On naming a little human being

Natalie Rose, July 2017

I am so excited and delighted and grateful to introduce you to our daughter. In the coming weeks, I have much more to share with you about our labour, delivery and the first days with our girl. So many things really surprised me about the final stage of bringing our child here. Phil and I both made discoveries about ourselves, including uncovering unknown strengths and finding out the beauty of surrender.

For now, I want to share this with you: in our little bubble of newborn rapture, we have settled on the name for our beloved child. Although we had already prepared a shortlist of names before the birth, we both wanted to wait until we met our daughter to name her. Once she arrived, we wanted to get home from hospital, to allow time and space for the right name to emerge. Her name appeared on day three of life and we knew instantly it was the perfect fit.

Her first name is Natalie, which was on our original shortlist of names. Phil and I both love the connection in the name to birth and birthday, and though neither of us are religious, we love the spiritual significance of the name, referring to the birth of Christ.

Her middle name is Rose. This name came to us as a shortening of Rosemarie, which is a version of my Mum’s middle name. We became more certain this was our daughter’s middle name after her three year old cousin, Isabella, visited us in hospital four hours after her birth. Isabella decided our baby looked like a Rosie. We love Rose for the simplicity and of course the reminder of England’s most beautiful flower, universally linked to the expression of love.

We are truly honoured to meet and name this little human being. Thank you Mother Nature. Thank you science. It feels like nothing short of a miracle to hold Natalie Rose in our arms.

Natalie Rose, July 2017Natalie Rose, July 2017
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Thirty-three to thirty-eight weeks’ pregnant: what worked for me with gestational diabetes

After the initial shock of my gestational diabetes diagnosis, I got down to business. Four times a day, I tested droplets of blood for glucose. I wrote down my scores and meals in a notebook. A friend sent me simple food guidelines. The Gestational Diabetes UK website has been a phenomenal resource. I also attended a brilliant education session at St Thomas’s hospital.

All of the above brought me peace of mind because I discovered:

I began to see this as a great opportunity to soak up advice on nutrition, as although the condition should go away after pregnancy, there is a higher chance of me developing diabetes in later life.

Soon, I learned what food worked for me. I am one of the lucky ones with the choice to manage gestational diabetes with food alone. It felt like a huge reprieve to see my early blood glucose scores come up good – not that there is anything wrong with medication, but being an IVF mum, I have an aversion to yet more medical intervention, unless absolutely necessary.

Another huge positive after the diagnosis has been the surge of motivation to stay active and relaxed. I’ve done a pregnancy yoga video most mornings since week 33 of pregnancy and I’ve upped my walks. I’ve been loving the sunshine and I have meditated everyday to stay chilled, as stress can spike blood sugar.

The best news of all is this: at our 34 week and 36 week scans, we saw the impact of the changes I made on our baby. After two weeks, my amniotic fluid came back down within normal levels. After four weeks, our baby’s abdominal measurement had reduced from the 97th centile to the 73rd centile. That was the truly the best feeling – to see the difference it made to our baby.

So, I’m sharing here the main discoveries that have helped me to manage gestational diabetes with a food plan alone. (Please note: these suggestions won’t work for everyone – but hopefully they are a starting point after a gestational diabetes diagnosis).

1) Dairy milk is more carbohydrate than protein

Mum100-IVF-blog-gestational-diabetes-semi-skimmed-milk-nutritional-contentBefore my diagnosis, I didn’t know this! Whilst I knew there was carbohydrate in dairy milk, in the form of lactose, I always thought the white stuff was much higher in protein. There was an old association in my head with body builders, downing pints of milk to bulk up their muscles. Yes, there is protein in dairy milk, but there is actually more carbohydrate.

For me, I found there was no need to restrict dairy milk entirely. I still have ordinary milk in tea, for example, and I used ordinary milk to make a cheese sauce. I just don’t have glasses of the stuff anymore and I switched to an alternative milk at breakfast.

2) Sometimes ‘healthy’ isn’t what it seems

Mum100-IVF-pregnancy-blog-gestational-diabetes-dairy-milk-alpro-almond-milk-rude-health-almond-milk-carbohydrate-nutritional-informationInitially, I switched to a ‘healthy’ milk alternative to make my porridge. I picked Rude Health unsweetened almond milk because it sounded just the job. Everything about the packaging shouted this was a much better choice for me than semi-skimmed dairy milk. So, I bought it!

