Twelve to sixteen weeks pregnant: finding the way with words again

I haven’t written since before Christmas. There has been a lot to write about but I’ve been stuck for words. So, to kick off this blog, I need to rewind to five days before Christmas.

Our 12-week appointment

On 20th December, we had our 12-week appointment at St Thomas’s Hospital. We arrived in the hospital concourse with a sack of nervous excitement. As is our ritual, we put coins into the lucky Tim Hunkin machine in the hospital corridor (I’ll tell you more about Tim Hunkin’s marvellous machines another time) and then we took the lift to the eighth floor for our date with providence.

Inside the antenatal department, we took our ticket for blood queue. The first part of our appointment was the blood test for our combined screening for chromosonal disorders: Down’s, Edwards and Patau Syndrome. When the nurse called us, I felt a whoosh of nerves. I took my seat, rolled up my sleeve, then came the sharp scratch. As the syringe drew my blood, I thought how strange that there are answers in that tube, clues to the health of our child. From reading the information leaflets, I knew Down’s Syndrome is not usually life-threatening like Edwards and Patau Syndrome. There’s very little chance of survival with the latter two conditions. Dad 100 and I had talked about this test before our appointment. Of course, we both hoped for a healthy baby, but we knew we could not terminate this pregnancy if our results came back high risk. What really clinched it for me was watching a documentary called “A World Without Down’s Syndrome?” the week before our appointment. The programme was presented by the actress Sally Phillips, whose son Olly has Down’s Syndrome. She said instead of tragedy, she has experienced joy and laughter raising her son. I am so grateful I watched it because it removed so much fear for me.

After our blood test, we had to wait for our scan. I had a big drink of water – since going through IVF, I get very confused when I’m supposed to drink water and when I’m not! When we were called, I felt a skip in my stomach. I was so excited to see our baby again. Jose the sonographer asked me to lie down. He squeezed gel on my stomach. As soon as the probe touched the gel, our baby filled the plasma screen on the wall, floating around like a sleepy space cadet. Soon, there were wiggles of little arms and legs. While we gazed in delight, Jose continued with his measurements. He checked the fluid at the back of our baby’s neck (nuchal translucency) and the nasal bone, which are part of the assessment for Down’s Syndrome. Next, Jose gave us a tour around our baby’s body – spine, abdomen, stomach, bladder, kidneys, even a remarkable glimpse of the butterfly-shaped brain.
‘Excellent,’ Jose said.
I could have pressed pause on life right there.

12-week-scan-pic

After the scan, I had to see a doctor about a problematic wound I’ve had, ever since the surgery to remove my pregnancy and fallopian tube last summer. The wound has opened and closed many times, though thankfully it’s small. Dad 100 has been telling me to get it checked out with the GP but I always feel like I’m pestering her, so I didn’t go. As I was examined by a heavily pregnant doctor, Dad 100 waited for the results of our chromosonal tests. I really wanted to get back to him, to receive the news together, but the doctor was keen to swab the wound. She said they would test for infection and let me know the results.

When I came out of the consulting room, Dad 100 was sitting opposite the door. He was clutching a piece of paper. I sat down with him under the fluorescent lights – we were the last two patients in the empty department – and he showed me these numbers.

Background risk:       1:112              1:271              1:852
Adjusted risk:            1:2248           1:5426           1:17040

He pointed at three graphs on the paper and soon confirmed the fantastic news. The numbers relate to the average (background) risk for Down’s, Edwards and Patau Syndrome and the adjusted risk based on our combined blood test and scan results. Essentially, this means low risk for all three disorders – the best Christmas present we’ve ever received.

Writer’s block

I think all this good news is why I haven’t been able to write. That may seem odd but after years of hope and expectations, without such good results, each positive experience we have now takes time to sink in. The further we go on with this pregnancy, the longer it takes to settle. Initially, it’s incredulity – is this really happening to us? Then there are waves of gratitude for each milestone reached. There’s also the sense of the stakes getting higher, the further we go on. Staying focused on the moment really helps to quell any fears of loss that come up.

