Day In, Day Out

How things change.

This time a month ago, I was merrily conducting a pregnancy test every day, just for fun. This time last month, I was on heightened alert for every minute tweak and twinge, in case they counted as ‘feeling pregnant.’

This month, I am simply waiting for my period to start in two days’ time. There’s no point wasting good money on pregnancy tests. I didn’t even ovulate. And I certainly haven’t experienced any sensations at all that might be termed ‘feeling pregnant.’

All of which sounds rather more sulky than I feel. I’m going into this with pretty low expectations, and it’s a whole month until my first appointment with the specialist. I am, frankly, a bit bored of people telling me that it will probably happen miraculously if I take my mind off it. I know this is supposed to be comforting, but it isn’t remotely. Whatever you read in the bottom end of the women’s magazine market, infertile couples tend to conceive babies after a hard slog through a range of surgical and medicinal interventions. It’s patronising – if well-meaning – to conveniently turn your gaze away from the hard scientific facts of conception and offer platitudes instead.

This whole enterprise is one long process of managing expectations. Maybe it’s my slight ambivalence about what a baby would do to my life, but I can’t afford to get pie-eyed about an infant that may not exist for several years. I have not been making mooning visits to Mothercare (although I have checked out the maternity jeans in Topshop. Damn, they look comfy. I wonder if I could get away with wearing a pair now?). More than that, I can’t afford to get carried away with romantic notions about implantation magically occurring if there’s enough love in the room. If that was the case, I would have been pregnant years ago, trust me.

But I can’t allow myself to feel too helpless either, to rest myself too comfortably in the hands of the medical professionals. I only get to see them every few months, and if nothing else, I need something to pass the time. Plus, it’s pleasant to proceed with measured optimism, a healthy appreciation of the balance of probabilities.

Each stage in this requires a raft of decisions and research. This month, we’ve been choosing ‘sex every other day’ rather than ‘waiting for ovulation and then doing it as much as possible.’ In many ways, it suits us better – less panic, less pressure, less precision. I want to enjoy this, find opportunities within it to enhance our relationship, rather than to treat our marriage as a phase I’ve moved through now I’ve got my eye on a new prize. This is about us. I want to make a baby with Herbert specifically.

But I confess there’s something slightly gruelling about having sex every other day, just because it’s an obligation. All of our creativity has flown out the window, now that we must harvest that precious semen. This limits what you can do (just in case it all pops out early), and lends an air of weary traditionalism to the whole affair. I’m wondering about conjuring up a complex zoning plan for the month, in which we identify five days when we’re pretty certain I couldn’t get pregnant, and institute a free-range ejaculation rule for that week.

However, I suspect that if we did that, we’d both merrily end up taking those days off for a nice rest.

 

This post will self-destruct in two weeks. 

Things I Have Learned This Week

1. I always wondered what Intimate Feminine Wipes were for. Now I know: there for effecting an emergency mop-down in the loos of Waitrose, while you heartily curse starting your period in the middle of a shopping centre 90 miles from home, an event which has just necessitated the emergency purchase of new knickers and trousers.

2. That despite this being a royal pain in the arse, I am delighted to note that I seem to be operating a 26-day cycle, whichwhisper it – is almost normal.

[Goodness, this post is exactly what people fear, isn’t it, when they say they don’t use social media because it’s full of people sharing way too much.]

3. Ovulation sticks are fun, I don’t care what anyone says. I realise I may not always feel this way about them, but I might as well enjoy the novelty while it lasts. There is a ten-second moment of excitement, after you’ve peed and while you’re waiting for the line(s) to appear, when you feel genuine suspense. Have I ovulated? Haven’t I? It’s so exciting.

I am delighted to report that I haven’t ovulated yet. This is quite appropriate, given that I’m only a few days into my cycle. Whether those two lines will ever appear remains to be seen.

4. Semen samples may require near-impossible feats of dexterity in order to be fresh enough to test, but the NHS will still make you wait over a week for the results.

