Thursday, October 27, 2005

Fierce Creatures

The first attack happened when I was four and my sister AJ was 3.

My memories are hazy of course but my parents were both there as was my third sister T who was only a baby.

In Penang, circa 1972, one of the big attractions was the Botanic Gardens. Tribes (Mobs? Schools? Flocks?) of smallish hairy grey monkeys with thin red hands and beady eyes roamed openly around this pleasant expanse of parklands.

They were free to chitter and play and caper in the trees and simply do what small grey monkeys do best which is to steal food, masturbate and spread disease.

How we clapped and laughed at their antics.

On this day, as part of the family outing, our parents had endowed us with little bags of hard dry peanuts with which to tempt our hairy playfellows into providing still more simian tricks.

My four year old fist stuffed with peanuts, I felt heady with the power of largesse.
I have the peanut bag. All monkeys must love and adore me.
I dispensed them sparingly, not wanting to over value their talents and spoil them for the future.

Was that a cartwheel?
Here have a peanut.

Pulling your mate’s tail and causing an earpiercing screech?
Two peanuts for you my friend.

Leaping five feet towards me and baring your fangs in an unpleasant manner?
Take the bag, I want my Mummy.

My sister AJ was not so fast. A second monkey followed in the wake of the first and jumped up, biting her on the face. That was the end of that little outing. My mother, with T in her arms, was furious. She complained bitterly to the gatekeepers on our way to the hospital. They were stoic.

These are the Monkey Gardens. Those are the Monkeys.
Can you identify the Monkey who bit your child?

She could not.

Eight years later we were back in the Monkey Gardens. This time, there was a new babe-in-pram, K. As we walked, we remembered the attack on AJ years ago. We laughed gaily as we described how terrifying it had been.

Actually I didn’t laugh quite as gaily as all that – those monkeys really were scary.

As a girl guide I had experienced the unique trauma of a “Monkey raid” during a camping holiday. Along with reef knots, splints and square lashings we were taught that there is no negotiation with monkeys. If they were brazen enough to enter our tents we were to let them take whatever took their fancy. There would be no heroes. Many a can of Impulse Body Spray and jar of instant coffee were lost on that camp.

AJ was holding a bag of peanuts and walking in the midst of our family group when the inevitable happened. A large grey monkey came swooping out of the trees to our left and heading straight for AJ it leapt up and bit her hand, causing her to scream and drop the peanut bag.

This time my mother was not so slow.

Dropping the handles of the stroller she rushed at the monkey, armed with her batik handbag and shouting like a maniac, she walloped it hard across the head. Stunned, the monkey turned a backward somersault and then disappeared back into the trees.

At the time I was full of admiration for my mother’s courage and jealous that it wasn’t me who caused her outburst. Now I realize of course that it was simply another illustration of Nature at work. Just as the monkey saw food in the peanut bag clutched in my sister’s sweaty palm and attacked for it, my mother saw her offspring under threat and attacked in response.

Mothers can be fierce creatures.

This week I learned that the last of my friends in the tight knit uni group has had her baby boy. Looking back through my blog I found where I had written about discovering she was pregnant, the irony of her saying to me a year or so earlier: Let’s you and I not have babies for a few years. Let’s wait until we’re 39. Meanwhile AJ has let my family know about Impending Number 4 and another friend is home from hospital with her baby girl.

Infertility also has many fierce creatures, so many scrabbling chittering reasons why my transfer didn’t work, why maybe the Frozen Embryo Transfer we’ll attempt in November won’t work, why maybe none of this crap, Chinese Fertility Goddess included, will ever work.

Can you identify the Monkey who bit your child?


Time seems to flow effortlessly around us, our friends and family grow and procreate and produce.

Somewhere in that fuzzy grey crowd of beady eyes and reddened hands, there might be the reason why C and I aren’t parents. But we can’t pick it out.

Instead we stand side by side, getting older, getting tireder. We're chucking peanuts while the rest of our life seems to walk on by.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


When Pandora and her playmates find a box and are told not to look inside, they’re naturally very curious. They live in Paradise, things are beautiful and amiable and benign and probably a tad boring and more than anything they want to look in the damn box.

When Pandora finally opens the lid, all the evils of our world are released into the air: war, hate, violence, disaster, pestilence, anger, comment spam...

Pandora manages to slam the lid shut, trapping the last occupant who begs to be let free. Pandora is scared but when she does open the lid again, she lets out Hope. Hope was originally imprisoned with the other beasties as a sort of divine insurance policy. Without Hope, the human race could not survive the despair that comes from living in this world.

The spotting started on Tuesday night. Very faint, very pink, very gentle.

A sort of apology from my uterus for what was to come.

Within a couple of hours it was definitely over.

C and I curled up together on the carpet and hugged each other and wept and hugged some more. I cried into C’s hair and snot ran down his neck. We made ourselves into a little two person space pod and closed the hatch on the rest of the world and whispered secret things that made us sigh and nod and squeeze ourselves even tighter.

We were so ridiculously proud of this embryo. Our embryo. Eleven years after our bodies first met, our genetic signatures had finally come together. It was the closest we had ever come to being pregnant. For a few days it had made us Pretend Parents. We wore cheesy grins. We played spot the Bugaboo.

I was almost numb with despair. With the unfairness. With the why-does-it-have-to-be-so-difficult? And with the waste. Along with everything else, I suddenly felt that I had spent all this year working and focusing and yes, obsessing, on trying to fall pregnant. The IVF cycle had wound this thread still tighter and tighter with each injection, each unit of Lucrin or Puregon, each day post transfer until finally it came crashing down with that first drop of blood on a cotton pad.

