Anyone who knows me knows how private I am. I don't talk about my personal life a great deal. I don't particularly see the value in discussing your private woes in public. So this post is very out of character. But in 2015 my wife and I went through IVF and I wanted to set down some of my experiences. Partly I just want to preserve a rather extraordinary time. I suppose, though these experiences will be different for everyone, my record of them might still be helpful to others going through these things. (I looked for something similar when we were doing it and found nothing much.) I kept this file as a diary all last year and, after showing it to Lilla and making a couple of cuts, I'm hitting publish now, but all these entries were written contemporaneously.
17 December 2014
We have an appointment at Guy's Hospital to have a consultation. I feel slightly resistant for some reason. In part I feel a bit like it's making something public - our inability to get pregnant - that I'd rather we sorted out ourselves. Though as soon as I think that I realise its absurdity ('why can't we just do our own IVF?'). As we wait to be called, a large television is playing Deal or No Deal, which seems vaguely appropriate: it's all gambling, second-guessing, hoping. Also, to our slight mutual awkwardness, I spot an old friend also waiting to be called. We make conversation making no reference to The Reason We Must Both Be There. Actually, it's rather lovely to see N_____ and catching up means I don't spend time worrying about the consultation. She makes a well-judged reference to the awkwardness, which homoeopathically cures the awkwardness. Dr G_____ who sees us is brilliant; an Irish woman, brisk and confident and to the point. She says that since we've been trying for four years we should pretty much go straight onto IVF. She also says that there's no obvious reason why we can't have a baby; she uses the word 'unexplained'. I'm sitting on the other side from Lilla and don't notice straight away that she is crying. As soon as I realise, of course, I feel like the world's worst husband; sitting there, ignoring my wife's tears. But I realise that she's crying out of a kind of frustration; she was hoping there would be a reason we haven't conceived. But it seems, in a reverse of the usual platitude, that sometimes things don't happen for no reason; that is without the double negative cancelling out - not that it is impossible for things to happen without a reason but sometimes when things don't happen, there just isn't a reason. Lilla has to have an HSG (a hysterosalpingogram), which I think is a procedure where her tubes are flushed through and she's X-Rayed to see if there are any blockages. We leave the hospital and go to the Wine Wharf and eat prawns, which I find disturbingly uncanny. Everything vaguely resembles sperm and ovaries and eggs and embryos at the moment.
21 January 2015
Lilla goes to have her HSG, which is a fairly invasive though, she says, not painful procedure, More uncomfortable was the doctor's enthusiasm when she mentioned that it's her birthday. Happy birthday! he apparently kept telling her, not thinking that it might be better to engage in small talk once she's out of stirrups and redressed. I suppose doctors get used to these procedures quicker than we do.
16 March 2015
Back to Guy's. We meet a lovely Eastern European doctor who explains that we are eligible for one round of IVF, though this might mean several (three?) implantations, assuming that sufficient eggs can be harvested and enough of them are fertilised and they make quick progress in their petri dish or wherever it is they grow. Apparently, and this boggles me, they can freeze successfully fertilised embryos and, all being well, they could be second or third children. So a second child (touch wood etc.) could be born three years after conception, which is almost elephantine. She explains that there are two forms of procedure: there's IVF and there's ICSI. In IVF, as far as I can work it out, eggs and sperm are just brought together in the hope that they will naturally connect. ICSI is a much more deliberate process where the egg is prepared (some protective coating is removed from it) and the sperm is directly injected into it. She suggests that if there are sufficient eggs, they will do half-and-half to increase the chances. She tells us that overall the success rate is 40%, which immediately strikes me as rather low. I don't know why I think that, since I literally have no frame of reference at all, but I was assuming it being a kind of last chance our chances would be a lot higher. But she seems reassuring and kind and it turns out I have to give another semen sample. I'm not sure why the previous sample wasn't enough, but there it is. When a Doctor tells you to wank, you wank.
23 March 2015
Have you ever given a semen sample? It's harder than it looks (calm down, matron). I think, if the playwriting doesn't work out, I might invent a more appropriate collection device than the rather small plastic jar that they give you. I had to give a sample last summer and the first attempt failed because, well basically, I missed the jar. Maybe other men are entirely composed at the point of orgasm but for me at that moment I'm not all about the aim. I had to wait another three days and do it again then bike it over to the hospital (myself, I don’t hand my vital juice to a courier). Our GP phoned me on holiday (mine, not his) and in fact we were in the middle of a meal at a rather nice Bordeaux restaurant. I had to find a quiet place to take the call and he told me that everything was okay and that my sperm had good motility; I brushed away the compliment modestly while making a mental note to look up the word 'motility' when I rung off. But we have to do it again, apparently. This time, though, I turn up to the Assisted Conception Unit and they put me in a little room with some pornography, which, I find myself thinking (and then laugh at myself for thinking), is much more civilised. The nurse who shows me in produces the usual little jar with a label on it and explains I need to fill in the details before I submit the sample for testing. She then says 'And I have to wait here while you do it'. My reaction is obviously completely aghast, because she hastily explains: 'fill in the label, I mean'. My relief is palpable. She leaves and I am left with a small wank pot and some old copies of Razzle. You have to turn the lock twice to make the red light come on outside which means someone is inside. I clearly don't turn it fully because halfway through some tries to get in, at which point the thing becomes truly farcical with me quaveringly calling out 'occupied' while trying to adjust my clothing in case they come bursting in with the next wanker on the list. That sorted, I complete my task. The little jar goes in a plastic bag, which then goes in a larger plastic tub which is then popped into a pressurised tube and whisked off to some testing laboratory by compressed air (a bit like the way money gets sent from tills in supermarkets to, I presume, the underground lair where the Tesco Demons count it, laughing at our credulity and shouting 'Finest Range' to each other in a mocking way). I then leave the cubicle and walk through the waiting room with the thought in the back of my mind that everyone knows I have just had a wank.
A day later, I get the news from the hospital that the sperm are basically fine. I don't exactly punch the air, but it's a relief. I've got rather fond of the little fellows over the years and would hate to think they're substandard.
30 March 2015
I'm determined as I can be that Lilla and I will go through this together, but it has to be said that I have it much easier. Today Lilla's various drugs arrive at the house. They are a formidable armoury of epipens and syringes, small phials and a scary box in which all the used items must be disposed. This is where my sense that we're doing this together starts to look very shaky. Lilla is going to be controlling her cycle and her ovulation with drugs. It starts with the pill, then there's a period and then a long process of injections. She will have regular blood tests and scans. The drugs have to be kept in the fridge. Meanwhile, I occasionally have to wank on doctor's orders.
23 April 2015
The drugs start. The first uses an epipen, which is okay. The second is more hardcore. You have to inject a liquid into a phial of powder, which then dissolves and you then draw it back into the syringe and inject it into your stomach area. You'll notice that I'm avoiding using the medical terminology. Principally because I don't fully understand what's happening except that Lilla's eggs are being massively stimulated and then the alternating injection is to stop them popping. Lilla found the idea of pushing the needle into her belly so unpleasant she asked me to do it. So there we were, in our tiny kitchen (remember, the drugs are in the fridge) and I slowly pushed a 3" needle into my wife's stomach. I don't know how those junkies manage.
1 May 2015
We go into Guy's again. This is a crucial one; we're to see how Lilla's eggs are doing. A nice Korean woman conducts the procedure and this time I get to sit in and watch. Various images show up on the screen and the nurse points out things that might be eggs but to me they look like nightmare images from the nethersphere, like the hospital has invented a way to contact ghosts. Still, it seems that Lilla's eggs are plentiful and growing healthily. The follicles need to get to around 18mm apparently, which sounds to me massive, but then I have no idea what follicles are in this context and part of me thinks my surprised reactions are generated by a feeling that I ought to have some sort of reaction to feel like I'm part of this process. Currently some of them are around 13mm. Lilla will go in for another scan on Sunday and then it looks as though we'll do egg retrieval on Wednesday. And of course I will produce my own contribution to proceedings, though, once again, this is a much less invasive process than Lilla is going through. We emerge from the procedure slightly dumbfounded. We've been expecting, as every turn, some terrible news: your eggs aren't very healthy, your sperm's a bit shit, your insides are all wrong. But everyone is very encouraging and hopeful. I worry, of course, that the medical staff are encouraged to always be positive about everything, because, hey, why worry someone? So I'm worried that they're trying not to worry me. There's no pleasing some people.
