There’s a pub we like to go to in wine country, two hours north of Sydney. It’s called the Wollombi tavern. They make a drink there called Dr Jurd’s Jungle Juice. For many visitors, that’s the last thing they remember about Wollombi, the bottom of their Dr Jurd’s glass. It’s a gorgeous little blink-and-you’ll-miss-it heritage town, and it was here we were headed when we got engaged in 2009, and it was here we got married in March 2010.
The bistro makes great burgers, and it’s a bit of a feature that people stick their orders in, then have a quiet schooner on the verandah waiting for their order, staring out over the Wollombi brook. On Anzac day you can watch people playing and betting on two up, sometimes there’s a band, and one weekend a year, the one we got engaged in fact, there’s a woodchop competition. There’s nothing better than watching other people go and get their orders, checking out what they ordered, and hear your number get closer for your giant burger to arrive.
Well yesterday was a bit like waiting for your number to be called at the pub. But there was no nice outlook, and no beer, and no funny i-just-came-down-from-the-hills folk to people watch. Yesterday was IVF egg collection.
Now let me tell you, at the pub, when you put in your order, they know how good the burgers are. They know how hungry you are, and how much you’re looking forward to it, and they share your burger excitement. And they always laugh at hub-in-boots and his happy food dance when the number is finally called. Even people making burgers appreciate the emotional content of the experience. They appreciate that someone may get upset when they’ve been sipping their beer and their number doesn’t get called. They appreciate the way people feel if they don’t get what they ordered. They appreciate the moment you’re after when you bite into that giant burger goodness.
But the people in the business of egg collection, they do not appreciate much. They do not appreciate that this particular experience is costing you $8000, or $3000 once the government kicks in their benefit. They do not appreciate that to put in this particular order, a part of you has to be removed, and taken away, out of your control, that a life may start when you’re not even in the room. They are standing at the bistro counter saying we’d like to cut out a part of you, give me your money, but I can’t tell you what you’re ordering. I can’t even tell you what’s on the menu. No one would consent to that in a bistro.
So yesterday, I could not articulate why I was balling my eyes out from the moment we got to reception of the day surgery. I could not point to exactly what was upsetting me. I did not want what turned out to be 5 people in a room, looking at my private girly bits when I was off with the pixies. I find it humiliating. I did not want parts of me leaving that room. I did not want to be under a general. I did not want to consent to an operation that was not, strictly, necessary for my health. It made as much sense as cosmetic surgery at the time. And I could not outline why, when I woke up, I was unbelievably furious. I woke up in a rage. I woke up ANGRY.
Perhaps it had something to do with the piece of tape stuck to my hand. I could feel it pulling on my skin as I came out of consciousness. I could not make my eyes move, I could not make my fingers wiggle, but I could feel that piece of tape. And in and out, I could hear voices all around me. I could hear them all talking at once, and giving instructions to each other, and I could hear them saying “6. no it was 6. Yep 6.”. And I thought to myself, if it’s 6, I don’t ever want to wake up. I don’t want to be in a world where I went through that two weeks of shit, the 21 or so self injections and the 5 blood tests and 2 ultrasounds for 6 bloody eggs. I don’t want to come back from this.
We arrived together, and I started crying in reception. I could not stop. Then they called hub-in-boots for his porn lounge chair and bar fridge experience, and without warning, he was gone. And I sat, and I can’t tell you how close i was to just walking out of there. So bloody close. I wasn’t sure what my insides would do, but I didn’t much care. I really was going to walk out, when hub-in-boots reappeared, clearly pleased with himself, a sparkling eye, and his fly undone. At least that got me a laugh.
The nurse came to collect me, and seeing what a bloody mess I was, she offered to let hub-in-boots come down with me to the surgery floor. She was very nice and very considerate. She could not have been nicer, said there must be something in the air today as they’d had a few upset egg collectees that morning. Then the procession began, a string of people asking the same questions over and over, the anaethesist, the doctor (oh he exists! We hadn’t seen him since before the cycle started), another nurse or two. Allergies, name, birthdate, what are you having done. Between each one I’d cry a bit more. They were quite nice to me, but I don’t think they realised how close I was to bailing out of there.
One of the hardest moments of my life was walking in and seeing an operating theatre, all set up, bench like a crucifix, giant spot light, machines that go ping. “Just get up here”, they said, like you were putting in an order at the bistro. They were all talking at once, it was confusing, all asking the same inane questions. Apart from the crucial one: “are you ok?”.
So i heard the talking later, I think before I was moved to recovery. And I heard them say “yep it was 6. Six. yep” and I just reclosed my eyes. I woke to the sense of being in a parking lot, of immense space and whiteness and the sense of other semi comatosed bodies around me. No curtains drawn, mind you, nothing that personal. I could feel the edges of the mask, I could see the mask, and I could feel the tape on my hand. I could hear, but I could not keep my eyes open, or respond if anyone spoke. There was just the big white space.
