The IVF two-week wait: the Land of No Eye Deer

ivf-blog-mum100-two-week-wait-no-eye-deer-instagramWell, here we are again. I haven’t a clue what is happening inside my body. Nine days after our embryo transfer, there are no obvious signs of pregnancy. I am truly grateful, however, that we’re still in the running.

Mum100-blog-IVF-red-admiral-butterfly-bleeding-after-ivf-embryo-transferI’m enjoying the hope and wonder that being PUPO brings. For anyone new to this community, the acronym stands for ‘pregnant until proven otherwise’. When I say, “I am PUPO”, it brings to mind a butterfly inside a chrysalis, preparing to hatch. There is just so much potential for a beautiful outcome. It is also a mental endurance test. Will the butterfly emerge after the two week wait?

Embryo transfer day

We wore our brightest T-shirts to the hospital – neon pink and turquoise. We wanted to celebrate the occasion with colour and this didn’t go unnoticed at the hospital.

“Wow,” our doctor said. “I saw you two coming!”

Outside the transfer room, we covered up with white hairnets and lab coats – in another setting, we would have passed for shift workers at a meat market, clocking on after a rave.

The embryologist broke the news that our day-6 blastocysts had thawed well. “They’re beautiful,” she said on final inspection. Oh, the pride and love we felt. Let nobody tell you that embryos are ‘just cells’ – the attachment is real; the hope is extraordinary.

Our team completed the embryo transfer in less than ten minutes. We travelled home with our micro-babies, inside our bubble of peace.

Rest and relaxation – 1dp6dt & 2dp6dt

For 48 hours, I did next to nothing. Our hospital said it’s fine to carry on as normal but other clinics say to rest. I’ll take any excuse to keep warm on the sofa, watch films and read books. I ate rainbow-coloured foods and drank lots of water. I celebrated our PUPO status by styling this pineapple. He is the legend of IVF folklore, after all, and he laps up female attention!


Spotting and mini meltdown – 3dp6dt

I had traces of spotting on day three – which may or may not have been implantation bleeding. I remembered the spotting on day three in our first IVF, which rapidly progressed to heavy bleeding. I imagined escaping to India; my default panic setting is to daydream about hot holidays. However, I knew from our first IVF transfer that booking international travel in the two-week wait is daft.

Pale yellow cervical mucus and mild cramping – 4dp6dt & 5dp6dt

My cervical mucus changed colour on day 4 and 5 – marvellous! According to Google, this may or may not be a sign of early pregnancy. And then I had mild cramping on day 5 – yes, you’ve guessed it, another inconclusive sign of pregnancy.

Symptom analysis is truly bonkers. Really, what I’m searching for is certainty, which is an illusion. I am asking a search engine to tell me how my story ends – just stop and think about that for a minute!

All quiet on the uterine front – 6dp6dt onwards

There have been no further symptoms. No fuzzy head. No sore boobs. No nausea. On day 7, I let go. I came back to that peaceful place of acceptance and surrender. I cried tears of relief. All roads in this fertility journey end up in the same place – the heartfelt knowledge that I am not in control.

Dad 100 and I upped the distractions. We went to the London Buddhist Centre to try out Chi Kung. It’s a bit like Tai Chi, moving through set poses with deep breathing. On Friday afternoon, we went to London Zoo. We saw Kumbuka the gorilla, three sleeping lionesses, diving penguins, a growling tiger and this blue poison dart frog – how cool is he!


In the reptile zone, I discovered I am Harry Potter. I said hello to a puff adder, the deadliest African snake – and I kid you not, the snake popped its head up from a rock, did a small dance, then slithered to the front of the cage. It flicked its tongue and eyeballed me and we carried on our chat. I can speak Parseltongue, people – a talent at last!

The last creature we saw at the zoo was this stork, which made me laugh. We had words, let me tell you, despite the clear warning.


Today, we’re off to Kent. We’re staying overnight in a cosy B&B, exploring a couple of towns as potential locations for our house move.

Official test day is Tuesday 25th October – 11dp6dt

I’ll take the test first thing in the morning. We will wait for five minutes and we will look at our result. I promise not to squint! Whatever happens, I know we’ll be okay – we have each other and I have you lovely lot.

When I zoom out from all this, I can appreciate that infertility and IVF are great training for the mind. The process is changing me for the better. I am being shown my limitations. I am discovering my strength and resilience.

One line or two on Tuesday, we will carry on.

Making a rainbow baby

Like so many of us, I never thought I’d be here. I expected motherhood to come easily. I didn’t ever imagine I’d be blogging and drawing my way through IVF cycles, reaching out for vital support. We’re about to do our second embryo transfer, after losing our first pregnancy in June – and here I am again in new territory, this land of hope beyond the storm.

mum100-ivf-blog-rainbow-baby-embryo-transfer-baby-loss-wordpressThe term ‘rainbow baby’ makes me smile. It means a baby born after a loss. When I was new in this community, I didn’t know what it meant. I assumed rainbow babies were those born to gay people after IVF. Little did I know how personal the term would become. I love the connection it makes between the trials of loss and the hope of new life – a connection I wrote about in my last blog.