My blog has helped me through many tough times in the past. By writing and sharing a blog post, it has always helped me to move on from difficulties I’ve had. I suppose after the wonderful experience at 12 weeks, I didn’t really want the story to move on. It was a very safe place to be.

I’m also aware of what many people reading this may be going through in their lives. Multiple IVF cycles, pregnancy loss, the draining effects of trying to conceive for months and years on end. I know from personal experience how difficult those times can be. Of course, I am hugely grateful for this pregnancy, after years of wishing for a baby, but I also want to be mindful of people who are struggling. Saying this, I do know that in hard times, I have drawn hope and strength from other people’s breakthroughs. I have been able to celebrate other people’s success, whilst having no certainty of my own. I wish that anyone who is in pain right now finds support and comfort, is relieved of their distress.

Celebrating 40

From week 13 to week 16 of pregnancy, it’s been all quiet on the baby front. I’ve had hardly any symptoms. My energy levels have been good. We celebrated Christmas, New Year and last week my 40th birthday. All my life, I’ve loved getting older because of the increase in happiness I feel – until the struggles to conceive took hold. In my late 30s, there were one too many graphs in IVF clinics. “Just look at the DECLINE in your fertility!” they bellowed, charting the drop in IVF success rates after 35. I know doctors don’t get out of bed without evidence, but there were times when we were researching clinics after our first failed IVF cycle that I could have done without the graph of doom. That said, I do think education in school is important. I had very little idea of the facts of female fertility before going through IVF.

Anyway, I had a joyful birthday lunch with family and Dad 100 treated me to a surprise day out – and what’s brilliant is my love of getting older has been restored.

Kick me, baby!

mum100-ivf-pregnancy-blog-12-week-scan-waiting-for-kicks-squareThe night before my birthday, I was certain I felt flutters inside. They were more definite sensations than anything I’ve felt before. Could they be the first detectable kicks? It’s more noticeable when I lie down. A little bulge appears, low down in the centre or on the right hand side. It’s lovely to feel that because I don’t have an obvious bump. I put my hand on the little bulge and breathe deeply. Occasionally, it feels like a little bubble pops in my stomach or there’s a tap on a tiny tambourine. Of course, it could just be wind! I can’t wait for the first convincing boot in the belly, which could be any time from now up until 25 weeks.

Today we have a 17-week check up at the hospital with the lead consultant. I’m feeling relaxed. Miraculously, after six months of problems, my ectopic surgery wound has finally healed by itself. No antibiotics required 🙂 . I am very grateful for each little miracle and I’m beginning to trust that our good fortune will last.

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Four weeks pregnant – joy and disbelief

ivf-blog-mum100-pregnancy-sanity-4-weeks-pregnantThe key to serenity is to let go. Surrender the outcome; accept where I am; be at peace. Yes, yes, I know all these marvellous theories of how to live life without going crackers – but can I actually practise them?

On 25th October at 7am, two blue lines appeared. For the first time since we started trying for a baby in 2013, our result on a home pregnancy test was positive. Absolutely no squinting required. I took the test up to our bedroom. I climbed under the duvet with Dad 100. We cuddled up and gazed at the plastic stick with the turquoise lines, as if it was a magic wand.

ivf-blog-mum100-positive-pregnancy-test-hpt

We are both delighted, of course. I am also scared. Is this really happening? Can we believe in this result? In bed, I turned over the test stick to check the other side of the window; there were still two blue lines. Relief!

Later that day, I called the hospital with our result.
“Congratulations,” the nurse said. “We’ll book in your 7 week scan. Can you do Monday 14th November at 2.40pm?”

Now in ordinary circumstances, I know that is not long. But my first thought was, really? More waiting????

The three week wait

Daft as it sounds, I wasn’t expecting another wait. I hadn’t given any thought to what happens if it works. For the rest of official test day, the reassurance of those two blue lines settled my nerves. Dad 100 and I had group hugs with our growing embryos between us. I checked the test stick several times, to confirm I wasn’t imagining things.

