Seventeen to nineteen weeks pregnant: inspired by the courage of mothers

I was very touched by three fundraising stories I came across in the past fortnight – stories which show the courage of mothers, with and without children; stories which demonstrate the infinite power of the human spirit.

I am moved by the courage of these three women. Their determination to resolve their quest inspires me, despite all the difficulties they have faced. I can empathise deeply with their stories because I recognise the formidable drive to be a parent, the instinctive need to nurture and raise and love a child.

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Anna Clancy is doing a year of fundraising in memory of her daughter, Erin Susan Clancy. Erin died when she was 22 days old. On 9th November 2016, Erin should have celebrated her fifth birthday. From that date onwards, Anna is aiming to raise £1000 in one year for Saying Goodbye, a charity which supports bereaved families. Anna’s Twitter is @ErinsGift if you want to cheer her on.

Samantha Siebold is raising funds to adopt a little girl, “Roxy”, from Eastern Europe. Roxy is 2 years old and has Down’s Syndrome. If Roxy is not adopted, she may be transferred to a mental institution at a later stage. Samantha is determined to stop this happening, by providing a home for Roxy in the US. Samantha has paid the initial fees and started on the home study process. Roxy is currently on hold in her country for the Siebolds to pursue her adoption and they are going all out with creative fundraising initiatives – including T-shirt and flower bulb sales, as well as their GoFundMe page. To find out more, Samantha’s Twitter is @inevitablysam.

Amelia Abby is fundraising for fertility treatment and egg donation for Saskia. Now in her twelfth year of trying for a baby, Saskia lost her first son in 2005, when he was born prematurely at 23 weeks. She suffered a further two stillbirths in 2006 and 2007, a beloved son and daughter. Saskia went on to have three ectopic pregnancies, losing both of her fallopian tubes. Two recent attempts at IVF – one using egg donation – did not work. However, Saskia still has the courage and energy to continue with her quest and Amelia is helping to raise the funds for her treatment. Say hi to Amelia on Twitter @eggdonor29.

I wish these women so well. Their stories capture the boundless love and energy that I have come to recognise in the hearts of many great people whom I have the pleasure to know in our community.

Seventeen to nineteen weeks pregnant: grateful for every flutter and kick

I believe the desire to have a child is a force completely beyond my control. I was aware of this desire in my teens and twenties, but it really took hold of me six years ago, aged 34. I became a mother in 2011 but it has taken six years to achieve a healthy pregnancy. I wasn’t trying to conceive for all of that time, but still the powerful instinct was there all the way, fully awakened in me, beating at my core. Aged 34, I was a mother, yet to meet her child.

Today, February 7th 2017, I am 19 weeks and 3 days pregnant – yes, I still count the days 🙂 .  I am grateful for every single day that passes without incident. I’ve been feeling flutters and mini ‘kicklets’ for the last three weeks. They are the most wonderful and reassuring signs of life. Each time they come, I’ve pressed Dad 100’s hand to my belly, hoping he can feel a little kick. For the past three weeks, he hasn’t been able to feel the movement.

Until yesterday, that is. We decided to talk to our baby, very early on Monday morning, to see if we could encourage a response. We know the baby can hear us now, so we took turns to speak. After a few minutes of ‘good morning’ and ‘hello in there’ and ‘we love you’ and ‘earth calling baby’ and ‘come on, give your mum a kick!’, Dad 100 caught four little thuds, right in the middle of his palm, one following swiftly from the other. He was utterly delighted with his catch!

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.
“Yes!”

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!

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.

 

Round 1 to infertility

I have three new scars. They tell me I’m recovering well. Neatly stitched, they close this confusing chapter. They will fade but they won’t be forgotten.

On Sunday, I decorated my scars. I drew a cartoon face. I cut out the features and arranged them around my belly button scar – a fine nose, I think you’ll agree! Dad 100 laughed at the photos.

“You’re daft,” he said, which made me happy.


