Tag Archives | infertility

Day In, Day Out

How things change.

This time a month ago, I was merrily conducting a pregnancy test every day, just for fun. This time last month, I was on heightened alert for every minute tweak and twinge, in case they counted as ‘feeling pregnant.’

This month, I am simply waiting for my period to start in two days’ time. There’s no point wasting good money on pregnancy tests. I didn’t even ovulate. And I certainly haven’t experienced any sensations at all that might be termed ‘feeling pregnant.’

All of which sounds rather more sulky than I feel. I’m going into this with pretty low expectations, and it’s a whole month until my first appointment with the specialist. I am, frankly, a bit bored of people telling me that it will probably happen miraculously if I take my mind off it. I know this is supposed to be comforting, but it isn’t remotely. Whatever you read in the bottom end of the women’s magazine market, infertile couples tend to conceive babies after a hard slog through a range of surgical and medicinal interventions. It’s patronising – if well-meaning – to conveniently turn your gaze away from the hard scientific facts of conception and offer platitudes instead.

This whole enterprise is one long process of managing expectations. Maybe it’s my slight ambivalence about what a baby would do to my life, but I can’t afford to get pie-eyed about an infant that may not exist for several years. I have not been making mooning visits to Mothercare (although I have checked out the maternity jeans in Topshop. Damn, they look comfy. I wonder if I could get away with wearing a pair now?). More than that, I can’t afford to get carried away with romantic notions about implantation magically occurring if there’s enough love in the room. If that was the case, I would have been pregnant years ago, trust me.

But I can’t allow myself to feel too helpless either, to rest myself too comfortably in the hands of the medical professionals. I only get to see them every few months, and if nothing else, I need something to pass the time. Plus, it’s pleasant to proceed with measured optimism, a healthy appreciation of the balance of probabilities.

Each stage in this requires a raft of decisions and research. This month, we’ve been choosing ‘sex every other day’ rather than ‘waiting for ovulation and then doing it as much as possible.’ In many ways, it suits us better – less panic, less pressure, less precision. I want to enjoy this, find opportunities within it to enhance our relationship, rather than to treat our marriage as a phase I’ve moved through now I’ve got my eye on a new prize. This is about us. I want to make a baby with Herbert specifically.

But I confess there’s something slightly gruelling about having sex every other day, just because it’s an obligation. All of our creativity has flown out the window, now that we must harvest that precious semen. This limits what you can do (just in case it all pops out early), and lends an air of weary traditionalism to the whole affair. I’m wondering about conjuring up a complex zoning plan for the month, in which we identify five days when we’re pretty certain I couldn’t get pregnant, and institute a free-range ejaculation rule for that week.

However, I suspect that if we did that, we’d both merrily end up taking those days off for a nice rest.

 

This post will self-destruct in two weeks. 

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Whisper #32 – Oh Baby, Maybe

Author: And Then There Were Three

I think it’s fair to say The Boy and I have a pretty healthy sex life. He has a very high sex drive (3 times a day would probably just about keep him satisfied). Mine is not quite so high, plus there are just not enough hours in the day once we’ve factored in working, eating and a bit of sleep, but I’m hardly a once-a-week-is-plenty-thank-you-very-much girl either. We generally manage to reach a happy medium which keeps us both satisfied and far enough away from starvation or sleep deprivation.

However, I’m conscious I should probably be writing this in the past tense, as things stand at the moment.

Last night The Boy came back from a couple of nights away. Usually I would be falling into bed with him at the first opportunity. Last night I only had sex with him because if all goes well I will ovulate in a few days, and I don’t want to miss any chance we might get. I still love The Boy, and fancy him loads, but if his penis got broken and we couldn’t have sex for the next two weeks, I think I’d feel pretty happy. Not for his broken penis, obviously – apart from anything else he would never stop moaning about it – but just for the ‘no sex’ thing.

I’m really struggling to separate sex from trying to conceive at the moment. When we first started trying it was all exciting and new and naughty. We’d spent the whole of our adult lives being incredibly careful to avoid pregnancy; sex without contraception is like sampling the forbidden fruit. Was.

Back then, in those heady first few months of trying, I’d engineer particularly romantic and passionate scenarios, thinking that was the kind of sex that was sure to result in conception. Now it’s all charts and timetables and scans and what the consultant has told us to do and medication and horrible side-effects. It’s all about: when’s the best time? If we skip tonight and I don’t get pregnant, how will I feel? Last month we did it in this way, and this often, and I got pregnant, so we can’t risk not doing the same this month. What if, despite all this sex, I still don’t get pregnant? We absolutely must do it now. Should we be doing it more often? Less often? If I don’t orgasm will that make it less likely that I get pregnant? Oh, skip the foreplay and just come already.

