Friday, 29 March 2013

Eggs and baby chicks and sugar: fertility symbols AND mass consumer delights

In addition to our Monday off, today is technically a bank holiday here in the UK, but there's still no rest for us academic saps the wicked, so today finds me banging away at the keyboard.

(Four day weekend you say? This is pretty much meaningless in our household, since weekends of any kind don't really exist for people in our field, who're likely to be found scrambling to meet our latest deadlines on any given Sunday.)

Anyway, today as I sought ways and means to studiously avoid the overdue article I should be writing puttered about the house, I came across this Easter treat. For the Girls fans among us (we seem to be inexplicably legion): enjoy.

And now if you'll excuse me as I go stuff my face with processed fluorescent coloured sugar in the shape of defenceless baby animals get back to work.

Have a lovely long weekend everyone, however you plan to spend it.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Bump envy

It's something I suppose we've all experienced here, but this* is taking it a tad far, surely?

Granted, Heidi Agan's envy seems to be prompted by something other than the emotionally-charged, hormone-crazed, random-crying, baby-craving, cervical-position-seeking, innocent-pregnant-bystander-hating that feeds my own desires.

(And it's not that I'm saying, er... frocks aren't a perfectly good reason for envy. More just that Kate Windsor's frocks are not really my thing; however much I may envy her current status  - pregnant, not princess - she wouldn't be my first sartorial inspiration.)

Anyway, I'm feeling comparatively well-adjusted now. Thank you, Heidi.


* I swear, I only read the Daily Mail when obsessively searching for baby seal rescue stories like this. That last one will have you in tears.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

A week of loveliness in two halves: London

And then, after the animal rescue angst and the family visit, we were off to The Smoke, just the two of us again. H didn't disappoint in his planning, lots of little surprises up his sleeve, revisiting all the significant spots in our history, booking us at no less than three of our favourite restaurants. The weekend was basically spent over-indulging in food and drink, strolling the snowy streets, and taking in lots of what my German speaking husband refers to as kunstgenuss. And - because that's what we had done when we were first dating, to celebrate three blissful months together (probably a good two months after we both realized that this was it) - on Friday night we drank prosecco from plastic cups, huddled close together under a blanket on the chilly evening terrace of the Southbank Centre, looking out towards the Parliament buildings and the London Eye and across the Thames. And you know what? It felt a bit like it had then: a little bit new, a little bit hopeful, a little bit scary and exciting, a little bit full of possibilities.

But as for London (the backdrop to so many a happy memory for us), I think she speaks for herself.* So for those of you interested in what else I was up to during my recent internet hiatus, here is just a glimpse...

Borough's bounty

Riding the rails

Brick gallery at Brick Lane

Raindrops on the river

* Having lived in various points around the UK, and having tasted the varied charms that each region has to offer, I nonetheless am the first to admit to being one of those really obnoxious Londoners at heart. Basically, as much as I love England's countryside, (and oh, I do), everything of interest or significance to me ends at the M25. 

Empathy for the seals (Or, how I narcissistically connect everything to my reproductive challenges)

So I'm back from my travels. I've missed and look forward to catching up on all your news, but I must say, it's been good to have time away from screens of any kind. Away from any thoughts related to my reproductive system, babies, or lack thereof. Well, almost any thoughts.

And just like that, it's now officially spring (and the start of another year in my life); but here in the UK we've been hit with a gust of glacial temperatures and snow the like of which I've not seen in all my years of association with these isles. Of course as a Canadian, I find all the hoopla faintly humorous, (it's really just a few inches people), but the fact is they are simply not equipped to deal with snow of any real quantity here.  

Anyway, the weather made for a very atmospheric experience of the beautiful and forlorn Northumberland coast, where we hiked the coastal path last week. It seemed to evoke the history of the peoples that built the magnificent castles and abbeys studded along the beaches, conjuring the mournful Gaelic tunes which lie deep within the heritage I inherit on my mother's side.