I learned through this experience to read the nutritional labels. Having Rude Health almond milk with porridge spiked my blood glucose to 8.2 (over the 7.0 limit). Thanks to helpful GD mums online, I then switched to Alpro unsweetened almond milk with porridge, which keeps my post-breakfast blood test under 7.0.

3) No more Daddy bear bowls!

Mum100-IVF-pregnancy-blog-gestational-diabetes-porridge-portion-controlOn the subject of porridge, some women with gestational diabetes can tolerate porridge and others can’t. I fall somewhere in the middle. For me, it’s completely down to portion control. One of the main things that I think was spiking me over the blood glucose limit before the diagnosis were the Daddy bear bowls of porridge I gobbled down, two to three times a week. My typical portion before the diagnosis was enough for two adults, according to the recommended serving size. Add to that the lactose in dairy milk, the concentrated sugars in sultanas or dried goji berries, then a chopped apple or banana on top – and really this staple breakfast choice was carbs on carbs on carbs on carbs!

Through weighing out my porridge oats, I discovered that I can tolerate a smaller (aka normal size!) portion of porridge (35-40g), made with Alpro unsweetened almond milk (no carbs), mixed nuts and a handful of berries. I always stir in a spoon of peanut butter too (heaven!).

4) Peanut butter is my lover!

Mum100-IVF-pregnancy-blog-gestational-diabetes-pip-nut-peanut-butterI’m now obsessed with peanut butter! Fuck, it has literally saved me these last 7 weeks – it’s a total love thing!

My peanut butter of choice is Pip & Nut, as it is just made with peanuts and salt, no added sugar. I need some food in my life that feels naughty and peanut butter totally does it for me. Okay, so ladelling it down is probably not a great idea, as it’s high fat, but a spoonful of Pip & Nut transforms me from feeling deprived to feeling totally satisfied!

5) Breakfast is now way more interesting

Mum100-IVF-pregnancy-blog-gestational-diabetes-breakfast-variety-optionsHaving gestational diabetes challenged me to vary my breakfasts. For a long time, we did a three-day rotation in our household between the following:

  • Daddy bear bowl of porridge with fruit
  • Eggs of all kinds on toast
  • Some combination of avocado, tomatoes and mushroom on toast

After the GD diagnosis, I started to think about a protein base for all my breakfasts. I still need some carbs in my breakfast, as without that balance I’m starving by 10.30.

These are some of the breakfasts I’ve really enjoyed and they have kept my post-breakfast blood glucose reading under 7.0:

  • Smoked salmon and cottage cheese on granary or sourdough toast (1-2 slices are okay for me, but this varies person to person)
  • Grilled mackerel with asparagus and lemon, on granary or sourdough toast spread with Philadelphia cheese
  • Homemade houmous with vegetable crudités and hardboiled eggs
  • Mozzarella (either hard or soft) with grilled cherry tomatoes and basil on granary or sourdough toast
  • Peanut butter porridge (max 35-40g) with Alpro unsweetened almond milk, soaked mixed nuts and berries
  • Eggs of any kind with spinach, followed by mixed berries and natural yoghurt
  • Scrambled tofu, garlic mushrooms, spinach and tomatoes (I had this out at a vegetarian breakfast café and it was deeee-licious!)
  • Avocado with lime, chilli & mixed seeds with boiled egg and toast

6) How to plate up lunch

Mum100-IVF-blog-gestational-diabetes-lunch-dinner-plate-protein-carbohydrate-vegetablesMainly, I’ve eaten my biggest meal of the day at lunch. This was suggested by our hospital, as I am more likely to burn off excess carbohydrates with activity during the day.

The diabetes nurse suggested dividing up the plate this way:

  • a quarter of the plate protein
  • a quarter carbohydrate
  • half the plate of non-starchy vegetables (ideally a variety including greens)

7) Berry heaven and the useful fruit rule!

Mum100-IVF-pregnancy-blog-gestational-diabetes-blueberries-strawberries-raspberries-fruitBerries have become my sweetest friend. I learned at the St Thomas’s hospital education session a rule of thumb about fruit sugar. Generally speaking, the closer a fruit grows to the equator, the higher the sugar content. So northern hemisphere fruits, as a general rule, are lower in sugar.

Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries work well for me. Pears are better for my blood glucose score than apples. I steer clear of bananas, pineapple, mangoes, figs, all dried fruit and fruit juices, as well as big bowls of fruit salad. Here’s a helpful list of glycemic load in fruits.

I have come to really love a small bowl of mixed berries with natural yogurt and some mixed nuts – it might sound boring but eating a ripe strawberry, very slowly, is a sensational experience!

8) Eggs – my most faithful friend!

Mum100-IVF-blog-gestational-diabetes-eggs-fried-boiled-scrambledWhen my post-breakfast scores veered too close to the 7.0 mark, I reverted to eggs.

Eggs have never failed me, including served on toast.

Good quality protein and fat, B vitamins, vitamin D, selenium and more goodness besides.

Quick to prepare, tasty, a pinch of salt and pepper – what’s not to love?

9) Food pairing for snacks

Mum100-IVF-blog-gestational-diabetes-snacks-food-pairing-carbohydrate-protein-fatThis is a great tip I picked up from the brilliant Gestational Diabetes UK website – I’m so grateful to them because it solved a riddle for me about snacks. On their website, they say #NeverEatANakedCarb because:

Carbs = high blood sugar levels 

Carbs + fat + protein = lower blood sugar levels

Food pairing snacks that work for me are:

  • Half a green apple with peanut butter dip – so good (any excuse to indulge my peanut butter obsession!)
  • Slice of cheddar cheese and half a pear
  • Tandoori prawns with mint yoghurt dip
  • Houmous, handful of nuts and red pepper
  • One slice of peanut butter on toast
  • Philadelphia cheese with carrot and celery
  • One slice of guacamole on toast

10) There’s taking things too far!

Mum100-blog-doctors-orders-chips-gestational-diabetes-ketones-urineEarly in my new routine, ketones started to show up in my urine at my hospital check ups. Ketones are produced when the body burns fat stores. There can be a number of reasons for this with gestational diabetes – see the Gestational Diabetes UK website for good advice on ketones – but in my case, it was because I restricted carbs too much early on.

So, the advice from my diabetes team was to add more carbohydrate back into my diet – I enjoyed that check up enormously and the adjustments I made worked.

11) Yes, obviously slabs of cake and ice cream are off the menu in pregnancy, but…

Mum100-IVF-pregnancy-blog-gestational-diabetes-temptation-chocolate-brazil-nuts-almonds…occasionally in the last seven weeks, I have given in to my old friend chocolate, paired with a few nuts.

Only a couple of squares, mind you! And I let it melt very slowly in the mouth.

After pregnancy, I don’t have to test my blood anymore but I have decided to use my testing kit to learn about the effects of sugary snacks and desserts on my system.

12) Slow down

Mum100-IVF-blog-gestational-diabetes-slow-eatingBefore the GD diagnosis, I wasn’t a fast eater, but I have been learning how to eat my food more mindfully.

I appreciate each mouthful more and savour the food. I experience the textures and tastes more.

Slowing down really helps me to know when I’m full too.

And anyway, the tortoise always beats the hare, right?

Thirty-two weeks pregnant: a diagnosis

A silent sonographer in a pregnancy scan is always unnerving. We have Robert for our 32-week scan and apart from the briefest hello in a strong Scottish accent, then an invitation to lie on the bed, we don’t do small talk. Phil sits in the plastic chair beside me. We hold hands and look up at the monitor, excited to see our space baby beamed on screen.

We have this scan at 32 weeks due to my age. Our hospital like to keep tabs on the over 40s and to be honest, I’m happy about that. Robert gets down to his measurements. He draws lines across our baby’s head. He draws a circle around the stomach. He traces the length of the femur bone. I recognise all those parts easily.

Then Robert measures top to bottom in dark pockets. I ask what he is measuring and he says amniotic fluid: click, click, reposition, click, click, reposition.
“Does everything look okay?” I say.
Robert plays us the reassuring pulse of our baby’s heartbeat – swish swoosh swish swoosh – a flood of relief seeps from my head through my heart to my stomach. Robert switches position to the umbilical cord. He flicks on the bright red and blue blood flow. Two colours good, I think to myself.