5 May 2015
Lilla has a rule about pub quizzes. She tells her team-mates beforehand that the more vociferously she insists she knows the answer, the more they should ignore her. Her accuracy is in an inverse relationship to her vehemence. This evening she explains what the process is going to be. The sperm will be introduced to the eggs in two ways (IVF and ICSI) tomorrow and hopefully some of the eggs will be fertilised. Lilla then explains that the fertilised egg will start to grow and eventually form a 'blastoplast'. I pause. Lilla has been reading up about this process and I haven't and I don't have any medical knowledge in this area. But 'blastoplast'? It sounds weirdly like 'Elastoplast'. It reminds me of a time when I blanked a name and I asked Lilla: what was the name of the King who commanded the tide to turn? Quick as a flash, Lilla volunteered the name 'Nubbytuctus'. King Nubbytuctus. I can only think that this is some strange conflation in her head of Canute/Cnut (the right answer) and Tutankhamen (another old King from way back when) and maybe Emperor Augustus (God knows, to be honest). I ask Lilla if she's sure that there is an early stage of embryo development where it is a 'blastoplast'. She insists earnestly that this is indeed the case. Only, I say, it does have a slight 'nubbytuctus' ring to it. No, she is adamant. It is a 'blastoplast'.
4 May 2015
This evening Lilla has to take a huge injection of some drug that will force most of her eggs to pop. I keep saying 'pop'. I mean she'll be forcing her body to ovulate. It's supposed to be 36 hours before the operation to harvest the eggs. I keep saying 'harvest' and I can't remember if I've got that from the doctors or if that's a phrase I've taken from an episode of Doctor Who. But anyway, it means that Lilla needs to have the injection at 11.00pm. Lilla is usually asleep by 10.00pm so she sets an alarm. In probably my single most decisive contribution to the whole thing so far, I stay up to ensure that she does wake up. In fact, the alarm doesn’t go off and I have to wake her. Nice to feel useful. It's an epipen, which should make things easier, but in fact on the first injection it doesn't look as though any of the liquid has come out, so she has another go. Now I'm wondering if she's double-dosed herself and she'll turn overnight into some massive ovum gumball machine but I say nothing and we go to bed.
5 May 2015
Don't get your hopes up is very easy to say, but what does it mean? I suppose it means constantly reminding yourself of the poor odds, the things that can go wrong, to prepare yourself psychologically for disappointment. And we're very good at doing that. But sometimes, it seems important not to put something as loving and generous as hope in a straitjacket. This evening, in bed, I remark to Lilla that this might, if we're very lucky, be the last night we spend not having conceived a child. There's light that glows at our bedroom curtains from the houses opposite and I think I see Lilla's eyes sparkle a little.
6 May 2015
We go into Guy's. The Assisted Conception Unit at Guy's is a pretty brilliant place. Since our first consultation back in December, that's where we've always had to go. It has everything you need in one place, so we're never sent dodging around the hospital. It's calm, efficient, supportive. Rather than Deal or No Deal, their television shows Homes Under the Hammer, altogether a much more distinguished entertainment. Though, as we're watching this morning, Lucy Alexander criticises a house for having faulty plumbing and I can't help glance over at the waiting room to see if anyone’s taken offence, but no one seems to notice. But everyone is extraordinary friendly and helpful. All the appointments have been kept and on-time; our notes are handed over properly between medical staff. It feels like a hugely positive place. They do have some quite weird artworks on the walls, including a series of bright neckties twisted into various shapes to show the difference between good and bad sperm, which seems to me an incongruously jovial approach to reproductive dysfunction for an assisted conception unit.
We're called in very quickly so I never find out how much the run-down house in Morecambe has gone for. We're taken into a ward, blue plastic overshoes on etc., and we're taken into a cubicle. There Lilla has to undress and slip into a gown with a paper hairnet. What's happening today is Lilla's eggs are being harvested. We realise we don't actually know precisely what this entails. There was a briefing for people going through this process but for one reason or another, we never went to it, and it's possible that our negligent briefing-avoidant chickens are coming home to roost. Lilla gets in the bed and then is whisked off to another room.
I sit there in the cubicle until a nurse comes in and asks if I've given my semen sample (the thought flashed through my mind: 'sample? this isn't a sample! this is the real thing!'). I sign some sort of wanking form and off I go.
I’d been told not to ejaculate for three days beforehand. Here's a funny thing about wanking: if you're told you can't do it, I find, I think about doing it all the time. The result of this is that by Wednesday I have what the finest medical minds have come to call 'blue balls' so it is with some relief that I am taken to a new wanking room, a room for which I'm sure the Germans have a special name (wichsenkammer), this one slightly nearer the ward. I do the indecent deed at indecent haste and I return.
I've not been gone more than 10 minutes but when I get back, Lilla is already in the cubicle. She's looking very pale and she's been crying. I immediately imagine the worst but she tells me that she was put to sleep and then suddenly awoken at the end of the operation; the shock of coming to combined with a sense of tension and release and the flood of chemicals coursing through her throws her emotions out of whack and for five minutes she is tearful and weak. I try to be comforting and when that doesn't work I try to make her laugh which works a bit better and then I suggest she has a cup of tea and she reacts as if I've insulted her family so I hastily revert to making her laugh. She tells me that one of the doctors in the room was Italian and had remarked on her Italian name, asking if she'd had pasta the previous evening; in fact we'd had pizza which made for a good punchline. She tells me this story three times in fairly quick succession.
And then a nurse comes in and tells us that it's good news. They have retrieved 14 eggs. Apparently they usually hope to get 8-12, so this is a very positive result. At this Lilla brightens immediately. There is a fiercely competitive streak in Lilla and discovering that she has somehow excelled at something always appeals to her. She is even persuaded to have the cup of tea. I am not offered a cup of tea, but I suppose my morning of wanking and then sitting around cracking weak jokes doesn’t merit urgent refreshment. A lovely nurse comes in - the same one who delivered me to my wichsenkammer - and she checks Lilla's hand where the catheter delivering the sedative was put in. She dabs away at the wound and she chats to Lilla cheerfully, mostly about the inadequacies of men, their inability to tolerate pain, and stuff like that. I think this is more for the nurse's benefit than Lilla's, so I smile gamely and soon the hilarious banter is over.
Finally the embryologist comes in. She repeats the news about the egg retrieval and seems matter-of-factly jolly about how things are going, which is both encouraging and unreadable. She explains that they are going to divide the eggs into IVF and ICSI and encourage as many to fertilise as possible. We're going to hear tomorrow if any have fertilised. The embryologist tells us that all being well there will be a clear front-runner among the fertilised eggs by Monday, Day 5, and then Lilla will come in to have the egg implanted. She explains that they will see how those, if any, that do fertilise grow over the next five days. What they are looking for, she says, is one that develops strongly enough to become a 'blastocyst'. I shoot Lilla a brief glance and she looks discreetly mortified.
In the evening, Lilla's parents come down and we all go to see High Society at the theatre. It's a terrific production and I am engrossed except for the moments when I find myself reflecting that one day we may be able to tell our child, oh yes we remember your conception; we were sitting in the stalls at the Old Vic when it happened.
7 May 2015
Lilla texts me late morning to say we have six fertilised eggs, three from IVF, three from ICSI. This seems incredible to me and I find it almost hard to process. Six? That's a Brady Bunch. The appointment to have the eggs implanted will be Monday morning. I don't need to come but of course I will. Since I wasn't there at conception, it seems the least I can do. It seems they will wait to see how these eggs develop. If there is an obviously strongest egg on Monday, they will implant that one. If there aren't any that are looking that strong they may implant two of the less developed ones to raise the odds. Lilla's hoping for a strong single obvious one, which does indeed seem like a preferable outcome, but I remind her that we should be thankful for whatever happens.
This evening, the Tories defy all poll predictions and win a majority at the General Election. Without wanting to get ahead of ourselves, I think it's a shame that our kid, if we have one, will be born under a Conservative government. No that really is getting ahead of ourselves, shut up Dan.
8 May 2015
Lilla is experiencing sharp abdominal cramping and pain after the procedure on Wednesday. She hobbles along the road like an eighty-year-old and will suddenly go pale and look stricken. I don’t know how to gauge how serious the pain is, whether it is discomfort of a kind the nurse warned us about, or something more serious. Lilla doesn't phone the number we've been given in case of complications, which I take as a sign that the pain can't be worrying her too much, but I am also grumpy at her complaining about pain but not doing anything to make it better. This is my shit rather than hers and I find myself frustrated by my own blockages of feeling.
10 May 2015
After a worrying Saturday, Lilla is feeling hugely transformed and we have a lovely day today going out for lunch and agreeing that for all our talk about not getting your hopes up, we are getting our hopes up.
11 May 2015
So this is egg-implantation day. I've taken the morning off from work and Lilla's off for the day. We head to London Bridge. Lilla is confident that if there were any problems with any of the eggs they'd have called. I agree though privately I worry about doctors overlooking things, someone giving someone else the message to call who doesn't get the message, etc. Lilla is really hoping that there will be, as they say, one strong obvious egg that has made the best development. I say again that we should be happy with whatever we can get.
No Homes Under the Hammer today, as soon as we walk into the waiting room the young Korean nurse is calling Lilla's name and we're straight in. More blue plastic overshoes, a white coat, a shower cap. There are three people in the room. One is the lovely enthusiastic Eastern European doctor who we've seen before. The second is the Korean nurse and the third is new. She is the one who talks us through developments over the weekend.
