Twelve to sixteen weeks pregnant: finding the way with words again

I haven’t written since before Christmas. There has been a lot to write about but I’ve been stuck for words. So, to kick off this blog, I need to rewind to five days before Christmas.

Our 12-week appointment

On 20th December, we had our 12-week appointment at St Thomas’s Hospital. We arrived in the hospital concourse with a sack of nervous excitement. As is our ritual, we put coins into the lucky Tim Hunkin machine in the hospital corridor (I’ll tell you more about Tim Hunkin’s marvellous machines another time) and then we took the lift to the eighth floor for our date with providence.

Inside the antenatal department, we took our ticket for blood queue. The first part of our appointment was the blood test for our combined screening for chromosonal disorders: Down’s, Edwards and Patau Syndrome. When the nurse called us, I felt a whoosh of nerves. I took my seat, rolled up my sleeve, then came the sharp scratch. As the syringe drew my blood, I thought how strange that there are answers in that tube, clues to the health of our child. From reading the information leaflets, I knew Down’s Syndrome is not usually life-threatening like Edwards and Patau Syndrome. There’s very little chance of survival with the latter two conditions. Dad 100 and I had talked about this test before our appointment. Of course, we both hoped for a healthy baby, but we knew we could not terminate this pregnancy if our results came back high risk. What really clinched it for me was watching a documentary called “A World Without Down’s Syndrome?” the week before our appointment. The programme was presented by the actress Sally Phillips, whose son Olly has Down’s Syndrome. She said instead of tragedy, she has experienced joy and laughter raising her son. I am so grateful I watched it because it removed so much fear for me.

After our blood test, we had to wait for our scan. I had a big drink of water – since going through IVF, I get very confused when I’m supposed to drink water and when I’m not! When we were called, I felt a skip in my stomach. I was so excited to see our baby again. Jose the sonographer asked me to lie down. He squeezed gel on my stomach. As soon as the probe touched the gel, our baby filled the plasma screen on the wall, floating around like a sleepy space cadet. Soon, there were wiggles of little arms and legs. While we gazed in delight, Jose continued with his measurements. He checked the fluid at the back of our baby’s neck (nuchal translucency) and the nasal bone, which are part of the assessment for Down’s Syndrome. Next, Jose gave us a tour around our baby’s body – spine, abdomen, stomach, bladder, kidneys, even a remarkable glimpse of the butterfly-shaped brain.
‘Excellent,’ Jose said.
I could have pressed pause on life right there.

12-week-scan-pic

After the scan, I had to see a doctor about a problematic wound I’ve had, ever since the surgery to remove my pregnancy and fallopian tube last summer. The wound has opened and closed many times, though thankfully it’s small. Dad 100 has been telling me to get it checked out with the GP but I always feel like I’m pestering her, so I didn’t go. As I was examined by a heavily pregnant doctor, Dad 100 waited for the results of our chromosonal tests. I really wanted to get back to him, to receive the news together, but the doctor was keen to swab the wound. She said they would test for infection and let me know the results.

When I came out of the consulting room, Dad 100 was sitting opposite the door. He was clutching a piece of paper. I sat down with him under the fluorescent lights – we were the last two patients in the empty department – and he showed me these numbers.

Background risk:       1:112              1:271              1:852
Adjusted risk:            1:2248           1:5426           1:17040

He pointed at three graphs on the paper and soon confirmed the fantastic news. The numbers relate to the average (background) risk for Down’s, Edwards and Patau Syndrome and the adjusted risk based on our combined blood test and scan results. Essentially, this means low risk for all three disorders – the best Christmas present we’ve ever received.

Writer’s block

I think all this good news is why I haven’t been able to write. That may seem odd but after years of hope and expectations, without such good results, each positive experience we have now takes time to sink in. The further we go on with this pregnancy, the longer it takes to settle. Initially, it’s incredulity – is this really happening to us? Then there are waves of gratitude for each milestone reached. There’s also the sense of the stakes getting higher, the further we go on. Staying focused on the moment really helps to quell any fears of loss that come up.

My blog has helped me through many tough times in the past. By writing and sharing a blog post, it has always helped me to move on from difficulties I’ve had. I suppose after the wonderful experience at 12 weeks, I didn’t really want the story to move on. It was a very safe place to be.

I’m also aware of what many people reading this may be going through in their lives. Multiple IVF cycles, pregnancy loss, the draining effects of trying to conceive for months and years on end. I know from personal experience how difficult those times can be. Of course, I am hugely grateful for this pregnancy, after years of wishing for a baby, but I also want to be mindful of people who are struggling. Saying this, I do know that in hard times, I have drawn hope and strength from other people’s breakthroughs. I have been able to celebrate other people’s success, whilst having no certainty of my own. I wish that anyone who is in pain right now finds support and comfort, is relieved of their distress.