Basically I feel so much pressure to do it even when I’m so not in the mood, I’ve talked myself out of being in the mood at all. Ever. Despite the fact I’ve always enjoyed sex for its own sake, I’m turning into one of those women who doesn’t see the point if I’m not ovulating. The Boy has noticed. He keeps buying me sexy underwear and propositioning me. Which just makes me feel less sexy than ever.

It all comes down to that ‘Men are from Mars’ conundrum (an engagement present from my in-laws, which I was quite offended by at the time. It’s actually saved rather a lot of arguments and misunderstandings in the ATTW3 household). Men need sex to feel loved, women need to feel loved to want to have sex. The Boy propositioning me whilst I (and he) knew I was miscarrying probably gets the top spot in the ‘not feeling very well loved or understood’ moments from our relationship, even though rationally I know that was him trying to show how much he cares about me. What’s wrong with flowers though, that’s what I want to know.

We’ve maintained the equilibrium pretty well up to this point, through thirteen long months of trying to conceive (TTC). Hopefully, once this horrible, desperate month is over, we can move on and back to the usual state of affairs. I really hope so, because I so want to want to have sex with my husband again without it always being about what may or may not occur nine months from now. I can’t help but wonder, with quite a lot of sadness, whether we’ll ever recapture the spontaneity of pre-TTC sex though. I do hope so.

 

If you’d like to write your own Whisper, we’d love to read it! The submission guidelines are here.

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Things I Have Learned This Week

1. I always wondered what Intimate Feminine Wipes were for. Now I know: there for effecting an emergency mop-down in the loos of Waitrose, while you heartily curse starting your period in the middle of a shopping centre 90 miles from home, an event which has just necessitated the emergency purchase of new knickers and trousers.

2. That despite this being a royal pain in the arse, I am delighted to note that I seem to be operating a 26-day cycle, whichwhisper it – is almost normal.

[Goodness, this post is exactly what people fear, isn’t it, when they say they don’t use social media because it’s full of people sharing way too much.]

3. Ovulation sticks are fun, I don’t care what anyone says. I realise I may not always feel this way about them, but I might as well enjoy the novelty while it lasts. There is a ten-second moment of excitement, after you’ve peed and while you’re waiting for the line(s) to appear, when you feel genuine suspense. Have I ovulated? Haven’t I? It’s so exciting.

I am delighted to report that I haven’t ovulated yet. This is quite appropriate, given that I’m only a few days into my cycle. Whether those two lines will ever appear remains to be seen.

4. Semen samples may require near-impossible feats of dexterity in order to be fresh enough to test, but the NHS will still make you wait over a week for the results.

5. It appears that nobody conceives a child without medical help anymore. We are far from alone.

6. Perhaps following on from point 6, people are extraordinarily kind and sympathetic when they find out you’re embarking on fertility treatment. Witness this lovely care package from my friend K, which arrived in the post this morning:

 

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Baby Steps

There’s nothing like embarking on fertility treatment to find out just how much your husband masturbates.

I mean, I knew he did it, but good lord, I didn’t realise a four-day hiatus would be so traumatic.

‘What am I supposed to do for four whole days?’ he says, quite seriously, on Tuesday afternoon.

‘The doctor said four to seven days,’ I tell him. Being the sort of kid who always handed in their homework two days early, I am now the sort of adult who would see four days as the bare minimum required, and therefore the preserve of losers.

‘There’s absolutely no way I could wait seven days. Four’s as many as I’m willing to endure.’ We are clearly entering uncharted territory here.

‘Well, I’m away all week, so at least there’s no temptation to have sex.’

‘Hah!’ snorts Herbert, ‘that only makes it worse. What do you think I do when you’re away?’ Um, a little light needlework? Macrame? Sugar craft?

Hang on, am I married to a compulsive masturbator? I simply had no idea it was this embedded in his routine. I do hope he’s not rubbing himself inappropriately up against the cats in my absence.

As the week progresses (jollied along by unhelpful texts from me, e.g. ‘Hurrah! You’re now 75% through your non-wanking marathon! Your’e a tiger!’), Herbert develops a more pressing concern: how to transport his sample to the hospital.

Semen samples must be kept at body temperature and should be tested as soon after ejaculation as possible. Our local hospital, sadly, does not offer a special room for the job.

After mulling over the prospect of knocking one out in an NHS toilet cubicle, H decides that he’d prefer his first post-abstinence wank to be at home. The man from the pathology department therefore helpfully suggests he keeps it under his armpit until he reaches the hospital. Herbert and I are not sure this is possible without straining something or crashing the car.

