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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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 🙂

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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.

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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!

Making a rainbow baby

Like so many of us, I never thought I’d be here. I expected motherhood to come easily. I didn’t ever imagine I’d be blogging and drawing my way through IVF cycles, reaching out for vital support. We’re about to do our second embryo transfer, after losing our first pregnancy in June – and here I am again in new territory, this land of hope beyond the storm.

mum100-ivf-blog-rainbow-baby-embryo-transfer-baby-loss-wordpressThe term ‘rainbow baby’ makes me smile. It means a baby born after a loss. When I was new in this community, I didn’t know what it meant. I assumed rainbow babies were those born to gay people after IVF. Little did I know how personal the term would become. I love the connection it makes between the trials of loss and the hope of new life – a connection I wrote about in my last blog.

Baby Loss Awareness Week

Our second embryo transfer is on Friday 14th October. This falls in Baby Loss Awareness Week, seven days of commemoration and sharing, with a global #waveoflight on Saturday 15th October. Their website says:

“Simply light a candle at 7pm and leave it burning for at least 1 hour to join us in remembering all babies that have died too soon. This can be done individually or in a group, at home or in a communal space. Wherever you do this, you will be joining a global ‘Wave of Light’ in memory of all the babies who lit up our lives for such a short time.”

I remember when a friend in our community lost her baby. There was an outpouring of spontaneous love. People lit candles and shared the pictures with her. It was incredibly moving to see people mark her loss with candlelight. I will join in the #waveoflight on 15th October, to remember all our losses.

Trying again after pregnancy loss

Just hours before our second transfer, I feel at peace. We are so close to being reunited with our embryos. I know I am meant to be doing this. Whatever the outcome, I feel proud that we are showing up and stepping forward on this difficult path to parenthood. Naturally, I have had my concerns about how it will turn out – but at my core, today I am fearless.

We’re transferring two embryos again. Dad 100 had doubts about this. Will it increase the risk of another ectopic? Statistically, we’d have to be very unlucky for it to happen twice but I do understand that his fears are born out of love for me. He stayed much sharper than me towards the end of our first pregnancy. He could sense the danger, pressing harder than me for the correct diagnosis. After discussing it with our hospital and researching the risks of ectopic pregnancy in IVF, we agreed that two embryos gives us a better chance of pregnancy. I admit it’s more me than him making this decision. I will take responsibility for my choice, if it doesn’t go our way.

Mum 100 blog - our blastersThey are our last two embryos from the original fab four, created last November. It still feels extraordinary to me that life can be made in a lab, then paused at -196 degrees for months or years. I imagine our frozen embryos as tiny glass beads, smooth and strong, perfectly clear. We aren’t religious but we both feel a spiritual connection to the power of nature and creativity. We are saying our prayers for their safe journey back from the deep freeze. May they spring into life on Friday morning!

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Natural frozen embryo transfer

Our hospital gave us the choice between a natural or a medicated frozen embryo transfer. I didn’t know it was possible to do an embryo transfer without medication. Our doctor explained that as I had regular periods, they could map the transfer to my natural cycle. There was no difference to success rates, she said. They would do a scan on day 11 to ensure an ovarian follicle was developing and check the thickness of my womb lining. Then I would use an ovulation prediction kit, to detect the surge of lutenising hormone prior to ovulation. With a positive test for the LH surge, they would book us in for our embryo transfer, six days later.

I turned to our community for help with the decision. Many people shared their successes with natural frozen embryo transfers, as well as their reduced stress levels. The idea of no injections or tablets or suppositories was hugely appealing. Last month, I did a test run with an ovulation prediction kit and had a blood test for luteal progesterone. The results were good – the LH surge was positive on day 15 and my progesterone came back at 71.3 nmol/L on day 22.

So in the end, the decision was easy. Why not give my body a chance?