And speaking of my mother, the long walks in conditions not conducive to extended conversations provided other hidden benefit besides atmosphere.

Here's the thing: H and I spend so much time together, and even, because of the nature of our work, away from others, that it's easy for me to forget the casual way in which  patronizing and wildly unrealistic 'helpful' comments about the state of our childlessness, the things we should do to change (or my favourite, accept) that state, and even the ways we should grieve our son, can so easily be tossed around by those who don't understand the life-altering depth of the infertility and loss experience. As such, my skills at deflecting these comments, at placing protective boundaries, are not as finely honed as they might be. It's worth noting though how tiring it can be to stay 'up' all the time for the benefit of others who can't and don't understand, and who worry for you because they probably think your behaviour is well beyond the margins of normal coping. Because man, as much as I love my mother, is it tiring. And so isolating.

I know all mother/daughter relationships are fraught, with or without the challenges and uncertainties and feelings of inadequacy that come with infertility and loss. But in moments like those last week, I was reminded of the inevitable divide, the very natural inabilities to relate (on both sides), that have developed as the space between our respective journeys to motherhood widens.

But having said that, the time outdoors was wonderful and invigorating and calming, as it always is for me.

Aside from the gorgeous views, all the freshly caught crab we could eat in cosy pubs along the way, and the soothing sound of the waves, what did we encounter on our hiking expedition? While walking along the coastal path to one of the aforementioned castle ruins (pictured below), we came across a scene that nearly broke my heart. A beautiful seal pup, clearly not more than a few weeks old, had been washed ashore by the violent waves. He was deposited a very long way from the water's edge, his mother nowhere in sight, and had suffered an injury to his eye, which was heavily swollen shut and releasing a sickly looking fluid. He kept lifting his little flapper to shield and sooth the eye, while annoying hikers who I would have liked to beat chase away with a stick wanted to come and 'pet' him. Apparently, under severe weather conditions, this is not unheard of. I couldn't bear the thought of this little guy floundering, in need of care, so far from his natural habitat, or of his mother, out there in the waves, lamenting his loss. Big, fat missing-my-son, longing-for-a-living-baby tears threatened as I imagined this. Go on, tell me I'm anthropomorphizing creatures whose reality in the natural world is a brutal one. I already know.

As soon as we reached the nearest car park, we put a call in to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, who were listed as the contact point in case of discovery of a sick or injured seal. (Why no Parks Warden, I don't know). Five telephone calls - from the RSPCA (who said they couldn't help because by the time we finally got through to their call centre they couldn't be sure of the pup's exact location anymore - thank you RSPCA!), to the National Seal Rescue to the Scarborough Sealife Centre to British Sea Divers' Mammal Rescue - and many angst-ridden hours later, I finally got through to someone who agreed to send out a scout who would locate and treat the seal pup. So back in my flat and already re-packing for my urban idyll, I had only to hope this story ended as happily as other, reassuring but even more surprising cases of seal pup rescue. I hope they found that little guy and got him back to the water. I can even dream that he was reunited with his mother.

On reflection, I don't know what worried me more about this episode though: the thought of this lonesome baby seal suffering far from the care of its mother, or the fact that I sometimes now find it easier to empathize with and relate to the predicaments of a seal mama and baby than relate to my own (human) family.

A glimpse of H and I, pre-seal discovery

Friday, 15 March 2013

We can now continue with our regularly scheduled programming

Well, I cajoled and pleaded with my uterus to just hurry up and bleed already so that the procedure to remove that polyp would not have to be postponed; and for once, a rant about my disobedient body would be totally unjustified. I'm feeling rather pleased with my uterus for her cooperation, as well as with the overall outcome of yesterday's visit to the hospital.

