I write this one day away from the end of the journey. Tomorrow is the big day, the one we all look to when we start this roller coaster that seems oh so far away. Result day, the test. I try to envision what old me would be thinking now, what I’d be feeling. Probably an exhausting mix of excitement, fear and anxiety. We are finally there! at the end of the dreaded Nightmare on Elm Street advent calendar! There are no more days to tick off, no more injections to suffer, no more dark days of hormone induced horror when getting out of bed was a struggle. Would I let myself imagine the thought of unveiling a positive result? Himself and I wrapped in jubilee, wiping each others falling happy tears. Or would I be overcome with a sense of dread? How will we both handle each others bitter disappointment, Will I feel guilty forever? Will my marriage survive? Probably a mixture of the above I’d assume. The reason I’m not sure is that I’m not that person anymore. IVF has bent me and broken me. IVF had led me to the edge and pushed. IVF has changed me and the reason I can’t work out how I should be feeling is that currently I feel nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Our story began further back than these last wind tunnel two months of course. It starts even further back than two years ago when we decided not to ‘prevent anymore’. Our story starts five years ago when a misdiagnosis of an ectopic pregnancy resulted in a botched operation and a fight for my life. After a tube removal we have spent the time leading up to the beginning of the IVF process gaining anxiety for our potential inability to conceive, increased greatly by immense pressure from our immediate little society to start a family, after all, it would be so nice wouldn’t it? There follows another operation undergone last September to unwind the tube left by the butchers that left it like that five years ago, at the post operation appointment of which, we were advised ‘I’d be very surprised if you weren’t pregnant by Christmas’, another good old dose of false hope there followed by the devastating realisation that ‘I don’t work’ and a pretty ‘I’m not worthy’ unmerry Christmas. All of the above combined with the trail of puncture marks left by the injections has left my stomach looking rather like a pincushion. The wounds of which I’d be happy to show anybody who didn’t think I have taken the process seriously, of which there are many. It’s really quite incredible just how many IVF experts there are who’ve never undergone the process and have collated their expertise on the basis that their next door neighbours sisters cousin knew somebody that may have gone through it twenty years ago….. maybe. For those few who do not profess to know the ins and outs of the process here it is.
Prior to simply ‘beginning the treatment’ is a stage filled with tests, internal scans and the first symptoms of becoming a medical manikin, a feeling greatly increased when the NHS loses the results of all of these twice and the process before the actual process starts all again (we often joke that as soon as a blood test or sperm sample is given, the latter being a pretty humiliating experience on his part, it is thrown away immediately into the medical abyss).
Following the process before the process is a series of appointments detailing the depressingly low statistics of IVF which currently work out to around 40% of pregnancy for those under the age of 30 and far less of which that are viable (another little fact there for those few that are not experts in the field). Followed by the final mounting of the starting blocks, the day your personalised schedule of medical events is received that details your cycle and the various injections that must be administered by yourself on a daily basis along with dates of the egg collection and embryo transfer, AKA the nightmare on Elm Street advent calendar. There is a short tutorial by a kindly nurse in self-administering injections, a daunting lesson in itself, before you are sent skipping away with a new-found sense of hope and a horrible little goody bag of needles and syringes. It begins.
The injections start out fine and sadistically satisfying. With unmarked fresh skin that little needle slips in ever so easily thus creating a feeling of profound bravery confirmed at 6pm every evening (never will 6pm pass the clock again without a shudder from myself). The initial dose of down regulating hormones (designed to slow down the menstrual system and send the body into early menopause) is also so small that life continues as normal with the pleasing feeling that you’re finally on your way being the only contribution to change. We were both very optimistic at this stage, all feelings of hopelessness wiped now that we have something to concentrate on, something that, as it turned out, didn’t seem so bad. We told everyone we knew what we were doing and were unperturbed when our venture was met with uncomfortable silence but in fairness a fair greater reception of support. Everything is going fine, this is actually a breeze. No wonder people are able to go through this over and over again, it’s pretty easy. Then it happened, the gears of optimism grind to a halt as that long dark tunnel is entered and the last glimpse of sunlight and confidence disappears. The tunnel is dark and stretches for an eternity with fear, worthlessness and paranoia the only company as himself couldn’t come with me to hold my hand. The hormones had kicked in and my only hope was that of getting back to him on the other side.