I made a decision then and there not to look at the tape on my hand. It seemed too big an effort, and it seemed I did not want to know. Eventually, they sat me up, and had me walk to recovery stage 2. I could not lift my head properly, I could not pick up the tea they brought. And I was getting angrier.
Hub-in-boots was brought in to join me, all happy like a puppy it was over. I could still barely speak. I still didn’t want to look at the tape. Eventually I did. Hub in boots goes “Six is still good! Six is ok!” and I just lost it. I practially, in my little post anaestheic voice, shouted at him. Six is NOT ok. Six is not cool. this is your fucking fault, you have not gone through this, I have and six is not ok. Not proud of attacking him like that, but I was furious. Still no one came to speak to us.
Eventually, they plonked a laptop down in front of hub-in-boots. Could he do a survey on our experience. Just after no one spoke to us. He started to ask the questions. I was so angry I could not respond. Eventually I did it, with a lot of “disappointed” clicks and “very disappointed”. The feedback is more personal at the bloody bistro.
At home later on, I was wailing. I could not describe the sense of loss, the sense of a part of me, being somewhere else in a dish, and no one even acknowledging what had just happened, no one talking to me about it apart from plonking a laptop down for “feedback”. “Feedback” says profit margin. “feedback” does not say patient care, or ethics, or dignity. Poor hub in boots just waited as I wailed. And wailed. And shouted at him for his positive attitude or as I called it “sunshine and lollipops version of ivf”. I tried to explain my experience was not as positive as he felt, and that in emphasising the positive he denied me my genuine pain by trying to erase it, or gloss over it. It wasn’t so much the physical pain, as the emotional. That was agony, and the panadeine did nothing for it.
Then the call came through, as I ran in and out of drunken drugged sleep. Six eggs…but only three are mature. I couldn’t get any more upset. I was just numb by then. I slept, and ate shit, and watched dvds, and made demands on poor hub in boots, who tried to hang on to the positive.
The cramping continued into Saturday, (and Sunday, and Monday), and it seemed I’d never slake my thirst. The crinone progesterone gel (gross) started to give me stomach upsets (unreal), sore boobs, and different cramping. I believe the aim is to make you feel so unsexy you will never have a sex life ever again, so that you’re locked into IVF because you’re so disgusting and miserable and bloated you’d never even consider making love or conceiving naturally. It’s working.
Saturday’s call was a little better, and it felt for the first time like I was lifting my head off the executioner’s block .I could see the blade. But all three eggs fertilised, so I felt, for a short time, like we had some kind of reprieve. I celebrated by watching 10 hours straight of Dexter series 1 on dvd, something I have never done in my life. I have never sat and watched tele for that long, not ever. I did NOTHING. But the series was compelling, and the twists and turns let my mind rest for a short while. Hub-in-boots sat beside me, ministering to the sick with drugs and cups of tea and heat bags.
Today I set out for a walk, as I don’t have to be at work til later on today. I then decided to turn it into a slow shuffly run, and I have to say it felt good. like my body was actually mine, and the decisions of what to do with it were mine to make. I didn’t overheat, and at week 9 day 1 of my C25K (a 9 week couch to 5 k running iphone app), it felt good to make progress on something. At 25 minutes the clinic rang, so I paused, fumbling with the headset, to find out of the 3 embryos, only one had made it to the appropriate stage of 6 cells. The other two were stuck at 4 cells, and while they’d continue to watch them, it wasn’t sounding good. I think even at 6 cells, our little battler is not quite where it should be. I was numb today. Ended the phone call and ran my last 5 minutes and did my cool down, then I rang hub-in-boots. He sounded a bit shocked. I don’t like being the one to always deliver the bad news. It seems like half our phone calls are me breaking really bad news these days. I’m not shocked, and in fact I’m relieved that one is looking ok. It will not surprise me if none make it to transfer, but my greatest hope is that our battler keeps going and one of the others joins the party. Hub-in-boots thinks the embryos are like me -really bad in the morning and slow to wake up. I hope he’s right.
I had a big sit at our cafe, then walked home, via Villa Maria church, where I had a long sit and a lot of hail marys and a big cry. I’m not much of a church person, but having grown up going to Catholic schools there’s something old in the core of me that still wants to turn there at the most important moments in life. If one embryo makes it, we’ll have a transfer this wednesday, and probably have none to spare and freeze. No back up plan, no safety net. But hey, what are you going to do?
Number 6 to the bistro please? Number 3? Actually, make that number 1. We are completely powerless over what’s cooking in this particular kitchen. So we sit quietly on the verandah, and we wait. And just hope we get treated with a little bit more dignity in the steps that are yet to come. We’re going to head up to Wollombi next weekend. It’s the woodchop, it’s the weekend we got engaged. And i’ll put in an order at the bistro, (although I won’t be sipping on a beer while we wait). I just hope our order doesn’t end up being number 6.