Back to my one weird trick of writing up some of the copious notes I took before baby arrived!
So, we won the IVF lottery on our second spin of the wheel (I never know how to count it; is it still our first go if we only had to do the embryo transfer twice, but didn’t need to do all the hormone/egg collection rigmarole again?).
And it was exciting, and terrifying, at the same time. It also didn’t feel quite real – or maybe it’s more accurate to say, I didn’t let it feel real.
As I wrote in that previous post, every bit of good news just kicks off the next cycle of anxiety. A positive pregnancy test is only one step in confirming you’ve got a bona fide healthy pregnancy on board, and the moments of greatest excitement are also the moments of greatest risk.
I think I managed to not cry, not shed a single happy or upset tear, until the seven-week scan.
It’s the big cut-off point for IVF patients. Either everything is looking good, and they happily send you off to go find a midwife and carry on like any normal pregnancy, or, well, it’s not and you have to decide whether to go through it all, all over again.
I hadn’t had any bleeding (good sign?) or cramps (neutral sign?) and maybe just a little low-level nausea in the evening (good sign?), which naturally I turned into another thing to worry about because my mother had horrific morning sickness with me so maybe not puking my guts out was a bad sign??? But I managed to lock everything down into an itty-bitty box and refused to look at it.
Bottling everything up is not typically a great long-term strategy for mental health, but (personal reckons, and I am not a psychiatrist!) I figured in the very short term it was better than having a full-blown meltdown.
And then, there it was. A weird little flicker in the middle of a weird little bean-shape sitting smack in the middle of my uterus, on a big screen for all three of us (me, J and our lovely fertility doctor) to see.
I will happily admit I cried. That little flicker made it real.
(And it also made me angry because of that whole “heartbeat” meme that anti-choice monsters use to deny pregnant people the right to choose, and I didn’t want to feel angry and political in that moment. Though it is on brand. But that’s all a rant for another time.)
Although I had done my best not to get my hopes up, in case they were dashed, I had started talking to the baby. Trying to build a sense of connection to something not even a centimeter big. Hoping in a vague and ridiculous way that it would create a positive environment, a good vibe, some more luck. But it wasn’t as real as it became when I saw her on that screen, thumping away, oblivious to literally everything.
We all react differently. J started planning things. I bought one of those week-by-week antenatal books. This was pretty typical for both of us.
And it was all fine for a couple of days. Then I had a bit of a crash.
This is really where the title of this blog comes from, because the note I wrote on 3 September, four days after the scan, was entitled “Everything you do is probably wrong”. It was my first, proper, massive panic attack of the pregnancy.
If you’re like me, you start off thinking you’ll be sensible about it all. Just follow the normal guidance. Definitely don’t believe everything you read on the internet! Check the advice about food and exercise and sleeping and symptoms to watch out for.
And then, somehow, it all spirals into a freakout because what if the pet guinea pigs have contracted a rare virus from a mouse so now you can’t be in the room while their bedding is being changed and maybe washing your hands for the third time in 10 minutes will help??? on top of the ten other things you Googled today.
I could tell it was bothering J. Suddenly I was stopping meals halfway through to check if I was allowed to eat them. I was transformed from the stroppy feminist who’d happily rant about diet culture and food policing and the way patriarchy constrains pregnant people by creating an environment of fear and blame, into a nervous woman whose favourite phrase was “no, I can’t eat that.”
But it was really difficult to break out of it because it made total sense.
The fact was, at that point, if anything went wrong – if we lost our pregnancy – no one would ever be able to convince me it wasn’t my fault.
When our first embryo didn’t take, it was actually kind of easy to shrug and say, well, fertility science is basically witchcraft, they have no idea why it does or doesn’t work a lot of the time, it’s a coin toss roll of the dice cross your fingers kind of game. And it was even easier than that knowing we had an embryo on standby in the freezer, so we didn’t have to consider re-starting the whole bloody process.
But now – then, after the seven week scan – the baby was there. She had a heartbeat (see previous note about awful anti-abortion losers). And the only person who could screw things up was me. The doctors had done their job. J had performed his part. My body became the weakest link, and I just didn’t have a lot of faith that my body was up to the job.
The trick I always (try to) use with anxiety is: find the thing you can control. For me, it was finding a midwife. At the same time I felt like everything was exploding around me, I was scanning online profiles for a lead maternity carer, hoping I’d find the perfect person who would make it all smooth sailing again. Someone – a third party, not my partner or my mum or my best friends, who are obviously all biased and therefore liars – who could reassure me that every pregnant person goes through this stuff and comes out fine on the other side.
Thankfully, I did.