~By Anu. When I was young, I remember watching a Hindi film in which a lovely starlet, who played a good, pious wife, couldn't have children. She was taunted, shunned and called a 'bhaanj', which means 'defeat', as well as a more cruel and piercing insult: 'barren'.
The film came to mind again while talking to a friend who is very similar to me in age, background and career. Unbeknownst to me, she's been trying for the better part of four years to have children, unsuccessfully. She's struggled through it with her husband alone, as she doesn't have family nearby. The word barren came up. She said someone had used it in her presence, and she'd nearly crumpled.
As we talked, I realized how little I knew about fertility, much less infertility, so my friend has kindly taken the time to share all the info she's gathered. Thankfully, most of us will never have to think about it. But if you do find yourself in the same boat, I hope this post will help you. And please let me know if you've come across info you'd like to share (anonymously, of course).
"I've never really been on the pill, so when my husband and I decided we wanted to have kids several years ago, I thought it would just be a matter of time. In fact, I remember how a close friend and I both decided to start trying at the same time.
A month later, she rang. "Guess what?" she said. "I'm pregnant!"
I remember telling her at the time that I thought I was pregnant too... only to find out a few days later that I wasn't. But those were early days... I bought a pregnancy book and read all the scary and nice bits. I tried to make sure we made love at the 'right time'. I day-dreamed about soft little babies... I turned down exciting work so I could be at home... Even while travelling on high-pressure trips, my husband and I tried to be together, 'trying' (once in Afghanistan!! I told a friend this and she couldn't stop rolling with laughter...)
If you've been trying for awhile, I'm sure you've had those awful days when you think, "Wouldn't it be lovely to announce our big news next time we're home at Christmas... New Year ... Diwali... X's wedding..." only to get your period (sometimes misleadingly late!)
Four years on, I've re-examined just about every part of my life. I've quit my job to take the pressure off. I've had surgery (more on that later...) I've cried and then got too tired to shed any tears. And now -- never thought I'd say this-- if the babies never come, I'll be ok. Not that I've given up entirely, but I'm tired of trying so hard and being so constantly disappointed. Plus, there's more to life than expectations. Sometimes things take time, and I'm learning to accept it.
Nonetheless- what follows is what I hope will be a simple guide to the best resources here in London, where I've been going through this. (Please DO share resources wherever you are! Anu has promised to post everything you send-- I'm especially looking for info on international adoption at the moment). There's nothing worse than struggling through something alone, only to discover the information you need has been under your nose all along. Perhaps these links will save you some grief and lead to your own bundle of joy.
THE PRACTICAL STUFF
As with most things in life, I learned the basics four years after we started trying. So here's hoping you can benefit at the start:
1) Go see a fertility nurse. They are great and will walk you through the whole temperature, ovulation thing. It's free. I only saw a nurse a few weeks ago and discovered that:
-ovulation test kits are pointless (there's often too little hormone to detect & they cause a HUGE amount of stress for some people, certainly did for me.)
-if you're using a temperature chart, make sure you take your temperature EVERY MORNING AT THE SAME TIME.... not whenever you happen to wake up!! Shit, that's five charts wasted...
2) Make sure you have a GP you can talk to. Your doctor should be helpful and sympathetic. Ditto on gynaecologists. I had a batty one who was supposedly the best in our area... but frankly, she couldn't explain how to get to the loo, much less what may or may not be wrong.... I wish I had a good gynae recommendation... but I don't, SO PLEASE SHARE!!
And there's the hugely expensive Zita West clinic ("A Five Star Start to Life!") Zita West is a well-known and highly respected fertility specialist, apparently. If you've dealt with the clinic and would like to share your experience, please email Anu.
3) THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE I CAN GIVE YOU:
Contact the Foresight Pre-Conception charity: www.foresight-preconception.org.uk
They run an excellent programme that no &%$$***!!!! GP, gynae or fertility specialist will tell you about (for that alone, they should all burn in hell).
You snip off a sample of yours and your partner's hair which are analyzed for toxicity and mineral deficiencies in your body.
In our case, my husband's results came back showing SIX TIMES THE ACCEPTABLE LEVELS OF LEAD as well as high copper levels. No friggin' wonder! Lead and copper are sperm killers and his sperm tests have already shown high abnormality. It's probably a blessing we haven't got pregnant, as heavy metals can lead to genetic defects.
Don't ask me why all these big fertility brains don't think to check or to tell you about it.... Most of them are socially autistic.
As a result of the hair analysis, we are now on a four month programme of supplements to rid our bodies of accumulated toxins, and to top up vital trace minerals. My husband is taking 23 pills each day and the entire programme of supplements has cost roughly £500. I'll keep you posted......... but a friend who did it too and is now pregnant says her annual health check showed she was biologically a year younger!
At worst, it will make you really healthy. I wish we'd taken this step four years ago.
A word of warning: Foresight's website is badly organized, hard to find, and convoluted. But the people who work there are excellent and supremely helpful on the phone. Ring Andrea Payne, who organizes the hair analysis and she'll walk you through what to do:
Tel: 01243 866258
Before I get into the details which reduce the romance of pregnancy into a series of demeaning pelvic exams.... I cannot stress enough how tackling infertility can change your life for the better, inspite of all the emotional pain. I have taken a three-month break from my job, which has given me time to pursue the right treatments and to take care of our needs better, from eating right, to exercising, to relaxing. I appreciate you may not have this luxury, but before you spend hundreds and possibly thousands on investigations and treatment.... try an ounce of prevention.
Quit smoking (can't offer advice as we're non-smokers). Ditto drugs and too much alcohol.
