Everything happens for a reason or does it?

When I hear the statement ‘everything happens for a reason’ my insides start to gurgle a little, my heart rate begins to rise, I feel a bit sick. I try not to let it spin my head around. Being able to truly believe that everything happens for a reason must be amazing. I used to believe it, I used to believe it because it would help me get through some of the crap in my life. I’d tell myself that this shit has happened to me because it’s going to make me a stronger person, a better person, a more empathetic person, more resilient. I can turn these crappy things that happened to me into life lessons. I would be that great oak tree that gets stronger after it gets struck by lightning.

But then life got really shit when it came to growing our family. Infertility and pregnancy loss. And I questioned it. I met some other incredible women who had been through some shittier shit. I questioned it. I always sought the good out of evil…I still do, but I can’t always see it right now. So I settle with, ‘Everything happens’. Period. Full stop. The end.

But what does a mantra like ‘Everything happens’ do to me? Does it make me bitter? Does it make me a fool for not seeing the good out of the bad?

I don’t talk about religion much here on this blog, but when people say ‘it’s god’s plan’, to me that’s even worse. When I was a kid and I was upset about something I used to close my eyes tight and through my tears ask god why? Why me? And god would reason with me. Actually, I was reasoning with myself, I just pretended it was god talking to me because somehow it made me feel a little better. But telling someone when they are going through struggles ‘it’s god’s plan’ is surely enough to make someone lose their faith, because it is so hard to understand why god would let a baby die…because… it’s his plan. It’s hard to understand why god didn’t bless a family with a baby of their own. It’s hard to understand why our loved ones are taken from us before their time. It’s hard to understand why god would let a terrorist kill people at an airport who are about to go on holiday with their children (innocent children) or who are separated from their loved ones because of work. It’s truly hard to understand what the greater good or plan is. If this was true, surely god is evil? I honestly don’t think that would be the case. For me, I think it is probably better to say that it is god’s plan to be with you, if you let him, when shit is thrown your way.

My current feelings are that time spent thinking about the ‘why’ is time spent wasted. Infertility has taught me how to be in the present. It is therapeutic, it’s survival. Although, it could be argued that by saying ‘everything happens for a reason’ and ‘it’s god’s plan’ would actually HELP with living in the present, but I feel it would be like living in the present with your head in the sad singing lalalalala!!

So for now I’ll try to ignore those few words ‘everything happens for a reason’ and live in the present otherwise it will eat away at me, little by little. I’m glad I’m mentally able to do that right now. I know it won’t always be like that.

Perhaps I’m just parking it for another time when I feel like thinking about the bigger why. Or. Perhaps infertility has actually taught me coping mechanisms for shit thrown my way.

Infertility round 2

Caught between a rock and a hard place is what I would call planning for a second child after dealing with infertility the first time around. And we are not even at the stage of planning number two, we are still at the early stage of deciding whether we want a number two child.

Let's go back to times before we faced infertility. The times when we were naive to think getting pregnant was the easy, fun part, and it was the subsequent pregnancy and beyond that would be the more challenging part of growing our family. I'm pretty sure we would have said that our family would ideally consist of two children, a dog and a cat (or two). Today, if you asked us what our family would look like in several years time, I wouldn't be able to tell you because I just can't imagine it right now.

Today, I can't imagine Aviana playing with a sibling in the garden, showing them how to throw and catch a ball, or holding her baby brother or sister in hospital, asking THAT question 'where do babies come from?' or her poking my tummy and proudly saying to random people that mummy is having a baby. I can't see it. I don't want to see it. Because if I see it, I think it, I feel it and if it never happens, it will tear me up forever. But sometimes my mind does wonder there and I try not to cry over the fact that it is so distant and fuzzy. The future is so murky.

And yet, I am better prepared than I was before Aviana became part of our lives. Today I know I am infertile, I know what the chances of getting pregnant again are, I'm an infertility warrior, this isn't my first rodeo!

Somedays, I'm positive and hopeful….perhaps my hormones have 'reset' and I'll get pregnant without medical intervention, we have a frozen embryo I won't need to stimulate again, I now know all the IVF tricks of the trade, it would be a piece of cake!