Baby Loss Awareness Week

Our second embryo transfer is on Friday 14th October. This falls in Baby Loss Awareness Week, seven days of commemoration and sharing, with a global #waveoflight on Saturday 15th October. Their website says:

“Simply light a candle at 7pm and leave it burning for at least 1 hour to join us in remembering all babies that have died too soon. This can be done individually or in a group, at home or in a communal space. Wherever you do this, you will be joining a global ‘Wave of Light’ in memory of all the babies who lit up our lives for such a short time.”

I remember when a friend in our community lost her baby. There was an outpouring of spontaneous love. People lit candles and shared the pictures with her. It was incredibly moving to see people mark her loss with candlelight. I will join in the #waveoflight on 15th October, to remember all our losses.

Trying again after pregnancy loss

Just hours before our second transfer, I feel at peace. We are so close to being reunited with our embryos. I know I am meant to be doing this. Whatever the outcome, I feel proud that we are showing up and stepping forward on this difficult path to parenthood. Naturally, I have had my concerns about how it will turn out – but at my core, today I am fearless.

We’re transferring two embryos again. Dad 100 had doubts about this. Will it increase the risk of another ectopic? Statistically, we’d have to be very unlucky for it to happen twice but I do understand that his fears are born out of love for me. He stayed much sharper than me towards the end of our first pregnancy. He could sense the danger, pressing harder than me for the correct diagnosis. After discussing it with our hospital and researching the risks of ectopic pregnancy in IVF, we agreed that two embryos gives us a better chance of pregnancy. I admit it’s more me than him making this decision. I will take responsibility for my choice, if it doesn’t go our way.

Mum 100 blog - our blastersThey are our last two embryos from the original fab four, created last November. It still feels extraordinary to me that life can be made in a lab, then paused at -196 degrees for months or years. I imagine our frozen embryos as tiny glass beads, smooth and strong, perfectly clear. We aren’t religious but we both feel a spiritual connection to the power of nature and creativity. We are saying our prayers for their safe journey back from the deep freeze. May they spring into life on Friday morning!


Natural frozen embryo transfer

Our hospital gave us the choice between a natural or a medicated frozen embryo transfer. I didn’t know it was possible to do an embryo transfer without medication. Our doctor explained that as I had regular periods, they could map the transfer to my natural cycle. There was no difference to success rates, she said. They would do a scan on day 11 to ensure an ovarian follicle was developing and check the thickness of my womb lining. Then I would use an ovulation prediction kit, to detect the surge of lutenising hormone prior to ovulation. With a positive test for the LH surge, they would book us in for our embryo transfer, six days later.

I turned to our community for help with the decision. Many people shared their successes with natural frozen embryo transfers, as well as their reduced stress levels. The idea of no injections or tablets or suppositories was hugely appealing. Last month, I did a test run with an ovulation prediction kit and had a blood test for luteal progesterone. The results were good – the LH surge was positive on day 15 and my progesterone came back at 71.3 nmol/L on day 22.

So in the end, the decision was easy. Why not give my body a chance?

Endometrial scratch

We were also randomly selected for an endometrial scratch trial. Here’s the science bit, quoted from the participant information sheet of ‘The Pipelle for Pregnancy in IVF study’:

“Endometrial pipelle sampling (also known as endometrial biopsy, injury or scratching is a new procedure being trialled in women underground IVF/ICSI or embryo transfer. The procedure involves inserting a thin plastic sampler (pipelle) through the cervix and into the womb where a sample from the endometrium is then obtained by rotation. The sample is then discarded. It is thought that the action of taking the sample results in a small disturbance to the lining of the womb, which might result in an increased chance of pregnancy when embryo transfer takes place…because it causes a small inflammatory response. Biological factors which are then released due to this response are thought to be helpful for implantation of an embryo into the lining of the womb.”

So, that’s the theory – but how did the procedure go? Well, apart from my ‘shy cervix’, which the doctor said ‘takes quite a bit of finding’ – hooray! – it was simple. It was like a smear test with extra twinges and a research nurse thrown in for good measure. Thanks to advice from a friend online, I took two Paracetamol beforehand. I have read that other women experience pain with endometrial scratching, but luckily not for me.

By the end of October, we will know our transfer result. I’m also going to keep an eye out for the results of the wider study.

Embryos on the road

Oh my, the responsibility! Our first road trip with our future kids. We transported our two frozen embryos from east to central London. I was unconvinced by the courier recommended by our old hospital – he was blasé about his availability and there was a trace of sarcasm when I asked questions. My protective instincts kicked in big time! No-one would take better care of our embryos than us. So, we borrowed a dry shipper from our new hospital and drove across town to collect them. This photo shows us on our way to pick them up – I was a bit excited!


Our old hospital packed them safely in their shiny silver box. We took them down to the car and strapped them in the back seat. I played them two Barry White tracks on YouTube (because IVF folklore says Barry helps them grow!!). Dad 100 played some Beatles and we sang along. Between songs, we talked to them.
“We love you,” we said. “Hope you settle into your new hospital. Not long until we bring you home!”
Of course, they heard every word!

Starting the cycle

When my period arrived, we were all set. On day 11, I had a scan. I thought I knew where the follicle was developing.
“I think it’s on the left side,” I said to the nurse.
It was incredible to see the black blob in my left ovary. My womb lining was 8 millimetres. It was lovely to feel renewed trust in my body.

