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