And other days, I'm down and negative…I'm getting closer to 40 than 30, my eggs are even poorer quality than they were before, we only have ONE embryo in the freezer-it's got a 50% chance of surviving the thaw, there is a good chance I will have another IUGR pregnancy, we will be doing this with a toddler, I'm not sure I can cope with another IVF stimulation and suffer from OHSS. And then there is the risk of pregnancy loss, An ectopic pregnancy was a cruel experience.

And the negative is winning at the moment, infertility round two doesn't look good to me. I don't want to waste the precious time I have with Aviana whilst she is this small worrying about infertility. I'm not sure where this is going, but knowing I managed to survive that infertility journey the first time and looking back at that mountain, I'm not sure I can do it all over again.

I am 1 in 8 speech

For my first international toastmasters speech which is known as ‘The icebreaker speech’ I decided to talk about my infertility. I thought I’d go big or go home! Talking about infertility to a bunch of work colleagues and a few strangers is nerve wracking!! This speech is the first of many I must give to gain my ‘competent communicator’ award. The idea is that the icebreaker speech is 4-5 minutes long and aims to ‘break the ice’ by talking a little bit about yourself as an introduction to your fellow toastmasters club members. Talking about infertility seemed like a bold challenge. 

It was hard to focus a speech that is only 5 minutes long to what has been a challenging part of my life. But in the end here is what I said…

“Ladies & Gentlemen, let me ‘break the ice’!! Let me take you back in time to when I was 9 in a leafy suburb playground of London. I was a bit of a Tom boy. I liked cars and transformers, so whenever I played with the boys, the girls would taunt me with the school playground rhyme…

“Dani & Chris, sitting in a tree

K-I-S-S-I-N-G

First comes love,

Then comes marriage,

Then comes the baby in the baby carriage”

Well ladies and gentlemen, that nursery rhyme isn’t quite so simple as it sounds after all. Because I am 1 in 8. I am 1 in 8 who suffers from the disease that is infertility. A baby in the baby carriage is not always what comes next.

Let me introduce you to Chris, my husband of 5 years….


Here he is winning the District 66 toastmasters humorous speech competition. You can see I have some competition!!!

4 and half years ago we moved to the US to work here. And it was at that point all our friends and family asked us….’so…when are you going to have a baby??!!’ Little did they know that we were trying but not succeeding. After many tests, thr doctors couldn’t tell us why we couldn’t have a baby. We were diagnosed as unexplained. So we tried InVitro Fertilisation or IVF.

Our first round of treatment we created these beautiful embryos…


We named them huckleberry and huckleberina because they looked like raspberries. Just 8 cells smaller than 0.1mm. One decided to stick around and I got pregnant!!! We were so happy! Until we discovered that it had implanted in the wrong place, the pregnancy was ectopic and so we sadly had to terminate the pregnancy as it threatened my life. 

We were devastated. We had to wait a while to try again.

Second time we created these 5 day old blastocysts. At first we didn’t name them because it was too painful. But in the end we did nickname them Petrie and Spike.


But it didn’t work. I didn’t get pregnant. It was very stressful and even Chris didn’t want to try again so soon. But we decided to try again. Third time lucky they say?!? This time we created thee 5 day old blastocysts – and as you can see we got a better photo of them  third time around!


And it worked!!! Today we have our beautiful daughter Aviana who is now 6 months old.


We are the lucky ones. Not everyone of the 1 in 8 gets to take a baby home in the baby carriage. It was a hard journey and involved hundreds of injections and there were many tears. People ask me now that I have a baby when will number two come along, or will we have another baby? But I tell them it’s not quite so simple as that. It’s hard. I wanted to share this with you today as my icebreaker because this is a subject deep to my heart and I hope you have learned something interesting about me today.

Ladies and Gentelemen, Thank you.”

I really enjoyed giving this icebreaker speech. It probably wasn’t what people would have expected as a first time topic. I got a great response from the audience. There was actually someone in the audience who was going through IVF themselves and have done two cycles at the same clinic as we used. They were about to decide whether or not to go for a third cycle and whether to stay with the same doctor. I offered details of our local infertility support group. It was obvious it was meant to be that I talked about this topic for my icebreaker. 

