August 5, 2012 § 2 Comments
On the first day of my period I make a call to the clinic and tell them that I wish to pusue treatment. I fear that I have left it too long, that they will have forotten that I ever saw Mr Xin and undertook the tests. As I am put throuh to the nurse I gabble that I know that it’s been a while, but I needed to wait for the summer when work is quieter and ovulation will fall at a time when I can escape without too many people noticing my absence. The nurse seems nonplussed and locates my notes with ease. She tells me that everything is in order. She explains that someone from the lab will call me over the next few days with an offer of a donor and I will then need to call on ovulation day to arrange a time for the insemination. She asks if anyone has been through my preferences with me? My preferences for what? I ask. The sort of donor I would like, she explains. I had assumed that being in the position that I am and the current shortage of sperm, that I could not expect much choice, and I tell her this. Well, you can specify a few things, she responds, let me get the forms.
I am due back with a client in less than ten minutes. I am not sure that this is the best time to adequately decide on the characteristics I would like for my child’s biological father. Also, knowing that I will be given no information beyond height, weight, eye and hair colour, occupation; details that I find least relevant to know; means that I wonder if it’s really worth becoming too invested in the idea of choice. What I’d be really interested in are details of their character. How kind are they? Who do they vote for? What sort of man might my child find if they choose to trace them, as I believe they inevitably will? Will they be welcoming and have truly come to terms with the implications of being a donor? I’m also aware that my own colouring of pasty-skinned, blue eyed, ginger means that there being a donor who shares this physical resemblance, is remote. And I’m not sure that I’d want there to be. Perhaps this is an opportunity to save my future child from a life of factor 50, over-sized sunhats and ginger jibes?
I’m pretty open, I tell the nurse when she returns. Well, she goes on. Is there anything that you don’t want? What do you mean? I ask. Well, some people say that they don’t want people like bin men? Bin men? I question. Or postmen, she adds. What’s wrong with a bin man or a postman? I inwardly wonder. Some people tell us that they only want donors with a university education. I think of my family. I am the only one to have been to universty amongst a host of dockers and tradespeople, plumbers and electricians, who all earn twice as much money as me. I have a second cousin who is a postman who always takes my Nan a box of Family Circle biscuits every Christmas Eve, who I’m sure would make a fantastic father. A bin man or postman will be fine, I tell the nurse. She repeats that someone will be in touch in the next few days. I doubt she even bothers to fill in the form.
Four days later I receive a call from the lab. I am in the middle of teaching and I recognise the number as it vibrates on the lectern next to me. I falter and struggle to continue to the end of the class when I scurry back to my office, slam the door shut and make the return call.
Katie from the lab tells me that there are two possibilities. The first is 5″8, 76kg (what is this in stones? I wonder), blonde hair, blue eyes, an office worker who likes music, films and going out. Going out? I think. I immediately envisage him as a hard drinker. And a young one at that. Nobody puts ‘going out’ as one of their likes unless they’re 21. By your late twenties you’re confident that ‘going out’ just ‘is’ and by the time you’re my age you’ve forgotten what it means and you’ve moved on to listing evening class attendance. It is like reading between the lines of a dating profile.
The second is 6″2, I don’t bother to register his kg weight, dark hair, a pilot, who likes fitness and music. A pilot? I am unable to suppress a wow and Katie laughs. She emphasises that his profession means that he will have undertaken significant extra health and medical checks. How can the first compete with a pilot? But something holds me back. Katie sounds surprised when I tell her that I’ll think about it and call her back.
I spend the next few hours in turmoil. What I thought would be a relatively easy decision based on limited options, my belief in loving nurture and uniqueness of any future child and determination not to become entangled in modern-day, aspirational eugenics, temporarily becomes a protracted, fraught one.
In the immediate, unthinking, romance of the moment I am inevitably drawn to the pilot. I imagine him to be good at maths (I failed my GCSE maths and have been lying about it ever since); well co-ordinated (it takes me five seconds to work out my left from my right); well-travelled with a sense of adventure (as a family we spent our summer holiday in the same south devon resort for twelve years and I was 21 before I went on a plane); with nerves of steel (I’ve always been a bit highly strung). He could be the yang to my creative, readerly yin and I fantasise that together we might create the consummate, all-rounder child.
And then I stop, and think of you, my future child at eight, who will probably be living in relative poverty, still in a one bedroom flat, sharing bunk beds with me, and the one piece of information that I can pass on is that your father is a pilot. What will you think and feel? Handsome, gold lapels, cadillac of the skies. Tantalising. A recipe for discontent, I think. I wish I lived with my dad. And then every plane crash reported on the news, might it be him? Or the hero who landed on the Hudson River, might that be him? I imagine you on the one foreign holiday that I might eventually be able to afford, scouring the departure lounge for any sign of him. As we board the plane and fasten our seatbelts and the captain welcomes us from the flight deck, your excited legs swinging beside me will be accompanied by the inevitable question. Is that my dad? What would I say? No? That it might be? That I don’t know? And your excitement turning to confusion and insecurity.
