Time ticks by...
I struggle to drag air into my lungs through short, sharp breaths; I let my eyelids drop for a moment, dig my watermelon red nails into the edges of my fingers to feel something, anything, other than this anticipation. My blood pumps heavy and travels through my body, and I practice mindfulness, force myself not to follow its journey through my wrists, my neck, my head – snapshots of physical fear manifesting. Thoughts of frustration languish in my mind. I read the names of all the staff listed on a poster on the wall, I unlock my phone, check Instagram over and over, thoughtlessly return to the staff list. 45 minutes pass by like this. A woman and her husband leave the scan room; they want to see a female doctor and are told to return to this airless corridor, to wait… for how long? I cross and then uncross my legs. There aren’t enough chairs to seat all the patients, so men mill awkwardly in the centre of the narrow hall, beady eyed for a spare spot. And I paid for this privilege, thousands of pounds, but no one bothers to update me. I feel each second as an assault on the thin veil of control I have clung to in all of this. I blink back tears; I remind myself that this is just a routine appointment and I am a warrior.
These feelings come as a surprise. My short protocol, low dosage IVF has been a breeze in comparison to the hundreds of injections I faced in my previous cycles; no deep blue depressions or violet red rages, no desperate attempts to run and run away from my life, to take on a new identity and start again in some harbour town in the sunshine. No, just the usual bluebird flutterings of fear at the prospect of cold metal piercing my skin, a few minor swells of sickness and a menagerie of words running deftly upon one another, verbose and hyper in equal measure. I’ve graduated from the girl who wept for twenty minutes, covered in sweat, before my first ovitrelle injection a year ago, and I’m now adorned with those IVF warrior badges, counting down from five as the hormones release into my belly. These initial days free of down reg have rushed by, time tripping over itself to hurry me into the future. But in this stale corridor, we patients are all prisoners, each feeling the physical presence of these anticipatory moments.
Finally, the door swings open and I am summoned. It’s another new doctor, the third I have seen in as many weeks. He asks me for my case history and I provide it. Then I strip down, unceremoniously hover a tiny tissue cover to barely protect my honour and we begin the banal intrusions of the scan. He examines the follicles, he listens to the blood pump, he calls out some measurements to the nurse. I stare at the ceiling. I dress and he hands me a sheet of paper, with instructions to head for bloods. I ask him how it’s going and he tells me that there are only four follicles that are growing. I don’t cry. I slip into my breezy voice, swallowing the aching lump in my throat, and regale a silly story about my mum and my needles. I have my bloods taken, I book my next appointment and I head out into the crisp and enveloping spring sun.
IVF is fear, tinged with possibility. You might think that, this being cycle three, I should be more prepared, I should expect the usual disasters that my body has brought upon me. But they still come as fresh shocks. And up until that moment, “four follicles”, I had been floating on hope. I was a walking affirmation, an evangelist for my new natural approach. I was so sure, cocky in my own preparations. But pride comes before a fall. I see that now. You stupid girl, to think that there was forgiveness for you, that you might reach for your happy ending, that you could finally belong.
The following evening, we start a new drug, my first cetrotide injection. My skin pricks up, a pretty pattern of pink blotches spreads across my stomach. Oh, this time around I’ve avoided the blue and yellow bruises, my old friends, so why not some other suspicious symptom to endure? I smirk – we inject antagonists to prevent an ovulation that never occurs naturally. These doctors, these drugs, become the masters of my cycle, conjure up the exact moment for ovulation to suit their schedules.
Time ticks by… Tomorrow will be my next scan. I don’t know how to feel anymore, nothing prepares you for these groundhog days. There are high stakes on cycle three. As I write this, I don’t know whether to expect more of the same – sad, slow eggs that creep through the week, that force us to await daily phone calls, a band aid gradually tugged off, pulling at each hair as it goes, pain piled upon pain. Or if that little whisper of hope will stand true – “it just takes one strong emby”. In the meantime, avocados, acupuncture and affirmations keep me company. I’ll hold them close until I can hold on no more. No matter what, it will be a freeze-all cycle, but the next week takes us either one, small step toward our dreams – or right back to the cliff edge. And from there, I cannot imagine where next…