In brief: I am polyp-free. The procedure itself was slightly more eye wateringly scream worthy unpleasant than I could have imagined - especially since I wasn't advised to take a preemptive pain killer as is usually done with an HSG or whatever - but the pain was short lived. And this whole little debacle can now be relegated to the dustbin of my reproductive organ history (surreal and unfortunate mental image).*

But it gets better. We were actually called into the exam room by the very doctor who I was waiting to be referred to for further investigations on the recurrent pregnancy loss front. (In my experience with such procedures in the UK you don't get anywhere near a doctor, so I was pleasantly surprised off the bat). So far, I have to say I like this doctor very much. He asked us if we wanted to begin with that consultation for RPL as well, since we were already there 'and it saves you a trip'. He then spent the better part of an hour with us, going over our history, the risk factors we might be looking for, what procedures they will undertake to investigate those, and answering all our accumulated neurotic and random questions. He is a high risk OB/GYN, and he thinks our case is best dealt with by their clinic, but he also made a referral to their partners in the sub-fertility clinic 'just to rule everything out and put your mind at ease'. How lovely is that? He had a very calm, clinical approach, but he referred to all my pregnancies as involving babies, and not 'products of conception' or 'tissue'. According to him, since my progesterone levels are consistently strong, there is no reason for worry as yet about my LH levels this past cycle, and said that 38 is still a 'very healthy, perfect age' for having a baby. When our consultation was over and he had removed the polyp, he personally walked us all the way to the phlebotomy lab where we had our blood drawn. This guy gets lots of points for approach and effort and awareness so far. H and I both felt listened to, reassured and genuinely cared for, and that makes all the difference in our feelings of optimism for this road we're walking. 

We both left with a renewed sense of direction and calm, and for however long that lasts (see all the previous posts I've ever written on that likelihood), we'll take it. I said as much to H, that - based on what the doctor had said - I feel renewed in my determination to carry on carrying on for now and try to see no reason why things might not, for once, swing our way after all this time. H pointed out that this had been his message all along and that he was glad I was at least willing to listen to someone. Well yes, while I appreciate - indeed, crave - his optimism and certainty, it is also nice to hear those messages of reassurance from someone with training in something other than, er...political science.  


And just like that, my birthday is around the corner. Last year, we were still living in Portugal, and we celebrated here, eating freshly caught fish al fresco and swimming outdoors. In March. (I really miss that place).

Of course I had no idea then that a whole year would pass and we'd be...I am tempted to say 'no closer to where we want to get', but when I think about it, there are so many ways in which that's not true. No, we still aren't parents to a living baby. But we're more solid in our determination as a couple to achieve that goal than we have ever been. We both know where we want to go, even if we're not there yet. And maybe, medically speaking, we're even going to get some of the support we need.

So for now at least, my duvet diving days are on hold, not least because we have more than a week of travels and visits and lovely cultural enjoyments to take in. This evening my mother arrives to join us for a celebration of my actual birthday, which will be spent here enjoying four days of long coastal walks, windswept beaches, fresh seafood, exploring castle ruins, and dinner in a real treehouse. After that, we're home for scarcely a day before heading out once again, just the two of us, to partake of some more urbane pleasures, the details of which remain a carefully guarded mystery to me, but which will involve three nights in London, likely visits to galleries, probably (if I have anything to do with it), a stroll through one of my favourite places to hang out in the whole city, and certainly prosecco.

H's penchant for meticulously planned decadent surprises remains unstoppable. When, post-freak out last week, I told him I didn't want to celebrate my birthday this year, as I was starting to see it as nothing more than a cruel reminder of what we haven't managed to achieve, he replied that we don't need to make it about birthdays or the progression of time at all, but that he wants the opportunity to stop the clocks, be in the present, and celebrate me. 

And if I intend to stick with the attitude I embraced post-hospital yesterday, I suppose there is nothing wrong with the enjoyment of some very grown-up pleasures and moments of joy (I have to work harder to stay true to the header of this blog), especially as jungle time will definitely fall in this period, and there's always the hope that such grown-up jaunts may become a thing of the past for us in the not-too-distant future.


