“To dream anything that you want to dream.
That's the beauty of the human mind.
To do anything that you want to do.
That is the strength of the human will.
To trust yourself to test your limits.
That is the courage to succeed”.
I’m lying on a squeaky bed. I can feel the metal bars across my back on the worn out thin mattress and I can smell the crispness of potent detergent in the sheets. I am being rolled along a corridor and all I can see is the dirty sealing and the lights flashing as I go past. I hear people dash from door to door; their blue, white and pink uniforms flash before me. One of the lights somewhere needs its bulb changed as all I can hear is the buzzing and buzzing, fading, fading. Welcome to day surgery Athena. The first operation in my life, ever. I was always a healthy kid, even as adventurous as I was; I never had any bumps or broken bones. But today at 32 years old, I was having a laparoscopy. In layman’s terms, 4 probes. One through the belly button, 2 above the groin and one conveniently in my vagina. One of the probes was thick enough to have the tiniest of cameras attached to it. My Fertility Specialist wanted to take a look inside my uterus and see whether there was anything to explain my infertility. Infertility - the word I had become quite accustomed to now for nearly 2 years. And today was not the happy ending story. There’s another 4 years to this tale of holding my child in my arms.
My husband and I met when I was 21. We dated for awhile, went on holidays - drank, partied, lived life. We moved in together when I turned 24. Having come from a strict Greek background, this was finally my time to shine. To really express myself, not be bogged down by rules and finally experience adulthood. We lived happily and started to become more involved with our careers and saving cash for our first home. We got married when I was 27. Throw in a few more holidays, helping our families and establishing secure jobs. I was 29 when we finally opened the door to our own home. The thought of children never really entered our minds. We wanted them eventually but were so happy together. Everyone around us was the same age and only now starting to have kids. We were not far behind when we decided to try. How hard could it be? Everyone else was having kids.
Everyone but me.
I can’t tell you the amount of times I cried in those 6 years. Some of them were loud and destructive when no one was around to hear. Other times it was in the shower, holding my mouth shut so tight so that my husband wouldn’t hear my pain. There were times when I sat in the train, my head against the window and silent tears trickling down my cheek, a packed train full of people minding their own business completely oblivious to this woman sitting close by just wanting to die. So many reasons set me off, if it wasn’t my best friend who hated kids but found a good bloke to "keep" and is smsing me she’s pregnant with her second, it was the filthy sister in law pregnant with her third or a 1st birthday party with my husband and I being the only childless couple whilst an old Greek lady approaches me, rubs me in the tummy and in broken English asks “no beby?”. To top it off, being a youth worker helping adolescents didn’t help either. There was always that 15 year old excitedly telling me she was pregnant after a night out of booze and drugs. “My baby’s daddy is a loser and doesn’t want me to keep it, what should I do Athena?” While she’s inhaling a cigarette. Um well you can help me by tightening up that noose around my neck. And then all those times, peeing on a stick with one line not two. Big Fat Negatives. There was also the constant guilt of trying to have a baby at an older age. Only a woman who has experienced infertility and the challenges to have a baby can truly understand the feelings and thoughts that I went through. My story does have a happy ending, and by reading this I pray that it gives others out there hope that miracles do happen.
But first we must acknowledge the journey in order to welcome the accomplishment.
The road to becoming a mummy begins. I’m 30 having baby danced whenever wherever. See what happens approach. Our work and social schedules sometimes didn’t synchronize, so a year later it didn’t really bother me that I wasn’t yet pregnant. I embraced new sweet smelling babies with delight and awe. I then began the process of getting blood tests just to make sure that I was healthy and to correct any obstacles. My doctor discussed with me timed sex. Basically I had a perfect 28 day cycle and somewhere in the middle were my fertile times to have sex. No pregnancy. I then had ultrasounds to check that I actually had a reproductive system that was functional. All clear too, baby dancing resumed. No pregnancy. I then said "fuck it, time to see a specialist". I’m not a procrastinator and now there were just too many babies to meet, christenings to attend, birthday parties where my Oscar winning performing fake smile reared its head. So I had the laparoscopy. Bingo. Endometriosis. A disease that no hyped up ten thousand degree fertility specialist has given an answer as to why women get this. Surgery fixes it, but it can still come back. Stress can invite it back too. My uterus was now squeaky clean. Baby dance, timed sex, ovulation predictor tests, spit in this and see a fern test. Put your fingers in your vagina and feel the mucous. You’re ovulating Athena. Multivitamins, Elevit pre-pregnancy tablets, fish oil, Raspberry leaf tea, Vitex and other over the counter products. I also gave up the smokes and coffee. No pregnancy. In between all of this, my husband got his sperm tested much to his delight (sarcasm). All perfect.
