Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Taking Charge of my Infertility

Last post I talked about how the children were growing older and how, for the time being, I was enjoying that.  It's occurred to me that I could say something similar about my own aging.

I turned thirty-five in December, which is something of a milestone birthday for a woman--the biological clock is ticking loudly now, etc, etc.  Yet it didn't bother me, because I had my complete family.  In fact, turning thirty-five just reminded me how lucky I was to have my children, because that's such a hard birthday to deal with if you are still waiting/trying.

Turning Thirty

My thirtieth birthday, for example, was more difficult, even though turning thirty is a fairly low alarm on the biological clock.  The year I turned thirty was the year we had finally accepted we weren't conceiving by ourselves, the year I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome.  By the time of my actual birthday, I was on my third round of clomid (a pill commonly used as a first stage of fertility treatment) and aware that if I didn't get pregnant this month, we would start discussing more aggressive treatments.

The pressure was on for that two week wait... I remember I was scheduled to take a pregnancy test on Christmas Day, but I was going to wait until Boxing Day, because I was too afraid of ruining Christmas.  Naturally, I didn't have to bother, because my period was the first surprise I received on Christmas morning.  It's safe to say that Christmas 2007 was the worst one I've ever had.

But even before I knew that that cycle hadn't worked, it was hard for me to turn thirty, which is when the ovarian reserve is supposed to 'diminish'.  I knew it was ridiculous, that my ovaries weren't exactly going to start degenerating on the stroke of midnight, but I was very aware that my odds were getting less (NB Honestly, to be already getting fertility treatment at age 30 was putting me well ahead of the curve, but I wasn't really thinking in those terms at the time).

I would probably have been terrified if I'd known then that we'd sign up for IVF within two months... but I'd have been bloody rapturous to hear that my son would be born before I turned thirty-one.

In the five years since then, I've come a long way.  When I was thirty-three, my daughter was born and the family of four I'd always wanted was complete.  It was a very strange feeling not to have that slight disclaimer in the back of my head: "If we have another baby..."  PCOS went back to being a mostly non-factor in my life--it's still putting me at risk for diabetes and what have you, but it's no longer something we have to combat.

Meanwhile, we made that bizarre transition from trying to have a baby to trying not to get pregnant.  Because PCOS is a hormonal issue and hormones fluctuate in women as we get older and all, we couldn't be confident that I would not conceive naturally in the future.  The odds were slim, too slim for me to bank my hopes on when we were trying to conceive--but not so slim that I could responsibly assume we wouldn't get pregnant by accident.

However, after all the hormone-drugs I'd endured with the fertility treatments, I was not enthused with the idea of taking the pill or any other hormonal contraceptive.  In fact, spending money on probably redundant contraception every time we wanted to have sex was an unattractive proposition.  It just seemed to hammer home how pointless this all was.

Embracing Sterility

So even before my daughter was born, I suggested to my husband that I get my tubes tied--seeing as we'd never used them anyway.  This was where infertility actually worked out for us, because should we change our minds and decide we did want another child, we'd go for IVF again anyway, bypassing the tubes entirely.  It wasn't as big a step for us as it would be for a fertile couple.

There were two methods of doing this.  You can use Essure which puts tiny springs in your fallopian tubes, causing them to scar up, effectively sealing themselves.  The advantage of this is that it's not surgery, it can be done at your ob/gyn's office.   There's also the straightforward tubal ligation, which is keyhole surgery.

I have the distinction of doing both procedures, because the Essure failed.  With the benefit of this experience, my advice to other couples in this situation is: "Get him a vasectomy."  Obviously, in our case, we had a specific reason to sterilise me rather than my husband, but all things being equal, I recommend that the guy takes this one for the team.  The Essure is extremely uncomfortable (unless you're lucky and the spring goes straight in), and keyhole surgery is still surgery and is painful to recover from.

Still, it was one of the best things I ever did.  After years of struggling with my reproductive organs--and putting them through a hell of a lot of abuse during my second pregnancy, childbirth and post-partum complications--I was able to give them an honorary retirement.  I don't think I've ever felt such closure as I did the evening after my ligation.

