"And each time I wore an orange scarf around my neck"
"Because babies like orange"
Twelve years ago I met the love of my life, the man who saved me not only from myself but from the vicious grasp of 'another'. After a year of living together, Justin came home from work one day and sidled up beside me while I was washing the dishes.
"Marry me?" he said, pushing an engagement ring onto my finger before I'd even caught my breath enough to answer.
It wasn't a romantic proposal, there was no dinner, no Eiffel tower, no bending on one knee. But it was perfect.
Two months later on a wintry day in December Justin and I married in a small ceremony before a handful of friends and family. We spent the grand total of a thousand pounds on our wedding day opting for cheap and cheerful in our haste to become life partners. There was no elaborate wedding or lavish honeymoon. Even back then I knew that the love we had for one another would suffice and fancy table decorations or ribbons on the backs of chairs didn't matter.
And that, so they say, was that.
Justin took on the role of a father to a then three and four-year-old Holly and Lewis. He treated them as though they were his children and said right from the very beginning that it didn't matter he'd never had a child of his own, but for me there was a longing inside to create a life, one that belonged to us both and as time passed my desire to have his baby became even stronger. I'd fallen pregnant so easily with Lewis and gave birth to Holly just one year later, almost Irish twins but not quite.
Both pregnancies, I remember the horror on people's faces when I told them. I desperately wanted to know what it felt like to be pregnant in the right circumstances, announce it and be met with smiles and congratulations instead of "Oh shit, what are you going to do?".
Justin and I agreed that we would start trying for a baby, with me boasting that I only had to think about sex and I'd get pregnant. I honestly believed that it would take a month, maybe two.
If only that were true.
Four years and three miscarriages later and I was still as barren as the day we married. In the meantime, my best friend had managed to birth two healthy children. I dutifully smiled and cooed over their chubby pink hands, laughing and agreeing that the smell of a baby's head is just the Best. Smell. Ever. All the while I was dying inside and have never felt more jealousy tangled up with guilt in my life.
So I approached getting pregnant in the only (obsessive) way that I could. Operation: Get Pregnant was underway and I spent my days and nights researching, reading, googling every single thing that might possibly be wrong with me. Online forums became my place of solace, an outlet for my emotions, somewhere to vent, to compare notes and have others in the same predicament to 'symptom spot' with:
Hi everyone, so today I watched The Notebook for what must be the tenth time. I'm not sure why but I have never felt SO EMOTIONAL. Also, my boobs are unbelievably veiny, like a road map, they have seriously never been this sore before. My period isn't due for another week but I've been feeling sick and craving pineapple juice, is it too early to tell? Does it sound like I'm pregnant?
And so it went on, desperately clutching at straws, imagining things, convincing myself it was our time every single month.
I quickly graduated from TTC (trying to conceive) to LTTC (long term trying to conceive)
I became VERY acquainted with my cervix. Hard like the tip of my nose but lying low?
Hmm, the prodding and poking continued. Squatting, one leg up on the loo. Nope that won't work, lie down on the bed knees up, legs floppy, just like in a smear test (!). God, I can't believe I'm doing this but I *need* to feel my cervix.
Soft like my lips, high up and open?
And thus was our M.O. It was time (again).
GET THE JOB DONE.
Over the years that ensued I spent the equivalent of a couple of Mulberry handbags on pregnancy tests. I have peed on more sticks in my life than I care to remember. I have held them each and every way, under the fluorescent light, in natural daylight, pressed against a lamp, prised them open to get a better look. Literally taking the soggy wee stained strip between my fingers, squinting at it trying to see a second line. Sometimes seeing one that isn't really there, uploading it to the forum asking someone to 'tweak it' as if by doing so a line would magically appear.
And I would feel so, so sad. Angry. Hopeless. Completely desperate.
Just utter devastation.
Don't forget useless.
I avoided any situation where we might get outed. The dreaded "isn't it time you two had a baby". We hadn't told anyone we were trying, let alone admit we were infertile. I just couldn't bear the thought of people feeling sorry for me. Worst of all I didn't want my children to think they weren't enough . And I felt so selfish for wanting another baby so badly, and tremendous guilt when I thought about all the women struggling to have just one when I already had two of my own.
