I went back to work in May after 14 months off of work. I was lucky enough to have 12 months maternity leave, six weeks annual leave and then an overdue eight week sabbatical which I added on the end. A huge amount of time off.
Yet it wasn’t enough.
I have gone back to the same job I left. Working with most of the same people I worked with before. And I know what I am doing.
Yet it feels so different.
I knew it would be a massive change for our family. So why wasn’t I prepared.
I think the answer is that you don’t know what you don’t know and even though you can maybe envisage or consider how different your life will be with baby, you can never fully prepare yourself for the feelings that come flooding along with it.
I posted way back in February (I know, I know, it’s been too long) about O turning one and some of the worries I had about going back. At that point it was all about Ottilie. How she was going to settle in to nursery, and how she was going to cope not having my boobs on tap throughout the day. It turns out both of these things are fine. Ottilie still breastfeeds like a pro and she has settled in at nursery so well. In fact she has moved up to the second room already. So it seems the things that were actually going to weigh my mind down with worry when I went back to work, I hadn’t even considered back in February.
The real issue here, is and always was, that I would rather be at home with my babe than going to work and it is as simple as that. But I am not sure I am alone in feeling this way.
But let’s be realistic. I am definitely not the first and won’t be the last to go through this. And even though I did consider our work options here, we wouldn’t be able to experience what we want to in life – holidays, maybe another baby, moving house – had I not gone back to work. As much as I do want to spend all of my time with our tiny human, in order for us to go on all the adventures and make all of the memories, we need a good income, and I needed to submerge myself back into the working world again.
So once I had come to terms with that fact (or at least got closer to it – still not sure I’ve fully come to terms with it even now!) it’s the juggle that knocks you off of your feet on the daily.
I hear and see a lot about mum-guilt. And yes it’s there. I definitely feel it. But for me, I feel it more when I don’t feel in control of all of the aspects of my life, not just in relation to Ottilie and being a mum, but everything. If I feel like the house is a mess. I haven’t read enough books with O. And don’t feel like there is enough food in the house (even with a full freezer), to name but a few. I begin to feel out of control, anxious, emotional and sad about all situations. I am a sensitive soul and stuff bothers me, more than it should at times, but that’s just me.
But when I get five minutes and I sit with my rational brain, I also come to the conclusion that Ottilie is having a great time at nursery, playing with other kids and reading books on the days she’s there and I am at work. That we are lucky enough to have more than enough food in the house – it just might not be what I want to eat that day. And the mess, well I think once you have kids, it’s here to stay, it is just keeping it to a manageable level, tidying up once the babes are asleep, and then preparing yourself to do it all again tomorrow – right?
I have also realised that I have to allow myself to feel those things, to have a cry and to get a bit frustrated, even angry at times. I have to own those feelings and then move on. Alongside that, identifying what makes me feel more in control and managing that too. If I have clean cloth nappies that haven’t been put together, I can’t go to bed until they are done, I have to do them first. On nursery days I have to have Ottilie’s bag packed and her clothes, nappy and shoes all ready to go on the changing mat as well as my clothes at least planned before I go to bed. And I can’t really sit down at night and ‘relax’ until the kitchen is sorted. I know that some of those things may seem small and Zoe sometimes says, it’s fine I’ll do it in the morning or it can wait. But it is just how I balance my overactive mind to allow me to not tip the balance in the wrong direction.
Taking time to appreciate the little things in life like Ottilie learning something new, getting into a bed with fresh sheets or going to the cupboard and finding that chocolate brioche tear and share you’d forgotten about is there for the taking, can be the change you need that day to get you through. Having plans also makes me feel more at ease. Knowing we’ve synced our schedules, nursery days are confirmed and that we have days together. All of these things as well as making the most of our family time and planning what we are doing on our days off gives me something to look forward to. I can draw on this if I feel a bit low or when it feels like the balance is tipped a little too far towards ‘work’ in that elusive work/life balance we all aspire too.
I would like to be a cool, calm and collected individual, never flustered and never panicked. But it’s just not me, never has been and never will be. I have coping mechanisms and I have found talking helps, whether to have a whinge, ask for help or just to educate someone about how my brain works. Zoe will tell you I think out loud, and I do. I have to in order to deal with the day to day juggling of this thing they call parenthood. Anyone else relate?
As we celebrated International Women’s Day this week, it got me thinking about the journey we went on to finally welcome O into the world, as well as my first year of motherhood. We have been so fortunate to have had an abundance of amazing women who were involved in this journey and this post is just a little thank you to them.