It turns out that all the eggs are doing well. They hope for eggs to get to somewhere between 8-11 cells (I think that's what she said) and they have all done that. Lilla and I permit ourselves a small high-five. Most important, one egg in particular has 'expanded' (that is, it's developed a cavity, the beginnings of what will eventually be the placenta, and is on its way to 'hatch' and potentially attach to the uterine wall) and that is the egg that is going to be implanted. This egg was from ICSI, fact fans.
They draw the curtain around us and Lilla is told to partially undress. She does so and slips out behind the curtain. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to wait behind the curtain while the procedure goes on so I don't swish the curtain aside but it turns out I am allowed to see what's going on and it also seems that this is obvious and obviously I am an idiot.
Lilla is in a chair with stirrups. There is a monitor on her right. Behind her the third doctor/nurse (not sure which) is apparently preparing our egg. The Korean nurse rubs a gel on Lilla's stomach and applies the ultrasound (?) device that allows her to see the uterus. On the screen a picture the shape of a space module appears and we start to be able to discern structures. The nurse remarks rather fulsomely that she has a good uterine lining. I sense Lilla is not quite sure what the correct response to this compliment is.
Then there's a speculum and a probe is inserted. And finally the third doctor/nurse approaches with what looks like a long thin needle. This needle contains the liquid containing our fertilised expanded egg. This is slowly introduced.
On the screen we see nothing at first. But then the liquid in the end of the probe shows up like a tiny, but very bright, point of light. It moves very slowly, left to right, across the screen.
It's like tracking the flight of a tiny plane or when NORAD track Santa's sleigh on Christmas Eve or the movement of a star.
And I feel this burst of emotion in my chest. Forget all the not getting your hopes up. Forget for a second that this is nothing more than a hundred or so cells and not even vaguely a human being yet. This is our egg. This is a mixture of me and the woman I love. And it might, all being well, all fingers crossed, all wood touched, become at some point a baby. And I find myself loving Lilla more intently and intensely than ever. Lying in this chair, going through this procedure, the mother of our potential child.
And then the music starts.
For a moment, I think I might even be hallucinating, but no, there it is, absolutely clear and in the room, soft, gentle piano music.
On the screen, the star moves through space, a piercing white that is both nothing and something. And then it is pushed further towards the uterine lining and released.
I'm immobile. I can hardly take in what I'm seeing. I certainly can't believe what I'm hearing, until I spot a CD player. (Do they do this to create a calm atmosphere? Or to heighten the emotion? To give it a sense of ritual or event? Or all three, which I guess was the effect it had on me.)
Lilla is released. She wipes off the gel and gets re-dressed.
The third nurse talks to us again. Everything went well, she says. Lilla is to carry on doing all the normal things and then in 11 days we take a pregnancy test. In the meantime, tomorrow she will call us to say if any of the other five have also expanded. If any of them have, they can be frozen (frozen!!) and used for further implantations if needed. We are effusive in our thanks; everyone is very smiley and encouraging.
We leave, remove our protective gear, and head out from the hospital.
We're both stunned. It's the juxtaposition of the potential momentousness of the procedure and the speed and ease with which it takes place. We're both very emotional but not in that way that you sometimes feel shattered; it's exhilarating.
But we're not getting our hopes up. No way.
12 May 2015
Lilla gets the call from the hospital to say that the other five eggs have all expanded. So they will all be frozen and may be used again, if needed. That's a remarkable thing. We have six viable embryos. We have created a potential Von Trapp family. Dangerously, it encourages in me the thought that everything is going so well, we're bound to make a baby, which is a bad thought, but hope has its own gravity and I am in its orbit, not the other way round.
I've taken to referring to the tiny presence in Lilla as BP. For Blastoplast.
13 May 2015
Lilla tells me she has felt a dull ache in her lower stomach area. My first thought is that this is bad news, but she tells me it's possibly a good sign, perhaps of the embryo 'hatching' and latching on. Her breasts have also been very sore. Another good sign, she says.
Dozens of times during the day, I catch myself remembering what's happening. Of course, as Roland Barthes says somewhere, what that means is that dozens of times during the day, I haven't been thinking about it. But again it's hard to process: the thought that I might become a dad. I then wonder what it is that's difficult to process. In fact, maybe this is just what it's going to be like: slightly unreal, all a bit vague, cannoning from ignorance to ignorance. That sounds right.
15 May 2015
Lilla's read something online that says you just cannot know whether the implantation has been successful. Some women feel things, some people don't. You can have sensations in the body that feel significant but are nothing to do with pregnancy. Lilla is quite deflated by this. I try to remind her that it doesn't change anything and that it's a useful corrective to our brimming confidence this week. It slightly deflates me too, though, and I realise that I find Lilla's confidence and enthusiasm so powerful that if she is knocked, I get the knock-on.
18 May 2015
This morning, Lilla gets up for a shower. She comes back in tears. She's had a small dark red-brown discharge. She's got a slight ache like period pain. Is this a period? Is it a miscarriage? She's devastated. I try to comfort her. Remember that the doctors said there could be spotting in this fortnight; it doesn't mean things have gone wrong.
But inside I feel a lurch of misery. I realise I've been more than hoping; I've actually let myself get confident. The thought that we may have lost this one crushes me.
I try to be positive. It really could be spotting. Lilla says it's more than spotting. I remind her that they said there could be some mild pain after the egg collection and that pain turned out to be debilitating. Maybe they understate things as a rule so as not to alarm people?
A few minutes later I bring her a cup of tea and she's drying her hair and she's crying again. I hold her and I hug her and I tell her she must not worry; whatever happens will happen and we have each other. Lilla looks so helpless when she cries, it breaks my heart.
A little later, she texts me on her way to work. She's found an advice page online that is slightly reassuring. Of course, it could still mean a period. But it could also be 'breakthrough bleeding', that is, bleeding produced from the embryo attaching itself securely to the wall of the womb. The descriptions of what this bleeding might look like support this. We both know we're clinging to hope because it's the only way to get through the next four days. We don't want to think the little egg has gone. We have to find a way to believe it's still there. I get a series of texts through the morning: friends and colleagues in whom she's confided have all been very encouraging and explained how normal this is. It means something and it means nothing but it's something to cling to.
19 May 2015
More blood this morning and it's redder. I try to stay encouraging but it looks like the IVF hasn't worked this time. Lilla is tearful but calmer than yesterday. I guess she's recognised the feeling of a period coming over the last 24 hours. I have to go to work, though I want to stay with Lilla. She calls the ACU when they open at 8.30 and the nurse tells her 'it doesn't look hopeful'. I feel terrible that I'm not there when Lilla puts the phone down and howls with grief.
I've told almost no one what's going on. But I'm due to meet G____ for a late lunch and when we commute it to a quick coffee, I explain. She's very loving and supportive, as I expected, and she gives me some encouraging stories from her own family. I come home and Lilla and I hold each other tight.
I have to remember that we have at least three shots at this on the NHS and more if we fund it ourselves. And that must be because they know it doesn't work at least half the time. But it's hard not to feel a little as though our bodies are vulnerable, that we somehow have done something wrong, that we've been, in a vague way, rejected. None of this is true of course and it's not as if we're starting the whole thing all over again; we're just winding the clock back to last Monday. But it's hard.
I feel closer to Lilla than ever. Later she tells me that she was scared that we might react badly and differently to a setback like this. Couples can be torn apart by these moments.
I'm sort of grieving. What for though? For the imagined child that this might have become? For our hope? For our parenthood? I don't know, but I stand in the shower crying to myself.
I realise more and more that I don't want a baby for the baby's sake (at least, not yet). The feelings I have for that blob of cells are all about Lilla, wanting to make a child together with this extraordinary, this endlessly loving and supportive woman, this beautiful and kind and mischievous and brilliant woman, this woman who has taught my stupid heart to love.
24 May 2015
It's been a bumpy few days. We both took a couple of days off work. Mostly just to take it in, not let it hit us in public, I think. Lilla has been telling her friends, so she has a good, wise support group there. I've not been telling people really, partly because I hate sympathy and find pity unbearable. But slowly I'm telling one or two close friends. Everyone has been brilliant.
It's stupid the things that are disappointing me. I was looking forward to telling my mum and dad what we're doing. The timing would have been right to tell colleagues before I head off on leave. These things don't matter ultimately, but there's nothing quite like sharing good news is there? It's an odd thing to have told a few friends what we're trying but not my mum and dad, but I know they'd find the hope and disappointment almost at tough as we do.
Lilla goes in waves of being bright and positive and then slumps where she is low and pessimistic. Given that Lilla is someone whose emotions are always very close to the surface, I'm amazed at how strongly she's weathered this - and not just this but the battering of hormones she's had over the last weeks. I know she sometimes needs to voice the dark thoughts just to expel them, though they sometimes catch me badly. I tend to block those thoughts off and give them no quarter. So when I hear someone else saying the Bad Stuff, my instinct is just to block them but sometimes I'm cutting myself off from Lilla. I think I've managed not to do that this time, but it's one of those little burrs where two people snag off each other.
