The Bits of Fertility Treatment They Don’t Tell You About

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we shall begin. What am I saying…if you’re reading my blog you’re likely to be an expectant mum and thus juggling piles, joint pain and swollen feet; a new mum and have recently pushed something the size of a melon out of something the size of a lemon; or a not-so-new parent who JUST WANTS A MOMENT TO SH*T IN PEACE without toddlers or pets climbing over them, and thus you are currently reading this on the throne, not one of life’s most comfortable chairs.

Before we start, I’d just like to warn you that I’m writing this dosed up to the eyeballs on hormone drugs and would like to take this opportunity to apologise in advance for any more-colourful-than-usual language that may arise as a consequence thereof. I’ll try to keep it as BBC as possible, but am aware that the ramblings of a raging woman artificially induced to feel like she is due on a period every day of her sleep deprived life may come across more PMT than BBC…I imagine it is like a verbalisation of the inner monologue of Theresa May….or the external monologue of Boris Johnson for that matter.

I promised in a previous blog to keep you updated with how our fertility treatment is going. I say ‘our’ because even though it’s my body being pumped full of drugs like some never-ending 90s dance-trance rave, Dave is very much having to deal with the emotional repercussions of said drugs, such as crying, sleep disturbance, mood swings, and paranoia (also similar to the aftermath of a 90s dance-trance rave).

Well, I’m almost 2 months in to my HRT treatment and am having regular scans to see if there has been any biological progress. As for my subjective experience of the process so far…well, it’s been a mixed bag. Anyone who says “trying to get pregnant is the fun part” has obviously never tried to get pregnant. They are the oleaginous pricks who got pregnant first time, or ‘by surprise’; the ones who were “not trying but it just happened”; or worse, those who insist they know how you feel because it took them “a whole 4 months” to conceive. It might be the hormones talking, but I want to slap the shizznit out of the next person who says “Oh it will happen, just relax!” Wait a second whilst I write down that stellar piece of advice – please pass me the pen that has accidentally been shoved into your eye! Let’s get this straight; many things happen when you relax – sleep happens, calm and rhythmic breathing happens, and even occasionally, true to phrase, sh*t happens. Pregnancy, on the other hand, does not just happen. What needs to happen is for my uterus to realise that it is not a teenager, nor is it a middle-aged woman, and thus it does not need to be rebelling! I feel like people will stop asking stupid questions if I start answering them in interpretive dance. Though I dread to think what actions would accompany a transvaginal ultrasound.

I briefly considered writing a fluffy blog post on how lucky we are to have the opportunity and the modern medicine to undergo fertility treatment and that any bumps in the journey would be insignificant in comparison to the outcome of a new human life. A blog post filled with magic beans, rainbows & unicorn farts. But that wouldn’t be helpful to anyone. This is not only a chance for me to vent in an attempt to retain my last scraps of sleep deprived sanity, but also a raw and truthful account of what it’s actually like to have a helping hand from science. The bits that they don’t tell you in the books; The Good, The Bad & The Ugly.

The Ugly

Cat crap on a cracker, the weight is piling on thick and fast! I was aware from the start that the process would involve some weight gain; in fact, the doctor specified it as a necessity. The reason I wasn’t having periods was because my body wasn’t producing oestrogen. The two main possible causes for this were the extended period of time I was on the combined contraceptive pill for, and a low body fat percentage from being a competitive athlete. So, to counteract the former, I was prescribed oestrogen HRT and to rule out the latter I was told to put on some body fat. In theory I was fine with this, and even for the first few weeks I didn’t notice much of a difference. But then it hit. It’s like one of those nights out where you’re tipsy, tipsy, tipsy, tipsy, UTTERLY CARPARKED. It was only when I saw myself in the back of one of my student’s pole photos from class that I realised how much my body had changed in such a short period of time. I no longer held the chiselled athletic exterior that I’d worked so hard for over the last three post-baby years. Instead I saw a figure with a distended stomach, extra bums (plural!), and visible orange-peel cellulite. My posterior resembled less of a peach and more of a hot-crossed bun…but not the nice ones fresh from the bakery, more like the ones you’d find on the reduced shelf because they’ve been squished and misshapen. The weight had not just gone on my stomach, which I at least had a small amount of control over hiding, in that I could suck it in, even temporarily, when required; it had gone on my bum and thighs too. When I lunged to stretch at the start of class, the extra fat folded onto itself in my hip creases and bulged out the top and bottom of my shorts simultaneously like a souffle that had exploded out of both ends of the ramekin. Even standing up straight, I could feel my own butt cheeks touching the backs of my thighs, like the aforementioned souffle had been removed from the oven too soon and had collapsed, leaving a droopy & deflated mess. When I taught cardio classes, I could see and feel the extra butt jiggling as I ran. I looked like I had stolen a black woman’s arse, like there was some poor black lady walking around with a white chicks posterior because I had appropriated hers. This newly acquired arse comes with a ‘Twerk” function that could give Kim Kardashian a run for her money. Soon I will have to invest in one of those motorised scooters – or “Obescycles” as my friend calls them – and request that other customers in Asda pass me chocolate from the top shelf because I am too big to move. Consequently I am considering changing my surname to preempt future ridicule by others, like when Black rappers call themselves the ‘N’ word. So far I’ve narrowed it down to between “Fattybombatty” and “Flubbernaught”.

