This week was National Fertility Awareness week. The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness of fertility issues, the treatment they require and to provide support to the couples that need help.
Yesterday, we got The Letter from the very clever people at the clinic where you were made. I don’t know why they chose Little to be placed back inside Mummy instead of you. Little got herself cosy, and you were frozen. Knowing Little, she probably thumped you and made you stand behind her.
I dread this letter arriving. Did we want to keep the three of you frozen at -196 degC for another year, or will we let you go? They didn’t phrase it quite so kindly. They asked if we wanted to let you perish.
Perish. Taken out of your wintery sleep and left to fade away. A story that will never be told. A life that will not be lived. The very wording of the letter hits me square in the heart every time. With the Miracle growing inside me, my hormones are all over the place, and being asked if I can let my three potential babies perish is a bitter choice to make.
We were so lucky. Not only did we manage to make embryos, but they seemed to stick too. I don’t think of you as ‘leftovers’, but you were there in case we needed to try again. I don’t know if you are boys or girls or if you’d have blue eyes like me or brown eyes like Daddy. I don’t know if you’d have even survived being defrosted, but you’ve been on the periphery of my consciousness since you were made. I knew you were there and that you were safe.
With the Miracle on his or her way and your three ICSI pixie sisters, one of whom, like you, spent a year frozen at -196 degC, we’ll be done. Our family will be complete. But the nurturing, maternal heart inside me grieves for you, even though we’ve never met. I’ll never know who you were or what you might do.
It’s given me a shock. I thought the trauma of fertility treatment was over. We had our glorious girls, and our Miracle to boot. Yet this decision has affected me deeply. We’ve had to let you go. We cannot give you to others, or even to other clever people to learn how to help other couples escape from the hellish wilderness years. We couldn’t leave you in the freezer forever.
I don’t know if there’s a place you can go to while your soul waits for another Mummy and Daddy. I like to think there is. And if there is, I hope you get the nicest family in the world – full of warmth where you’ll never be cold again.
So goodbye, my nearly loves. The ones that never were.
*This is a photograph of the frosty that became Medium as a three-day embryo, defrosted after a year in storage the day before.
I’ve been busy, friends. Busy trying to get my head around something huge.
So, there I was, smugly sticking to my Slimming World and gym regime. I lost a stone. I could feel my body changing and my fitness levels increasing. My riding was improving. My body was beginning to respond to my brain and my reactions were quicker. I felt great. I was making plans with pony pals to camp at Badminton, to do a dressage boot camp and hack around Wales, mainly drunk. I was thinking of going to Portugal to buy a youngster that would come over in a couple of years.
Then I stopped feeling great. I felt knackered. I felt dizzy and a bit sick. I wanted to be in bed, asleep, all the time. Just doing the school run felt like wading through treacle. I was short-tempered, easily irritated and headachey. My period, always unreliable at the best of times, was late, but that was irrelevant because during the wilderness years, our very clever and very lovely consultant told us that we had more chance of winning the lottery than conceiving naturally. 32 million people play the National Lottery. Your odds of winning are apparently 14 million to one. I don’t know how ‘they’ worked that particular statistic out; maths isn’t my strong point.
One Sunday morning a few weeks ago, I was digging through stuff and happened across an old pregnancy test that I’d shoved in a drawer when I was expecting Little. Knowing it would be negative, and still feeling rubbish, I peed on the stick and carried on getting ready to go to man the pre-school cake stall at a village event. Giving the stick a cursory glance a few minutes later, I nearly passed out. Very clearly displayed on the screen was a decisive ‘PREGNANT’. What. The. Actual. Fuck.
I called to Lovely Husband that I needed him upstairs straight away. He replied that he needed me downstairs as Medium had just spat her antibiotic everywhere. “No, no,” I said. “I definitely need you up here more.” He came upstairs and I handed it to him, simply saying: “This has to be faulty.” His reaction? What. The. Actual. Fuck.
Dumping a sticky Medium in the bath, I rooted around the bathroom cupboard desperately hoping to find another test. I struck gold. Those that have experienced infertility and consequent treatments will know how many pregnancy tests you buy and stash around the house. This test also said I was pregnant.
Somewhat dazed, I went and did my stint on the stall. Then I got home and Googled all the reasons you might get a false positive on a pregnancy test. I don’t recommend that anyone does this. By the time we went for an early scan, I’d convinced myself that I had a brain tumour. Fortunately, the scan showed us a little bean with a beating heart. Lovely Husband cried and laughed simultaneously.
We’ve now had our 12 week scan and I have spent the last month in huge jumpers and with my coat zipped up on warm days to hide my burgeoning bump. At 41, the odds are against me and we didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag until we had to. I’m struggling to do up my coat now. We’re still waiting for our odds on the scary screening tests, but we didn’t get the ‘within three working days call for further testing’, so we can finally breathe out.
To be honest, even though I saw a distinctly baby shaped object on the screen last week, I saw him/her move, wave at us, suck their little thumb and their heart beat, I still can’t believe it. Early pregnancy is a funny old time anyway, but to have been told it’ll never happen and then for it to do just that is… Well, frankly a complete and utter mind fuck.