25 May 2015
Lilla gets a call back from the ACU. They're rather confusingly casual about it. 'Oh that's a shame, so sorry. Well, if you want to have another go, let us know...' If we want to have another go? Is that usually the level of commitment with which people go into IVF? Lilla observes how odd it feels to go from the express train of extraction and implantation where every day is precious and you are their priority to this interim point, where we're no one's priority, where we have five embryos in a freezer that aren't going anywhere for a decade. They say you need two periods between implantation. The one Lilla's just had is one so in practice this presumably means six weeks until we try again. Lilla has another consultation at ACU on 8 June, which I can't make unfortunately, but we'll know more then.
8 June 2015
This morning, Lilla mentions that she has a consultation at ACU. I'm slightly shocked. It's only been two weeks since the meeting was arranged and three weeks since our first round of IVF. But in that time I've rewritten two episodes of the Zola series twice each, directed Dennis Kelly's Love and Money with my students, given a talk at a conference, marked a fuckload of essays, carried on running the Department. The intensity of all that means that - I'm embarrassed to say (am I embarrassed to say?) - the IVF has gone out of my mind. Lilla mentioning it propels me back to last month, the intensities of all that. I realise how much I loved the process we went through. I'd been worried, I think, that I wasn't ready or that maybe I lacked real enthusiasm for the prospect of parenthood, but when it started happening, those feelings flooded through me like nothing I've known.
When I wrote my adaptation of The Midwich Cuckoos twelve years ago, I wanted to value - a bit more highly than John Wyndham seems to - the feelings that the women of Midwich might have towards their alien children. I gave one character a speech where she tells an uncomprehending man: 'I [had] a child. It is the most wonderful, miraculous thing that has happened in all my life. It is really something to discover a whole new kind of love, and that is what I found with my child'. It was completely imagined and I've been shocked to find that this is sort of the experience I've had, even with an embryo. Not perhaps a love for it as such but a new kind of love for Lilla and the embryo and god knows what I've have felt if we'd held it.
I couldn't make the consultation but the doctor is apparently impressed with our 5 remaining viable embryos. (High five us again.) He says that there is a slight risk of the embryos being damaged in the 'warming' - they don't say 'defrosting' - process, but, all things considered, the chances of conception are as good. We have two more goes before we have to start paying.
Lilla and I speak in the evening. She says that she grieved a little bit for the plans she was beginning to make. She describes it as her heart sending out tentacles that wrap around imagined plans; who to tell, when to mention it, social occasions when she wouldn't be able to drink. She describes the IVF failing as being like having to untangle those tentacles from around the plans and let them go.
There's apparently a whole new set of drugs - for Lilla, of course - and the next implantation will be late July/early August.
5 August 2015
So here we are again. Lilla's been taking the drugs and using the pessaries and preparing herself for implantation and here we are back at Guy's.
It's odd how different these identical processes can be. Where our last doctor treated the implantation almost as a spiritual ceremony today it was much more casual. We head into the room, half an hour late (the unit backed up, apparently), get into the absurd shoe coverings, shower cap and protective coat. The doctor explains that they have defrosted two embryos, one of which didn't survive, so we're using the third one. They say it was an IVF embryo as the policy is to use those first and I want to ask why but I don't, in case this is pulling on a thread of my ignorance which leads eventually to the doctor denouncing me as quite unsuited to parenthood.
And then implantation happens. No ceremony, no music on the CD. Instead, with my beautiful wife up in the chair, legs in stirrups, the doctor and the nurses chat about the likely effect of tonight's Tube strike.
In some ways this is rather anticlimactic and we both admit to feeling very flat afterwards and to have none of the excitement we felt last time. In other ways, I tell myself, it's rather reassuring that they are so quotidian about it. It underlines how routine this procedure is and makes it seems less like something with a whiff of hope, luck, and the miraculous.
But we do feel flat. It's very different from last time; the implantation happened after a whole series of procedures. This one was a bit out of context and so we are thrown by the lack of emotion attached to it.
But that evening, I start to feel that different tenderness towards Lilla, hoping once again, in spite of myself. I see Dangerous Anticipation appear on my monitors.
11 August 2015
We're on holiday in Cyprus with Lilla's sister and brother-in-law. Lilla keeps trying to second-guess the feelings in her body. I keep trying to remind her what she was told last time, that the feelings in the body are too unpredictable and varied to ever be a reliable guide to what is happening. But in the night, Lilla feels an ache that seems unmistakably like a period. Amy (Lilla's sister) tries to reassure her that she felt something very like a period at the beginning of her pregnancy. I try to encourage Lilla to be positive, vaguely/mystically that anxiety might be releasing unhelpful chemicals into the body. I really don't know what I am talking about, of course, and we both know that but it's something to say and to temporarily believe together. At this stage I don't know what I believe. It feels as if any kind of certainty is like a pair of metal boots on the surface of a frozen lake. It leaves me believing and not-believing everything I think and say and feel about this.
If we do lose this one, it will be harder, not being on our own. It's tough, too, because Amy is pregnant with her second child and her first daughter, a beautiful little grinning scamp called Poppy, is a reminder of what we are hoping for. Lilla is wonderful with Poppy as she seems to have been with every child I've seen her with, from our many nieces and nephews to the girls she teaches. It bruises me somehow to see her with Poppy, when we may have had another setback.
All we can do is wait and hope and not-hope.
12 August 2015
In the morning, Lilla reports some spotting of blood. She is grim-faced, trying not to cry. I try to encourage her; it may be nothing, let's wait.
As it happens Amy and Graeme are taking us out for breakfast. There's a massive seafront bar, with a breathtaking view west across the Mediterranean. We sit beneath a huge canopy, the sun-warm air blowing across us, the sound of waves toppling onto the beach in front of us, and we order our breakfast.
For a moment, I'm able to take my mind off the possible pregnancy. Lilla says she's going to the loo. She leaves the table and I try to make conversation. But Lilla isn't back. As every minute passes, my spirits fall. The longer she's in there, the worse the news must be. I feel despair rising. She's gone over five minutes.
And sure enough, when she returns she has a grim set expression on her face and as she approaches her face crumples into tears. I hold her and she confirms that there's blood. We hug for a while, Lilla crying into my neck. My love, my darling, my sweet love.
We take ourselves off down the beach for a walk. I tell her, I love her. We will make it. This is just a setback. We've got three goes and that's before we even start paying. We were always told the chances were less than 50% each go. It's not unusual. We've got time. We can also carry on trying naturally. Et cetera. These things are platitudinous but also true which has a rather banalising effect when I say them, but what the words mean isn't important, compared to my wish just to bind us together in love always, nothing else ever but love.
After five minutes, Lilla is briskly positive, but it's her 'brave face' that breaks my heart. This is hard, harder than I ever thought it would be. I blundered into this, armed only with love. It's difficult having to harden your heart during a process that also seems to be tenderising it with a mallet.
13 August 2015
Today's a strange day. Lilla has taken another look and it seems that the period has progressed no further. No proper blood. On this equivalent day in May, a full period had started. There's nothing today. Not even spotting.
This throws us. What does it mean?
Of course, it might mean that what Lilla saw yesterday was just the 'breakthrough bleeding' that we've heard about. Or it might just mean that the period is a day late. Lilla says her periods are pretty regular.
Once again, I am trying to caution against hope. It's selfish, I am realising. Lilla's hope is so infectious and her disappointment so profound, I can't bear to experience it twice in one week.
Last night, in the firm conviction that this round of IVF had failed, we threw caution to the wind and Lilla had wine with dinner. We apologise to this possible embryo, whom we've taken to calling 'popsicle' because of its frozen origins.
But of course I am thinking: maybe it is a pregnancy; maybe it's going to happen; maybe next May we'll have a baby; maybe we can tell our parents the good news fairly soon; maybe we'll have a baby in Paris (we're going to Paris for 2016); maybe we'll have only had one setback; maybe I'm going to be a dad; maybe maybe...
Maybe tomorrow Lilla will get her period, and all these whirling futures will melt into air.
Tomorrow we fly home. And on Saturday, unless the period has unmistakably arrives, Lilla takes a proper test.
15 August 2015
So this morning, Lilla gets up early and takes a test. It's negative.
Technically, we've done the test a day early. Lilla is devastated but we tell ourselves, she hasn't had a period and that's got to be significant. We'll try again tomorrow.
16 August 2015
Lilla gets up early again and does the test. It's also negative.
We're confused. Her period hasn't come, so it's now four days late. Yet we've had this negative result. We're trying to reconcile these bits of information. But a part of me wonders if I'm actually just trying to reconcile the negative result and hope. But we get reports from Amy of someone who got a negative result but still went on to have a baby. It's limbo though. Lilla's less upset today, more just flat. We head off for the second leg of the holiday today in a state of bemusement.
19 August 2015
The period is now a week late. We are clinging to this. In fact, it would be fair to say that this simple fact has grown in our imaginations to become the most significant piece of information, outstripping the pregnancy test and the advice of the nurses. We don't exactly think we've got pregnant, but the late period means we are holding our hearts ajar. We keep looking at each other with faces of incredulity.
