The Baby Who is Not Here

I’ve read enough about conception and miscarriage at this point to have come across, over and over again, the sentiment that a baby is real to its parents from the moment the second line appears on the test. Hell, I’ve experienced it myself. When you are desperate to have a child, all your hopes and dreams seem pinned on that stick and its result. When the outcome is positive, it adds colour and flesh and vibrancy to a hitherto merely imagined scenario, even though it may still be tinged with deep, deep caution. Even though you know that it still may not come to fruition.

When you go through IVF, however, the second line is not even necessary. From the moment that your cycle is planned in meticulous detail, you know roughly when any resulting baby will be due, and that is where it starts. Even when you’ve been disappointed again and again in the past. Even when you’ve had positive outcomes that went on to end in miscarriage. Even when you know that all the odds are stacked against you and your rational head wants to overrule your hopeful heart. Still, the idea that a baby could be joining your family all those months down the line is impossible to resist. And after all, you have to believe that it will work in order to keep putting yourself through it.

Arguably you could think that way about each and every cycle that you try naturally. After all, if you have no cause to believe otherwise, there is a chance each month that this will be the one where the stars align and eggs and sperm meet at the right time in the right place and do absolutely everything that they need to do to make a new life. You could, if you were so inclined, mourn every period not simply because it means that you did not make it this month, but because you flushed your potential child down the toilet.

That is going further than I think entirely rational, though. In the end we all know that the chances in any given month are slim. It’s likely that if you don’t get pregnant, no fertilisation even occurred.

And that is how IVF is really different. A full two weeks before anyone could pee on a stick, days before anything is even put in your uterus, you get the long awaited phone call from the embryologist to let you know how your eggs and sperm “got on”. And assuming you don’t face the heartbreak of a zero fertilisation cycle, in the moments of that phone call, the world tips on its axis. What you hear in the call is how many potential babies you’ve made.

It’s more than simply knowing that you had plenty of unprotected sex and could feasibly be pregnant. You can’t help but see these as bigger chances. This is a real, potential child with all of its genetic material right there is that dish. You know exactly when that child was conceived and therefore you also know exactly when it should be joining the world as a newborn baby.

If only everything else goes right, of course.

When it doesn’t work, that loss is far more similar to the loss of miscarriage than to a negative pregnancy test or period arriving after a “natural” attempt at baby making.

I know this, because I’ve experienced it all.

If our final IVF attempt last year had worked, my due date would have been tomorrow. And as a diabetic with a previous c-section behind me, I would no doubt have come under pressure to have an elective section at 38 weeks. Which means that baby would have been born almost two weeks ago, on our fifth wedding anniversary.

I’ve been waiting for this date since that fateful telephone call last October. Still etched across my heart, despite the fact that no baby has been growing in my belly.

I couldn’t erase it. Nor could I ignore it.

It is impossible for me not to mourn that child that might have been. Even though he or she was never anything more than a collection of our genetic material. It never implanted in to the lining of my uterus. Never grew arms and legs or facial features. It never even had a heartbeat.

But it was my baby.

My last chance at another child.

I’ll never be able to erase the sadness of its loss, either.

Emotions at Christmas

I like Christmas, just as much as the next person. The festive cheer and the pervading spirit of fun, generosity and love warms me up on the coldest of winter days. Gifts – the giving, surprisingly, more than the receiving – fill me with pleasure. I love the decorations – the sparkle and twinkle greeting me in the darkness at the end of a long day, making everything seem brighter than the time of year should dictate. I love the food – dare I say it, the indulgence. Most of all I love the tradition that is entwined through the season. The memories that cannot help but spring to mind as we navigate the festivities. I love it all.

Yet at the same time, it can be an incredibly difficult time of year. Emotions run high and time is often in short supply, fueling stress and tension. Never has the paradox been more evident for me than during this Christmas season.

This year has been especially magical in so many regards. At just-turned three the magic for Thomas is absolute. His complete belief in Father Christmas was heart warming to watch. He couldn’t wait to make a special mince pie for the man himself. He had absolutely no doubt at all that he would be coming down the chimney, and he was completely convinced that the reindeer themselves were responsible for the mess of reindeer food in our garden, and Father Christmas for the crumbs by the fireplace. At the same time, he had such minimal and simplistic expectations and such carefully marshalled excitement. The anticipation and the magic were almost enough. We didn’t go overboard with gifts, and he was entirely content with what he received. It all seemed so far removed from the tackiness and consumerism that can so easily take over. It was pure fun and a joy to behold.