By next morning, however, I was back in doing mode. I wanted concrete actions to take. How can I possibly wait another three weeks for the scan? I need to organise this pregnancy and fast! Dad 100 and I talked about getting blood tests done. Our new hospital doesn’t offer HCG blood tests as a standard part of the procedure. I looked up private London clinics for beta testing. I called up two clinics for prices. Later, I spoke to a friend who is at the same hospital as me. She suggested I ask the IVF nurses for a blood test, as they did one for her when she requested it.

So, in full organiser mode, I emailed the hospital:

Dear IVF Nurses,

I phoned yesterday to let you know about our positive pregnancy test. We now have our date for the 7-week scan (Monday 14th November). Thank you very much for arranging this.

We were wondering if it’s possible to have a b-HCG blood test in the next few days. We ask this because our last attempt at IVF resulted in an ectopic pregnancy and salpingectomy. It would be good to know that the levels are okay this time, as last time they were very low.

Now, that wasn’t exactly honest of me. Yes, I do have memories of what happened last time, but truthfully the email should have said this:

Please can I have a blood test, ASAP, today if possible? You see I really didn’t think there would be yet more waiting, not after doing a whole two weeks of waiting (okay technically, it was only eleven days of waiting, but it felt like forty). What do you say? Shall we do this blood test?

A nurse replied to my email:

I am happy to hear of your good news. I have spoken to one of our senior doctors in the unit and what they have advised is you come for a scan at 6 weeks instead of 7 weeks, instead of having a blood test. The blood test does not pick up an ectopic pregnancy and the results can come back normal and can still be an ectopic pregnancy. I am more than happy to book you in for your early scan. Please let me know if this is something you are happy with.

Next morning…

I did another pregnancy test (13dp6dt). This time I used a Clearblue digital pregnancy test with conception indicator. The result was good: it came up 2-3 weeks after conception (4 to 5 weeks pregnant).

ivf-blog-mum100-pregnant-2-3-weeks-clearblue-pregnancy-test-on-track

I breathed out and then I realised. I was getting it all wrong again. Now is the time to practise patience. I cannot have total reassurance every minute of the day. Say we go for that scan at six weeks and it’s too early to see a heartbeat – what then? Would I panic about not seeing the heartbeat? Or let’s say we book private blood tests. What if the results come back with HCG numbers we don’t understand? Do we pay for a private consultation, so a brand new doctor can interpret our results? Do we turn to Google? NO, PLEASE NOT GOOGLE!

Fast forwarding the tape, this need for constant reassurance never ends. If I give into the endless demands of anxiety, then I will always need the next fix. After the week 7 scan, there’s another 5-week wait until the week 12 scan. Then there’s another 8-week wait until the week 20 scan.

I may as well stick with being exactly where we are – it’s a much more hopeful place. I want to enjoy this experience as much as I can.

So, I wrote back to our hospital:

Thanks so much for coming back to me. Maybe we’ll stick with the original plan for the 7 week scan, as we’d like to be able see the heartbeat. I’m sure it’ll be fine.

It felt great to send this email – it was another surrender in this uncontrollable process. The nurse was very kind when she replied. She said we could change our mind at any time and come for an early scan. But I know that’s not what we need. Instead, we booked a free counselling appointment at the hospital. That will be far more useful than trying to project manage this pregnancy!

Week 4 pregnancy symptoms 

Throughout week four of pregnancy, I’ve had mild pregnancy symptoms – sore nipples and mild cramps. They come and go. At times, I can sense the changes going on in my body. Other times, I don’t feel anything. It is still very early days. The best symptom of all is my period is now over a week late (we’re doing an unmedicated cycle, so this is a reliable sign). I haven’t had any bleeding since the trace of spotting on day 3 past transfer. I am truly grateful for this.

Week 5 of pregnancy – commitments

To help me stay sane, I’ve made some commitments for the week ahead.

