Category Archives: Infertility

The bearable heaviness of being

Yesterday a year ago was the day our little miracle was conceived in a dish in a laboratory in Amsterdam. Now he is sleeping in his pram in the other room. 3 month old and more beautiful and amazing than I ever imagined. The gratitude I feel is indescribable!

Since M was born on the 17th of August in London, life has been a roller coaster. I have been meaning to write a million times, but just never had the time or energy to do it. I kept postponing, but the longer I waited the more there was to write about. Thus making it even more difficult to get down to business and actually do it.

First there was the birth. I needed some distance from it before I could write about it. Now I’m not sure that I can adequately reflect my experience because time is a healer and as the days goes by it reconfigures how we make sense of experience. So I will try to describe it as objectively as I can.

I was induced with prostaglandin gel at 10pm the 16th of August. It was an in-patient induction, so I stayed in hospital while my husband had to go home. No one expected anything to happen anytime soon, because my cervix was still firmly closed. Nevertheless, within a couple of hours my contractions started and got quite frequent and strong. I dealt with them alone, without pain relief and behind only a curtain in a hospital ward full of other women.

Close to 6am in the morning my waters broke and my husband was allowed to join me again. However it wasn’t until around 10am they finally moved me to the labour ward where I got my own room with space to move around and my own toilet and shower. I remained fully closed despite having strong contractions every three minutes. Both midwife and consultant was ready to start the syntocinon drip since I wasn’t progressing, but we managed to talk them out of that intervention for the time being. I knew that my contractions were plenty strong enough and had they hooked me up on the drip at that stage I would have most likely ended up becoming extremely overstimulated with the risk of causing distress to the baby.

Instead I was thankfully allowed to continue naturally, dancing around to reggae music which proved to be a fantastic way for me to deal with labour and the pain. I managed with just the music, deep breathing and my husband massaging my back etc. After some hours I suddenly started progressing very quickly and went from fully closed to fully open in just under three hours. The staff had not seen anything like it 15 years apparently, so I started attracting lots of attention amongst midwives and consultants. By this time it was 5pm and everybody now expected that I would be dropping that baby on the floor in no time. I felt happy and empowered both by my ability to manage the pain successfully and the minimal intervention. Apart from the one dose of gel that had kickstarted it all, natural child birth seemed to be within my reach.

But it wasn’t meant to be. My contractions slowed and nearly disappeared and I never got the urge to push. The midwife and consultant held off and waited as long as they could to give me a chance once again, but after a couple of hours with nothing happening, they had to put me on the drip. The baby had to come out. This time we didn’t object. I knew I didn’t have strong enough contractions. My body had done so well up until this point, but couldn’t manage the rest. The syntocinon went in my veins and the contractions picked up a bit, but they never became very strong again. Not even when they kept increasing the dose. I had to push with all my strength and will instead and finally, with the help of ventouse (suction), my son was born at 8pm on the 17th of August. In the process they cut me, i.e. did an episiotomy. I had indicated in my birth plan that I did not want one, but in the heat of the moment I did not have much choice but to agree. I have been paying the price ever since in the form of infection, break-up of the stitches and permanent damage to muscle tissue.

In the moment I didn’t care of course. My son was born. He was alive, well and healthy. It was, and still is, all that matters! His birth involved more intervention than I would have wanted, but more importantly less then what I had feared. And I still feel empowered by having avoided pain relief and being able to give birth to my son – albeit with a little help. The only thing that makes me sad is that because of the ventouse delivery he didn’t get to stay on my chest for much skin-to-skin. He was only on my chest for barely a second before he was whisked off to be checked over. My husband had the first real skin-to-skin with him while I was being stitched up.

Then came the postnatal complications on day 9 after the birth in the form of three infections at the same time. Mastitis, wound infection in the stitches after the episiotomy and urinary tract infection. I fainted, ran a fever of 40 C (104 F) and ended up in the hospital on a drip with intravenous antibiotics etc. I was ill for quite some time and trying to cope with taking care of a newborn. At the same time I was also expressing my milk every three hours, 24 hours a day because our little boy was tongue-tied and could not breastfeed. Blogging was the last thing on my mind!

