January.

It has always been a funny time for me. I usually get itchy feet of current situations and yearn for change and growth. I never view it as the beginning of a sparkly, fresh New Year, full of hope and promise. Instead, I see it an ending. A time for reflection, preparation and visions; ready to make changes by March (my birthday month), which is when my New Year begins.

January was the month that my husband and I decided to hatch plans to move from London; my home town, to his. With the cost of houses far cheaper in the East Midlands, we saw it as a way to secure our family. He would be able to support us when I finally became pregnant (we had been trying for roughly 3 years at this point and had only just started the referral process and initial blood tests. Why did I wait 3 years? I honestly thought that we weren’t trying hard enough, and denial), something which would have been nigh on impossible in our rented house in East London.

In preparation, I changed jobs (again — that’s a whole other post), to save money for our big move. I thought that by moving to a small rural town, being closer to nature and that by ‘slowing down’ somewhat, I would have more chances of conceiving. Surely, the late nights and constant standing, in my previous career as a hairstylist, had a lot to do with why that wasn’t happening! So, off we went, with a spring in our step to gloriously, lush, pastures new. I secured a job in our local school, which gifted me with vast experience of being with children (I didn’t have the best role model growing up, which is another reason why it took me so long to seek medical help — fear of being the same), shorter hours and long holidays — great for our soon to be extended family!

We settled into our new home, taking wonderfully long walks with our angel dog, making plans and really getting the ball rolling with our treatment. I put on weight, stopped exercising as much (I was a keen runner and cyclist in London, but I decided to considerably cut down), changed my diet, read books, and channelled my energies even more, to this ever encompassing project of mine. I might add, that I felt it tricky making friendships. There were some inherited wives of my husband’s school friends, who were very lovely and super supportive. However, I found that I pushed them away through shame, embarrassment, and possibly a slight lack of connection, due to the very fact that I was childless, and they were not. I had no confidence.

Another reason why forging new relationships with people was hard for me. On reflection, I was in the height of the self loathing that comes with infertility and had very little confidence, if any at all! I was anxious, sad, jealous and angry. Depressed too. I remember saying to my husband that I would consider taking tablets if it was not for trying to conceive. I was gripped by all of the emotions that comes with this journey and now I was feeling even more isolated due to our ‘idyllic’ new life. School was bitter sweet, I both cherished and loathed it. As you can imagine, the cohort of staff was 99% female. Most of whom had a family, were pregnant (ouch) or were not thinking that far ahead yet. I began to feel increasingly sad. Being around children, was pretty torturous at times. But all would be fine, as my day would come!

Fast forward, to the extensive tests and an investigative operation, healing, and treatment waiting- lists. We finally got a diagnosis of ‘unexplained fertility’. Excellent! That’s positive, no? I had hope (I say I, as my husband, didn’t really ‘get it’. Our infertility was ‘my’ infertility).

Our first clinic advised us to begin our IVF journey by having some rounds of IUI, due to nothing being seemingly ‘wrong’ on the surface. Finally! A starting point! We were appreciative of the ‘extra’ opportunity. Finally! After all the waiting, all the devastating and heartbreaking monthly menstruation, we really could be well on our way, to extending our family by Christmas! A thought that I began nurturing and visualising, ever since we became infertility patients. My hope grew. As the control was out of my highly incapable hands, it might actually work! However, I did have reservations. I was growing increasingly impatient and desperate, our journey had been painstakingly long already (four years), my age was rapidly rising (38) and the success rates were not incredible. Nevertheless, there was hope. And, who were we to look the (amazing NHS) gift-horse in the mouth? After one unsuccessful round and one cancelled treatment — due to unripe follicles, I fell pregnant.

January. A time for reflection, preparation and pregnancy!

This is the moment where my journey became OUR journey. My husband was super detached from the whole process until the BFP (big fat positive). My obsessive and ever absorbing mission, to carry a child in my womb, was wearing. I had changed. Drastically. I was a stranger, not only to myself, but to him. I was a shadow of who I once was. We had also just found out that my husband’s dynamic mum, had been given the heart breaking diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. We put the past pains and strains behind us, as it would all be worth it! We were quick to share our news with my husband’s parents. We felt it would lift their spirits, especially, his mum. Cue to our imaginations running wild. My mantra was no longer, we could be pregnant by Christmas. Instead, we were revelling in the fact that we would have a baby by Christmas and it would be magical again. We would make traditions. No more pain and grief, and wanting to hide away. No more harnessing feelings of the insidiously aching, childless void.

Throughout the initial 6 weeks, I took pregnancy tests almost daily. You know, just to check. Honestly, I wish I had shares in pregnancy test manufacturers. The amount of tests we have purchased over the years could probably have paid for a small flat in London! And pregnancy was no exception! I was elated. I felt like a ‘woman’ at last! My body was no longer my foe. I took myself and my baby off for long dog walks, privately bonding. I experienced a plethora of comforting pregnancy symptoms. My body was changing, my tastebuds too! We were enjoying every single second. Unfortunately, four days before our 6 week scan, I began to bleed. I knew something was not quite right, to be honest. That instinctive feeling, the same one that told me I was pregnant, just days after treatment. I had taken a test the previous week, one which stated I was only two weeks pregnant. My anxiety soared. I frantically booked reflexology and a facial to try and relax myself. Through my experience of working with children with behavioural difficulties, I have learned that anxiety can be transferred through the womb (something that I am particularly interested in, due to my own childhood experiences and relationship with my mother).

