Sunday, February 1, 2009

Every Picture Tells a Story

I've been photo-tagged by Nappy Valley Girl

This is a first for me. what you do, evidently, is choose the 'My Pictures' on your computer & go to the 4th folder and choose the 4th picture in that folder. And then photo tag 4 others . I will choose Reluctant Memsahib, Wife in Hong Kong, Parisgirl and Aerialarmadillo Sounded fun, and I have been getting a bit more adventurous, if irregular, about posting photos. The folder was 2002, and contains pretty much exclusively pictures of our son who was then 2. I have been a bit reticent about posting pictures of my children, but then he's 8 now so it is 6 yrs out of date. And maybe I'm being a bit neurotic. So here it is.

This is actually one of my favourite photos of our son. It captures his happy, 'glass half full' character and general zest for life. He's always cheerful, always positive. I wish I was more like him, it's a great way to be I think.

The idea is to tell the story of the photo. So I'm going to tell you the 'story of my children'.

When I was teaching, one of my favourite books was (is) “To Kill a Mocking Bird”. Atticus, the father in the story, tells his children that you never really know or understand someone till you have ‘walked around in their shoes’ So I thought I'd give you the chance to do that,

This story started in 1996 when we started trying for children. Nothing happened for 2 yrs, so after preliminary investigations I was put on clomid to stimulate my ovaries. This probably accelerated my problem. In May 1998, at the doctors, I was told I was 3 months pregnant. My husband was in China researching his MBA thesis. The dr told me to do a test and call him the next day. It was negative, as I expected, though of course I dared to hope. When I spoke to him on the phone his exact words were "Well I don’t know what that is in your stomach then"
Not a great bedside manner...I was quite freaked out & felt very alone.

That night I went to see our friends, who lived up the road. She was a sonographer at the John Radcliffe, our local hospital, and he an obstetrician. She proposed to take me in then and there so we crept into the JR and she unlocked an ultrasound scan room and scanned me, said I had two grapefruit sized cysts, one on each ovary. They didn’t correspond to either of the two usual types of cyst you get on your ovaries. Jonathan, the husband, had a word with his colleague , a very good surgeon, arranged an appointment and a week later I was in hospital for a laparotomy. I even got a private room, obviously pays to have friends in the NHS. I had to give them permission to completely remove my ovaries if that shd prove necessary.

I woke up to see Jonathan sitting by my bed saying the good news was I had a benign condition called endometriosis although I had it in its severest form, with a lot of adhesions. He & the surgeon had both thought I had ovarian cancer, which was why they took me in so quickly.

We were referred to an endometriosis consultant who told us if we didn't conceive in 6 mths (No pressure then) the adhesions would have come back which would render me mechanically infertile (fallopian tubes stuck) & our best & only hope of having a child would be IVF. We were very shocked by all these events and also with suddenly going from zero intervention to IVF. Not what I needed to hear aged 32.

We did a lot of research and heart searching to decide how to get through what, for us, was an ethical minefield. We knew nothing about IVF or anyone who had been through it. We began our 1st treatment in May 1999. We didn’t want to stock pile embryos or allow any to perish, so we decided to have only 3 eggs fertilised. Normally the drugs make women produce 15-20 eggs they them fertilise them all and choose the best ones, and freeze or even discard the others. They of course thought we were mad and were reducing our chances significantly, it’s only 25-30% success rate anyway.

The clinic subsequently (over the years) got used to our stance on things and knew how we felt about when life begins, the preciousness of every life, even if only a group of fertilised cells etc. I'm not saying we got it right, or were experts, but that was our personal view. I had 7 eggs but when they did the egg retrieval they could only get 3 eggs out, and all three fertilised. When the embryologist came to see us to tell us the results and knew we only wanted three she said; ‘it was obviously meant to be’. An unusual comment for a scientist we thought.

