Our Great Embryo Debate

{Also featured on The M Word }

Every so often I get asked ‘ So… are you going to try again for a girl now that you have two boys?’

What an odd question. Or am I the odd one? Why would people assume I have a need to have a daughter over another son? We have no plans to try again for any more babies, but if I did, given we have to do fertility treatment I would be over the moon with either sex, but if I’m honest, another boy would probably be a lot handier and more practical seeing as I already have mountains of boys clothes…!

So, no I say, I don’t feel I need to try again for a daughter.. as if my sons aren’t fulfilling enough for me! It really is an odd question, to me at least. Do men get asked if they want to try again for a son if their children are all girls? I dunno, probably. Odd!

However, the question does get me thinking about our little embryos. Every so often something will remind me of them – well, pretty much any time I hear of someone doing IVF or if I see a new baby, I think of them. It might sound ridiculous to some people, but I think of those little embryos like pre-born babies. They exist because of us, they are lives created by us. Ok, ‘lives’ may not be the correct word scientifically, but it’s hard to think of another word to accurately describe them, because ‘bundle of cells’ just doesn’t cover what it is they mean to us, and how important they are.

When you do IVF, you quickly learn that getting to the stage of embryos even existing from the treatment is very far down the line of ‘Things That Need To Go Right.’ It’s not just a case of rocking up to the clinic, producing the ingredients and job done, there are loads of things that have to go to plan first.

And I’m no scientist but it seems to me that a large majority of that is down to luck. Or fate, or whatever it is you happen to believe in. Science only seems to account for some of it, and the rest is ‘let’s just hope’.

We were unbelievably lucky to end up with seven Grade 1 embryos after our IVF treatment – at the time I didn’t really understand just how lucky we were to get those numbers, but they are fantastic results. Thankfully, out of three FETs (Frozen Embryo Transfers), two were successful and are currently almost four and almost two years old… essentially they’re twins just born two years apart! Sadly we had one failure in between the two boys, so that leaves us with our four little ‘frosties’.

And so the question remains.. what to do with them? Currently we pay for their storage at the clinic each year. They’re sitting in a huge freezer in tiny little tubes a bit like the inside of a biro – so tiny you can’t really see them with your own eyes. Four potential PEOPLE – to think of it too deeply just blows my mind a bit.

I wonder about how close they came to existing. When the embryologist opened the freezer on the morning of each transfer, liquid nitrogen spilling out over the sides of the big drum like something out of a science fiction movie, and looked at our little collection of embryos, what made her pick the ones she did? Those embryos she chose eventually turned into Rian and Alex. So I wonder, who didn’t get the chance to turn into people? And how close we came to not meeting Rian and Alex…?

The sheer effort required in even getting those embryos in the first place… how could I ever decide to let them go, or let them ‘expire’? I’m so emotionally attached to them and invested in them, I’ll never forget how hard it was to get them and what we went through, the emotional and physical rollercoaster of it, that I think I’ll still be paying for their storage when I’m 90. To think of not keeping them makes my heart skip a beat with sadness… does that make me sound a bit mad?!

 

I don’t know what the future holds.. at the moment we have two beautiful, precious little boys. Two boys we never dared to dream we’d have, the day we were told we’d need IVF to have any hope of becoming parents.

Part of me thinks am I being greedy to even consider more when the odds were already so stacked against us. We are so happy as a family of four, I don’t feel any pull or need to try for another one… until I think of those embryos and wonder, what if? Or maybe more appropriately… who if?

So I’ll tuck those thoughts away for now and pay the clinic for another year of storage, think about it tomorrow and be so forever grateful for the two little embryos I can tuck into bed and kiss goodnight.

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The Guilt Factor

Each morning, Monday to Friday, for the last 10 minutes of my commute to work just before I walk into the office building, I try and FaceTime the boys for a chat, especially on mornings where they are asleep when I’m leaving the house and I haven’t seen them yet. Alex usually blows me kisses and babbles very important things at me. Rian, more often than not doesn’t want to talk. This morning though, when I was having chats with Alex, in the background he said: ‘ I don’t want to talk to Mama on the phone, I want to talk to her here!’.