I am dying to ask Robert, “please can you show us our baby’s face?”
I really want a long look at the face, as I’d been told by a friend that features are really defined at this stage of the pregnancy, even on a 2D ultrasound. We do get a quick glimpse of full lips and nostrils as Robert moves up again, a breathless moment of wonder for me – but then the ultrasound wand moves away and I can’t quite bring myself to ask Robert to show us the face.

For the rest of the scan, Robert returns to the abdomen and those pockets of amniotic fluid. He finishes up and walks over to his computer.
“I’ll be a few minutes writing up my notes,” he says.

Holding hands, Phil and I look up at the monitor for clues. The screen is now displaying a table of figures. My eyes fix on the estimated weight – 5lb 3oz – confirmation we’re in for a big baby. I had expected it with a family history of 9 and 10 pounders. I whisper the weight to Phil and laugh.

I can’t help but ask Robert another question. “I have been leaking fluid every few days since week 24. Was there enough amniotic fluid?”
A new, long word flies our way – polyhydramnios – like a boomerang, the word wraps around my head and flies back across the room at Robert, who offers up the definition.
“Actually, your fluid is too high,” Robert says. “It’s increased since your last scan.”

IVF-pregnancy-blog-32-week-scan-polyhydramnios-excess-amniotic-fluid

A dozen competing questions ping into my head.
“Is everything okay with our baby?” I say.
Robert says he’s referring us to the diabetes team.
“I’m recommending a gestational diabetes test,” he says. “And we’ll see you for another scan at 34 weeks.”
My stomach shrinks. I feel instant guilt.
Phil takes the referral form from Robert.
All I can think is – god, have I harmed my baby?
I want to ask Robert so many more questions but everything about his body language says his job is done. He encourages us to phone the diabetes team in the morning, to speed up getting an appointment.

Outside the scan room, we sit down. Phil says it’s taken the wind out of his sails and I agree. We had both expected another dose of reassurance and a final takeaway scan pic. I do a rapid internet search on my phone – stupid, I know! In Google Images, I am led immediately to the most extreme cases of gestational diabetes. There are pictures of enormous babies – 13, 14, 15 pound babies – so swollen, some of them wired up.

Stop!

Breathe!

Put down the internet!

Gestational diabetes testing

IVF-pregnancy-blog-gestational-diabetes-testing-Diabetes-Endocrine-UnitEarly the next morning, I phone the diabetes team and ask to be tested as soon as possible. A lovely nurse, Christine, squeezes me in the next morning. They are fully booked, she tells me, but she makes it happen. Christine is ‘minor miracle number one’!

On test day, I arrive with an empty stomach to an empty hospital corridor. I’m early, a sign of my nerves. I wait for the locked doors to open, then I go through the blue doors to the Diabetes & Endocrine Unit.

IVF-pregnancy-blog-gestational-diabetes-testing-Rapilose-solution8.30am: I am called through to the nurses’ station for a fasting blood test – as luck would have it, Christine is my nurse. I thank her for such a swift appointment. She has lovely round cheeks when she smiles.

After taking my blood, Christine gives me a sachet of Rapilose OGTT Solution. She says to drink all of it, fast. It is incredibly sweet and thick and heavy. My lips and tongue and throat are coated with a syrup snail trail. Yuck!

Christine tells me to wait for two hours in the waiting room. I sit next to another pregnant woman (though you can’t tell she’s pregnant to look at her). We get chatting and I find out she’s also here for gestational diabetes testing. She has a German accent and is wearing a smart green office dress – I find out later she works in the City for Lloyds. This is her second pregnancy. She had gestational diabetes in her first pregnancy, so they are testing her early this time. I’m calling my German friend ‘minor miracle number two’ in this tale, because she is very reassuring about being able to manage the condition, if my test is positive. She is completely as you would assume a German banker would be – practical, logical, unflappable! Those sucking thoughts – mainly “have I completely screwed up this pregnancy?” – they fade away as she shares her experience.

9.30am: An hour after the sickly Rapilose and I have to excuse myself from the chat with my German companion. I close my eyes and lean my washing machine head back against the hard wall. I feel sick, yet I am also craving soft boiled eggs. I think about the first scoop of white from the top of the shell. I drink some water and sit with the fuzzy whirl of nausea. I’m a reluctant passenger on a waltzer, the fairground attendant madly spinning me round.

