Up until the age of 32, I had a standard line when the issue of children was put forward to me:
"Oh those? Don’t worry, I placed my Lay-By in with Mr. Stork years ago. I am expecting a Harvard Medical school graduate on my doorstep any day now."
I truly meant it too. Life was far too exciting and full of promise to be hindered by screaming toddlers, rank diapers and god forbid, incessant re-runs of "Thomas the Tank Engine" (No offence Ringo..)
How much does a single child's education cost? $100,000 over a 6 year period? If my calculations are accurate, that's at least 2000 massages, or 1800 seafood dinners, or 20 Round the World airfares.
Kids? Nah! That can wait. After all, I have plenty of time.
Buzz!! Wrong answer! Thank you for playing!!
The biological clock is a rather insidious thing, I have found. I don't know how it happened, but not long after my 33rd birthday, pregnant women or kids in strollers started to stand out a little bit in the crowd. Cute baby clothes suddenly merited a moment's glance. Even during my trips to Borders, I would find myself meandering out of the "Politics and Religion and Why They Both Suck" section to the children’s book stand where "Billy the Happy but Incredibly Ugly Caterpillar" was on sale.
No bolts of lightning out the blue, or earth-shattering epiphanies here. One day I just realised that being a Mum was something I really wanted. My darling husband (who had pretty much resigned himself to the fact that he would be a dad only to our two cats) was over the moon.
So how did we find ourselves some months down the track - poring over books like "Infertility for Couples", "Saddling Up The Puregon Pony", "ART and IVF : PMS has NOTHING on This!"?
When sex was marked on the calendar alongside, ‘Pay Telstra Bill’, and the breakfast joke about liking one’s eggs ‘fertilised’ became a little bit old, we decided it might be worth a trip to the doctor.
After a multitude of prods and pokes and tests, it became clear to us that his guys and my gals were just "not that into each other". And in our case, no amount of flowers and romantic candlelit dinners was going to change that.
We needed a little help, and In Vitro Fertilization appeared to be what the doctor, literally, was ordering.
For all the “breeding-like-rabbits” humour, the human species has more trouble with conception than a lot of its fellow animal-kind. There have been theories about male fertility regarding the wearing of certain types of underwear, diet, even global warming. On the flip-side, modern-day career women are waiting “too long”. Gosh darnnit! I should have held on to the idea of keeping my apron-strings and hair-curlers, whilst hubby pranced around in his LBJ boxer shorts.
IVF isn’t so much of a taboo subject these days. In fact, there have been over 3 million IVF births since the first successful live birth in 1978, and ongoing research is enabling more couples who, 30 years ago, would have had to simply face that having a child was impossibility.
Having said that, IVF isn’t exactly a sunny day in the park either. When my wonderful gynecologist advised that, in our circumstances, IVF was the “top shelf” option, I had hoped he meant something akin to perhaps a shot of Johnny Walker Black.
What it really meant was 4 weeks of ingesting a LOT of drugs (and no, alas, not the “happy purple flying Hippo”- kind either).? First, there is the nasal spray variety which sends you into a semi-menopausal state, then the daily stomach injections to “rev” them up again in order to produce multiple ova. This is, of course, more fun than you can have at your average bun-fight, given the side-effects that come hand-in-hand with turning your body into a Sunny Queen Egg Factory.
Hot flushes, bloating, moodiness, fatigue and the “tearies” just to get the party started. My husband, bless him, didn’t once question me when we drove 90 kilometres in second gear listening to Leo Sayer, or when he found the cat in the laundry basket and his shirts draped across the litter box. I even started crying one evening whilst watching a rerun of “Zoolander” (although that was, in part, also due to the sight of Ben Stiller in tight purple Lycra pants).
Several ultrasounds later, and when your ovaries are approximately the size of a volleyball, they whip you into hospital for “egg retrieval”. The process is swift, and before you can say “My word, that is a BIG needl…..” your friendly neighborhood anesthesiologist will have you in La-La land. When I came around, they had written the number of eggs retrieved on the back of my hand in black marker. I had a mild aneurism when I thought it read ‘1010’, but as the drugs wore off, I realized it was just 10 (I also realized that I was in a normal recovery room, and not in some freaky hospital where the nurses had two heads).
This is where the real game begins. It is kind of like a cross between ‘Perfect Match’ and “Survivor”, sans the annoying naked gay guy, and Greg Evans’s woeful hairstyle.