And so, by the time I turned thirty-five, I'd been sterile for a year.  The biological clock had already stopped ticking, but it was because I'd taken the batteries out.  I'm still older, I've got more grey hairs, my face is lined and god knows my body is not what it once was, but the number was not a big deal.  What was a big deal was that I was where I wanted to be.  I had what my thirty year old self had feared was not possible.  That was cause for celebration.

I'm sure I won't be nearly so sanguine about turning 40, which has more of a mortality feel to it, but right now, I'm in a place where I'm not panicking about the years passing.  I want to enjoy it while it lasts, and I want to make a note of it, to remember this complacency (though perhaps older me won't appreciate the memory... Apologies in advance).

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Goodbye work, and welcome growing up!

So what I have not been doing in all my newfound freetime is writing this blog!  Covering the class at my children's school came to an end a few weeks earlier than originally expected.  On Monday, I started a new era of dropping the children off at school, then having three hours entirely at my disposal before picking them again.  It turned out to be timed rather well, since I came down with a cold and then my daughter caught it, and then this weekend she's had a stomach bug...  To sum up, knowing that I have three hours that I can spend in a vegetative state has been a most welcome thought.

Early reactions to the shift have included the utter thrill of getting in and out of the car without having to worry about anything more than my handbag and keys.  Also going round the supermarket and feeling absurdly lonely.  Rehabilitation might take longer than I thought...

My last day of school also marked my daughter's second birthday, and since then, she's continued at the school every morning without me and adapted beautifully.  Of course, my last week was a transitional week, when both I and the new teacher were working together, so she had time to develop a rapport with her.  Reportedly, she's asked for me a few times off and on, but it's not upset her, and every morning, she heads up the steps without a backwards glance (my son at least waits for my goodbye kiss).  I am almost a little offended!

It's a huge thrill to see her old enough to go to the toddler class, the class that I helped to establish six years ago!  I remember being just as thrilled when my son started, but in my son's case, part of that thrill was watching him hit the age that I was familiar with.  After I'd got over the first shock of "Babies are Hard!" it seemed to me like I spent his first two years watching him grow towards the level of maturity that I knew and was comfortable with.  I felt no pangs watching him leave behind the baby stage and welcomed his blossoming into toddlerhood.

It was only after he turned two that I really understood what people said about not wanting their children to grow up.  I felt definite pangs when we reached his third birthday, along with the apprehension of leaving familiar territory... I have some experience with three to six year olds, but not so much, and anything beyond that might as well be labelled: "Here there be dragons."

My daughter was born when my son was twenty-six months, and because we have always felt confident that she is our last child, the baby stage was that more precious.  I still welcomed the passage of the first months (sleep deprivation makes me into a person I don't like), but I clung to some little things for that much longer, like carrying her in my arms instead of on my hip...

Now though, the needle has swung the other way again.  I struggled a little with my son's transition from toddler to child, this post being a good example, but I've got used to the change in his outlook now, and become aware of just how much I like it, how much I like him.  The conversations we have, his independence, those unexpected flashes of responsibility.  It's delightful.

Meanwhile, my daughter benefits from my experience.  I didn't look at the number on the birthday cards and fret that I only have a year before I have to learn new things again (though I had a moment of grief for one, which really is a lovely age).  I remember the milestones my son hit, I look forward to her growing independence, and how we will all benefit.  After all, in another few months she'll be potty trained, and we won't have to carry nappies and wipes with us. 

We are definitely leaving the baby stage of our lives behind us, and I'll miss so much about that (like how my small daughter fit against me as, sorry and sick, she cuddled close on the sofa).  But having children means we can expand our horizons further.  This year, when planning an upcoming holiday, I can look for short walks that aren't stroller friendly.  Next year, those walks can get longer, and we won't even own a stroller to pack.  The year after that, we probably won't have to account for an afternoon nap...

Judging by how parenting works, I'm fairly sure that I'll continue to switch between: "Yay for growing up!" and "Don't get any older!"  Already, I've had a few friends talk darkly about the moodiness of five years old... and god knows, the teenage years continue to hold terrors for me.

But right now, I'm loving that my children are growing into themselves, and I'm looking forward to all the new adventures our family can experience.