9.50am: Phew, my head whirl subsides and I start to feel human again. I vow never to eat sugar again!

10.30am: The clock hits the two hour mark and almost to the minute, Christine calls me through to the nurses’ station.
“How are you feeling?” she says.
“I’m okay now,” I say, “but I felt pretty out of it in the middle.”

Christine nods her head and draws a kind smile up her face. I feel relaxed in her care. She plugs a test strip into a digital meter. She pricks my finger, pressing out a bead of blood. She dips the test strip and sucks the red up the strip. The device beeps to confirm enough blood has been drawn in. The result takes a few seconds to display…

9.9

“It’s high,” Christine said. “I thought it might be after how you’ve been feeling. We’ll take some blood too, just to be sure, then you can go and get something to eat. Please come back in half an hour for your results.”

10.50am: The German pregnant lady and I head down to the ground floor of Guy’s Hospital. We stake out the café bar. They are ten minutes away from starting lunch service. I scan the menu, ruling out pasta carbonara, chips and everything below the dessert heading. There’s beef chilli on the menu and broccoli, which seem safe enough. I decide to pass on the white rice. My German friend wants the same as me.

We wait for feeding time like two ravenous zoo animals.

11.30am: Back in the clinic, Christine confirms my diagnosis of gestational diabetes. She takes me through to another nurse, Yolanda, who explains the next steps. I need to test my blood four times a day – once when I wake up and then two hours after breakfast, lunch and dinner. She shows me how to use the blood glucose monitoring kit.

As Yolanda speaks, I scribble down notes, as if it’s my magic superpower. Note-taking has always been my coping mechanism when I feel clueless. The nurse tells me to attend an education session on Friday about nutrition, effects on the baby and implications for labour and birth. She says the baby may have to come early, depending on how things go over the next few weeks. Yolanda gives me leaflets to read at home, quickly paraphrasing their contents. I begin to feel like I’m being left behind in a running race, with speedy Yolanda sprinting ahead of me, calling back instructions that I can’t hear.
“Please, can you slow down?” I blurt out.
I think I hear sarcasm when Yolanda says, “of course, I’ll slow down for you. What don’t you understand? Please, tell me.”
She’s not being sarcastic. I am definitely being over-sensitive, because in the silence of the pause, in the small consultation room, my cheeks get hot and tears come.
“Look, I’m sorry,” I say, “it’s just taken a lot of time to get here. We lost our baby in pregnancy last year. I just want to make sure I understand what you’re telling me to do.”

IVF-pregnancy-blog-gestational-diabetes-testing-blood-glucose-monitoring-system-AgaMatrixYolanda goes over the information again, slower. I can sense she’s running late for the next appointment but the information does go in better this time. Essentially, if I get two high blood glucose scores, over 5.5 first thing in the morning or over 7.0 after meals, then I should phone the diabetes team and they will discuss medication. She hands me a little book to record my scores. She gives me a prescription to pick up at the hospital pharmacy for metformin – just in case I need it. I already have a monitoring device, which Christine gave to me earlier.
Yolanda checks, “is everything clear?”
“Yes, thank you,” I say.

I leave the small room with my red cheeks and paperwork. I say goodbye to the German lady in the waiting room – I never did get her name, which is unusual for me. She’s next in with Yolanda and I know I have kept her waiting, but she smiles cheerily. We wish each other good luck.

Going down in the lift, out of the hospital, I feel an overwhelming urge to sleep. I could kick myself for messing up on food, an area I’ve always considered myself to be knowledgeable.

As always, there’s lots for me to learn…

(To be continued)

Twenty-one to twenty-nine weeks pregnant: we have some catching up to do

We-have-some-catching-up-to-do-hello-Mum100I speak to my friend Sabbir every week. He’s a skilled listener and he always offers me such peaceful suggestions. I’ve been telling Sabbir that I haven’t written a blog since February and I miss the connection that writing brings with my community online. Mostly I’ve avoided blogging, but when I have sat down to write, I haven’t known where to start. Besides, there always seemed to be something else to do first – keep on top of client work, make chicken soup, watch Masterchef, sleep! We’re house hunting as well, so there is a lot on, but I knew something was up when I wanted to clean more than I wanted to write a blog.