On top of it all, we were still living with my mother-in-law and dealing with the insecurity and worry associated with my husband struggling to find a job. Being in a creative industry where jobs, let along good jobs, are rare and the competition relentless.

Then another miracle came our way. When M was 4 weeks old, my husband got that phone call we had dreamt of, but hardly dared to hope for. An offer of a fantastic job in higher education which would provide all the things most other jobs in his industry never will, i.e. decent pay, job security and pension. The only catch was that it is not in London, but in a smaller university city approx. 2 hours from London and they wanted him to start two weeks later. Commuting would be unfeasible so we had to move there. So in a matter of about 10 days we managed to find a place to live in our new city and relocated in time for my husbands job start on the 1st of Oct. This would be stressful under any circumstance. With a baby of barely 6 weeks and with me still struggling to recover from the various postnatal complications it was a whole other ball game. By this time I had only just managed to recover from a second round of mastitis which had once again left me extremely ill with high fever.

I finally had to accept that I had to give up on trying to breastfeed. M had had his tongue-tie division done the very day my husband got the call, but after being so used to bottles he still didn’t manage to latch on and I was still having to carry on with my gruelling expressing schedule day and night in order to ensure that he got as much of my milk as possible. However, it was time to call it a day. As the doctor pointed out, I am apparently extremely prone to mastitis making it too risky to continue.

It was extremely difficult to let go of the idea of breastfeeding. I wanted to breastfeed with all my heart. I know it is best for baby and I had never even imagined not doing it or that there could be so many obstacles making it unfeasible. Once again I was faced with the experience of not being able to do what is natural, taken for granted and commonly believed to be simple and easy. Once again I had to let go and accept things as they are. And realise that it does not matter.

Having lived with infertility for so long has taught me to do precisely that. Now as I mix M’s formula and feed him with a bottle, I no longer think about it. I no longer feel sad that I never got to have the experience of breastfeeding my baby. Just as I no longer feel sad that we could not conceive him naturally in the first place. There is no more sadness, because he is here! When I look at him I know that it does not matter how he was conceived. It does not matter how he was born. It does not matter how he is feed. All that matters is that he is here and he is growing, thriving, smiling, laughing, chatting, trying to ‘sing’ along to the reggae music he loves and of course also crying a lot when he is hungry, tired, needs changing or for some other unknown reasons. I appreciate it all.

This is not to say that I don’t feel tired or overwhelmed sometimes. I do, and I have many times throughout the last three month, because it has been heavy to say the least. Taking care of a baby is in itself pretty heavy at times. But it’s also bearable. None of it has really seriously rocked my boat so to speak. Because it matters. Because it is labour of love. Because it is the stuff of life.

Advertisements

A strange week

I’m 15 weeks pregnant today and there is nothing new or different to report. Or in other words, I have no idea what’s going on but I hope everything is good! I wasn’t planning on writing, but I suddenly felt like it. When I decided to start this blog 6 month ago after living with infertility for years, I had no idea that it would lead me into discovering an amazing community of fellow bloggers on the same or similar journeys. It has shown me that I’m not alone; that there are people out there who understand my feelings and experiences with infertility and treatment in ways that nobody else can. I have the privilege of being able to read and follow the stories of others who go through this.

In the process, I have come to care about those of you whose’s blogs I follow in a way that I had never imagined. I have never meet any of you in so-called ‘real’ life, but as it turns out the virtual world is as real as any other space where the potential for connecting with others can be created. Maybe even more so in our particular case, because we share the most intimate thoughts, feelings and bodily experiences. It amazes me how powerful sharing of common experience is – maybe particularly the common experience of struggling to start a family.