I struggle to put into words how those long dark days felt, trapped inside my own head. Scared, abnormal, inhuman, ostracised, worthless, helpless, overwhelmed, lost, trapped in the cycle (what happens if I stop now? Will it be the menopause at 29 and that’s it? There you go, words and questions, that’s all I can give you. People’s support tends to slope off at this time too. The initial thought of how wonderful, there could be a baby? Aren’t they being brave? gives way to the fact that it’s a bit awkward and boring now, as well as being inconvenient. What do you mean you don’t want to host the normal boozy night out that we normally do? What do you mean you don’t FEEL like coming? The fact is the pair of you are alone in this self-created bubble and it’s then that the cracks begin to form.
After the double injections begin the prodding radius of stomach becomes harder to negotiate through bruising and puncture wounds which means that the daily 6pm activity becomes a frightening and painful prospect. Teamed with this the hormone induced head mess and incapability to cope with the smallest things means that it takes its toll. By the penultimate night of injections, my state of mind lead me to believe that through all of it, to how far we’d come, for what we’d been through so far, I wasn’t sure whether I could endure one more day. I did. Barely.
I have to talk about my husband at this stage and doing so chokes me up with love for him. Never will I know or ever meet anybody as brave, self-sacrificing, mature and strong as the man I married four years ago. He watched me enter that dark tunnel and never gave up on me. He has held me through fits of miserable hysteria when I never thought I’d never stop crying. He has endured my moods and probably some vile protests and wild accusations in my hormonal stupor. He calmly removed the bottles of medication from my shaking hands and set up my injections. He offered more love and sympathy than any person deserves (especially one hurling abuse). He tramped off to a stressful job and all the while having to battle his own demons quietly as I was too fragile to offer the same support. Had he have been any other person I, we wouldn’t have made it and I don’t think there are words available to describe just how much gratitude and love I have for him and his immense strength.
His biggest leap of strength came from a conversation we had one day when I sat on the sofa with my head in my hands, weeping again and struggling to cope, when he turned to me and asked ‘Can you remember wanting to enter in to this? followed by ‘I can’t’. I looked at him stunned for a moment wondering could this really be happening? He didn’t want a baby after all? We’d been through all of this and now he’d changed his mind? However my anger subsided quickly because he was right. Pressure had meant that we’d been steam rollered from that operation in September to where we are now without really realised how we’d gotten there. That bizarre idea from society that in order of securely validating yourselves as people at a certain age that you should be having children. If you didn’t want to, you were less of a person. Selfish. Pointless. Of course we wanted children and of course if the result from this process is positive we’ll be over the moon offering as much love as could possibly be imagined but if it didn’t? If at the end of this it’s just another case of failed IVF what happens? Then we continue as us. In our lucky lucky lives, as the people we are, without any need to justify ourselves. This was a gamble, but thank god he took it. I was out of the tunnel.
IVF has changed me. IVF has shown me whats below rock bottom. The thing is with that, there’s only one direction you can go. Up. I will never be the same, whether tomorrows result is positive or negative. To us, there is no negative, we will just carry on simply being us. A bigger, stronger, calmer, more understanding us. Ask us a question regarding our trauma and we will regard it with a knowing smile and little else because this has been our battle and we’ve got the wounds to prove it but we no longer need people to understand, because we have each other and that’s enough.
So, for those of you embarking on this process, let our experience teach you something. This is not about anyone other than you. When you’re miserably looking at yummy mummy play groups understand that no, you may never be apart of that club, this is not within your control, you cannot play god. Accept that this is nothing to do with your validity, it does not change your right to be here. Know that by the end of this process your relationship, your marriage can endure a million times over what those that find bearing children so easy and if you are lucky you’ll make far better parents because of it I’m sure.
Oh! and if anybody asks you why you don’t have children don’t make the choice to make yourself uncomfortable call them fucking rude and to mind their own business!
This is our lovely life, our lovely marriage and if anything this traumatic, sordid, painful experience has taught us is to never again be shamed into thinking that we’re broken, that there is something wrong with us. If tomorrow is unsuccessful, that’s fine. one day we’ll try again, but until then we’ll enjoy ourselves and our freedom.