Monday, January 31, 2005

The Furtive Infertile: Notes from under a desk

Today, just as I had stuffed a much-needed, oversized hunk of chocolate into my mouth, the phone rang. It was the clinic. Really, their timing is uncanny.

"Hello, this is Mareighsgana Marmarmar," I garbled, strangling on my tongue and half chewed chocolate.

"You phoned us?" said the stern voice on the other end. There was a long, deathly pause. OK, obviously even though I had left a detailed message earlier, they were going to make me repeat the whole thing. Again. At my desk. At work. In my open plan office.

So I crawled under the desk and barricaded myself in behind some files and my gym bag.

"I was just wondering when we were going to get our letter confirming our appointment. We were referred, or supposed to be referred, by Dr Ticktock at the end of December, and we still haven't heard anything" I said quietly.

"Referred to where?" said Ms Sternietty Stern.

I felt like reaching through the phone and giving her a sharp neat slap. Firstly, I said 'where' in the message I left earlier. The message I had left in the privacy of my own home this morning. Secondly, I mean, where do ya think? Where does Dr TickTock usually refer people? Referred to Paris, France? Referred to Mars? Referred UP YOUR ASS?

"The um, Assisted Conception Unit," I whispered.

"Where? I couldn't hear you," Sternietty Stern barked.

"The Assisted Conception Unit," I repeated at normal volume, furtively glancing around to see if anyone was paying attention. Fortunately, most of the staff were huddled around a colleague's desk on the other side of the room cooing over baby pictures, so the coast was more or less clear.

"I'll transfer you," she grumbled, while I contemplated whether the phone line was long enough to turn into a noose, and if the filing shelves would stand up to the weight of my swinging body.

The Ass Con people were slightly nicer. I say "slightly" in the way that I find shots in my left arm slightly better than in my left buttock. She informed me that the letter confirming the appointment was on its way "sometime next week". Or you know, maybe Christmas. And that appointment would probably be for the end of March. Or possibly Christmas.

"Or it could be April," she chirped gaily. "Oh, and don't forget, the waiting list for IVF for fee-paying clients is at least six months. Or you know, longer!" Like around Christmas.

I wanted to ask about how we go about teeing up an IUI, but then all of a sudden half the office seemed to find a reason to stand in my immediate vicinity, so I gave up.

It's suddenly looking like a good idea to pursue private treatment in the Other City, or at least to gauge whether the waiting times are comparable. In a way that might be no bad thing. I've spent the last couple weeks in data-gathering mode about options - that is, for treatment and/or adoption, and am about ready to post my findings thus far. So I might as well fill in the jigsaw as best and fully as I can. Even if that entails more phone calls conducted in hushed, furtive tones.

"Mare?" I heard a voice from above, and looked out to see a pair of nicely polished shoes. It was my boss. "The meeting is about to start. Can I ask why you are under your desk?"

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Have a slice of controversy with a portion of ethics du jour

Somehow, this news slipped under my radar, probably because it issued when I was thrumming with hormones and crying in the middle of the office. But I was rummaging around online the other day when I came across this which reports the following:

"The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) are launching a wide public consultation into how clinics should protect the interests of children born through fertility treatment. Under new consultation Infertile couples could face routine criminal records checks before they are given treatment".

The consultation in question, snappily labeled ‘Tomorrow’s Children’ can be found here. I urge anyone living in Britain affected by fertility issues to read and respond to the questionnaire. The consultation paper focuses on three main areas:

• The kind of enquiries to be made of prospective parents – whether medical or social and which other professionals (i.e. social services agencies or the police) should be involved.
• The factors to be taken into account in the assessment – whether these should include medical, physical, psychological risks and social factors.
• Whether patients undergoing different kinds of treatment need different assessment and information – such as people using donor conception.

Suzi Leather, (the deliciously named Chair of HFEA), has said: “The law sets out the important principle that, before any treatment is given, clinics must consider the welfare of any child who may be born as a result. Our job as the sector’s regulator is to ensure that this is delivered in practice. There must be a reasonable, proportionate, fair and practical system that delivers an appropriate level of protection for children without unjustifiably hindering the treatment of people who need medical help in having a child."

Having read the consultation paper, my first point is that much of the news reportage of the issue has somewhat unfairly focused on the rather sexy angle of CRIMNAL CHECKS! FOR INFERTILE COUPLES! It should also be recognised that HFEA are talking about revisions to a Code of Practice rather than a change to the law. And at the moment, some assessment of medical, physical, psychological and social factors already takes place (or is meant to) prior to treatment. So in some ways, the consultation opens up the possibility for relaxing the current code.

However, the bottom line is that what the current consultaton throws into sharp relief is a key question: namely to what extent should infertile couples who require medical assistance to reproduce be treated differently than couples who conceive naturally?

I should start by saying that I view anything that HFEA says with a certain amount of wariness, primarily because I inherently distrust an organisation comprised of unelected representatives holding themselves out to be an ethical regulator and "fertility watchdog".

My views on the consultation proposals are this: On balance, I think that the legal requirement to take into account the welfare of any child born as a result of assisted conception should be generally be limited to questions of medical risk to the child to be born. I think that any further routine "social enquiries" involving any third party/agencies takes us into into dangerous territory, a tenuous ethical landscape where external value judgements and assumptions assume a crucial yet dubious importance. I think it's a slippery slope that has potential to give even more authority over a couple's family building choices to physicians and clinicians, who in some cases already have far too much power over the process, in my opinion.