  • Enjoy where I am and be hopeful
  • Go to the London Buddhist Centre on Thursday evening for meditation and Chi Kung (deep breathing exercises)
  • Go to the fireworks on Saturday night and eat Dad 100’s chips
  • Do one final ClearBlue pregnancy test with conception indicator on Friday 4th November
  • Breathe deeply whenever I get scared
  • Do not book private blood tests
  • Do not Google any symptoms or lack of symptoms 

I’ll let you know how I get on! Thank you for always being there xxxxxxx

Today, yesterday, tomorrow

Today

My intention this morning was to write a post about keeping busy and cheerful – and the day did begin on track. I danced to some tunes in the living room. I air-boxed infertility. I had a soak in the bath and enjoyed the warmth on my back. I used generous quantities of sea salt body scrub. Then I tucked into a large bowl of porridge with banana and nuts. I was set up for the day.

After breakfast, I sat down at the computer. I intended to create my plan for staying positive. The blank page would not be filled, however. My eyes glazed over and my brain switched to standby mode. I just couldn’t make myself think. I flicked through social media instead, to find a hook back into the world. Somehow, I managed to send the hospital report to Airbnb, who are considering our refund request for the Ibiza accommodation. It took an hour to achieve that, however, as I couldn’t work out how to attach the document on the website. I cried on the phone to the Airbnb agent, who said I could email the report to him instead – thank you Paolo.

For lunch, we had homemade soup and a long hug, which is when I remembered that I don’t get to decide how this goes. Many people have said to take it easy, that the feelings will come and go. So I went back to bed this afternoon and slept for an hour, which was the perfect medicine.

At tea time, I had peanut butter and honey on toast (a suggestion from a friend on Twitter, which sounded so disgustingly delicious, I had to try it). Then the spark came to do a quick drawing, as we’re packing for the seaside and I didn’t want to go without saying thank you for the loving messages – they take the loneliness out of this experience.

Mum100-IVF-blog-miscarriage-back-soon

Yesterday

We had a three hour wait for our blood test results, which would indicate whether a scan was required. While we waited, we left the hospital for a walk in the sunshine and some lunch (another great suggestion from an IVF sister). On the way back to the Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit, we picked up a new prescription from the hospital pharmacy for Progynova and Cyclogest – to signal our confidence to each other that there was good news ahead. When we returned to the unit, there was an episode of Jeremy Kyle on the waiting room TV. It was a DNA testing episode, where they prove conclusively who is or isn’t the daddy. Cue the shouting and finger pointing and storming off set – nightmare show!

Thankfully, we were called by the nurse. She was quick to tell us the result.
“I’m afraid it’s not good news,” she said. Six little words that ended IVF1.

We were taken through to the doctor’s room. It was Nargis, the same doctor as last Thursday. She was kind and very clear. She said to stop taking the medication now. I felt a bit daft clutching the prescription bag.
“Come back in a week’s time for another blood test,” Nargis said. “We need to monitor the hormone levels, to make sure they drop further.”

Walking out of hospital, there were just sounds – footsteps, alarm beeps, doors opening and closing. It was a strange experience of shrinking inside myself, like a hedgehog curling up. People were featureless shapes in the corridor. It is true that the world blurs with bad news. In the hospital entrance, we were stuck in a buggy jam, but the sensory shutdown protected me. The buggies were just dark blobs. With his arm around my waist, Dad 100 steered me through the gap. When we got to the car, we sat for a minute, holding hands.

Naively, we thought we were prepared for this outcome. Since our double embryo transfer, there have been so many warnings that things weren’t right. Low beta results, continuous bleeding, medics giving opinions – but of course, hope is stronger than all of that. The instinct to protect and believe in the life inside me superseded all the gloom. So when the conclusive statement came – “your beta-HCG levels have dropped, which confirms the miscarriage” – we both felt a fresh punch.

Tomorrow

In the morning, we’re heading to the east coast for our overnight stay. We have booked a comfortable hotel room with a big bed and sea view. I’m really looking forward to the fresh air and the old-fashioned arcade games on Southwold pier. Sunshine is forecast when we get into town. See you all very soon – thank you so much for your friendship.