And then, in Nice, while we're having lunch at a restaurant, Lilla's period comes.
It's disappointing. But oddly it's also a relief. There is a certain kind of emotional strain in holding out hope. Am I right in thinking that in the early eighties that show The World's Strongest Man used to have a round where someone had to hold a car battery in their arms held out before them at right angles to the body? They would start determined, but their faces would slowly transform into a grimace and sweat would break out on their foreheads, and in the neck you'd see a pulse, then a shake, and the whole body would start oscillating between rigidity and buckling and then they'd drop the battery. Holding out hope feels a bit like an emotional version of the same thing.
I'm interested in what I discover about myself. I think I'm pretty rational; I can compartmentalise for England. I don't indulge for long in unreasonable feelings because why bother? Basically, I conform pretty much to the guy way of doing things. But I'm struck at how much I am capable, with something I want this much, to override almost all the actual evidence with the one bit of evidence pointing the other way.
15 September 2015
Lilla has a meeting with Dr K_____ at the ACU. He is extremely reassuring. He tells Lilla that ‘you’ve just had a bit of bad luck, that’s all’. The whole tone and manner is paternal and positive. As is routine for everyone we meet, he expresses a connoisseur’s admiration for the number of our fertilised embryos. He proposes that for the last implantation in this round of IVF, we have two embryos implanted. This seems to make some sort of sense. He also adds that if we like they could ask for him, and he would be honoured to carry out the procedure, which I think is a sweet if rather fulsome gesture.
Lilla is very encouraged by his confidence, as am I.
25 October 2015
I read a good article online about IVF by Rosie Bray who has been through it and out the other side. It’s got lots of useful advice but also, Jesus, the number of things to worry about... she mentions one positive test which was proved wrong eight weeks later in the scan, for example. Oh blimey. Here we go. More reason to hold back hope.
29 October 2015
Lilla goes to the hospital for a scan. She lets me stay at home to finish my Zola adaptation, for which I am grateful. The scan goes well, apparently. Lilla is mischievously proud of her womb being, apparently, triple-lined. The nurses apparently coo over it like ceramics experts on the Antiques Roadshow looking at a really excellent Meissen jug. Lilla takes pleasure in taking pleasure in their pleasure.
But all the time I can feel, and I know Lilla can feel it too, our bodies tensing, as if braced for impact. It's such a hard thing to give yourself to hope and for hope to be dashed. Dashed is a great word for it. It's such a trivial gesture (dashing the cup from your hand), so petulant, so sudden, so easy. And yet it's hope that you're dashing, which makes it crueller. I sometimes feel like hope is rust; that if you hope too much, when it disappears, when the hope is crushed, when all that corrosion is blown away, you'll find it's eaten all the metal and there's nothing beneath.
It's a good example of the seductions of metaphor. I mustn't think that way.
4 November 2015
We show up at the ACU. Lilla is nervous and babbles away. I am nervous and my way of coping is to try to read a book that has nothing whatever to do with the situation. We sit in the foyer area of the ACU and I see that we're sitting in front of a picture designed to illustrate how the ACU's research has shown that implanting two embryos has no greater success than implanting one. I decide not to draw this to Lilla's attention.
We're taken, once again, into the room. Stupid plastic overshoes, ridiculous hat, peculiar coat. This time the music from the first procedure is playing as we walk in.
The embryologist tells us quickly and without fuss that of the three remaining embryos, two of them didn't expand but the third expanded 98%. Therefore the planned implantation of two embryos will in fact be an implantation of one - and, of course, all of our embryos are done with. The embryologist makes quite a point in saying how good the surviving embryo is. I can't quite process this odd mixture of euphemism and - what seems to me - rather spurious precision: what does ‘expand’ really mean? Thaw out? And is 98% good? What's the other 2%? What 2% of a person? A nose? I'm sure these things do have precise meanings but for now I find myself caught between the formal technicality and the semantic vagueness.
As ever, quite rightly, I am a spare part in this procedure. The nurses and specialists are all very enthusiastic. One of them, when she sees the embryo, on the screen, actually gets a bit tearful. This surprises me. Surely they must be used to this? But I'm feeling a little tearful too and, since it's my third time, I'm not going to judge her. It must be an extraordinary feeling doing this extraordinary job.
There's an odd-but-good juxtaposition between the ordinariness of the procedure (it's a bit of a production line; the next couple are waiting outside when we leave) and then the preciousness of the music and all the staff being so buoyant and wishing us luck. It's a good thing though. It's very lovely having the care and attention and the emotion of everyone on the one hand, but then also the clear sense that this is a standard procedure, which is reassuring. Too much ceremony would make it all seem rather mystical. So I'm rather pleased that it feels more like a production line than being conveyed to a religious ritual on a sedan chair by witch doctors.
On our way out we double-check that we can do everything we normally would do. The nurse says yes. Lilla asks specifically if she can go for a run. The nurse suggests we wait 2-3 days for the embryo to settle. We've not been told this before. However, the online article I read described the embryo in the womb as being like a salt flake in a peanut butter sandwich, which makes the whole thing sound pretty secure. I do keep telling myself that people have managed to have babies for thousands and thousands of years so it must be a pretty robust procedure. It's hard to apply this to your own life though.
We have a totally ordinary rest of the afternoon, getting food, buying some firewood.
11 November 2015
Lilla's been feeling rather light-headed all day. She is finding it hard not to treat this as a positive sign. But then, this evening, she thinks she finds a spot of blood and I see a huge change in her mood. I try weakly to say that she shouldn't judge - what she saw was very faint - but it was very faint the last two times as well. I hold her and I say that whatever happens, we've got each other. She says - and the phrase knocks me backwards with feeling - 'it's just even when you feel like you're used to it and hardened, this happens and you're right back to May or to August and your raw, stripped and broken heart'. Your raw, stripped and broken heart.
We watch TV and try to take our minds off it. Lilla is inconsolable, tearful. At certain moments, we pause the TV and Lilla cries again and we hug. It's awful, the uncertain certainty.
12 November 2015
The period has not got any stronger and the period-like cramping has stopped. Is this a cause for hope? Maybe. Ah but we've been here before, Lilla seems to have given up hope. I think this is a way of preparing herself for disappointment, but she seems convinced.
The Roman Stoics believed that to live a good life you needed to purge yourself of unhealthy emotions. Because emotions like grief are made worse by shock. So they said that as you kiss a loved one as they fall asleep, you should imagine their death. That way you are prepared for terrible misfortune when it occurs. This is sort of what Lilla is trying to do. Strangely, though I am capable of compartmentalising feelings quite cold-heartedly when I need to, and I can do this on other occasions, I can't do this now. I am just blanking my feelings, not hoping, not fearing, just waiting for Sunday.
I have to maintain this hope-agnosticism quite hard against Lilla's certainty about failure. I feel I want to support her feelings but without damaging my own. So when she says that we should go away somewhere on Saturday to blow the cobwebs off and take our minds off the disappointment, I agree and start looking for good places.
13 November 2015
By 10am, I've booked us a trip to Broadstairs in Kent. The weather forecast says that it will rain consistently all day and we're well up for that. At Lilla's insistence, we get out the extremely stout walking boots that we bought for our trip to Sweden at the end of 2009. I mean extremely stout. Shackleton would probably have thought these a bit hardcore. We plan coastal walks.
In the evening, we're having dinner at our friends E_____ and P_____. It's a really lovely evening. But news starts coming in of a series of coordinated terrorist attacks on Paris. When we get home, the full horror of what is happening starts to unfold. 10 deaths turn into 20 turn into 40 and by the time I go to sleep, the radio is talking about 120 deaths. I love you, Paris, you beautiful city, you beautiful, freethinking, life-loving city.
14 November 2015
We are in Broadstairs! British seaside towns have a kind of disgusting charm, to my metropolitan eyes. Broadstairs is shabby, quaint, and wringing every last drop of its Dickensian associations. It does however have a beautiful bay. We go for a walk along the coast to Ramsgate where we discover our friend P_____ is spending a weekend away and after lunch we meet for a drink: beer and then some brilliant Japanese whisky. Lilla is now certain that the implantation hasn’t worked so when we eat in a (great) restaurant in the evening, all the rules are broken; she has soft cheese, plenty of wine, seafood. It’s small compensation, but it’s compensation.
Throughout, I keep thinking that it would be typical if this least propitious attempt to get pregnant turned out to be the one that works.
15 November 2015
I wake at 6.30 and can’t get back to sleep. It sinks in that Lilla really is pretty definite that she’s not pregnant. In August she was leaping out of bed at first light to do the test; now as she sleeps, I wonder if she’s even going to bother do the test at all. She wakes around 8.30 and goes to the bathroom. I hear her rip the tester packet open. She comes back in and we plan the day, breakfast, heading back, meeting a friend, the marking she needs to do. Then she goes back into the bathroom and I hear a GASP.
