Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Story Of Francis - Part 1

The Story of Francis.

Part 1 : The First Journey

I’ve wanted for some time to commit to writing down the story of Francis’ home hypno-birthing delivery, before it becomes too distant a memory. But there’s an extra back story that played out way before his birth that I think it is important to tell. So, I’m going to tell it.

I know we’re not the only couple that had trouble conceiving, but maybe if I write it down, and someone else in our position reads it, then it might give them some hope, or at least help them realize that although they may feel like it, they are not alone. The whole “Story of Francis” is going to be way too long for one blog so we’ll just stick with the first part for today, and finish up by Thursday.

Ananda and I have been together for almost a decade now, and skipping the fact that she was not too keen on me at the start “I’m open to the possibility of dating you in the future” - (that’s a direct quote from the day I laid my cards on the table for her at La Note restaurant in Berkeley) – we should just cut to the chase.

We had always wanted to have kids and once we had stopped using contraception we were eagerly waiting to get pregnant. And we waited. And we waited. And we waited.

I’m not sure at what point we started to take a more scientific approach to the whole affair, but books were bought, websites perused, diets were altered, an accurate digital thermometer purchased. We started plotting Ananda’s morning temperature so we could see the subtle but distinct temperature changes that would show she was ovulating, and timed and charted EVERYTHING we did.

And still we waited. And waited, and felt disappointed.

After some time we both started going for a battery of tests, each getting more and evolved as each previous test showed no reason for our infertility. There I said it. Infertility.

For a guy it’s no more complicated than “providing a specimen” which whilst the handing over of the specimen can be embarrassing, it is something that can be done in the pleasant surrounds of your own home, and much less invasive that the tests Ananda went through.  We had plenty of swimmers with good motility and even a check on the DNA structure (as sophisticated as it gets from the male perspective) showed all was good. (My career up to this point had involved using large amounts of radiation which could have lead to DNA damage.)

The consensus of opinion from the teams of doctors we saw in California was that we just fell into the category of “ unexplained fertility” which 20% of couples in the US fall into. So clearly we weren’t alone, although it sure felt like it.

One of the hardest things to deal with as an infertile couple is the joyful fertility of your friends and family. Yes, you do, and we certainly did, feel over-joyed as my nieces and nephews, brothers  and in-laws, friends and colleagues became pregnant, but always at the back of my mind was a nagging little sad part that kept saying “ why not us?” or “can it be our turn next…. please”.   

The sadness was very tangible at times as more and more months passed. We even threw all the charting etc. out of the window, and tried the “to hell with it” approach to try and take the pressure of ourselves. And still we waited. And waited.

We then decided to start the process to immigrate to New Zealand, and one day at my yoga class at work, (Stanford was very liberal!), the instructor asked us to write down what we wanted for the future. Here is what I wrote on the first side, and then later what I wrote on the back when I got back to my office:

I still carry this in my wallet to this day!  We also added a similar note in a little wee notebook Ananda and I have that we call our “Wish list”. I guess what I’m trying to illustrate is that we really, really wanted to have kids, and it was becoming an overwhelming wish/desire/need.

After travelling around New Zealand for almost 10 months and trying to get pregnant, we then started the whole “why can’t we get pregnant” testing all over again, and again nothing really stood out. One fertility expert suggested that Ananda undergo a full on surgical procedure to look inside her uterus to see if she had mild endometriosis. Clutching at straws.

Finally, one test looked at her AMH (anti-mullerian hormone) levels and suggested that maybe her egg store was not as optimal as it could have been, but again it was grasping at straws.

Once we settled in Hamilton we talked about the dual approach of doing IVF and also adopting.  So in January of 2014 we started our first round of IVF. I say “we” above but really, as a guy there is little we can do but to watch, help prepare the correct amounts to be injected and be supportive as Ananda did her injections at home everyday, and then went for blood tests almost as regularly. 

I think for the first round we counted about 30-40 injections Ananda had to do, and probably a dozen or so blood draws, and ultra sound scans, as the fertility doctors monitored the growth of her follicles, and counted them up. 

The timing of the trigger injection is pretty tightly regulated by the experts so that harvesting of the eggs is optimal and once we were given the go ahead, it was a real tense time with deadlines to meet!

As a guy I have to admit the pressure and stress got to me, and although I run the risk of public ridicule, there’s no point in telling the story if I don’t tell the truth.  So here goes….

The plan on the big day was for me to “collect my specimen” about 60 minutes before the eggs were harvested. I would do this at home and then travel to the clinic, brown paper bag in hand, with Ananda for the harvesting of the eggs. Easy right. 

Except it wasn’t. Nothing I or we could do was firing the gun for those swimmers, and as time and time got closer to the harvest time I was in a real bad state of body and mind. I know I am the kind of person who really freaks out at the thought of being late to anything, so as I saw the clock ticking down it really did not help my cause.

In the end I had to send Ananda ahead of me as the pressure, and I admit the ludicrous situation I found myself in, had really messed up my normal bodily functions. We had paid about NZD $12,000 up to this point, and I was feeling like I was going to screw up the possible conception of our child, cos I couldn’t do what most men can, and willingly do, at the drop of a hat.

