Welcome to the first in my Guest Vag series, where fellow women open up their hearts, vaginas, and share their Maybehood in the hope it helps yours. Laura, a good friend of mine and IVF veteran, talks about her years in Maybehood, her thankfully positive outcome and the shit she rolled with along the way.
Tell us a little bit about yourself Laura?
Hello! I’m Laura. I’m 40, and live in Birmingham with my husband John, my daughter Isabella (age 6), our two cats and five fish. I’m a part time communications consultant specialising in health and wellbeing. I love a good group workout class, an excellent red wine and shooting the breeze with friends like you!
What have you and your vag been through?
Ah, my vag. At one point I had so many interventions going on down there I considered fitting a revolving door. In brief, having tried to get pregnant naturally for a year, we tried Clomid tablets. When they didn’t work, we had IVF thanks to the NHS. When that didn’t work (more on that later) we then had three successive frozen embryo transfer (FET) cycles. Throw in the odd fallopian tube flush, a womb lining scrape and more alternative / complementary therapies than you can shake a stick at and my beleaguered vag had a right old time of it. Luckily, she’s lived to tell the tale.
Moment(s) you found the most challenging*? *fucking awful
I think the overwhelming thing for me throughout the whole thing was the lack of control I felt I had. I hated it. I felt powerless. It wasn’t something I could just fix by chucking some cash at it, studying for it, or practising for it. The anger too – I hated how angry pregnancy announcements made me, especially when those came from my adored friends. The anger was often followed by bitter tears (locked away in a bathroom or in a taxi home) which made me feel like the most self-centred bitch ever. My babylessness was the first thing I thought of when I woke up and the last thing I thought of before going to sleep. It all just really, really sucked.
Physically, my most challenging moment was when I was hospitalised after my IVF cycle (but before embryo transfer) with OHSS (ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome). I’d produced 30 eggs and had 9 viable embryos (yay) but the toll that took on my body was immense. I literally felt like I was drowning from the inside out. I had to have an abdominal drain fitted and my husband had to empty the contents of the bag (it looked like Fanta!) every few hours until I’d gone back to a normal size and could breathe properly again. I was too sick to have a fresh embryo transfer so all nine went on ice. We then had two FETs at the same hospital (each time they thawed three and transferred two) before our last (and successful) FET cycle at a different hospital across town.
Guest Vag survives on a dark sense of humour. What was your finest moment?
At the end of our third and final FET (the one that resulted in my daughter) the lovely doctor left the closed speculum ‘unattended’ inside me very briefly while he wrote some notes or something like that. My darling vag had obviously had enough and fired that bugger out. I mean, the thing clattered half way down the bed heading for the floor. He winked at John and told me I’d have an easy childbirth (I did).
What and who helped you?
First and foremost my husband John, who was forever telling me (am surprised he didn’t get it printed on a mug for me actually) that our time would come, that we wanted our baby and not Beyonce’s / the Duchess of Cambridge’s etc – and given there’s no quota on available babies in the Universe that we were therefore all good. The brilliant team at King’s Hospital and then the Lister Hospital. A fabulous group of women on Mumsnet (we often pointed out the irony) that I still chat to today. Brilliant friends. A fabulous counsellor who let me cry and rage about how unfair it all was at 7pm every Tuesday and didn’t try and offer me advice, just empathised. The dude who ferried our last three embryos across the river from Camberwell to Chelsea.
The one thing you know now that you wish you knew then?
This is a difficult one to share on Maybehood, because ‘the one thing I wish I knew then’ is about motherhood. And I know that many of you will be reading this wondering if that’s something you’ll ever experience. Or will experience it in a different way to the one you had planned. But, please bear with me if you can. When Isabella was born she was a dreadful sleeper. I mean really, really bad. I remember pushing her in a buggy around Peckham Rye Park one grey January morning when she was about five weeks old. My heart was racing and my vision was swimming in and out. I’d literally had about 2 hours of broken sleep a night for 7 nights straight. Breastfeeding was not going well. I felt desperately conflicted. I needed to talk to someone about how shit I felt but that would make me a monster wouldn’t it? I mean, I had wanted nothing more than to be a mum for years. I had wept, raged, grieved, railed about my ‘failure’ to become one. I couldn’t possibly ask for help, or admit in my darker days that this wasn’t all I’d had it cracked up to be. And that is why women who have undergone fertility treatment are more likely to suffer from post natal depression. I hadn’t appreciated that before, but now it makes perfect sense. You know the self-care you are (hopefully) practising now? Don’t ever stop – even if that gold medal at the end of the Maybehood marathon is winking at you.
What would you have done if your Maybehood had turned out differently?
I think we’d have tried another fresh IVF cycle and subsequent FETs from that cycle if the embryos were viable of course. Then what? I honestly don’t know. I feel like we deliberately avoided having too many conversations about the longer-term picture as by the time you’ve been trying for a few years the phrase STAY POSITIVE seems indelibly etched on your soul, so somehow that seemed defeatist at the time.
Your advice to those experiencing Maybehood?
You are not alone. Talking about it really does help – with friends and family, or with a counsellor if you prefer. The magic ‘answer’ doesn’t exist. By that, I mean that one supplement, that one Chinese herb, that one sexual position, that if you’re like me you haven’t tried yet and will spend hours scouring the internet for and thousands of pounds acquiring (well, at least the sex was free). By all means do your research and if you want to try any of that stuff then go for it both barrels, but THERE ISN’T SOMETHING YOU’RE MISSING. This is not your fault.