Sunday, 19 December 2010

A birth, an update and an apology

I gave birth to a perfect baby boy on a misty morning in mid September.

I am so sorry to have been away for so long. I can see from recent comments particularly that my absence has let regular followers down and even caused some upset, and I feel terrible about that. Let me try to explain myself...

My son's birth didn't go exactly as planned. The tale is a post in itself - and one I promise to write - but the long and short of it is that he had to be delivered with forceps, as during the final part of the pushing stage his heart rate started to drop alarmingly with each contraction. That twenty minutes was the most terrified I have ever been, because I thought that after everything I was going to lose him right at the end. I'd had an epidural (in desperation after twenty-six hours of labour!) so he was on the fetal heart monitor, and his gentle, fast thudding was the soundtrack to my labour. The sound of when the thuds started to taper off into the occasional soft thump continues to haunt my nightmares.

A doctor was summoned and the expression on her face made my blood run cold. She told me we had to get him out now, and that forceps would be necessary. The next few minutes were simultaneously a blur of speed and seemed to last a lifetime. I watched with almost detached horror
as I was cut and the forceps inserted, and then I was told to push like there was no tomorrow. This I did, and then the room was filled with the best sound I'd ever heard (only recently superseded when he started laughing for the first time) and my screaming baby boy was delivered onto my stomach, shitting himself effusively in the process and covering us both in black, tarry meconium.

The reason for my long absence from the blog is that the combination of forceps and the speed at which his head was born left me with what the medical profession class a fourth degree tear. This means the cut in the vagina tears through the perineum (which in my notes is described as "completely disrupted", for which read "gone") and anus and into the bowel. I had to be taken immediately to theatre to address the blood loss and also to have a rectal specialist stitch me up, which took nearly two hours.

The upshot of all of this is that only now, with my baby just reaching the three month milestone, am I returning to normal life. The recovery process has been slow and physically gruelling; the pain of sitting in the early weeks was something else. Would you believe that today is the first time I've felt able to sit at the desk chair and spend time on the computer? It's true.

I'm describing all of this in a factual and rather clinical way because the last thing I want is anyone to think I'm eliciting sympathy. I don't even feel sorry for myself, never mind expecting other people to. I have what I've wanted forever, a healthy baby, something I know many people yearn for and can't have. If sustaining a bit of damage to my nether regions in the process is the price to pay, so be it. Flesh heals but I know that the pain of infertility does not. I am so very, very grateful for my beautiful boy.

I always, always intended to blog as soon as my son was safely born. It's just taken me a lot longer than I anticipated to be physically up to it. My reasons for not blogging more during the pregnancy are more complex. I'll do my best to explain...

I'd heard it said before I was pregnant that the first twelve weeks are the worst; that this is the time of fear and uncertainty about whether things will proceed as planned. Not so for me. I developed a wrenching dread of miscarriage and all complications of pregnancy after the first trimester, to the point where at the slightest twinge I was misguidedly consulting Dr Google and self-diagnosing with the worst case scenario every time. I did have quite a few complications as things turned out; nothing life-threatening for either my son or me, but enough to render me a nervous wreck and a frequent flyer at the local maternity assessment unit. The staff there were, for the most part, understanding and sympathetic; many times I was told that such levels of anxiety are common in IVF pregnancies because every step of the way you doubt both that this miracle is actually finally happening, and that your body, for so long your enemy, has the ability to do it.

I also became incredibly superstitious. I'm talking to the point of OCD. I wouldn't have the pram in the house till we were both safely home from hospital. And I developed a totally irrational superstition about my blog. Don't ask me why or how the idea came into my head, but I became fixated that if I continued blogging - and particularly, if I continued in my usual style, with comic griping about the trials and tribulations of stretch marks, having your cervix headbutted, and lakes of curious-looking discharge - that something bad would happen.

I know that's not really an adequate explanation for a nine-month absence, and worst of all for leaving regulars hanging as to my health and that of my baby. I only hope that it explains my action, or lack thereof, at least in part. I never, ever intended to upset or let anyone down.

I have so much to say about pregnancy, childbirth and the early weeks of becoming a mother. I sometimes feel like my brain is teeming with unwritten blog posts; a line will come to me now and then and I want to write it all up so much. I have so much to tell you all! I can only hope that those of you who can forgive my long absence stay with me and have the patience for shorter, less frequent updates snatched when the baby is asleep, as he currently is.

As always, thank you to everyone who has ever read and/or commented on my blog. I now need to catch up with the journey of all those bloggers I came to treasure, whose stories I've also been away from for too long.

I honestly, truly promise to write more soon. My birth story simply has to be committed to the blogosphere - after all my other graphic entries, a tale in which my anal sphincter is torn in two (yes, really, at 10 o' clock and 2 o' clock, according to the diagram in my notes) is too good not to tell! So I mean it when I say I'll be back soon. For now, lots of love.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Pregnancy: The end of the first trimester

A fortnight ago I experienced something I never thought I would: a happy scan, in which my husband, mother and I were able to view the movements of a healthy 13-week old foetus.