After 3 years it was quite obvious that natural conception was not going to happen for me. The decision to try the scientific method was clear. I wanted to have a baby now and my patience and mental health were wearing thin.
The road to assisted conception begins. I’m 33. My body gets prepped up for an inuterine insemination. Basically a more relaxed version to IVF. Small amounts of hormones injected daily in my tummy till at least one follicle is primed ready to ovulate. Once it’s big and strong, another injection to ovulate it and then my husband’s swimmers are inseminated into my uterus. Just like they do to cows. Moooo. Fingers crossed. No pregnancy. Another 2 attempts at this. Nothing. My specialist doesn’t believe in putting women through further IUI’s if unsuccessful after 3 goes. The worst part during those years was the ever constant remarks by others. The typical "relax and it will happen", or "you need to have sex more often", "it will happen when it happens", "it's in God's plan". I just wanted to murder these people, with their arrogant, obnoxious and self serving attitudes. I was looked at like a leper. Pregnant relatives or friends would avoid me at gatherings and events so that they wouldn't make me feel "sad". How fucking pathetic. If anything, their ignorance and classifying me as "different" were enough to make me feel even more isolated. It's amazing how much you discover about people during these times.
So now we’re recruited for the Big League. IVF. More higher and potent amounts of hormones. More follicles are needed. However not too much as what the body would normally discard as crap is now kept for harvesting. But the crap ones can affect the quality of the good ones. Every second day are blood tests and vaginal ultrasounds. Counting how many follicles are in there, size and ripening up for the harvest. Back to that corridor again, wheeled down to surgery for egg collection. 16 are written on my hand when I wake up from the morphine. Hmmmm morphine, I can see why people get hooked on heroin …… 7 fertilise and become embryos. We do twin transfers at Day 2 growth. 'A' grade embryos with an excellent chance of pregnancy. I didn’t care if I had twins I just wanted a baby, and if there were 2, even better. Although I’m feeling bloated, nauseous and my tummy looks 6 months pregnant. I have a mild case of hyperstimulation because the hormones I was injecting made my body an overresponder. The now empty ovaries are filling up with water. We still go ahead with the transfer. I'm now unofficially pregnant until proven otherwise. Those 2 weeks of waiting whether the embryo implanted into the uterus are terrifying. The mere fact that I had to go down this road of IVF felt like a last chance of ever getting pregnant. That wait was enough to raise my anxiety and have doubts that I would ever become a mother. The last few days of the wait I just knew that it didn't work. I got the heavy cramps and then the bleeding. No pregnancy. Depression came along rapidly. It bit me so hard that I just wanted to die. The last resort didn't work for me. 5 of the embryos that were left were then frozen for when we did the frozen cycle transfer. Twin transfers again twice in consecutive months. No pregnancy. On my way to the clinic to get the final last frozen embryo transferred, the nurse calls me. “Sorry Athena, the embryo didn’t survive the thaw”. Gutted, here come the tears again. Depression. What now? If IVF didn't work, then what were my chances? What hope did I have?
Second IVF cycle begins. The same results. 16 follicles. Though this time as I’m now nearly 35, the specialist decides on a Day 5 blastocyst transfer. This growth allows for better implantation results. Then why wasn't this done in the first cycle? I felt like a guinea pig with a tiny brain that just went along with everything I was told to do. In later months, I researched more thoroughly the procedures and I believe that I should now have been given a medical degree and planned my own protocol. 6 embryos fertilise, only one makes it to the transfer. This was the risk of going to blastocyst stage. No frosticles. Those 3 words again - Big Fat Negative. Devastated, on the brink on checking myself into a psychiatric hospital. I speak to my husband about divorce. He is such a good man and deserves better, a more fertile woman. Not this woman I have become. Consumed with having a child, entrenched in this Trying To Conceive world. He laughs at me. “I’m fucking serious” I say. He yells at me, walks out the door. We don’t speak for days and avoid talking about trying again. He loves me. He would never leave me. I’m the one – mongrel head, infertile yet funny girl of his. I’m a keeper apparently.
It’s time to take a break.
