Monday, September 24, 2007

Q.35a Stress And Infertility. Discuss.

I feel like that time in Primary School when we had to do folk dancing for sport and the boys had to ask the girls to dance. And one by one, all my friends were chosen and got up to take their place for the Convulsing Weasel or whatever the name of the stupid dance was, and I just sat there, smiling uneasily and picking invisible threads off my skirt.
p.39 Legs Up And Laughing

Thanks to the book, this week I am speaking on an ABC Radio National show (Life Matters) about Infertility and Stress.
Cue wild hysterical laughter.
Stress? And Infertility?
Surely everyone knows that the two go together like a blocked fallopian tube and a crippled sperm.

I imagine a time, way off in the future, when I look back and smile, and perhaps even chuckle gently at the bitterness surrounding my attempted journey from nothingness to babyness. I won’t remember that today, for instance, I lay on the couch blubbering and saying pathetically, “I don’t understand…why is this happening…why do we have to have so many things wrong with us?”

For me, infertility and IVF related stress is a bit like the old boiling frog story. You jump into the baby making bath, it’s tepid to start off with, time passes, temperatures rise and one day you realize you’ve turned a bright lobster red, your eyeballs are melting and Life is making soup out of your ovaries.

I’m partly stunned at how doggedly we keep going, step by step, dollar by dollar, blood test by blood test, drug by drug. Friends and family ask about how we are coping and say that we’re doing amazingly well, but I don’t feel like we’re doing well, I don’t feel like we’re doing anything. We’re locked in our little carriage on the Great Big Fertility Ride, hair on end, hands gripped over the rails, knuckles white, rocketing forward. We’re not doing anything, it’s all being done to us.
And driving us, dragging us, forward and ever forward, is this urgency, this desperate need and want.
This desire.


To this day I still wonder how my relationship survived, how my friendships survived – particularly with the friends who had babies during those years, how we stayed sane.

It was killing me that our previously sexy lives had been so completely upturned by thhe fight for our fertility. Bit by bit, the routine, the alternate hope and disappointments, the practical, clinical, mechanical nature of each seemingly futile attempt was wearing us thin. And how long before we start to rip at the seams?

How does anyone manage to cope with infertility? I have friends who have had multiple unsuccessful IVF attempts, others who attempted just the one with everything riding on it, still others who have not tried IVF at all, not tried any form of alternative fertility treatment, just wanted and hoped and wished for years.

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 and more, working and focusing and yes, obsessing, on trying to fall pregnant. The IVF cycle had, each day post-transfer, wound this thread still tighter with each injection, each unit of lucrin or puregon, 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 tying 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 when I had wondered: will this be the year?.

There is stress when you attempt treatment and stress when you don’t. There is the stress of seeing your life suddenly reduced to monthly cycles, that weird moment when you realize you don’t have a clue what day or date it is but you know for a fact it’s Day 11, the waves of alternating hope and despair and sheer bloody minded anger; at your specialists, your friends and family who seemingly conceive with ease, well meaning people who advise you to Just Relax, randomly pregnant women who cross your path, your partner and above all, with yourself, your stupid, hopeless, unforgivably non-fertile body.

As she administers yet another blood test, the fertility sister asks if I’m feeling any side effects from the Lucrin injections.

'Like what?' I ask. I wonder if I should mention the incredible Room Clearing Farts I seem to be managing these days.

'Feelings of worthlessness,' she says.

In my head a little movie plays at about a billion miles an hour of this whole heartbreaking, soul sucking, humiliating, dehumanizing, infuriating experience. This crappy bullshit babymaking routine spanning over the last five years, wrenching at every fibre of our courage, humour, creativity and love.

‘I feel sad,’ I tell her. ‘Having to inject all that stuff into my body. Every time I pull the needle out I have a little moment of sadness.’

Christopher picks up the showbag and we say goodbye and head for the lifts. We don’t say anything for a while, we just stand side by side, letting our fingertips touch.

Do I feel worthless?Oh yes. But I also feel angry, excluded, weary and generally lost.

The thing is, I know my husband feels like this too. And I don’t think I can blame that on the Lucrin.


If some of this strikes a chord with you, would you consider leaving a comment?

How did stress manifest for you? How did you cope? Or not.