I also start to see beyond the initial glamour to wider (and undoubtedly wilder) speculations. ‘Fitness’ sounds solitary and I envisage a fragmented, lonely life spanning the globe. I wonder about his motivation in being a donor. Does he want to establish some roots, but why has he not achieved this for himself?
I return to thinking about the 5″8 office worker. There is something straightforward about him, as if he is who he is. A blank slate for my future child to become whoever he or she might want to be. He sounds sociable and ‘going out’ starts to make me smile. I also recall being the only child in my family to have red hair which resulted in me being convinced that I was adopted for a good three years of my childhood and I begin to think that it might be responsible for my child to have at least some physical resemblance to me. The first donor’s blue eyes might mean that we’ll share this characteristic and strawberry blonde might not be so bad.
Tempting though the pilot is, I decide no. Anonymous office worker it is. I call Katie back to tell her.
July 28, 2012 § 1 Comment
The clinic has arranged for me to see a counsellor. It is standard procedure. Everyone has to see one before they embark on any form of assisted conception. To check that we are of sound mind and have thought all the implications through.
After Dr Xin’s superficial assessment all those months ago I start to fear that this is where the real grilling will come. I envisage that on the surface the counsellor will be like others I have encountered, all kind looks and soft furnishings but that this will conceal a psychological profiler AKA Cracker, who, through nothing but silence will draw out my neuroses and consequent incapacity to parent.
Our appointment is scheduled at an address separate from the clinic. As I turn down the street the rain is sheeting. In this, the wettest of summers, I have refused to succumb to an umbrella. They make me feel encumbered and other people’s inconsiderate pokes with them add to my irritation. I have a waterproof but the hood stops before my forehead and jacket at my thighs, rendering me top and tail dripping. I am early, but I assume that there will be a waiting room where I can dry off and return to resembling the parent that I hope to be.
The building is a large Victorian house that appears to have been converted into flats. I ring the third buzzer but there is no response. As I wait I get even wetter and I ring it again. I wonder if I am in the right place. I hear footsteps and the door is opened sharply by a stern looking woman with her neck in a brace. She does not speak. Ummm, I’m here for an appointment with Frances Pope. The words produce a spray of rain from my lips. That’s me, she responds. You’re early. She does not look like she is going to let me in. I am tentative. Is there anywhere I might wait. Only its raining. She looks annoyed but turns and I follow her. She points towards one door, before disappearing through an opposite one where voices resume talking
The automatic lights in the hall switch off and I am standing in semi-darkness. I try the door and step into what appears to be a large storeroom filled with boxes. There is an old gas heater not working and an abandoned water cooler. There is no chair to sit on so I opt for one of the boxes which buckles slightly under my weight, my knees level with my ears and I feel like I am back in first year infants. Sitting in the silence I realise that my socks could do with a wring out.
Eventually, I hear people in the corridor outside and goodbyes are said. As the counsellor opens the door it does not occur to me to get up and I realise how I must look. She grimaces at me to follow. I start to think that the stern, rigid face might be related to the neck brace in some way. She looks as if she might be in considerable pain, whiplash, which my presence appears to be adding to.
The room she guides me to is a welcome relief. There is a sofa which she sits on, two chairs and a coffee table with obligatory tissues. I take a chair and I am pleased that the absence of a partner to take the second bothers me less. I remember what I am here to do, how important it is and I decide to smile, even if she does not appear to be about to. She looks straight at me. I apologise again for arriving early, chattering that I thought it would be like the clinic and there would be a reception where I could wait. She winces at this and I am uncertain whether this is due to the pain in her neck or she has taken it as an insult that she is not worthy of a receptionist.
I also start to apologise for being so wet, but she interrupts and asks if I’ve ever been to a counsellor before? I wonder if this is a trick question. To respond yes might be to admit to some mental fragility, but to say no would be a lie that I fear she will see through. I decide to admit to my first experience of one, when I was taking my finals at university and feeling a bit stressed. Well, she asserts, this interview isn’t going to be like that, she tells me. Oh, my eyebrows say. I’m going to ask you questions about your decision to have a child and you need to answer them as best you can. I nod and she begins.
She starts by asking me about my motivation to have a child. I respond that I constantly question myself about this, that I’m from a traditional, working-class family where children are conceived by mothers and fathers who still have engagement parties where presents are still expected prior to full church weddings, where motre presents are expected. I explain that I worry about the impact on the child of being conceived in this way, the absence of a father, how I’ll cope emotionally and practically as a single parent, but ultimately that I cannot imagine not being a mother. She asks if I have considered the possibility of the treatment not working, and I respond that I need to know that I have tried. She goes on to point out the higher rate of ectopic, miscarriage and still-birth for assisted conceptions. This takes me aback. I immediately think of my mum and nan who both lost children in childbirth and I am filled with the anxiety that proceeding might increase my own risk of this. I do not share my thoughts, but simply verbalise that I suppose any pregnancy will run this risk. She seems satisfoed by my answer and moves on.