It was as if this was all I was, a woman trying to fall pregnant, and I had failed. I had lost not just a pregnancy but a year of my life and part of all the years of my life where I had wondered will this be the year?

Did it hurt more, I wondered, than all the other cycles where we didn’t use IVF, where we simply used temperature charts or Yoda’s split ejaculation method or the Chinese Fertility Goddess’s Horrid Teas?

I picked at the thought, like a scab. Yes, the answer flowed.
Because we saw the embryo. Because we were told how well it was all going.
Because we knew people who fell pregnant first IVF cycle. Because we thought we were special and we deserved it. Because we were closer, we felt the possibility before us; we believed we simply had to reach out and grab it. Because we heard the voice of Hope, and we chose to release her from our personal Pandora’s Box. And yes, it hurt more than the rest.

Today I spoke to a Fertility Sister. It wasn’t you, she said.
I had asked her if there was something wrong with my uterus.
You had the scans, we would have picked something up, she said. It’s more likely there was something genetically wrong with the embryo.

But it was a good embryo, I said. They told us it was…hatching.

I know. She was sympathetic. But they only go on how the embryo looks. How pretty it is. They don’t test the embryo genetically. It might look like a great embryo but not be able to sustain. Whereas an embryo that doesn’t look as good might go onto become a successful pregnancy.

All being well, and tomorrow’s test will help determine that, we can start another cycle at my next period. One, or maybe two, of the frozen embryos.

But that’s twenty eight days away so we’re putting Hope back in her box for now.

We could all do with a rest.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Letter To A Bunch of Cells (6 Days Past Transfer)

Dear Embryo

I’m currently in two week waiting hell while you make up your cells about whether you want to hang around or not.

It’s a little stressful, I have to admit.

As part of my 2ww I’ve been doing a lot of surfing the net and I can’t help being jealous over how many people get to write these nice little regular newsletters to their babies. It’s kind of a cute way of noting the milestones. A progress update if you will, first steps, how many teeth have appeared, all that sort of thing.

You’re not actually a baby as such but I feel you have some very fine potential. So I thought I might write a newsletter to you anyway.

Ok, so you’ve been in my uterus for 6 days now which means you are nearly 11 days old!

Woo! How cool is that?

It seems like years ago that you got to whoosh through the Catheter Of Great Excitement from your Petri dish right through my cervix and into the amusement park that is my uterus.

That was a one way ticket by the way, you don’t get to ride again, and if you leave the park, a big scary man rips you apart and gobbles you up.

No, just kidding, but you know….stay behind the fence.

Ok, so you’re here, you’re eleven days old, you’re doing that cell dividing thing you embryos are so damn good at. (I tried just now but you know, we lose so much flexibility after about 12. I used to be cool at cartwheels too.)

Now about those milestones.

I can’t actually see you but as far as I know you have no teeth. Or maybe just the one which you used to hatch out of your little shell. Like baby chickens!
You’re probably too young to remember this but your aunties and I had chickens when we were kids! They were so cute! We loved those chickens! And then we ate them, but we loved them first, and my point is that they hatched. And they had teeth.

Or at least a tooth apiece.

Sensibly, I know you don’t have feet either. However I feel you may have done a little rolling. Am I wrong?
I don’t think so.

You’ve felt the rush of speed from the Catheter ride, that’s gonna take a little while for the adrenaline to wear off, and you’re going to be attached to the wall of my uterus for, oh nine months (hint hint) so roll little embryo to your heart’s content (or at least the cells that will eventually merge to create your heart) but just be sure to end up on the back wall by my spine (I hear that’s best) and STAY BEHIND THE FENCE.

From today on, I believe, you will think about attaching yourself.

I say don’t think, do.

I’m always one for procrastinating and I can tell you it leads to disappointment. There are no prizes for futzing about, it’s not cool or smart to hang back and I assure you there are no other uteri to compare with.

Don’t go thinking: I’ll wait for that Catheter to whoosh me into another one and check out the d├ęcor, there are NO MORE CATHETER RIDES, I don’t know how many more times I have to tell you.

Don’t worry about the whole attaching thing either. I know you don’t have fingers to cling with but some sort of cellular stickiness will occur; your cells will mix it up with my cells and there will be a cool bonding experience. Trust me it will work.

Or I guess you could always hang on with that tooth.

Meanwhile I’m drinking my Horrid Teas and squirting progesterone gel up my lala like there’s no tomorrow. These will give you a helping hand (since you have none). I apologise if you’re getting any nasty smells in there; it could be the gel backing up around my cervix, or the tea (I’m used to it, but it always freaks other people out) or maybe that asparagus we ate last night.

Currently, I have moles that are bigger than you.

I have skin pores that are bigger than you (but frankly in this weather that’s no biggie).

One day, if you stick around, and you grow and get born and survive your childhood where I nearly love you to death and those angsty teenage years where we have screaming matches and sulk-offs and then you become a big strapping ADULT (which means your genes will have come straight from your great grandparents because your father and I are dwarves), well then…. I will be able to say to you….I knew you when you were smaller than this .

And oh, oh how I wanted you.

So please stay.

Please stay and grow and keep away from the fence (and that's the third time I've told you now, so that might have to be time on the naughty chair) and let me write more of these stupid milestone newsletters. Please.

Love (and you would not believe the absurdly enormous amount I have for you even though you're tiny and fickle)

Your very own Ova Girl