I would really like to hear your thoughts on the stress surrounding infertility.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Letter To A Fourteen Month Old Beachcomber

Darling Tricky

The day you turned 14 months old was the day your father and I celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary, two days after we celebrated our 13th year together. We had champagne with your grandparents who are visiting us from Western Australia, which was not the most romantic way to spend an anniversary perhaps (the champagne was lovely) but was still enjoyable.
This month you had a sort of brainwave thing happen because all of a sudden you seemed to be recognizing names and objects. You look in the right direction when we point objects out to you: car, ant, dog, trees, monkey, giraffe (Some of these objects are not native to the North Coast of NSW) and often you will make quite a good attempt at speaking their names: “car” “ann” “ahgh” “ghhg” “ahah” “ahhhh”.

Frankly it all goes a bit downhill after “ant” but nevermind, you have other skills, like your fluency in Clicking Beetle language which continues unabated.

Eating is something you continue to excel at, along with filling your nappy to the brink of explosion. Your sleep routine is settling pretty well. These days (sudden frantic knocking on wood) you have a nap around 11am which may go for two hours and at night you sleep till around 4.30am when you wake for a quick feed and then back to sleep till 6am. Apparently once, long ago, you slept in till 8am. It seems as unreal as the thought that once, in another lifetime, your father and I sometimes slept in till 10am. I know! Crazy!

Just on the nursing, an odd behavioural quirk has emerged here. It seems you currently prefer to feed sitting up. Vertically if possible and with both breasts available at any time. (It’s the sort of access your father can only dream about.) No longer the discreet first one boob and then the other, it’s both or the highway. I don’t know what this is about but your frequent bobbing from left to right makes me laugh, even at five in the morning.

When we ask you if you would like a story your face lights up and you scan the pile of books we have with us to see what takes your fancy. This month we are back on that old fave “Commotion In The Ocean” (with all its scandalous aquatic untruths) as well as it’s literary twin “Rumble In The Jungle”. This time round you can say “shark!” when we get to the appropriate page (well alright it’s “arrrr” but you say it with ferocious intent).
The Mr Men books are also starting to make an appearance although I admit to some judicious abridgement. I’m a big fan of the English twittery wryly-humourous and somewhat pedantic style but not so much for this age group. Maybe next month.

You seem taller, even thinner, which I assume is because you are walking all over the place (for “walking” read careering about in a perilous manner which often leads to crashing, toppling, tripping and various other uncontrolled impact type events). But then again that could just be Mad Fond Mother At Large.
At least your father is exactly the same. Yesterday I overheard him haranguing Papa and Gramma about the mental brilliance you recently displayed down at the beach. From what I could gather you walked over and tried to pick up your bucket in one hand (ambitious little minx you!) and when that failed you reached across with your spade and pushed the bucket into an upright position, and then you picked it up. Papa and Gramma wisely nodded and agreed, mmm yes, utter genius. I may have spoiled the moment by pointing out that it was just like a monkey using a stick to poke ants out of a nest.

There is a point that comes in some stories that I think of as The Flip Flop Moment. They’re unexpected. They’re not always welcome. There are certain song fragments that cause this effect, an emotional tuning of the body as if, in the playing of these chords, the resonance echoes through the very chambers of your heart.
These happen in films too, moments where tears suddenly spring to your eyes, where you find yourself catching your breath, where you realize that in the space of a second your mortality, your tears, your hopes, your childhood dreams, urges, yearnings, are unpeeled and laid bare. Like a camera flash illuminating the dark corners of your soul.

In that moment, in that pin prick of life, it is as if the world is suddenly shown as it is, so that you feel in sync with every person in the room or the cinema or the theatre and you can see all the possibilities, the worth and the weight, of all the unfashionable attitudes: compassion, mercy, unselfishness, nurturing, and how much more beautiful the world is because of these things.

All this is different for different people, different layers of memory and experience built up and polished every which way.
And all this I felt this morning when I walked down to the beach to meet you and your father.
It took me a while before I realised that dotted through all the footprints of all the early morning walkers, I could see yours. Weeny little feet, tiny toes. Delicate as a bird’s, chaotic and erratic, threaded round the heavy wide footed prints of your father’s.

From far away I saw you, standing by the water's edge. I could just make our your tiny form crouching by your father, both in blue, both wearing hats, both bent over examining something on the sand. I walked on towards you, thinking how nice it was to see the sun, how clear the water, how bright the sky. I was aware of you both but not really, not intently.
When I was still a little way away, I realised that you were both looking up at me and your father let go of your hand. You ran towards me, your arms outstretched.
It caught me by surprise, this.