Countless questions follow in quick succession. Have I considered the impact on my child of not knowing their father? That my child might be bullied at school due to their birthright? How will I feel if my child does not bear any physical resemblance to me and how do I suppose my child will feel about this? How will I talk to my child about how they were conceieved. She wants the actual words I might use. How will I manage when my child seeks to find their father when they turn eighteen? What if they discover their father has died?
It feels like a cross-examination and I do not know which way to turn. Words like love, openness, family, friends and support tumble out incoherently. I feel like I am in an episode of Homeland and wonder if the storeroom experience was all part of the organised torture. I am rendered bumbling, hesitant, but ultimately myself, the decision and my thoughts about this stripped to their very essence. There is no room for falsehoods or practised answers. She has effectively ensured that she just gets me. I imagine my future child as screwed up, lacking any sense of identity and needing years of therapy for the experience I may put them through. Enough, I want to shout. You’re right. Its a really bad idea. I was stupid to even consider it. But all of a sudden she stops and I can breathe again.
For the first time she smiles and says that we are done. My insides jolt upright. Is there anything that I want to ask her? What happens now, I manage. I’ll feedback to the clinic. My next question is obvious, but I am not sure I have the resilience to hear the answer. But I fear she will perceive my inability to ask as a weakness. What will you tell them? That I can’t find any reason why you shouldn’t proceed. But I could barely answer the questions? Your uncertainty suggests that you’re thinking through all the implications. I only tend to worry about those who dismiss the questions or don’t feel the need to think it through. It sounds like you’re already doing lots of exploring of these issues. She offers to see me again at any time if I feel the need to and then wishes me good luck.
Outside it has stopped raining, but her questions have left me full of doubt.
May 29, 2012 § 1 Comment
I am surprisingly nervous about calling the surgery to hear the results of my blood tests. It is the thought that I could fail at the first hurdle, that if I am not ovulating, or if my FSH and LH levels are out of kilter, it will be the end of the journey. For some, results of that kind would only be the start, but for me, I’ve always known that I would not be prepared to take high doses of medication or embark on rounds of IVF. I’ve always admired people that do, and know their desparate need, but I’m clear that’s not for me. And there would be no way that I would be able to afford it.
I am uncertain why I know that months of invasive treatment would not be for me, I do not see it as evidence that I do not really want a child – I do. It’s something that I can’t put my finger on. Like my desire to begin this process in the first place. An unspoken drive that is determining my desire to proceed, and not to. Similarly, if I find that I am able to go ahead with treatment, I will only give it so many attempts. I will not try for years. Five, I think. I do not know where the number comes from, but it seems a good one for me.
I am getting ahead of myself. I have a phonecall to make. I wait five days, then six and I remind myself that I have a meeting with the clinic counsellor in just a couple of days time and my period is due straight after that. If the results are positive, next month I could call the clinic and begin my first attempt.
I eventually dial the number just a few minutes before I have to meet a difficult client. This is intentional. The thought of establishing a safe, quiet space, that will remain so after I have heard what the doctor has to say, terrifies me. The client I am about to see is one of the most damaged that I have worked with. I know that she will rage and cry as she has done on our last two interviews together. She is my insurance policy. If the results are bad I will have to quickly snap out of my own response and hear Leanne who will do all of the expressing for me. By the time she leaves, the pain of their significance might already be dulled.
It is a hot day and I am six floors up in a building in central London. The windows are open and the blind clatters in the breeze. Beneath me I can see the traffic and people and all that London is. The perspective is welcome. I dial the surgery number. I have been searching on the internet of what progesterone and LH and FSH levels should be, but they’ve all become blurred in my mind. I’ve never been good at retaining numbers. I have been lying about having passed my GCSE maths for the last twenty years.
I wait for the message telling me to dial 3 for test results and the receptionist asks if she can help. I explain that I am calling for my blood results. It takes her some time to locate them. I can hear rustling paper and a child crying. She eventually utters just one word – satisfactory. I am immediately confused. I have a pen and paper in my hand ready to write detailed information that I expect to mean very little to me. I thought that at the very least there would be a list of numbers or letters that I would meticulously record and share with the clinic. I know satisfactory. Its spelling comes too easily to me. The implications of the word, that all is well, don’t sink in. The receptionist is about to put the phone down, before I squeak that I think I’ll need more details than that.
The receptionist tells me that Dr Marion has written “tell the client it is satisfactory”. Can she give me the specific results, I ask. I can’t do that, she tells me. But this is the blood test results service, I say. You’ll need to speak to a GP for that, she replies. The familiar sense of panic arises in me. I know the next few days of my diary off by heart and there is very little chance of me making it to see a GP before the first day of my cycle. I tell her this, in my neurotic, high pitched voice that, before this process started, I did not think that I was capable of. The receptionist sounds tired. She tells me that she will ask the duty doctor to call me back.