Over the last two months, I have been recording thoughts in my notebook. I have captured moments in the second trimester of this pregnancy. Sabbir said to let go of all pressure I was putting on myself to write a blog – just to focus completely on appreciating the present moment, allowing the flow of creativity to come naturally. And guess what? As soon as I did that, I felt inspired to write this blog!

As my baby grows, as the kicks get stronger and the bump gets bigger, as more people comment on my pregnancy, I realise more profoundly the magnitude of this precious gift. By keeping quiet, I’ve been attempting not to jinx my luck. Totally irrational, I know, but I still cannot quite believe we are here: our rainbow baby is coming and I do really want to share the experience with you.

One other thing: it’s time to come out! Since I started this blog, I have enjoyed the feeling of safety that the Mum100 pseudonym has given me. Being Mum100 has allowed me to share things that I couldn’t have shared openly as myself. I feel ready to introduce myself now, however. The time feels absolutely right.

So hello, I am Charlotte. This picture is from our holiday to Seville in March, when I was 23 weeks pregnant.

Mum100-IVF-fertility-pregnancy-blog-Plaza-de-Espana-Seville-2

My partner is also happy for me to share his first name in my blogs. He is called Phil. We’re both waving hello and sending our love to you 🙂

Here are some snippets from my notebook I want to share with you.

Wednesday 8th March: 23 weeks 4 days

Mum100-IVF-pregnancy-blog-Seville-Plaza-de-Espana

As night drops, there is abundant space. In Plaza de Espana, lanterns spill their white and orange and blue dots on the crescent of water in front of the grand building. At sunset, we rowed our boat along this water. Joy soaked into every cell. This is the freedom I always experience on holiday. I am completely present and I can feel in technicolour.

Mum100-IVF-pregnancy-blog-Seville-Plaza-de-Espana-rowing-boat

It’s dark now. Bats swirl in navy sky. I follow the shadow of a man on a bicycle. He is a giant, projected against the semi-circular building. His white dog trots along side him, unfazed by the splendour. Still, there is the clip clop of hooves, those hardworking horses that pull tourists in carriages. They stop to take their pictures by the fountain. The spray turns turquoise and pink and vivid green. Phil and I invent a game on the chequered cobbles, an Alice-in-Wonderland blend of chess and ballroom dancing.

On the bridge, the blue and cream tiles are smooth to the touch and warm from soaked up sun. The moon bounces on green water, delighted by its reflection. Venus is above my right shoulder and looking up, there is the moon’s protective face, those wide grey eyes.

Mum100-IVF-fertility-pregnancy-blog-Plaza-de-Espana-Seville-1

This is a generous playground for people of all ages and nationalities. There is a feeling of infinite space here and this is exactly how I feel tonight. I have endless gratitude for the growing life inside me. I understand my relative size in the universe, a tiny speck of life, yet undeniably part of the whole.

Monday 20th March: 25 weeks 2 days

Mum100-blog-IVF-pregnancy-infertility-dream-baby

I dreamt I gave birth to a tiny baby. I was crying without noise, in a late night hospital ward. I wanted to hold my baby. More than anything, I wanted to feel warm skin and the curl of pink fingers. My child was sealed off from me, however, wired inside a glass igloo.

Through the top floor window, thousand of stars sparkled in black sky above the city skyline. I wanted Phil to arrive. We were alone, my miniature baby and me. I felt a surge of panic, desperation for Phil to come.

Then Phil appeared, running across the empty ward towards us. I so wanted him to see our tiny baby and here he was, out of breath, keen for the same. As I turned back to the baby’s igloo, the glass blackened. There was no way through to see our child.

I woke up suddenly. I had a long drink of water. I breathed in and out, feeling relief with each breath. Then the greatest relief, our baby kicking inside me with Phil asleep beside us. I whispered to our baby to stay safe in there – to keep growing, to get stronger.

I went back to sleep quickly. The rest of the night passed peacefully.

My prayers have changed now. I ask everyday for our baby to come at the right time – late June or early July – please come then, little one, not before. The old prayer was always, please come baby, come as soon as you can, I can’t wait to meet you.

Reality check: we have been completely blessed so far with a smooth and uncomplicated pregnancy. The stream of green lights only seem strange to me because they are a new experience. Everything is exactly as it should be and I am very grateful for that.