I can fully apprecate the arguments that it would be preferable if drug addicted, child-abusing psychopaths did not become parents via IVF. Moreover I can see a thorny ethical issue in a scenario arising where a patient seeking IVF, apart from any obvious medical risk to the child, appeared to all concerned to be a wholly unsuitable candidate for parenthood. For that reason, I think there probably should be scope to make additional enquiries in exceptional cases where there is a clear and justifiable reason to do so. But even that makes me a little uncomfortable-because how do we define what is a clear reason? Who gets to decide if a certain factor is a "problem"?

Furthermore the whole issue generally makes me grapple with how we go about evaluating the welfare of the child - a child that is not yet in existence and may never come into existence. How do we fully and properly assess a future scenario that may never come to be?

What HFEA seem to recognise is that at present it can be very hard to to ascertain in all cases if there is a "problem" and if so how is that issue explored or resolved is a bit of a grey area. The consultation paper talks about using a patient questionnaire. But they also recognise that, cunningly, people with a potential problem which might preclude them from receiving treament might lie on such a questionnaire. At the moment some clinics make enquiries to GPs, but of course in many cases, a GP is really not going to be in a position to give any sort of meaningful evaluation of fitness to be a parent. I mean, I have met my GP maybe 5 times. Which leaves talking to a social worker, or the police.

The problem is that takes us from one end of the spectrum (not many checks) to the other (criminal records search, for example). Anything in the middle risk is fairly unsatisfactory, in that it risks pissing off potential patients (who frankly, are usually feeling vulnerable enough as it is) while failing to really ensure any problems are caught.

Findings on the use of the current "welfare of the child" assessment guidance indicate that patients are rarely refused treatment, suggesting that any benefit of the present system is disproportionate to the time and resource required to carry out the checks. I'm guessing that has a lot to do with the fact that most people who reach the point of seeking assisted conception have already thought long and hard about parenthood, have already undergone a certain amount of intrusive and painful interventions, have already made difficult decisions about family building.

But leaving aside all the ethical dilemmas, I have to say that on an emotive level I simply find the whole notion that infertile couples should have to contemplate the possibility of additional hurdles, such as an interview with a social worker, or a criminal record check to be repugnant, invasive, and downright creepy. I cannot even begin to imagine how upsetting and stressful it would be to sit in the waiting room, knowing that not only will your physical body be wide open for all to see, but wondering if they are going find anything else which will prevent you from receiving treatment.

It also may a knee-jerk reaction but all I can think if IVF candidates are required to routinely undergo detailed checks, then who's checking the parents who conceive naturally? The people who in some cases conceive carelessly and thoughtlessly? Or who make reproductive choices as private decisions, and subsequently parent without being subjected to any sort of assessment whatsoever? HFEA's rationale on that point seems to be that once a person requires the intervention of third parties, such as medical staff, then this does put people on a different footing, one more akin to adoption. So really, if ever there was a practice designed to further widen the gulf between the experience of the bountiful uber-fertile and the bitter isolated infertile, this is it.

I'd really, really appreciate comments on this, which may help me to finalise my opinion and articulate my views to HFEA when I come to respond to the questionnaire. I'm also very interested in what goes on in other countries- for example, is there any form of check in the States prior to commencing treatment? If so, how do you feel about that?

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Take a number. Get in line.

I have, in my own quiet way, started taking a few tentative steps toward getting political about the issue of fertility treatment in this country. I would describe my recent efforts as baby-steps in that direction, but oh! The sweet sweet irony!

Even though I'm not still yet fully subsumed into the ART vortex, I feel as though I could write the first chapters of an entire book about the perils and pitfalls of negotiating fertility treatment on the National Health Service in Scotland. But I fear that would bore most of you rigid, and how can I blame you? Let's face it, I wouldn't be particularly intrigued about the finer points of socialised medicine either, were it not a matter I must confront on a seemingly daily basis.

Put briefly, the deal is this. In Scotland, the amount of funding for fertility treatment in each area is up to each local health board. And, for most areas, the policy is that for qualifying couples, up to three IVF cycles will be paid for by the NHS. The catch? One of the criteria to qualify is that the woman must be 38 or under. That doesn't sound so bad on the face of it, but factor in the waiting lists are currently now hovering at 3 to 4 years minimum, it basically means that if you haven't gotten started by the time you are 34, you're already screwed.

It doesn't mean that IVF is not available for women over 38. It is- but most clinics require it to be paid for out of pocket. Bottom line- there is no money and no resource to fund widely available NHS treatment. In other words, if you can afford it, you pay for it. If you can't, you remain untreated and childless.

And when people shake their heads and demand to know why it should be any other way, why IVF should be "free" to couples in need of treatment, I want to beat them about the head with the arm I rip off their body. I've discussed this briefly before, but the difference is now the subject irritates me intensely. It's not fucking "free", OK? Not for me anyway, the taxpayer.

Anyway, in light of all the high pitched wailing that now emits from Minsterial offices on high whenever there is a mention of the dreaded "population" crisis, somebody somewhere has suddenly woken up to the fact that there are plenty of people who would very much like to do their bit for the census statistics, if given half a chance. What's stopping them in many cases? IVF waiting lists. Cut off age of 38.

So now there's some talk about possibly raising the age limit for treatment to 40. What a revelation, a bolt from the blue! As I read of this in one of the local newspaper- a parochial pile of crap that frequently distorts and slants just about everything it touches- I spotted the name of a certain politician who apparently is working for campaigning for better fertility services in Scotland.

I e-mailed her with my views and some of our history. Among other things, I explained that for an infertile couple, the waiting times and expense don't begin at the stage of IVF- that there is plenty of aggravation and cost the minute you step onto the diagnostic path. Example- need an HSG before you can be eligible for IVF? Choice: Wait seven months, or pay £500. Seven months, which bearing in mind the IVF waiting lists and the age limits, may just be the nail in your ART coffin before you have even begun.