Last week

After six weeks of inconclusive tests, we booked a scan with an early pregnancy specialist. It wasn’t an easy decision because £380 is a lot of money for us to spend on a second opinion. Were we overreacting? I did ask myself this, especially when our hospital downgraded the risk after a scan on Tuesday. I was grateful for the reprieve from methotrexate, I really was, but there was still a quiet voice inside me, whispering that something wasn’t right. Dad 100 was worried too, which decided it for me.

So, on Thursday afternoon, we went to see Mr Jurkovic in a grand Georgian house on Harley Street. He had a large office on the first floor, with high ceilings and comfortable chairs. His face was serious and kind. He asked us questions and listened carefully to our answers – good doctors always have good ears. I handed him a typed summary of the last 44 days: beta-HCG levels, scan results, blood and pain. Through spectacles, he considered the information. Then he asked me to prepare for the scan.

Through the red door

Dad 100 and I held hands during the scan. Would we get another uncertain diagnosis? We turned to the other-worldly images on the screen. Mr Jurkovic confirmed there was no pregnancy in my womb. He found my ovaries and pointed to some blood in my abdomen. Within minutes, he became focused on a round mass. He drew lines across it on the screen, measuring from top to bottom, side to side.

“Here it is,” he said. “The ectopic pregnancy.”

As quick as that, he found it. I felt a spike of adrenalin. To my untrained eyes, it was just a grey blob, but I didn’t doubt him. At 9 weeks pregnant, we saw our pregnancy for the first time. There you are, I thought, all along. I felt relief and sadness and love, all squashed in one ball of emotion.

Mum100-blog-IVF-pregnancy-unknown-location-ectopicThe pregnancy measured 33mm x 27mm x 20mm. It was in such an obvious place – through the red door of last week’s drawing, inside my left fallopian tube.

“How could they have missed this two days ago?” I asked.
“It does happen,” he said. “You really have to know how to look.”

One way to go

Mr Jurkovic advised us to go straight to A&E at the nearest hospital. Emergency surgery was essential, he said, due to risk of rupture and further internal bleeding. Methotrexate injection was not a good option, he said, due to the damage to my fallopian tube.

“How much damage?” I said.

I knew what was coming. I absolutely knew in my gut, before he spoke. My left tube would have to be removed too. He explained the high risk of another ectopic pregnancy with a damaged tube. I looked at Dad 100. His face mirrored mine. Mr Jurkovic reassured us that many women have healthy pregnancies after losing a fallopian tube.

Did it sink in? Not really. There wasn’t time to think about implications. We thanked Mr Jurkovic for the clarity and waited downstairs for his report. We were given cups of hot chocolate. We agreed it would be foolish to ignore his instructions.

The final wait

We went to A&E at University College Hospital. Their systems were down and an angry drinker was swearing in the waiting area, but still we were admitted quickly and assigned a bed. Beneath fluorescent lights, I took off my clothes. Dad 100 helped me to put on the hospital gown, but he couldn’t figure out the ties. A nurse helped out with two efficient knots, then two cannulas were fitted, one on each arm. Then doctors with questions, another scan, more tests.

When it was just us, Dad 100 pulled his chair up beside the bed. We talked about the best experiences we’ve had together:

  • Mum100-blog-IVF-ectopic-pregnancy-Venicewatching the sunrise in Venice on Accademia bridge
  • seeing the brightly painted houses of Burano
  • stargazing on Brighton beach
  • getting lost near Bolney wood on a charity walk
  • the night Dad 100 proposed to me in a teenage disco in Camden, after Italy knocked out England in Euro 2012

“Four years ago tomorrow,” Dad 100 said, “I asked you to marry me.”
“Is it really?” I said.
He’s always been so much better with dates than me.

“Do you understand?”

At 8.30pm, we met our surgeon. He was tall and slim with eyes of pure concentration. He named the procedure: a salpingectomy, left side. He gave precise facts about the operation. He asked me to repeat back what I understood. I passed the comprehension test.

Then we were alone again. Dad 100 and me. Perhaps it was to do with speaking the words out loud, perhaps it was meeting the surgeon, but I woke up then, I realised fully what was about to happen. Sadness covered me like shrink wrap.

“I love you,” Dad 100 said. “More than ever.”