My age didn’t help and my body was tired. Physically and mentally. I needed to have a baby NOW. The finances were just too tight. My husband sold his motorcycle just to afford the 2nd IVF cycle. So it’s a break from the big league and time to explore other more affordable and natural options. As long as I was trying everything and anything, I felt better about achieving my goal. I had so many people telling me to try this and that and I did. I started taking Royal Jelly tablets. Apparently this product is the result of honey taken from the Queen Bee herself and can boost fertility ten times over. No pregnancy. A religious friend of mine acquired some dried apple that was blessed in a monastery. I ate this and prayed hard. No pregnancy. Maybe my lack of optimism affected this. I even had an ultrasound where they inserted a balloon filled with water to expand my fallopian tubes. No pregnancy. But possibly a fibroid. Great. Chinese herbs eventually came into my life. I heard it referred to so many times before. Surely this was my miracle? Jeez how many Chinese people are on this Earth? Billions? Well here we go. Even if it was over a 2 hour journey into the City to see the herbalist, I would have done anything. My mission to have a baby resonated military precision. Victory was the only result. I walked out of that consult room elated. This herbalist was amazing, constructive and believable. Chinese herbs are not so great to drink. Take it out of your head those delicious sweet pork rolls, coconut cakes and the lush jasmine tea. These herbs are fucking disgusting. If I ever drank shit that came out of an aged and decrepit dead animal, sprinkled with the vomit of a sewer rat with a side salad of diarrhoea then this is how I would describe it. Nevertheless, the stuff worked and only after one cycle. Those 2 blue lines on the pregnancy test came up quick. I was late by a day and thought I would check before I went in to see the herbalist again for more stock. I was pregnant. Like really pregnant. I envisioned the smiles and laughter of my husband and including my beautiful parents so eagerly waiting to become grandparents. My sister the sports shoe fanatic already is picking out the baby Ni.ke’s. For one whole week, the dreams danced around in my head. The nursery, the name, the little hands and feet, my beloved little child. Then the cramps began, the bleeding soon after. I miscarry. I just couldn't look at the faces of my family. Their tears accompanied with mine could have easily caused a flood. That same day as I took pills to give me comfort from the pain, the heat bag against my stomach and 3 super pads to collect the blood every hour, my husband gets a call from his younger brother to announce the birth of his 3rd child! 7 weeks this little one held on. Loved and never forgotten. This little angel gave me the strength to believe that miracles do happen and overall I was fertile, I could fall pregnant. Further extensive tests later couldn’t conclude why I miscarriage. Unexplained infertility and now unexplained miscarriage. I just had to keep going.
Hope is all I had in the end.
I was 36. I was just about to embark on another IVF cycle. I had enough of the snake-oil salesmen with their bullshit products and guaranteed pregnancies. I also had professioanl counselling to deal with my failures, loss and impending doom of dealing with the possibly of never becoming a mother. It was Christmas time when we decided to try the scientific method again. At least I knew that this option produced follicles and embryos. I also embarked on the challenge of exercise. I joined the gym and got myself a personal trainer. Healthy body and healthy mind was the goal. I waited till the clinic was opened again in the new year with its usual friendly staff. Knowing that we saved to go down this path again, feeling a bit more optimistic and concluding that no matter what, I will have as many cycles till my body says no more. I would scrape, scrounge and borrow. Nothing will stop me.
So I relaxed.
New Years Eve and my period is late. Surely I’m not pregnant? This cycle was about whatever whenever sex. I don't remember ever secreting any of that egg white fertile mucus. Or maybe I just didn’t bother checking this time? Peed on a stick. Negativity creeping in again, I’m probably menopausal. So young for that but just my luck. The universe hates me, God hates me. I hate me. Waiting 5 minutes for those two lines to appear is everlasting, I could live another life in that time. Prayers, my eyes shut as I make my way into the bathroom where that plastic stick is waiting for me. “I swear God, if I’m pregnant I will be a better Christian, I will say my prayers of thanks every night. I will never bitch or whinge about anything or anyone. Oh yes and if I am pregnant can this one be a keeper?”
Thank you Lord! Pregnant and silly. Raw emotions flooding my body. I want to scream, I want to cry. I’m scared. And scared I was for 9 whole months. But that’s another story. My Callum arrived on the 8th September 2009. One day before my wedding anniversary. The best gift I have ever received. Healthy and content at 4.1 kgs.
Oh and did I mention that Callum in Gaelic means Dove – The Harbinger of Hope?
This story was originally posted in an edited version on Maybe Baby...(or maybe the loony bin?) You can view this here