I spend two hours with my client, Leanne. She is loud, angry and vulnerable, shouting abuse at one moment and in floods of tears the next. I feel my phone buzzing in my pocket. It buzzes again. Whoever it is has left a message. Even though my client always arrives late and aggressively insists that she does not want to meet with me, she finds it impossible to leave. By the time she finally does, there is only five minutes of surgery time remaining and I doubt it will be enough time to even get through the call centre options. But it is. I speak to the living Dr Fiona. She has a calm, reassuring voice. She tells me she will leave a full print out at reception so I can fax them over to the clinic. I am immediately grateful.
I run in to pick them up on the way to a meeting the following day. I read them in a local park on a bench that still smells of lager, fags and piss from the night before. I scan the print out. I am ovulatory and my FSH and LH levels are in proportion. Rubella is still detected. I do not have HIV or Hepatitis and my blood group is O+. I am good to go.
I call the clinic in a rush. I blurt out that my results are through and I want to proceed with treatment. I forget to tell the nurse my name and she has to ask twice before I can tell her. She calls me lovey three times but this only seems to make me talk faster. I suddenly worry that they will wonder why it has taken me so long to get to this point, it is months since I attended the initial consultation, and whether they will take this as an indication that I am not truly committed. I ramble about being busy and needing time to save more money, but the line is silent and I realise that the nurse has gone to find my notes. When she returns she tells me that everything seems to be in order. She says that Mr Xin, who is really a doctor, is in today and that she will make sure he sees the results, but she does not think there will be a problem and I can proceed. Lovey. She explains that all I need to do now is call on the first day of my cycle, the lab will then be in touch with an offer of sperm and I will go to the clinic for an insemination on the day of a positive ovulation test. I thank her, over enthusiastically several times, before I can end the call.
As I gaze across the park I spot a group in the scented garden, settled on blankets for the day, surrounded by picnics and buggies. There seem to be an equal number of men and women and they all have a baby of around the same age. The parents laugh and joke together as they rock and cuddle their offspring. Their babies appear ruddy faced and confident, as if they know what they have been born into. I think of how different my own child’s experience might be, with an unknown father and limited financial resources. I wonder if the group I am looking at will welcome us and I am full of familiar doubts once again. But I reassure myself that we will somehow be different, something other, and if successfull, we’ll find our own tribe and rules to live by.
May 16, 2012 § 1 Comment
It has been ages since my last post and lots has happened. Firstly, I embarked on a series of blood tests. The first were to occur on day 21 of my cycle and to include my progesterone levels, rubella, hepatitis and to determine whether I have been exposed to the virus CMV. The clinic needs to know the latter as it will determine which donor I can be matched with. If I’ve not been exposed to CMV and I use a donor that has, there could be a risk to any future developing foetus.
The second test is to establish my blood group. As it is impossible to have a blood group test on the NHS unless you are pregnant already, Dr Marion has instructed me to make an appointment at a separate surgery and pretend. As I tend to do what I’m told, whatever misgivings I might have, I make two separate appointments at surgeries on the opposite sides of town.
For the first set of tests I am initially calm. The nurse who calls me in has soft skin that older, upper middle class women have, and she glides me back to the room. I imagine that out of her uniform she wears cashmere, pearls and tweed. I wonder why she has become a nurse, taking blood on a council estate, rather than partaking of bridge and afternoon tea. Her upright, calm demeanour lasts until she reads the forms that Dr Marion has sent me with and she tuts and sucks in her teeth. She tells me that she cannot take my blood as the form has been filled out incorrectly. She prods at Dr Marion’s signature, mutters “that woman” and that Dr Marion always gets it wrong. She says that I will need to go back to my surgery, get the right forms and come back another day.
I am rendered frantic at the thought of waiting another month for day 21 to fall again. I forget that it has already taken me months to get to this point and several more weeks will make very little difference. The possibility of this lost time is suddenly intolerable. I lose the capacity to talk rationally and I shriek. I ramble nonsensically about babies, clocks ticking and fertility clinics. The nurse does not look sympathetic. It is clear that I have walked unaware into the middle of a 30 year ‘Nurse-Vs-Dr-Marion’ war and there is no hope of surrender.
Please, I beg. The threat of tears sees her concede. She agrees that I can call my surgery to see if they will fax over the right forms. It takes several minutes of an engaged tone; then the automated message telling me that if I have chest pain to dial 999; followed by numbers to press for particular departments; before I speak to a living receptionist who tells me that they cannot release the paperwork without authorisation from a GP and there won’t be one free until lunch time. I gulp back a sob and flop into a chair before the nurse. I see a look of panic cross her eyes as she fears I will stage a ‘sit in’ until lunch.