I rush in. Lilla’s looking at me, her eyes boggling, holding out the tester stick. It has two, very clear bars on it. ‘What does that mean?’ she says in heart-racing confusion. ‘Does that mean I’m pregnant?’ Her hands are shaking, she's babbling as she opens the bin to find the bit of paper that came with the test. She reads it. The paper is shuddering in her hands. Two bars = positive result.
We stare at each other for a moment then Lilla lets out a tiny little scream of surprise and joy.
Lilla apologies to the embryo for all the wine she drank last night.
We look at the stick again. Two bars.
Lilla screams again. We laugh, we hug, we grin stupidly, we stare uncomprehendingly at each other. We really have no idea what to do.
Having read that article [25 October], which I sort of wish I’d never read, I try to be cautious. We mustn’t overreact; it could be a false positive. Anything could happen. We mustn’t get ahead of ourselves.
And then we get totally ahead of ourselves and calculate when the baby will be due. We reckon early August.
I’ve told virtually no one that we’re doing IVF. In part this is to forestall unbearable sympathy if and when our attempts are unsuccessful. In part, too, particularly with my mum and dad, I don’t want them also to suffer the disappointments. Lilla, however, has told everyone. Well, not everyone, but a lot of people. So she immediately WhatsApps her family: she sends a picture of the positive test and a caption something like ‘This is really not what I was expecting this morning!’ Her younger sister Amy – who has herself just had her second baby – responds in screaming capitals and then phones up to deliver the same screams in person. Older sister Madeleine replies too, also in huge excitement. Lilla’s mum and dad are out so don’t reply for a couple of hours. But by the end of it we have all got totally ahead of ourselves.
Lilla and I go down for breakfast and then for a walk on the beach.
How do I feel? I don't know. The first two times, my hopes were high, my heart was open. This time I’ve held back so much, trying neither to hope nor to prepare myself for disappointment. And now we have this positive result, my initial response is incredulous confusion. I have a kind of blankness, almost. I am not letting myself get excited because of course so much can go wrong; particularly, the test could be wrong. The phrase ‘sinks in’ is somehow just right; it really feels like I don’t know it yet, like I’m doing the world’s slowest double take.
But at breakfast, I look at my beautiful, joyful, grinning wife and I well up.
Much of the morning we spend just looking at each other in disbelief. Lilla checks the NHS website for news about what she can and can’t eat. She discovers that most of what she thought she could eat, she can’t, and most of what she thought she couldn’t eat, she can. It turns out last night’s meal – putting the wine to one side for a moment – was actually more permissible than we thought, if not actually a terribly good idea. At the station, Lilla finds another bit of the website and seems to work out that technically this is week 5 of the pregnancy because of what seems to me the totally baffling way in which these things are calculated. We’re going to get another tester kit at St Pancras, just to double check, but this does not stop Lilla from immersing herself in the internet and deciding how big the embryo is, whether it has developed a heart yet, when its sex is determined, and so on.
Too bruised quite to hope yet.
Through the day, a deep superstitious pessimism keeps growing in me. Lilla has hurled caution to the wind and is holding nothing back. I'm so scared of disappointment, I keep talking in the conditional: 'this would be amazing', 'we could have a baby', which feels oddly parsimonious but at the moment I can't help it. When Lilla mentioned that she'd get a couple more pregnancy tests, I thought at first she'd do it when she got home, but of course they are best done first thing in the morning so we have a day to wait. Immediately I imagine the crushing disappointments of August and so I've spent the day ironcladding myself against that. And now I'm additionally worried about Lilla, that giving herself to hope and joy she will be shattered if these are taken from her.
That said, Lilla has found a website that suggests the embryo will be 2mm long now and occasionally she looks up at me grinning holding her thumb and forefinger 2mm apart and I can't help grinning back. The other encouraging thing, she says, is that her boobs ache quite painfully and have done all week. Occasionally, we have this exchange: 'how are your boobs feeling?' 'Really sore.' 'Excellent!'
I've asked Lilla not to do the morning test herself. I want to be there in case it's wrong, in case today was a false positive. She solemnly promises she'll wake me first.
16 November 2015
She doesn't wake me first. She nips out of bed at 6am and does the test herself. So the first thing I know about it is when she shakes me awake telling me that the second test is good too.
Compared to yesterday, my response is immediate and overwhelming joy. This seems to rule out yesterday's test as some kind of freak reading or a malfunction of the test.
In a classically Freudian manner, after yesterday's deliberate defensive emotional restraint, of course, my dreams have been filled with tests and babies and Lilla. The greater the repression, the more intense the dreamwork. I had dreams of holding a baby; dreams of waiting for the tester kit to throw out its result and, in one strange version, Jennifer Aniston as our babysitter, reintroducing us to a strange Midwich-Cuckoo golden-haired scary child.
She ushers me into the bathroom to see the test for myself, 50% as if she wants me to fully share the excitement and 50% as if she needs independent verification of what she's seeing.
She phones the hospital who are appropriately congratulatory. We have a scan fixed for Monday 7 December.
18 November 2015
I am worried all the time. Time drags because I keep fearing that something is going to go wrong. We'll lose the baby. It's a false result. I sort of know that this is my rather unhelpful emotional reflex, fearing the worst so I'm not hurt so hard if it the worst happens. I'm usually a bit of a Stoic but whereas before I just couldn’t prepare for bad news, now I overprepare, cool emotional resilience tipping into sheer pessimism. The scan feels like the landmark I need to reach before I'll start believing it.
I realise something and it has a force of revelation to me. I've been worried about the failure not just for me but for Lilla. She has her emotions very close to the surface and she will be devastated. But I realise this is her strength. She has that quick access to feelings that lets her experience them and soon start coping. I realise that my fear for her is actually fear for me. She will cope by feeling and feeling hard; I will find it hard to cope with her intensities of feeling. This whole process is a long lesson in how to feel. And when I say long process I'm referring to IVF but I should really mean life. In the force of that revelation, I think all my caution, my refusal to hope, my bracing against disappointment is just not how to live. I'm going to commit to hoping and let disappointment do its worst.
Lilla is flustered and worried about traces of blood in her urine. I try to tell her not to worry and try to believe myself. But then, coming home from work, she does another test as she's telling me about her day and it's still positive. This is a huge relief. Maybe more to me than to Lilla.
Tell you what, this nine-month pregnancy thing is a racket. They date the pregnancy from your last period and project nine months forward from there. But that's at least a fortnight before conception. Basically humans have an eight-and-a-half month pregnancy. This is what I've learned today.
I head to Cardiff for a Zola preview event. I feel bad leaving Lilla but this was all arranged ages ago. I get on one of the typically useless GWR trains to Cardiff and before a healthy audience (size not, you know, actual health) play season 1 ep 9 of the Zola adaptations. I've resolved not to tell anyone until we are at least at the first scan stage, but P____ is one of the few people I needed to tell about IVF back in May when I was getting terribly late with my first Zola drafts. So I mention it to her, late in the evening, as we're in or hotel bar having a quick drink. Her eyes immediately fill with happy tears.
On the way to the theatre this evening, Lilla calls me. She says that she's found some blood. My heart brakes at an unseen stop light. I keep a calm note in my voice. She says the patch was dark and the size of an almond. She found it this morning. She called the nurse who says that it's apparently common to find spotting around the 5th week and sometimes spotting will continue throughout. I try to believe this.
When I get back in, she's phoned her sister Madeleine who apparently calms Lilla's worries and said it was nothing to worry about. Usually I don't like people who casually dismiss your concerns but in this instance I love her for it. What I need now is people with breezy confidence, not the careful and thoughtful ones who can see both sides.
I wake, still worrying about the pregnancy going wrong. I hope I'll have another eight months of these worries. When Lilla goes to the loo I find myself worrying that she'll come back in tears.
At the beginning of this week the terror attacks in Paris meant that there was a discussion about whether the Zola episodes should be delayed. They weren't, fortunately. But I now realise that almost the first line of my script is 'This story begins in blood and ends in blood and of blood this story is made'. If we get evidence that the pregnancy has gone wrong this morning, I can't listen to those lines.
In the afternoon, very casually, without saying she's going to do it, Lilla does another pregnancy test. It's still positive, very strong line. This is immensely cheering. We add the stick to her collection.
In a bookshop, I find the 'expectant fathers' section. It seems to me, from a quick survey, that all books for expectant fathers assume that expectant fathers are colossal arseholes. The books are full of suggestions on (a) things to do that no decent person should need to be told and (b) how to cope with things that don't need to be coped with. How to cope with your wife breastfeeding, for example. How to 'cope'? Is this really something we need help on? Have you guys never seen your wife's breast before? I mean quote these words back at me in nine months if I run screaming from the room, but isn't the sight of your child feeding from your wife's breast not, like, a really beautiful thing? These books are, I guess, well meaning, but they are all written as if the expectant father hasn't got a fucking clue and his instincts are all horror of women's bodies and a determination to have nothing to do with the baby. There's a gap in the market surely.