For a moment I considered turning around and going straight back home again, giving him a hug and telling him I’ll never leave him. But I can’t, because I have to go to work – and I want to go to work too – and at the end of the day, the bills need to get paid. So I felt the usual pang of guilt that I usually feel a few times a day, except a bit worse than usual because he had said that, and finished my gurgley chat with Alex and headed towards my desk, feeling pretty crap about myself as a mother.

If I had the freedom to choose, I don’t think I would choose to be a full time stay at home mother, I just know it wouldn’t be for me. Part time would be my ideal option, because at same time, I want to be with them all the time too. It’s that very tricky, ever elusive, perfect balance.

Guilt is something I became familiar with very early on, in fact, since the start of my first pregnancy. We are IVF parents, very very lucky ones at that, our treatment worked. So it was a bit of a surprise to me that I didn’t particularly enjoy being pregnant – extremely grateful yes, of course, but pregnancy for me was months of nausea, vomiting, swollen feet, extreme heartburn… ok my hair got a bit thicker and softer and my skin looked nice and almost glowy (possibly from the hot flushes!) for a while but even that catches up with you after the baby is born and your hair falls out and you’re left with these mad sticky outy bits all over your head while it grows back to normal again…!! Aaand breathe…! So no, if I’m honest, I didn’t enjoy being pregnant for the most part. Appreciative, yes, and lots of it I did love and cherish – the feeling of Bump moving around or kicking, but not really any of the rest of it.

Anyway back to the point… so I didn’t enjoy pregnancy, it was tough. I felt guilty about that because of our IVF and I thought of all the women who would swap places with me in a heartbeat because I used to be that woman too. And of course the moment they’re born you’re guilty all the time, am I doing this right, did I do that wrong?

When I went back to work after Rian’s maternity leave, the guilt was immense. How could I leave him every day, why was I working for a major chunk of my wages to pay someone else to see all of his ‘firsts’? And it only got worse, after I had Alex I thought I would be prepared for how it would feel to go back to work, but in fact it was worse again because what I wasn’t prepared for was Rian being old enough now to ask me, after a year of being home, ‘Mama, where are you going? Why won’t you stay here with me?’

It was very hard. I questioned myself a lot at the return to work last year. Why am I doing this?? Oh yes, then I remembered, I just don’t have the choice.

So why do we do this to ourselves? Is there a way to come to terms with this guilt or are we just destined to never be happy whatever the situation is – whether we give up work and stay at home, or if we choose not to stay at home?

I thought a lot last year about whether I wanted to give up work, assuming we could afford it and I could stay at home. It would be tight, but I think if we cut back enough we could probably get by on one wage. And is it even fair to assume that it would be me who stays home, what if their Dad wanted to stay home? I admit that thought didn’t even occur to me at the start. But even if I did stay home, I think the guilt would still find me anyway, and make me think about other things – can we afford to save for their college fund? Can we afford to give them all the things we want to?

And the other thought is – really the main reason I don’t want to give up my job – what will I do when they’re older and not as dependent on me? What if I want to go back to work then, when they’re off to school, and I have a five or six year gap on my CV – it’s hard enough going back after maternity leave,  your confidence is shaken a lot, or at least mine was. So a big gap, for me, would be very intimidating. So is it selfish of me to not want to be in that situation, to not want to sacrifice my career? Does that mean I’m a bad mother? And the guilt factor starts again.

Being a working mother, it sneaks up on you on a regular basis. When a work commitment clashes with an event at their creche or playschool, and we’re faced with missing it. Guilt. At Rian’s playschool Sport’s Day back in June, I took the day off work. Within the first ten minutes, three other mothers had mentioned to me that they hadn’t realised that our childminder, who they see every day dropping off and collecting Rian, wasn’t in fact his mother. Ouch.

Recently, our childcare situation  changed, and I was forced again to consider all of these points. I really struggle to come to some sense of peace with the fact that I’m gone all day from them. Today was their first day in a creche – Alex in particular has never been minded outside his own home until today – and I wasn’t there to drop them off. Guilty. They’re fine of course – the staff are amazing and sent me little updates and photos of them happily playing away, but my guilty mind goes into overdrive and I wonder what will they think of these decisions I’m making now when they’re all grown up? Will they think I’m selfish? Will they resent the fact that I ‘chose’ to leave them with someone other than me while I ‘chose’ not to give up my career? Ultimately, I suppose I’m thinking – how will they judge me? Am I ruining their childhood?!

