Nine to eleven weeks pregnant: a little box of hope

We all need some belief at Christmas. So here’s a little box of hope for all of us.

mum100-ivf-infertility-blog-a-little-box-of-hope-at-xmasThis year, I’ve witnessed many friends online and in life, bravely walking down Infertility Road. Unique to each of us, this is the most daunting road I’ve ever travelled. There is no guarantee of arrival at a delightful destination. There is no map to tell me the length of the journey. I’ve been lost at times. With help, I’ve found my way again. On Infertility Road, there are no warnings of the pitfalls ahead. There are no signs, promising refreshment around the next bend. There is encouragement, however. People wave and cheer, women and men who have travelled this road before, who have earned their spot in a shady deckchair beside Infertility Road. They’re the ones sipping pink lemonade or ice cold beer. They cannot tell anyone where their road will lead, but those cheerful soul sisters and brothers make this journey possible.

This Christmas, I have four wishes for all of us:

  • I wish that we all have people to talk to who listen and understand
  • I wish we all have enough hope to reach the next rest stop along the way
  • I wish that when each of us most needs it, a hand will reach out for ours, pull us in the right direction
  • I wish we all know we can ask for help – sometimes the people who seem the happiest, the most resilient, they are the ones who can be most in need of support.

We all have our part to play in this community. To cheer on, to comfort, to care for each other – and to allow people to do the same for us.

Week 9 to 11 of pregnancy – grateful and dare I say it, relaxed!

As 2016 comes to an end, I am very grateful to be pregnant. The small scare we had at 8 to 9 weeks’ pregnant turned out to be nothing. We were checked out at the Early Pregnancy Unit at St Thomas’s Hospital. We had various tests and an ultrasound scan, which revealed our mini-being with a clear beating heart, measuring 25.6mm (crown to rump) at 9 weeks 2 days. The scan pic looked not unlike a baby duck 🙂

chill-mum

I have relaxed since our trip to hospital. The experience proved again that the equations I do in my head about pregnancy symptoms and what they mean are often wrong. This is the furthest I have ever been in pregnancy, so how would I really know if a symptom is a good sign or a bad sign or nothing to do with the pregnancy at all? Some anxiety is understandable after a previous loss but trying to know everything, at all times, creates more anxiety than it solves.

I have also been very grateful for distractions in December. Some new work has landed in my lap – ideal timing to get a lovely project land before Christmas. Thank you to the Gods of Fortune for the helping hand. I have been Christmas shopping for my nieces and nephew. An old school friend makes handmade clothes at Huxter. You get to choose the main fabric. I love her bold and bright patterns. Here’s the outfit I bought for my two year old niece.

huxter-kids-clothing

My seven year old niece has decided she wants to be the next Stella McCartney, so I’ve bought her a dressmaker’s dummy to go with the sewing machine from my brother. She’ll be taking the fashion world by storm in 2017. My nephew has some Hamley’s Magic Pens, which I’m tempted to use myself for cartoons. We still need to get him one more gift – so if you have any inspired ideas for five year old boys, please let me know.

12 week pregnancy scan

It’s obvious to say, but all I want for Christmas is a healthy baby in July 2017. We have our 12-week scan on Tuesday 20th December. It feels a huge milestone to reach. All of our baby’s critical development is complete. My app tells me our baby is now the size of a clementine, which feels so promising. We will have screening tests for Down’s, Patau and Edwards Syndrome tomorrow. We get initial results on the day. I feel calm and clear-headed about this. I just can’t wait to see our baby again, waving and kicking on the screen.

So Christmas week, here we come

There will be panto at the Hackney Empire, last minute shopping and a Christmas roast on Friday. We’re whizzing up north on Christmas Eve to see Dad 100’s Mum. Good company, loads of food and snoozing in front of TV specials.

I’m wishing all you lovely people a happy Christmas.

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.

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.

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.