Eight weeks pregnant: enter The Phantom Period

ivf-blog-mum100-the-phantom-period-pregnancy-after-loss-pregnancy-symptomsI’ve been spooked! This little chap has been floating in and out of my consciousness this week. He has a bunch of shadowy tricks, including disappearing pregnancy symptoms, new pain and spotting.

So, what better way to befriend him than by turning him into a cartoon? Out of my mind and on to the page, you grizzly little ghosticle! Begone with your worrisome ways! I think you’ll agree, The Phantom Period looks harmless enough in his red and pink robes – a misunderstood character, no doubt.

So what’s the story with the Phantom Period?

Well, half way through week eight of pregnancy, all my pregnancy symptoms disappeared. Overnight, nausea and sore breasts faded away and they haven’t returned. On Wednesday, I had light cramps, low down in the centre. It was a continuous mild pain throughout the day. Since then, the cramps have been intermittent throughout each day. On three occasions this week, I’ve had light pink spotting. My emotions became more frazzled. Essentially, everything that normally happens when my period is due has happened.

Except, there has been no proper bleeding – thank the dear moon and planets above! The strangest thing is this: had I not been pregnant, I would have been due on my period this week. Could my body be confused? After 25 years of having regular periods, is my brain still tapping out its monthly rhythm? Come to think of it, I did have cramping for three days at the end of the two-week wait, right around the time when my period was due.

Last night, I had a mega cry, straight after watching Shaun of the Dead! The film was meant to take my mind off things, which it did because it’s so silly – but then the cramping came on again, right as a herd of zombies were attacking Shaun and friends in The Winchester pub! As the credits rolled, all the love and hope I have for our baby came flooding out. It was a proper wobbly-lipped sob. Dad 100 was so lovely, holding my hand and listening to my shaky sentences. He opened up about his feelings too – how wanted our child is and how loved, how much we wish to meet our baby in July.

I went up to the bathroom to wash my face. For the first time in a long, long time, I got on my knees to pray. I’m not religious but I prayed last night like I have never prayed before. I asked all the angels in the skies above Hackney to take care of our child. Sometimes I feel odd praying. Sometimes I wonder to what or to whom I am praying. But not last night. It felt the most natural thing I could do. The prayer came straight from the heart – a direct request for help. And it did give me the most peaceful feeling, to let go of all that fear.

As I was undressing for bed, I realised something else. I was exactly nine weeks pregnant, a huge milestone in itself, but it was also a connection to our first IVF pregnancy. It was at nine weeks pregnant that we finally conceded the loss of our first IVF baby. In the early hours of midsummer’s day, 24th June, surgeons operated to remove our ectopic baby and my left fallopian tube. Perhaps this was always going to be a tough week.

What now?

We spoke to an NHS Direct advisor on the phone. He said the cramping and spotting could either be: a) nothing to worry about or b) a threatened miscarriage. We’ll take option A please! We were advised to go to the Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit for a scan. When Dad 100 phoned the EPAU this morning, we got the answerphone. They were too busy to answer and we should try back later, the message said. When he did get through on the fourth attempt, the receptionist said we should get there before midday to have any chance of being seen. Sunday hours are shorter and there was already a full waiting room.

Would it really help our baby to rush into central London, sit in a waiting room for hours? Or would it better to wait until Monday? We talked it through and decided to stick to our original Sunday plans. I had already arranged a date for us, an exhibition at Tate Modern, followed by a stroll along the River Thames and food at Southbank Christmas market. I’m so glad we stuck to our plans. What better antidote than fresh air, a river walk, Indian street food, a custard tart and a large dose of artistic creativity. The exhibition we went to was called The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John collection. It features around 150 photographs, taken from the 1920s to the 1950s. There are portraits of Salvador Dali and Picasso. There are a set of Irving Penn’s Corner Portraits, which I absolutely loved, including these intimate photos of Duke Ellington, a penguin-like Noel Coward and heavyweight boxer Joe Louis.

There are some incredibly moving documentary photographs by Dorothea Lange, including ‘Migrant Mother’ and ‘Damaged Child’ – I could gaze at those pictures for hours, the life stories behind the images are so compelling, the emotion so vividly captured.

There are Man Ray portraits, including this vintage print of ‘Glass Tears’. I treated myself to a fridge magnet of this one, I love it so much. The exhibition is well worth a visit – it’s on until 7th May 2017.

glass-tears-man-ray

Tonight, I’m back in a place of peace. We are going to the EPAU on Monday to get checked out. My pregnancy app tells me our baby is the size of a green olive. We look forward to seeing our olive’s heartbeat.