She offers to take my blood and link it with the forms when they are faxed over. I thank her profusely while she finds a vein and fills the necessary vials in less than a minute. It is done and we share a look of relief, for me that the next stage in this journey is done and for her that I will never besmirch her surgery with hysteria again.
The following day I cycle to an alternative surgery on the opposite side of town for the blood group one. It is an afternoon appointment and all morning I have speculated about how I should respond if the nurse congratulates me, asks me my due date or how the morning sickness is, and if I should give voice to the lie. My longing for a child means that if I need to lie, then I will. But mostly it is fear of Dr Marion that propels me, fear of what she will do if I return having failed. I decide that I will remain mute, hand over the form, present my arm and make no eye contact.
I arrive in a rush and do not have any waiting time to see others being called in before me. A man emerges with a tell-tale plaster stuck to the crook of his arm and a couple of minutes later so does the nurse, who calls my name through. Only I am horrified to discover that it is the same nurse that I saw yesterday. I am unable to move from my seat. I frantically wonder if I can adopt a disguise but I remind myself that I cycled here, as I did to the appointment yesterday and I am wearing a highly distinctive flourescent bib that my dad filched from the health and safety cupboard at work which has the label of his employers emblazoned all over it. I am the only one in my city to own one and friends sometimes text me to report they’ve just seen me cycling down so-and-so road. This, along with the fact that I caused a minor fracas in the surgery the previous day means that she cannot but recognise me. I fear that she will think I have the blood test equivalent of Fabricated or Induced Illness, the need to have my blood taken unnecessarily, my insistence on the tests happening the previous day probably confirming this. At the very least she knows that I am not pregnant and will see through the scam between myself and Dr Marion. The ceasefire of yesterday will lead to all-out war between them.
She calls my name again and I stand, unable to flee. As she leads me through she gives no discernible sign that she recognises me and I attribute this to her chic refinement. I decide to stick to the original plan and say nothing. I hand over the form. She accepts it unquestioningly, tightens the belt around my arm and proceeds to stab me three times before she finds a vein. This is clearly her revenge. I grin, bear it and accept it as routine. She batches the vial up, and I thank her, and as I stand to leave she wishes me luck and I am convinced that she winks. Or perhaps I imagine this and I vow to buy some less distinctive cycling gear and perhaps dye my hair.
March 26, 2012 § Leave a Comment
While I wait for day 21 blood tests and the blood group test when I will have to pretend that I am already pregnant, I investigate all things ovulation. I am embarrassed to admit that at the age of thirty-six, I know very little about it. As far as I remember, they did not mention it in sex education classes in fourth year seniors. Sex education of the PSHE kind consisted of only one message – sex equals certain pregnancy. And not just full intercourse. Sperm on toilet seats, pants, condoms, all within ten metres of a vagina, led to pregnancy. In fact, according to Mr Beard who taught us, all the fertility clinic need do is leave a couple of sperm on a seat of a public toilet for a chance encounter with my inner thigh, and I would automatically fall pregnant. Fear permeated us. Well, me. Fear that a ‘with tongues’ snog might lead to sex, which was sure to mean a missed period and baby.
Some ignored the warnings and got on with it anyway. Fearless young women who arrived at school in uniforms so customised they resembled anything but, who felt comfortable in their changing bodies and embraced all that it was to be fourteen. For me, their world was alien, while they talked in the toilets I read books, Judy Blume’s Forever was the closest I came to intercourse. The fear of pregnancy permeated my thin skin so successfully that at the age of twenty when I discovered that I was gay and finally got down to the deed, I had to stop myself from whispering what about, you know, protection, before I reminded myself that I was in an almost naked state with a non-sperm producing woman.
In short, we were told nothing of fertile 36 hours, LH surges, the egg only being fertilizable for 8-12 hours and the survival rates of sperm. Did they not think that adolescents could be entrusted with such knowledge?
I discover that I will need to buy a kit to find out whether I ovulate and venture to Boots. I am surprisingly brazen. I go to the main shop in town where I could bump into anyone. I don’t just grab the first one I see and scurry head down to the self-service check-out, as I still have the tendency to do when buying my monthly tampons. I actually spend five minutes in an aisle marked conception and pregnancy and properly browse. This process is changing me in ways that I did not expect. As I take each new step – and that’s how I see it now, as a series of self-contained steps, the ultimate picture still too intangible and overwhelming – I feel a renewed confidence in doing something that I want to.
I peer at the cellophane wrapped boxes closely. There are a surprising number to choose from. Even the cheapest ones are pricey and I fleetingly wonder if Aldi produce the Clear Blue equaivalent of Magnum washing-up liquid or Harvest Morn muesli. Most are of the ‘blue line’ variety. You pee on a stick and on the day of your LH surge a strong blue line appears next to another. The trouble is, on the days when you’re close to it, a thin, less distinct line might appear and you’re advised to wait for the following day when it might become stronger. As I squint at the demonstration lines on the outside of the box I fear that I won’t know the difference, that I’ll be calling a clinic and paying them £850 to be inseminated on the wrong day. I replace it on the shelf. There’s another that is three pounds more expensive but instead of a feint blue line, on the day of your surge it displays a digital smiley face, an empty circle when it’s not. It looks fool proof, even for me. The extra three pounds will be worth it. I pay at the till, with a real, live cashier who gives nothing away regarding any thoughts about my prospects as a potential mother.
