good chance of several going all the way to blastocyst. I thought we’d have two to transfer for sure. I even dared to hope that we might achieve the holy grail: a frozen embryo.

What I fool I am, to dare to dream.

I should know by now that I don’t deserve hope or dreams. That somewhere along the line I must have done something to anull my right to those things. I should know that happy endings are not assured, least of all for me.

The phone call came early on Monday, whilst I was walking back from the pre-school drop off. I made the walk in a daze, on autopilot, because I’d just been told that seven of our embryos had arrested. They never made it beyond two cells.

I’m not sentimental enough to believe them to be my children at the stage of cells in a laboratory. But they COULD have been my children. They were my hopes. My dreams. My chances. My possibilities.

And just like that we’d lost them.

The one remaining embryo was not exactly top grade either. It was six cells – expected for day three – but its behaviour had been odd with early rapid division, then a long delay. They were waiting for it to divide again to ensure that it, too, had not arrested.

Our choices were to transfer back in to me that day, or to wait it out until day five to see if it continued to divide well and made it to blastocyst stage. The risk in the latter option was that it wouldn’t make it and we’d reach Wednesday with nothing to show for the cycle. Of course, the risk was the same with transferring it, but I simply wouldn’t know about until a negative pregnancy test two weeks later.

In our last cycle, we faced a similar scenario. A single, poor quality embryo.Then, after much discussion and soul searching, we opted to leave it in the lab until day five. I felt, and still do I suppose, that if it doesn’t make it in the lab, it wouldn’t make it inside me either. Transferring it at day three would hence just prolong the agonised waiting to find out. But in that cycle, I always knew, in my heart of hearts, that we’d probably try again. We’d have another chance to get things right. This time, if I didn’t transfer and it didn’t make blastocyst, I would always wonder if it might have been different. And I think I’d have regretted finishing our final cycle in that way forever.

So back it went, despite its odd behaviour. Probably not the embryo anyone would have picked had there been a choice. But there was no choice.

So this is it.

Two weeks of waiting to find out if its stuck.

I have to be honest: I’m all out of hope. If seven of our embryos were so genetically flawed that they couldn’t even progress past two cells, what is the likelihood that the other one will go on to grow in to a baby. It doesn’t just seem improbable; it seems impossible. That call on Monday morning was like the death drop on a roller coaster, and I honestly see no way up.

It’s difficult to get my head around the fact that this is almost all over. We have nowhere to go from here. With my rubbish eggs and the absolute lack of sperm, there will be no “surprise natural pregnancy” following IVF for us. Everything rests on that one tiny embryo.

All along I’ve had an unwavering, deep seated positive belief that we would get there eventually. Even when I miscarried following our first cycle, and even in the moments of despair during our disastrous second cycle, I felt like it was all going somewhere. Our only issue was supposed to be the supply of sperm. I was supposed to have a good chance. I’m only 34 – still considered “young” where assisted reproduction is concerned. I’ve been pregnant before, so we knew it had to be possible. The reason for the acceptance and the composure which have for the most part overridden my sadness and baby-envy in the last year is my private belief that it would happen for us. Yes, it was foolish of me, arrogant even, to assume that the statistics would bend in my favour. Perhaps deep down I realised that all along, otherwise I may have stated it more openly. But imagining, each day, the day where I would hold another child of my own in my arms – seeing it as a real and solid event, not a dream – kept me going.

Now that just seems so unlikely.