I looked across at him. How wonderful it was to hear those words. I wasn’t diminished in his eyes. In fact, the opposite was true.

Time tricks

The clock raced on – nine, ten, eleven. Each hour disappeared, so very fast, as if hospital gremlins were devouring great chunks of time.

At 11.30pm, the call came from theatre. There was lots of activity in our cubicle. Dad 100 and I kissed goodbye. A porter wheeled my bed out of A&E. There were faces at odd angles, two police officers, pale yellow walls, a well-used coffee machine. Then inside a silver lift, going up and up and up. Out on to a high floor in the longest corridor in the world. Not a soul in sight. There were black windows to my left, London city lights outside. I was floating down a tunnel to a parallel universe. At the end of the corridor, through double doors, there were people inside. They were expecting me.

In the anaesthetic room, the clock said twenty to midnight. Tom the anaesthetist prepared his potions, while his assistant Steven wrapped a blood pressure pad around my arm and clipped my finger into a pulse monitor. I put my hands on my stomach and said a silent prayer. May the life inside me be protected from unnecessary harm.

Tom passed me a plastic mask. He told me to hold it over my nose and mouth. “Nice deep breaths of oxygen,” he said, “you’ll taste vanilla.” The smell was like those air freshener trees in cars, artificial and sweet. I focused on my vanilla breathing, as I watched the second hand on the clock. Time was slow now, almost unmoving. Then Steven tickled my throat and there was the black juggernaut, hurtling towards me, that shocking and irresistible oblivion. Could I beat the blackness? I tried my very best. But soon there was the taste of anaesthetic, seeping from my windpipe on to my tongue.

A hand, a voice

When I came round, I was sobbing and shaking. It was like waking from a nightmare I couldn’t remember. It was an instinctive cry of loss and surrender. There was a clock, 2.15am. Then Dad 100 was by my bedside in the recovery area. I don’t have any visual recollection of him, but I felt his hand holding mine. And there was the sound of his voice, comforting me, though I don’t recall the words. On the ward, our conversations calmed me. When he was falling asleep in the chair, I told him to go home to bed. I drifted in and out of semi-conscious corridors. It wasn’t an unpleasant place to be.

Mum100-blog-IVF-ectopic-pregnancy-hospitalAt dawn, I opened my eyes to surprising light. I studied the diagonal shafts across sea green curtains. The angles and patterns occupied my mind. The sunlight stretched into my cubicle, warm and hopeful.

That’s when I decided to take this photo. At 4.50am on Friday – no longer pregnant and one tube down – I realised I have nothing to hide. I wanted to show my face because I remembered the love in our community. Infertility is not a shameful condition. It’s a fact of my life.

Mum100-blog-IVF-ectopic-pregnancy-surgery

Finally, some proper sleep, two or three hours. When I woke up, I sent a text to Dad 100 – he was already up, just about to leave for the hospital.

New goals

I am happy to be home. I appreciate my bed and sofa. I am lucky to live in a comfortable flat in an area I love. I am getting out when the sun shines.

I am very grateful for Dad 100’s love. He is a strong and available man. He wants children as much as I do, but he’s always said the most important thing is my health. I am lucky to have a partner who values me, above anything we are trying to achieve. I must make sure he knows he is loved.

I am still determined to be a mum – more than ever – but this is not about having a baby at any cost. My goal is now to stay safe, sane and happy while we try to conceive. We’re not in charge of the result.

I have some thank you cards to write this week – to all the NHS departments that have helped us and to Mr Jurkovic. Though this isn’t the outcome we wanted for IVF1, there are still dozens of nurses, doctors and support staff who tried their best for us.

I also need to find some new work. I would love to work in this field now. There must be a good use for this experience.

A faraway star called hope

Mum100-blog-IVF-hope-uncertainty-incomplete-miscarriage-early-pregnancyPseudo sac, pouch of Douglas, foetal pole – a fresh batch of medical phrases I picked up in hospital on Thursday.

If nothing else in IVF1, my vocabulary is growing.

