IVF, One Year On

A year ago today, I shared some really exciting news on this blog. I’d already known for a short while that our first roll of the IVF dice had worked, but today was the day I chose to share that news. Of course, it wasn’t meant to be, and I was soon un-sharing our happiness.

I look back at that day now and I can remember the pure joy of seeing that second pink line on a pregnancy test. The moment where all the disappointments of the previous 18 months faded to grey, unimportant against the technicolor headline of a positive pregnancy test. All of my hopes and dreams suddenly felt as though they were finally in reach, if I could just hold on. I can remember feeling it, but I can’t recapture the actual emotions. These days it feels as though there is a wall of glass separating me from such elation. I can see it, but I can’t imagine attaining it. All I can do when I think of those moments now is will myself not to cry, biting my lip as I push the image of the four-month old that might have been from my mind.

Last year feels, in some ways, like a dream. I almost believe that I could wake up at any moment and discover that it never happened at all. It’s only the pain in my heart that tells me otherwise.

I look back on it too, in amazement. I look at what we managed to get through. Not in simple terms of the pressures and logistics, emotions and stresses, of multiple IVF cycles, their failures and a miscarriage. I know there is much worse that happens to people. It’s more the fact that I got through it whilst also maintaining as close to a normal existence as possible. While I may have whinged about almost nothing but infertility for the last year on this blog, reality has been very different, and I suppose I want those of you who’ve seen nothing but brow-beating and woe-is-me in my words here recently to really understand that it isn’t the whole picture.

The bits you didn’t always see included me working hard in a demanding job, all too often faced with a rude and demanding public. Better yet, I furthered my career with additional study. We gave Thomas a happy year, with days out, three trips away and innumerable cuddles and kisses. I kept on top of life, keeping the house in order, clean clothes in the wardrobe and good food on the table. I kept on top of my chronic health conditions not just during treatment cycles, but every single day. Few people in “real life” knew anything about the frantic paddling that was going on under the surface. And all of those who have since found out about it in retrospect have commented that they didn’t have a clue. Because almost without exception, I managed to hold it together.

And sometimes I just want to scream “Do you know what, that was really, really tough.” It’s an achievement that I feel right to be proud of. Because infertility, and the associated treatment, is hard, even if it isn’t the worst life can throw at you.

Sure, there were moments I’m not proud of. The moments that Thomas saw me cry, especially when he thought it may be his fault. The times my temper was not entirely kept in check. The time I dissolved in to a heap on the floor when I found the “Your Pregnancy Day by Day” book – left over from my pregnancy with Thomas – under the bed, covered in dust, where we’d pushed it out of sight on the day I began to miscarry.

I didn’t always cope perfectly, and I still don’t. But one year on, with empty arms and baby-shaped hole in my heart, I’m getting on with life. I smile, laugh and joke on a daily basis. I brush aside questions of whether we’ll have more children without my composure cracking.

We came though a year of IVF with unresolved infertility and no where left to turn. We were never going to be unscathed by the experience. There are few days that pass where I don’t contemplate how different they’d be if I were on maternity leave instead of working. If I were struggling through long nights and short days with a breast fed baby. If Thomas had a sibling to dote on and dislike, all at the same time.

But I’m still moving forwards. It’s taken a lot of strength to do. And that is what I’d like people to know.

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and the Arcelor Mittal Orbit

On the afternoon of the day we visited the Discover Story Centre, Thomas and I meandered our way over to the Olympic Park for our very first visit since we were there for the games themselves. Thomas was less than a year old at the time, so he surprised me last week by musing out loud “We’ve been here before”. I can only conclude he’s seen the pictures or something – any other alternative is a bit freaky!

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The best part of visiting the Olympic Park this time for Thomas was almost certainly the journey across Stratford, which offers the opportunity to see almost every type of train – and bus – that he could wish for. He was delighted by our journey to Stratford on board the HS1 Javelin Train from Ebbsfleet, and equally as delighted by “driving” the DLR to Stratford High Street and back. To be honest, if that had been our entire day out, I think he’d have been completely happy.