Yet at the same time, the whole season has been tinged with a feeling a sadness for me. The adherence to tradition has allowed the ghost of Christmas past to sweep in with memories which, whilst not entirely unhappy, have prompted the realisation of yet more things that will not be. Spectres of Christmases future that will not come to pass have hung heavy. I have felt, almost more acutely than at any other moment this year, the absence of another child.

I don’t know what it is about Christmas that seems to heighten feelings of grief, loss and absence. Perhaps it’s because expectations run high and we all seek a bit of perfection, highlighting to ourselves in the process all the dissatisfaction we feel with our lives. Perhaps. But truly I think it’s simpler than that. The focus on family draws attention not only to what is there and the love that we share, but also what is not there. Traditions can feel hollow and cheer can be hard to muster when something is missing.

Taking in Thomas’s wonderment at everything Christmas, I couldn’t help but think back to his very first Christmas, three years ago. Just six weeks old, he had absolutely no clue about any of it, yet he was captivated by the sparkle and lay transfixed by the fairy lights for the longest time, smiling smiles that split his face in half and cracked my heart too. And inevitably I thought of the baby we lost. The baby who would have been a very similar age this Christmas. The baby that Thomas would have lent the smaller of his two stocking to, before helping him or her open a couple of token gifts. I thought too, of what we may have had if things had gone closer to my ideal. We’d have had an eighteen month old toddling around, still not quite “getting it” all, but having plenty of fun nonetheless, old enough to be led in to mischief by their big brother.

Just to type it brings tears to my eyes.

At Christmas, you can’t deny so easily what is missing.

I live with the fact that we won’t have a child every single day now. I suppose slowly, I’m beginning to process it and start the long road to acceptance. To moving on. Christmas, in some ways, has felt like a massive set back in that journey. I’m only too aware of how small our family feels, and how it is shrinking with the generations. I fear for Christmases in the future, when Thomas has no siblings to share them with. No rowdy rabbles of twenty round the dinner table. Tradition means so much to me, yet I can see it all fading before my eyes.

But most of all, I feel incredibly sad for what we so almost had.

Once again, this feels self-indulgent. Self centred. Compared to what others have been through this year, and this festive season, I have so little to complain about.

But I cannot help how I feel.

And how I feel is like the final flicker of a fused fairy light. The last gasp of a punctured inflatable snowman. The crumbs on the mince pie plate.

I feel deflated. Washed out.I feel more than ever as though something is missing.

No matter how selfish it may be, I simply feel grief for the family I will never have.

The Due Date That Wasn’t

The first week or so of November is always an odd time. For many years it only marked the anniversary of my run-in with meningitis, which rocked my life and set the course for aftershocks that would continue for years. But then came my pregnancy with Thomas, and a mid-November due date. By the first week of November 2011, I was more than 38 weeks pregnant, the size of a small house and with a waddle to rival a duck. I was attending the hospital on a daily basis for monitoring, and was admitted on November the 6th to start the long induction road that eventually led to the c-section birth of our precious son.

Now – each year since – I can’t help but remember exactly what I was doing on each of those days that led up to his birthday. And I can’t imagine a time in my life where I won’t think of it during these weeks as it was such a defining period in my life.

But this year those memories have been clouded with thoughts of a different due date. A different pregnancy altogether, resulting from the IVF cycle that almost worked, at the start of this year. The cycle that bought me a short period of pure, intense joy, only for it to be cruelly snatched away.

I’m not really one to dwell too much on the dates of pregnancies that haven’t been successful. It doesn’t change things and isn’t really helpful in terms of going on with my life. But this date seems different. It’s harder. How can I not remember it when it falls so close to my only child’s birth date? I recall laughing when I realised how near the dates would be, and what a surprising present that would be for Thomas. And it’s doubly difficult now, knowing that the pain of this passed date won’t ever be eased by a different due date, and a successful outcome.

The date is a reminder of how close we came, though it wasn’t meant to be.

I’m not really sure what the point of this post is, other than to mark this feeling of sadness for myself. I wasn’t intending to write about it at all. But then I mentioned the date to a friend without giving real conscious thought, and I realised how much it has been playing on my mind, despite my efforts to suppress it.