Infertility leaves a scar. I am grateful we were the lucky ones, but it doesn’t suddenly disappear from your heart when you have a baby. For me, continuing to talk about it and spread awareness helps the healing.

A new blogging adventure

The Great Pudding Club Hunt is over…for now.  But my infertility hasn’t been resolved.  Infertility doesn’t define me, but it is part of my life now.  I love this blog, I love the amazing people I have met through this blog, I love how it has helped me cope with infertility and how it taught me to keep fighting when things got really dark.

But this blog is not about being a parent, in fact it has always been about me not being a parent and dreaming of becoming a parent.  I am now a parent and I don’t want to write about being a parent here, I want to save this place as where I can speak freely about infertility and pregnancy loss.  I wanted a similar place where I can speak freely about being a parent, and that is not here but elsewhere.  So I have set up a new blog…

The Inconceivable Adventures of Parenthood

(https://inconceivableadventuresofparenthood.com)

I’m a little scared stepping out into the parenting world, I’m hoping this new blog will help me explore my thoughts and ideas.  There is so much parent bashing on the internet I am a little terrified!  But like I have used the great pudding club hunt to explore my thoughts, cope with the low times and share the good times with others in similar situations, I hope to use the inconceivable adventures of parenthood likewise.

I hope to see some of you there!!!

I will be posting here still, I am not going away, but it probably won’t be as regular (until our next pudding club hunt anyway ;-p)

Creating a family friendly culture in the workplace

How important are family friendly policies and benefits in organisational culture?

Is there a correlation between a high performing organisation and a family friendly workplace?

It seems obvious that the answer is yes…and yet, there are many organisations who put family friendly policies and benefits at the bottom of the pile.  Family friendly policies and benefits are known to increase retention, recruitment, morale and productivity.  Arguably, these policies and benefits come at a cost to the organisation, so do the benefits outweigh the costs?  It can be difficult to put a figure on this type of benefit and return on investment.

There is also the unseen or lesser known part of family friendly policies and benefits that organisations can adopt; these are related to family building options such as infertility treatment insurance coverage, adoption grants, sick leave (for miscarriage or medical treatments), flexible working and egg freezing.

Simply having these policies and benefits will certainly contribute to a family friendly culture…but there is something deeper than these – a family friendly organizational culture that builds on the policies nd benefits.

You may have heard the saying – “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. This simply means that no matter how good the policies are they need to be supported by the organisation’s culture.

Going beyond the policies and benefits, leaders and staff need to develop the values and behaviours that make up the family-friendly culture:

Open Communication – on both work/life needs and institutional priorities.  Staff need to be able to freely communicate to their leaders and vice versa without incrimination or judgement. The ability to give 360 degree feedback freely about what works and what doesn’t contributes to this open communication environment.

Flexibility – at all levels of the organisation.  Creating an environment that makes it OK to ask for flexible working or time off by creating space to.  Believing that employees are less loyal or productive for asking for these creates will creates negative culture.

Commitment – recognition that a good work/life culture benefits everyone.

Fairness – fair doesn’t mean equal; leaders need to understand that one size doesn’t fit all, applying family friendly policies consistently is important.

These values can’t be written down in policy or given away as a benefit…they have to be enacted out by the people we work with every day and inspired by our leaders in our day to day lives.

What other values and behaviours do you think make up a family friendly culture that we can live by in our workplaces, including family building?

Do your leaders say they are family friendly but don’t live by the values they preach?

What drives you to advocate?

Last night I was talking with my local Resolve infertility support group leader about some things.  I asked her how she was able to find the courage within to tell her story to the world in order to advocate for change in family building policies.  She has done many inspirational things as an advocate and has an amazing way with finding the right words that hit home.  Quite frankly, sharing your infertility journey in the public’s eye is terrifying.  She told me her courage comes from an underlying belief that we have to fight for change so that our children don’t have to go through what we have been through.  It is so so simple, but so so powerful.  And it probably seems obvious, but it really hit me hard. In fact, I love it.