This week I have realized the full extent of what that really means. I have cried tears of sorrow for Mo who lost her little boy at 22 weeks. And I have waited anxiously to hear news from Bachelor’s button who had her twins delivered by C-section at 28 weeks because her baby girl suffered from intrauterine growth restriction. Delivering now was the only chance of survival for her little girl, but would at the same time also put her little boy in danger. Now they are both fighting for their life in NICU. I’m sending all my hopes and prayers!

I can’t even begin to imagine what Mo and her husband are going through grieving the loss of their baby boy. Or what Bachelor’s button and her husband have been and are still going through. Or what Ozifrog, who is on bed-rest because of serious pregnancy complications, is going through. Or any of you who are or have been experiencing loss. I have been so fortunate not to experience loss or the imminent danger of it, but I nevertheless feel with you so much in your pain and worry.

When I was crying for Mo’s loss earlier this week, my husband asked me if it was making me worried about our baby – that something could also go wrong with my pregnancy. I thought about it for a bit, but realized that that was not it! I wasn’t feeling sad for what could potentially happen to me. I was feeling sad for Mo and her loss. I was feeling sad because life can sometimes be so cruel that it’s beyond belief. I was feeling sad because it is so horrible that one of us, who has struggled so much, has been robbed yet again of the dream of having a child and been put through another devastating loss.

I think all of us, who experience infertility, feel the collective pain of what we all go through. Whether it is loss and/or not being able to get pregnant in the first place. I just never realized it until I became part of this online community.

In stark contrast, this week also brought me an experience of not belonging and not being able to relate. Yesterday my husband and I went to one of those pregnancy & baby fairs that we had ended up with free tickets for when buying prenatal vitamins. We decided to go and have a look, since we have not looked at any baby-stuff yet. At all whatsoever.

I think I’m still processing the experience… It was so overwhelming. All we ended up buying was two bottles of sparkling alcohol-free wine. We did look at prams and strollers, but not in a very hands-on kind of way. I just couldn’t really relate to it all. I know I’m pregnant and I’m overjoyed and incredibly thankful, but it’s as if my mind has still not registered it. I can’t think like a pregnant woman. I can’t see myself with a pram or a stroller. I didn’t feel like one of them – the pregnant women. I felt like someone who shouldn’t be there. I couldn’t identify.

On top of that I was absolutely shocked at how commercialized pregnancy and babies are. It can’t imagine ever needing most of the things being sold for babies. But it seems like for a lot of women being pregnant means a whole new world of shopping opportunities. We even saw a couple walking around with a tiny little new born baby… amongst such crowds and frenzy that it was almost too much for me to bear. At 9pm! The baby looked so startled and confused, I still can’t forget it. Why take a new born to a shopping fair? And casually carry it around on your arm amongst crowds of people, noise and frenzy?

In all of it I kept thinking; this is not what it’s all about. It’s not about shopping baby stuff. Being pregnant and having a baby is about something so incredible and amazing that I can’t even express it or fully understand it. It’s about a love greater than any other. I know you don’t have to have experienced infertility to know and feel that. Far from it. But I do think that it makes it so painfully clear and intense in a way that cuts right to the bone. I can’t and I don’t want to think about shopping for stuff. I don’t need a fancy stroller. All the fuss and all the wrapping paper doesn’t interest me. I just want to meet and hold this special soul in my arms in August and experience him/her grow and live!

Looking back on a long journey

There is something special about February. It’s the month of love. It’s the month we first met on a dance floor in London 9 years ago in 2003. It’s the month we decided we wanted to start a family 3 years later in 2006. It was so special and romantic for us to make that decision then. Little did we know what kind of journey lay ahead and that wanting to have children is something completely different from actually being able to make it happen. Now, 6 years later, it’s February again and I have entered the realm of the 2nd trimester of my first pregnancy.