Life now could be very different. As the cold closes in, I should be snuggling up with my newborn. Thomas should be learning about what it means to be a big brother, whilst we rediscover all the joys, and difficulties, of a tiny baby and adjust to being parents to two. I know that in the next few weeks I’ll reflect on this time three years ago, and wonder just how similar, or different, it might have been this time around.

I’ll never know, of course.

My heart is full of my son, so excited about his upcoming birthday and telling anyone who will listen that “I’m going to be three.” His enthusiasm and zest for life is infectious, and happily rubbing off on me.

But there’s always a but. Suffused with love as I am for my son, there is still a dark corner of my heart that echoes with emptiness. When he goes to bed, my arms feel doubly empty, with no baby to hold and soothe. I’ll miss this baby that never was for always. The empty space at the dinner table. The empty seat in the back of the car. The empty bedroom in our house. The space in my head and heart and arms.

It’s the loss of a dream. And in the week that it could have become a reality, I feel it where it hurts.

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To Try (Again) or Not to Try (Again)?

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

So said Yoda.

But Yoda clearly never went through infertility treatment. Which is about trying as hard as you possibly can to get something you desperately want, but so often ends in nothing but heartache. “Trying” in a very different sense. You can’t always just “do” baby-making. And sadly, we don’t have the force. We can’t be sure of an outcome and all we can do is try everything that medical science has made available to us to create another life. Another child, to nuture and then set free in the world.

When our last round of IVF ended the way it did, through all the pain and hurt, there was just no space to consider that I might do it all again. I literally couldn’t contemplate it. At that time, the idea of going through the whole process, only to experience the same crushing outcome was so unthinkable that I simply did not think about it. We didn’t talk about it. It seemed a given that we were done.

Denial can, occasionally, be a useful, protective state, that gives you some time and space until you are able to process things properly.

As the immediate sadness wore off a little, to be replaced by a numbness and the first semblance of something approaching acceptance, I allowed the question of trying again to rise to the surface. But instantly, my thoughts turned to the practicalities. The fact that we may not be able to get any more sperm. That there is probably nothing specific we can do to guard against a repeat of the same experience.

It seemed simpler not to open up my heart to the possibility of more disappointment and pain. So if you’d asked me then, I would most definitely have said that we weren’t doing it again. As a couple, we talked about it. Ian, who really wants another child but doesn’t feel quite the same fierce emotional pull towards repeat parenthood that I do, was willing to accept what I wanted to do. But he clearly wasn’t convinced that I’d truly made the final decision.

He probably knows me better than I know myself.

Meanwhile, however, I was taking steps along the road of accepting what we have – and how very much we do have – and planning our future as a family of three.

When a friend asked me if were thinking of going through it again, I was forcefully adamant. And they were full of understanding and respect for my decision. But they also mentioned the money.

And of all the things it wasn’t about, money was right there at the top. Although I can’t deny that the financial implications are significant, it really isn’t about the money. You can’t put a price on children. And nor can you put a price on chance, opportunity or hope. And when I started to think about hope, something inside me began to change.

Because those first tentative steps along our new road had unveiled a tremendous disappointment that, whilst I obviously knew existed, I hadn’t truly allowed myself to feel, or to consider too deeply during the time that I was full of hope it would not come to pass.

In a matter of moments, it hit me like a ton of bricks that not doing IVF again meant abandoning all hope of a different outcome. I was sealing my own destiny. And facing that realisation, and actually trying to accept it, turned out to be almost as painful as losing the pregnancy that resulted from our previous efforts. Far from protecting myself from pain by not considering trying again, I could be plunging myself headlong in to it.

All of a sudden, it seems that whichever way I turn lies heartache and sadness. Could another IVF failure, or another miscarriage, realistically make me feel much more terrible than this one has? Or much more terrible than knowing for sure that there will be no more children? If we try again, aren’t we buying ourselves another round of hope? Another chance that it might all turn out differently?

Looked at that way, it just seems as though not trying again seals me in to my current state and leaves me forever vulnerable to wondering “what if?”

I need to decide whether to place hope above heartbreak, and give it a try. Or accept what some may see as the inevitable, and accept it right now, rather than months, and another round of treatment, down the line. Both could end in the pits of depression. Only one offers the possibility of something else.

“No chance” vs “small chance”.

Isn’t it a no-brainer?