Amanda – our acupuncturist. You listened to my worries. You allowed me to nap on your table whilst sticking pins in me. Introduced me to some herbal remedies. And basically just chilled me right out. Not only did you prepare my body for carrying our baby but always offered balanced advice.
Doctor Gill – our consultant at the clinic. You filled us with confidence. You listened to our worries and you answered all of our questions. You never brushed off our concerns and you were open to all discussions. We are forever grateful for your positive outlook and knowing that we would get there in the end.
Becky – our sonographer. You scanned us when we were going through the many appointments to get us ready for IVF treatment. We then decided to have all our private pregnancy scans with you. Since having our babe you supported us with the early and hard-going, days of silent reflux (Becky is also a Midwife and has a great blog https://midwifenextdoor.wordpress.com/) and we are regular commenters on the ol’ Insta. Becky you might not realise how much you helped us on our journey. Talking to us like we weren’t just ‘another patient’ and telling us your dating stories (good and bad) really put us at ease. You are really good at what you do and there is no one else I would have rather have had my internal vaginal examinations with.
Rose – a nurse at the clinic. We were going to the clinic for a good while and she was one of the few who made us feel relaxed, had a chat and would say hello when you saw us at the clinic even if you were just passing by. You were always friendly and comforting and answered all of my questions.
Zoe – our community midwife. Being our first baby and me being me, I had all of the questions, all of the time. You made us feel at ease and nothing was ever too much trouble.
Team Aurora – the hospital team. Midwife Nikki who looked after us for our C-section. You allowed us to use our own cord tie and boxed up our placenta with no questions asked and didn’t bat an eyelid at our ‘two Mums’ status. Midwife Shelley you let me squeeze the life out of your hand during my epidural and held up our baby girl with the biggest smile on your face as she came out of the sunroof. The consultant (whose name we sadly don’t have) who was the only person who did not try to talk us out of a C-section and by a stroke of luck also performed the operation – you have no idea how much your support with our decision put our minds at rest.
Emma, Sammie and Sophia – local boob group. You girls saved my nipples and were integral in the amazing and fulfilling journey of breastfeeding that we have been able to go on. We have now reached one year ‘Golden Boobie’ status and we are still going strong. Without your help and support in the early stages, my nipples would have been in shreds for much longer. We are forever grateful for your help and advice during what was one of the toughest parts for me postpartum.
Insta Mums, Mamas and Mommies – I know everyone says it but the sense of community and support that I have found on Instagram is amazing. We started damseldamseldaughter to document O’s first year and beyond but it has meant so much more than that. Whether it’s a comment, convo or understanding and seeing others in the same place as you, it really has helped. I hope that I have been able to lift others up sometimes too.
Vicci B – our friend. You were there from the start. You knew the journey we were going on and how long it took us to get where we wanted to be. Your positive outlook always helped to pull us through and we got there in the end. You were the first person, other than us to touch our Babe’s skin and hold her little body in your arms. I will never forget when you dropped my pasta in a sink of dirty washing up water though, during my heavily pregnant ravenous stage. Never.
Katie – Hypnobirthing buddy and now friend. We bonded over our dislike of being stroked whilst listening to stories about butterflies during the classes. I am so grateful that our local class was full and we needed to go further to attend classes or else we wouldn’t have crossed paths. Our Babes are besties and I class you as one of mine. You are eternally positive, you listen to me whine and we both always have biscuits, cakes or chocolates (maybe all three) in. You are an amazing Mama and I hope we have countless adventures to come in the future.
Mum – I knew that it would be different when our Babe came along. But I didn’t envisage our relationship being completely turned on its head. You have been a massive support to Zoe, O and I. Whether coming with us to London to look after O so we could go out on our first night baby-free to see Emeli Sande. Babysitting whilst I do some housework. Going out with me so I could get out of the house in the early days or just tell me I’m being ridiculous at times (I know, hard to believe). I have a newfound respect for you not only as my mum, but as a mother and a woman. I am so glad I get to share this journey with you and O has you as her Nanny. I love you.