February now feels more magical than ever before. But it also makes me think back on all those years of living with unexplained infertility and going through fertility treatment. These 6 years have changed me and us forever. I can’t imagine myself and our life any other way. We have learned that life is unpredictable and beyond our control. We have learned that nothing can or should be taken for granted. We have learned that it is possible to be happy even when life is turning out so differently from what we had imagined. We have learned that resisting what is only creates more suffering. At the same time, we have also learned that there are subtle, but very important, differences between denial and acceptance. We have learned that there is a time to let go and rest, but that there is also a time to start fighting again. We have learned that living outside the social norm is difficult, especially when you have had no choice in the matter, but also liberating. It teaches you to find your own way and to make conscious choices about who you are and how you want to live within the limits of whatever life is handing you. It has make us stronger and closer as a couple.

To put it differently, we have learned that being involuntarily ‘stuck’ in a liminal life state like infertility for years is painful on many levels, but also transformational. Looking back on my posts prior to IVF and pregnancy, I did know this when we were still in the trenches (see for instance this post), but only tentatively. It is much easier to reflect on it now when I’m no longer in the same state. As I do so, I realize to my surprise that I don’t actually wish that these years had been any different or that we had been spared the long journey to get to this point. I also realize that the only reason I can feel and say this is because the liminal state of infertility has effectively ended for us. For now at least. Over the course of the first three month of pregnancy I have transitioned into a new state – that of pregnancy. We have not become parents yet, but for the first time ever we are actually on our way there. We can see the light at the end of tunnel. This last stage of the journey is significantly different from any of the stages that have come before because the creation of a new life is no longer theoretical and impossible. It is happening. A new life is coming into being slowly and steadily with every day that passes.

We resisted IVF for a long time, but in the end it was IVF that made the miracle possible. Yesterday we went for the NT scan* and got to see our little miracle dancing again. He/she was making it very difficult to get the measurements done because of all the moving around. As the technician was waiting patiently for the right position we had lots of time to enjoy the show and revel in the representation of our miracle on the screen. I’m still in awe. I still can’t quite grasp that it’s really happening, because it has seemed like a complete impossibility for so long. But I’m getting there slowly. More so now when the morning sickness has lessened because I’m functioning more normally again. We have not looked at baby stuff or anything like that yet, but a few days ago I started looking at websites of hospitals in London to try to get an idea of where to give birth since we are moving there. As I was watching a little video that took you on a tour of a birth center, tears started streaming down my face. It was hitting me. It’s happening, it’s real. I’m pregnant. We are going to have a baby.

*Update 16/2-2012: We received a letter two days after the scan with the assessment of the risk for Down’s Syndrome etc. based on the combination of blood results, NT measurement (1.1) and my age (37). The risk was assessed to be 1 in 11000, which is reassuringly low for my age. 

Suffering as Identity and Status

I think its time to continue exploring the theme of identity and how it is influenced by infertility and fertility treatment. I’m new to the blog world and the world of ‘infertiles’ in this space. Although my husband and I have been struggling with infertility for over 5 years, I have never been part of or felt part of a community of infertiles. Up until the point when I started this blog 2 month ago I never read blogs about infertility or joined support groups or the like. Rather I tried to forget or repress the tag of infertility, as I have written about in a previous post (Tagged with Infertility). I stubbornly refused to take on that identity, to let it influence my life and who I am. But of course it still did and I am trying to come to terms with and deal with that. Not the least by writing about it here.

Now I’m reading and discovering this amazingly rich blog world full of other (mainly) women’s experiences with infertility and treatment, being written about in all kinds of different ways. Today I came across a debate on Jay’s blog (http://the2weekwait.blogspot.com) which truly stunned me. Jay is pregnant after going through IVF and still writing her blog, which logically enough is now centered on her experience of being pregnant. This however has resulted in her receiving hate mail and nasty comments which in no uncertain terms lets her know she should no longer be writing on a blog which is about infertility. In her latest post she calls on other infertiles to comment on one such comment. So far she has received 122 comments all of which express outrage at the nastiness of the comment she has received. And I can only agree.

However, what struck me in both the ‘hate’ comment and all the many comments in response to it, was how fundamentally the suffering of infertility and fertility treatment impacts the identity of us who go through it. The event we all long for and which is suppose to be a happy ending to our temporary liminal state of trying to become pregnant is not easy to handle for the rest of us still ‘stuck’ in our inbetween of trying, waiting and hoping. I know the feeling myself and it’s not surprising.