Week 9 of pregnancy commitments

Last week, the most enjoyable commitment was to play music with breakfast everyday. We picked a decade each day and played a random selection of tunes from YouTube. My favourite was our roaring 1920s breakfast café – we were transported to a Prohibition era speakeasy, as we ate our scrambled eggs.

This week, my commitments are:

  • Pray and be grateful for each day
  • Get checked out at the Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit
  • Go to Tate Britain with my friend
  • Distract myself with work and writing and reading
  • Enjoy our visit to the Harry Potter studio 
  • Book tickets for a Christmas panto
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Seven weeks pregnant: the blueberry has a heartbeat

ivf-blog-mum100-heartbeat-7-weeks-pregnant-blueberry-instagramHow can something so tiny have a beating heart? I have been playing with this riddle since our 7-week scan on 14th November. I have the same sense of wonder when I watch nature programmes. How do migrating birds know where to fly? How do hatching baby turtles know they must run for the sea? It’s enthralling to witness the natural intelligence of creatures big and small. And it’s humbling to experience that no input is required from my conscious mind for our baby to grow. This tiny human, the size of a blueberry, is designed for living.

At our scan, I felt head-to-toe relief to see our baby, settled in my womb. We watched the silver light pulsating on the screen, its tiny heart in motion. At 7 weeks 2 days, our blueberry measured 10.6mm (crown to rump), slightly smaller than average but still within the range expected for our dates. The yolk sac was 4.1mm (mean measurement), again on the small side but nothing to worry about, the nurse said. At the bottom of the ultrasound report was our official diagnosis: “viable intra-uterine pregnancy – singleton”. Having heard the word “unviable” from doctors many times during our first IVF pregnancy, this was a joy to read. We were discharged from the IVF clinic back to our GP – another first.

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It’s taken me over a week to write this blog because I have had so many feelings come and go. Mostly, there is overwhelming delight, that we were given good news. I have also felt sadness and guilt, thinking about close friends who were told there was no heartbeat at this stage. I know how precious this tiny life is to us. I can only imagine how devastating and shocking that experience must be. I still have some fear of loss in the first trimester, so to help with that we had a free counselling session at our hospital. We both found it helpful to air our fears and be supported by the counsellor. By the end of the session, I was back in the truth of the present moment. This pregnancy has been so calm compared to last time.

Week 7 pregnancy symptoms

I’ve had mild nausea, on and off, but no sickness. I eat regularly and drink lots of water, which stops the nausea when it comes. Sore boobs come and go. Afternoon sleepiness is the main symptom for me, especially when I’ve been active during the day. I have occasional headaches. I welcome all the symptoms as signs of the changes taking place.

Week 8 of pregnancy – commitments

Last week, I stuck to all but one of my commitments. The only one I couldn’t do was plan a date for Friday because Dad 100 went up north to visit his Mum. Instead, I’ve planned a date for Sunday – croissants and eggs for breakfast, then a trip to Tate Modern and a stroll through the Southbank Christmas market. Chocolate for me, mulled wine for Dad 100!

Here are my other commitments:

  • Be grateful for each day that passes calmly
  • Book a scan for next week
  • Go out with work friends on Thursday
  • Play music with breakfast everyday
  • Say no to Dr Google – he is a Dementor!

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.

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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

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!

Mum100blog_mouse_cheese_baby_mouse_happy

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.

Mum100-blog-IVF-miscarriage-balloons

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.

On control and surrender

Mum100-blog-IVF-treatment-journey-letting-go-control-surrenderThis tweet on Tuesday helped me enormously – thank you Susan for saying the right thing at the right time, as so often happens in our community.

Mum100-blog-IVF-treatment-control-surrender-letting-go-peaceWhen I accept that I do not control the miracle of conception, I am free. I am glad to be in with a chance of having a baby. I am proud of myself for having the courage to show up for fertility treatment. By letting go of the final outcome, however, I feel peace.

It’s vital, of course, that I take action towards my dream of being a mum – that I take my medication on time and show up at the hospital, that I inform myself about the process and seek specialist care.

There are so many things, however, that I have no control over:

  • how many embies will grow?
  • will my embies survive the freeze?
  • will they stick in the right place?
  • will my baby grow inside me?
  • will it be completely healthy?
  • when will I hold my baby in my arms?

There are many times when I forget this. I search for magical formulae of precise behaviour combinations – a + b + a + b + y = a baby – right? I try to strike deals with Mother Nature. I chase after the Creative Director of the Universe to sign my agreement.