The day starts well

My friend Jessie visits. We met at university sixteen years ago. Somehow we managed to get degrees, despite our commitment to the pub over the road. Jessie has been through so much with pregnancy, including miscarriage, stillbirth and successful pregnancies. Thank God for friends with experience. There is no awkwardness when I tell her my news.

Jessie tells me about having no pregnancy symptoms with her two kids. She tells me about having an early scan with her daughter, where the doctor wrongly diagnosed an incomplete miscarriage. We talk about the loss of her son and how difficult people find it if she mentions him. We also speak about her two teenage kids – who were a tot and a pregnancy bump when our friendship first started.

We head out for lunch. We order juice and healthy-sounding burgers. We pick up our conversation with the plot leaps in friends’ lives, since we last met up.

Suddenly, I have an intense cramp, so strong that I feel sick. I try to stay with the conversation. There is that daft British instinct not to make a fuss (stupid habit!) but then comes the heaviest bleeding yet.

Thankfully, common sense returns. I tell Jessie what is happening. She understands, immediately. We make our apologies to the café staff and head home.

Game shows and new words

Dad 100 and I drive to hospital. We go straight to the Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit. A sleepy lady on reception gives me a clipboard with a form to fill out.

During our afternoon in hospital, we discover that Channel 4 afternoon telly is the same as thirty years ago – Fifteen to One and Countdown – except both shows have different hosts now. The presenters I grew up watching are now retired (William G Stewart) and dead (Richard Whiteley). I laugh at the swift reminder of my age.

Within ten minutes, we see a nurse who takes brief details. Back to the waiting room for more quiz questions – I get one right about the Pixar movie, Inside Out (great film) – then we are called for a scan.

The sonographer is an Irish man called Robert. I ask him to show me what he can see on the screen. He shows me my right ovary, normal he says. I look at the grey ball with black follicles, an asteroid in space. Then we whizz over to my left ovary – abnormal, he says, due to an endometriomal cyst. Old news, Robert, old news.

Robert says there is fluid in my pouch of Douglas – er, sorry? my pouch of whom exactly? It turns out there’s a cavity between my uterus and rectum, named after a Scottish anatomist called Dr James Douglas. The good doctor explored this area of female anatomy in the early 18th century. He then named body parts he discovered after himself, including said pouch!

A jellyfish head

Then Robert shows me my uterus. The consulting room suddenly feels wide open, roofless. Time stops for at least twelve heartbeats. Robert points the device at the top of my uterus. He shows me what looks like a jellyfish head – a floaty ghostlike appearance.

“It looks like a small gestational sac,” Robert says.
“Oh, really?” I say.
Dad 100 and I peer at the screen, hopeful, a bit tearful.
“But I can’t see anything inside it,” Robert says. “There’s no foetal pole or yolk sac, so it may be a pseudo sac.”

A pseudo what?

When I am dressed, I ask Robert to explain further. He is perching on the clinical waste bin by the door, however – he’s a scan and run kind of guy.

“Take a seat in the waiting room,” he says. “The doctor will call you soon.”

Cue the purple plastic chairs and the theme tune for Countdown. Dad 100 and I lose ourselves in the letters and numbers games. I get a 7 letter word – PLASTER. I award myself an extra mark for the relevance to our location.

The doctor calls

Nargis is her name. She is friendly with a round face, around fifty years old. I am reassured by her slightly messy hair. In the consulting room, Nargis invites us to take a seat.

I peer at Robert’s report on her desk, while Nargis types up notes. Have you ever tried reading medical words upside down? It’s a skill, I tell you, to cross your eyes in exactly the right way, whilst trying not to be caught out.

I learn from my snooping that I’m 6 weeks pregnant. The expected delivery date is 26th January 2017, tucked between my birthday on 16th January and Dad 100’s birthday on 4th February.

I see Robert’s report of the 2mm gestational sac and I feel that wide-open-stand-still feeling.

Then comes Robert’s diagnosis: “incomplete miscarriage.”

Okay, I’ll stop reading now.