The response was immediate- yes, she was working on change. Yes, it was helpful to know of our experiences. Yes, she would take it forward-and could she speak to my doctor to get more insight into the processes? So I gave her Dr Ticktock's name. A week or so later she e-mailed me back to say she had left the doctor a message, and was still waiting to hear back from him.

To which I thought, "Oh, sister. Welcome to my world. Take a number. Get in line."

Monday, January 24, 2005

Waiting for Vizzini

"I'm waiting for you, Vizzini -- you told me to go back to the beginning and so I have. And this is where I am and this is where I'll stay. I will not be moved."

"....when a job went wrong, you went back to the beginning. Well, this is where we got the job so it's the beginning and I'm staying till Vizzini comes. "

Inigo from The Princess Bride*

I once shared a house with a woman who had an entire living room wall filled with self help books. Her life was a a bit of mess, particularly on the relationship front, and she probably needed all the help she could get. You know the type of book- "How to Love Men who Can't Commit to Loving Women who Love Themselves Too Much".

At that stage in my life, I myself was dating a lot and, as it happens, getting dumped a lot. So I confess I also used to make frequent reference to these guides on how to improve my self-esteem, my self confidence, my self worth, my inner smile, be my own best friend, learn to let go, and above all, to move beyond the COMFORT ZONE.

Ah, the Comfort Zone. In a nutshell, the concept that people have certain aspects of life that we are simply used to, and in which we feel safe. Even if change or progression might be a good thing, getting there requires breaking free of the normal safe patterns.

When we decided to try for the three more months before moving to medical treatment, I felt enormous relief. I was going to put in every effort, all those tips and tricks hoarded up like pirate's gold over the last year and half. I hauled out the thermometer again, and renewed my zeal for evening primrose oil and green tea. We promised each other we would not just "babydance" (that horrid phrase), but get down and baby-DISCO, if that's what it takes.

But it has occured to me, as we throw down the gauntlet on yet another cycle, that I remain in familiar waters, old terrain. I know this path so well by now. What was once was an exciting adventure is now rote and mechanistic. So I chart my temperatures' tides. I monitor the secret secretions. And X marks the spot where we dig for buried treasure each night. But I am just repeating the same old story over and over again- there is no suspense now.

Each time we come up empty handed, but not entirely surprised. But it almost doesn't matter anymore if we are trapped, walking in circles in the maze, because at least as long as we remain here, we know there is nothing around the next corner that can bite us. Even if that means there is also nothing around the next corner for us to love.

I am in the TTC Comfort Zone. Moving out of that, to something else- be that drugs, needles, IUI, IVF- is to step off the map. To enter a part of the maze where we have never been, and where the cloud of possible disappointments seem to cast a longer shadow. And once we head off in that direction, I am not sure there is ever a way back.

Strangely, I feel as long as I stick to the road and stay off the moors, I can somehow better take the pain of each monthly failure. I can hang on to the hope, however misguided, that it will one day just happen. But I am not sure whether I will be able to bear it if we attempt medical intervention, and it fails. I really don't. Because then the problem becomes real, in a way I only acknowledge to myself in the darkest moments. Because even after these months of thinking and writing and talking about infertility, you know what? There is a huge part of me that still cannot believe this is happening. To me. To us. It wasn't supposed to turn out like this. I never signed up for this. In fact, fuck this altogether.

I know that soon, it will be time to be brave. That I cannot stay in this place much longer. The maze which leads us nowhere has become a prison rather than a safe haven. I know I must take a deep breathe, and gather every scrap of courage and strength to move to the next stage.

But for the moment, I'm back at the beginning. I will not be moved. I am waiting for Vizzini. I am waiting for something that may never come.

*With thanks to Moogielou for the loan of a theme.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Hot off the Presses

We have a busy weekend lined up here. The delightful plans include taking apart the tiled bathroom wall to get at the leak which has emerged in the last week, pooling water in a stealthy stream all over the carpet, creating a grim fusty smell. Good thing we were planning on ripping out the carpet anyway, since we were always a bit perturbed that the previous owner had seen fit to install it, instead of tile on the bathroom floor.

But it will almost certainly make a big mess, and involve a fair bit of vexed shouting and throwing of tools around the room. The only consolation is that E. is really rather cute when he engages in these manly chores (plus he tends to wear those sexy old jeans that I love). And I like watching the flexing of his biceps when he wields the wrench in that certain way. Oooh and yum.

Anyway, since I am likely to be too busy to blog at length while all this is going on, if you're looking for something different to read, may I suggest that you stop by and say hello or welcome at some of the newer blogs on the block. These are just a few that have I recently encountered and am enjoying:

Within the Woods

Many A Mile to Go


The brand-spanking new Fertilely Challenged

And finally, a wonderful new male voice to add to the collection, Baby Hungry Man.

Now, hand me that power drill.


So, we spent most of the afternoon prising the wall apart, including resorting to sawing off part of the built-in cabinet to get at the leak. Trust me, there was no other way.

Eventually E., in a display of Herculean manliness, tore off the entire tiled panel. It was very thrilling to witness! There we discovered a series of three small holes in the water waste pipe. Basically, in the process of drilling the screws into the wall to hold the tile panel in place, the builders managed to penetrate right through the pipe. Three times. Tomorrow, the digital camera comes out and curt e-mail with photos to be sent to the developers.

Can life get any more exciting?

Thursday, January 20, 2005


And the result of this month's patented "Let's give trying au natural a try for just three more months before leaping on to ART Express Train to Hell" Plan?

BFN. No, let's make that BFFN- Big Fat Fucking Negative- because that's what it is. So...strike one.

On the upside, the aliens were clearly impressed with my laser death beam rays pointed directly at their home planet, because E. is being so sweet again. He's not really a "bouquet of flowers" kinda guy, but he did turn up tonight with a very nice bottle of wine and a take-away chicken curry. Plus spicy pakora treats.