I don’t know how to make the guilt go away, but I have decided to make some rules for myself.

  • I am not a bad mother. I am doing my best, along with everyone else. Yes, I go to work for myself because I enjoy it, but also of course so that I can give them everything I possibly can not just now but later in life too. I’m doing my best, and I have to tell myself that my best IS good enough.
  • Don’t focus on the negatives – instead I will focus on the times I am there. Their little faces when they see me coming through the door each evening, and the fun we can have all weekend. It makes me more grateful and appreciative of those times.
  • Most importantly of all: I make it my mission that they know they are loved. I know they know. And once they know that, I know I’m not failing completely.

Whatever way I look at it, mother guilt is here to stay, no matter what type of mother you are. There’s no point in questioning why we beat ourselves up over it, but in the end all I can suggest is that we get off our own backs, get off our own cases, and make the most of whatever situation we’re in. Guilt is not a choice, but how we deal with it certainly is.

Living With Infertility

*Recently featured on The M Word*

I think I always knew deep down that when I decided to try and get pregnant, it wasn’t going to be plain sailing. It’s easy to say that now, knowing that did happen in the end, but hand on heart, I always knew.

Somewhere within, I could sense that we’d have to go the long way around.

We never had to have that talk, Gavin and I, when we knew we’d get married and spend our lives together. We never officially asked each other if we wanted children, we both just knew we did. And even though deep down I always sensed there’d be a problem, I still felt shocked when I found out officially – there was a problem.

And strangely, that’s when things started to improve in some ways.

The years of the not knowing, wondering, endless cycles of hoping, then hope being dashed were far worse. I’m not suggesting for a moment that going through fertility treatment is easy, or something you should take lightly, but certainly for me, knowing we needed it brought its own strange sense of relief. At least now we could make a plan. Up to that point it was basically years of mental and physical hardship.

So what is it like to live with infertility?

It consumes you. From the moment you wake up, to the moment you go to sleep, you would think about it in some form or another. The first year or two, for us at least, we just went along, wondering, fairly casually, might this be the month? As newlyweds, we were happy to enjoy just being newly-wed – long weekends away, dinners out, regular cinema trips. Life was great! On the surface we had nothing to complain about. But always lurking was that wonder – why hasn’t it happened for us yet?

People would casually ask us when they might hear the ‘pitter patter of little feet’. ‘Ah haha you never know!’ we’d casually laugh back.

Casually laughing on the outside, silently crying on the inside.

And the paranoia was always hanging around too. Wondering if people were talking about us, wondering if people were feeling sorry for us.

It’s a strange thing really. When you want something really really badly, it’s as if you can’t admit it to yourself, or anyone else, in case you fail at it. That way you can protect yourself by casually shrugging it off and telling yourself, oh well. You can tell those that ask it’s ok, you weren’t that bothered anyway….so what do you fancy doing this weekend? And continue as if everything is normal.

One of the hardest aspects was trying to keep my emotions in check.

Every time someone announced a pregnancy, it was like a kick to the stomach. The struggle of trying to appear happy for your friend or family member or random person on the street, but also trying to stop tears from appearing and giving you away.

It’s not that you are unhappy for whoever is telling you their news, it’s really not. You certainly don’t wish your unhappiness on anyone else – mixed in with all that emotion you’re trying hard to control is genuine happiness for them – but it’s just that you’re also just so so sad for yourself. Then you feel guilty for having those feelings, and you listen to the excitement of due dates and possible names and all the while thinking, just get through this, be happy for them, you can cry when you get home.

Each month of trying would bring fresh hope and optimism. Maybe this will be it, this will be our month. You make friends with strangers on infertility forums, and every now and then venture into the sections relating to IVF, take a look at the scary looking acronyms that frighten the life out of you, and hope you’ll never have to find out what they mean.

You get to the stage of waiting to see if you’re pregnant this time. You convince yourself you might be, then you convince yourself you’re a failure again this month. And of course, it turns out to be true, another failed attempt.