Friends, thank you for all your kind words and thoughts through this tough past week. Your lovely, warm messages of camaraderie and understanding allowed me to feel very much buoyed, and a little bit less crazy in my moments of melodrama. I hope that whatever you have planned this weekend, it includes brief moments of joy, opportunities to stop the clock and celebrate you. Because I think you're pretty awesome.

* I am sure you'll think I'm ridiculously melodramatic for spending as much time in print as I have on this topic. You'd be right, but in the absence of anything resembling even the hint of the promise of a future baby on what might otherwise be considered a ttc blog, perhaps I felt obliged to discuss lady parts. I know that a lot of you lament the lack of education we otherwise highly educated women have about our own bodies, but I for one really really wish I wasn't this interested in my own cervix. Just saying.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Infertility: Explained

Well, mine at least, and for this cycle anyway. That's right folks, we have a winner in the where the heck did my period go? challenge. My luteinizing hormone (LH) levels were at an underachieving 0.69, well below the normal range. This means I almost certainly didn't even ovulate this cycle.

This also apparently means, since my follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) was within the normal range, that I am now at increased risk of ovarian cysts, since the stimulated follicle, once large enough to do its thing but unable to release an egg, can easily fill with fluid. 

I got the news from my favorite nurse who did nothing to endear herself yesterday, I am afraid. The honeymoon might be over. When I had gone for my Day 21 bloodwork a few weeks back, I was assured that they would review my results and call me back in for Day 3 on the basis of that. In other words, that I'd get a call which could have clarified this whole weird body limbo business and at least put my mind at rest. (Not to mention arranging for the next set of bloodwork, which will now happen only because of my initiative). But no, that never happened. As usual, my 'care' providers filed me away under the we can't figure it out so since it doesn't ensure the omnipotence ego boost we need, we don't care file and forgot about me I had to chase down the result only because I caught site of the abnormalities. If I had the energy to rant, I would.

Instead, right now I feel deflated and hopeless. That nasty cervical polyp, while not a massive health risk, has downed our chances for this last cycle and added to our already weighty load of worry. And now I have worrisome hormone levels to add to the cocktail. So much for the 'unexplained', huh? I fear I came across a little too smug; I fear I was a little too smug in my estimation that what we're really dealing with is the pregnancy loss aspect of things, because all of a sudden, it looks like a very healthy does of infertility indeed. That's what I get for thinking, even for a second, that we might get on top of the game.

And it gets better, because within thirty minutes of leaving the doctors office, my real period started (and oh, what a doozy), almost as if, once the dirty little secret was out, there was no reason to hold back. So yes, depending on how long this lasts my worry about this period threatening our regularly scheduled programming, er, polyp removal procedure, is once again valid.

This was my last cycle, my last chance of grasping at what feels like an ever-receding dream, before my 38th birthday later this month. As much as I try to release myself from expectations, those milestones still matter, and it hurts. And it's scary as all hell. Despite the fact I am awfully puerile much of the time still feel youthful in every other respect, this whole acronym-laden baby making business makes me feel like a wizened crone. In baby-making terms, the hill I've passed over is already receding in the distance.

And the icing on the sh*t cake? I got home to a message that the university is cutting the programme on which I teach, due to 'funding strictures and falling student enrollment'; so even my paltry financial contribution to this household will be gone by the end of the month. Since I work on a kind of on-call basis, they only need to give me two weeks notice.

Seriously Universe, WTF?

What I'm thinking now: Lift duvet. Insert inert self.

Brightly coloured to increase the feelgood factor.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

On Second Thought

Remember how I counted this cycle as done and dusted earlier this week? Well now I'm not even sure if it's ended, and I have to say I am totally confused. I posted that update on Thursday because I had all the usual PMS-ish symptoms - bloatiness and cramping and general blech feelings, sore boobs, fatigue, 30 second emotional meltdowns of the I-will-never-parent-a-living-child variety - that always indicate Day One is on its merry way. By Wednesday evening I had already begun the mild spotting that has become pretty typical since my third loss.