It’s Not About the Money – It’s the Business of Selling Hope

It’s no secret that IVF is not cheap. With all the additional extras we needed, our final bill rang in at well over seven thousand pounds. I can think of a lot of things that can be done with seven thousand pounds from holidays and family fun to home improvements and investments. Things that would benefit all of us – Thomas included. For me, though, it’s a price absolutely worth paying for another child. But before we started, I thought that if our IVF cycle didn’t work, I’d not only be devastated by the biological failure, but also angry about the money we’d have wasted. It’s a lot of money to spend only to have nothing to show for it.

Now that it has come down to it, however, I can honestly say that the financial hit pales in to insignificance in comparison to the pain of the failure. To have been pregnant, and then lost our much wanted, obsessively longed for, second child: No amount of monetary loss can come close to that feeling.

I’ve honestly barely thought about the money.

It’s true that we’re fortunate to have been in the position to afford to spend that amount of money. I cannot imagine the heartache of couples who long to have a shot at parenthood and are held back only by a lack of funds. That seems like a particularly cruel twist of fate. And perhaps it would hit me harder if we’d had to re-mortgage our home, or take out expensive loans that we would be paying off for months or years. In fact, the only moment that the cost dragged me down was the day we paid it off in full – having chosen to use a credit card for the cash-back bonus. That day happened to be the same day I began to miscarry.

The feeling was fleeting, though, for I cannot regret the money that we spent. I can’t regret it because I know it gave us a shot at something. A chance at a chance. A hope.

Where would we be had we not spent the money? I would still be sitting here with an empty uterus and a longing in my heart. I would still want a child just as much and no amount of money in the bank could change that. No amount of enjoyment in a snazzy new kitchen, or an exotic foreign holiday, could substitute for the joy of becoming parents again. If we still had the money to spend on other things, the crucial difference would be the sense that we had not tried everything, and given it our very best shot.

It turns out that it wasn’t money for nothing. We paid to know that we’d done everything possible to achieve our dream.

And I’ve come to realise that fertility clinics are not really in the business of making expensive babies at all. They’re in the business of selling hope to people like us.

I’m Not a Bad Person

Wanting another child who is biologically mine – and my husband’s – does not make me a bad person, in exactly the same way that wanting a second child at all does not make me a bad person.

Perhaps you think that those are obvious statements, but your opinion is not, so it appears, shared by everyone. And amongst all the pain, hurting and difficult decisions of the last week or so, these people sharing their beliefs with me has been an extra source of heart ache, grief and guilt. Not to mention tears. So many tears.

It’s never easy to be in the position of hearing someone else’s bad news. There’s that whole sense of “There, but for the grace of God, go I”. And there is plainly and simply not knowing quite what to say. I get that it’s awkward. But in that position, we’d all do well to remember that we aren’t the ones who are in the truly difficult place, who deserve allowances and understanding. That is reserved for the person sharing their news. And the very best thing that you can do is engage your brain before you start to speak. I don’t expect anyone to say anything all that insightful, for I know that the truth is that no words can repair my dreams or fix the pain that I feel in my heart right now. However, there are plenty of helpful and supportive things you can say. Such as “I’m really sorry”, or “Life really sucks sometimes”, and “I’m thinking of you”. Or even simply “I don’t know what to say.”

Examples of the kinds of things that I have been hearing instead include: “Oh well, at least you already have a child.”

I only wish that I was kidding.

I’ve said it before, but clearly it bears repeating again: Wanting to have another child, to give my son a sibling and to grow our family beyond three has no bearing on how grateful or blessed I feel to already have my son. But when people say things like this, the implication is clearly there that I don’t appreciate him enough and that miscarrying a second child is somehow less significant than experiencing a miscarriage before you have had any children.

I’m in the unfortunate position to be able to tell you that the latter statement is categorically untrue. It hurts every bit as much.

It matters every bit as much.

And there is absolutely nothing selfish about wanting more than one child. I love my son more than I have ever been able to find the words to explain. In fact, the love I feel for him is one of many reasons that I so desperately want to experience motherhood again from the beginning. If you still doubt me, take a look at your own family and those of your friends. Having more than one child is not some sort of exceptional circumstance. It’s a basic maternal desire that I shouldn’t repeatedly find myself apologising for.

Perhaps my best response would be the one suggested by the lovely Katie. “Oh well, you probably wouldn’t miss your second child, then. May I have them, please?”