If I were to die today in some end-of-world apocalypse caused by the implosion of Theresa May’s sanity when she realises that (a) Brexit is like when Geri Halliwell overestimated her viability as a solo artist and left the Spice Girls, and (b) not even Ikea can get her a new cabinet; and aliens find my perfectly preserved corpse in the thawing of the next Ice Age, I fear that their autopsy would be along the following lines:

“Human Specimen 673: Starting at the arms, there is evidence of previous biceps muscle definition (be it well-hidden) possibly from a feeding motion from the plate to the mouth. The excessive body fat around the stomach, hips & thighs, backs up this theory. It is speculated that this human species could fly, evidenced by the wings on the underside of the arms. Ancient scriptures refer to this flaccid & toneless flesh as ‘the triceps’. The distended abdomen would suggest she was pregnant, but further investigation shows no signs of a developing infant human. We suspect that she was undergoing a ‘phantom pregnancy’, whereby she wanted something so much that her body started exhibiting features of pregnancy despite the absence of an embryo. The excess padding on the posterior is suggestive of a sonar means of communication, jiggling of which creating vibrations to be picked up by other human herds many miles away. The dark circles around the eyes suggest that the human was sniffing the arsehole of a squid at the time of death. Overall this autopsy reveals a sad species with little evolutionary advantage; the extinction of which was inevitable. Case closed.”

The other day, Dave and I went ‘window shopping’ for houses. We don’t need a new house, we are very happy where we currently are, but there is a new development just around the corner and it’s always a fun game to pretend to be wealthy cash buyers looking for ‘something over the half a million mark’. One of the houses had a huge bathroom mirror that stretched from wall-to-wall. Blurgh! I couldn’t think of anything worse at this point in time – in no way do I want to see a soapy Michelin Man getting out from the tub. And what was worse, it was an infinity mirror, with one behind you as well, so I’d be able to see my droopy fried eggs and sunken souffles at the same time! It’d be like the first round of Masterchef before they whittle out the ones who can *actually* cook. Anyway, it doesn’t matter because we can’t actually afford that half a million house….though I did win the lottery the other day….shame it was only a £2.70 win, and it cost me £2.50 to enter.

After our window shopping spree was over and the estate agents realised that they weren’t actually going to get a cash down-payment from us, we went on our merry way to a 5* spa retreat for my birthday. I very rarely take time off, so having 2 days away, just me & Dave, was a real treat! The venue was stunning, with a valet to park our car, a concierge to show us around the thermal spas, and a heated rooftop pool overlooking the grounds. Overall it was marvellous! However, I couldn’t shake the feeling of insecurity about how I looked and felt. I spent a lot of the time between pools trying to cover up with a towel, despite the vast majority of people being a fair bit older, fatter and more jelly-like than me. I was well aware of how stupid it sounded, even in my own head! Whilst I was there, I took part in a ‘Jive’ class, which seemed right up my street! The instructor was definitely an ex-ballet dancer, as her feet were constantly in 1st position with a turn-out that would rival Charlie Chaplin. I was in awe of her perfect form. Then I caught myself in the mirror and compared our two physiques. I didn’t look or feel like a dancer, even though I am one! I spent the rest of the class hiding at the back – I’d lost my mojo, my confidence and my care-free attitude. It was like I was back at school, feeling uncomfortable and judged.

When I was pregnant, I did feel a bit on the chubby side for the first 5 months, before I developed a proper bump. However, I could justify this change in weight and shape, as I was literally growing a human. The difference now is that I don’t have that excuse to fall back on. I know that I am gaining weight for an ultimate purpose, but I have nothing tangible to justify it right now and there is yet to be any immediate reward for doing so. I just feel ugly.