Well the day of the pregnancy test dawned. I had been struggling for 2 weeks to ignore all the messages my body was sending me, & trying to second guess what was going on. How I wished I could step out of my body and leave it on the shelf whilst I got on with my day. It was utterly distracting & emotionally exhausting.

My husband baked a cake (1st & only time he has done this) to give to the nurse who'd taken us through our cycle. He said it was just his way of saying thank you for all their support encouragment & dedication whatever the outcome. After the longest 4 mins of my life, (don't why it takes them so much longer in hospital to do pregnancy tests) she came back to tell us it was positive. It had worked 1st time.

At this point words fail me. How to express the kaleidoscope of emotions that surged through me is utterly beyond me. And so the gorgeous little boy in the picture is the result, born 4 ½ yrs after beginning that journey, & now a very lively boy of 8 1/2. We still, even now, look at him in incredulity that we had this child at all.

I found IVF a very isolating experience. At the time, I knew no one who had been through it. My friends all produced babies effortlessly, and prolifically. Something I found equally isolating was secondary infertility. People would make well meaning, entirely unhelpful comments like "Well at least you have one" People just did not seem to understand that yearning to have another. The strength of the desire to have another child, mulitplied this time because you want it also for your husband as a father (who always dreamed of having a large family), for your son to have a sibling & for the woman in you desperate for the privilege of being a mother again.

In 2001 we had 1 frozen cycle when they just put back previously frozen embryos, then 2 more full IVF treatments in 2002, none of which worked. The process takes about 8 weeks, longer if like me you don’t down regulate properly. The second one in the summer of 2002, was an awful experience, things went wrong at every turn. I was by now on the maximum dosage of drugs to stimulate my ovaries to produce lots of eggs..

I did a pregnancy test at the end of this cycle 2 days before going into the IVF unit. I had always been very diligent about not doing this but this time I just couldn't wait. I got a positive. Hooray!

A false positive as it turned out.

I became very depressed after that 3rd treatment. It was taking its toll on both of us and our marriage, as we were both in desperate need of support and yet felt unable to give any to the other. I wasn’t sure how much I could keep putting myself through this & yet couldn't bring myself to give up either. We both independently came to the decision that we should take a break for at least 6 mths

By end of 2002 I said to my husband I couldn’t go on like this knowing how my age, endometriosis, etc were diminishing my chances of even IVF working.

We were referred to the director of the infertility unit who was, an internationally renowned expert on infertility an IVF, and therefore difficult not to take seriously. He told us that being 37, with scarred ovaries, which being endometriotic were ageing more quickly than the rest of me, on the max dosage of drugs, my IVF history of failure and the quality and quantity of my eggs, he said realistically you have a 5-8% chance of IVF working, or as I mentally turned it round – a 92-95% failure rate. He advised us to discontinue or to at least acknowledge what we were going into, with such slim chances. 'Of course' he said 'I would be utterly delighted for you to prove me wrong, but you have to see that it’s very unlikely'. We were once more reeling with shock, we had no idea our chances weren’t as good as the next person’s; the usual and now optimistic sounding 25%. I felt incredibly low, empty and wrung out by this stage.

I knew the time had come to let go, we both independently reached the point where we felt we needed to use up our 2 frozen embryos, and then prob draw a line under things. I felt in no position to do that, but I thought ‘one step at a time’. We also started investigating adoption and, for me, wrestling with all the issues that raised for me. I also needed to accept that our son could well be an only child.

I also longed to have an identity beyond the ‘infertile woman desperate to have another child’. I was just so weary of it all, and longed to move on & yet felt unable to give up.

We had the meeting at the unit in June 2003 to use our frozen eggs. The nurse read out the letter to my doctor from the consultant about our chances of it working and said how sorry she was. It sounded so stark and final but by now I felt completely at peace about it all.