I’d given everything away. My maternity clothes all went to a charity shop and our baby stuff is currently being used by a friend. One who – phew – I know will look after it and let us have it back. Baby #4 would be an expensive miracle otherwise.
And that is just what Baby #4 is. A miracle. A little soul that clearly wants to be born. And how blessed are we that he/she has chosen us? I’m choosing to focus on that and not that I will have four children under six in May. There’s Valium for that, right?
Happy Mothers’ Day. Three small words that mean the world to me. Three small words that for a long time I didn’t know if I’d ever hear.
Mothers’ Day is a special day. This morning began with Medium coming in with her usual non stop jumping, brandishing a card and shouting, “Happy birthday, Mummy!” (it’s not my birthday). Big struggled in under the weight of a huge canvas with all three of their smiling faces on it. There were kisses and cuddles.
Every Mothers’ Day I celebrate not just my own unbelievably amazing mum, but them. Those three little pixies who changed my life. Three little pixies that, were it not for the genius of medical science, wouldn’t be here.
Lovely Husband and I are very open about the struggle we endured to have our lovely girls, and I wish more people were as transparent. Maybe then those that go through the struggle of fertility treatment and the agony of never knowing if they will be parents would be more supported by society as a whole. There still seems to be this outdated stigma. Fertility treatment is hard; it messes with your mind, your body, your relationship and just about everything else. It ruins marriages, turns rational women into psychopaths and crushes as many dreams as it makes come true.
I know that for many women today is a really bloody hard day. I remember it well. During the wilderness years of our endless ‘trying’ and the time that lapsed between the invasive tests and our finally undergoing fertility treatment, Mothers’Days came and went and I mourned every one. My failure in producing a small person physically hurt. I’d have this ball of pain in my ribcage and there was nothing I could do about it. I would fill my days with horses, cats, wonderful trips with Lovely Husband but nothing really took the edge off. I wanted to be a mother. I wanted to feel a baby kick inside me. Everyone else seemed to manage it, why couldn’t I? In the build up to Mothers’ Day and on the day itself, I was surrounded by reminders of my failure to conceive.
There were tears. Lots of them. There were a lot of well meaning friends, who tried to make me feel better. Most made me feel worse. “Just relax, it’ll happen.” Well, no – actually, it won’t. We’d been told by a leading fertility consultant that we have more change of winning the lottery than we do of conceiving naturally. “Maybe you’re doing it wrong.” Really, did you actually just say that? “You can always adopt.” Because that’s as easy as going to Tesco, isn’t it? You just go and pick a baby from the shelf, right? “Maybe it’s just not meant to be.” Well, with those words of wisdom, I’ll just roll over and forget the whole idea of having a family, then. Seriously, the fact that I managed to keep my temper is amazing.
Our recent history shows how goddamn lucky we were. Our first IVF proved to be heartbreaking and diagnostic. 17 lovely fluffy eggs harvested and not one fertilised. It seems either Lovely Husband or I lacked receptor cells – the beacons that helped his boys and my girls find each other. We don’t know who’s ‘fault’ it is; our consultant wisely counselled us that it was irrelevant. We wanted to make a baby together. Our first ICSI cycle resulted in Big. It was a textbook cycle. Nine months later, our joy at welcoming her was immeasurable. All those hormone jabs, the ups and downs of going into a medically induced menopause then being swiftly brought out of it, living from scan to scan to check my progress as we moved towards harvest, the harvest day itself and then the agonising 24 hour wait for the call from the embryologist to see if ICSI had been successful. This time, we were lucky. We had two popped back inside me and two put in the freezer. And then the infamous two week wait. Oh boy, that sucked. Symptom spotting constantly, fear of the unknown and obsessive testing. Thankfully I got two lines that got stronger each day. When Big arrived, she made me. She made me the person I wanted to be.
Medium is our BOGOF baby. She spent a year in the deep freeze, which is incomprehensible when you meet the lively and compelling little person that she’s become. I struggled with the drugs for her and had a rare reaction to the tablets I needed to take. Nevertheless they did their job and despite a lot of bleeding early on, she arrived after my easiest labour yet. I still find it hard to believe that she was actually made at the same time as Big. They’re technically twins, I suppose, but two years apart.
Little was a surprise; Lovely Husband had said he didn’t want another and our freezer stock was depleted. For my 39th birthday, I unwrapped a sheath of paper. It was the documentation for an appointment with our lovely consultant and off we went for ICSI cycle #2 and then there were three. There are three more in the freezer still. I told you we’d been lucky.
But today my heart goes out to those that are still wandering through their wilderness years; those that are yet to receive a diagnosis and treatment, those that are on their umpteenth cycle, those that are still hoping. I pray your dreams will come true and that those around you support you. I admire those of you that can bite your tongue through the ultimately well meaning but hopelessly misguided comments that hurt. I hope you will feel your precious bundle in your arms very soon, come what may. Come what may.
Happy Mothers’ Day to all the future mums. To those that have fought to win that title. You’ve earned it. My heart is with you. X