It all began when girl crush got pregnant. We all have girl friends who are more crushes than pals: chicas loaded with sass, style and smarts, who are always that little bit out of reach. Girls whose calls we always take.
In April last year, my girl crush got pregnant. I hugged her and celebrated and then went home and sulked. As the weeks went on, I sat alone with two unfamiliar emotions: jealousy and broodiness.
I had spent most of my early 30s actively avoiding having children. When my husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had to have his prostate removed to save his life, forever removing the possibility of us getting pregnant naturally, I felt sad but there were no waves of grief or need for a therapist. I’ve always subscribed to the Scots philosophy of “what’s for you, won’t go by you” and I soon accepted our childless future and started planning a trip to Rajasthan.
But as girl crush’s belly began to grow, I was overcome with unfamiliar cravings which I examined with caution. Was my sudden desire to procreate linked to a worry that girl crush would no longer call after baba was born? Or was it my deep subconscious screaming: “Even the coolest chick you know is having a baby! You are going to miss out on one of life’s greatest experiences!”
In the quiet of our marital bedroom, I broached the idea of IVF. Prior to my husband’s cancer treatment, we had frozen some swimmers who were safely in a deep freeze at Glasgow’s Royal Infirmary. Should we get them out of the ice and give IVF a go? Would we regret it if we didn’t at least give it a try?
It was a conversation we chose not to have with family or friends. We figured there was no point soliciting anyone’s opinion except each other’s. We were going to be the ones to raise our baba. Our lives were going to be the ones that changed. No one else’s opinion mattered. Not even girl crush’s.
After months of deliberation we decided to give it one go. With the help of doctors we would throw a latticed bridge to the other world, and if baba said yes, so would we. If baba said: “shove off old people”, we would accept and book a holiday to Laos.
Boom. Bam. Laos lost. Thanks to the talented fertility team at the Glasgow Centre for Reproductive Medicine it worked first time.
Looking back, I know now that one of the reasons I had crossed children off my list was because I was afraid of IVF. I hate hospitals and after five years of living through cancer treatments, I didn’t want to walk down yet another sterile corridor. But as I was to discover a private IFV clinic is more like a boutique hotel than a hospital – it even has glossy magazines.
And one by one, all my other fears were dismantled too.
When I asked the nurse if there was any danger that the IVF drugs could give me cancer, she laughed out loud. “They are just synthetic versions of the normal hormones your body makes, and they leave your system with two days of you taking them.”
Another fear was of dying under general anaesthetic. I told my fear to an anaesthetist at a wedding. She also laughed out loud.
“They don’t use general anaesthetic when they retrieve the eggs, they use conscious sedation. It’s the same thing we use on babies.”
“So there is absolutely no danger of me dying?
“None at all,” she said. “It’s my favourite drug.”
What about the mood swings? I take 50mg of the anti-depressant sertraline daily and have done for 7 years. Thanks to a combination of medication and meditation, my mental health is strong, stable and balanced. I had heard horror stories of how IVF drugs put you out of whack and I was terrified of going back to the abyss.
“It doesn’t happen to everyone,” said the nurse.
And it didn’t happen to me. Because I have a low AMH – ie. I have very few eggs left – I was put on a drug-light protocol. I took synthetic progesterone for 10 days which, five days in, made me feel like I had PMT. I took it while on holiday in Venice and felt emotionless and detached from the most beautiful city in the world. It was crap, but the feeling passed as soon as I stopped taking them.
This was followed by an injection in the leg, and then daily injections in the belly to mature my eggs. Like most ordinary mortals, I was daunted by the thought of injecting myself, but this turned to out to be as terrifying as poking yourself in the tummy with a ballpoint pen, and had no side effects at all.
And when my time came for conscious sedation, I felt a cold creep up my arm, followed by a few moments where it felt I was pondering a thought just beyond my reach. I finally gave up trying to find the thought, opened my eyes and, bam, I was in the recovery room.
What followed was a tale of defeating the odds. Our doctor retrieved just four eggs, but only one of them fertilized. For five days, our single embryo was kept in an incubator outside my body, and I found myself waving at the clinic, every time I drove past, giving our wee one an encouraging wave. On Day 5, we arrived at the clinic and were met with a grinning embryologist who told us that our single embryo was a wee superstar, an A-grade blastocyst that had every chance in the world of making it. Minutes later, in an operating theatre, we watched with amazement on an ultrasound screen, as our embryo was inserted into my uterus through a catheter, arriving into my womb like a shooting star, our little pulse of white light.
We went home, pregnant with possibility, and I spent the next 48 hours laughing as much as I could since I had read research from Japan that said that women exposed to clowns after an IVF treatment have higher success rates. I watched half a series of Modern Family that I had saved for the occasion, though found equal humour in my husband’s face which seemed to be frozen into a state of shock and disbelief. Ten days later, when my husband was on the other side of the world in a remote corner of Newfoundland, I was able to send him a text to tell him: “Yebo! Yes! Back of the Net!”
Until I braved IVF, I saw it as something that belonged to a shadow world, a world dominated by fear, doubt, anxiety and a sense of failure. But once on this journey, I found a world very different to the one I imagined. In it’s place were encouraging nurses, kind acupuncturists with all sorts of tricks up their sleeves, supportive online forums where women from around the world trade fertility tips (eat an avocado every day – I did) and talented embryologists who are gunning for you all the way.
To those of you who can’t get pregnant in the old-fashioned way, my message is this: screw it. Toss those feelings of fear, doubt and failure out the window. IVF is just another way to get pregnant, a much more collegiate way, in fact and if you’re quite social and like doing things in big groups and are not into orgies, you may even prefer it. It might take a whole village to raise a child, but it can take a receptionist, four nurses, an embryologist, a fertility specialist, a mum and a dad, and some glossy magazines, to make a baby. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
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