A grand adventure?

It occurred to me the other day, as I contemplated the passing of another unsuccessful cycle, and the beginning of a new assisted one, that maybe I am approaching this whole infertility thing all wrong.

What if, rather than seeing it as an abysmal “plague on both your houses”; a terrible tragedy to be endured, we could somehow find a way to see it as a grand adventure? An epic in the great literary sense? By that I mean of a sort of Potter-esque variety, where courage, magic, knowledge and love can defeat darkness – let’s leave Frodo trudging through the fearsome wasteland of Mordor aside, ok?

Could that be possible? The idea that life can continue fairly much as normal day to day, and when occasionally there are battles to be fought there are always friends at hand and magic to guide us? And through it all we are learning and growing (while occasionally making and taking potions).

As someone who values science, creativity and feats of human endeavour, there is indeed a certain amount to marvel at when you think of all that’s possible with assisted reproductive technologies today. Of course, we haven’t yet truly mastered the art of conceiving healthy babies 100% of the time, but when I think back to all the women through time who, like me, had no answers as to why they couldn’t become pregnant, but unlike me also had no further options or assistance available to them, I’m immensely grateful for the chances and options we do have. I am lucky to live in a time and place where am am able to make choices about my body, and just enough financial freedom to act upon them. There’s one miracle right there, if we’re counting. 

It may not be possible to think of this as a grand adventure for very long – I doubt Harry thought of his lot that way while he was living through it – but, like anything, I can only take it a day at a time. Just call me Ginny.


Hold the vision, trust the process

Happy New Year! Hard to believe we’re almost in February already…

I’ve been trying to take it easy over the last few months, and not put to much emphasis on what is and what may (or may not) be. As 2016 came to a close, it was a little difficult to accept that this would, once again, not be our year to become parents. Of course, you know by April each year whether you’re going to have the chance to delivery a baby and become a mum that year, or not, but for the rest of the year there is at least the hope of starting that journey, of falling pregnant and preparing for what the next year will bring.

After the first round of Clomid with trigger injection was unsuccessful, we repeated the process again the next cycle. Things looked good at the day 12 scan, with two follicles maturing nicely, but this time I had to wait a day to do the trigger injection – which meant doing it myself, at home. Giving myself a stern talking to and several firm flicks in the abdomen to dull the pain of the impending needle seemed to do the trick – again, it wasn’t really so bad in the end. Mixing the ingredients without spilling anything was actually the hardest part!

That cycle we also added progesterone to the mix – one dose each day for the second half of my cycle. Alas, no luck again. The progesterone threw out my next cycle a bit, but we’d decided to have a medicine-free December anyway, and just enjoy Christmas and the family time without having to worry about medication and trying to organise a scan around the holidays. I then decided to give my body another month to find its feet, so January has been med-free as well. Only one chiropractic session and one acupuncture treatment – and both practitioners said I was doing well. My acupuncturist actually said my body is “humming”. So obviously the slow, gentle time-out from it all has been worth it.

Things always feel lighter and easier at the start of the new year though – anything seems possible; all is fresh and new. I’m mindful that this feeling may not last on its own – it will need to be cultivated and supported through the many adventures and misadventures ahead. But I’ve been engaging with a few new resources the past couple of months, and trying to stay tuned in to where my mind and body are at, and support them by making gentle tweaks to my diet, exercise and day-to-day schedule as needed. I’ve also been trying to make time for the creative things I enjoy – knitting or crochet, playing the piano, doing jigsaws and such. Hopefully all these things will help keep me centred and grounded for the next stage of the process, which I know may be IVF, and getting ourselves acquainted with the adoption process.

As I said to my sister recently, IVF and adoption are never things you would plan for yourself, but I’ve come to accept that one or both of these may come up along our path, and I know that however it works out will be wonderful. I’m much more open to different possibilities than I was when we started on this journey almost two-and-a-half years ago, which is a marvel in itself. I know that whatever happens there will be things that are difficult to process, and things that will be physically difficult to bear, but we’ve already faced things like that before, and we figured it out – we’ll be ok. As my chiropractor once told me: Hold the vision, trust the process.