It feels better to pray

I don’t have a religion but I do pray for guidance and miracles, specifically in terms of how to be useful in this world – and I do feel strongly that I can useful as a mum.

This morning, I started out well. I prayed for direction in all areas of my life, including with motherhood. Then I listened to this Eckhart Tolle video in my meditation practice. I’ve not read any of Eckhart Tolle’s books – he just came up in my YouTube search today. In this video, Eckhart says, “can you feel how painful it is to internally stand in opposition to what is? When you recognise this, you also realise that you are now free to give up this futile conflict, this inner state of war.”

He is right, of course, the clever German sausage!

Feeling the feelings when they come

I also do not control when strong emotions will be triggered in me. Yesterday, for example, Dad 100 and I were out for lunch. I looked across the cafe and there was a little baby in a high chair. He was looking across at me. He smiled so freely, gazing with that absorption and presence that babies often have; it touched my soul in the way that all mothers-at-heart know. I cried with the unexpected connection – because I am a mother, I know this is true. It was good to allow a few tears to come in the cafe, rather than fight them back like a good British citizen! A friend of mine, Sabbir, always says this to me – when the feelings come, feel them, don’t run away. Feelings won’t kill me, but repressing them might.

The best support

In the last few weeks, I’ve experienced many acts of kindness from friends and strangers. The best support is where people allow me to feel whatever I am feeling in that particular moment – sadness, anger, joy, peace, contentment, hope, despair, grief or excitement. I have had all of these feelings in the last few weeks – I really must thank the TTC community online, who just allow me to feel whatever I need to feel. I do not sense fear of the feelings I’m having from people in our community. I’m sure this is down to the soul connection which comes through shared experience, especially where there is pain and great challenge. This connection with others is so freeing – it’s why I feel so welcome here – I can be Glumbags or Christmas on helium or Edgy McSpark or Professor Wilson or just me, Mum 100 – all of my characters seem to be equally welcome!

I think it takes a really emotionally developed person to do that – to just allow other people to express what they’re feeling, in the moment. I really value people in my life who can hold the space with me, without trying to make me “feel better” in an instant, without running away if I am experiencing strong emotion. I know that it’s human nature to want to relieve suffering as quickly as possible. I do this often when I see people in pain. I want to share experiences or suggestions, in an attempt to reduce or remove their pain. But really the truth is this, I don’t control other people’s feelings either.  Maybe it is better to acknowledge the feeling someone is having – to offer hugs and love  and identification where I can – but not to attempt to patch over people’s emotion.

Of course, if a friend has painful feelings that linger for weeks or months on end, then maybe that’s different – possibly that is where good friends do step in and make suggestions – but when feelings first appear, I believe the greatest act of friendship is to allow the person to express themselves, however they choose.

I will come to terms in my own time with this IVF journey – and I truly believe that by feeling my feelings, I will reach acceptance faster. For me, pain and emotions are not the enemy. Fear of pain and emotions is the enemy. And whenever I act from fear, invariably I panic and make the wrong choices.

The three week wait

Next Tuesday is our third blood test, three weeks after our double embryo transfer. Today, I do feel acceptance about the result. I don’t know what is or isn’t happening inside me. As many of you know, we had a strange set of blood test results at day 10 (HCG 10 – BFN) and day 13 (HCG 37) – very low numbers, according to our hospital, and yet the numbers did rise. I still have no pregnancy symptoms at all – but that is fine too.

Mum100-blog-IVF-acceptance-control-surrender-peace-letting-go

I want this level of acceptance that Susan writes about. I know that this process without that principle can be unbearable. When that obsession of the mind takes me over, I feel extreme pressure – that if only I find the right clinic + the right food + the right supplements + the right magic spell + the right wizard, then I will achieve my dream!

I know I’m human, however. I am committing to this principle, but there will be many times along the way that I forget. So, I’m calling on everyone to remind me:

  • to feel the feelings that come
  • to let go of what I don’t control
  • to take action where I can
  • and most of all, to live my life today, as best I can.

I am good enough and today is good enough

Dad 100 and I are getting ready for our little holiday on 6th June. We are both very excited about this trip to the white sand and blue sea. We called the hospital to make sure it was okay to travel in our situation. The nurse said it’s fine. We explained our situation to the travel insurance company, they are fine with it too (hooray!). These are little miracles at work. We can go. We can be free little bees by the sea. I may even treat myself to a new bikini!