If I don’t advocate for change in family building policies…who else will? Who else will make the difference so that my unborn child and her friends won’t have to struggle with the road blockages that face us in growing our families when infertility hits?  Financial stresses, friend and family stresses, work stresses all on top of the physical and mental stresses of being infertile.  Some of these stresses can be removed with a little help of legislation and education.

I’m going to raise my voice and share my story of success.  I may be judged, I may be scrutinised, others’ words might hurt me on the way…but that won’t compare to the potential opportunity for positive change in the future for my children if I don’t speak out.

My blog is one way…writing letters to politicians is another, but there are many other ways, and I’m going to start by having the courage to fight with this mantra supporting me.

Watch this space my friends, I’m feeling empowered 🙂

Natural Conception after Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Treatment

Today at work I was putting together a presentation on “What is correlation?” (I know, my work is full of excitement and such geekery 😎 ), and I came across an interesting example of ‘illusory correlation’ from the infertility world that I thought I would share with you all.  I was about using it as an example in my presentation.

Have you ever heard someone say

“Adoption increases the chance of an infertile couple getting pregnant naturally?”

Many people have heard or say this, and many can tell you a story of someone they know/know of that this happened to.  The rationale behind this can be hypothesised as:

Once the pressure is off and the couple is less anxious, it will happen naturally.

But how true is that?

Apparently it turns out there is NO empirical evidence to support such a hypothesis.  Research (from Resolve) has shown that the percentage of women who become pregnant without adopting is no different to the percentage of women who become pregnant without adopting.  What this means is that, while a small percentage of people who were having difficulty getting pregnant do not get pregnant after adopting a child, these are likely the same people who would have gotten pregnant after having difficulty, even without the adoption.  It has nothing to do with the adoption.

So why do so many people believe this myth?  Because many people can tell you of a story of someone they know that this happened to.  But the thing is, most people can only tell you ONE story.  And they don’t tell you all the stories they know about the infertile couples that adopted a child and didn’t get pregnant naturally afterward.  The examples of where it did happen are salient to them, perhaps because they remember thinking to themselves “This couple is going to have two babies within a few months of age of each other!”  What happens when something is salient – or when it produces a vivid memory – is that people tend to overemphasize the likelihood of its occurrence.  And they give it a lot of attention.

This is known as vividness bias.

The vividness bias is supported by what’s often referred to as an illusory correlation – the impression that two variables are related when in fact they are not.  In this example, because of one or two very salient or vivid examples, many people believe that there is a relationship between adoption and getting pregnant, when in reality, there is not.

(Extracted from: Intentional Interruption: Breaking Down Learning Barriers to Transform By Steven Katz and Lisa Ain Dack)

Similar to the case made for getting pregnant naturally after adoption, you may have heard a similar argument for couples who stop assisted reproduction and get pregnant naturally afterwards.  There is research that was published in 2012 that found that 17% of women who became pregnant, and gave birth, from IVF treatment, became pregnant again naturally (NB….within 6 years!).  For those women who were unsuccessful with IVF, 24% became pregnant naturally after stopping infertility treatment.

Other recent research has found that 16% of infertile women conceive naturally after stopping treatment (within 13 years!).  And by the way, let us not forget that a fertile couple’s chance of conception is 20-24% for every menstrual cycle!  So that 16% statistic still SUCKS.  In addition, the original cause of a woman’s infertility made a difference as to the chance of achieving a successful natural pregnancy after IVF – if the infertility was due to uterine, cervical or ovarian problems, endometriosis or infertility in their male partners, the women had a significantly greater chance of achieving a successful natural pregnancy after stopping IVF.  However in comparison, if the couple’s infertility was ‘unexplained’ or the problem was with tubal pathology, her chances of a natural pregnancy decreased 😦

So there are many illusory correlations out there in the infertility world.  And now you know how to respond to people that say to you:

“ohhh you will get pregnant naturally after adopting/stopping treatment, that happened to my friend/friend of friend”

you can reply

“……the evidence is contrary, my dear, and you are suffering from vividness bias”

It’s a whole lot politer, and factual, than – “F*#$ you”.