It’s true that before we judge – or in this case, speak – we really should at least try to stand in the other person’s shoes, if only very briefly.

The other issue that has arisen over and over again – beginning even before we started this IVF cycle – is the question of biology. Prior to even attempting to create another child of our own, we were being asked to consider sperm donors as a solution to our fertility issue. And since losing the baby, more than one person has asked me whether we have “simply” considered adopting a sibling for Thomas.

“Because there are so many children out there who need a family. It’s what I would do in your position.”

“You’re not in my position, though, are you?” is all that I want to scream. You’re speaking in hypotheticals, from the heart of your family and your 2.4 children. Or from behind a masque of naievity borne of not yet having tried to have your own children. Tried, of course, and failed. This will be the third or fourth cliche I’ve written today – and believe me cliches are something I usually try to avoid – but sometimes, nothing else will do: You actually have no idea what you would do until you’re in the position. Unlike you, who I don’t, incidentally, see rushing out to adopt all these children yourself anyway, we’ve actually considered all of our options. Carefully.

I could just stick with the fact that adoption isn’t, actually, a “simple” process at all. But there is so much more that I need to say. Just because we are infertile, it seems that to some people it automatically becomes our responsibility to adopt children that need a family. Not considering that pathway apparently makes me selfish. Yet for those who are fertile, choosing to procreate in the more conventional way is perfectly acceptable. Tell me how that is right, or fair.

Yes, perhaps we should all be more magnanimous. Think more of others instead of ourselves. But that isn’t the way life works, and I don’t accept that I should be singled out for my desire to have children that are genetically ours simply because that has proved to be so difficult.

That’s the simple truth: I want another of Ian’s children. I wasn’t ever a deeply maternal person, as a small child, teenager or young adult. In fact, I wasn’t sure that I wanted children at all until I met my husband. And then, suddenly, I wanted his children. I wanted us to have children together.

I’m aware that there is an awful lot more than makes a mother – or father – than biology alone, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter at all. Maybe I’d feel differently if we didn’t already have Thomas, but as it is I’d very much like him to have siblings that, genetically speaking, are full siblings. And if you look at what is widely regarded as an “average” family, if you look at what occurs most often, how can anyone suggest that this is so strange? It doesn’t mean I think adoption, or the use of donor sperm (or eggs) are bad choices. But they are not an answer to our situation. they don’t provide the same end result.

At the end of the day, I’m just a woman, heartbroken and grieving for a dream, who is still clinging to the image of a family that she created in her head, struggling to accept that the reality will be very different.

I’m not a bad person.

I’m a normal person facing a less-than-normal situation.

“Mummy’s Sad”

Heading home from work on Friday, I was exhausted from simply holding it together for the bulk of the day. The problem with working with the public is that there is simply no where to hide with your emotions.

The problem with living with a two year old, it turns out, is very similar.

Once we were home, I gave in to the inevitable tears in the place where I feel safest: Snuggled against my husband’s shoulder. Wrapped in his warm, tight, embrace.

And as I sobbed, from somewhere just beneath us came a small voice.

“Mummy’s sad” it said.

Thomas turned away, back to his drawing, his hand moving in rhythmic, colourful circles across the page. I was touched by his empathy and understanding, which obviously did nothing to quell my emotions.

“Yes, Mummy is sad” Ian replied, in the exhalation of a sigh.

Thomas looked back up at me with an earnest, slightly quizzical expression. As he turned away again, I heard him ask “Is it Thomas’s fault?”

Even as I was reassuring him, through yet more tears, that no, of course it wasn’t Thomas’s fault, all I could hear was an ear splintering crash. The sound of my already broken heart shattering in to further, possibly irreparable, pieces.

That my two year old understands the concept of “fault” is both amazing and perhaps slightly worrying. But how could I have lead him to feel responsible for my emotions? In that moment I felt like the worst parent in the world. Here I am, so wrapped up in my desire to bring him a sibling, that I’m having a detrimental effect on the child I already have, right here. The child who needs me.

In the last few days Thomas has been a massive source of comfort. I’ve savoured his hugs, and taken pleasure in his silly, toddler antics. But I can’t lie. It’s also been tough having to continue to put his needs first, and see that he isn’t affected but what I’m going through.

It turns out that I haven’t done quite such a good job as I’d hoped.