I tell Carol my accupuncturist about my purchase and she asks me if I’m checking my mucus. My what? I ask. Your discharge, she tells me, her calm and knowing face telling me that this is something to be taken seriously and I resist becoming my embarrassed, fourteen year old self again. Even if it means touching my vaginal discharge. She talks me through the stages cloudy, increasingly elastic, then eventually clear and slippery, before it turns cottage cheesy again. I go home, determined to spot the signs. One in ten are my best odds and I need all the information and help I can get.
The first few days confuse me. On the days when it is stretchy, it also looks cloudy to me, and what I think might be slippery, I wonder if it is slippery enough. After four days of this, along with peeing on a stick, I am despondent. Perhaps it just happens to be one of those odd months that every woman has when they don’t ovulate. Or perhaps I don’t ovulate at all and a knawing anxiety accompanies my day.
As I step into the shower the morning of my fifth day of testing this initial small stage becomes linked to the bigger picture and my mind races to accepting the fact that I will never have my own children before I’ve even reached for the shampoo. When I grab the towel I have almost forgotten that the test is still sitting on the cistern. When I catch sight of it I realise, there it is, a smiley face, that I am so relieved and welcome to see that I almost cheer and thank it.
February 14, 2012 § 1 Comment
I make a return visit to the fearsome, don’t-bother-me-unless-your-head-is-falling-off Dr Marion. I’m her first appointment of the day and I’m anxious not to make her run late. The fact that I acknowledge that I’m not sick, nor trying to be, from the start seems to cheer her. There is a whiff of a smile on her face as her hand beckons me towards the chair. This is new. I once spent a consultation standing in my coat as she scoffed at the pain in my shoulder and dismissed me within ninety seconds. Her new-found friendliness increases my feelings of guilt for being there. It seems wrong to be about to request several blood tests that will cost the NHS somewhere in the region of £300 to process, that I will send on to a private clinic and pay them for fertility treatment.
I am braced for Dr Marion to shout that the NHS is not a charity and is not there to supplement my desire to be a mother. I expect her to suggest a night on the tiles at the local Yates’ Wine Lodge and have done with it. I am even more embarrassed that one of the tests is for my blood group which, at the age of 36, I don’t know. It stands as a sure fire sign that I have never given blood. I feel like I have walked into the surgery with a megaphone declaring the number of times I have walked past the mobile blood bank outside the library and thought another day.
What can I do for you? Dr Marion asks. I thank her for making the referral to the clinic and tell her that I’ve been for the first appointment. There’s probably some tests that they need, she guesses. I don’t even have to ask. I’ll understand if it’s not possible, I tell her. Her hand bats the thought away as I hand over the follow-up letter that I received from Mr Xin a few days ago, writing what a pleasure it was to meet me, confirming everything that was said, and the tests that would be needed. The majority are fine, Dr Marion goes on, and prints off a computerised slip and a bag for the samples to go in, along with a leaflet listing where I can have the blood taken. They don’t do blood tests at my surgery, it’s up to you to arrange one with another clinic on their behalf.
The difficulty is the blood group one, Dr Marion says. I knew it. It’s penance for ignoring the blood bank. I’m tempted to pull out my donor card and shout look, heart, lungs, kidneys, corneas, they’re all yours if I get run over tomorrow. I know that I should already know what my blood group is, I tell Dr Marion. There’s no reason why you would, she replies. They just don’t do blood group tests on the NHS. I ask if there’s any way around it, that I would be happy to pay for it, but that’s not possible either, apparently.
Dr Marion drums her fingers against her desk. She looks like she does when you’ve got a chest infection and she tells you to buck up and take some buttercup linctus, but her frustrated discontent does not seem intended for me. The only blood group tests done on the NHS are antenatal ones, Dr Marion tells me. What? I ask. For women who are pregnant already, she explains. Her fingers drum some more and her eyes stray on to the list of surgeries where blood is taken, and she suddenly brightens. Here’s what we’ll do, she says decisively. Make an appointment at one surgery for one lot of tests. I look down at the form, progesterone, FSH/LH, rubella, HIV. And I’ll do a separate form for the blood group one, Dr Marion says. I’ll tick the antenatal box and you’ll just need to book a separate appointment at a different surgery.