I was so nervous going in - more nervous than I'd been for the egg collection, more nervous than for the pregnancy test, more nervous even than I was for the seven-week scan which told us whether there was a heartbeat or not. I think my trepidation was fed by the terrified sense that, having come so far, it would all be taken away from me. I was utterly petrified that there'd be a problem with the baby, or that something might have happened to it weeks before without my knowledge.

In reality the scan couldn't have gone better. The sonographer was able to get amazingly clear pictures, and the baby obliged us by swimming about and even sucking its tiny thumb for long enough to pose for a photo. It looked completely healthy - everything that can be right at this stage was right, with particular highlights including a strong heartbeat and evidence that the stomach and digestive system have started to work.

It was, in short, an amazing experience, and one I thought I'd never have. I couldn't believe how formed, developed and active the baby was even at this early stage. I'm utterly convinced I can feel movements now at neatly 15 weeks, although all the books say this is impossible until at least 20 weeks for first-time mums.

Bah to the books, say I. They are wrong on more than one thing, let me tell you. In fact, I'm here to bust some pregnancy book myths and blatant understatements, in my usual frank and abrupt style.

1. Slight constipation is common in early pregnancy

Try: you will be unable to defecate for days, occasionally creeping into a whole week, at a time. You will be so bunged up with crap that it occasionally hurts to walk. When you go to the toilet to pee, but in the throes of a bad spell of constipation, it will hurt to even twist the amount you need to in order to pull up your pants. You will be perpetually starving and will eat constantly even as you quake with fear that you are adding to the shit storm. Eating brown bread, fibre and lots of fruit doesn't help, as the lying books claim. Fibre and fruit are ALL I eat. Oh, and every time you do manage to go to the toilet, any minor amount of straining will leave you bug-eyed with terror that you have somehow dislodged the baby.

2. There will be some minor aches and pains as your body stretches

Every day will be an adventure of twinges, cramps, weird stabby sensations and bubbling. You will not be able to work out whether these are due to the excessive amount of wind and crap you are storing, or to normal pregnancy pains, or to a problem you should speak to the midwife about. You will quickly establish yourself with said midwife as a nutcase paranoid nuisance who phones up at every ache. Every time you do this you will feel obliged to say "It's an IVF pregnancy" in an effort to justify why you are so obsessive and terrified. The pains you will experience are not just in your abdomen. The best ones are the ones that feel like someone is stabbing a red-hot poker up your vagina and anus simultaneously. This is especially fun when it happens in a meeting at work.

3. Your vaginal discharge may increase

You may need to insert a pillow into your underwear and would be at risk of drowning if you spent long enough in a sealed room. This too will terrify you every time it happens because a) it's completely alien to all previous experience (for me anyway) and b) every time a splat descends you will assume you are bleeding and therefore miscarrying. Sometimes the discharge will be scary-looking and mucousy, prompting you to demand the midwife do a vaginal swab at your booking visit, which her expression indicates she was not expecting. The results will be normal, making you look like a fool. Other times the splat will be so watery that you will first wonder if you wet yourself. When you establish you did not, you will immediately decide your waters must have broken, which will prompt you to drop everything and leap in a taxi to the hospital to demand another scan, for which you will have to wait three hours in a state of pacing horror. I wish I was exaggerating but this happened last Friday.

4. You may feel emotional

You will burst into inconsolable tears when a knitted duck character on the comedy TV programme Harry Hill's TV Burp doesn't get picked because it doesn't have wings. You may also get so upset when your furniture plans for the spare room are out by a couple of millimeters that you give yourself a nosebleed. Again, I wish I was lying.

5. Nausea may be worse in the mornings

You will develop a new morning routine: get out of bed, retch extensively into toilet without bringing anything up. Climb into shower to be immediately struck by urge to retch further, which you do directly into the shower plughole to save you clambering out again. Dry yourself. Retch more. Attempt to brush teeth and discover this worsens the retching desire tenfold. Repeat, daily, for six to eight weeks. (And I'm lucky that my morning sickness stopped at 13 weeks - I know lots of people for whom this wasn't the case!)

That's my top five myths busted, and I'm only up to 15 weeks! However, make no mistake: I'm not complaining. I'm merely shattering myths and illusions in my normal way. But however much it may sound like I'm whining, I love every second of this. It really is the definition of a dream come true, and I think that's why most of my moans relate to being uncertain about symptoms to worry about and those which are normal. Having never been pregnant before, I just don't know what to expect and when something aches, or twinges, or leaks, I immediately assume something has gone wrong.

This is something I need to get over and I plan to ask my (beleaguered) midwife for advice on how, because I can't spend the next 25 weeks panicking about every bubble of wind. I imagine twinges and pains will get a lot worse before the end - I should think my first Braxton Hicks contraction will see me summoning the National Guard - and all the worrying, ironically, isn't good for the baby, despite me wanting to dedicate every second and fibre of my being to doing things that are good for him or her.