Eat organic: www.abel-cole.co.uk
Try meditation to generally calm your brain. I'm finding this book by David Fontana immensely useful.
Some people find acupuncture useful. I haven't tried it myself but this clinic has been tried by a friend.
If you've been trying for over 18 months, then it's probably wise to check things out (who says you even have to wait that long?) Men generally get a sperm test, but be very critical of the results, which can be misleading. Foresight have an extremely useful pamphlet on male infertility, which explains why male fertility has been deteriorating over the past 50 years worldwide and how to help boost your sperm.
First tip-- get him to stop carrying a mobile in his pocket.
Girls-- you'll generally need a blood test done on day 21, which determines if your hormones are normal
-an HSG, where they pump dye into your uterus to see if your fallopian tubes are open
-an ultrasound to look at the womb and ovaries. The absolute best ultrasound guy is Bill Smith at Viveka in St. John's Wood. They will do a 3-D sketch of your womb, which is tremendously useful for fibroids.
My batty gynaecologist saw from my ultrasound that I had fibroids- non-cancerous growths in the womb. I found this link especially useful in explaining the different types of fibroids and how they might affect fertility.
I had four fibroids, each about 5 cm in diameter and one of them was pushing the entrance to one of my tubes shut. In hindsight, I wish I had tried to shrink them naturally using this book as a guide. But as usual, I was juggling a high-stress job, with tantalizing, higher stress job opportunities on the horizon....so I elected for the quick, expensive route: surgery.
You can get fibroids removed on the NHS and this is where a good GP would be indispensible. They can probably refer you to the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson hospital for women at University College London for treatment.
I opted for private treatment, simply because I didn't even know my GP, much less how to get a referral and I didn't want to wait my turn. I found that by choosing a specialist who does surgery outside the £1000-a-night central London hospitals, I could save 50 percent on the cost. I ended up paying roughly £4000 by having the surgery done at the Bupa Roding hospital in northeast London. Sadly, my specialist, Lindsay McMillan, the best of his kind in all of Europe, fell ill several months ago, but his office was hugely helpful in putting me in touch with the best fertility experts:
17 Wimpole Street
020 7631 0914
I can only tell you about the myomectomy, which is what I had. It was roughly an hour-long procedure, under anaesthesia during which the doctor removed the fibroids in my uterine lining. I had no fibroids inside or outside my uterus -- these are easier to remove and can probably be done with what's called 'keyhole surgery'. Mine were deep in the muscle, so to get them out fully without messing with other parts of my reproductive system, Mr. McMillan opted for 'open' surgery. I know of others who have had surgery and become pregnant within weeks. Needless to say, I was hoping for the same, but that was before discovering my husband's lead contamination...
After surgery, I was in bed for a day and a half with a catheter and a couple of small plastic tubes sticking out of my abdomen to help drain away any fluid. By day three, I decided to go home. I was exhausted the first week and couldn't get up by myself. Nor could I laugh or cough without pain!! But by three weeks, and then four- I felt completely normal. I all I have left is a scar below my bikini line which itches fiercely sometimes! And I am taking care not to encourage fibroid growth through diet...
TO IVF OR NOT TO IVF?
Personally, just reading about it makes me feel sick. I haven't been through it... although we have our first appointment with a specialist at the end of January. I know people who've been through it and have happy little children. I'm also close to one woman who decided to stop after one cycle. "The hormone injections made me sick," she said. "I wanted a child, not a pregnancy, so I decided to adopt." Fair enough. I'm still on the fence, leaning toward not going down the IVF route. I too want a child more than a pregnancy induced by injections, hatching, implantation and counselling. Sounds awfully clinical. More on adoption in a moment.....
THE EMOTIONAL STUFF
You're excited, then disappointed. It's frustrating and emotionally draining, unlike anything else. You start to feel like something is horribly wrong with you... maybe you're cursed. Maybe this is payback for something awful you did. You feel paranoid... and tense.
Mostly you feel nothing is in your control.... And your love life suffers (though it can also get stronger). What can I say? I thought I might be pregnant two years ago on a trip to see my family only to be terribly disappointed on Day 33. I didn't go to a big family gathering, because I thought I'd certainly be pregnant by then! I've watched every single one of my friends have one, then two kids and my joy at their good news has been more and more forced with each announcement. I get invited to kiddie birthday parties and no one talks to me, because I have no kiddie war-stories to share...
Even our male friends who were certain never to settle down have had their own bambinos in the time we've been trying and failing... I really feel like the last woman on earth not to have children. As the oldest child in my own family, maybe helping raise my brothers and sisters was all the motherhood I was meant for? Who knows.
SO WHAT ABOUT ADOPTION?
I'm very open to adoption, and have been in touch with my council already. A social worker came by recently and took us through an exhaustive questionnaire filled with the sort of personal questions you would expect:
You and your partner's backgrounds, history, how long you've been together, why you're thinking of adopting.....
What sort of child would you be willing to adopt? What's your view on discipline? Are you religious or not and how would you deal with a child whose birth family want them to observe their religion?
This one really threw me: How would you react to your adoptive child announcing they were gay or lesbian?
We've already been told that we're unlikely to be approved for adoption because we haven't been through IVF. So that's back to square one... though I'm still interested in being approved by our council in case I'd like to adopt from abroad, which is a whole different can of worms... I know very little about it yet, so again, please do share.
Here's a list of blogs to help you share your hope and troubles. Though be warned, a few of them read like the back of a shampoo bottle with so many hormonal abbreviations, it makes your head hurt! I personally like the first one just for emotional honesty. Feel free to contribute your own and all the luck and best wishes in the world! Thanks for letting me share.