As it was, however, it was a beautiful day, so we did go for a walk through the park. The site is so vast that we traversed only one corner, and did not make it to much of what is on offer, including the large outdoor playground. We did have a lot of fun exploring the Year of the Bus Trail, with all 60 painted Routemaster models on display at the park prior to being auctioned off for charity. The exhibition has already been extended but is now due to finish next week. Thomas picked out some definite favourites, including one painted with a steam train, and another dressed as a Coldstream Guard in a bearskin hat!

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Thomas was also absolutely overjoyed to spy a good old fashioned helter skelter. He first rode one at Carter’s Steam Fair last June, and still talks about it now, so when he saw this one in all it’s glory in the sunshine, I knew I was unlikely to get away without a ride! And as helter skelters go, it was a good one, even if carrying Thomas up to the top, along with my bags, did nearly kill me! he’s getting pretty heavy these days!

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The main reason for our trip to the park, however, was a ride up the Arcelor Mittal Orbit – a first for both of us. The Orbit is Britain’s largest sculpture and on a clear day offers views over London reaching twenty miles in each direction. It may not be as high as the Shard, but it still offers a unique perspective – and is considerably cheaper to boot. There are good discounts for booking online in advance (which is what we did) and you can then exchange your tickets free of charge for one which is valid for a full year. I’ve no doubt that we’ll go back with Ian as a consequence. (This fact also meant that we came down in the lift rather than walking, as we’d already had a long day and I could imagine I’d end up having to carry Thomas most of the way down on my own. It’s good to know we can go back and do the walk without paying again.)

Whilst we were there, the “Bricks in the sky” exhibition was still on, showcasing miniature Lego models of the Olympic venues and other London icons. In addition there were plenty of Lego bricks available for free building, which captivated our budding Lego enthusiast almost as much as the skyline views.

 

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It was a very full and exciting day, despite barely scratching the surface of what the area has to offer. Thomas still had enough energy for a good run around the park on our way home, and I’ve no doubt at all that we will be back, as it’s firmly on our list of good places to go in London.

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The Discover Children’s Story Centre, Stratford

Half-term is a funny old time for us at this stage in Thomas’s life. He attends pre-school at a private nursery which provides year-round care. It closes for Bank Holidays and a week at Christmas only. This means that half-term doesn’t really affect us yet. I still go to work, Thomas still goes to pre-school and it’s all hunky dory. Except… anywhere that we might choose to go for a day on the days I’m not at work is FULL of older kids on their half-term holidays. I almost feel guilty for taking Thomas out to places because we have all the other weeks of the year to do these things, and everywhere is quite crowded enough without adding us to the mix. But, Thomas’s usual weekly classes are not in session, which, particularly on a Tuesday, gives us a lot more scope for a whole day activity. And with the good weather this week, I didn’t want to pass that up.

I thought carefully about what we might do that wouldn’t involve too many crowds. And settled on a trip to the Discover Children’s Story Centre in Stratford (combined with a trip to the Olympic Park, but that’s a story for another post). It’s a place that’s been on my list to check out for quite a while, and it seemed like a good place as much of its content is aimed at younger children anyway, so I thought it was unlikely to suffer from an influx of older children and teenagers. Plus, during “term-time” I know that it’s popular with nursery and school groups, and choosing the holiday avoids these large groups. As it turned out, it was busy but not unbearably so. The good weather helped, because the outdoor garden was being well utilised.

The Discover Centre bills itself as the UK’s first hand’s on creative literary centre. From their website:

“Discover’s overarching mission is to spark children and adults’ imagination, curiosity and creativity in a magical and stimulating environment.”

And I think they certainly achieve that. The space is laid out in various sections. The main floor is a bit like a themed play area, but with numerous imaginative triggers. There is a large central area where stepping on the lights triggers musical sounds that correlate to the image of an instrument projected on the wall. In one corner there is a craft activity station.  In another an area with tents and a slide with a cubby hole underneath. Elsewhere is a trip trap bridge, a lion tunnel and mountain, and a climbing wall. There are dressing up costumes and a miniature theatre to perform your own tales. Thomas’s favourite place of all was the “Lollipopter” – a flying machine that might have been a spaceship, but might have been a boat. Thomas spent a good deal of time here, spinning the wheel and changing the speed settings. I asked him what he was doing.

“Going to find treasure Mummy!”