Then it was on to the ovulation prediction kit, first pee of the day. I used the ClearBlue Digital Ovulation Test with dual hormone detector. Flashing smiley faces appeared on day 13 and 14 to confirm a rise in oestrogen. I had my fears on day 14. Would my body fail? Would it forget what to do? Then I read this in my book on the Tao:

“Trust the harmony of the Tao. It took care of everything that you needed in your creation as well as your first nine months of life without any assistance from you, and totally independent of any desires you may have had.”

And there was this quote in there from Henry David Thoreau:

“I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born.”

I love these two quotes. They tell me that no amount of worry will make a difference to the outcome of this IVF – it will succeed or fail, all by itself. Just as my heart needs no direction from my conscious mind to beat or to fail, neither does my reproductive system take orders from my anxious head. I could do with getting this tattooed on my forehead:

I am not in charge of the outcome!

And then at 5.30am on day 15, the solid smiley face pinged on to the digital display. A positive for the LH surge.


Mum100_blog_IVF_fertility_treatment_excitement_excited_Christmas_on_heliumFresh belief flooded over me. One of my old pals, Christmas on Helium, joined us in bed – he’s the character in my head with undiluted enthusiasm for life. Dad 100 was most definitely asleep when I took the test, but when I got the result, my bouncy friend decided to WAKE HIM UP!

Thank you, Dad 100, for putting up with my weird friends!

Transfer day

So here we are – our date with our micro-babies. Friday 14th October at 12.50pm. I’ve just had the Love and Hope surge. I feel the incredible potential of our rainbow baby. I am wearing bright colours to the hospital, to celebrate life. |

And I am thinking of all of you. I am so grateful for your love and for sharing your own experiences so openly. Without you, I would be stranded.

A blog about making decisions and new hope…

…but first, a yell from the kitchen!
‘What’s wrong?’ I called down the stairs.
‘They’re back,’ Dad 100 said.
I knew straight away. The pitter patter of tiny feet!

They first came in the spring. Our landlord sent in builders to repair holes. For months, there wasn’t a whisker. Then our rental contract came up for renewal. At the time, we talked about moving but IVF1 was well underway. So we signed for another six months. And now, they’re back – mice!


This isn’t bad news, however…

…it’s actually a helpful development. The little squeakers have helped us make a decision we’ve been putting off because of IVF. We’ve decided to see if it’s possible to buy a house. There will be many steps to achieve this dream but it’s great to start the process. The big baby question doesn’t have to hold up the rest of our life.

Making this decision has released so much hope, including about our second embryo transfer later this month. IVF and pregnancy loss have made me feel powerless at times, so I’m truly grateful for this renewed inspiration. There’s a saying that ‘when you polish over here, then it shines over there’. In terms of our hopes for a family, often the best thing I can do is to focus on something else. I have made the mistake of putting all my energy into creating a family. I have believed that if I give absolutely everything I have to this quest for a baby, then it has to work out – right? In reality, that single-mindedness wears me out.

Where does hope come from?

All this got me thinking about hope. Since making the decision to move house, a locked door has sprung open in my mind. Behind that door, there is bright light. It’s delightful to feel hope’s full beam once again. Why don’t I just decide to be hopeful all the time? Why has hope been stored away in such abundance? Surely it’s better to live my life focused on possibilities?

You can’t have one without the other

I think there’s a good reason why I can’t feel hopeful all the time. It came to me while I was doing this drawing. To colour the kite, instinctively I reached for purple and pink pens.

mum100-ivf-blog-hope-instagramLater, I remembered this balloon drawing, which I did in May 2016 after our doctor told us we had lost our first pregnancy. The purple and pink balloons were to acknowledge and release our loss.


So why are these drawings the same colours? It’s because hope and despair are made from the same raw materials, the experiences we go through in life. They only exist because of each other. To feel hope, I must also know despair. To appreciate fully when life is going my way, I must experience failure or the loss of things I love.

Paradoxical unity

Coincidentally, this week I picked up a book called Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living The Wisdom Of The Tao. In this book, Dr Wayne Dyer explores the 81 verses of the Tao Te Ching, an ancient Chinese book of wisdom. Dyer describes the Tao as ‘the ultimate discourse on the nature of existence.’

Verse 2 of the Tao Te Ching is relevant to this theme of ‘paradoxical unity’.

Under heaven all can see beauty as beauty,
only because there is ugliness.
All can know good as good because there is evil.

Being and nonbeing produce each other.
The difficult is born in the easy.
Long is defined by short, the high by the low.
Before and after go along with each other.

So the sage lives openly with apparent duality
and paradoxical unity.
The sage can act without effort
and teach without words.
Nurturing things without possessing them,
he works, but not for rewards;
he competes, but not for results.

When the work is done, it is forgotten,
That is why it lasts forever.

I love this verse because it helps me understand why it is necessary to feel difficult feelings and go through painful experiences in life. Without them, I cannot appreciate the flip side – just how wonderful life can be. I love the idea of living ‘openly with apparent duality’ – for me, this is about surrendering to life’s twists and turns, accepting that the light and the shade are equally necessary.