We had no expectation of this frozen cycle at all. I knew that a full normal cycle had a 5% chance of working. Frozen cycles are less successful, so what percentage chance we had of this working I don’t know. So when the day finally arrived we sat in that room waiting for our results, as we had on 5 previous occasions. For the 1st time I felt relaxed. I felt pretty sure my body was telling me again it hadn’t worked, I'd got so used to the symptoms & couldn't remember what being newly pregnant felt like anyway.

The nurse finally came back in.

'You're wrong.' she said “You’re pregnant."

My 1st response was, ‘Are you sure???’

She obviously felt the same way. She said ‘Yes I did it twice to make sure.’

In these situations you go through the roller coaster of emotions & disappointment so often, you dare not almost, feel joy, you dare not feel hope, or elation. And you are so very, very weary, your body is tired, your emotions are exhausted; what we felt initially was relief. Funny emotion, but the only one we dared feel at that point. We thought finally we can move on and out of this narrow place. 8 long years of waiitng. The 1st 12 weeks were agonising too. And then we dared hope a little more. I didn't even allow myself to buy anything for the baby until I was about 5 months pregnant. Also of course I'd been so busy vomiting and losing weight that I wouldn't have had the strength or resolve to get to a shop anyway. Gradually though relief gave way to more normal emotions, we got excited, we made plans, we chose names.

And that is why when our daughter was born, all 9 1/2 pounds of her in 2004, we chose Joy as her middle name.

And that is the story of our two miracle children.


Paradise Lost In Translation said...

Sorry folks, this post was WAY too long. I promise a VERY short one next time.

Iota said...

It was wonderful to read.

I sometimes read the many many infertility/miscarriage blogs, which to me, speak of the marvellous way blogging has given a voice to many people in situations where they previously had no voice. It's incredible to read the sympathy, love, tenderness, understanding, compassion, and humour that is available on the web. When I had a brief (very very brief, compared to your and many other stories) period of infertility, with a miscarriage in the middle of it, I felt so lonely and isolated - like you. Part of me wishes that blogging had been around then, and that I'd discovered it, as I'm sure it would have been a huge comfort. Part of me is relieved that it wasn't, as I think I would very easily have become obsessed, and spent more time at the computer keyboard than out there getting on with my life (and I had a toddler to enjoy at the time).

One of the saddest things about infertility and pregnancy loss is the huge hurt that is caused by the careless comments of those who haven't experienced it (and even those who have). So I think anyone who raises awareness by telling their own story, as you have done, is helping the cause.

nappy valley girl said...

It wasn't too long at all, and it was a great post. I'm so glad that after all your years of misery you ended up wtih two wonderful children. I have several friends who have gone through infertility IVF and it just sounds horrendous. Your little boy is/was gorgeous (I chickened out of putting pictures of my boys on the blog, but you're right, what does it matter if they don't look like that any more?).... said...

it wasn't too long. it was beautiful. as are your children. and thank you x

Tessa said...

A very beautiful little boy, so full of the light and energy of happy childhood. And I'm absolutely certain that your daughter is equally gorgeous.

I'm in awe of your courage and the brave, rock-strewn journey you and your husband had to make to joyous parenthood. Thank you so much for sharing your story - I know it will help others who may be experiencing similar obstacles.

lakeviewer said...

Your journey was worth chronicling, even though it probably brought back many sad and frightful details.

Glad you shared. I know many women who will gain from your accounts.

I have experienced the feelings of the expatriot, still feel them. They are understood by other expatriots.

Wife in Hong Kong said...

I found your story both moving and informative. What a joy to have such a happy ending to such a harrowing experience.

Grit said...

you have an amazing and beautifully told story; i am glad you posted it and after reading it, i am humbled.

A Modern Mother said...

Wow, what a story, every word. I'm so glad it had a good ending.

Highlighting you on the Ning this week...

Tawny said...

That was a wonderful post to read. I have never been through what you have so I cannot hope to empathise, the choice of Joy as a middle name is inspired and I am sure she is a joy to you :)