Oh, and a bag of jelly babies. I forget if they have these in the States. Do you know of what I speak? They are a teeny bit like gummi bears in that they have a peculiar gelatinous type consistency, only slightly sweeter, and of course, shaped like fat little baby shaped people. I thought for a second this would make me cry, but then I ate a few, and started laughing.

We danced around the kitchen together while the food was re-heating. We ate with gusto. Then for the last hour we've been spooned up on the couch, drinking wine and biting the heads off the jelly babies one by one. And I had to sneak away for a minute just to reflect about this strange state in which we find ourselves suspended yet again. Happy and sad.

So happy and so sad.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Alien Brainsuckers Stole My Man!

Firstly, many thanks to all you blogging muffins for your kind comments. I can say- without exaggeration- that because of you, I had a reason to get out of bed the last two days.

I wish I could say that I am feeling lots better, but that would be somewhat untrue, since there is still a wee bit of drama going on here at the Barn. Actually, a lot of the drama is probably all in my head. Hard to tell, since I am so hormonal at the moment, like an electrical wire stripped bare. Listen, can you hear the synapses popping and crackling? I can assure you that I am normally as soft and fluffy as a little kitten. But- when I am in this frame of mind- I will quite happily, and with very little provocation, rip someone a new one.

How unfortunate then that E. should pick this particular moment to allow himself to be kidnapped by alien brainsuckers. Because that can be the only possible explanation for the conversation we had last night on the phone.

[Editor's note For those of you who are just joining in, and wondering why I seem to spend so much time on the phone to E. the answer is here.]

By way of background to our conversation last night, I should explain that, given we have this three month interlude in which to give the au natural method one last college try, I've been quietly doing a little background research on adoption. I'll go into what I have learned about adoption in more detail in another post- but as to why I've been looking, well, there a couple reasons for this. Firstly, I am a "big picture" kind of girl, and I like to have a sense of how all the various processes & options hang together. And I am aware that the adoption procedure in this country can have a very long lead-time, plus there are other scary factors like age limits and the requirement to be married.

Secondly, I must confess to suddenly having major qualms about leaping on the ART Express Line to Hell. Again, more on that another time. But I can tell you that my current state of mind is saying not "bring on the drugs", but rather "oh, fuck that noise". In light of that, I think it no bad thing to begin to at least get a handle of some of the fundamentals of adoption here.

Anyyway, I mentioned to E. on the phone last night that I've been in touch with an agency, and that I'd like to explore the adoption option.

"I think we should try medical treatment first," he said.

"Well, my fuzzy lambchop, I'm not saying no to that. But the problem is, as I understand it, we can't begin the adoption process if we are undergoing treatment. "

"I want us to have children of our own," he grumbled.

"But sweetie, an adopted baby WOULD be a baby of our own. Ours. We'd be a family."

"OK, well, then maybe we should sign up for adoption while we're doing the treatment,"

"Ah," I replied, "no can do, buckaroo. You can't get on the adoption preparation class (which has a one year waiting list at present) if you are undergoing treatment."

"How will they find out? They'll never know!" he said.

Ahem. I then pointed out to him that LYING on the application form is probably not a good way to begin. And I said I thought that it was more than likely that as part of the application process we would be required to show medical certificates, which would indicate that we had been diagnosed as infertile.

Ok. This is the part where I realised E. has been kidnapped by alien brainsuckers. Are you ready?

"We're not infertile!" he said.

"Excuse me?" I squawked, slopping my Tension Tamer tea all down my front. "The doctor diagnosed us as having unexplained infertility at our last appointment!"

" I never heard him say that, " E. snapped.

"Well, he DID. I don't know where you were at the time, but he told us..."

E. interrrupted me. "I don't want to have this conversation right now. This conversation has ended."

"Oh, I cannot fucking believe this," I raged. "You are honestly telling me that on Planet E., we're not infertile. That the diagnosis of unexplained infertility passed you by? Let me repeat that, IDIOPATHIC infertility. Are you in deep denial about all this, or just stupid?""

I carried on in that vein for about five full minutes. Before I realised I was talking to the air, and that he had hung up on me.

Oh. Oh. Oh. I cannot tell you how much I hate it when people hang up on me. So I phoned him back and spat tacks down the line at him for another two minutes, before he hung up on me again. Fucker. We did that two or three more times in quick succession until I gave up and stormed off to bed in a puff of smoke and thunderclap.

Hopefully, I will calm down by the time I see him, and will be able to negotiate a treaty with the aliens for E.'s swift restoration to me.

Monday, January 17, 2005


An Infertile's Rough Guide to having a Meltdown in the Workplace:

Step One: Attend a work team meeting in a crowded venue. Make sure that this meeting is held at the busiest time of day, with lots of high-up officials and other colleagues floating around. Make sure you sit yourself in a prominent location, say, at a table in the middle of the room.

Step Two: While waiting for meeting to begin, start eating muffin and drinking coffee. Try not to fret about whether too much caffeine might or might not affect your ability to get pregnant.

Step Three: Make space at table for first arrival, heavily pregnant colleague. Discuss while waiting for others what her maternity leave arrangements are going to be.

Step Four: Make space for second arrival, a colleague with two small kids. Discuss how she may have to be off work tomorrow because child is unwell.

Step Five: Make space for team leader, who finally arrives. As she sits down, team leader announces she has some news.

Step Six: Hear word "news", and suddenly find that hand holding coffee cup is shaking uncontrollably.

Step Seven: In the midst of squeals of delight from fellow colleagues at "news", find yourself bursting into raw, wet, wracking sobs, right there at the table. Bear in mind you are not a person who cries very often, and certainly not ever at work.