Hope springs from taking action

For months, I have felt stuck in areas of my life, including where we live and changing my career. I have believed that I can’t make any big changes while we are going through IVF. Whilst there is definitely a good argument for taking one big thing at a time in life, I have found that recent decisions to move house and to study psychotherapy have recharged my spirit. Those decisions are generating positive actions to take in my life – actions which connect me to the world and make me feel excited about the part I can play.

An example of transformation

mum100-ivf-blog-hopeFinally, this gift arrived. It was a beautiful surprise from a friend in our community, Sofie. She read my last blog about my partner losing his Dad.

The timing of the delivery was inspired. My partner was having a very tough morning. On the surface, he was frustrated with work challenges. Underneath, it was only days after his Dad’s funeral. The doorbell buzzed and he went downstairs to answer the door. He brought a parcel back up to our flat. It was addressed to both of us.
‘What’s this?’ he said.
We opened it and then I explained – it was from someone who understood what he was going through.
‘I find that so amazing,’ he said. ‘People actually care.’

In that moment, his sadness was transformed to gratitude, thanks to this unexpected kindness.

Two goodbyes

mum100-ivf-blog-two-goodbyesIt’s been a month since I last wrote, the longest gap since I started this blog. That’s because August was a month of goodbyes: one easy, one hard.

The easy goodbye

We parted with our first IVF hospital. When we started out with them in February 2015, we were bright-eyed newbies to assisted reproduction. We knew nothing about IVF, other than to expect needles and waiting rooms. I believed we’d complete treatment by the end of the year, with a baby bump and our scan pics to show for it. Come December, however, we still hadn’t done our embryo transfer. I felt dreadful between Christmas and New Year, we both did. I knew I needed more support, so I started to connect with people who understood my hopes and fears. Thank god for this loving community.

This July, we made our decision to change hospital. It took fifteen months to do IVF1 (one frozen embryo transfer which resulted in ectopic pregnancy). We just don’t have that much time for IVF2, as the NHS will only fund our treatment up until my 40th birthday in January. So, we went back to our GP, who swiftly referred us to a new hospital in central London. At their open evening, they told us they had no waiting list for NHS patients – a miracle! We set about transferring our IVF funding.

Then we received a letter in August. Our new hospital wrote to tell us we had one NHS cycle left. There must be a mistake, we said, we have two rounds left because originally we were funded for three cycles. It turns out, however, that two of our three rounds of funding were used on one attempt at pregnancy. This came as a total surprise.

If in doubt, write a letter! We asked our first hospital why one frozen embryo transfer has used up two rounds of IVF funding; we also asked why no-one informed us at the time. We do know we are still very lucky to have one more NHS funded cycle. In England, depending on where you live, clinical commissioning groups fund anywhere between zero and three IVF cycles. The postcode lottery in England is clearly a divisive system, where many people are not offered three cycles (as recommended by NICE). That said, we did have important questions about our funding and treatment – we should receive a reply this month.

The hard goodbye

After writing our letter, we both needed a break from all things IVF. Dad 100 wanted some fresh air. He said he was going for a walk to the High Street. I took up my favourite position on the sofa and picked up a chunky Harry Potter book. I’m twenty years late to the Potter party but it’s still a delight to discover JK Rowling’s plot mastery. Her magical tales erase all thoughts of IVF from my mind, which is clear evidence of her wizardry. I dived into Hogwarts. I drank Butterbeers at The Three Broomsticks. I attended a Care of Magical Creatures lessons with Hagrid, learning about Blast-Ended Skrewts.

This is the moment I want to press stop. I want to go back in time like Harry Potter can. Have you ever had that feeling, in your stomach or your heart? – that feeling when you know, before the fact, that something is wrong? It’s like a snapshot of the future, but it’s not a premonition of a precise event. Instead, it’s a tight ball of fear, scrunched up in your gut. When Dad 100 returned from the shops, I had that feeling when he walked into our living room. He had a shiny steel frying pan in one hand (a fertility-friendly replacement for our knackered non-stick pan). His mobile phone was in his left hand, hanging by his side. His face was in shadow with window light behind him.
‘My Dad’s died,’ he said.
‘Oh no,’ I said. ‘Please no.’
I reached out for him. He sat on the sofa next to me. He put down the frying pan and I wrapped my arms around him. I kissed his face and put my hand on his cheek and held him there.

He relayed the phone conversation with his brother. His Mum and Dad are called Win and Leo. They were getting ready for a weekend trip to Blackpool, to celebrate Win’s birthday. Leo went out to the garage to clean the car windscreen. Next thing Win knew, Leo was back inside the house, calling her name. She dashed through to the kitchen and there he was, passed out at the kitchen table. Win dialled 999. She ran for a neighbour, who volunteers with St John’s Ambulance. The neighbour came quickly. He felt for Leo’s pulse. He found a faint beat. The paramedics arrived and they lifted Leo off the chair on to the kitchen floor. They tried so hard to revive him with heart compression and artificial respiration.
‘Pumping at him for ages, they were,’ Win later told us, distressed at her husband’s suffering.
The paramedics took Leo to hospital but he died on the way – a cardiac arrest, they said, brought on by angina. Win thinks the attack happened while Leo was cleaning the car windscreen, ready for her birthday trip.