What is surprising is the extent to which women who have become pregnant after treatment still identify as infertile – namely as ‘pregnant infertiles’. I sense in many blogs I read that when the event of pregnancy does come along as a result of a long process of treatment, it  does not mark the end of suffering, but the beginning of a new phase of it characterized by anxiety over problems that might occur etc. Liminality has in a sense become permanent. It never goes away. As I also wrote in my previous post, infertility cannot be cured – only circumvented. And the reason for that might be the profound impact that the suffering of both infertility and fertility treatment has on our lives and identity.

Recently I read an article published in Qualitative Sociology Review (to read click here) about women’s infertility and identity. The research which the article is based on showed that infertile women are caught in the discrepancy between the potential identity of being a biological mother, that they wish for and sacrifice so much to achieve, and their actual identity of being infertile that they try to do away with. So much is invested in the potential identity, increasing the negative consequences of the actual identity which is one of suffering – similar to that of people suffering from chronic illness and disability. These negative consequences include physical and financial ones, but also isolation from people, ex. friends who have children, and letting go of other identities (career etc.) to become solely focused on the potential one of becoming a biological mother.

There is much in this article I do not agree with and I shall return to that in a later post. But what did give me food for thought was the conclusion that the more we invest, the more we sacrifice, the more invasive treatments we go through, the more we stop doing things we would normally have done etc. in our quest for biological motherhood, the more we risk taking on an identity from our suffering. Or rather an identity of suffering takes over. To varying degrees of course.

That the identity of being infertile has taken over and developed a (highly disfunctional) life of its own is clear in the ‘hate’ comment Jay shared with her fellow infertiles. It talks about belonging and non-belonging, it talks about degrees of suffering indicating differentiation in status amongst member of a community and it talks about an ‘us’ who want’s to exclude ‘them’ – the pregnant ones.

I do not want to go there, or anywhere near it, and I do not think that must of us struggling with infertility get to this point. But I do think that it’s crucially important to try to be aware of how powerful the impact of going through infertility and fertility treatment can be on our lives and whole beings. I want to believe though that I have some choice in the matter of how much I take on an identity from what I am going through. As with everything else I have gone through and will be going through in life. It should not define who I am or be a source of a sense of belonging.

Having a break

It amazes me how a break in fertility treatment seems to push the difficult feelings associated with infertility to the background as well. We have been waiting to start the IVF process since the end of August when the last IUI cycle was over. Slowly your focus changes to other things and a sense of normality reappears. Hence why I have not been very active writing here on my blog.

I’m enormously thankful that we have the opportunity to do fertility treatment and I’m impatient to get started with IVF, but I also realize that going through treatment makes you focus so intensely on your infertility that it greatly increases the pain of it. Having a break certainly does feel soothing for mind, body and soul!

To some extent it makes me wonder what is most difficult to deal with – the fertility treatment or the infertility itself. Obviously the experience of both are closely intertwined, but I suspect that the situation you are in when going through fertility treatment plays a decisive role in shaping the experience of infertility. It makes it more difficult and distressing, but it also gives you something which you would not have without treatment. Namely hope.

Hope is what I feel as we wait to get started with IVF now in October. The prospect of moving on with IVF invigorates the hope of having a baby, because it represents trying something else and something different – something which, at least statistically, represents a much bigger chance of success than IUI.

The quest for explanations and shooting in the dark

As we are waiting to get started with IVF, I often wonder if the process will reveal something about the cause(s) of our infertility. Sometimes the need for some kind of explanation is overwhelming. Falling into the ‘unexplained’ category comes with it’s own particular challenges, because it leaves a wide-open space for never-ending speculation and increased feelings of uncertainty. Somehow I hoped or expected that the medical profession could at least provide answers (if not solutions). Instead it turns out that fertility experts are themselves navigating a world characterized by uncertainty and incomplete knowledge. Visualizing technologies and other tools of investigation and diagnosis deliver ambiguous results and images. There seems to be few ‘facts’ which are not mediated by interpretation. Sometimes the experts disagree. Sometimes they just have no clue.