Step Eight: Sob hysterically for about five minutes. Gulp through tears that of course you are delighted for her, but you're finding it hard because everybody else is getting pregnant and no matter what you do, YOU CANNOT GET PREGNANT.

Step Nine: Realise you maybe vocalised that last part just a little bit louder than you had intended.

Step Ten: Despite eviscerating pain around heart, try to pull self together slightly. Crack weak joke about how "cathartic" that was. Try to paste numb smile on face as colleagues dispense further well-meaning assvice about "ovarian inhibition", and how you really just need to relax. As they remind you that really, young babies can be a real pain to look after, and maybe if you had one, you wouldn't find it was what you wanted after all.

Step Eleven: Obviously the fact that you have stopped crying means you're OK now, so colleagues can move on to discussing team leader's pregnancy. Has she had a 20 week ultrasound scan? No, they don't do those at the local hospital but you can pay to get one done privately. It costs £150, though. Gnaw upon now-shredded muffin, thinking bitterly of the £500 you spent on the HSG test. The thousands of ££ that the IUIs and IVF might end up costing you.

Step Twelve: Meeting over, stop off in ladies' room, to check damage to face. Wonder who let the panda into the ladies' room. Realise panda is you. Realise that from now on, you need to use the waterproof mascara every day.

Step Thirteen: Sit at desk and stare vacantly into space. Breathe. In through the nose, out through the mouth is usually good. Repeat, in through nose, out through mouth.

Step Fourteen: Speak to other sympathetic colleague who notices your fugue state. Explain meltdown. Feel slightly better when she understands problem. Feel better still when she offers you chocolate. Eat chocolate and then feel hysterical all over again.

Step Fifteen: Send emergency e-mail to blog friend who sends supportive message.

Step Sixteen: Remember, and take comfort from the fact that you are not alone. You are not alone.

[**Editor's end note: Comments very welcome as always but I'd really appreciate it if you didn't write harsh things about the aforementioned colleagues. They are, despite lacking certain insights into how it feels to be in my shoes, really good and kind people. And it's not even about them. ]

Saturday, January 15, 2005

The Right Stuff

A colleague has just become the proud grandmother of an "Oops" baby, and I am already utterly tired of hearing about it. I did my best to make all the right noises at the appropriate times when the news was announced. Of course, it's lovely for her, and she's thrilled and all that, but I really feel as if I have now used up my alloted amount of good will to others who effortlessly achieve what I cannot. I don't want to discuss the baby's name, or coo over pictures, or interrupt my insane work schedule to chat about the details of the birth.

I was grumbling quietly to E. about this on the phone the other night. And as usual, he doesn't get it. You know, why can't I be happy for her, isn't that a nice thing that has happened, blah fucking blah blah blah.

What is it with some men, I thought as I slammed the receiver down and went to investigate if there was any Christmas chocolate still stashed away at the back of the cupboards. Do they have some gene which overrides the jealousy emotion? Or do they lack the appropriate framework to enable them to emphasise fully with the situation?

As I rummaged through the boxes of old pasta noodles and rice cakes in the hunt for a leftover After Eight mint, it occured to me that it might help if I could give E. a working analogy of how I felt. An analogy framed in an appropriately manly sphere. Mmm, what do men get het up about? Careers, right? Competitiveness at work? At which point I had a thought.

Supposing you, Man, had a lifelong ambition to become an astronaut (a suitably macho pursuit, no?) Your whole life, you dreamed of rocket ships, outer space, and walking on the moon. The walls of your childhood bedroom are lined with posters of the solar system, of photographs of NASA launches. You beg your parents to send you to Space Camp. You read everything ever written about the space programme. You watch films like "The Right Stuff" and "Apollo 13" until you could quote the dialogue in your sleep. In the summertime, you lie on your back in the backyard of your house, watching the shooting stars.

You choose your college courses based on the ones most likely to help you get accepted as a NASA astronaut. You keep your hair cut short, nose clean and your collars buttoned high. You get top marks, and great recommendations. But even after working your ass off to get a pilot's license and a Ph.D in astrophysics, NASA still aren't quite sure about you. They offer you a job, but as a member of the astronaut support team. They tell you if you work really hard, and re-apply every month, they will one day let you become a fully fledged astronaut. You figure that it's better than nothing, a foot in the door. So you go for it. What have you got to lose?

You like the job well enough, since you get to be around real live astronauts. OK, so you mostly find yourself cleaning up after them, and doing all the grunt work to prepare for the missions. But at first, you don't mind. It's kind of interesting hearing their all their war stories of missions and spaceflights. All of that will come in handy when you yourself take to the stars! You have been applying faithfully every month, just as requested, and one day, the Board is bound to agree that it's your turn.

But the months go by, and you are continually rejected. You are beginning to be a bit puzzled, since on paper you are the ideal candidate. You make some discreet inquiries with Human Resources, and find out that there is no reason why you shouldn't be accepted as an astronaut. Hell, they think you have a great chance- just keep trying. Don't worry about it too much, it's bound to happen.

A couple years go by, and you're still a lowly support team member. Pretty soon you start to notice other people, newer people, being accepted onto the astronaut program. Some of them are less qualified than you. Some, in your opinion, are disasters waiting to happen. That new guy, he keeps on pushing the red button. Everybody knows you never push the red button!!! You become quietly baffled and confused.

Then one day, you are sitting in the locker room having just finished your shift picking up a pile of someone else's smelly flight socks. You reach in your pocket and open this month's envelope from the NASA Board. This time, they haven't even bothered being polite about it. All it says, in big black letters in the middle of the page is NO. The answer is NO.