I hugged Dad 100 tight. I wanted to squeeze love into every muscle and cell. I stroked his head and kissed him.
‘I’m so sorry,’ I said. ‘I love you.’
‘I can’t believe I’m never going to see my Dad again.’
I felt a twist in my stomach. We cried at the loss of his father, such a kind and jovial man. Though he had his health problems, no-one expected this abrupt end. Only days before, I’d suggested that we go up north to see his Mum and Dad. We wanted to see them before IVF2 kicked off.
‘Put your feet up on the sofa,’ I said. ‘I’ll do dinner. Do you want some tea? Please let me take care of you.’
I wanted to show him the same level of support that he’d shown me during the ectopic pregnancy – and he did let me look after him. When the fish stew was simmering, I went to buy him some wine. Over dinner, we talked.
‘My Dad always had time for me and he loved to crack a joke. He had a great bullshit detector and he would do absolutely anything for our family.’

Before bed, I replayed the events of spring and summer 2016, going through our embryo transfer. Then came the confusion of the ectopic pregnancy, lost inside me until 9 weeks pregnant. We cancelled our holiday to the Balearics. For weeks, we didn’t venture much further than our postcode boundaries – alternating between home and hospital. It ended with emergency surgery at the end of June and recovery in July. When we got back to normality, Dad 100’s work tipped into his hectic summer season. During that time, there was never a clear three days for a trip up north. Could we have found the time? I felt guilty in light of Dad 100’s loss. Had IVF and pregnancy complications prevented his last visit to his father?

“Busy and strong”

We drove north to see Win. We camped out in her living room on a blow up bed. Usually we stay in a B&B in the village but we really wanted to be with her at night time. For the first time in 62 years of marriage, she was on her own.

Win likes to keep busy. She’s always up on her feet, offering cups of tea and beef sandwiches, handing round the well-stocked biscuit tin. She likes her soaps and Strictly Come Dancing. She grew up in a time of post-war rationing. Her parents didn’t have enough money for the ice cream van that came by but Win didn’t mind. There is hardship in her story but no sorrow. Her Dad died when she was nine. She remembers dunking bread in Oxo beef tea for her dinner. She played out in the streets with her siblings and friends. She took on the local bully boy, Michael, who terrified the other kids on her street. Win stood up to him when no-one else would. The same spirit was shining in her now – she was standing tall, she was fighting.
‘I’ve got to be strong,’ Win kept saying to us. ‘I promised Leo. We always said to each other, “if you pop off before me, I promise I’ll be strong.” ’
‘You don’t have to be brave with us,’ I said.
But Win insisted. This was her way. They’d just had a new carpet fitted and Win brushed it at least a dozen times while we were there, to remove the scuff marks from all the feet coming and going. She showed me the muscle in her right arm – it was like Popeye’s bicep, the result of all the housework and gardening she does.
‘It’s come right up this year,’ Win said, ‘since Leo’s angina took hold.’

Win has three sons and five grandchildren. We all went to the crematorium to help her pick the right spot for Leo. It was a hot and bright day. As we walked around the petal garden, I read the headstones, so many ‘treasured memories’ of husbands, wives, mothers and fathers. It’s always relational in death. That is how we mark our losses, with our name and dates and to whom we related in life. There was a baby’s grave with a teddy bear. The birth and death dates were within a year. It was a sharp reminder of the brutality of nature, how we are not in control of life and death. Win wanted a sunny spot for Leo. She was adamant that the digits of the plot number must not add up to 13 (which ruled out plot 1066). She joked about not putting Leo between two women.
‘They’ll be trying it on with him,’ she said, and we all laughed. ‘Such a good lad, he was, my Leo. Gave me anything I wanted. They’ll all be after him down there.’

The hardest goodbye

The following day, we took Win out for a birthday meal. She was dressed in a pale blue suit with matching handbag. She had sweet potato and ginger soup for starter and cottage pie for main, with a pile of vegetables. We took photo evidence of the feast to show her granddaughter, who had given us instructions to make sure Win ate enough during our stay.

After lunch, we met up with the family to visit Leo in the chapel of rest. The three brothers went in first with their Mum. I waited in the small waiting area with the partners and one of the grandkids. Through the open door, I heard their heartbreak. It was an impossible thought, that my lovely man was seeing his father’s body.

After ten minutes, Win called the rest of us through. The room was clean and cool with lilac lighting. I reached out for my partner, put my arms around him. I hugged him tight.
‘I’m so proud of you for supporting your Mum,’ I whispered. ‘I’m so sorry for your loss.’
Over his shoulder, I saw Leo. He was lying on the bed beneath a dark blue cover. I could see the collar of his smart white shirt. His white hair was brushed back over his head. His eyes were closed and his glasses were missing. Win smoothed back Leo’s hair, stroked his face. She leaned over the bed to kiss him.
‘I love you Leo,’ she said. ‘What am I going to do without you?’
The brothers reached out for their Mum, pulled her into a hug.

My partner and I went towards the bed. I stroked Leo’s white hair and his cool cheek. There was that childish belief in me, that wish for Leo to open his eyes. I can’t help but hope for the impossible at these times.

