I opened my eyes. It was quarter past eight in the morning and the buzzing of my alarm that had been going off every 10 minutes had finally got the better of me. I need to get out of that habit; the snooze button is my best friend, much to my husband’s annoyance. The alarm instantly wakes him and unlike me, he struggles to get back to sleep. I am quite capable of pulling the duvet over my head and dozing back into a deep snooze within minutes, drifting away into a world without any worries, without any reality at all. The sun was just rising, a ray of light sneaking into the room through the smallest of gaps in the curtains. I picked up my phone and staring at me was ‘2nd December 2020’. Instantly, all I wanted to do was pull that duvet back over my head, turn off my phone and call it a day.
40 weeks ago, we had vastly different hopes for today. We excitedly emailed our fertility clinic to let them know I was menstruating; it was time to give IVF another shot. My medication was chilling in the fridge and I spent every spare moment watching YouTube videos to make sure I knew what I was doing. Our first cycle, just months before, had failed miserably. Unfortunately, despite being able to fertilise, our embryos have never been particularly good quality and our first cycle ended with no embryos making it to the transfer. We had put thousands of pounds on the table, ready to gamble – red or black – but the table collapsed before we could even try.
This time we were trying different medication. I had lost weight, I had been taking all the recommended supplements and we were ready to try again. We were both hopeful and optimistic, but the reality of the traumatic first cycle was still sitting at the forefront of our minds.
Our second cycle wasn’t without its hiccups; the consultant located a cyst on my ovary, and I was encouraged to discuss cancelling the cycle with my husband. We weighed up our options and decided to carry on, and we were so glad that we did. With 10 eggs retrieved and 5 fertilised, we felt like it might finally be our time. By transfer day, we only had one embryo left – an ‘early blastocyst’. An early blastocyst effectively means that it was a slow growing embryo. By day 5 it should start to hatch, which makes it a blastocyst as opposed to an embryo, but in our case, it was growing a little bit too slowly. The embryologist made the decision to transfer; it may be more comfortable in the ‘natural habitat’ and develop better in my womb. We were painfully aware of how slim the chances were, but we had reached this point. It was progress, it was a step further than the last, and whilst it might have been slim, the chance did exist. Our darling little dot was inside my womb; this tiny accumulation of cells, a mixture of my husband and I, and on the 2nd December 2020 could be due to make an entrance Earth side.
I will never forget the look on my husband’s face when I told him the test was negative. We sat on our bed with the test face down on the windowsill, nervously anticipating the result. My symptoms had dropped off days prior to the test; I think really, I already knew. I had spent the ten days between our transfer and test day trying to keep myself as busy as possible. I painted every surface I possibly could, from the bannister to the bedroom wall to the wardrobe. I read books I had been buying and never started, I started cross-stitching again for the first time since I was a child, but more than anything I spent the days partaking in self-torture. I would browse the internet for nursery inspiration, for maternity clothes and baby names; it was the equivalent to being lactose intolerant and spending the day sat in a chocolate factory – you really shouldn’t taste it, but you will anyway, knowing full well you’ll pay the price later. I might have been mad, but it gave me an element of hope for just a minute. Seeing the words ‘NOT PREGNANT’ starting back at me made me feel like nothing but a fool, how stupid I had been to let myself believe it could work. I felt empty, I felt hollow, and I felt like my status as a barren woman had been nothing but amplified.
Infertility is full of milestones: the first bleed; the first injection; each and every scan; the egg collection; every single call from the embryologist; the transfer, and every day during the two week wait until the test. After the test you’re faced with another set of milestones – the pregnancy milestones, or the ‘could have been, would have been’. For us, it was the could have been, would have been.
It would have been our 7-week scan.
It would have been our 12-week scan.
We would have been announcing our pregnancy.
We would be finding out the gender.
It would have been his last childless Father’s Day.
It would have been my last childless birthday.
It would have been our due date, 2nd December 2020, and for me that stings the most.
Turning on my laptop for another day at work, I’m reminded of the fact I would have been on maternity leave. Instead of calling clients and making my way through a case load, I would be making my way through labour inducing activities, I’d be ordering a curry and eating whatever food my body wanted, instead of starting tablets that make me feel so ill to try and regulate my insulin levels, manage my PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) symptoms, and in turn increase my chances of a successful third round. I’d be frantically checking the hospital bag had everything it needed, instead of checking the bank accounts to make sure we were on track for cycle 3 savings.
For the most part, I can carry on with the hope that one day it will be our turn. Whilst it is always in the back of my mind that it may never work, there is still an element of hope. Luckily, not every day is a due date, but days like today absolutely floor me. They remind me of how much we have been through and how much we are yet to go through before we have what most people get so easily. They remind me of how slim the chances are each time, and how the more cycles we have, the less likely it is to work. And whilst the due dates are few and far between, it fills me with dread to think there is a possibility that one day, there may be more than two to fill our years with.
All we can do is hope that one day, the due date comes with a baby.
For now, they are reminders of our little dots that didn’t make it and the due date that never came.