Wednesday 22nd March: 25 weeks 4 days

How good it is to walk, to move forward, brisk feet on the pavement. I love the life all around me: a yapping white dog; a Japanese woman with dyed yellow hair; a delivery man with a silver barrel on a trolley; the honk of North London traffic. How good it is to see and hear it all, then immediately let it all go.

What work could I do where I could walk everyday? What work would take me outdoors? Travel writer. Park manager. Personal trainer. Tour guide. I do love the effect of the outdoors. Too much time inside shrivels up my gratitude. I dwell on inconsequential thoughts. Movement outside pacifies my brain. It makes me forget myself.

Outside today, I am loving my wriggly baby, now 25 weeks and 4 days – 64% baked! Yet according to my pregnancy app, still my baby’s weight will increase five times before I give birth. I could pop – the growth feels extraordinary!

Friday 7th April: 27 weeks 5 days

Sometimes I feel like an overblown balloon. Other times my belly is soft and round. Either way, it’s delightful to see the ripples and kicks across my stomach. We’ve nicknamed our baby ZipZap: our little space baby descending to Earth. We call out to ZipZap each day, hoping for jabs and wiggles. Our doctor said to look out everyday for at least ten movements over a two hour period. I lie still and speak. Phil speaks too. Soon, there are messages from the other side. We are in touch, the three of us, in the most basic and remarkable way.

I take more care now. I am careful on crowded London streets, on packed buses and tubes. I was walking through Westfield the other day, to catch a train at Stratford International. I held my arm across my belly, the first line of defence in an overcrowded shopping centre. Occasionally, I have a fleeting vision of falling, slipping down the stairs or tripping up a kerb, a stupid and preventable accident that pulls us all down, now that we are so very close. When I get up in the night to use the toilet, I hold the banister tightly as I go downstairs. I am slowing down. 

Tuesday 11th April: 28 weeks 2 days

Calm is increasing with each week that clocks up. Passing the 24 week viability milestone, every week I have increasing faith that my baby would now survive outside of me. I have a deep desire to enjoy the rest of my pregnancy; this is a gift to be experienced now. I also want to enjoy the remaining time with Phil, to make sure he knows how much I love him.

Saturday 15th April: 29 weeks

I was checked out yesterday in hospital for leaking fluid. Our midwife, Ana, was with me on the antenatal assessment ward. There was no evidence of uterine contractions. She tested the heartbeat. For twenty minutes, I listened to my baby’s strong heartbeat, an average of around 150 beats per minute. The number flickered up and down on the monitor. The sound was soothing to my soul.

There were lots of kicks, those incredible kicks, which thudded like drumbeats on the monitor. Ana told me to expect this. It’s the baby responding to the sound of its own heartbeat. Our little raver, ZipZap – you just keep dancing away in there.

Mum100-blog-IVF-pregnancy-infertility-heartbeat-monitor

Twenty weeks pregnant: half way to our rainbow

Here’s our little bubble-blower at 20 weeks and 5 days. Actually, that ‘bubble’ is part of the umbilical cord but it still makes me smile 🙂

mum-100-blog-ivf-pregnancy-rainbow-baby-20-week-scan

I am so happy and grateful that all anatomy checks came back ‘normal’ – now there’s a word I aspire to these days, a wish to be clinically unremarkable, utterly average.

20-week-scan

We continue to enjoy the incredible miracles of an easy pregnancy, free from dramas and heartache. To the end of my natural life, I will express gratitude for this peaceful experience.

At our 20-week scan, we decided to keep the gender a surprise. Girl or boy, we will love our rainbow baby. I don’t feel any need to know because it is enough to have a growing, healthy baby inside me.

Now it’s time to learn how to be parents. Dad 100 and I have laughed about how much we know about trying to conceive, IVF and pregnancy loss, but how little we know about looking after a baby. So the education starts here!

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!

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.

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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.

Happy holiday head

I woke up with a fuzzball head – that feeling you get if you’ve stayed up late watching crap TV, gobbling chocolate. There was a swirl in my stomach. I said to Dad 100, “I feel a bit pregnant”. He suggested a group hug.

This slightly pregnant feeling has come and gone today. In the last four weeks, I have learned that symptoms, or lack of them, do not necessarily mean what I think they mean. Tomorrow, our scan will clarify, we hope.