Report

“There is always a chance”

“So, what is happening actually?” Nargis says. She has an uplifting smile.
“No idea,” I say.
“We have seen a very tiny sac. It could be a pseudo sac or it could be a pregnancy sac. At this moment, we are not sure.”
“So, there is still a chance that there’s something in there?”
“Might be, I don’t know, but the pregnancy hormone level suggests that it could be an incomplete miscarriage or ectopic. We have not seen any foetal pole. No yolk sac.”

Nargis takes time with us. She asks questions about the level of bleeding and pain. She doesn’t rush us, which is the best gift any doctor can give. We can think and breathe and ask questions. Nargis takes some more blood from my arm, to test beta-HCG levels and iron.

“We will do another scan on Tuesday and we will test your hormone levels again,” Nargis says. “Then we will discuss what management we will do.”
“Is there still a possibility of things working out?” Dad 100 asks.
“I am not sure at the moment. There might be. There is a sac. To see something inside, the hormone level should be around 1000.”

I ask Nargis about other explanations for the sac. Do they sometimes form without anything in them? She says it could be that – a pseudo sac – an impression that I am pregnant. Sometimes the uterus will do that, apparently, in response to a pregnancy of unknown location. It can also mean an incomplete miscarriage. She says the fluid in my pouch of Douglas may have come from the gestational sac.

“In your experience, Nargis, are there ever cases with this amount of bleeding, where things work out?”
She smiles, takes a breath.
“Be truthful, it’s okay,” I say.
“It could be a miscarriage. I don’t want to give you false hope. But there is always a chance. So please carry on with the progesterone and oestrogen until Tuesday.”

Mum100-blog-IVF-hope-uncertainty-incomplete-miscarriage-early-pregnancyThere it is again – a faraway star called hope, twinkling constantly.

Omelettes and psychics

At 4.15pm, Dad 100 and I finally get some lunch in our favourite caff near the hospital. Spanish omelette, chips and peas. Oh, the relief of food. We both feel calmer with grub to demolish over a debrief session.

We agree – we have not yet heard conclusive proof that it’s over. There is the possibility that it was too early to see anything in the sac. I tell Dad 100 about Jessie’s story of her early scan and the wrong diagnosis of incomplete miscarriage. How we reach for hopeful stories at these times. We devour our food like hungry bears and head up to the counter to pay.

A woman calls out to me from across the café.
“I like your shoes,” she says.
“Thank you.”
She has wild dark hair. She is wearing clothes that could either be pyjamas or comfy casuals. She fixes her eyes on me.
“I am psychic,” she says.
I’m always intrigued by strange characters, so I stop for a chat.
“What’s your name?” I say.
“Sybil. Do you have an education, a husband?”
I say yes for simplicity, although Dad 100 and I are far too lazy bones to organise a wedding.
“Ask me something,” she says.
“Okay, why not? What do you think will happen next Tuesday?”
“It may go up, it may go down,” Sybil says. “But really, the most important thing is balance.”
Sybil then says something about taking care of my heart, which I don’t quite catch. Her parting line is this, “you need to believe in something.”
“Thanks Sybil, that’s good advice.”
“Thank you for talking to me,” she says. “I am staying in the hospital. You can come and visit me there, if you like.”

Outside the caff, it makes us smile. That we still have hope, despite all the odds. That we still believe there may be miraculous news, possibly even delivered by Sybil the psychic!

It’s great to find out that hope is stronger than fear.

How not to do the two week wait

We learn along the way in this glorious pond called life, don’t we? And what I’ve learned since our double embryo transfer is:

  1. It’s called the two week wait for a reason
  2. I am not very good at waiting

Yesterday, our third beta/HCG result was 321 – up from 37 last week. We have managed to baffle our doctors enough for them to refer us elsewhere. Next Tuesday, we’re off on a mini-break to the Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit, to have a scan.

Er, rewind a minute – was that number in the hundreds? Three hundred and twenty one? Yes, it was my loves! There is absolutely no denying it now. I am pregnant. Astonished and thrilled.