However, it was futile. It took another 6 weeks of hospital visits and blood tests until we could take a breath. It seems as though I had an ectopic pregnancy. One that cannot be proved either way but, due to the lack of an embryonic sac and hormone levels rising, before plateauing, this was the most reasonable explanation. I won’t go into my experiences of this moment too much here, as I it requires far too
many words. But, know that I felt inexplainable, immeasurable pain and despair, juxtaposed with, somehow, positivity.

My initial reaction was, of course, utter self hatred and shocking shame, and absolute fear; feelings that have been like long standing friends since this journey began. Strangely, it was not too dissimilar to how I felt during each menstrual cycle. It was a time where I felt so alone. My husband and I were pretty rocky. The pressure of trying so hard for a family, the grief of his mother’s illness and the ectopic really took its toll. My husband and I had some time out from each other, a few days after the initial detection of the pregnancy loss, due to heightened emotions. I was the only person in my group of friends who had been through something like this. I felt as though I shouldn’t be burdening anyone really, as it could have been worse.

Thankfully, I saw the positives too. I saw how it could have been so very much worse and that I was lucky. I was lucky that I had a super supportive boss. I was lucky that my friends reached out. I was lucky that my body was actually managing this misplaced embryo all by itself. I was lucky that I could see that. It was a truly pivotal point during this whole process of creation. I felt empowered. A month, or so afterwards, we changed clinics. A new clinic meant new hope. Our consultant told us that we were eligible for ICSI as we had been trying for over 5 years. We only needed to have some blood tests and could start the following month.

Yet, I knew that I needed to refocus my attention. It had been wrapped up in my womb for too many years. My life had been on hold. We had moved our whole life. We needed to rebuild us. I needed so desperately to rebuild me. I was utterly and totally exhausted. So, four months later, after grappling with the guilt of spending some of my savings on me, rather than future maternity leave or baby related ‘stuff’. I flew to the textured, whispering mountains of Barcelona; to rekindle my long standing love affair with yoga and to become a yoga and meditation teacher. To say that the month was transformative, is an understatement. I felt re centred. I felt like me, for the first time in years. For the first time in 6 years I put me first. Not, my desire to have a baby.

On returning, I was beginning to feel clear about my future. I was beginning to envisage my career again, my life. What made my heart sing? What did I need to flourish? Was it time for my husband and I to go our separate ways? I was months away from turning 40, was it time to
abandon the idea of having my own child? With age related success rate depleting at an alarming rate, was it finally time to put this to bed?

January. A time for, reflection, preparation and soon to be turning 40!

As I embarked my 40th year of life on this magnificent Earth, I had new hope and optimism. Life began at 40 right? Time to really set some personal goals in concrete. Time to get my fitness back on track, after years of cultivating a nurturing and nourishing environment for our baby. Time to have fun again. Time to drink coffee again. Time to travel and experience the depth and the breadth of life, together, with my husband and our dog. Time to put it all behind us. Not yet.

It was late January, when my siblings and I had a call from my estranged mother, telling us that she had cancer. This was an interesting time for us all. Lots of feelings to unpick, again, silently. Whilst providing emotional support for my mother. We (my sister and brother) pulled together and provided my mother with the best support and care that we could give. It was at this time that my heart began to yearn again, for my own child. Somehow, I felt triggered by my mother’s attachment to her children, even after the many years of not being in our lives. The unprecedented bond between (my) mother, and (her) children, roused my intrenched biological urge to have my own, again. It had been a just under a year since we last met with the clinic. I was advised to ‘just give them a call’ to begin.

As IVF journeys are notoriously penned as being a roller coaster, ours was no exception. After 7 exhaustive years of trying, 4 years of actually having medical help, an ectopic, not to mention 8 months off, more agonising waiting ensued. Why? Covid.

I first contacted our clinic shortly after the first lockdown, just before my 40th birthday. To be told that, regrettably, no more patients were being accepted. Again, although we felt pretty disheartened, we knew that so many people and couples were having their treatment cancelled. Something which I knew to be monumental, but I was unaware at quite how much. I, along with my siblings, continued to care for my mother, as much as was emotionally and physically possible, due to the rich dynamics of a dysfunctional family and the new restrictions that covid introduced to us all.

Increasingly, I felt anger growing in my heart. I was angry that my mum had three (amazing) children, who, despite everything, were doting on her. In her time of need. Even though she had created wounds as deep as the Earth’s crust. This experience exasperated my need to have a child with my husband. I knew that I would be a good mother (finally, I began to see this after many, many years of work) and I was cross that she wasn’t and was totally unaware of her blessings! I actually think this is when I first began to feel as though it just wasn’t fair. And also, the first time I admitted to myself that I was dancing a tango with infertility.