It’s a horrible cycle of constantly building yourself up to get knocked straight back down again. You start to neglect other aspects of your life, for me, it got to the stage after 4 years of this continuous cycle, I started to withdraw further away from my friends and family. I didn’t want to go to christenings or birthday parties to be reminded of what it was I couldn’t achieve. I felt like I was failing as a woman, the thing that women are built to do, that I was failing my husband (who went to great lengths to assure me that wasn’t the case).

I’d see pregnant women everywhere, sitting on the bus. One day I got the strongest urge to go up to some poor woman and look at her square in the face and ask her DO YOU KNOW HOW LUCKY YOU ARE?

But that’s not healthy. It’s not other people’s fault that this was happening to me and to us. Other people shouldn’t have to hide their happiness or hold back from celebrating in front of me, and I genuinely didn’t expect that. Sometimes I could feel barriers going up, people who didn’t and couldn’t understand what it was like, who thought I couldn’t understand them and their point of view, and I couldn’t.

So when we found out eventually that we’d be doing IVF, it brought relief. IVF is a rollercoaster of a ride, it is hard, and exciting, and terrifying. But it is a plan.

We are, for reasons I’ll never understand, two of the lucky ones. From our IVF treatment we have two beautiful boys, both born from the same round of IVF but two years apart – I like to call them my frozen twins. I look at them sometimes and can’t really believe they are here, that they exist, against all the odds.

A few days after we got the news that we’d need IVF, of course it was devastating to hear, and I must have cried non stop for about three days. But then I started writing. I created a blog for myself, I named it The Scenic Route, as that was the road I knew we’d always end up taking. So I just wrote down how I felt. I immediately felt better, just getting it down in words, essentially talking to myself, helped me immensely to deal with it.

Talking to others helped a lot too. People didn’t and still don’t talk very openly about it, for various, and obvious reasons. But I wanted to talk about it! So I was very open about it from the start, with Gavin on board obviously as it affected him just as much. Suddenly, people were approaching me privately, telling me their own story. People I knew were going through this and I had no idea. I am often asked if it was hard to be open about it, for me it just wasn’t. It was good for me to talk about it and good to know that others could come to me and we could help eachother.

How should you deal with it if someone you know is going through this?

Offer support. Tell them you are there to listen should they ever need it. Don’t ask lots of questions all the time, let them come to you if they want to. But just knowing your friends are there and are trying to understand, means the world.

If you are reading this and thinking, yep I could have written this myself….. keep going. Take it in small pieces rather than thinking of the whole big scary picture. One day or one month at a time and remember that every time you try something it is a step closer. If you would like to ever talk about it, just get in touch! There is support out there, sometimes it’s just nice to know that you’re definitely not on your own.

To Grow A Human

I have a confession to make. If you’ve seen earlier blog posts you’ll know that earlier this year I wrote a piece about IVF which basically ended up with me being on the radio chatting to Ray D’arcy about our experience with fertility treatment. Well, I must confess that at the time of that interview, I had already just done a transfer, and although I didn’t quite know it yet, I was already pregnant! Yes, I’m growing a human.

In late February I went back on the fertility medication to prepare for our third frozen embryo transfer, our second attempt at a brother or sister for Rian. This process isn’t as intrusive as the process for a full round of IVF – these embryos were frozen after that original round in 2013 when we were extremely lucky to be able to freeze 7 high quality embryos. Rian was the first transfer, we had one late last year which failed, so this was transfer number three.

With that in mind I’m very familiar with the process and know the routine. You take oestrogen tablets 3 times a day along with progesterone pills twice a day. Nice little cocktail of hormones going on there, plenty of fun for everyone. After about 2 weeks of that you go the clinic where they give you an ultrasound to check the lining of your womb – it needs to be thick in preparation for the replacement of the embryo. If it’s too thin, the embryo won’t be able to implant and start growing. Once everything is doing what it should, they give you a time for the transfer and in you go.

It’s a relatively quick process. They select what looks to be the strongest embryo and thaw it out, a couple of hours before it’s due to be transferred. You’re brought into the theatre room. They scan your wrist band and ask you to state your name and date of birth a few times while two other people call out ID codes and confirm ID codes again to make sure you’re getting your own embryo, cos that could be awkward. Then they show you little embryo on the screen, you give him a little wave and hope you’ll see him again in 9 months time.