Your thin brown arms and legs, the bright blue of your sun suit, the damp brim of your hat, the gappy grin and those bright dark eyes fixed upon me. Your strength and your fragility, your resilience and your vulnerability, your capacity for love and for pain and for all that life has to give you were there in those tiny running steps from your father to me.
A great wave of love hit hard at me. I gasped in and sighed out, with the shock of it.

It caught me by surprise, and by the heart, and by the soul and by the pit of my stomach, my baby boy in blue, so that I dropped my bag in the sand and ran to you, laughing, crying, scooping you up and feeling your small wet sandy arms clutch me to you.

Thankyou for this month my darling.
Your Very Own

Friday, September 14, 2007

Lift Off 2

The Newcastle launch was held at Macleans Books in Hamilton. It was fun, it was full and the weather was nice. I did manage to bring a pen this time but it was a stupid big fat blue biro. For some reason the petite, sophisticated black pen I had carefully packed into my handbag failed to materialize at the crucial time.

It was an odd feeling standing on my little stool (no pulpit) and reading to the crowd. There were family members there, friends new and old and nodding acquaintances. It was one of those strange situations where you assume you must know everyone present and if someone appears unfamiliar then it’s because you are suffering temporary insanity. Thus I spent a goodly amount of time nodding and smiling at one woman and racking my brain to recall who she was before finally realizing that in fact it was fine not to remember her name because we had never actually met.

Some of these people I had not seen in over twenty years.
One was a girl from my art class. Our entire friendship had been based on our shared love of a) Princess Diana (we saw her when she visited the RAAF base and spent many a conversation worrying over how thin she looked and what a ghastly shade of pink she was wearing) and b) guinea pigs. Now here she was, holding my book, laughing at my shocked expression when she walked through the door.
Two of my high school teachers were also present.

I am a big big fan of teachers, two of my favourite blogs belong to high school teachers Dramalish and Spanglish. Being an airforce brat, I managed to sample a number of schools during my years of education. It makes me shudder to think about the directions my life could have taken me if I had finished my education at Students-Must-Be-Pigeonholed-And-Quickly High School or St Destroy-All-Self-Expression Catholic Ladies College.

Instead I ended up a semi rural public school half an hour’s drive from Newcastle. Truthfully there were some unattractive features of this school but I was lucky enough to have some great teachers. My English teacher, for instance, who taught me for four years. She encouraged me, she inspired me and where necessary she slapped me over the head with the Stop Being A Lazy Cow And Hand In Your Work Now stick.
It’s because of her (and the feisty director of the University of Newcastle revues, and the artistic director of the first professional theatre company I ever worked for) that I started writing and then kept going. These people were all at the book launch (the artistic director, now the executive director of the Hunter Writers Centre, was the MC) and it was a very satisfying moment to be able to thank them publicly.

It all seems a long way away when I watch my baby totter along the sand (we're still at the Beach Shack) but I wonder what school education will be like for him, and whether he will be lucky enough to find teachers and mentors along his journey who were as good as mine.

During the signing bit of the launch one of my ex-teachers passed me a book. I picked it up and paused.

Unlike my English teacher, the last time I saw Mrs Modern History was probably on the last day of my exams. ‘I um...I can't write "Mrs Modern History' I said.

She laughed and told me her first name and so, with a flourish of my big fat blue biro, I signed her book.

It wasn’t the sophisticated petite black pen I had envisaged, but the words, I realised, were still the same.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Lift Off

A rainy night and a city full of visiting APEC delegates couldn’t keep a warm and very lovely audience away from Shearers bookstore and (hoopla!) the launch of my book!

(Actually it did keep some folk away but that just meant MORE WINE for the rest of us.)

C and I (with Tricky in tow) arrived to find one window full of pastel blue books, each featuring a pair of thin white legs kicking away in a jaunty Dildo-Cam Be Damned manner.

“Ooh look,” said C excitedly as we walked through the door.
“ Mmm yes,” I said, and swallowed back a tiny bit of sick.

Cunningly, part of the bookshop seemed to have been custom built for launches and/or hellfire sermons to the Quivering Brethren (ala Uncle Amos of Cold Comfort Farm fame). In one corner, looming over the masses was a pulpit type contraption that featured a microphone and quite possibly a glow in the dark crucifix.

From here ABC Radio’s James Valentine peered down at the audience, thumped his fist a couple of times and launched the book in true JV style- a blend of the very arch, the very funny and the slightly perplexed, with occasional use of the word “speculum”, whilst I skulked ‘back stage’ deep breathing and pondering the fate of all those books I could see stacked up behind the pulpit.