“Where are you going to find it?” I probed

“On a pirate treasure island. You can bring the map. It’s in the sea. We’re sailing in the sea. Oh look. We’ve arrived”

“How are we going to find the treasure?”

“On the map, silly. Look. ” [Hands me an imaginary map] “X marks the spot! We need to dig the treasure. We need shovels.”

And so it went on. With him describing what needed to do, and how we were going to do it. I prompted him every so often to ask him where, how and why, or to describe something to me, such as the chest the treasure would be hidden in. What would it look like, and feel like. We began to talk about different words to say the things he wanted to express. It was lovely to just sit listening to all these things pouring out of him and exciting him.

Can you see what was happening here? Just being in this different environment inspired me to encourage Thomas’s imagination and storytelling. It’s certainly given me pause for thought in how I deal with games he plays at home in order to nuture this raw and budding creativity. And that, I suppose, is the very point of the Discover Centre.

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They also hold various sessions, for different age groups. There is currently an Oliver Jeffers exhibition on in the basement section and there are daily story readings. We attended a reading of Roald Dahl’s The Enormous Crocodile. We bought a copy of this for Thomas for Christmas – his very first introduction to Roald Dahl. He has loved the book at home, and really seemed to enjoy hearing it in a different environment where the children where encouraged to contribute thoughts, actions and sounds. He asked to read it again before bed last night, and provided sound effect throughout for the snapping of teeth and evil laugh of the eponymous croc.

The Discover Centre also has a story garden with various themed play station, including a dragon slide, a pirate boat, space ship and taxi cab as well as various outdoor musical instruments. We were so lucky with the weather yesterday, given that we’re still mid February, and enjoying a packed lunch sitting in the garden I got so hot that I had to take my coat off. (Thomas kept his on. “No Mummy. It’s winter silly. You need to wear your coat!”)

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If you have young children, particularly if they love story telling or imaginative play (or perhaps especially if they don’t, but you want to encourage it) I’d highly recommend at least a few hours spent here. It was not only part of a fantastic day out, but it will definitely influence how I assist Thomas at home in developing his ideas, story telling and vocabulary. For a few hours that’s what we focused on, and it made me realise how simple it can be.

For a full programme of event, check out the website. We paid for our own tickets to the Discover Centre and all thoughts, opinions (and bad iPhone photos) are our own. 

Misery Loves Company

I’m pretty sure that some of the feelings I’m about to admit to in this post make me a pretty despicable person. But you know something? They’re real. I can’t help how I feel, and actually admitting it makes no difference to who I am, because whether I’m honest about it or not, this is my truth. I know that I shouldn’t waste time on such negative feelings, or concerning myself with the lot of others, but again, I just can’t help it. My blog has always been real, so here is a little more of my reality:

Something that comes as an inevitable side order, a buy-one-get-one-free of sorts, with infertility is jealousy. I know that I’ve touched on it before, but it’s completely impossible to keep the green-eyed monster entirely at bay when you desperately want a baby and it seems as though it is happening all around you. For everyone but you.

My general motto and reminder to myself is that I cannot know each person’s own, personal experience. What I frequently see are the bumps and the babies. But I recognise that these are each the product of a journey that I do not see and cannot know. Those apparent happy endings may be the result of years of heartache; Failed efforts at fertility treatment; Multiple miscarriages. I remember that and, many times in the last couple of years it has helped to soothe my sore, impatient soul, wracked with longing and envy.

Lately, though, my green-eyed monster seems to have morphed in to a new beast. One that is turning me in to what feels like a very nasty, bitter kind of person. One that is unleashing thoughts that I am – and should be – utterly ashamed of.

I guess my new super jealous state is defendable, if not entirely excusable. It’s been a couple of months since we smashed in to the brick wall at the end of the road. Since the light at the end of the tunnel went out. Ours is no longer a journey in motion. My hope can no longer be fuelled by tales of triumph over adversity or success after repeated failure. When I see a round, pregnant belly I can no longer tell myself that one day I too will get to rub away the kicks and thumps of a growing life inside me again. And tempering my envy with the fact that this may have been a longed for, hard won pregnancy is no longer enough.