You're about to crumple it up and throw it away when the door opens. One of the new astronauts comes in, back from the test flight you had hoped to be part of. He's a little drunk, and you wonder if he's been sipping that whiskey on the job again.

He flops down on the bench beside you, loudly complaining about another mission tomorrow. He had been hoping to get out of it, since he has a hot date with an airline stewardness tonight. He nudges you in the ribs as he says it, notices your rejection letter. Hey, what's that? Another big fat no? Ah, don't worry about it. Just relax, it'll happen one day. Hell, he got in on the first try. Although he wasn't sure if he even wanted to be an astronaut, cause the money is so much better in corporate finance. He'd love to quit, actually- hey, do you think you could cover for him if he doesn't show up tomorrow? Thanks, pal.

You sit there after he leaves, having thrown his helmet and suit in a crumpled heap on the floor. You suddenly realise the truth, that you may never get to where he is. Sure, there may be other great jobs for you, important, fulfilling jobs. But all you ever wanted in your whole life was to fly to the stars, orbit the earth, floating weightless.

All you ever wanted was to be an astronaut.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Dead in a ditch

One of the things that always makes my American friends fall about laughing is when I tell them that in this country, in order to watch TV, you need a license.

No, really. You do.

It costs about £120 a year, which is about $225 at today's exchange rate. This is mandatory. As in Not. Optional. If you own a TV, it is a criminal offence- yes, a crime, punishable by £1000 fine, not to have a license. And enforcement is taken seriously. If you have no license, the TV licensing authority actually send out special "detector vans" full of high tech NASA equipment, SWAT teams and sniffer dogs to scan your house to see if you are receiving airwaves- or maybe microwaving a pizza, who knows.

OK, so the vans are a bit of a joke, but they can also send out special TV inspectors to search your house. Even if you tell them you don't own a TV, they will think that you do, because TV is obviously as essential to daily life as say, a Starbucks grande latte and mini iPod. What right minded person would be without it? I mean, if you have no TV, you might miss an episode of Eastenders- heaven forfend!

And what does the license fee pay for, I hear you ask? One answer- the BBC.

Don't get me wrong, in many ways the BBC is a fine institution, with some quality programming shown without ad breaks. Do I want to pay £120 year to fund it? Um, no- I'd rather watch the ads, if that's what it takes. Ad breaks are good for dealing with those little mini chores, like making cups of tea and picking the lint off the sofa.

And the thing is- if you watch any other channel other than the BBC (which you can, if you paid your fee and are allowed to own a telly)- you have to watch the ads anyway. A lot of people feel quite vehement about the license thing, and there have been some test cases challenging it on human rights grounds. But with £3 billion of revenue at stake, the BBC is not inclined to give in very easily.

Still, it all becomes even more galling when you see some of the things on which the BBC spend the money. For example, the show I saw last night. I would say that words fail me, but then that would make the rest of this post very short, wouldn't it? So I will soldier on, and tell you that it was a programme about Trying to Conceive. Whoo hoo, my very favourite topic. The presenter was cast as a down-to-earth doctor, who seemed keen to demonstrate how very comfortable he was talking about SEX, which is how babies get made, dontcha know.

Oh, and they threw in a story about an infertile couple for good measure. They couldn't conceive! After months of trying! And so they had to do this thing called I-V-F. Where they give you some drugs (cue picture of some stacks of drugs), take out some eggs (cue shot of petri dish), fertilize the eggs (cue lab technician trying not to sneeze all over petri dish) and stick them back in the woman (cue shot of her sitting there looking a bit bewildered and tense).

Then comes the two week wait. Now remember, nooooo testing until the two weeks are up! (Cue shot of woman going into drugstore to buy test, then cut to her wandering into the bathroom to pick it up, longingly.) Never mind that almost every woman I know would be peeing on anything that comes within 10 yards of her person by that point. And hey presto! A Positive!

Cut to shot of woman relaying the result, evincing a show of enthusiasm equivalent to that usually displayed by inert objects, such wheels of Gouda cheese, or shoelaces.

But wait! It gets better! Cue shot of dildo cam (OK, it was kind of interesting to see that portrayed on TV), and guess what! Twins! Oh, the joy, the joy times two.

Having dispatched the infertile couple with such expediency left plenty of time for dispensing of crap, anedoctal evidence and advice. Sing it with me now- Go on holllliday, just rellllax. Cut to shot of hotel someplace sunny, interspersed with graphics of stress hormones swirling around the body.

But the last part absolutely took the biscuit. Apparently, working as a checkout girl at the supermarket chain ASDA can make you more fertile. Certain checkouts in different stores all over the country have a guaranteed pregnancy rate- one shop alone reported 50 births resulting from clerks sitting at one particular till station. Cut to shot of woman holding young son in said store. She was infertile! For 10 years! Until she took over checkout 15, and lo! Knocked up.

The explanation for this? Well, many years ago, before they paved paradise and put up a parking lot, a pregnant woman fell into a ditch and died in that very spot. So now anyone that sits there gets pregnant. Wow. Just imagine if she'd been suffering from something else, like constipation.

The programme ended with a reminder that really, the key to getting pregnant was to have lots of sex. Oh, and eat lots of fruit. And relax. And go sit in a spot where a pregnant woman has died in a ditch.

My license fee at work.....

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Shades of grey

Well, it would seem that last post didn't exactly light the heather on fire, did it? Never mind.

I've been typing so much at work the last two days that I think some sort of carpal tunnel syndrome is setting in. So this will be fairly brief.

This post by the lovely Bugs got me thinking about hair. Specifically, about finding my first grey hair about a month ago.