After much indecision, on Thursday night he decides to practice driving home with the empty bottle clenched between his thighs. It is declared a success. We are all ready for the Friday morning payload.

In the meantime, I am occupying myself in other ways. I decided, quite suddenly, that I ought to be taking special pre-conception vitamins, just in case, y’know, I fall pregnant in a so quickly that I haven’t had time to stockpile folic acid. I take a trip to Boots, where I find a brand that’s so expensive I imagine they must contain micro-bots that swarm up my fallopian tubes and gently massage my ovaries into submission.

I buy them. And while I’m there, I also purchase a breathtakingly expensive box of ovulation sticks, as I figure I might be able to catch my body sneaking out an ovulation when no-one’s looking. I suspect that peeing on a stick every day will keep me occupied, particularly in conjunction with swallowing a vitamin pill.

Because, really, as soon as this process starts, the obsession kicks in. I may be ambivalent about what a baby will do to my life, but I am not in the least bit ambivalent about the process of conceiving it. Conception is a task which, properly managed, can be robbed of some of its uncertainty. Or at least, that’s what I have to believe if I’m not going to crack under the strain. If it all fails, I don’t want to be left with the nagging doubt that I didn’t do quite enough.

At eight o’clock this morning, I text H:

The time is upon us!

H: Ten minutes to go.

Me: In my head, you’re standing with your hand poised over your penis, like a gunslinger in a spaghetti western.

H: You worry me sometimes.

But the deed is done. He produces his sample (I don’t enquire), drives it to the pathology lab on the way to work, and then texts me to say:

It wasn’t a very big sample in the end. I’m a bit disappointed. I expect they’ll want another one now.

FFS, how much do you think they need? I reply.

Do you know the worst bit? says H, I just looked it up online. Two to four days of not ejaculating is usually considered enough. Your GP is a sadist.

Ah well. I suppose we all have to find ways of managing the little stresses in life.

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The Bravest Thing…

‘Are you sure about this?’ I say to H.

He nods.

‘No, really. Are you sure? I mean, are you worried about it?’

‘Are you worried about it?’ he says. ‘That’s more to the point.’

‘Oh god yes,’ I say. ‘Of course I am. I’ve been worried about it all day.’

This conversation has become very much academic because we have now reached the sliding doors of the doctor’s surgery. We enter in silence, and I check myself in using the new touch-screen.

‘Impressive,’ I say.

‘Hm,’ says Herbert.

There’s no-one else in the waiting room except a mother with a toddler, who is screaming and clutching her left ear. We both wait in silence. I fix my gaze on the dot matrix screen, as it endlessly circulates a request to ensure the surgery has an up-to-date phone number on record.

Eventually there is a bleep and my name appears on the screen.

‘You’d better go first,’ says H. ‘She’s not expecting me to walk in.’

I knock, state the blooming obvious that I’ve brought Herbert with me, and we sit down. Herbert’s chair is pressed against the back wall, and he doesn’t move it.

‘The last time I came to see you, I was applying for an egg freeze and share,’ I say, handing her the letter from the clinic. ‘Well, I’ve just been turned down.’

‘Oh, I’m sorry. Did they say why?’

‘Sort of. But I don’t understand any of it. I was hoping you could interpret.’

My GP frowns at the covering letter, and then at the columns of figures that accompany it. ‘I’m afraid this is a bit beyond my level of expertise,’ she says at last.

‘Well,’ I say, ‘in a way that’s a relief, because we were feeling a bit stupid for not understanding it.’

There’s a pause, while I gather up my courage. ‘In any case,’ I say, ‘we’ve decided not to wait any longer. We’ve decided we’d like to start infertility treatment please.’

There’s a brief flurry of activity from my GP as she begins to scroll through my notes. ‘Remind me of where we’ve got to?’ she says.

‘I have anovulatory cycles.’

‘Aha, yes, found it. Hm. Yes. You’re right, you’re unlikely to manage it on your own. We’ve tested your hormone levels before, and…’ another squint at the notes ‘…well, we’ve not really found anything at all, have we?’

She looks up. ‘Right! Good. First steps are with you,’ she says, looking at Herbert.

‘Oh,’ says H.

‘Because we already know about your wife, don’t we?’

 

We leave with a plastic tub and the instruction to call the pathology lab at the local hospital.

‘Excellent,’ I say to H. ‘For once the ball’s in your court.’

‘Hm,’ says H.

‘I always feel sorry for men giving sperm samples. I mean, it can’t be easy bringing yourself to orgasm in an NHS toilet cubicle.’

‘That won’t be a problem,’ says H, ‘if I’m not allowed to ejaculate for 4 days beforehand. God knows how I’m supposed to achieve that.’

‘I’m sure you’ll manage.’