Mum100-blog-weather-Southwold

I know a big, fat nothing

An extraordinary day

Mum100-blog-IVF-journey-blood-test-results-hopeWe had our second blood test today (day 13 after transfer), following our first pregnancy test three days ago.

The same nurse takes my blood, a kind Filipino woman called Josie. I make a point of asking her name today, because when I walk into her cubicle, she remembers me.

“What was the result of your pregnancy test?” Josie says.

Considering they see hundreds of people in the blood clinic each day, I find it remarkable she recalls this.

“The HCG was very low,” I say. “The fertility clinic said the result was negative, but we’re repeating the test. Just in case.”

Josie smiles. She puts her hand on my arm. “You know, we pray so hard for these things in life. And we do not know when or how they will happen,” she says. “But I am sure this will happen for you.”

Such unexpected kindness, yet again. Josie finds the blood test order on the computer. She inserts the needle into my left arm – I hardly feel the scratch – she patches me up with cotton wool and sticky tape.

“Thank you for remembering me,” I say. “And for your kind words.”

As I leave the blood clinic, a feeling of lightness comes over me. In fact, it’s more than that, I feel joy as I walk along the hospital corridor, past the Costa concession in the reception, out into the bright sunshine.

 

Back at home, two builders arrive at 10.30am. Remember, the mouse problem we had back in March? Well, our furry friends visited us in April and May too. Our landlord sent round his old man to ‘sort it’ – a lovely East End bloke called Terry, with a generous laugh, big hands and a Tenerife tan. Terry and his mate rip out our kitchen units, revealing some rather large holes around the skirting board, where little mice have been sneaking in. They fill the holes with wire and cement. They’re coming back tomorrow to finish the job. Our kitchen is a junkyard right now, but who cares about that!

 

When the time comes for our call to the hospital, Dad 100 joins me on the sofa. I know what the nurse will say, of course – the result is negative and I should stop the medication. I put my mobile on speakerphone. We talk to a nurse called Liz, who has been one of our regular helpers over the last fifteen months.

“Your HCG level has increased to 37,” Liz says.

I almost drop the phone. That’s nearly 4 times higher than Friday. Dad 100 and I look at each other, completely baffled.

“The number is still very low,” Liz says, “so I need to speak to the early pregnancy unit for some advice. I’ll call back later this afternoon.”

Dad 100 and I sit still on the sofa, taking in the news. I put a hand on my belly. After a week of heavy bleeding, we were convinced it was over. We’ve booked a holiday. We’ve eaten pizza and curry. I’ve been dancing around the flat each morning, to get my mojo back. Ooops!

The hospital thought it was over too – it’s only because of suggestions and encouragement from the IVF community, that I requested another test – I must say a special thank you to IVF79, for some very timely advice.

When Liz calls us back, she tells us to come for another blood test on Tuesday 31st May. I should carry on taking the Cyclogest and Progynova. She says if I experience any sudden, sharp pain, on either side, I should go to A&E immediately. She mentions the possibility of ectopic pregnancy, but I’m ‘fingers-in-the-ears’ about this. I am just stunned and delighted with the result.

I call my sister, who is very optimistic by nature. She is thrilled when I share the news. I call my Mum, she is happy but worried. My stepmum and Dad call, they’re going through a big struggle right now, with Dad’s recovery from cancer. I tell my stepmum the news, while my Dad winces with pain in the background (get well soon Dad!). They are, as we are, delighted.

 

This evening, I feel overwhelming peace and gratitude. One or both our embryos are fighting for life inside me. It feels like a miracle, after a week of heavy bleeding.

From now on, I am going to forget everything I think I know. My embie(s) and my body are up to something. I don’t know what is happening, but I’m not meant to know right now. I will celebrate each day and take care of myself.

There is hope.

Big fat negative – or is it?

Mum100-blog-IVF-blood-results-HCG-BFN-confused-beta-testMy poor addlebrained monkey! The Professor is as confused as spinach bubblegum, after our trip to hospital today.

