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.