Celebrating 40

From week 13 to week 16 of pregnancy, it’s been all quiet on the baby front. I’ve had hardly any symptoms. My energy levels have been good. We celebrated Christmas, New Year and last week my 40th birthday. All my life, I’ve loved getting older because of the increase in happiness I feel – until the struggles to conceive took hold. In my late 30s, there were one too many graphs in IVF clinics. “Just look at the DECLINE in your fertility!” they bellowed, charting the drop in IVF success rates after 35. I know doctors don’t get out of bed without evidence, but there were times when we were researching clinics after our first failed IVF cycle that I could have done without the graph of doom. That said, I do think education in school is important. I had very little idea of the facts of female fertility before going through IVF.

Anyway, I had a joyful birthday lunch with family and Dad 100 treated me to a surprise day out – and what’s brilliant is my love of getting older has been restored.

Kick me, baby!

mum100-ivf-pregnancy-blog-12-week-scan-waiting-for-kicks-squareThe night before my birthday, I was certain I felt flutters inside. They were more definite sensations than anything I’ve felt before. Could they be the first detectable kicks? It’s more noticeable when I lie down. A little bulge appears, low down in the centre or on the right hand side. It’s lovely to feel that because I don’t have an obvious bump. I put my hand on the little bulge and breathe deeply. Occasionally, it feels like a little bubble pops in my stomach or there’s a tap on a tiny tambourine. Of course, it could just be wind! I can’t wait for the first convincing boot in the belly, which could be any time from now up until 25 weeks.

Today we have a 17-week check up at the hospital with the lead consultant. I’m feeling relaxed. Miraculously, after six months of problems, my ectopic surgery wound has finally healed by itself. No antibiotics required 🙂 . I am very grateful for each little miracle and I’m beginning to trust that our good fortune will last.

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Today, yesterday, tomorrow

Today

My intention this morning was to write a post about keeping busy and cheerful – and the day did begin on track. I danced to some tunes in the living room. I air-boxed infertility. I had a soak in the bath and enjoyed the warmth on my back. I used generous quantities of sea salt body scrub. Then I tucked into a large bowl of porridge with banana and nuts. I was set up for the day.

After breakfast, I sat down at the computer. I intended to create my plan for staying positive. The blank page would not be filled, however. My eyes glazed over and my brain switched to standby mode. I just couldn’t make myself think. I flicked through social media instead, to find a hook back into the world. Somehow, I managed to send the hospital report to Airbnb, who are considering our refund request for the Ibiza accommodation. It took an hour to achieve that, however, as I couldn’t work out how to attach the document on the website. I cried on the phone to the Airbnb agent, who said I could email the report to him instead – thank you Paolo.

For lunch, we had homemade soup and a long hug, which is when I remembered that I don’t get to decide how this goes. Many people have said to take it easy, that the feelings will come and go. So I went back to bed this afternoon and slept for an hour, which was the perfect medicine.

At tea time, I had peanut butter and honey on toast (a suggestion from a friend on Twitter, which sounded so disgustingly delicious, I had to try it). Then the spark came to do a quick drawing, as we’re packing for the seaside and I didn’t want to go without saying thank you for the loving messages – they take the loneliness out of this experience.

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Yesterday

We had a three hour wait for our blood test results, which would indicate whether a scan was required. While we waited, we left the hospital for a walk in the sunshine and some lunch (another great suggestion from an IVF sister). On the way back to the Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit, we picked up a new prescription from the hospital pharmacy for Progynova and Cyclogest – to signal our confidence to each other that there was good news ahead. When we returned to the unit, there was an episode of Jeremy Kyle on the waiting room TV. It was a DNA testing episode, where they prove conclusively who is or isn’t the daddy. Cue the shouting and finger pointing and storming off set – nightmare show!

Thankfully, we were called by the nurse. She was quick to tell us the result.
“I’m afraid it’s not good news,” she said. Six little words that ended IVF1.

We were taken through to the doctor’s room. It was Nargis, the same doctor as last Thursday. She was kind and very clear. She said to stop taking the medication now. I felt a bit daft clutching the prescription bag.
“Come back in a week’s time for another blood test,” Nargis said. “We need to monitor the hormone levels, to make sure they drop further.”

Walking out of hospital, there were just sounds – footsteps, alarm beeps, doors opening and closing. It was a strange experience of shrinking inside myself, like a hedgehog curling up. People were featureless shapes in the corridor. It is true that the world blurs with bad news. In the hospital entrance, we were stuck in a buggy jam, but the sensory shutdown protected me. The buggies were just dark blobs. With his arm around my waist, Dad 100 steered me through the gap. When we got to the car, we sat for a minute, holding hands.

Naively, we thought we were prepared for this outcome. Since our double embryo transfer, there have been so many warnings that things weren’t right. Low beta results, continuous bleeding, medics giving opinions – but of course, hope is stronger than all of that. The instinct to protect and believe in the life inside me superseded all the gloom. So when the conclusive statement came – “your beta-HCG levels have dropped, which confirms the miscarriage” – we both felt a fresh punch.

Tomorrow

In the morning, we’re heading to the east coast for our overnight stay. We have booked a comfortable hotel room with a big bed and sea view. I’m really looking forward to the fresh air and the old-fashioned arcade games on Southwold pier. Sunshine is forecast when we get into town. See you all very soon – thank you so much for your friendship.

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