Mum100-blog-how-not-to-do-two-week-wait-IVFYesterday, the nurse said again that our beta/HCG numbers are still too low. ‘Possible ectopic’, ‘unviable’, ‘not what we normally see’. Despite these predictions, I’m taking in the warm encouragement from our community online. The medics do not know everything – and until our scan next Tuesday, I am sticking my fingers in my ears about possible complications.

Instead, I will believe in my baby or babies growing inside me, until such time as someone proves conclusively otherwise – as one IVF friend said to me this week, medical professionals often think the worst.

The way I see it is this – let’s say I have two kids. I’m at their sports day, standing by the race track with the athletics coach. Ready, set, go! The coach blows the whistle and all the kids fly off the starting blocks, except mine. The coach blows again, long and hard. My kids make a slow start but they’re having a go. The coach turns to me and says: “rubbish runners, your kids, look at all the others so much further ahead.”

What would I do in this situation?

  • Would I cheer my kids on?
  • Would I feel proud of them for having a go?
  • Would I still believe they can finish the race?

Of course I would! I would never give up on them and go home. And if the athletics coach piped up again – ‘some kids should just take Art class instead’ – I would bop his boney bum with a baton!

I just need to be a mum right now, to the little life or lives growing inside me. I am truly grateful for this strange and wonderful experience of being pregnant.

THANK YOU MOTHER NATURE FOR OUR FIRST BFP!!

From this point forward, I solemnly promise to:

  • Believe in the life or lives inside me
  • Talk to my future kids everyday
  • Take it day by day
  • Have more fun and distract myself more
  • Stop believing that doctors and nurses know everything
  • Refrain from panic buying another holiday (we have to cancel our holiday next week, but I honestly don’t mind)
  • Eat a combination of healthy food and treats, as it doesn’t have to be perfect
  • Avoid Dr Google – my symptoms are what they are, no amount of misinformation can change them


Mistakes I’ve made…

I also wanted to record here all the mistakes I made in our first two week wait, mainly as impulsive reactions to the ongoing bleeding. If we go through IVF again, I can remind myself what not to do.

Transfer day: two 5-day blastocysts come home to mamma – the happiest day.

1 day and 2 days past transfer: nothing to report – I am confident I will breeze through the 2 weeks.

3 days past 5 day transfer: Cramping, dark blood, mild panic sets in. I Google my symptoms. My TTC sisters cheer me up.

4dp5dt: Fresh bleeding begins – I think it’s all over. I draw a butterfly for about three hours – therapy!

5dp5dt: Bleeding, full flow – I decide the time is now to get a strong body. I go for a run around our local park.

6dp5dt: Bleeding, full flow – sod the TTC menu, I eat an enormous pizza.

7dp5dt: Bleeding, full flow – we book flights to Ibiza and a hotel in Formentera. I dance around the flat to celebrate. Infertility, you will not beat us!

8dp5dt: Bleeding, full flow – I do a handstand to prove I’m still young.

9dp5dt: Bleeding, full flow – we book airbnb apartment in Ibiza Town and more dancing.

10dp5dt: Dark blood – first beta/HCG test is 10 – the hospital say it’s a negative pregnancy test. They advise me to stop taking Progynova and Cyclogest. After encouragement from the TTC community, however, I request a second blood test. Hospital agree, although it’s not something they normally do.

11dp5dt: Trace of dark blood.

12dp5t: Bleeding stops – eat a large curry.

13dp5dt: Second beta/HCG test is 37 – total surprise at the rise. The nurse says the “unviable” word.

14dp5dt: an uneventful day – the official end of the two week wait. Clearance from hospital to go on holiday – hooray!

15dp5dt: Cramping, trace of blood.

16dp5dt: Spotting fresh blood.

17dp5dt: Spotting fresh blood.

18dp5dt: Another uneventful day – hooray.

19dp5dt: Dark blood.

20dp5dt: Dark blood.

21dp5dt: Dark blood and mild cramps. Third beta/HCG test is 321 – utter disbelief and delight, I am pregnant!! Nurse says they suspect ectopic. She refers us to Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit. Advised not to travel. Start process of cancelling our holiday bookings.

22dp5dt: Dark blood and mild cramps. Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit call. Scan booked for Tuesday 6th June at 11am.