I've been, um, enhancing my natural hair colour with the aid of some, um, enhancers, for the last ten years. So it's safe to say that the real colour doesn't often see the light of day. But with all the traveling back in November/early December, there was a gap where the roots made a break for freedom. And the light in the bathrooms in my parents' house must be better than here, because there it was. A big grey hair, right at the front. I immediately did what any self-respecting hair color enhancer would do, and freaked the fuck out, while clawing at my scalp, wailing about my waning youth.

Oh, but wait, it gets worse. Because I couldn't help but notice yesterday, what with all the fossicking around that goes with cervical mucus analysis and charting, do I put this? There were clear indications that in terms of grey hairs, the carpets match the curtains.

A little Google action has revealed that the average Caucasian begins to go grey at 34. So, at least I am right on schedule with that one. Great.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Molasses in January

I got a letter today, dated 22 December, from my RE. He advised that my HSG report had shown up 10 minutes after we left the clinic (having up until then been delayed in the post). And that, surprise surprise, all was normal. I knew this already, but it was nice that he bothered to write to confirm it.

However. The date of the letter did give me pause. Even factoring in the postal service, and the various public holidays, there was a distinct sensation of the slow movement of pond water.

But then, I've come to expect this. Nothing gets done at speed in this country. After all these years, I have devised a theory as to why that should be so. It's not because Scottish people are lazy or lax by nature (apart from the lad who checked my groceries the other day- I've seen garden slugs with more energy). On the contrary, there are a great many hardworking and industrious little bees in this Caledonian hive.

No, the reason is that a large number of people in the workforce have a large number of annual paid vacation days. Not just the high heejuns or the head of company. No sirree, for your basic full-time employee, 25 days or five weeks is fairly standard. Plus public holidays like Christmas, New Year, and the odd jubilee for Queen Whasserface. It all averages out to be about six or seven weeks a year. And then you get other companies with flexi-time, so if you work more than your alloted hours per week, you can claim it back later on, at a time that suits you.

This, it has to be said, is a good thing about living here. Holiday time, at least in my place of business, is sacred. If you don't use all your many holidays, you get a large boss-shaped person chasing you around the desk with some suntan lotion and a floppy hat, screaming "GO ON VACATION!!!"

The irony is that this is the same person who will be shouting at you when you get back for not having the Aegean stables of backlog cleared in time. But hey, it's all about striving for the work/life balance.

The point is that in any given task, goal, or chore involving more than one person, there is a very high probability that at least one individual in the equation will be about to on holiday (and therefore too busy getting ready to go), on holiday (and therefore absent), or just back from holiday (and therefore too busy catching up). Add more than one person and it's absolutely inevitable.

For example, if I phone up to make an appointment with Dr Ticktock, I will almost certainly be told that he will skiing in Chamonix on the desired dates. Could I leave a message with the receptionist? Well, the main receptionist is presently sunning herself in Benidorm, but her lackey could pass on the request. And then when three weeks go by and I phone to yell at the lackey, it turns out she has headed off to Blackpool for a short break, forgetting to pass on my earlier request.

Finally somebody phones me back, only to get my answering machine- because I'm away on holiday in Florida/Amsterdam/Darkest Peru. By the time I return, Dr Ticktock is away again.

In short, I have realised that I need to take into account the "Molasses in January" factor in all my future planning and plotting of treatment scheduling. Even though that drives me crazy. Do you think it would be a bad idea if I asked all the medical staff to give me print outs of their 2005 calenders, with their holiday bookings marked up in red pencil? No? Too excessively controlling, I hear you say?

Tell me, because I would love to hear- do things move as slowly in your part of the world, and if so, how do you deal with it?

Friday, January 07, 2005

Love in a cold climate

When we're all done rocking around the Christmas tree, when we've removed our gay apparel and the boughs of holly are wilting over the mantelpiece, when we've cleaned up the last vestiges of empty champagne bottles and party hats, what are we left with? I'll tell you what.

Winter. Winter, in her grim glory. She has us now, wrapping her harsh wooly mitted fingers right around our necks, squeezing intermittenty, for the next few months.

You know that expression, "it's not the heat, it's the humidity"? Well, in this country, in winter, it's not the cold that gets to me most- even though that cold is a particularly nasty, wet, raw, seeping into the bones sort of chill. No. It's the dark. We wake up in the dark, go to work in the dark, come home in the dark. Once in awhile, on a brisk sunny day, we might get the odd pale ray of sunshine, but for the most part, it's like being in a cave. And after all the holiday lights come down, it's bleak.

I'm a fanatic about energy conservation-admittedly not because I have any aspirations to save the environment as such, although that would be nice, too. It's because our electric bills are so astronomically high. Especially when I am home alone, I feel compelled to turn off every light behind me, apart for one little bulb burning in the room. This is fine, except when I suddenly need to go to, say, the bathroom, down the darkened hall. Then I must make my way, groping for the lightswitch on the side of the wall. Unless I miss, and walk into the door as I did the other night. Great.

Of course, our home is also heated by electricity. E. and I wage a constant stealthy war at the thermostat. It's the battle between Heat Miser and Cold Miser. He likes to bask in his t-shirt in a balmy room, where I am firmly of the school that one should "Put a sweater on if you're chilly"! I spent all the winters of my childhood shivering by a great hulk of the old coal stove in the basement of my parents' house, since they didn't believe in using the electric heaters, either.

All of this cold and dark is something of a passion-killer, to say the least. Forget about rolling around like greased naked seal pups on a sheepskin rug in front of roaring fire. I want to put on my warmest pajamas, grab a hot water bottle, and crawl under the covers. To sleep until spring. Hibernation, not procreation.

