I am aware that this blog is on a slightly more sensitive subject matter than many of my posts, but I will try to keep it as lighthearted as possible, whilst remaining honest and open. I believe that the subject matter of this blog is important and there aren’t many honest, first-hand accounts out there. This is partially because getting a little help from science in the baby making department is often viewed as a taboo subject. There is a stigma associated with it that denotes that there is something wrong with you; that you are broken in some way. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, whereby society views a person as broken to the point where the person believes that they are broken, leading to a sense of shame or embarrassment, and thus nobody dares talk about it. It is also quite the Generation Game, with older members of society advocating that private things should not be spoken about on public media platforms, thus further limiting our access to first-hand information. A while back, I put a status on Facebook about our search for a private IVF clinic, and got a right earful from my mum who shunned the idea of putting such ‘intimate’ details in the public domain.
But times are changing. It wasn’t so long ago that it was not the done thing to talk about women’s menstrual cycles – in fact, it was Courtney Cox who first talked of periods during a television commercial for sanitary products, in 1985. Now there are whole campaigns around ‘period positivity’, raising awareness of shame-free menstruation talk. So why is it OK to talk of periods, but not the lack of periods or consequences thereof, such as the need to seek fertility help? The stigma that still unfortunately surrounds IVF and similar scientific medical intervention is reinforced by the hush hush attitude many people have towards seeking help. This acts as a catch-22 spiral, as when we were looking for information on what to do next, we felt quite alone. It wasn’t until I put a status on my Facebook that people came forward with their personal experiences and recommendations; information that couldn’t be found in textbooks or NHS websites. The response was overwhelming and heartwarming, and knowing that we weren’t alone gave us a push to take the next steps in our journey.
Having found very little information about first-hand accounts of fertility treatment, I decided to put my big girl pants on and write you a blog about our journey. We’re only at the beginning now, but I’ll keep you updated, hopefully with a three-prong outcome; (1) it puts some more information into the public domain about this important yet hush hush subject, and goes some way to depleting the negative stigma associated with it; (2) is a relatable read for other people out there in similar situations; and (3) writing my thoughts down will hopefully stop me going completely insane!
As many of you know (if you read my blog, it’s no big secret), Dave and I have been trying for another baby for a while. I am the problem, not him. After nearly 2 years of being pushed around the NHS, we finally got an appointment with the Fertility Specialist. He sat us down and went through the results of my blood tests, explaining what each one meant. He even drew us a little diagram, illustrating the rise and fall of each hormone at different points in the menstrual cycle (super useful because it felt like eleventy billion frickin years since my GCSE biology!). He explained that the test results suggest I have Hypothalamic Pituitary Amenorrhea, which means my oestrogen levels are at rock bottom, thus preventing ovulation. Basically, my brain is not telling my body to produce oestrogen. More specifically, my oestrogen levels (or lack thereof) are similar to those found in post-menopausal women and anorexics. From what the specialist explained, there could be a mixture of causal factors, including being on the combined pill for 12 years, and a high protein/low carb diet and “excessive” exercise are likely to be highly contributing factors.
I felt a mix of emotions. A huge wave of relief washed over me in finally getting a diagnosis; at last, a reason why things weren’t working. But equally, I felt immensely guilty, as not only was I ‘broken’, but there was a chance that it was my own fault. Years of pushing my body to the limit may have taken its toll.
I had to have another internal ultrasound scan – oh joy, more cameras the size of a Transformer’s arm, shoved where cameras should never go. At least this time I knew what to expect. As I laid there on the hospital bed, I sniggered to myself as a rush of “at your cervix” jokes ran through my head. I resisted temptation, as I was sure the nurse had heard them all before and equally would not appreciate me referring to her as “Lara Croft: Womb Raider”, nor would she be amused by suggesting she should be a politician, as she was already used to working in a job surrounded by a bunch of twats.
The ultrasound showed an abnormality, which may be nothing, but has to be re-scanned in a couple of months. In the meantime, I have 6 months of injecting hormone drugs to try to push start my oestrogen production. Part of the deal is that I have to curb my high protein/low carb training diets. Although I am not underweight (far from it…my BMI puts me at almost overweight for my height), I have a low fat percentage and thus they need to rule that out as a causal factor. So, over the next 6 months I have to accept the fact that I am to get fatter. It may also have an effect on my mood, which could be interesting (and my interesting I mean just a bit sh*t). It’s like the rubbish side effects of being pregnant, without the baby. All in all, if anyone asks if I’m pregnant over the next 6 months, due to the weight gain or general nosiness, I may punch them.
You may be thinking “well that’s not so bad at all, having to put on some weight, just spend the next 6 months eating cakes and chocolate, sounds pretty good to me!”. And I agree, in theory it sounds fabulous! But in reality, weight gain and the lack of control associated with it is a really scary prospect for me. For those who have read my previous blog posts, it’s no secret that when I was younger I struggled with an eating disorder. I wish I could say that “I’m not ashamed to talk about it”, but to an extent there is an element of shame still associated with it. And embarrassment. But I share my experiences so that other people out there who have been through or are going through similar, know that they are not alone. I have been in remission for several years, but one fear I have of not being in complete control of my weight over the next few months is that it will trigger a relapse. I’m not sure how I am going to cope mentally with watching my body change and knowing that I’m not allowed to do anything about it. It was different when I was pregnant – I had something inside of me, a human life, making (and requiring) those changes. As uncomfortable as I was with my slightly tubby physique for the first 5 months, I could justify it as ‘not my fault’. Whereas the difference is that over the next 6 months, any and all of the changes to my body are completely my fault. Similarly, over seasonal holiday periods such as Christmas, I can usually say to my self “f*ck it, I’ll just eat, drink & be merry, then in two weeks time strip it all off again”. But I don’t have that option – the fat gain is there for a purpose and is therefore not immediately reversible. I have no mental safety net.
The best case scenario is that the drugs work and in 3-6 months time my brain starts talking to my body and everything starts working the way it should, and we all live happily ever after, the end. However, if this is not the case, the fertility specialist has explained two other drug-aided routes we can take, and/or In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF). We have talked to several people we know about IVF and are more than prepared to take that route if it presents itself as the best option. I think my friend Ruth, who has recently been through the process with her wife, sums it up nicely: “much like thug life, you don’t choose the IVF life, the IVF life chooses you! Even if sometimes I’m sure you wish it would just bog off and let you do it the old fashioned way..”
Much like Lord Sugar’s search for an Apprentice, our journey continues…