5. It appears that nobody conceives a child without medical help anymore. We are far from alone.

6. Perhaps following on from point 6, people are extraordinarily kind and sympathetic when they find out you’re embarking on fertility treatment. Witness this lovely care package from my friend K, which arrived in the post this morning:

 

Baby Steps

There’s nothing like embarking on fertility treatment to find out just how much your husband masturbates.

I mean, I knew he did it, but good lord, I didn’t realise a four-day hiatus would be so traumatic.

‘What am I supposed to do for four whole days?’ he says, quite seriously, on Tuesday afternoon.

‘The doctor said four to seven days,’ I tell him. Being the sort of kid who always handed in their homework two days early, I am now the sort of adult who would see four days as the bare minimum required, and therefore the preserve of losers.

‘There’s absolutely no way I could wait seven days. Four’s as many as I’m willing to endure.’ We are clearly entering uncharted territory here.

‘Well, I’m away all week, so at least there’s no temptation to have sex.’

‘Hah!’ snorts Herbert, ‘that only makes it worse. What do you think I do when you’re away?’ Um, a little light needlework? Macrame? Sugar craft?

Hang on, am I married to a compulsive masturbator? I simply had no idea it was this embedded in his routine. I do hope he’s not rubbing himself inappropriately up against the cats in my absence.

As the week progresses (jollied along by unhelpful texts from me, e.g. ‘Hurrah! You’re now 75% through your non-wanking marathon! Your’e a tiger!’), Herbert develops a more pressing concern: how to transport his sample to the hospital.

Semen samples must be kept at body temperature and should be tested as soon after ejaculation as possible. Our local hospital, sadly, does not offer a special room for the job.

After mulling over the prospect of knocking one out in an NHS toilet cubicle, H decides that he’d prefer his first post-abstinence wank to be at home. The man from the pathology department therefore helpfully suggests he keeps it under his armpit until he reaches the hospital. Herbert and I are not sure this is possible without straining something or crashing the car.

After much indecision, on Thursday night he decides to practice driving home with the empty bottle clenched between his thighs. It is declared a success. We are all ready for the Friday morning payload.

In the meantime, I am occupying myself in other ways. I decided, quite suddenly, that I ought to be taking special pre-conception vitamins, just in case, y’know, I fall pregnant in a so quickly that I haven’t had time to stockpile folic acid. I take a trip to Boots, where I find a brand that’s so expensive I imagine they must contain micro-bots that swarm up my fallopian tubes and gently massage my ovaries into submission.

I buy them. And while I’m there, I also purchase a breathtakingly expensive box of ovulation sticks, as I figure I might be able to catch my body sneaking out an ovulation when no-one’s looking. I suspect that peeing on a stick every day will keep me occupied, particularly in conjunction with swallowing a vitamin pill.

Because, really, as soon as this process starts, the obsession kicks in. I may be ambivalent about what a baby will do to my life, but I am not in the least bit ambivalent about the process of conceiving it. Conception is a task which, properly managed, can be robbed of some of its uncertainty. Or at least, that’s what I have to believe if I’m not going to crack under the strain. If it all fails, I don’t want to be left with the nagging doubt that I didn’t do quite enough.

At eight o’clock this morning, I text H:

The time is upon us!

H: Ten minutes to go.

Me: In my head, you’re standing with your hand poised over your penis, like a gunslinger in a spaghetti western.

H: You worry me sometimes.

But the deed is done. He produces his sample (I don’t enquire), drives it to the pathology lab on the way to work, and then texts me to say:

It wasn’t a very big sample in the end. I’m a bit disappointed. I expect they’ll want another one now.

FFS, how much do you think they need? I reply.

Do you know the worst bit? says H, I just looked it up online. Two to four days of not ejaculating is usually considered enough. Your GP is a sadist.

Ah well. I suppose we all have to find ways of managing the little stresses in life.

The Bravest Thing…

‘Are you sure about this?’ I say to H.

He nods.

‘No, really. Are you sure? I mean, are you worried about it?’

‘Are you worried about it?’ he says. ‘That’s more to the point.’

‘Oh god yes,’ I say. ‘Of course I am. I’ve been worried about it all day.’