The contestants are all placed in the dish and I would imagine partake in some cheesy small talk, and I am sure there is some Alpha male ribbing like “Last one in gets the rotten egg”.
Then the gloves are off, and it’s survival of the fittest. In my case, six of the 10 eggs were successfully fertilized, and within five days, two had transformed into embryos, having outwitted, outplayed and outlasted the rest.
The transferring of the embryos back into the uterus takes place either on day three or day five after retrieval, depending on how they develop. It surprised me just how much of a quiet event it was, given the weeks of activity leading up to this point. We were shown a photo of the two embryos, or blastocysts/morulas as they are technically called, before they were transferred back through a catheter. It was quick, painless, and all over and done with, in less than 30 minutes.
We now had the ‘two week wait’ ahead of us.
It seems incredible, that with all of the magical science that is Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), you still have to wait for approximately two weeks to find out whether the procedure has been successful. ?It is, without a doubt, the hardest part of this process.
You become obsessed with every little twinge or ache your body makes. I drove my husband crazy with “I feel tired. Do you think that’s a good sign?” or “I feel a bit nauseous, maybe that’s the first hint of morning sickness!!”. The fact that I had stayed up until past midnight to watch the Sopranos, and had a sandwich with some very questionable ham from the back of the fridge couldn’t possibly be the reason.
The nurses at the IVF Clinic warned me about the evils of taking a Home Pregnancy Test too early. They made a lot of sense. After all, test too early and you could get a false positive from the drugs that had not left your system, or worse, get a false negative and spend the rest of the day weeping in bed, devouring your sixth box of Maltesers, and watching midday reruns of “Eight is Enough”.
Of course, being the unreasonably impatient cow that I am (I can barely stand the wait for my leftover pizza to be reheated in the microwave) I stupidly ignored all advice and wheeled two trollies of “First Response” out of the chemist six days after transfer.
For those of you who do find yourselves venturing down this road, please re-read above paragraph carefully and take note of the words, “unreasonably” and “stupidly”…both are very apt descriptions.
I tested two, three times a day- sometimes squinting so hard at the stick, any hope of seeing a thin pick double line was obscured by large pink floating dots in my line of vision.
The result was the same every try… negative, zilch, nothing, nada.
It was the same when the official test was done 5 days?later.
I guess I could argue that the home tests prepared me a little for what I suspected was true. Surprisingly though, it didn’t. All of the negative tests, and the onset of my period told me that it was ‘All over Red Rover’. Sadly, pun intended.
I limped into the clinic and stuck out my arm for the blood test.
The nurse was nice enough. She commented on the weather and chatted about something else that I cannot recall. I did hear her say that she would call me with the results whilst I was at work.
I think I handled this fairly well.
I told her that if she even thought about dialing the contact number on my details sheet to tell me what I already knew, whilst at work- I would personally come over and utilise?the 12 progesterone suppository sticks that I no longer needed, to her own discomfort. To be fair, she was trying to be nice, and heaven knows, she had probably seen this a thousand times before. Even the threat about the suppository sticks in a strange and unnatural place probably didn’t faze her.
My nurse didn't call me. I knew she wouldn't. That didn't stop me from looking at the clock at 2pm, 3pm..and at 4:59pm. Hope is a cruel thing. I entertained the thought that perhaps I would be a miracle test subject. Success in the face of all the odds!
I am a dedicated agnostic, but hell, even Immaculate Conception suddenly held new promise to me.?
At 5:01pm, I accepted it as official.
Buzz!! I’m sorry. You are eliminated from this round. Thank you for playing!
Anyone who has gone through IVF with a negative result will know that it sucks. It sucks more than your air-conditioning bill after summer, it sucks more than having The West Wing rescheduled to the 2am time slot.
It sucks, it hurts, and it is simply heart-breakingly awful for both partners.
However, it is not necessarily the end of the road. My husband and I will go back and talk to our doctor to see if there was anything they found that could explain the failure-to-launch. We have the option to perhaps try again once we have rested and healed a little.There are many different options in this wonderful day and age, and even the prospect of living childfree can be managed. But, for those of us who so desperately want children, the stress and pain of infertility is immense, and the grief is very, very real.
Friends, and family, even counselors are a good source of support (although try and avoid the ones who say ‘Just go on holiday, have a couple of drinks and it’ll all come naturally’. These people are serious dunderheads.)
Failing all else, I guess there is always the option of dying your hair blonde, humming a few bars of ‘Material Girl’ and zapping over to a small country in Africa.
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