Once Ananda had left and I realized and accepted that I would be late for the whole shebang, I guess I was able to relax a little (mentally at least!) and I followed about 10 minutes behind Ananda, my brown paper bag carrying it’s precious cargo sat beside me in the motorhome.

They managed to harvest nine viable eggs I think, from a possible thirteen or fourteen follicles. We were happy with that number. The procedure requires a mild anesthetic for Ananda so I stayed at home with her that day.  Then the waiting begins.   

The next morning they called us to say 5 eggs had been fertilized, so already our chances were getting slimmer.  On the third day a decision is made on the quality of the embryos so that transfer of the embryo will occur on day three or day five.

A green light for day three is if the embryos are doing okay but may not last in the petri dish until day five, and the uterus is considered the best place for these eggs to continue developing instead of the petri dish.  Day five is considered if there are at least three good embryos on day three in the hope that at least one of them makes it to day 5.

It was becoming increasingly obvious to us that we were going to shoot for day three as by that time we only had one viable embryo left, so back we headed to the clinic and watched on screen as the wee little bag of cells was put back into Ananda. It was quite a breathless time for me.

At this point you are PUPO – Pregnant Until Proven Otherwise, but there is still a lot more waiting to be done.  A further two weeks has to pass before any kind of blood test is done, a measure of hCG – human chorionic gonadotropin – to see if you are pregnant and then to measure the progress of the embryonic growth.

And so it was two weeks later that I was browsing for some wood in Bunnings when I got a call from Ananda. “We’re pregnant” she said. I smiled and felt a little buzz of excitement and said I would always remember where I was when I got that call.

Obviously life is never that simple, or at least not for us. Levels of hCG are meant to double every two days or so, so the viability of the pregnancy can be tracked and kinda predicted. The first couple of test came back within the correct range – poor Ananda was giving blood samples every two days at this point. But then they stopped doubling as expected and the tone and message form the fertility specialists started to become less optimistic.

I was kinda pissed at them because I’m a great believer in the power of the mind, and I was just wanting them to try and put a bit more of a positive spin on the numbers and not drag down Ananda’s and my enthusiasm about being pregnant.

At week eight they sent us to a specialist high powered ultra-sound facility. I was clutching Ananda’s hand and secretly praying as they spread the gloop on her belly and started moving the probe around. Pretty soon the nurse was able to say the most magical words I have ever heard : “There’s the embryo and it’s got a good strong heartbeat”. 

I felt so vindicated in my head strong belief that this was going to work for us and that we were going to remain pregnant, that I kinda washed over the fact that the size of the embryo at this point was about a week behind schedule. I think I joked at the time “ That just means it will be born a week later and if you knew how late my wife is all the time that just makes sense!” I also felt a strong sense of “I told you so” aimed at the fertility nurses who had been giving us the less than optimistic reports.

Still the hCG tests kept coming back less than ideal. At week ten Ananda told me she had started bleeding. Again, not wanting to acknowledge what all of these clues were telling us, and grasping so firmly to the wee picture of the scan we had and the fact that there had been a heart beat, I pretty much refused to accept or believe what was inevitably happening to the pregnancy.  We scoured the internet for every article and story of ladies who bleed at some stage in their pregnancy, and even those that still had pretty a regular period all the way through their SUCCESSFUL pregnancies.

Because of the bleeding they sent us for another scan at a different clinic.  As soon as we entered the premises I did not like the atmosphere there, and it was not helped by the fact that the nurse this time said it was her first day at this site and was having trouble with the ultra-sound machinery. She spent a lot of time not very confidently trying to find a heart beat or evidence of the embryonic sac, all the while I just sat there my heart broken and watching silent tears fall slip down Ananda’s face.

The lady went to get a more experienced colleague, and alas the scan and results was the same. There was no heartbeat. Heartbreaking, and still super sad to recall that moment right now.

As we walked out of the clinic I was still in denial and talked about whether we should go back to the original clinic as this one clearly had “incompetent staff”. I was still desperately grasping to the hope of being pregnant.

My view of miscarriages up to this point had really only be shaped by TV, where an upset screaming woman is dramatically rushed into a hospital and it’s all over very quickly and neatly. In reality it is much less dramatic, but way more traumatic and very upsetting for both the mother and father.

I remember forcing ourselves to go to a friends house party later that weekend. Ananda and I probably appeared really insular to everyone else as we just sat next to each other all evenings, hearing the laughter and conversation of the other party goers, but feeling very much isolated in our despair, powerless to stop what was happening.

Over the course of the next few days Ananda’s bleeding got heavier and we both sat around the house supporting each other, wiping away each other’s tears and holding each other to give, and be, comforted.  You really do feel completely helpless at this point, and I wished I could take away some of Ananda’s emotional pain.

We also discussed that fact that we wanted to try and save the embryo and hold a proper burial ceremony.  It was quite obvious when the embryo finally did come out – I’m sure there is a medical term for that but not sure what it is. We carefully wrapped it up, both of us weeping really badly at this point, and placed a lighted candle in front of it.

We had decided to bury it in a big plant pot and then plant a star jasmine in there as a permanent reminder and tribute to the little embryo, and so the next day we carried out our quiet, heart-wrenching ceremony on our back deck, along with prayers and goodbyes and thank you for that wonderful spark I had felt when I first saw the heart beat.

We were devastated.

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