It ain’t all that bad

Day four of my first round of Clomid and happily I haven’t experienced any weird side effects, save for a couple of small bouts of nausea and a few tiny pains around my ovaries. But I am starting on a low dose, and it’s only been a couple of days – so it would perhaps be a little strange if I’d felt anything stronger.

It seems silly that this should be a relief; most people probably go into this sort of thing optimistically. I, to mangle the wit of Dennis Cometti, unfortunately tend to do the opposite and go in a bit misty-optically. Earlier this week, while enjoying the late-afternoon sun streaming through the waiting room windows at the acupuncturist, it occurred to me how much weight I’ve put on the moment of starting every kind intervention. Each new procedure or specialist has some how felt like another small failure of my femaleness. First I was upset at needing to see a doctor at all. Then a specialist. Then having tests – I felt ashamed to be sitting in the waiting room at Melbourne IVF before a simple blood test. Then surgery. Then having to go back to the specialist. Starting natural therapies – even though I genuinely enjoy and feel wonderful for having them. Then, starting the medication. Not to mention the start of every new period, and seeing friends or acquaintances fall pregnant or give birth during this time.

As each of these moments has arrived, I’ve felt another small failure. Even anticipating these moments I have felt shame and loss. Yet it occurred to me this week that I’ve been giving these moments far more significance than they deserve. By labelling them as “unnatural” and “intervention” I’ve made these tools “bad” and myself “broken” by association. Really, each of these is just a tiny addition or adjustment to my life, not some great cross to bear. There is much to be grateful for about modern medicine when you think about it. And yet I have chosen – subconsciously of course – to feel shame, a failure, less womanly. It’s interesting to think about how much of our identity as women (and even men) is wrapped up in our fertility, how society places such emphasis our ability and/or desire to reproduce. But that’s a topic for another day.

Right now I can focus on being more mindful of the attitudes I have towards this whole journey, and make conscious choices about the beliefs I hold within me. Those things are within my control.

Because ultimately, adding a tiny pill to my daily routine a couple of days each month ain’t all that bad.

On facing the hard truth

Three babies were born to family or friends this month; two on the same day – a second child for one, a third child for the other. My sister is now halfway through her second pregnancy. There is growth, birth, and life all around. To women of all ages, and situations. There is hope in this, or there ought to be.

On New Year’s Day this year, I swam in the sea before breakfast. I was alone, save for one dedicated swimmer doing freestyle farther out. The beach was deserted. My family, and everyone else on the island it seemed, was still asleep, or at least starting the day slowly. I bobbed in the water, soaking up the sunshine, feeling like I was washing the old year away. Letting go of a year of disappointment and starting fresh. Only hours before, while trying to glimpse the fireworks launching off the pier as the clock struck 12, my little sister embraced me and said “this year, this year is your year”. I hoped it was.

Ten months later, and I look back on that moment in the darkness, and the cleansing saltwater and sunshine of the next morning, with a mingled sense of grief and betrayal; of frustration and bemusement at my naivete. I thought it was as simple as letting go, of washing the old year away, and that hoping and believing could be enough. I know now that my body was fighting a vast web of inflammation, and that every attempt to conceive a new life was destined to fail before it even began. That even now, though the web and its tugging, dragging pain is gone, my body is still healing, reprogramming and striving for balance. That though I do my best to support it, I cannot control it.

It will take time, as much time as it takes. It won’t happen this year; it might not even happen next year. The days will come and go, like tide after tide – beyond my power and control. All I have is today, and this moment, and these choices. To take the medicine, to turn up to my appointments, to wait, to hope.

One in six couples are infertile – 16% of couples. 1% of births are the result assisted reproduction techniques such as IVF. The lady over the road had both her children through IVF; my sister was taking that route not so long ago. These roads are not so rare, these stories are not so uncommon. Everyone knows someone who has walked this path. Why then, does this feel like such an isolated journey? Why does it feel like such a loss, a failure, a betrayal of the deepest, most primal kind?