There is an aeroplane landing in Ibiza this evening with two empty seats. We have no regrets about cancelling. It would have been beyond daft to travel to a small island, a boat ride from Ibiza Town, with this question mark about the nature and location of our pregnancy. Formentera can wait.

Soon, I need to look for new work. The money I set aside for time out in IVF1 runs out in August. I’m not sure where the next project will come from but I know that confidence will come by taking even the smallest actions towards work – baby steps are the most creative, after all.

For now, it’s holiday time. So, I’m dedicating this week to happiness.

Reading

Over the weekend, I picked up a fine haul of books at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival. I was drawn to the heightened emotions of gothic tales – Sarah Perry’s After Me Comes the Flood and Eleanor Wasserberg’s debut Foxlowe. Eleanor gave a captivating reading by candlelight in the 16th century Old Church (the only surviving Elizabethan church in London). The setting was ideal for spook and intrigue.

Candelight-Old-Church-Stoke-Newington-Literary-FestivalThe authors also discussed Mary Shelley, including her experiences of loss as a mother – three of Shelley’s four children died in early childhood, from premature birth, dysentery and malaria. There was also Shelley’s own traumatic birth. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, died due to complications in childbirth, when her daughter was just eleven days old. From these beginnings, the birth of Frankenstein seems inevitable – Shelley’s classic gothic tale, conceived 200 years ago.

Sun

After-Me-Comes-The-Flood-Sarah-PerryLondon glowed gold today. I lay on the long grass on the common with the sun on my face and Sarah Perry’s After Me Comes the Flood. This book has incredible atmosphere, eerie and mesmerising. I disappeared into the tale of John Cole, the man who escapes London, only to break down on a country road. He makes his way through pine trees to a house, where to his surprise, he is expected.

Food

I was born a little pig and I shan’t change. Tonight, I’m dreaming of peanut butter, spread on crispy toast, with banana slices. This snack is both disgusting and delicious. It sticks to the roof of my mouth and clogs my teeth – but, my god, when this combo hits the bloodstream, my brain lights up like Blackpool tower.

Sea & travel

Dont-Need-The-Sunshine-John-OsborneThe next best thing to a spa in Formentera is a B&B in Southwold – oh yes it is! At Stokey Lit Fest, we went to an event with writer John Osborne. He read from Don’t Need The Sunshine, his book about the crumbling fascination of British seaside towns. John read a passage where he plays the coin-operated arcade machines on Southwold pier. They are ‘lovingly constructed’ games, with names such as The Chiropodist, The Zimmer Frame Simulator and Walking the Dog.

When we get home from hospital tomorrow, we’re booking an overnight stay. There will be battered cod and fat vinegary chips. We’ll share a side of mushy peas. I will crunch my gherkin alone, however, as Dad 100 thinks they are the preserve of monsters. There will be pier games and ice cream. After dark, we’ll sit on the beach and star gaze.

Who needs Formetera, eh?

Sisters

My IVF sisters are a constant source of happiness. These connections are vital to me. They allow me to find out what I’m really feeling and deal with it. I cannot navigate this strange journey alone. I have booked a ticket for Fertility Fest in London on Saturday 11th June – for some face-to-face time with people who understand.

And I must say thank you to my real sister, Georgie, who reaches out consistently with love and support.

Drawing

Today’s doodle reminded me to focus on what makes me happy.

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Music & dancing

This Paolo Nutini song helped to shake off the fuzz this morning. I love the teenage simplicity of the idea that new shoes can fix a rubbish mood – and it’s always good to move my bod to music.

Comedy

I want to laugh until my cheeks hurt this week. Daft cat or monkey videos will probably do the trick tonight. I will also surprise tickle Dad 100 and he will attempt to get me back. Later this week, we’ll find some laughs on Southwold pier.

Sleep

My lifelong love, sleep! I’m an eight hour girl. Life is baffling enough without sleep deprivation – I’ll willingly do my stint at broken nights when my babies arrive, but tonight, I will sleep very well after the fresh air and sunshine.

Hugs

When Dad 100 wraps his arms around me and squeezes tight, the tension flows out of my body. Virtual hugs from friends online relieve mental stress.

Each hug is a jab to infertility’s jaw – BAM!! Sending a big hug to everyone out there who is suffering. Let’s stick together – because as a team, we can knock infertility out.

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.

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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!

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.