This morning, on arrival at the blood clinic, the ticket counter reads 67. I pull a paper ticket from the reel – my lucky number is 27. I’m relieved we have to go round the clock before it’s my turn. I settle into the last plastic chair in the waiting room, between a suited man playing army war games on his iPad and a lady making an enthusiastic phone call, arms and everything.

Every possible man and woman are in this waiting room – I still find it fascinating, each time I go to the blood clinic, all the faces and possible stories. Battered liver, Sir? Wonky heart, Madam? I put it down to watching Casualty as a child; I always tried to guess what misfortune was going to befall the characters! The ticket counter clicks on. An old lady with an impressive back hunch pushes herself up. It’s a small miracle she doesn’t topple straight over. She totters towards the nurses’ station, chuckling.

Mum100-blog-Money-Master-The-Game-Tony-Robbins-financial-freedomWhile I wait, I read a chunk of this book by Tony Robbins about money management – because there’s now a fair chance that infertility is going to start costing us some serious poundage £££££. I need to get smart about cash! We are the lucky ones, however. We are NHS-funded for up to 3 cycles (which complies with NICE recommendations, unlike many CCGs). We still have two day-6 frozen embryos – our wonderful hope – but our funding will end in January 2017 when I turn 40. There’s also the question of whether to retrieve more eggs this year, privately – but that’s another post.

Back in the blood queue…

My number comes up. A Filipino nurse with a jolly round face draws my blood. She wishes me luck with the result in such a motherly way – I am touched by her kindness, amongst all the bustle of her clinic (there is standing room only when I leave).

As I go, I am certain of the result – BFN.

Fast forward 3 hours…

I’m phoning the nurse at the specified time. The call clicks through to answerphone. A mild stalky feeling creeps in – “pick up, pick up!” – in the message, I confirm my complete availability for their call back, this afternoon.

Five minutes later, I want to call again, but I manage to hold back my inner weirdo. Clearly, I’m still hopeful about the result – it’s the same when I play the lottery. I always, always, think I’m going to win (until the balls prove otherwise) – it’s very childlike magical thinking, which I don’t think will ever leave me.

Around 3.30pm, I’m on my landline to a financial advisor called Norman. He is giving me lots of very sensible information about pensions and sickness protection cover for self-employed people. The hospital call me back on my mobile. I am so ridiculously British about not interrupting a professional, mid-flow, that the hospital’s call goes to my voicemail. I kick myself for my conditioned politeness to authority figures. When I do manage to finish the call with Norm, I scramble to call the hospital.

Thankfully, the nurse answers. She tells me that they have detected HCG in my blood – Professor Wilson faints at this point – it is a very low level of 10, however.

“We’d expect to see  a level of at least 100 on day 10 past transfer,” she says. “So, your pregnancy test is negative and you can stop all your medication.”

However, due to a timely conversation with a fellow blogger yesterday, I did ask the nurse to check with the consultant. “Is it worth carrying on with the meds a few extra days,” I asked her, “then testing again?”

The nurse phoned back twenty minutes later to confirm that I can come back on Monday for another test.

What does it mean, my lovelies?

Well, my gut still says it hasn’t worked for us. However, I must have a nugget of belief, to carry on with the meds until Monday. I know stories of low early HCG results, which then boomed to big numbers days later. Could it be possible after bleeding for seven days?

The loveliest thing about the test result was I felt a swell of pride for my two little embryos. The nurse said the most likely scenario is that a pregnancy did start, but then it arrested. Weirdly, I feel happy about that. I had truly believed nothing had happened at all – no implanation, no nothing. I was ready to blame my womb for being unreceptive. However, the blood results suggest that at least one of them did take. I love them even more for trying to stay.

The conclusion I have come to today is this: I know nothing about what is or what isn’t happening in my womb! I must learn to trust more and have patience.

Tonight, stretched out on the sofa, I am hopeful again – that it is possible, that our time will come.