I got even more serious. I took obsession to a whole new level, and this is totally TMI for most, but those of you reading this that have taken steps towards understanding your fertility will get this: feeling cervical mucus daily, as in, rubbing it in-between your fingers and REALLY feeling it.
Thick and creamy like lotion, or thin and slippery like egg white? CM checking can get confuddled especially if <and this really is TMI> you've had sex on a crazy whim that you *might* be fertile right now, or shock horror, because you actually wanted to...
Checking BBT - basal body temperature - vaginally, not orally, under the tongue wouldn't be 'committed' enough. Oh no, I bought a medical grade thermometer which I kept beside my bed for temping. Waking up and moving only one arm very slowly to gently grasp the thermometer (so as not to make my body temperature fluctuate by even 1/100th of a degree) temping is a VERY precise practice. Insert the thermometer vaginally to get the most accurate reading possible which I would then record in the notebook next to my bed.
The moment you see that line on the graph rise...
GET. THE. JOB. DONE.
The faintest of lines coupled with an uneasy feeling and pins and needles in my tummy. I managed to get to eight weeks with that one. Then; spotting, cramping, a collapse.
My baby was fine, perfectly formed they told me. Just in the wrong place.
"I'm sorry, life is so unfair"
I lost my fourth baby, my left fallopian tube. And all hope entirely.
Seven years of LTTC, four babies, two Mulberry handbags, sort of.
As if by some miracle we were accepted for IVF treatment on the NHS. Remarkable really, considering I already had children, but Justin did not and well, I am not nicknamed 'Lucky' for no reason.
One chance. One round was all we got.
So I attacked it with as much determination and vigor as I could muster. This meant a complete diet overhaul for us both, absolutely no alcohol, a supply of special powders and vitamins that would give Holland & Barett a run for their money.
I even bought a wheatgrass juicer. "Justin, you have to trust me It's like DRINKING LIQUID SUNSHINE and unbelievably good for you".
I did a few *things* in the lead up to receiving treatment which basically included all of the above with an extra dose of psycho. I had to ensure my womb was as hospitable as humanly possible having been advised by a Chinese medical practitioner that the only way to guarantee "good energy" in the womb was to orgasm. Every. Single Day. Even that gets boring, let me tell you.
After what was a relatively short period of time we began our IVF with ICSI cycle-the ICSI part is important, it means that they inject the sperm straight into the egg and it is thought that this gives the greatest chance. Which was good, since we only had one opportunity to get it right.
A nasal spray and daily injections for me, interspersed with two trips to a dimly lit room with a sliding window, cup in hand for Justin. Not wanting to leave the room too quickly nor stay in there too long. Such is the conundrum of the IVF clinic sperm deposit area. Magazines if you need them, even a TV with a selection of DVDs.
I had rituals that I would follow for each appointment: same gold necklace to twiddle while I waited for scans. Same breakfast before I left. Must drive the exact same route with absolutely no diversions. Same orange scarf.
"Because babies like orange"
And finally, after sniffing and injecting, orgasming, not orgasming (him, not me) it was the moment of truth: how many eggs?
23 retrieved, 21 mature, 16 fertilised with ICSI, 8 blastocysts, 3 AA standard. This was good.
Just like that, I was PUPO: pregnant until proven otherwise. And my God I have never felt more emotional in my life. I 'tested out' the last of the hormones - the ones that will give you those elusive blue lines that you've been longing to see - until there were no blue lines. And then you wait, 5 days or so, or not if you're like me, keep testing multiple times. So many pregnancy tests. What's another handbag between friends?
Seven years of LTTC, four babies, two Mulberry handbags, sort of.
1-2 weeks pregnant.
The rest was textbook, we got our baby, the best egg, and the best sperm. The strongest blastocyst, the one that stuck.
Our one chance.
Three years later and our little Rose is everything we ever hoped for and a living breathing reminder that there is always, always hope.
"Rose, what's your favourite colour?"
"Orange mama, I like orange"