I am taken aback. And then clarify that she wants me to do what I think she does. You want me to go to a surgery for a blood test and pretend that I am pregnant already? Yes, she nods, conspiratorially. It does not sit easy with me. I have never been much of a rule breaker. When Mum would insist Lucy and I still under five when we were actually heading for eight in order to avoid paying the child fare on the bus, I was always wracked with guilt and prayed for forgiveness. Mum’s sister, my Aunt Clara, once took us to a country park and wanted to hide me, Lucy and my cousin Sam under a blanket in the back seat to save paying for all three of us (scams ran in the family). I refused, despite knowing that we really couldn’t afford the admission fee and paying for me would mean no ice-cream for any of us.
A nurse thinking that I am already pregnant for a whole five minutes while extracting blood from a vein in my arm brings me out in a cold sweat.
I see Dr Marion glaring as if she can read my thoughts and this time, I know that her stern frown really is intended for me. She is scarier than Mum or Aunt Clara. I mutely nod and shakily take the second slip and I know that I cannot let Dr Marion down. I will do it. The thought of not doing it scares me even more and emphasises how much I really do want this. I thank Dr Marion profusely and quickly after I leave, before my resolve is lost, I make separate appointments with two surgeries on the opposite sides of town. I feel a certain thrill as I imagine that at one, someone will think that I am already pregnant.
January 27, 2012 § 4 Comments
It is the day of the appointment and I am uncertain what to wear. I don’t actually have that many clothes. The things that I wear to work I’m in the habit of buying in the first week of September and resemble what I would have worn at the start of term in 1986. While the shirts have become green or blue, the black cardigan and trousers are just the same. If I was going to the clinic on a weekday I would have put this on, but it’s a Saturday, and I’m supposed to be going to some friends for lunch after the appointment. If I turn up looking all Wednesday, questions will be asked.
At the weekends I normally wear faded jeans, hoodies and plimsolls that make me look like I’ve just stepped off the beach at Newquay. I’m not convinced that would be entirely appropriate to discuss Intra-Uterine Insemination and convince an upright-sounding Mr Xin of my suitability for treatment. Beach bum, camper-van mum can return after conception. I finally decide on my smartest jeans, least-bobbly cardigan and work shoes. In the mirror I look a jumble, as if I don’t quite know who I am, and I think that this is quite apt.
My stomach is in knots. I filled out the forms the night before and discovered how messy my own handwriting in capitals actually is. There are several crossings out where I signed instead of printed my name, put my date of birth instead of today’s and accidentally filled out one form supposed to be for the recipient’s partner, before I realised that this did not apply to me. I’m surprised how little information they require and I whizz through with repeated ‘no’s’ about family history of heart trouble, diabetes, criminal record, any offences against children. Where they require no proof but a simple tick, I assume that the grilling will come at my interview with Mr Xin and they’ll work out whether I really am appropriate parent material.
I think about taking the train, but decide to drive, grateful of the road and an unfamiliar town to keep my thoughts occupied. I have not printed off a map, I’m not the sort of person who does, the extent of planning being to glance at google maps to find the general direction of the street that I require and hope for the best. The approach has never failed me and I arrived with three minutes to spare until I realise that I’ve parked the car in a bay reserved for Consultants and I have to move it.
It is the only hospital that I’ve been in that has freshly-cut flowers, carpets on the floor and a pile of complimentary newspapers at reception. The Daily Mail. I know I have entered enemy territory. I ask for the fertility clinic and the receptionist points upstairs. She looks like she votes Conservative. I feel like a traitor. I once said that I would renounce my political beliefs for no cause nor man. I’m uncertain whether conceiving a child is justification enough. I grip on to the polished wooden banisters and wonder that this is what private medical insurance will buy you. Dad will be furious. I vow that if I succeed I’ll call the baby Aneurin as compensation. Even if it is a girl. After the first staircase I’m lost. There are no signs for the fertility clinic. Just framed prints and arrows for X-rays, endoscopy and the Assisted what? Oh, the Assisted Conception Unit – that must be me.
Its right at the top of the building. As I climb the last stair case it is clear that I’m entering Mr Xin’s territory. There are photographs of babies and one of a man, who I guess must be Mr Xin, surrounded by all his staff.
A nurse bustles behind reception. She says that I must be Joyce, calls me lovey and tells me to take a seat and to help myself to a cup of tea or coffee. There are more Daily Mails and the drinks are complimentary, but the milk is still UHT. Money will clearly not buy you everything. There are lots of magazines, OK, Hello, all current and lots of leaflets about the link between assisted conception and multiple births. If this works I’ve not ruled out the possibility of a sibling in two or three years time, but then I realise that the leaflet is about having more than one baby, at the same time. Twins. Triplets. Oh lordy. I tell myself to act like I haven’t seen it.
The phone rings and the nurse picks up. She whoops and says congratulations, how thrilled she is and asks how they’re enjoying their first weekend together. She must be talking to a previous patient. A success story. At first, the cynic in me wonders if its some sort of set up, a phone call that they arrange when they have a new patient within hearing distance. Then I think about how much it would have meant to the person who made the call, how happy they must feel and that my suspicion is all about me. I want to think that I’m somehow different from the woman at the end of the phone. I’m not. I want the same thing. And I know that I’m just jealous.
