Admittedly, I have been somewhat cavalier about my fertility. My mother was apparently extremely fertile, having her last child at 43, assuming I inherited her genes I envisaged no foreseeable problems. Delivering two healthy boys relatively late in life was further empirical proof that planning a little girl via IVF/PGD (in vitro fertilisation/preimplantation genetic diagnosis) was realistic and viable - wrong.
Natural conception and IVF are two different animals. If I was younger (I am 42) by about a decade, maybe I would have reason for optimism, but I am not and age is a mitigating factor.
Drawing of Baba number 1 (ink and pen on paper, size A5, 2011)
Before I embarked on IVF I engaged in intense email contact with the clinic. The stark reality was that my egg reserves are low and not only that, they are old - my fertility is on an acute downward trajectory. Fertility treatment plays tricks on the mind; you tend to ruminate. Thinking back to my teenage, oblivious self I wonder how many follicles I had then and how many eggs I could have harvested - a potentially abundant crop in double figures. In terms of my reproductive system I have learnt more these past few days than during any biology class. And when I had a laparoscopy to check my egg reserves at 36 I was told I had more eggs than a 31-year-old hence my inflated optimism levels.
Advised not to check into my Bangkok hotel I was greeted by my consultant and had a blood test immediately. I'd already had a scare by forgetting to take two birth control pills and was told that maybe I would have to postpone the fertility treatment if my hormone levels were not optimal. My first blood test had been ok, so I boarded my plan hoping for the best. As I waited for the second set of results I observed that there were other lone women like me, often glued to their phones, or their eyes were fixated on some mundane object. There were some women with their partners in tow. Anxiety and boredom etched on their brows evident for all to see.
It's the waiting, the not knowing if you will get past each stage, like a series of check points and even if you make it you might not achieve your ultimate objective - to conceive a healthy child. You are also made aware of the fact that at any stage the treatment can be cancelled. This is hanging over you day after day - daily emotional torture.
Tanya returned looking sombre and told me everything was fine, but that my FSH levels were high at 13.6. Only a few days before there were 0.3. Bewildered she told me the maximum they accepted was 13 and maybe I would have to cancel. But I had just arrived. Then I was told if my follicles grew and responded to the drug chlomid I could continue, but Tanya said, 'There is no guarantee' of ensuring this. I was finding her very negative and little emotional support was forthcoming from my husband either. Small wonder that it is recommended that before undergoing fertility treatment you seek counselling, which I had not received. I was relying on my determination and sheer obstinacy.
With a low follicle count of 6, Tanya said it was normal because of my 'age' something she constantly reiterated and was beginning to irk. She also pointed out that the follicles were very small and had hoped for more.
Unwittingly and probably due to the language barrier, although her delivery was soft and slow, her words cut me to the core. Reduced to percentages IVF was carving away at my womanhood. Being a mother didn't matter, all that mattered were the stats. These figures boomed at me. Low AMH at 0.8. FHS of 13.6. Number of Follicles - 6. That might not even grow. Despondency began to set in. It was all my fault, I had left it too late chasing the dream of being an artist in London and for what? Being several years younger could have made all the difference; it was futile to speculate.
I found myself wandering through the giant shopping mall, Central World buying pretty pants, bras and swim suits that I really didn't need trying not to think of my failing womb. The worst possible scenario was going home empty handed.
The day of reckoning came. I was sombre. The doctor inserted her probe and did her measurements and said, 'You have two and a half follicles'. If the follies grew I would get two eggs, maybe 3 if the third caught up. Game back on, I thought. Come on. Scored was my internal thought process, bit of a laddish response, but I had cause for some mini jubilation. Tentatively I said to Tanya, 'Two eggs that would be good, I only need one healthy one to make my little girl.' Tanya's response was curt. 'It is neither good or bad, it's OK.' OK, are you joking? I still had eggs; there was a splinter of hope. She then added, 'I was expecting worse.' To be fair her assessment was based on my poor stats, maybe she didn't want me to get my hopes up, but they were climbing steadily. The two eggs a day that I popped like candy, the nuts, the water and the sleep were clearly helping. My mind might have let me down in the past, but my body never has.
Since everything was stacked against me being thrashed with wave upon wave of negativity was going to scupper my already slim chances. I told Tanya, 'I need more emotional support, I need more positivity, and yes I know it might not work but your comments are making me low.' Slightly bemused, Tanya told me she didn't mean to upset me, I was promptly allocated to her supervisor, Sara. With vibrant pink streaks in her hair and her excellent standard of English I instantly felt more at ease.
After the longest wait in the clinic, with the same CD playing over and over, I waited for my next scan. Sara came to get me, I took my time, I was nervous, she had to insist, 'Please come now'. OK, OK, I am coming, then the knickers came down, the probe went in.
'They have grown and the third one too and your hormones are excellent, we were surprised that you have responded so well to the medication,' said the doctor beaming.
Tonight a nurse will come to give me a trigger shot, then I have one free day with no injections or appointments. I just have to remove my nail varnish, sleep and not get ill, but still take my folic acid and eat those bloody eggs.
Egg retrieval will be early morning on 29th and then they will make the female embryo depending on the quality of the eggs. After I have done my bit it is out of my hands.
If the quality of the eggs is not great, I have been advised to do another round of IVF to increase my egg store, it's an option I would rather not pursue. The expense (I am paying for this all myself) and time required is off putting. Yet, the allure of more eggs and a better pool to select from is of course enticing.
IVF is a sobering and reductive experience. The only advantage of having two successful natural births is that my womb will be slightly more receptive to the egg when implantation takes place increasing my chances of success. Now I have to convince my husband that having a third child is the right thing for us - that will be another battle.
I believe that the issue of fertility needs to be taught in schools, making girls aware they have choices. It might be common place for young women to freeze their eggs in their 20s in order to reduce the pressure later in life if they find themselves plus 40, childless but desperate to be a mother. It's a woman's right to get a decent education, pursue their career, take their time to meet the right partner and work to be economically stable enough to support a family - children are expensive. Although I had children late, that was the time I was ready emotionally, but if I'd known then what I know now, and freezing my eggs was an option, I would have done it in a blink of an eye.
Apart from a little soreness, more pronounced moods, disrupted sleep and slight bloating I can take the physical toll. The emotional one is more exhausting - now I understand why they say IVF is gruelling.
Of course I would love to realise my dream of completing my family of two adorable and vibrant sons with the addition of a daughter, but I also have to be aware that it still might not happen, at least I gave it my best shot.