So I continue searching for possible explanations with potential solutions wherever I can find them. Both google and the people around me seem more than willing to help with suggestions… with everything from ‘you just need to relax’ to recommendations for supplements, vitamins and alternative treatments.

One such aspect is the idea that maybe, just maybe, the problem and corresponding solution is to be found in some other realm than the physical. Most of the time I resist such ideas, but at other times I have also given in and decided to try this or that or the other. Just because I did not want my own resistance to stand in the way of us having a baby. What if… what if…

The last thing I tried was a healer. She came recommended by a good friend who has been seeing her for years. She told me that she does not really believe in it, but this woman has nevertheless helped her with many things over the years. I decided to try it in connection with the last IUI cycle. I went for two sessions with the healer. In the first session she ‘diagnosed’ me with too much stress, tension and tiredness. Too much thinking and too little ‘now’ and ‘earth’. My chakras were too ‘busy’ for me to get pregnant. I needed to just sit and look at the water and meditate. ‘Live like a Buddha’ she said. She told me that what I do, is not good for me and I said ‘yes I know, I just stopped’. Good, she said. And then she also thought my energy was blocked because of my mother, actually it seems to go all the way back to my grandmother. I needed to let it all go and ‘break the chain’, as she put it. She was ‘reading’ all this in my energy field and emotional body. But there were also positives. I am healthy and there is nothing wrong with me physically as far as she could tell. I am a ‘free bird’, have a good body and good energy, as she put it.

I went home quite confused. I thought I cleared up that stuff with my mum years ago. And besides, who has not got some kind of issue at some point in their relationship with their mother? The stress – yes she is absolutely right about that. I have just taken the plunge and left my job a month ago. For sure it was not good for me in many ways, but was it making me infertile? There are a lot of claims out there about the link between stress and infertility, but I wonder how much is actually scientifically proven and to what an extent it is just a myth. After all, women get pregnant and have children all the time under circumstances which are bound to be much more stressful than my work situation ever was.

I was to come back for another session the day before the insemination. In that session she continued the ‘clearing out’ in my energy flow and calmed those chakras of mine. After doing whatever it is she does, she told me that now I was ready. The chakras were now vibrating as they should, there were no blockages in my energy flow and everything was good. So all sorted and ready to get pregnant! I felt good of course as I was riding home on my bike through the sun-bathed streets of Amsterdam. I still didn’t quite know what to make of it, but at least I had now done something. Something which I had initially resisted. I had acted on my decision to be willing to try (almost) anything – even if it did not quite make sense in the rational part of my brain.

The rest is history. I didn’t get pregnant in that IUI cycle either. It was another shot in the dark. Another part of the never-ending quest for explanations with corresponding solutions.

Embracing the liminal space

In my previous post (Tagged with Infertility), I wrote about the feeling of being stuck or trapped in-between the ‘normal’ stages of life. In the last couple of days I have been reflecting some more on the nature of this liminal space or in other words; being in limbo. It’s painful, yes, but what I didn’t realize at first is that it’s also something else. It’s a transformational space – a process of becoming. In fact, there is no pause button in life. Only, I do not know where the becoming is going so to speak.

But I know that the liminal phase will end at some point, one way or another. Either I will become a mother and enter that life stage with the identity and role of parenthood. Or alternatively I will not become pregnant and we will eventually have to stop trying and learn to accept, and live with, childlessness. This experience is changing me forever either way and I realize that I have to embrace that.

Inwardly I’m being transformed. I don’t know exactly how and what it will mean for the next life stage and what that stage will even look like. But I do not want to be a mere passenger or passive observer of this process of becoming. Liminality is a space characterised by uncertainty, ambiguity, disorientation and isolation – as described by the famous Anthropologist Victor Turner. One’s sense of identity dissolves to some extent which is painful, but it also entails possibilities for new perspectives to emerge. A time to reflect and grow.