Survivor’s Guilt

I have a broad understanding of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) I’ve read a lot about it…so much so that even my Instagram advertises about PTSD charities on my feed (weird).

PTSD

this advert about PTSD came up on my Instagram feed

 

There is one thing that I suffer from and that is Survivor’s Guilt.  This is when someone believes they have done wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not.  In my case I have double the effect.  Why?  Because I survived a horrifying terrorist attack and second, I survived infertility…all within weeks of each other.

I did not know anyone personally who died in the Brussels terror attacks.  But I saw people who were dead or dying being carried out on stretchers, left alone on the side of the road as I helplessly watched.  At the time I wanted to help, but of course I couldn’t, I was (sensibly) being pushed further and further away from the airport.  I have these images burned into my head of a man with his body broken, dusty, bloody, head with loose bandages wrapped around his head, face indistinguishable and arm hanging out, quietly moaning.  All alone.  But I was behind glass some 20 metres away watching this happen in front of my eyes as more as more people were stretchered out.

I get it.  They have a system of triage, there were only so many first responders who were there in the first 20 minutes after the explosions.  The cordon was set up to protect people.  After all, there was a third bomb in there.  We know tactics of terrorists are to create mass effect by targeting the first responders.  But that boundary, the distance was so close, but so far.  I heard people were saying – I’m a first aider…I’m a nurse…I can help.  But they weren’t allowed to.  I can’t get my head around those very short moments.

I feel guilty for surviving, for not being able to help.  Sometimes my mind is heavy with these thoughts.  This doesn’t outwardly appear to affect me overall.  Well, I don’t think it does.  But I do have some bad dreams (to be expected), not regularly, but perhaps it does affect my sleep.  I wake up very early some days, I tend to put it down to my jet lag, but actually, it could be a symptom of PTSD.  I don’t have problems falling asleep, and I’m not afraid to fall asleep, so I don’t feel like it is an issue.

Then there is my pregnancy.  I am overjoyed we finally achieved our dream, we fought hard to get here!  But along the way, I have made friends with some very lovely women who have struggled with infertility too.  And the feelings I have are that of guilt.  Guilt that I have left them behind.  Similar to survivor’s guilt, and in some ways could be classified as such.  Infertility is traumatic.  I feel like I took the last life boat and rowed away from the desert island leaving you all behind in uncertain conditions.  So some days I haven’t been able to open and read blog updates, Instagram is hard to scroll through.

For those of you who are reading this and now worrying about me (my mum probably!!!) It’s OK, I’m OK.  I am sensitive to my levels of anxiety and sadness, and how that impacts my daily life…and I am OK.  Writing this down is kind of a release to me, and re-reading my writing makes me see things more objectively.  And that helps.

I found some words that are helpful (I think) on strategies to cope with survivor’s guilt:

“Rather than focus on the burden of guilt, remind yourself that you and your loved ones have been given a gift — the gift of your survival. Embrace your will to survive and fight the forces that challenge your way of being.”

Reading these words make me feel happy because deep down I know they are true, I just need to remind myself of this when I start to feel sad or guilty.

PC Diary: Heading out of the first trimester

The Pudding Club Diary @ 12w2d

I have been pretty bad at this – I have sooooo much running around in my head right now that I want to blog about but have been so darn tired or busy to type it out.  I need some kind of Dictaphone equivalent to easily extract my thoughts from my head!

Another week on work travels – I am back in beautiful Bavaria, Germany as I write!  My third transatlantic trip in my first trimester.  And they are not kidding, travelling in the first trimester sucks a lot.  However, this trip has so far been easier than the previous two, I’m starting to feel a little less nauseous now.  Whoop whoop, can’t complain about that!!! (But don’t show me a salad leaf just yet!)

garmisch.jpg

The beautiful view of Bavaria from my hotel room!

I was worried that I might not be able to fit into my work trousers this week whilst in Germany so I decided before I left to go and buy some new maternity work trousers – just in case (I had already popped a button on one pair of my trousers!)  The elastic band trick doesn’t work with most of my work trousers because they have metal sliders rather than buttons.  So off we went hunting for some cheap super stretchy clothes!  I knew there was one dedicated maternity clothes store in town, but I had heard that some chains such as Target, Kohls and Old Navy did maternity clothes so I thought I’d try those stores first.  But everything in those stores were too casual or too summery and so I ended up in the dedicated maternity store anyway.

