Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even the Tilderbeast dreaming of a mouse.
The thoughts, the longing, the fifth Christmas without,
The presents weren’t there
It wasn’t what this festive season was about.
Gratitude, worry and fear
Apart from friends and family, with Covid too near
The dream, woven in the fabric of the house with care,
Now faint, hard to remember,
The hope, tendrils like smoke
That a baby soon would be there.
(with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore and his beautiful poem ‘Twas the night before Christmas’)
On Christmas Eve, I opened a bottle of Camel Valley Pinot Noir Rose Brut (better than champagne, recommend), got ready to watch the final episode of Dark on Netflix – without a doubt the best show I have ever, ever seen – and reflected on the year and years gone by. I found my most powerful reflection was achieved in the bathroom, away from my husband’s eyes, crying quietly and gripping my hands together to take deep breaths as my thoughts moved from one shitshow to the next. Covid. The perversely rationalised fear and worry. Isolation from friends and family. The new variant. The numbers, jesus christ, the fucking numbers. The acceptance once again that Pumbaa was not there and despite five embryos now in the freezer, like Brexshit, this was no done deal. (Still not a done deal, btw, read the small print).
This was a purchase of hope and luck so far that may never come to fruition.
Readers of Maybehood will know that we have been here before, going through six embryos like a knife through butter, without the added logistical and emotional spice of a global pandemic. Between in the closet crying for this, the fear of someone I love dying of Covid, the people dying of Covid (we live less than a mile from our local London hospital where Dr Alex George from Love Island works and if his updates aren’t getting through to you, I don’t know what will) and the door-closing-quietly acceptance that the next go may not work either, Christmas Eve was a riot. Did I mention that I was also crying because there was no more Dark and I’d realised too fucking late my actual calling was to be a scriptwriter and producer on it? That the anchor of watching one episode a night since the last embryo transfer failed at the end of November had been the key thing keeping me going?
Apart from an actual baby, watching this German critically acclaimed series is probably the best gift I can ever give you. This time travelling love story of Jonas and Martha is a jaw dropping exploration of the human condition. Different perspectives interwoven with chronological and scientific mastery; characters unfolded and exposed so delicately yet suddenly it reminded me of unpeeling the different layers of an onion and seeing them through a microscope as an eleven year old. A bang on the money soundtrack that filled and reverberated around my brain long after each episode was over. It took everything I was feeling and spoke to me. As I sobbed all over Microsoft Teams to my two bosses, two amazing guys a few years older than me who looked heartbroken as I told them it hadn’t worked again; as I came off the oestrogen and progesterone, descended hormonally into the worst bleed so far, felt so physically ill it was a day by day job to get through that let alone stomach any emotional processing, the time my husband finished work for the day and we sat down to watch Dark was my only mental and emotional escapism.
When I woke at 3am, my disrupted sleep feeding into one familiar dark night of the soul, I replayed it over and over in my mind, realising new possibilities, joining up the dots the scriptwriters had carefully placed, some hidden in plain sight. I have never been so moved by ‘a world beyond Winden’, such beauty and pain, impeccable acting, the precise Germanic storytelling that led to a final episode so fitting, so right, that the beginning was the end and the end was the beginning. The parallels with IVF were clear. Four days after the HCG test, as I enjoyed my first migraine and shuffled to the bathroom desperately needing to vomit, I looked at myself in the mirror clutching the bowl and knew this too was coming to an end. Like the apocalypse in Dark, the 33 year cycle, my knot with IVF was coming undone. Five embryos in the freezer. Light and shadow. I recognised I could not do this drug protocol and go through the inevitable result and this level of physical fall out another five times. The knot would need to be severed. (Do re-read this paragraph when you’ve watched Dark. You’ll greatly appreciate my level of Dark dropping).
I wish I had the words to do justice to what many of you are going, or have gone, or are about to go through. Some of you have had the result you so desperately wanted; some of you haven’t. I feel I have spent five years hard at the IVF coal face, over eight years now trying to get it done and the results speak for themselves. Three weeks before Christmas, I asked our new consultant, deputy director of our clinic, to give it to me straight. “Is this a problem that will never be discovered and therefore resolved, like natural killer cells and the evidence based or not arguments that surround them? Or is this a horrifically unfair statistical shit show based on bad luck and odds? Can I afford to believe in this anymore?” The Microsoft Teams call paused as I looked at this lady, so deliberate and clear in her answers. “I am veering,” she said, “towards very bad luck and odds. You have five excellent grade embryos in the freezer. You still have a good chance.”
“I think,” my husband said, “if they didn’t think we had a decent chance, given our history, they would tell us by now. They would.”
“I get it,” said one of our closest friends, a man who would be Godfather to any spawn of our loins in a shot, despite the fact none of us are religious and he’s godfather (more in a Don Corleone way) to a few very lucky children already. “I get it, I do,” he continued, as we stood over two metres apart in a London park. “You haven’t got to this point not to do it again.”
“I want my daughter back,” my mother cried down the phone. “I don’t want you going through any more trauma and pain. As your mother I can’t bear it.”
“You tell us what you need,” said my director. “Think about what you need and tell us. That’s all you need to do.”
“We were devastated to hear the news,” said my mother in law. “It’s such a hard blow for you both once again.”
“Am I a mug,” I sobbed to my husband, Katie, my directors, trusted friends. “A mug for carrying on with this? For thinking about doing it again?”
“We can ween you off the drugs next time if it doesn’t work,” said our consultant.
I bought the British Tits mug off Etsy, complete with Bumbling Tit (Boris) and Arrogant Tit (Matt Hancock). We entered Tier 4. The current situation with Covid remains grave. HFEA have decided to keep IVF clinics open. Today the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation announced that both vaccines can be considered for pregnant women and those of us trying to conceive: “those who are trying to become pregnant do not need to avoid pregnancy after vaccination.” So far, so brilliant. Hands, face, space, replace. Perhaps they should add pace.
I can see the new moon from my bedroom window. I know realistically and rationally there will be an end to all of this. Resolve and resolution via being allowed to fall apart seems a good way forward right now. No great fanfare, no mighty stand. Like one of the haunting scenes in Dark some things will cease to exist while others flourish. The lottery of life will spin its wheel. I look at my beautiful husband, still hopeful to be a father. I look at our livid cat, still giving zero fucks but knowing she will sit quicker under a crib than she will be dragged into her basket for the vet’s. I look at different houses, different adoption and childless not by choice accounts, try out different life scenarios in my head. I have practice at this. Form, even. I know rationally now what will be will be, we are where we are and however it turns out will be ok. Somehow. Eventually.
And that, 2021, is the best I can give.
Not knowing. Light and shadow.
Let’s be having you.