Mr Xin appears and shows me into the office. There are two seats opposite his desk and my singleness is suddenly stark. I sit in one and put my bag on the other and wish it was male and breathing. Mr and Mrs Eastpak. Mr Xin has my completed forms in front of him. He appears self-contained and meticulous. He gets down to business straight away and I like his straightforwardness.
He clarifies some basic details, that I’m here because I want to have a baby and I’m single. Yes, I tell him. Sexuality is clearly not relevant. He works his way through the forms, asking each of the questions again, double ticking them. He asks me if I’m financially stable. Oh yes, I nod. Little does he know that I live in a one bedroom flat where the bathroom is so small if I turn around too quickly my toothbrush ends up in the toilet. How will I ever bathe a child in it?
He asks if I have a good support network. I say that I do and back this up with reference to friends, lots with children and my family, but I don’t tell him they live two hundred miles away. The friends are real, but I wonder about the quality of support they’ll realistically offer. I can’t imagine that it will be like what Mum and Dad do for my sister, spontaneous pop-arounds and laundry for the first six months after Jacob was born.
Mr Xin has already moved on. I give him every chance to probe but the only time he does is when asking about my menstrual cycle when he becomes fastidiously specific, his eyes on success. I cannot believe that this is the sum total of his assessment. I am shocked that someone could bring a child into the world on so little information or independent proof. The only question that he shows any reaction to is when he asks me if I’m taking folic acid. Folic what? I ask. He looks at me gravely. We normally expect people to have been taking folic acid for a month before we proceed with an insemination. A month? Does he mean that I could try to conceive in a month? I’m taken aback. What about eighteen month waiting lists? I can’t try to conceive a child in a month. Can I? I tell him that I’ll buy some folic acid today.
He says that he normally does a scan. He looks at me expectantly and it’s a few seconds before I realise that he intends to do it right now. He tells me to remove my trousers and pants and hop up on the table. I wasn’t prepared for this. I wish that I’d done something about my bikini line. He picks up a white stick that resembles a vibrator and covers it with a condom. It’s the closest that I’ve ever been to either. Without any conceivable warning he sticks it up my vagina. I accept it surprisingly easily. Mr Xin silently appraises a screen and I start to worry, but then he turns it so I can have a look. He shows me where my uretha and ovaries are and I think, who’d have thought it, my body has insides. He takes out the stick and says that it all appears to be functioning fine.
Mr Xin talks me through the donor insemination, the fact that my child will be able to trace their father when they turn eighteen and I explain that this is what I would want. There is no waiting list, but they haven’t got much of it, he tells me. He explains that the donors are all rigorously assessed, with medical checks and histories undertaken. I can’t help but hope that their checks are a little more rigorous than mine. He says that per cycle of treatment I’ll probably only be offered one or two possibilities and told their weight, hair colour, eye colour and what they do for a living and that’s it. If I’m unhappy with what’s offered I’ll have to wait until the following month and try my luck then.
He adds that the donors are allowed to be responsible for ten pregnancies. He says this as if this is a microscopic number and that I will not consider this a problem, but I think, TEN? In the part of the country where I live, the chances of my prospective child running into a half-sibling at school or the inevitable Woodcraft Folk might be quite high. I immediately want to back out, but temper this by reassuring myself that I’ll need to give it more thought.
Mr Xin explains that the chances of it working are just one in ten, that for every ten attempts, nine will be unsuccessful. He says that people always ask why the odds are so low, but that’s the ratio. He explains that in order to proceed I’ll need some blood tests and rattles through what they are. I can get them done through the clinic at £65 a time, or if I have a sympathetic GP, they might arrange for them through the NHS. I think of Dr Marion and I’m immediately doubtful, but I know that I’ll have to try my luck with her first.
He goes on that once the results are back and if no problems are identified, I can proceed with treatment. I ask him if I’ll see him again before it starts but he raises his eyebrows and says no, at £150 a time he’s sure that I won’t want to. He recommends two or three attempts at a natural cycle and then to review it. Mr Xin tells me that I have to phone the clinic on the first day of my cycle and say that I want to start treatment. Within a few days the embryologist will phone with an offer of sperm and I’ll need to make a decision about whether I’m happy to accept it. I’ll then need to start testing with an ovulation predictor kit and on the day its positive, call in and they’ll do the insemination that day, unless it’s a Sunday and they’ll see me on the Monday. Isn’t that too late? I ask. He explains that the test only predicts when ovulation is about to occur, that it usually takes place 24-36 hours after a positive test, the egg is only fertilizable for 8-10 hours. With washed sperm only surviving up to 12 hours, I realise what an inexact science it is and why the odds on it working are so low.
Strangely, despite this knowledge, as he shakes my hand and wishes me luck, I realise that while I walked into the appointment expecting to be rejected, or to rule it out, that I’m actually going to give it a go.