In the maternity clothes store I bumped into a friend who I didn’t know was pregnant (but had suspected based off a group text message and putting 2+2 together) and so it was just confirmed by her simple being there!  It was a really lovely surprise because she had been told by her doc years ago she may have problems conceiving, so I am really pleased for them because that wasn’t the case in the end!! Whoop whoop – screw you infertility!! AND we are both due within a week of each other! CRAZY!

Anyway, back to the clothes buying…I went a bit overboard and finally thought what the hell, as I am here I might as well buy it.  My reluctance to buy any maternity clothes was based on a fear of losing Rocky.  I overcame that reluctance, and it felt really good to be finally in acceptance of this pregnancy.

maternity clothes.jpg

A nice little haul of maternity clothes 🙂

 

And so with this acceptance it was time to do my first bump picture.  I know that I don’t look pregnant to the casual passer by.  I look like I ate a lot of pies!  But seeing the bump for real in this photo – I couldn’t believe it, there are definitely outward signs now of a little baby growing in there!

bump 12 weeks.jpg

Week 12 bump picture

When I saw the doctor at 10 weeks she said to stick with the gentle exercise, like walking and swimming, but for the first time in months I felt capable of doing a bit more exercise.  So I got out the DVDs a friend from work gave to me and did a bit of a prenatal workout.  I did one of the routines with Chris.  It is a 20 minute partner exercise where your partner provides resistance and balance support…it was actually really fun!  However, I ached like hell for two days afterwards.  Not a good idea to start an exercise routine the day you fly for 8 hours on a plane!  My poor back did not like me one bit. Ahh well, it’s all good for you Rocky!

prenatal exercise.jpg

The prenatal workout DVDs I was given!!

Finally, something that I found a little bit insensitive, and also kind of amusing in some weird typical way that is infertility…my bump app told me that obviously we had sex to conceive our baby, otherwise I wouldn’t be pregnant, DUH, – well actually, this is OBVIOUSLY NOT the case with us! I wish that it had been the case…instead we had almost 17 other people involved in the conception of our IVF baby!

sex.jpg

“You obviously made love before pregnancy (hence the pregnancy)” It’s not always obvious you silly app!!!

Living in the moment

I should be living in the moment, but I am not.  I think about the past, I think about the future.  First let me say that I am very grateful that we have this chance, that I am finally pregnant. I know there are many women who want to be in my position.  I have been where you are.  But it is not easy, so bear with me whilst I explain.

The past should stay in the past, but I can’t help but question why we went through everything that we did to make our baby rocky (I wonder why anyone should have to go through that, and for some even more).  We still don’t know the cause of our infertility, and this is difficult for me to deal with.  Why did it work this time?   Out of 25 embryos we made, 1 decided to implant itself in the correct place.  1 survived. 1 made it.  But why didn’t the other 24 make it?  Just because I am pregnant, doesn’t mean I have closure on my infertility, why my body doesn’t want to do what it is meant to do.  I was on the edge of losing hope of any medical resolution.  We treated the symptoms, but we didn’t treat the cause.  We are still unexplained.

And all of this is in the past…right?  But then there is the future on my mind.  What if this baby dies inside me?  What if this baby is still born?  What if all this medical intervention has created a baby that cannot survive, that never had a chance or is severely damaged in some way?  What if we go through all this and get to the end with nothing in our arms, nothing to put to bed and kiss every night, but left with a heart of love, broken into a million pieces.

The future is still an infertile one for me.  I do not have confidence that we figured out how to resolve our infertility.  I believe what has happened was a result of simply try, try again and we got lucky.  Luck was on our side?  This is really hard to deal with because, I may never be this lucky again.

It is hard at times to live in the present right now.  I mostly do, but the past and the future sneak into my mind occasionally.  When I catch myself doing this, I remember the things I have learned in yoga and meditation.  I bring myself back to the present.