This feeling of ‘ugly’ resides partially as paranoia of what other people may think. When I was in the early ‘tubby’ stages of pregnancy, I wore novelty T-shirts that read things like “baby on board”, as a polite way of telling strangers that I was fat for a reason, and that yes, they should give up their seat on public transport. Now I watch people play “fat or pregnant” in their heads whilst looking at me from behind their newspapers on the tram, and I wonder if I could fit “I’m fat because I’m trying to get pregnant, I promise I’m not just lazy, but no you don’t have to give up your seat” on a T-shirt. The answer is no, I looked. But I did find an equally effective “I may be fat, but you’re ugly. I can diet, you’re f*cked” T-shirt on Ebay.

I know that working in the fitness industry, it’s noticeable when people change shape. Usually this is in a positive way – the loss of unwanted body fat, the increase in muscle tone, etc. Thus my fears that other people in the industry will notice changes in me, are not unjustified. If I worked in an office or in a kitchen, then a change in physique may have gone unnoticed, but working in gyms and health clubs I feel hypocritical, teaching people to become fitter, when I was looking less fit by the day. When I tried to explain to Dave how I felt, he replied “that’s not what other people think”, which exacerbated matters further because I didn’t feel like he was empathising enough. Then out of spite I ate the entire Easter Egg I’d bought for him.

The Bad

Hormone Replacement Therapy is a lot like riding a roller-coaster, and not just the emotional ‘ups and downs’, but the fact that if you stick your arm out the carriage it could come out the socket at any time. Literally. One of the side effects of oestrogen is that it can exaggerate existing hypermobility, of which I have plenty. This basically means my joints extend further than ‘normal’ (also known as ‘double jointed’) and mixed with a sh*tload of oestrogen I’m like one of those Stretch Armstrong dolls from the 80s. Within the first month of the drugs, I managed to tweak my knees, roll my ankle and sublux/partially dislocate my shoulder, (which is where it comes out of the socket and then goes back in again, albeit a bit looser). This didn’t help my weight gain situation because it meant that I couldn’t weight lift/weight bare for 2 weeks, and combined with an infected cyst on back meaning it was too painful to wear an over-shoulder boulder holder, cardio exercise was limited.

But it’s not just the physical side effects of the treatment that are troubling me. Everything makes me cry! I cried listening to my cooldown track for Zumba – Toy Story’s “You’ve got a friend in me” – as I started thinking about what amazing friends I have around me – Jane & Jo for their gin-filled pep talks, and Micky…for her gin-filled pep talks. The irony is, someone came up to me after Zumba and pointed out that I smile all the way from start to finish, for an hour. I do smile, because I’m enjoying the class, and the music, and also to make it less obvious when I forget the choreography…and occasionally because I’m holding in a fart (the ‘smiles’ of newborns are bullsh*t BTW – ‘reflex smiles’ before the age of approx 6 weeks are simply that: a reflex, and often indicate that the baby is passing wind. I think this is a reflex many humans never grow out of). It made me think about how much a smile can mask. Inside I am this horrible cocktail of perturbation and impetuosity….or as the youts say, totes emosh.

This emotional overdrive can be all-consuming and particularly hard to hide in public situations. Like when someone asks if you’re OK and all you want to do is emotionally offload like the morning after a curry night, but actually reply “I’m fine thanks” with an insincerity-masking pitch change so distinct that dogs across the park can hear you, as if Joe Pasquale has a rottweiler hanging off his balls. Similarly, when you politely ask your pregnant friends whether they’re ‘OK’ and expect them to extend the same so-very-British courtesy and reply with a simple “fine thanks”, but instead they insist on telling you every detail about the one thing you wish you could be experiencing. It’s like eating a slap-up meal in front of a nil-by-mouth patient who has been starved for the last eleventy billion months and is constantly promised that tomorrow will be the day they get fed, they just need to relax and not worry about HOW FRICKIN HUNGRY THEY ARE!

This overwhelming tidal wave of emotion was one of the reasons it took me so long to visit my sister-in-law’s new baby. Granted, I do work 7 days a week, and work was a genuine reason for absence in the first couple of months. But after that, it became more of an excuse to hide behind, as I didn’t know how I was going to react and if I could do it without bursting into tears, which is what every new mother wants, obviously, their visitors having a mental breakdown at the sight of their first born. Dave would poke me periodically, asking when I was going to visit, and how I really should make the effort, as it was after all my niece. I never explained to Dave, or anyone for that matter, how I was feeling. Jealousy, inadequacy, failure. On top of this was now guilt – guilty for not visiting, for not being a good sister-in-law or a good Auntie. People say “Oh it’s not so bad, you already have one child”, but FYI someone telling you that you should be grateful for the child you have, just makes you feel more guilty, like you don’t have the right to be down.