We have not even really begun, and yes, I know that there are women who have walked miles further than me on roads far more difficult than mine. I have no cause to feel this so intensely, not just yet. I have not faced such big losses, not yet. But I could. And it’s likely I will. Even with IVF, our chances of conceiving and carrying to term are only around 32%. Compare this to the average fertile couple, which has a 25% chance of falling pregnant every cycle without any assistance, and 60% of them will fall pregnant within a six months.

We began with such effortless optimism, such hope and excitement. Now, optimism and hope are things we have to consciously choose, and excitement will be put on the shelf and saved for later. We approach the process not with expectations, but intentions. We practice mindfulness. We strive for rationality, for acceptance, for that beautiful word: equanimity. These are all things I’ll be exploring in coming posts. How to be mindful, to cultivate intentions, to seek equanimity. Despite the sadness and dejection we do feel sometimes – which I’m sure is evident in everything I’ve written in this post – there is space for these ideas, and the stillness and groundedness they can bring. I know that, for us at least, and for others out there facing a similar path to us, we aren’t going to float through conception on a bubble or cloud – it is not likely to be light and effortless as we once dreamed. Somehow, I will find peace with that, and beauty in the journey – slow and plodding though it may be.

On walking a different path

I started this blog two years ago, with another name, another aim, and another future in mind.

What a difference two years makes.

Shortly after I started the blog, we started trying for a family. Little did we know we were starting another journey entirely – one that has tested our strength and resilience, our goals and values, our emotions, and our patience.

After just over a year of trying, we started the investigations to determine why it wasn’t happening. A few months later, I learned I had severe endometriosis. It was removed, but we knew our likelihood of conceiving on our own had dropped somewhat. Seven months later, trying fervently to think of it only being seven months of trying and not two years, we have still never had a positive pregnancy test. I’m about to start the first of many “assisted” therapies – a drug called Clomid which will stimulate my ovaries to produce more eggs. Even though I’m ovulating just fine, it will boost our chances from a measly 1-3% to a slightly less measly 4-6%.

The plan is try it for a few months, taking 25mg from day 5-9 of my cycle, with an ultrasound on day 12 to see how things are looking. I know it could make me nauseated or cause vomiting, dizziness, sweats and mood swings. But given I’m starting with a very low dose, hopefully any side effects will be minimal. Acupuncture and herbal tonics from my naturopath on the side will, I hope, help my body manage the change as smoothly as possible.

Why write about all this, why share it with the world?

Because not enough women do. Because I didn’t even know endometriosis was something more severe than bad periods, and that it could cause infertility – and because more women should know.

Because journaling is supposed to be a good form of therapy.

Because so many forums are filled with the heavily abridged and usually rather terrifying versions of women’s journeys down this awful rabbit hole, and surely there is room for a little measured examination and quiet contemplation of the process; of the highs and lows; of the struggles and the growth that comes from them; of facing the realisation that your path is going to be quite different from the women around you, those who reproduce with seeming ease, and those who face the same hurdles as you but manage to leap them before you do; of the waiting, and the wanting, and the woe, and the occasional wonder.


image from this post on Odyssey

Winter under cultivation

Winter under cultivation

Winter under cultivation
Is as arable as Spring
– Emily Dickinson

Winter has really bared its teeth this week. Howling winds, lashing rains, bitter cold. I’ve never really enjoyed the winter months. Dull skies. Biting air. My nose always running, my hands always cold; the knuckles becoming inflamed and itchy with chilblains… I’ve always felt better, happier and more energetic in the light and the warmth.

But in the past few years I’ve found more and more things to love about the winter months. I’ve started to feel a strange sort of joy in being rugged up to my eyeballs, making (and consuming) thick vegetable soups, and pouring endless cups of tea. All the lovely, soft, nourishing things that warm the body.

But what about the mind? The creativity? How to warm them? I think it’s these things (among others) that begin to wither in the winter months, when everything is cold and dull – and it’s this that makes us feel so flat. So, we must cultivate!

This week I discovered the music of Danish singer songwriter Agnes Obel, and it’s certainly cracked open a little pot of internal gold that’s brightening my week.