That evening, we stayed close to Win. We looked through photo albums – their tanned faces on cruise ship holidays, their sparkling eyes in black and white wedding photos. Win said she felt a bit better, seeing Leo at peace in the chapel of rest – especially after the shocking scenes when the paramedics attempted to save Leo’s life. Despite our protests, Win insisted on making cheese and pickle sandwiches.
‘We’ll do it,’ I said.
‘I want to keep busy,’ she said.

One of the things I most admired about Leo and Win was that they still went dancing together. They danced a lifetime of rumbas and quicksteps and foxtrots. In recent months, Leo had to sit out of the sequences but he still went along with Win because he knew how much she loved it. For Leo’s headstone, Win has decided on a pair of dancers – the symbol of their joyful partnership throughout life. Leo was buried in a brand new suit, made to measure, and his dancing shoes. Win said she wants the same when she goes, so they can dance together again. We told her she’s not going anywhere for a long time. I am inspired by the energy and stamina of this brave lady. I marvel at her long and loyal relationship. Rest in peace Leo.


Get the gloves on – anger and pregnancy loss

At 39 years old, I have bought my first pair of boxing gloves. They are red with white stripes down the middle, emblazoned with fierce lions. Lonsdale London is stamped on the wrist and fist. I am ready for the ring – ding ding!

The purchase came after a training session with Dave. At the end of class two, Dave reached inside his rucksack (which is the personal trainer’s equivalent of Mary Poppins’ carpet bag, holding implausible amounts of kit). He pulled out two pairs of boxing gloves and some contender pads. My gut fluttered with excitement. This was an exercise I really wanted to try.

With rain spitting on our faces, Dad 100 and I put on our gloves. We awaited our instructions from Dave, like two eager terriers waiting for a ball to be thrown. Dave demonstrated a sequence of punches. He showed us how to stand for each blow – legs square on for the jabs, one foot forward for the upper cuts and hooks.

“Got it?” he said.

Dave strapped the pads on his hands and raised them shoulder height. He braced like a defending champion. A group of teenagers were huddled under the pavilion on the green – the crowd for our first big fight.

“Right then,” Dave said. “Let’s have you!”

Mum100-IVF-blog-anger-fertility-pregnancy-loss-ectopic-boxing-exerciseI stepped up first to whack Dave’s pads – WHAM, BAM, SCHLAM! I powered through my shots. Each thwack on the pad thrilled me. My arms filled with hot blood and soon my lungs were working hard to keep up. I was a prizefighter on the overgrown bowling green. My biceps and triceps and flexors smarted with lactic acid. Finally, the hooks: for anyone who is new to boxing like me, hooks are the money shot, the side-swiping cracker-smacking blows. I pulled my arm right back and swung each punch towards the pad. DOOF! DOOF! DOOF! Five with the left, then five with the right. POW! POW! POW! On my final punch, I spun a full turn to celebrate.

I looked across at my teenage fans under the pavilion, expecting at the least an approving nod, maybe a cheer or shout of “respect!” Instead, their eyes followed a spliff around their circle. I laughed at their indifference to my knockout punches, as Dad 100 stepped up to the pads. He launched into his jabs and hurled his hooks, as I cheered him on – his number one fan.

Straight after the session, we went to our local sports shop. We bought pads and boxing gloves – bright red for me, black for Dad 100. Home they came, bringing into our flat that excitable energy of new possessions. I look at them lovingly as I pass them in their storage bag and whenever the anger rises, we say:

“Right, let’s get the gloves on!”

It does help – to concentrate on the pads, to feel the force in my arms, to hear that sock on the pads. The rush of power and release makes me feel proud of my body. I become aware of a tremendous store of strength inside me, which is great to feel right now.

Anger and pregnancy loss

It is normal to feel angry after pregnancy loss. So many people have said this to me that I have now accepted it. I’m no longer fighting my anger. It comes when it comes and that is all there is to it. There is no need to deny anger or squeeze it down. It’s an expression of the uncontrollable, the incomprehensible. It’s healthy to feel anger and it’s phenomenal to channel it – SMACK into those contender pads!

I don’t always get it right because my anger comes in unpredictable spikes. Yesterday, for example, we were out for an early jog. The traffic lights turned red and we stepped into the road. A cyclist zoomed towards us. My stomach jumped when I saw the bike was whizzing too close. I yelled at him, “the lights are red!” as his handlebars skimmed past me, then I swiped at his rucksack. The cyclist turned around in his saddle, swore back at me. We both had our moment of fury and I won’t lie, it felt good to vent. Seconds later, however, I thought, “actually, he could beat me up now” – so we ran fast through the graveyard gates and didn’t look back.

For Dad 100, the anger is more of a build up of frustration. He gets annoyed when his computer plays up. He gets more annoyed when yet another SEO company phones him, pitching for business. Sometimes, he turns anger on himself, calling himself an idiot for minor mistakes. I tell him he mustn’t do that – he is feeling the loss as much as I am.

Saying this, we are getting through it. The anger comes and goes but there is plenty of love and fun and relaxation in between. And with regular boxing practice, hopefully there will be fewer clashes with cyclists and telesales agents.

Seconds out – round 2

In other news, we have received a letter from our new hospital, after we transferred our remaining IVF funding. Our first appointment with their Assisted Conception Unit is on 1st September – two and a half weeks away.