On the occasions where I have insinuated a feeling of envy towards close friends or family who are pregnant or with a new baby, Dave often stressed that they were trying for x amount of years so I should just be happy for them. This feels like a very unjust response; to put a time cap on my emotions. So, when we’ve been trying for x amount of years, THEN am I allowed to feel like this?! It’s not like opening a carton of milk whereby you have a finite shelf-life, after which you can justify chucking it out. Sometimes I question whether people not in my current situation really understand how it feels to want something so much that watching people around you with that thing can feel like a cruel form of torture. I walked by a trolley with a newborn in it at the supermarket the other day, and whilst it’s mother had her back turned in the tomato isle, I briefly considered swapping trolleys and walking away. Not my finest moment.

All this was made worse last week when I went for another scan at the hospital, to find out that the drugs so far haven’t worked. I mean, I wasn’t expecting some kind of miracle whereby the sonographer would turn the screen towards me mid-scan to reveal a perfectly formed human taking selfies with the ultrasonic transducer that was shoved up my fellula, but I was hoping for something. Anything. Some thickening of the uterus lining would be enough to justify the mental and physical changes I was putting my body through. But nothing: “no significant change” is what the student nurse (trust my luck to get the student nurse on her actual first day on the ward, FML) read from my notes in the post-examination room. I wanted to cry. A wave of disappointment washed over me, followed in quick succession by a mixture of guilt, failure, anger, disgust, sadness and exhaustion. In my mind, it had all been for nothing; the change in diet and associated weight gain, shape change and mental f*cktardedness that came with it; the emotional instability, the wanting to cry at every little thing even if that thing wasn’t even sad; and the hope that I’d been clinging on to like it was that bit of wood that Rose hogged from Jack at the end of Titanic. I was sad that we were still unable to have a baby, angry at my body for not working, disgusted at the way I looked and felt, exhausted by the whole long two year process, and overall just felt like a failure. I called Dave to tell him the outcome, partially because he wanted to know and partially because I needed to offload this cocktail of emotions before my head violently exploded over unsuspecting passers-by. He was, as always, annoyingly cool, calm & collected, insisting we wait for the results of further tests and that ‘these things just take time’. Well time can go sit on a barbed wire fence and swivel. It’s all very well stating things like “it’s all just part of the process”, when it’s not your body being pumped full of hormones; not your body having cameras the size of a robot’s arm shoved in orifices so regularly it’s like they’re taking a time-lapse video for a new series of BBC’s Blue Planet; it’s all very well being optimistic when it’s not you that’s broken. And that’s how I, and many other people in this position, feel a lot of the time – broken. Not just emotionally and mentally, but physically broken. Like the early 90s animated kids program “Raggy Dolls”. I blurted these thoughts, largely incoherently, down the phone at Dave, then hung up, got in the car and cried. Sometimes it’s nice to cry, especially if you spend your everyday life hiding behind a smile for the purposes of work, others, or your general mental stability – sometimes it feels nice just to let it all out. After about 20 minutes, I wiped my puffy eyes and went to my friend Amy’s house, whom was kindly looking after Joshua whilst I was at the hospital (having a 2-year old in the examination room making quacking noises with a speculum is not ideal). Having gone through fertility treatment herself, we shared stories of trials and tribulations and after a large bucket of tea, I felt a lot better. Sometimes you just need someone to tell you that some things are just a bit shi*t, and that it’s OK not to be OK all of the time.  

The Good

I wanted to finish on a positive note, as I can usually find a silver lining in any unicorn fart cloud. So here we go – 5 Good things about our journey so far:

(1) Although the last scan showed ‘no significant difference’ to my uterus lining, there are signs that the drugs are doing something – spotting, emotional changes, weight gain – all of these mean that there is a possibility that we can have another baby. That possibility gives us hope.

(2) We’ve still got 4 weeks of drugs left before the next scan. That’s enough time for Angelina Jolie to get married and divorced again, so anything could happen in that time!

(3) I am doing everything right, everything that I’ve been told to do, so it’s not my fault that it’s not worked thus far. I keep referring back to this point to alleviate some of the feelings of guilt and failure.

(4) I am going to enjoy the next few months of not being pregnant, for example our upcoming all-inclusive holiday, with all-inclusive booze & all-inclusive childcare (aka my mum & dad).

(5) If we end up going for full-blown IVF then there’s a chance of having twins – I’ve always wanted twins (you can remind me of this point in future years when I’ve got two furious, sleep-murdering, unstable and incontinent, breasts-obsessed, midget lodgers hanging from my boobs, who want nothing more or less than my undivided attention from that moment until the day I die).

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