From time to time now, I'll get a familiar twinge in my lower abdomen and think "oh, it's that time of the month ladies look so forward to". It's only when I try to head for the bathroom and am confounded by my massively pregnant abdomen that I realise no, I don't have my period. The confusion even after all this time is understandable though when you spent most of a year Trying To Conceive (TTC).
Because it involves sex (but not the careless, abandoned, sexy kind), and temperatures and charts, and hoping for something that could happen tomorrow or may not happen at all - you just don't know - TTC isn't something that people talk about much. I can't even imagine the heartache that comes with the decision to try IVF, or the agony of deciding not to do it when you want a child. I'm talking though about the bog-standard TTC, which you must try for at least a year at my age before accessing any sort of professional help. A year isn't a long time to try, you're told. I know it's true - it certainly seems so now, and churlish to complain when you know of women on their fourth year or trying - but it seemed so at the time.
Someone said that in a way, each month of unsuccessful TTC is like losing a 4-week pregnancy (as you're counted as about 4 weeks pregnant by the time you miss a period and get that elusive positive pregnancy test - the BFP of your dreams). It's true. A year isn't very long, but you don't know it will only be a year. Your body doesn't stick out a little flag saying "ok, you're menstruating this month, but chin up - just three more of these to go then you'll be knocked up, I promise!". Especially not when you've been using contraceptives for fifteen years trying not to get pregnant. Especially not when, in your youth, you had a different result without trying, and now you desperately want it to happen and it's not, you blame your actions back in those days. You ask yourself, is this some divine punishment from a god I don't believe in? Have I rendered myself infertile through my debauched lifestyle? Is there only so much vodka one can consume before you pickle your eggs?
Every month is a roller coaster. You start off with a sense of optimism, hope and saucy underwear, getting down to business at just the right, carefully determined through temperature charting, times in order to increase your chances of conception. Then there's the dreaded, anticipated two week wait. You might have been lucky this month - you don't know. As the days progress every little symptom is analysed - do I feel sick today? Need to pee more often? Am I a little tender? (Measuring mood swings isn't really an option if you're a psycho hose beast like myself). I would mostly refrain from drinking during this time, adding to the heightened sense of unreality (although it was good preparation for things to come).
Then the dreaded cramps, and blood, and you know you've failed this month. (I nearly wrote AF, or Aunt Flo - hanging around on parenting forums makes use of cutesy euphemisms seem natural and not like a 1950s textbook for young ladies). What did we do wrong? Was it that day I was too tired? Catching the egg comes to seem like using a Skill Tester machine. There's tears, and drinking to console yourself, and you resolve next month to chart your temperatures more carefully, and enjoy your partner's company in that special way more often, whatever it takes.
After a while you'll try anything. By that last month - and our last month trying before we sought medical help - DH and I were both on pre-conception vitamins; I was taking ginseng, avoiding ibuprofen, and not drinking ice water on the advice of a Chinese medicine practitioner; and we followed a little scheme called the SMEP (too much information even for this post - Google if you must).
I've heard complaints from those who've been through the IVF process that first-person account books written about the experience, as detailed and honest as they may be, always have a joyous ending; the author photo on the back cover with a smiling toddler, the successful cycle when all hope seemed lost. No one wants to finance the book deal where things end with "it didn't work, and we couldn't go on, and we have to somehow get on with our lives". I resolved that if it came to it, I would damn well try to get my story published if it didn't have the happy ending, the last page recounting the sound of the cry in the delivery ward. It hasn't come to that. We've gotten our result, or nearly there anyway; I've the stretch marks and SPD and waking through the night as the countdown to birth is measured by a reassuring yet terrifying "not long now!" by well meaning onlookers. But I know nothing in my life will ever cause such uncertainty and fear and exhilaration and despair as the TTC journey. My heart goes out to those who were on this journey with me, and are still there. It's an extraordinary time, in good and bad ways.
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