And so I sat, wallowing under the duvet, and I waited. And waited. And nothing really happened.

And before we get unreasonably enthusiastic about the possibilities herein, let me rule out the prospects for anything approximating a pregnancy in the works. Zero. A gazillion negative pregnancy tests concur on that. Well, ok, it was five; but all different brands and all at different times of day - for the sake of triangulation - with the last this morning, just to rule out the possibility (and potential new source of worry) of a late implanter.

I actually had a very faint line on the first test I did on Monday afternoon, but it didn't appear until a good thirty minutes after use*, so in light of that and the subsequent mounting evidence, I'm guessing it was an evil evaporation line. 

At first I worried that the late arrival of my period would clash with the long awaited and finally nearly here procedure to remove my cervical polyp. But, then.

By Friday evening all those predictable symptoms seemed to have dissipated, and now I'm just....sitting here, confused. Not bleeding.

Now I'm sure for many of you who have experienced irregular or anovulatory cycles this might all sound like nothing. (Obviously, it's nothing. Literally). And maybe you can add your two cents and provide some insight as I await the call to my doctor tomorrow morning. However I have always been a pretty standard and predictable 28 day kind of girl.

Fourteen hours of spotting, bloating and sore boobs. I probably even thought that coming here and recording all this on the interweb would help me get things in order and find some clarification. But no, I'm still confused. Was that a period?

Aaaahhhgg! How does all this work if I can't count a Cycle Day? Does not compute!


* I always think this gives a special insight into the insanity that is my hoping-to-be-pregnant brain. Is there any other item on which you have recently urinated that you would want to save for future reference?

Friday, 8 March 2013

International Women's Day Edition: Don't Let Those Marketing Hucksters Get You!

I should probably have something thought provoking to say on the topic, and in moments other than this, I might.

After all, Infertility is clearly a Feminist issue. Perhaps for our generation especially, these two are intertwined in intimate and often uncomfortable ways*. That particular post is one I've been writing in my head since long before I started this blog. Maybe even since long before I started this journey to motherhood.

But today I'm not going to give you that post, because I'm still the tiniest bit wallow-y, and well, because I have to go to work. So I leave you instead with the words of one of my favourite Feminist gurus. You're welcome.

Happy Women's Day all.


*Like, really. How come I can't find a solid statement on IF from any Feminist thinker worth her salt? Are we, perchance, being let down here?
 Edited to add: I should mention Lind Layne, (who I once had the opportunity to meet at a work event), on the topic of recurrent pregnancy loss. I'm a great admirer of her work.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Totally Not Prophetic: my body didn't want to play ball

Well, in the end, the dream I had proved to be just that: a dream and nothing more. As suspected really.

Meh. I called in sick this morning, which will instead be spent wallowing on the couch, curled up into a ball in my duvet.

Right now, I don't have the energy for witticisms or the wherewith all to run through my silver linings (although I know they are there). Maybe tomorrow.

Onwards and upwards. Over and out.

Edited to add: What can I say? You ladies are the greatest and I'm really feeling the love. Waking up this morning to all your thoughts and support has helped me make the best of a crappy situation, and I promise to be back soon with updates of the Onwards and Upwards variety.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Something to hold on to

Of the weeks and months following when S died, there is one really clear recollection I have, a random little event of the kind that you always think shouldn't still stand out in your mind, but inexplicably does.

In the autumn after losing S, on the way to a work assignment abroad, we spent a few weeks in Vienna visiting with H's friends and family (well, not all: my heavily pregnant sister-in-law, due three weeks after me, refused to see us until her own babe was safely in her arms, for fear it would 'jinx' her own pregnancy. She said just that in an email to my husband. She shamelessly incarnates the hurtful but widespread fear and superstition of pregnancy loss as contagion. For people like her, there are no words really, and thus I'll waste no more. For this is a post about another, more hopeful topic).