All of a sudden, my jealousy extends even to those whose battles I know. Those women who have experienced the pain of infertility and put themselves through IVF, ICSI or other invasive, unpleasant and costly assisted reproductive techniques. Those women who’ve had to wait patiently for this, their shining moment. It shames me to say it, but I begrudge even them – the ones who truly know infertility – their happy outcomes. Whereas once upon a time anyone overcoming infertility was a cause of genuine happiness (and of course a source of hope too) now I can’t bear to hear of those who got lucky on their first round of IVF. Especially with twins! I can’t help but think we were only even allowed two embryos on round one because they were such poor quality, because we were supposed to have good odds. Yet here we are in the total failure pile, whilst for others it seems to just work. Two embryos in, two babies out. (I know that twins are no walk in the park, and have never been my desire, but it’s more the super success they seem to represent, when we could not even get a single embryo to stick.) I hate myself for thinking it, but it just doesn’t seem very fair. I cannot stop myself wondering why them, and not us?

I know it makes me sound like a terrible person, but I cannot help but roll my eyes now when I hear people describe themselves as “devastated” because their embryo transfer was cancelled due to hyper-stimulation but they’ve got six, or seven or more embryos in the freezer. I can’t take it seriously when they say they feel as though it will never work for them. Right there they already have more opportunities that I’ve ever had. They’re right there in the trenches of infertility, but I still envy them. I still want what they have.

I know it doesn’t do to compare. Fertility is so complex and so individual that one person’s story rarely has any relevance for another’s. But it’s all part of the horrible jealously I’ve succumbed to. The feeling, no matter whether right or wrong, that having a single successful cycle is nothing like trying over and over. That feeling that everybody else is achieving something that I cannot. Will not.

And it really does feel like “everyone”. When you try for a baby, pregnancies and newborns suddenly pop up everywhere and this is in no small part because you’re primed to notice them. I know that not “everyone” is really pregnant. But within infertility communities I struggle to find the people like me. The ones who’ve been forced to walk away empty handed (or more specifically with empty uteri). The ones for whom it never worked, never mind working first time, or more than once or with twins.

And yes, before anyone raises it, I’m still very aware of just how blessed I am to have one child, and these feelings do not for a moment dilute that. I understand that I too could be the object of others’ jealousy as I have a happy, healthy three year old. And I also don’t for a moment think that these women who’ve had such great outcomes should censor themselves, or that they should not be proud and happy in their success and share in any and all ways that they wish – I know I would in their shoes. But equally, I can’t force myself not to feel this way, or pretend that I don’t.

I suppose what I do want is to feel less like the only one in my situation. It’s true that misery loves company. And whilst I truly wouldn’t wish the experience of infertility on anyone else, right now I’d love to surround myself with people who not only “get” infertility, but “get” that it isn’t always able to be overcome.

There isn’t always a happy ending.

{Living Arrows} 4/52

I love these particular photographs. Not just in a simple aesthetic way, but because they will remind me in the future that Thomas did sometimes fall asleep, and that he looked incredibly cute and gorgeous when he did so.

These photos came about last weekend when Thomas threw himself in to an epic tantrum of the kind that only a small child can properly pull off. After more than twenty minutes I think we’d all forgotten just what he started screaming for, and with a look of utter desolation and loss on his face, he quietly asked me for a cuddle as he climbed in to my lap. And within three minutes, he was fast asleep, like a storm that has burned itself out.

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It was a moment of complete bliss for me. The calm after the storm, and a moment of stolen, peaceful cuddles from my favourite small boy. I could hear nothing but his deep breaths, feel nothing but the warmth and comforting weight of my son in my arms and fitting perfectly against the shape of my own body. His eyelashes stood out, still defined by wet tears.

I’d happily have stayed that way for hours, but unfortunately this was only a little over an hour before bedtime. Allowing him to sleep would have been ultimately more destructive that rousing him again. We’ve had enough experiences of that to not be forgotten in a hurry.

So I allowed Ian to take him from me in attempt to gently bring him round. His eyelids fluttered and he drew in a deep, shaky breath, before nuzzling himself in to daddy’s neck and drifting back in to slumber as Ian carried him around the kitchen in a move reminiscent of so many sleepless evenings in the newborn era.

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There is so much innocence in these pictures, I cannot help but treasure them.

(And for the record, we did manage to gently wake him shortly after, and were rewarded with an easy bedtime – for once!)

Living Arrows