‘And I thought you got a special little room to do it in, not a toilet cubicle.’

‘I’d heard you got special NHS-issue porn.’

‘Ugh,’ says H, ‘I don’t think I could bear to use that.’

‘I dunno, it could add a little extra frisson.’

‘I’d have to work on that in advance, I think.’

 

For our own entirely separate reasons, we’re both in need of a drink. For my part, I feel like we’ve just witnessed the bravest thing I ever did, taking the first, shaky step towards having a child.

I’ve always had so many fears and objections until now, but getting the news that I couldn’t freeze my eggs took me to pieces in a way I never expected. All those concerns suddenly felt like a surface layer imposed on a deeper urge. I was afraid of what having children might do to my life, but that didn’t silence the part of me that still wanted them.

And, at thirty-three-and-three-quarters, with a whole raft of existing fertility issues, I realised I couldn’t afford to wait any longer. In an ideal world, I’d still leave it for another few years, but that risked losing what little chance I had in the first place.

‘Do you know what Betty,’ said Herbert as I sobbed a wet patch onto his shoulder, ‘It’s time. Let’s not put it off any longer. It only makes it worse for you.’

Brave words for H, who openly admits he would never have children if I didn’t want them. And now, nursing a pint of bitter in the pub, his courage is wearing thin already.

‘You’re not saying much,’ I say.

A shrug.

‘Seriously. Talk back.’

‘There’s nothing to say. Not everything requires a response.’

‘But this does. It’s important. Tell me how you feel about it.’

H takes a breath. ‘Okay,’ he says, ‘I’m terrified. Alright?’

 

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Deep Freeze

The earliest dream I can remember involved boil-in-the-bag babies.

I dreamt my mother wanted a new child, so she bought it from the supermarket, a small, square frozen lump in a plastic bag. My grandma put it in a pan of boiling water, and we all stood around enthralled as a baby unfurled. I remember watching its eyes open, and its teeth pop into place, one by one.

It occurred to me yesterday that I was still clinging to the idea of the boil-in-the-bag baby, frozen in stasis, ready for the moment I wanted it.

My plan to freeze my eggs has failed, you see. Yet again, my insubordinate body has refused to make things easy for me. I just don’t have enough of the right sort of hormones at the right time to make the grade. Unsurprising, I suppose, but strangely undermining all the same.

For me, the option of freezing eggs was a wonderful luxury, while it lasted. It allowed me to carry on being indecisive while my fertility inevitably declined.

I hugely envy the women and men who are sure when the time is right to have children, or who, alternatively, are absolutely certain they don’t want them at all. I’ve just never felt like that. I’ve never felt the urgent pull of ‘now’, and yet I can’t bring myself to say ‘never’.

The best I can manage is ‘later, if at all’, but I can see that I’m going to be allowed that. However much I want it to be the case – and I don’t believe this is a moral issue, just a matter of physical possibility – I don’t have the option of storing away my babies in the freezer, ready for a potential future defrosting.

And after I’d finished crying to Herbert about my stupid, bastard luck, those limited choices suddenly seemed refreshing. There’s something exhausting about putting things off indefinitely.

 

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Prophylactics

I am impatiently waiting for my period to start.

Those of you who have followed this blog from the beginning are entitled to chuckle at that. In those early days, I was on a permanent period. Then, I would have quite happily given up the damned things for good, in full knowledge that I had undergone more than my fair share.

Now, I am waiting with some excitement, because it will mean I can start the process of harvesting and storing my eggs for a rainy day (mine or someone else’s). It’s taking a long time. I keep experiencing the kind of bodily insinuations that a period might be on its way, but so far, no luck.

This means that we’re having to use condoms in the meantime. I don’t think I’ve ever fully shared with you just how much I dislike condoms. I’m allergic to the vast majority of them (when I first started having sex, it took me months to work out that you weren’t supposed to swell up for a few days afterwards), and the rest of them irritate me beyond all measure.

I’m incompetent at putting them on. I hate the smell. I hate the sensation. I hate changing position and worrying if they’re still in place. Most of all, I think they seriously reduce sensitivity for me. I know that’s the wrong way round, and that it shouldn’t make any difference, but in all honesty, I find orgasm an arduous process with a condom. Herbert, it seems, is perfectly happy in them; but I’m significantly less juicy.

Maybe it’s because it all seems like a bit of a pantomime. Left to my own devices I don’t ovulate, so the condoms are just belt-and-braces, a prophylactic against my own sense of bodily disappointment rather than any risk of pregnancy. It’s fun to pretend that we might need them, that without them there’s a possibilty. It’s hollow, really, an empty threat.

As hollow as the pregnancy test I took last week, thinking maybe, just maybe, my period was late for a reason.

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