When it was my turn I wobbled out my thank you speech and then read my Amusing Snippet for the crowd. Proper writers must be very tall people I have decided. I spent most of the reading on my tippee toes so I could actually see over the top of the pulpit. A great many warm and friendly faces smiled back when I did so, including three Naughty Nephews who had shot their arms immediately into the air when James asked if anyone in the audience knew that they appeared in the book.

After this, I did that book signing malarky. What an odd thing. Firstly because I was herded through the shop, sat down at a little table and lent a pen (because of course I didn’t have one on me. Pen? What? Why? Oh.) and secondly because people then lined before me in an orderly manner clutching my book.

Looking down the line all I could see were multiple pairs of kicking white legs. It was like some strangely surreal cancan number.

And then the signing thing. What does one write? And why hadn’t I thought properly about this before. Which page should I pick? And on it went… in the first moments, people presented their books to me, people I knew and loved and still I stared at them blankly until they gently reminded me of their names.
Even then, I was a mess. “Suzie….?” I gulped, as if this was the most bizarre and extraordinary name I had ever come across… “is that um with an ‘s’?”
This, with a woman I am friends with, I have shared playwriting prizes with, attended theatre workshops with, exchanged numerous emails with - all beginning (remarkably enough) with the words “Dear Suzie….”

I blame it on the bright lights. And the sicky in the stomach feeling. Also the wine, even though I didn’t drink anything other than water till all Writerly Duties were complete.
And this week I do it all again, in Newcastle. At least this time I’ll know to have a pen.
PS I fear that there is No Launch For Melboune. I KNOW! Outrageous! Will confirm this with Powers That Be but in my heart I know this to be the case...

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Once Was Wireless

ARRGGH! This is the sound of someone tearing out their hair after a full month of dial-up. What kind of third world banana republic do I live in? How can I blog freely and easily when I have to unclip the thing from the phone, stick it in the thing hole in the side of my computer and then wait for a connection to be made? There are toddlers to be chased. Interviews to do. Toddlers to be chased etc etc.

This means that many moons have passed since I last wrote (including that freaky red lunar eclipse) and a multitude of small yet bloggable events have occurred most of which have slipped porridge-like through my fingers.

But, basically....


Sandals? Wrong, all wrong.

Tiny baby feet that have begun to take cute tottery little steps are soft and innocent and unformed. They must be shod not with hard-soled buckle on sandals but with similarly soft, innocent and unformed leather type booties that allow said little feet to develop naturally.

Tricky managed to wear his Evil Sandals for one day before we got the news about the squashy soft type shoe. C and I sat in a cafe for a full hour in a little town in the country and fretted about arch support and ugly spade like hobbit-feet before we realised that the cafe was next door to a hippie shoe shop. Hippie Lady in shop was all about releasing and unfettering the feet and cloaking them only in soft unformed leather shoelets. I believe she may hold similar attitude towards bosoms.


The difference between this year's Father's day and last year's was all in the shopping. Tricky was with me during the crucial five minutes I had to dash into a bookshop while C was getting ready for a presentation in town.

Unsurprisingly, as a 13 month toddler, Tricky is a wee tad heavy as compared to last year's morsel of scrawny baby goodness. Also he wanted to try out his new soft unfettered-foot shoes. Sadly this meant he was inspired similarly to unfetter all the books in the book store.
Bad shelves. Bad nasty restrictive shelves. Be free, humourous travel book! Take wing, o witty volume of domestic poetry.

The upshot of all this tottering and snatching at shelves and me oopsing and reshelving was that I had to carry him in one arm as I made my dash from book to card to till. I thought about this late on the night before Father's day as I spent valuable Minutes That Could Be Sleeping measuring and cutting down the Father's day card I had bought because I had inadvertantly picked up the stupid buggery bum wrong size envelope.


I have done a few interviews for the book now and I think that possibility I'm getting the hang of it.

For instance I have now learned that when one laughs ironically about those far off days of free love when your biggest fear was, say, getting pregnant, one should not in the same breath refer to highschool. Then, when one notes the slightly aghast expression on radio interviewer's face, one should not compound one's blunder by saying hastily: "actually when I said highschool, what I actually meant was university or my early twenties," and then follow this unconvincing bit of bollocks up by hysterical nervous laughter.

Tonight is the Sydney launch and I have to say, I feel a bit sort of... nervous. There's been a lot of good feedback and some very kind emails and comments so, you know, fingers crossed...