That of course, is directly at odds with the Plan. For those of you just tuning in, a swift recap- we're going to shag like bunnies for the next three months, hope that this last ditch effort at getting pregnant works, failing which we go straight to IUI, do not pass Go, and certainly do not collect two hundred dollars (quite the opposite). However, the bunnies part of the equation hadn't reckoned on the factors like how offputting it is when your beloved hops into bed with feet that are LIKE ICE BLOCKS, dear God, get those away from me this instant. The bunnies part of it overlooked the fact that I am simply not at my alluring best when bundled up in enough layers to pass as a body double for the Michelin Man.

And still, we can but try. I can just about bear it, as long as I can keep my fuzzy socks on. I know it's not sexy, but then again, neither is hypothermia.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

How to lose sales and insult customers

I've known for some time that the market on stupid comments is not solely limited to infertility, adoption or miscarriage. It's just that I tend to be more alive to the verbal barbs which are hurtful to someone in my situation, my soft emotional underbelly more easily pierced by a thoughtless remark.

However, in the Not-Infertility Related Sphere, today someone said something so gobsmackingly idiotic to me that I just had to share.

What happened is this: some years ago I was given a hardbacked copy of the novel Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. Taking place in 1843, it's the story of a 16 year old Canadian servant girl imprisoned for the brutal murders of her employer and his mistress. I had started reading it, got sidetracked by something else, and had never returned to it until now. The main reason I had kept it was because I loved the cover, the UK hardback version being particularly attractive, and it looked so nice on the shelf. Yes, I am shallow like that.

Anyway, I recently began reading it again, and this time, was completely engrossed. Over Christmas, I made my way, page by page, chapter by chapter, toward the gripping denouement. Until finally, lying awake at midnight with the low bedside light burning, I was almost at the conclusion. I was about to find out, or so I thought: did she do it? Was she innocent? Or was she insane? I slowly turned the page and...

AGGGGGH! The book was misbound. A whole section of earlier text was duplicated, and when the normal pages resumed, it was impossible to work out exactly what had happened, or what was said.

So, in the morning, we headed out to do some errands, and on our travels stopped off at a local bookstore- mainly so I could find a copy and have a quick skim of the chapter with the missing pages. This was accomplished as E. happily discovered the book he had been wanting for months, on sale. We were thinking of heading to the tillpoint to purchase this when someone tapped me on the shoulder.

It was an acquaintance/friend of a friend, who I knew from a few years ago at the university. Whom now, as it happened, was the manager of the bookstore. We exchanged vague pleasantries in the way of people who don't really know each other. I made some benign comment about how town was so busy, but the bookshop seemed pretty quiet.

"Thank God for that," he said, shaking his head, "We had people phoning up first thing this morning to see if we were open. Imagine!"

"Yes, well, it is a holiday today here. Guess a lot of people are still off work," I observed.

"I just don't get it," he went on, "I really don't get how people can think it's a good idea to go shopping right after Christmas like this. Like we all need MORE stuff. I see them coming in here, and I think, "crazy". People who go shopping on public holidays are just crazy."

Ahem. Now. This is, in some senses, quite an astute remark. There is perhaps something a little unseemly in the general mad, slavering rush to buy a bunch of frivolous junk in the sales, especially given the stark contrast with those who have just lost everything in one dark hour half a world away. Having worked in retail myself in the past, I also have considerable sympathy for the post holiday weariness of the shop worker.

But not exactly the kind of thing you would really expect a store manager to say OUT LOUD to a potential customer who, up until categorised as "crazy", had been about to amble up to the cash desk to part with some hard earned cash. Money which could equal BONUS for you, pal.

There was a pause, while I attempted to realign my jaw to the lower half of my face. Then I turned to E., gently took the book out of his hand, and put it back on the pile.

"You're right," I said to my former aquaintance, "It would be crazy to buy this today. Guess we won't. Let's go, E."

And we walked right out of the shop.

For some reason, I found it kind of refreshing to encounter someone being insulting about something else for a change. To realise, again, that people just say dumb stuff all the time, in a range of situations- their mouth opens, and tactless crap falls out. I don't know why- I will never know why. People are just. plain. stupid. C'est la vie.

The missing pages were really quite good, by the way.

Monday, January 03, 2005

In the frying pan

I am just back from one of our disheartening trips out to see a potential house purchase. We do this from time to time- get it into our heads that with the property market being what it is, we really should be investing in some sort of small holiday home. Plus the fact that it would be nice to have a place out of town to get away to at the weekend, especially if we were ever in a family sort of way.

Unfortunately, we always end up plunging headlong and screaming into the gap between expectation and reality.

Take today, for example. We drove for over an hour, through surprisingly heavy traffic, to look at a house that, on paper at least, would have ticked a lot of boxes. Once there, we parked the car, and walked up and down the narrow sea-lashed street. We peered into the window. The glorious views promised in the brochure were, on this cold January day, simply bleak. The quaint harbour walls were slimy with moss, and the neighbouring houses appeared neglected and crumbling, in a vaguely sinister way. An unappealing caravan park lay just down the road.

We got back in the car and drove straight home. En route we had our usual argument about where to live, should we move, should we stay...a discussion so repetitious we could have it in our sleep. We arrived in a fractious, frazzled state, collapsing exhausted on the couch with cups of tea, wondering why we spent the whole day off subjecting ourselves to this kind of exercise.

Sometimes I think we just need something to take our minds off the current state of infertility- to seek out something, ANYTHING- other than dwelling on that one seemingly insurmountable problem. I worry though that one day we may actually overcompensate, finding ourselves with a shedload of other difficulties- i.e waking up to discover we have bought AN OLIVE FARM! IN SPAIN! Or whoops, I 've moved- to New York City! That would certainly be an interesting distraction, but probably not the sort of thing one wants to undertake as a casual diversion....

It's just that sometimes it takes such an effort to stay in the frying pan, rather than throwing oneself into the sit still long enough to figure out what is really right in any given situation. To know when is "long enough".