The embryo is then placed in a tiny tube, sort of like the inside tube of a biro, except thinner. It’s about the size of a poppyseed. Using an ultrasound so the doctor can see where he/she is putting it, the tube is inserted and they release it close to the lining of your womb. It is within some sort of liquid so that when they release it they can see, otherwise it would be too small for the ultrasound to pick up.

And job done.

They give you a pregnancy test and a date for testing, and release you into the hell that is the two week waiting time before you can find out whether it has worked. You continue to take the hormone cocktails which greatly add to your emotions during the two weeks of waiting torture, and not in a good way.

Over the next two weeks you torture yourself with – Yay it has worked! / Christ it hasn’t worked. It’s mental torture. After a wait about as long as an Ice Age, test day finally arrives, and it’s quite hard to do the test due to the shaking of your hands from nerves and the knot of dread in your stomach. After a couple of minutes of extra intense torture….two pink lines appeared. Embryo was still in there. Baby number two is on its way!

We absolutely know and appreciate how lucky we are to be expecting our second baby especially when the odds of treatment aren’t as high as you would want them to be. But this doesn’t mean that it’s not still hard. I touched on this in older posts that I wrote while pregnant with Rian – how I thought that getting pregnant would be the hard bit, but actually for me, being pregnant is not much of a picnic. In fact even saying the word picnic makes me think of certain foods that makes me want to heave!

At first I feel that I’m not entitled to not enjoy it, that I should automatically love every second of it purely because of the route we have to take to even get pregnant. But I have to be honest – I don’t really enjoy the being pregnant bit, unfortunately I’m one of those women that has all the crappy stuff that goes with pregnancy. On Rian I was nauseous all day long at the start, but this time around, on a good day I might get sick once, on a bad day it was 3 or 4 times a day. Throughout this you still must function as normal – get on trains and public transport, do your day to day work, manage a toddler. It’s not easy! Yes I am grateful, so much so I can’t even put it into words, but that doesn’t make me automatically enjoy it.

I’m just at the 4 month mark now, and finally the sickness is starting to ease at last! I’m starting to feel a bit normal again, a bit like myself again. I’m starting to get excited now, hopefully soon I’ll start feeling movement – I think I was 18 weeks when I first felt the little pops from Rian fluttering around! To think there’s a whole person forming inside me… will it be another boy? Will he look like Rian? Will they have similar personalities? So many exciting things to wonder about!

To grow a human is so amazing, to have the chance to do it is amazing. But my God, women are pretty amazing too! Roll on the next few months of watching Bump grow and become stronger as my newest little human.

 

 

And So We Begin

I’ve been meaning to start a blog for ages, and I finally got round to it.

I’m Jen. I’m in my early 30’s, an age area I like. I thought I wouldn’t when I was in my twenties, but I prefer it here. I got married in October 2010 to Gavin and we have two dogs who we love a lot.

Life ticks along nicely which we are happy about, we have nothing to complain about really in the grand scheme of things. There is just one hole which needs to be fixed for us at the moment which comes in the shape of a baby!

So we are fairly new recruits to the process of trying to get pregnant. What an eye opener it’s been so far. I’ve had a few tests over the last year which originally started out as tests for other things but somehow along the way we ended up here. Which I’m grateful for because it may have saved us months and months of trying unsuccessfully.

After months of fertility drugs, then a few more months of various tests, it still never dawned on me that there would be anything found, I just assumed all would be ok and off we go. So it was a big shock to hear that both of my tubes are blocked. It still didn’t dawn on me that this would be a major problem – just unblock them then?  – but it seems that this isn’t always the case. We were told that IVF is likely to be our only option to conceive.

So that’s where we are today. It took a good few days to digest that news. I always would have described myself as optimistic, but as it turns out, not so much. They may as well have told me I’d never have a baby. Luckily I’m married to The Most Optimistic Man Ever who really believes that it will work for us, no doubt in his mind.

I’m at the stage now where I’ve accepted that this is now the road we’re facing, and I wouldn’t say I’m excited about it but it doesn’t fill me with the cold fear it did at the start. I’m hopeful at least, bordering on optimistic at best!

Let the games begin