This conversation has become very much academic because we have now reached the sliding doors of the doctor’s surgery. We enter in silence, and I check myself in using the new touch-screen.

‘Impressive,’ I say.

‘Hm,’ says Herbert.

There’s no-one else in the waiting room except a mother with a toddler, who is screaming and clutching her left ear. We both wait in silence. I fix my gaze on the dot matrix screen, as it endlessly circulates a request to ensure the surgery has an up-to-date phone number on record.

Eventually there is a bleep and my name appears on the screen.

‘You’d better go first,’ says H. ‘She’s not expecting me to walk in.’

I knock, state the blooming obvious that I’ve brought Herbert with me, and we sit down. Herbert’s chair is pressed against the back wall, and he doesn’t move it.

‘The last time I came to see you, I was applying for an egg freeze and share,’ I say, handing her the letter from the clinic. ‘Well, I’ve just been turned down.’

‘Oh, I’m sorry. Did they say why?’

‘Sort of. But I don’t understand any of it. I was hoping you could interpret.’

My GP frowns at the covering letter, and then at the columns of figures that accompany it. ‘I’m afraid this is a bit beyond my level of expertise,’ she says at last.

‘Well,’ I say, ‘in a way that’s a relief, because we were feeling a bit stupid for not understanding it.’

There’s a pause, while I gather up my courage. ‘In any case,’ I say, ‘we’ve decided not to wait any longer. We’ve decided we’d like to start infertility treatment please.’

There’s a brief flurry of activity from my GP as she begins to scroll through my notes. ‘Remind me of where we’ve got to?’ she says.

‘I have anovulatory cycles.’

‘Aha, yes, found it. Hm. Yes. You’re right, you’re unlikely to manage it on your own. We’ve tested your hormone levels before, and…’ another squint at the notes ‘…well, we’ve not really found anything at all, have we?’

She looks up. ‘Right! Good. First steps are with you,’ she says, looking at Herbert.

‘Oh,’ says H.

‘Because we already know about your wife, don’t we?’

 

We leave with a plastic tub and the instruction to call the pathology lab at the local hospital.

‘Excellent,’ I say to H. ‘For once the ball’s in your court.’

‘Hm,’ says H.

‘I always feel sorry for men giving sperm samples. I mean, it can’t be easy bringing yourself to orgasm in an NHS toilet cubicle.’

‘That won’t be a problem,’ says H, ‘if I’m not allowed to ejaculate for 4 days beforehand. God knows how I’m supposed to achieve that.’

‘I’m sure you’ll manage.’

‘And I thought you got a special little room to do it in, not a toilet cubicle.’

‘I’d heard you got special NHS-issue porn.’

‘Ugh,’ says H, ‘I don’t think I could bear to use that.’

‘I dunno, it could add a little extra frisson.’

‘I’d have to work on that in advance, I think.’

 

For our own entirely separate reasons, we’re both in need of a drink. For my part, I feel like we’ve just witnessed the bravest thing I ever did, taking the first, shaky step towards having a child.

I’ve always had so many fears and objections until now, but getting the news that I couldn’t freeze my eggs took me to pieces in a way I never expected. All those concerns suddenly felt like a surface layer imposed on a deeper urge. I was afraid of what having children might do to my life, but that didn’t silence the part of me that still wanted them.

And, at thirty-three-and-three-quarters, with a whole raft of existing fertility issues, I realised I couldn’t afford to wait any longer. In an ideal world, I’d still leave it for another few years, but that risked losing what little chance I had in the first place.

‘Do you know what Betty,’ said Herbert as I sobbed a wet patch onto his shoulder, ‘It’s time. Let’s not put it off any longer. It only makes it worse for you.’

Brave words for H, who openly admits he would never have children if I didn’t want them. And now, nursing a pint of bitter in the pub, his courage is wearing thin already.

‘You’re not saying much,’ I say.

A shrug.

‘Seriously. Talk back.’

‘There’s nothing to say. Not everything requires a response.’

‘But this does. It’s important. Tell me how you feel about it.’

H takes a breath. ‘Okay,’ he says, ‘I’m terrified. Alright?’