Lilla suggests we go on Saturday to look at cots and pushchairs. Immediately I recoil from the idea. How awful would that feel if things go wrong? But I remember my resolution to let hope in. Sitting at my computer in the backroom doing some work, I caught myself the other day imagining a tiny kid toddling into the room to find me and I well up. We're approaching the end of week 6, so we're halfway towards the first trimester point when it all sort of becomes official. We think we'll start telling people just before Christmas which will be more like 9-10 weeks than 12 but, hey, we might be in Paris by week 12 and then it really will be emails and postcards which spoils all the fun.
Today Lilla does another impulsive pregnancy test. Still positive. She now has a hilarious collection of these things.
A horrible day.
I'm woken at 6.00am by Lilla dashing back into the room and asking me to put the bedside light on. There's red blood in her urine. We examine the tissue and there is. It's not very strong but the colour is clear and definitely pink and red. I'm sort of still waking up as all this is happening. I feel a sick lurch in me, the fears of the last fortnight all coming to pass. Lilla doesn't know what to do; call the emergency number? But what would they do? She sends a WhatsApp message to her family - the tribe of wise women. She suggests we get some more sleep which shocks me and then reassures me.
Two hours later Lilla wakes and goes to the loo again. This time there is more blood. Probably a teaspoon of it. It's dark but unmistakeable. She's also been having cramping feelings. She calls the emergency number, I think to just get some response more than anything. The person on the phone is neither encouraging nor worrying: she says it might be nothing just watch to see if anything more happens.
This might be a miscarriage. This might be our hopes collapsing.
Lilla is stone-faced and anxious but strong. But an hour later I go into her study and her face crumples. It's not the bad news, it's the no-news. It's knowing nothing that is so frustrating and grim. We can't even do another pregnancy test because the hormones it tests for will still be around anyway. We are in limbo.
I hold her. I hold Lilla, this beautiful woman, you beautiful woman. My girl, my love. My everything Lilla. We are, we feel, hopeless and lost. Maybe it's a failure. Maybe it's nothing. Maybe it's something. Maybe its anything. But I need her to know I love her, her her her, always her, always you.
She keeps saying it's cruel. It is cruel. It feels very cruel to get this far and still not know. Lilla says, acknowledging the triviality, that it feels like playing a computer game, that terrible feeling when you run out of lives and suddenly you have to go all the way back to the beginning.
We spend the day at home. We do very little. I do a bit of work. She does a bit of work. My Zola episode comes on and we listen to that, in separate rooms. I wince every time the word blood is mentioned, which means I probably wince around 30 times.
A horrible, horrible day.
I have a night of anxiety dreams about waiting waiting. I set my alarm for the same time as Lilla's but I wake way before 6 and lie there waiting for Lilla to wake up. Actually, it seems, as Lilla wakes up that she's more bugged by the queasiness, the morning sickness.
It seems that dry foods are the best thing for the queasiness. I produce, with a flourish, a plate of dry toast and wrap five Ryvita in tin foil as a delicious snack.
But I can't help thinking that the queasiness is a good sign. We are in bizarro world where every sick feeling, every cramp, every white pallour, every sore breast is a good sign.
No more blood. Lilla is still feeling queasy (hurrah!) and has sore boobs (wonderful!) and is tired all the time (rejoice!).
I renew my pledge to be optimistic and hopeful and admit to these things and hang the consequences. I am, temporarily, happier and more relaxed. Because anticipation is a pleasure and why should I deny myself that pleasure, even if it turns out to rest on an illusion? False pleasure is better than false self-denial.
Monday Monday Monday.
I saw its heart beating.
An extraordinary day. A night of anxiety dreams (quite elliptical ones, waiting for messages, presence of children, bad news bad news come to me where I sleep turn turn turn again). I make Lilla breakfast and she goes off to work. I then spend the morning being insanely productive, basically so as not to think about the scan we are having this afternoon. Whenever I do think about it all sorts of invented medical conditions crowd my imagination. Trick Hormone Syndrome, Secret Miscarriage, Gestation Delusion.
Then it gets to lunchtime and I head off to London Bridge to meet Lilla. Absurdly, when grabbing a book to take with me, I decide to take the book I was reading when we had the implantation. I form the ridiculous words in my head, 'it's my lucky book', which makes me hesitate because what the fuck Dan, you idiot, but then I take it anyway and I head to the station. Me and my lucky book.
Lilla and I have said to each other several times and meant it that if it's bad news today, it's still us two; you and me. We meet by the hipsters who annoyingly make delicious coffee on a sort of cycle wagon by the Shard exit from London Bridge station. We say again: it's you and me okay? Whatever happens, it's you and me.
We're very early and we head up to the ACU. It's very busy. Lilla looks around and says 'it must be the Christmas rush' until she sees me looking at her sceptically and realises that this is probably not a Thing. We have half an hour to wait and then some, because they are a little overrunning. There are three couples with children in the waiting area, which feels a bit tactless. Lilla says they must be here for a refund or exchange.
It's very busy so we are waiting 45 minutes. I have a bleak pessimistic feeling. I realise I'm thinking I couldn't be this lucky. (But why couldn't I be? I am lucky.) Lilla is nervous and shaking a little. She looks jittery and excited and she babbles all the way into the waiting room and, as we sit there, she babbles away about a lasagne recipe she read about. Then she babbles that she knows she's babbling and she babbles very earnestly that instead she's going to do what James Bond does at the beginning of Die Another Day and calm herself down by consciously lowering her heart rate. She actually tries it for about 10 seconds before realising, with some irritation I might say, that she doesn't actually have this power. The staff keep popping out, quietly calling out an incomprehensible name and then looking around. We spend every one of those 45 minutes wondering if we've missed our appointment. The television is pumping out some terrible crap. The kids are dancing about in a manner calculated to give everyone here second thoughts. But then our name is called and we go into the scanning room.
What am I expecting? I have horrible thoughts of the doctor using the probe to hunt around, searching in every corner before coming up empty. I'm sorry Mr & Mrs Rebellato, but I'm afraid it hasn't worked this time.
Instead the scanner comes on and as soon as the probe is inserted we see the wall of the womb and a large kidney-dish-shaped black shape. I wait for the doctor to say, 'there we are' or 'oh dear', but she says nothing. I think she probably thinks we're better informed than we are.
She seems to adjust the focus and in the left-hand corner of the black kidney, there is a shape. I wait for the doctor to say, 'there's the little chap' or 'oh that's not good' but she says nothing. Is that bad news? Is that good news? But then she says, 'so... that's your baby'. My eyes pop. There it is. The size of a blueberry.
And then she says, 'and there's its heart beating'. I miss it at first but she adjusts the probe and there in the middle of this grey blob is a little pulsing light flashing on and off at speed. Our little embryo's heart. I'm transfixed. I can't take in what I'm seeing. My eyes start to prick but I'm just too fascinated by what I'm seeing to give in to that. I'm just staring at the screen. I stroke Lilla's shoulder; she reaches back and I hold her hand.
The doctor clicks and drags across the image of the heart which generates some kind of cardiogram. 'It's 145,' she says gnomically.
'What does that mean?' I ask.
'It's just a number,' she says, keeping her cards close to her chest.
I want to pursue the matter but she withdraws the probe before remembering that, for some reason, she has to check Lilla's ovaries so back in it goes. I mean, 145 bpm? 145mph? 145 separate babies? On the emotional scale from 'it's a miracle!' to 'it's just a job', our doctor today is on the 'job' end of things. Which I don't mind. It's reassuring. But a bit of me wonders what our last nurse would have done. Floods of tears, thanks sent to heaven, propitious slaughter of some blameless animal.
'So that's all good news,' the doctor says briskly before entering some information on her computer and checking the scan print outs and frowning in a distinctly 'oh-god-that-shouldn't-be-there' sort of way. She even harrumphs at one point, but I try to remind myself that this is just her manner.
I am surprised that she used the word baby. I want to ask when an embryo becomes a foetus and when a foetus becomes a baby, but she seems busy.
By the lifts we hug. Downstairs we hug. Outside we hug. We're both sort of stunned. We hug again. I wasn't expecting to see the heart actually beating. And then there's this relief. All the dread of the last two weeks, the scare last Sunday, the fear that all our tests were wrong and now we've seen it. It's an us. We've made an us. We hug another time for luck.
And no I haven't gone all pro-life. This isn't a baby. It's barely anything. It's still only a cluster of cells and vestigial organs and potential; it's a rudimentary little thing. But it's our rudimentary little thing.
I put it down to my lucky book. So if you're going through the same thing, you might want to get hold of a copy of F.W.J. Hemmings's The Theatre Industry in Nineteenth Century France (Cambridge University Press, 1993). You're welcome.
A little us. And I saw its heart pitter-pattering away. Pitter patter pitter patter pitter patter.
8 December 2015
It's a funny relationship I have with this embryo (apparently it graduates to foetus in a week or so). It wouldn't be quite right to say that I love it. I feel fiercely protective of it and I have ridiculous amounts of affection for it, via its mother, but since it is a 1cm blob, it's not exactly the sort of thing I feel I can quite love yet. But I also know that this is a thing that will inevitably be loved by me. I feel like I've made an appointment to love someone. It's a sort of placeholder for love.