It is amazing what the body can do. I cannot believe I have already created and grown this tiny, 9-centimetre long perfect person. There isn't a second of a minute of a waking hour when I don't think about my baby, wonder how and what it's doing and pray it is OK. Neither is there an instant when I'm not overwhelmed with gratitude that we have got this far.

I feel, for the first time in nearly half a decade, that my body is doing what it is designed to do. It really is an awfully big, exciting adventure and I can't wait to see what happens next.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

The long-awaited update (it's good news)

Yesterday I had my booking appointment with the midwife who will hopefully see me through this pregnancy and beyond.

I'm so sorry I haven't updated the blog with my news. The excuses I cite are a combination of taking time out from writing to focus on being well and getting used to the amazing change of being pregnant after four years of infertility heartache, and also a fair dollop of sheer superstition.

I honestly felt if I shared my news, I would jinx it. It's totally irrational and very unfair on those of you who've been commenting and asking for updates, but it was how I felt and it was very strong.

Only now as I approach the 11-week mark am I starting to feel more confident about actually taking home a baby at the end of this. I have gone through the past two and a half months battling a daily, sometimes hourly, terror of miscarriage. I don't think it will ever fully abate until I give birth, but it is starting to lessen as the weeks progress and my body changes.

I got the news on December 29 following a blood test at the fertility clinic. But if I'm totally honest, I already knew the IVF had worked. I took a pregnancy test on Christmas Day - stupid, foolish and potentially distressing, I know, but I couldn't resist it. I figured starting my fourth Christmas Day with a negative test surely couldn't be any more heartbreaking than the previous three had been.

It was a very, very faint positive. But it's the first time in my life I've had any sort of line in the right box, so it was momentous. Hubby was downstairs when I did it and my voice cracked into a barely audible rasp as I croaked for him to come and look.

I then did what I always do: started obsessively reading about pregnancy testing after IVF online, and convinced myself that it was a false positive caused by leftover HCG hormone in my system from the trigger injection I'd administered some 12 days previously. The general consensus seemed to be to wait until 14 days had elapsed and test again. This I duly did on the morning of December 27, and the positive line was darker. And I really started to hope.

It was still with a thudding heart and knocking knees that I answered my mobile on the afternoon of the 29th, knowing the person calling was a nurse from the clinic and that she had my results. I was stood at work in a glorified stationery cupboard, hiding away as I knew I'd cry either way. To hear the nurse say that not only was it a positive, but a strong one, was just indescribable.

Relief, joy, gratitude - it was a far cry from how I'd felt the night after the embryo was transferred back into my womb. That evening found me crying hysterically because I was sure I'd ejected said embryo during a particularly strenuous visit to the toilet (what can I say, the IVF drugs had bunged me up).

No, my embryo didn't fall out my bum but dug itself in and managed to find a snug home inside me, where I have for so many years longed for a baby to be. I had another moment of drama when I had a very light bleed on New Year's Eve. At that point I was just over four weeks pregnant and became convinced I was going to miscarry on just about the worst night of the year for such a thing to happen. But I was lucky, the bleeding stopped and the clinic, during my weepy phone call to them, said such things are common at around the four and eight-week mark, when periods would have been expected.

I started to feel a lot better, and properly pregnant, when my seven-week scan showed a strong heartbeat and a growing embryo, in the right place (as ectopic pregnancy had been a big fear). And while I am far from reassured, after everything we've been through, that things will be all right (I don't think I'll feel 100% content until I'm holding my baby in my arms), the changes in my body and the symptoms I've experienced have grown my confidence little by little.

I want to - and will, if you want me to - write more about how I am feeling and what it's like being pregnant after all this time and all those tears. But I'm going to leave this entry here for two reasons, the first being because I just wanted to give regular readers a long-awaited and much-deserved update.

The second reason is more complicated. This blog has been about my infertility struggles, and I'm unsure of the protocol of how to proceed. I'd like to keep writing about my experiences through pregnancy and beyond, but I am very aware that my outcome will be bittersweet for people who have not been so lucky.

I have suffered myself - many times over - that heady mix of elation for someone you genuinely like and feel a connection with finally having the success she has yearned for, combined with the inevitable and unavoidable feelings of desperation about your own situation. And to be honest, sometimes I have chosen not to read on.

What I don't want to do is inflict a pregnancy blog on a community of readers who don't want it. I couldn't bear it if I thought I was causing anyone struggling with a similar situation to my own pain. I know how badly it can hurt. So I would really appreciate comments on whether you think I should continue with the blog or leave it here, with a happy ending infertility-wise, but without an ongoing commentary on pregnancy, that longed-for condition which has, at times over the past four years, seemed almost mythical to me in terms of how hard it was for me to achieve.

Finally, for now - thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who has asked how I am doing, wondered about my outcome or spared a fleeting thought to wish me well. I appreciate every comment and every thought more than you can know.