It was a difficult visit for me; in the depths of my grief, caught in a whirlwind of inescapable social engagements, everyone around me resolutely pretending as if there had never been any baby, like I had not held my tiny, perfect, 200 gram son in my hand and stroked his warm pink skin not months before. I remember many a morning sobbing in the shower as we prepared to enter that world of indifference and quiet fear. It was exhausting.

One afternoon I caught a brief moment of reprieve and spent the day wandering aimlessly through the shops in one of my favourite Vienna neighbourhoods. Aimless, that is, until one item caught my eye and tore at my already ragged heart. A Barbapapa onesie like this. I have already professed my fondness for these cute characters, and this was the sort of colourful, quirky item we would have delighted in for S. The thought, however, of my tiny, fragile son and just how much his body contrasted with the norm of the chubby full term newborn that such a garment demonstrated, the knowledge that he'd never wear or need any chubby baby clothes, sent me running from the shop in a rush of hot tears. I've often thought about that afternoon, over the many months as the early pain has considerably softened. And as profane as it sounds, I've often thought of that little onsie also, with something like melancholy.

You know why I'm rueful about that day? I wish I'd bought it anyway. Not because I wanted the baby outfit; at the time I had thoughts and love only for the baby I could never have, would never hold again, and the thought of a future pregnancy was unthinkable.

No, it's because I wish I had told that version of myself, deep in her pit of black despair and and grief, that even then - yes, perhaps most of all then - it was ok to hope. Recklessly, defiantly so. Because as the months have accumulated behind me, with their potential for pulling me deeper and deeper into that pit, it's this hope that has at times been the only thing that sustained me.

For the longest time though, I never really allowed myself to imagine a a future where we would parent a living child, at least not actively or in too much detail. Items that so blatantly speak of babies used to hold a magical, dangerous allure for me, like mystical talismans the presence of which could somehow deter the very thing for which we longed. Like fire, I was almost afraid to touch. Afraid, I suppose, of the return of those hot tears. Afraid also that such items would never hold any other value for me.


This weekend, we did what I would have thought unthinkable only several months ago. We were out shopping for my nephew, the sweet little boy who should have been a playmate to our own sweet little boy, meant to be born just days after. When we'd selected and paid for a lovely set of books for him, our eyes both feel simultaneously on a very cool set of puppets. It was a large Peter Rabbit-like hand puppet who springs up from a series of individually quilted lettuce leaves, each of which nestles a tiny insect finger puppet - caterpillars and ladybugs and bumble bees. It was unique and adorable. And as we looked at each other, H did something very unexpected; he proposed we buy it, right then and there. Not for our adorable nephews, but for our own future child, something to remind and maybe even motivate us when the hope and optimism flags. And so we did. Mind boggling, really.

Again, it's not so much the item itself which holds significance, although I'm proud of us for boldly carrying it to the counter and buying it. Rather, it was the conversation and the realizations that followed, which felt like a profound juncture in our road to parenthood and our committments therein. I'll share the details later, as we process things, but suffice it to say that I was touched and amazed anew by the depth of feeling H expressed in our commitment to a family. 

I don't know yet what we'll do with this toy while we're waiting for a child to play with it. As I type, it sits on the table in the hallway, still in its paper shopping bag, unceremoniously deposited along with the rest of yesterday's purchases. And somehow the normality, the informality of that feels right. It feels brave even, like we're again defying the bad luck we might otherwise worry this cavalier attitude would bring. Stored away or out in the open, this item will be one that we can hold onto especially for our future child, for him or her only. S already has lots of adorable little things that have become just for him.

And so, we have a tangible symbol of our reckless, defiant hope and our determination to hold our one-day baby. What a long way we've come, (and how far we have still to go). But I've learned that no matter how much I try to distance myself from my secret heart, it won't make the disappointments that sometimes come any less painful, and I may be missing out on little moments of magic along the way.

For who we wish for. Source.

Bloggy friends, do you have a talisman of hope that you hold on to as a promise to your future self? That brings you hope for the children you will one day bring home? I'd love to hear about them, silly or symbolic or just plain random.