We don’t yet know whether to transfer one or two embryos. There is more chance of pregnancy with two embryos but also more chance of complications. I feel very protective over our last two frozen embryos and my remaining fallopian tube. I’m frightened of another ectopic pregnancy, but equally I am hopeful that we did achieve a pregnancy in the first round of IVF, albeit in the wrong place.

Round 2 here we come!

Weeble wobble

Mum100-blog-IVF-wobble-falling-over-getting-upOn the surface, there was no reason for me to lose it. I slept well. We went for a jog around Abney Park cemetery. Beneath tall trees, we darted down paths between ancient gravestones, running in and out of sunlight pools. For breakfast, we ate fried tomatoes and mushrooms on toast. I sent some work emails. At lunchtime, Dad 100 made cheese and onion omelette with mixed salad. There it was on the table, red and yellow and green, ready to go.

The first piece of omelette was too hot. It brought tears to my eyes. I gulped water and started on the salad instead, cucumber and tomato slices in vinaigrette. I couldn’t make eye contact with Dad 100 because of an ugly feeling in my stomach. Quite suddenly it was there, as if an elevator had dropped a floor with us inside. I tried to hold back tears by concentrating on the next fork of food – blowing to cool it, chewing, swallowing too quickly. It was absolutely no good at all. My eyes were spilling over. Unfairly, I wanted my partner to guess what was in my head. Worse, I wanted him to make me feel better.

“I don’t know what to say,” he said.
Without looking up, I said, “I’m not expecting you to say anything.”

Except that was a lie. In that moment, I was craving answers. Why can’t I stay upright for long? How is this going to turn out? Don’t get me wrong, since the surgery there have been plenty of good moments. We’ve started with a personal trainer called Dave. We met him by the goat enclosure at Clissold Park for our first session. He had us skipping and squatting and side-stepping on the grass. We attracted inquisitive gazes from local dogs and toddlers, who were keen to join in. I’ve also taken steps towards work, emailing and meeting with prospects, contacting agencies. I’ve met up with friends for food and conversation. I’ve visited my Mum and stayed two nights longer than planned. These are all positive things. However, punctuating all of this have been sudden tiredness, sharp snaps of anger and turn-on-the-tap sadness. I’ve fixed up social activities then wanted to cancel. Right now, there’s a convincing illusion of complete safety inside our home, potential harm outside.

Mum100-blog-IVF-journey-ups-downs-glum-bags-past-futureIs any of this making sense to you? My head has been a jumble of sensations and thoughts over the last few weeks. Glumbags has been on the scene with his memories and predictions. And I haven’t known what to write on my blog. I don’t want to be gloomy, as we’ve all got enough to deal with in this community, so I have missed the connection that comes with weekly blogging. To write a piece, to press publish, to feel the arms of sisters around me – I have shrunk away from the very thing that makes this process bearable, enjoyable in fact.

Anyway, I lost it over that omelette.
Dad 100 said, “too much thinking about what’s happened, it’s not doing you any good.”
Through wonky ear filters, I heard, “why don’t you pull yourself together?”
I said, “I’m trying my best. Can’t you see that? I’m looking for a new contract and training courses. I’m meeting up with friends, even when I’d rather stay at home. I’m working out. Isn’t that enough? I already feel useless enough, without you adding to it. I can’t even carry a baby, for god’s sake.”

I always know within seconds when I’ve been out of order. I left the kitchen. I cried off a face of make up. Up in the bathroom, I scooped handfuls of cold water on to my face. I looked in the mirror and thought, yep, that’s about right – puffy eyes, blotchy cheeks, mascara smudge. I was due to meet with my friend Jill in an hour. I was so tempted to cancel, to swerve my writing class that evening. After crying, I always get tight temples and the start of a headache between my eyes. I could easily call it off, I thought. I can suggest meeting before our next class.

But this is exactly how the gloom wins. It wants me to cut myself off. This is the lie it tells. It says, “you just need a bit more time on your own, away from the world.” And it’s a convincing voice because it does feel safer to close the curtains, to curl up. It is more predictable to disappear into a Storyville documentary or to gawp at the latest drama on the news. Watching the world go mad is a terrible fixation of mine, when I’m avoiding my own life.

Of course, I do accept that not knowing what was happening inside my body – for so many weeks, months – has knocked my confidence. But strangely, all that build up to discovering the ectopic pregnancy, all the alarming symptoms and uncertainty over the diagnosis, the many hospital visits and the operation – that was easy compared to how I’ve felt since the surgery. Whilst going through it, we had to take the next step forward. There was no choice. We had to get to the next blood test or scan or examination. Now, the urgency has gone and I’m tumbling in space.

Thankfully, sense kicked in after my tear storm. I did meet up with Jill. She was great to talk to, actually. She pointed out why it was easier before the surgery.
“It was an anchor, all that stuff going on,” she said. “And what you’re telling yourself now is you should be over it, you should be back out in the world.”
“Yes, that’s it,” I said. “And the normal conversations involved in drumming up work, they feel like rejection. I know that finding new work involves talking to lots of people. It’s about numbers and the truth is I’m not yet having enough conversations – because the ones I am having, I’m taking way too personally.”