15 December 2015
Lilla, with probably a note of self-mockery, has taken to using the pregnancy to explain any whim that she feels entitled to have fulfilled. She wants me to make her a cup of tea? It's for the baby. She fancies scrambled egg for dinner? I have to trust my body. She doesn't like my suggestion for TV watching? But I'm pregnant... I call down the corridor: this is all going in the blog, you know...
16 December 2015
We're about to enter the 'telling people' season. Our friends E_____ and P_____ on Saturday, my mum on Sunday, my Dad on Monday.
I tell you what, I'm struggling with the fashionable etiquette of saying 'we're pregnant'. Not 'Lilla's pregnant' but 'we're pregnant'. Look, I understand the idea behind it. It's a joint thing, of course it is. But while I love the thought of saying 'we're going to have a baby', 'pregnant' feels like a very physical description and, frankly, if I say 'we're pregnant' I feel a bit like I'll be glibly appropriating Lilla's experience without having to suffer any of the discomfort, inconvenience and pain. It's a bit like me saying 'we're having our period' or, more seriously, the same qualms I feel saying 'I'm a feminist' as if it's really just that easy for a guy to cross the great global faultiness of gender. I usually say something a bit limp like 'I'm very pro-feminist' or 'I am completely committed to women's rights' but saying 'I'm a feminist' sounds to me like you've missed the point.
So we're not pregnant but we're going to have a baby.
17 December 2015
Another remarkable day. We're going in for another scan. Lilla has been wildly excited about it: we get to see its heart beating again! Because it was the size of a blueberry, last week we took to calling it 'berry'. But now apparently, it's the size of a grape and 'grape' is not quite such an endearing nickname so we're sticking with berry for now until it gains the proportions of a more phonically attractive fruit. But I pick up my trusty copy of F W J Hemmings The Theatre Industry in Nineteenth Century France (Cambridge University Press, 1993) and off we go.
We're bang on time this week and they're not running too late so we sit only briefly in the waiting room. The nurses pass through in their scrubs and Lilla, perhaps not quite knowing she's saying this out loud, says, 'I'd like to be a nurse because you get to wear your pyjamas to work.' Our name is called and in we go.
This nurse could not be more different from last week's. She's enthusiastic, chatty, personal. We are momentarily thrown into panic when looks at our notes and says 'oh yes, you were called back in because of the haematoma...' Haemafuckingwhat?? Seeing our worry, she immediately reassures us; it's a gathering of blood in the womb and, she says, Lilla might have seen some occasional spotting? Lilla says later that she has had occasional spotting even this week, though hasn't told me about it (presumably because I look so stricken with worry whenever she does). But this is finally reassuring.
And the procedure is repeated. Lilla back in the stirrups and the probe goes in and there s/he is, our berry. This time, it appears to be scampering about within the birth sac. At one point it heart comes into focus and there it is, stronger than before, pumping away. Now it's just 2cms long and there is some vague definition to the body, though it's hard to tell. I take a couple of pictures though my attempt to take a video fails due to nervous fingers. Here it is; this is our berry.
In contrast to last week's nurse, this one tells us our berry is 'perfect' which is, I'm sure, a term with very limited medical meaning but I swell with parental pride. She chats to us afterwards and explains that the next thing we need to do is book an appointment with our GP who will then organise a scan around the 12-week mark. She also gives us our due date: 23 July, though it could be a fortnight before or after without problems. (A fortnight less! That would be an eight-month pregnancy! I add make a mental note to include this in my forthcoming pamphlet The Great Pregnancy Myth: Why Women Don't Actually Give Birth At All.) She gives us a print-off of one of the pictures.
We walk sedately out through the waiting room. I think jubilation would be tactless but I adopt such a sombre expression I think I may be disheartening people so I adjust my expression into a grin and basically mess it all up.
It's one year to the day that we went for our first consultation at the hospital. It's been quite a year of hope and disappointment, learning of bodies and feelings, finding new sources of strength and love. Lilla tells me later in the evening that she feels properly pregnant now. It moves about; it's grown more than a millimetre a day. Its little heart beats.
30 December 2015
Christmas was great; just the two-and-a-bit of us. Before Christmas was a bit more of a social traffic jam. In particular we had the Feast of the Annunciation to enjoy. We started with our old friends E____ and P____. 'Well, we have some news' (I see E smoothly lock into the conversation like a homing missile.) 'all being well and touch wood...' I say (E is staring intently.) 'in July...' (E gasps.) 'we're going to have a baby'. (E explodes in congratulations.)
It’s a lovely thing telling lovely news to lovely people. I’ve known E for almost 30 years and while she has never for a second seemed to feel sorry for me not having children (I would have been outraged if she had), her delight is spontaneous, genuine and infectious.
Telling my mum, we decided that we would get straight to it – 'we've got some news' – show her the photo of the scan and say 'we wanted to show you a photo of your newest grandchild'. It's a bit of a tricksy way of doing it but I liked the little moment of razzmatazz. We have arranged to meet in a gastropub that I thought was roughly equidistant between us, though it turns out to be 15 minutes from them and 2 hours from us, so I'm not quite sure what happened there. Anyway, we arrive a bit early and, for once, they are rather late, finding it hard to park in Winchester. We've ordered champagne, which sits incongruously unopened on the table. We’ve also decided that we ought to sit together on one side of the table, so we sit there rather awkwardly side by side, like a jilted interview panel. Anyway, eventually Mum and Jan arrive, as always, full of energy and enthusiasm. We sort out coats and bags and then I just launch into it. Mum, of course, explodes with excitement. She can’t quite believe it to start with but then as it sinks in she keeps saying it’s the best Christmas present ever. She is babbling with excitement and enthusiasm and is thrilled for us. We’re evidently a bit louder than I think we are because the waiters add their best wishes and later bring us a plate decorated with the word 'congratulations' written in chocolate.
We tell Dad the next day. We’ve booked a table at an Italian restaurant we like in London. He is also late. (Parents, eh?) But once he’s sat down and we’ve ordered, I tell him. ‘We have some news,’ I say. He looks vaguely interested. ‘In July,’ I carry on although he’s glancing at the menu, ‘all being well, we’re going to have a baby’. Dad’s mood completely transforms. His eyes fill with tears and he’s torn between laughing and tears. He actually bites his hand to control himself. I’ve never seen him this happy, to be frank. He returns to it repeatedly through the meal. Like my mum, he declares that this is the best Christmas present ever. He is on the point of tears at several points. He’s as moved and happy as my mum was thrilled and happy.
That’s one odd/interesting thing about giving news like this that I hadn’t anticipated, which is that once you tell the news, you become a kind of passive recipient of congratulations. It's oddly tiring; revealing a secret is a big build up and then you have nothing to do but receive the love of your friends and family. Nothing wrong with that of course, but we certainly found the period before Christmas knackering.
Also the whole thing reminds me a bit of proposing to Lilla. I’d set it all up pretty well; I had the ring; I’d booked a table beside the Grand Canal in Venice; I was going to propose as the sun began to set. But in the hour before the meal I started to feel bad about the fact that I knew what was going to happen and she didn’t. Her life was about to change and I knew that but she didn’t. Holding a secret is a cruel thing in some ways. It’s why telling one is emotionally draining.
8 January 2016
We have our official 12-week consultation with a GP. It's a fantastically groovy doctor from the local practice; she's Australian, in her thirties, has funky brogues and glasses and tells us lots of interesting stuff. Of course the consultation is rendered a bit nugatory by the fact that we're heading to Paris on Monday, but she offers thoughts on French healthcare (very good) and cheers us along.
She also talks about the importance of Folic Acid and when I enquire, out of interest more than anything, what it does she talks about preventing spina bifida but notes that if that were a problem it would have been picked up in one of the scans. This week Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been conducting a reshuffle which turned out to be very mild, despite rumours that it would be a revenge attack on the moderates. Nonetheless, sacking two junior spokesmen wasn't moderate enough for the moderates, three of whom have resigned in protest. In other words, they are so disgusted at Corbyn's reshuffling of moderates in his shadow cabinet, they have voluntarily conducted a 50% more sweeping reshuffle of the moderates to spite him. I'm telling you this because it happened this week and so, when the doctor, in the same breath, raised the spectre of spina bifida only to immediately exorcise it, it reminded me precisely of the melancholy feeling when the first time those three politicians came to my attention was the moment in which they were announcing their withdrawal to obscurity.
We are surrounded by boxes. I am 50% excited, 50% nervous about moving to Paris.
Lilla is beginning to show. She has a sweet little pot belly which she occasionally strokes. Usually this is the moment where she absent-mindedly refers to 'my baby'. But she sometimes does this with our bed, our kitchen and our flat, so I am not seeing anything sinister in this.
The groovy Australian doctor said something that the jolly 17 December doctor also told us: from this point on it’s not an IVF pregnancy. It’s a pregnancy. There’s nothing different about it now. It’s just a baby.