Endometrial scratch

We were also randomly selected for an endometrial scratch trial. Here’s the science bit, quoted from the participant information sheet of ‘The Pipelle for Pregnancy in IVF study’:

“Endometrial pipelle sampling (also known as endometrial biopsy, injury or scratching is a new procedure being trialled in women underground IVF/ICSI or embryo transfer. The procedure involves inserting a thin plastic sampler (pipelle) through the cervix and into the womb where a sample from the endometrium is then obtained by rotation. The sample is then discarded. It is thought that the action of taking the sample results in a small disturbance to the lining of the womb, which might result in an increased chance of pregnancy when embryo transfer takes place…because it causes a small inflammatory response. Biological factors which are then released due to this response are thought to be helpful for implantation of an embryo into the lining of the womb.”

So, that’s the theory – but how did the procedure go? Well, apart from my ‘shy cervix’, which the doctor said ‘takes quite a bit of finding’ – hooray! – it was simple. It was like a smear test with extra twinges and a research nurse thrown in for good measure. Thanks to advice from a friend online, I took two Paracetamol beforehand. I have read that other women experience pain with endometrial scratching, but luckily not for me.

By the end of October, we will know our transfer result. I’m also going to keep an eye out for the results of the wider study.

Embryos on the road

Oh my, the responsibility! Our first road trip with our future kids. We transported our two frozen embryos from east to central London. I was unconvinced by the courier recommended by our old hospital – he was blasé about his availability and there was a trace of sarcasm when I asked questions. My protective instincts kicked in big time! No-one would take better care of our embryos than us. So, we borrowed a dry shipper from our new hospital and drove across town to collect them. This photo shows us on our way to pick them up – I was a bit excited!

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Our old hospital packed them safely in their shiny silver box. We took them down to the car and strapped them in the back seat. I played them two Barry White tracks on YouTube (because IVF folklore says Barry helps them grow!!). Dad 100 played some Beatles and we sang along. Between songs, we talked to them.
“We love you,” we said. “Hope you settle into your new hospital. Not long until we bring you home!”
Of course, they heard every word!

Starting the cycle

When my period arrived, we were all set. On day 11, I had a scan. I thought I knew where the follicle was developing.
“I think it’s on the left side,” I said to the nurse.
It was incredible to see the black blob in my left ovary. My womb lining was 8 millimetres. It was lovely to feel renewed trust in my body.

Then it was on to the ovulation prediction kit, first pee of the day. I used the ClearBlue Digital Ovulation Test with dual hormone detector. Flashing smiley faces appeared on day 13 and 14 to confirm a rise in oestrogen. I had my fears on day 14. Would my body fail? Would it forget what to do? Then I read this in my book on the Tao:

“Trust the harmony of the Tao. It took care of everything that you needed in your creation as well as your first nine months of life without any assistance from you, and totally independent of any desires you may have had.”

And there was this quote in there from Henry David Thoreau:

“I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born.”

I love these two quotes. They tell me that no amount of worry will make a difference to the outcome of this IVF – it will succeed or fail, all by itself. Just as my heart needs no direction from my conscious mind to beat or to fail, neither does my reproductive system take orders from my anxious head. I could do with getting this tattooed on my forehead:

I am not in charge of the outcome!

And then at 5.30am on day 15, the solid smiley face pinged on to the digital display. A positive for the LH surge.

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Mum100_blog_IVF_fertility_treatment_excitement_excited_Christmas_on_heliumFresh belief flooded over me. One of my old pals, Christmas on Helium, joined us in bed – he’s the character in my head with undiluted enthusiasm for life. Dad 100 was most definitely asleep when I took the test, but when I got the result, my bouncy friend decided to WAKE HIM UP!

Thank you, Dad 100, for putting up with my weird friends!

Transfer day

So here we are – our date with our micro-babies. Friday 14th October at 12.50pm. I’ve just had the Love and Hope surge. I feel the incredible potential of our rainbow baby. I am wearing bright colours to the hospital, to celebrate life. |

And I am thinking of all of you. I am so grateful for your love and for sharing your own experiences so openly. Without you, I would be stranded.