Then, for an hour or so, I listened to Jill’s stories. Turning points, those big reversals in life that switched her course – unexpected illness, job crises, family matters. It was such a relief to sit and listen. I asked questions and Jill answered them generously. She told me about her partner walking out unexpectedly and a sociopathic work colleague, who I wanted to slap on Jill’s behalf by the end of her tale. Then Jill mentioned not having kids, something I didn’t know about her.

“I haven’t exactly taken Conventional Road,” she said.

To listen to Jill was to be in the world. I need other people’s stories for relief from my own. I need to hear that other people have been through their own tough times and they are still up and out and doing life. Jill is a smart sixty-something year old, always sharply dressed, a great talker with an infectious laugh – you wouldn’t know, on the surface, there have been these big difficulties in her life. Her stories made me remember how much I enjoy writing. I love to exchange stories with people in the hope of connection. It’s what energises me the most – the identification that comes through sharing experiences.

Before our writing class, Jill and I tapped at our laptops for an hour. Out came this blog. It’s a human-shaped blog, rough around the edges, but it’s something. It makes me feel hopeful to see words on the page, after several weeks of not being able to write.

I have also apologised to Dad 100 – for expecting him to know how our story ends.

A conversation with Dad 100

Mum100-blog-IVF-partners-strong-supportI had a chat on the sofa with Dad 100, asking him about our first IVF cycle. I wanted to capture his thoughts, to acknowledge the massive role he has played in IVF1. This blog is dedicated to all the amazing partners out there – thank you for the heavy lifting you do. x x x

How are you today?

Physically I’m still tired but as the day has gone on, I’m feeling better.

How long has the tiredness been going on?

Since you had the operation for the ectopic pregnancy, three weeks ago. At first, I put it down to having so little sleep on the night you had surgery. In the days afterwards, I thought I’d catch up – but I haven’t been able to shift it.

Why do you think that is?

I don’t really know. Maybe it’s a physical manifestation of sadness? The IVF process so far – it feels like a long time – and our first round has ended with a loss. There was also the stress and uncertainty after our embryo transfer, going backwards and forwards to hospital. Then having to make a quick decision about emergency surgery. It’s all caught up with me now.

We went to see The Quiet House play about a couple going through IVF – how did you find it?

I related to it completely. It was a mirror image of our story. The part that got to me was when they first started their injections. It reminded me of when we first started out and the huge hope we had. I was overcome with sadness.

What coping strategies are important for partners?

I guess it’s important not to bottle things up. I think that’s why I feel better today, because I’ve actually talked about it.

What do you need right now?

I need to rediscover things that make me feel happy, things I love.

What do you love?

I love you. I love spending time together, just hanging out. I love music and playing my guitar. Jamming along to records. I love good food and a glass of wine. I love being hopeful – and I am still hopeful we will have a family.

What would you say to other partners in our situation – when an IVF cycle hasn’t worked out?

Acknowledge your feelings. Don’t hide them.

Do you hide your feelings?

Definitely. I feel uncomfortable talking about what’s really going on. I have a natural response to my emotions to keep them inside – especially with difficult feelings. I tense up physically. There’s also societal conditioning that men aren’t supposed to admit to these feelings. I tell myself I should be able to brush them off and get on with my day. They showed that in The Quiet House play – how Dylan struggled to talk about his feelings.

So, now’s your chance to be really honest. How do you feel about losing our first pregnancy?

Primarily, I feel gutted for you – losing a fallopian tube. I feel sad that we’ve gone through so much and it didn’t work out. I was so sure it was going to be a success. When you had the operation, initially it was a relief after weeks of uncertainty. At that point, I just felt concerned for you. I wanted the operation to work and you to be well. When the immediate danger was over, that’s when the tiredness set in. It’s taken time to surface with me – like delayed grief.

What gives you hope?

We’ve been referred to a new hospital. There is a possibility we can continue our NHS treatment there. We’re also looking at private clinics. And our first round wasn’t a complete failure – at least one of our embryos tried to grow inside you, albeit in the wrong place.

How do you feel about starting IVF round 2?

It would be nice to have a longer break because it has been exhausting at times. But I accept time is of the essence. We need to crack on.

What about being a Dad? Do you still feel the same?

That hasn’t changed. To have a little person to think about – maybe even two – I would absolutely love that.

What have you learned in our first IVF round?

How much I love you. I wanted to be there every step of the way. The big thing was the night you had the operation. I prayed and prayed that the operation would be successful and there wouldn’t be any complications. When I came home to pack an overnight bag for you, I couldn’t wait to get back to the hospital. It was the middle of the night when I returned. There was nobody around. I had to find you. I went to the recovery area and I walked into intensive care – completely the wrong place! Luckily, that’s when I bumped into your surgeons. They told me you’d just come out of theatre. A nurse appeared and took me down. I had to wait for twenty minutes, so I ate a sandwich and a Mars bar – I hadn’t eaten for god knows how many hours – then the nurse came out and said I could see you. When I saw you, I realised how much I loved you. You looked so fragile, actually, coming round from the anaesthetic. I was very relieved you were there and you’d come through the operation.

Do you know how much I love you? You’re an amazing partner and friend in all this. Do I tell you that often enough?

You do. You tell me that you love me and you think I’ve been great throughout the cycle. It surprises me to hear that because I’ve just done what is necessary. I don’t think I’ve done anything that brilliant.

You have been brilliant – end of story! I love you very much.