Treatment started. I felt OK, generally. My husband and I pretty much self isolated. I utilised my yoga teachings and mediated daily, using visualisations. I religiously gave myself acupressure, with guidance via zoom, from my long standing acupuncturist (another area in which I wish I had shares), I still had my job and was able to work from home. The sun was shining, we were all settling into the new normal. We were all beginning to come out the other side. My last scan before egg collection was very promising. I had 24 follicles — the idea that we really could be pregnant by Christmas skipped around in our heads and our hearts. We got the call that four of the 19 eggs had reached blastocyst stage the day before transfer. From the collection, there were 11 that were mature, which, after day one went down to 9. On the day of transfer, we had two B graded blastocysts. In theatre, the embryologist put a picture of them (our babies) on the screen. I was a hormonal, sobbing wreck, and even my husband was emotional. He proudly took a photo of them.

Sadly, we had a BFN (big fat negative). It really took the stuffing out of us. I think, after the prolonged, emotional rollercoaster of IVF, of us supporting our mothers, Covid and not seeing friends, it all just mounted up. It almost felt as though we had had an another pregnancy loss again. After all, those cells were blastocysts. Our DNA. Our babies. However, we were stronger than ever. Something which we are very grateful for. The day after the pregnancy test, my mum got the all clear, thankfully. I was completely drained from it all and was unable to give anyone any type of support, not least my mother, who I was still pretty angry at. A week later, schools started back after the summer and I returned to work, which was challenging, for many reasons. I knew that treatment would start at some point in the near future and I was super anxious about getting Covid and its impact on treatment.

To add insult to injury, someone I worked with, was heavily pregnant and weeks away from her maternity leave (great timing). It was at this time that I spoke to a fertility counsellor. The following weeks were pretty painful. I couldn’t stop gazing at her gorgeous bump, wanting to hug it, at the same time feeling totally heartbroken. No one at work knew about my infertility, apart from my bosses. I have always felt so ashamed about it all, always blaming myself (until now). Due to my high response to the stimulation drugs, we were advised to wait a few months for my hormones to settle down, before going again. We had one blastocyst left. We couldn’t leave it in the freezer. What if that one worked? Our last chance? I always said that if I was not pregnant by the end of my 40th year, then we would should to call it a day. We started treatment again. I took time off from work. Everything was good to go. I felt great on the HRT tablets! And I was lucky enough to have acupuncture (something which I prioritised spending most of my hard earned money on). This time around, I continued to do gentle exercise, which was so needed for my mental health. We knew that IVF was not a miracle cure, but having the control taken from you makes you somewhat optimistic. Of course the chances of it working on the first round is pretty slim, but, you still have hope, because, you know, it could work. But after the devastation I had felt after the first round, I knew that I needed to take my mind off of the process, and to not invest so much of my energy on it.

We were one scan away from transfer, when our treatment got cancelled. The scan revealed a polyp in the lining of my womb. That was on December 3rd, 2020. We weren’t going to be pregnant by Christmas. Again, that familiar feeling of despair, panic, sheer frustration and grief settled back into my bones and to the pit of my stomach. We have been told that surgery will be needed if it does not shed after my next bleed. More waiting… More uncertainty. More time floating by… And, to make matters worse, due to the length of waiting lists as a result of Covid, we have no idea how long our referral could take (here’s hoping that current restrictions won’t extend our wait even further. Or worse still, rob us of our chance of having our own baby). The silver lining? Because of Covid, we were able to have the Christmas that WE wanted. Just the three of us. In our home, making new traditions.

January. A time for reflection, redirection and endings? And hope.

The theme continues. This year is no exception. On reflection, I am so grateful for this journey. Although I lost myself, I have found me again, albeit, a different version than before. I am more resilient. I feel more ‘womanly’ than I ever have before. I no longer have the shackles of shame and self hate. I have much more respect for myself and my body now — even though I am a few stone heavier! I finally feel happy in my own skin. I feel empowered, and you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing.

We are still waiting to see what will happen next. When my hormones become grounded again, we have hope that the pesky polyp will have disappeared. If not, then it will be surgery, whenever that will be. In the meantime, my amazing husband and I are flirting with the idea of getting our lives back. Of enjoying our time together, like when we first met. Without the strains of infertility dragging us down. Focussing on what we do have, rather than what we don’t.

We are discussing the possibility of adoption. We are also getting comfortable with the idea that it may just be the three of us, and that is beginning to feel ok. Will we finish our round after Mr Polyp has been eradicated? It changes daily. What I am certain of, is, that it will be alright. I am more than my infertility. You are more than your infertility.

Through endings there is also hope.

I want to say a huge thank-you to Emma for sharing her personal journey so eloquently and openly, you can contact Emma on Instagram @daisyduchessduke or @yoga.forchange.