Unexplained

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I was having to be quite inventive at work coming up with excuses to duck out for various appointments. Fudging the truth with a mix of doctor, dentist, lunch dates and taking some holiday hadn’t seemed to raise any eyebrows so far, maybe because they had actually been quite spaced out, but it was making me feel a bit uncomfortable. I hate not telling the truth, and I’m not very good at it, but we weren’t ready to tell anyone yet before we really knew ourselves what was going on. Which is what our next appointment was all about.

The results of my HSG came back fine. Pipes clear. We sat down in the consulting room and were told that having had all the tests, we had what is termed ‘unexplained infertility.’ Basically this means the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with us. On paper, according to test results, we should be able to get pregnant. But there’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip.

Again this news was a really odd feeling. They couldn’t find anything physically the matter with us. Science was on our side. But it wasn’t happening. Was it in our heads? You think all kinds of crazy things. I (for those who know me, you know how out of character this is) had sleepless nights wondering whether we were being punished for not believing in God, or for trying to have a baby out of wedlock. Or, perhaps, we had just been doing sex wrong all these years?!? I’m only half joking, it did cross my mind.

In a way, it was good. Fair. We were in this together. Neither one of us was to blame. Not that we would ever use that word, but if something had come up for me I would have felt incredibly guilty, that it was my fault. It would be hard not to feel responsible for everything. Our circumstances meant we were lucky to avoid that burden, that strain. Our relationship has always been solid but TTC tests the best and insecurities and paranoid feelings creep in. For us, having children has always been the goal, our raison d’être. But what if we just couldn’t? Would we adopt? You try and take it a step at a time, but your mind can’t help racing ahead. For the first time it crossed my mind that T might leave me for a non-barren younger model. Forget moving home, forget organising a wedding, trying for a baby has been the biggest pressure on our relationship. Holding onto your sense of humour and trusting in each other is what got us through but I can easily see how it could rip you apart.

And now we had choice. We could keep trying or move straight onto IUI. In light of all the information, we, masochists that we were, gallantly opted to give it another six months of trying to conceive naturally. If, after six months, we needed to go onto IUI, we would still be in the system. We wouldn’t need to start from the beginning and do all the tests again, we could just pick up where we left off.

Our thinking was that knowledge was power and that all the tests coming back clear might lift the worry and stress and you never know it might all just magically fall into place. We’d go on holiday. We would be in a more relaxed frame of mind. You hear all kinds of stories about couples nearly giving up and then it happening out of the blue and you cling onto that glimmer of hope.

I can’t speak for T, but I was still hell bent on making the moment of conception special and meaningful. Of course, this got harder and harder as time went on. We were well over two years in now without success. For starters, having sex on a schedule isn’t a recipe for my idealised romantic moment. But we kept plugging away. I was adamant I didn’t want our baby to come out of a test tube I wanted it to be an act of love. This felt hugely important to me for ages. Disproportionately so, and for too long, looking back now.

The Fertility Clinic

imageAs well as waiting for results, the other thing you have to get your head around is the long wait for hospital appointments. It can feel unbelievably slow. I’m sure it’s not as bad as it seems but to two anxious and impatient people desperate to get things moving as quickly as possible, the system seems archaic. Everything is done by letter, second class post (I’m all for cost saving for the NHS but it takes an absolute age). Factor in a letter going from the surgery to the hospital, our case being reviewed, an appointment being booked, and then a confirmation letter coming out to us. That whole time you go into limbo again. Precious weeks tick by. God help you, if you can’t make the time or the date when the letter finally hits your letterbox!

Then there’s the long walk through the hospital to get to the Ocean Suite. The clinic is tucked out of the way which is nice, but at the furthest end, at the back. The route takes you directly past the antenatal clinic and you have to brace yourself to walk past those doors and keep going down the corridor.

Once you arrive there is a big noticeboard on the wall as you walk in full of baby photos which is lovely and it does give you a burst of hope. Quite a lot of twins feature on it. As well as some triplets…! When we saw it for the first time I think we both privately vowed to ourselves that one day our baby would be up there too.

We liked the nurse we saw. She knew her stuff and was patient and made us feel comfortable. Being us, we asked lots of questions, trying to get our heads around the new terms so we could understand our options properly. We got some leaflets to read on all the various treatments. She wrote down key words for us and even drew the odd diagram to help visualise what she was explaining. I’m not sure you ever feel like you get all the answers you want though. There’s a lot of facts and statistics but of course nobody can give you the certainty you crave.

We learned that the results of my blood test showed I was ‘Satisfactory’ when tested for AMH (Anti-Mullerian Hormone) levels. This basically looks at your ovarian reserve and whether it is decreasing (you produce less eggs). This goes hand in hand with getting older. Fertilisation rates in women with low AMH are significantly inferior to those with high AMH levels. My levels weren’t brilliant, but again weren’t terrible either. Bottom line, we had to get a wriggle on. What else was new?

We found out about the next steps and what the NHS offers. Fertility treatment rules vary from region to region in the UK which seems massively unfair, a real postcode lottery. I was worried as I was over 30 I might not be considered for free treatments but thankfully, in Devon, I was okay, which was a huge relief. After all the checks, and depending on the results, we would get four rounds of IUI (IUI stands for intrauterine insemination, think turkey baster) and one shot at IVF (the more well-known in vitro fertilisation) on the house. If, at any point, it looked like it just wasn’t working with IUI, they would skip straight to IVF. After that, it’s time to get your wallet out and we’re talking thousands a pop here.

They also double-checked that T was taking all the supplements he should be but as his results were okay (a bit on the low side for morphology but nothing to be overly concerned about) this was the end of the road for him in terms of testing.

Not so pour moi.

The next step for me was to book in for an HSG. This stands for the most unpronounceable treatment to date, Hysterosalpingogram. It’s an X-ray where they inject iodine into your uterus to see if your fallopian tubes are blocked or if you have any abnormalities lurking in your uterine cavity. The examination is carried out a few days after your period to ensure you aren’t pregnant so you’re not allowed to have sex during this time either.

And that’s how it goes. Before you know it, another couple of months have slipped by. Dead time, treading water, waiting. It feels such a waste although you know you’ve got to do it. At the same time, perhaps there is also a small part of both of you that feels a touch of relief that the pressure from trying has been lifted that month? Out of our hands. Granted a momentary reprieve from our self-imposed heavy duty sex schedule!

I found the HSG bearable. Not a barrel of laughs; they are sticking a catheter up your vagina after all, but I took some painkillers beforehand, which is advised, and I was lucky enough only to experience a bit of discomfort. They recommend you go with your partner so that they can drive you home if you feel a bit shaky, but T was away so I flew solo and it was still okay. Dealable. You just have to focus on the greater good, why you are doing it. It is totally surreal going back to work though, after something like that. Snapping straight back to your professional self after lying with your legs akimbo having dye injected into the most personal parts of your body. You are prescribed antibiotics afterwards to prevent infection. A pessary (oh I got to become quite familiar with these delightful little fizzing bullets) followed by tablets – easy.

And wait for results. Again.