Zoe – Mama. You are water in my coffee (I have it black decaf, no sugar, for those wondering), the butter on my crumpets and the nuts in my Cadbury’s Whole Nut. This is the hardest thing we have ever done. And in the midst of sleep deprivation, falling off nipples and learning how to wing it like a pro, there is no one else I would rather be doing this with. We have been tested, as I think every couple are and we have not been our best selves at times, but we are doing our best. You are and will be an amazing Mama to O and I know I will be naggy Mum and you will be fun Mum, and do you know what I’m ok with that. Thank you for all you do for us. We love you, you have our hearts always.
So that’s it for our little round up. We have been so lucky to have such strong women in our lives and specifically on our journey to becoming mothers. I am so happy that O will have such strong women in hers.
This day will continue to be a very important day to us. But it more than just celebrating on the 8th March each year. It’s raising our daughter to be kind, caring, inclusive, intelligent, resilient, nurturing, fearless, determined, strong and brave, every day. It’s challenging the systems, stereotypes, perceptions and people for them to understand, to think differently to practice equality in every single aspect of life. It’s celebrating the strength of all women, whatever that looks like. Always.
So, on the 23rd February our beautiful Babe turned one. 365 days ago, we were in hospital giving birth to our bambino. We knew it would change everything, but I was not prepared for all the emotions that would last well, well past the early stages.
Now I am a pretty emotional person anyway but pregnancy and then becoming a mother has put these on a whole other level. I have always cried at films, heart-warming youtube videos etc. But now I just need to be told about something or have a little think and I can genuinely be in floods of tears. This doesn’t bode well for this amazingly significant point of O’s first birthday.
I have, I would say since Christmas, been thinking about the time left before O turned one. A LOT. Counting down the days if you want, but not in a ‘can’t wait for that’ kinda way, but in a ‘oh my goodness, its coming way too fast’ kinda way. Not only in relation to her birthday itself, but what that means afterwards.
In one way it feels as though this little bean has been with us forever, but in another it was just yesterday that we were bringing her home for the first time. Everyone tells you that it all goes so fast, and you politely nod, and say ‘yes, so everyone says’ but in your mind thinking, I’m sure the perimeters of time will stay the same as they have been. But they were right, it does. It goes so fast. Faster than any other passage of time I have ever experienced. I can’t believe that we have written the cards, opened the gifts and had the gathering with our family already. And it’s done. Our first year is over. My maternity leave is coming to an end. And we are booking settling in days for nursery. How has this even happened?
Christmas and new year was a poignant point for me. Up until then I was always going back to work ‘next year’. When we hit the first of January, not only was it only about 8 weeks until O’s birthday, but I was now going back to work ‘this year’. I can’t sit here and say that this hasn’t played on my mind for months as it has. I met with my work in November to have some initial conversations about my return to work and part-time working, and that settled my mind for a few weeks but as soon as we hit the 1st January, all of those worries rose to the surface again, weaving their way into many of my daily thoughts and conversations, like a really persistent weed in a garden shadowing all the beautiful flowers right in front of your eyes.
Speaking to my friends, I do not think that this is uncommon amongst those who are returning to work after maternity leave. But is it ever really spoken about, except within your social circle? Does everyone worry about this at the same level as I do? I wish it hadn’t consumed so much of my mind space during this time I have had off with our Babe, but I am sad to say it has.
I worry about a lot. A lot of the time. And this particular internal angst has a few different directions, it starts with, how O will find nursery? How I will find nursery? What if she doesn’t like it? How will we juggle everything? What will I miss of Ottilie’s development? How will we get up and out on time with a baby, drop her off and get to work? – Let’s face it we just get up when we get up currently and sometimes, even a year in, still don’t get out of the house until gone midday!
Then the thought process changes. Do I actually need to go back now? What if I didn’t go back? How would we cope? Could we afford to live, pay bills etc. But what about all the other stuff? Then I change direction again. I think about what else may happen in our future. We want to move house, when – will depend on schooling and that seems miles away. But when I think how quickly this last 12 months has gone, I’m sure it’s just around the corner. We want to have another baby, and god knows IVF costs more than just a few pennies. We want to be able to take O on family holidays to make memories that will stay with her forever as my childhood memories do.
And then there is breastfeeding. We are 12 months in with no signs of stopping. It has been the most amazing journey and I don’t want it to end. But how will that even work if I am at work and O is at Nursery? This is one of my biggest worries as I don’t want to force O to stop feeding before she is ready to. Just add that to the list of worries.
First day home
I am on this constant state of what if’s and it is exhausting.
Otti’s birthday was last week. The only reminders are the collapsed pile of ceiling hangers and some left over cake, which although amazing on the day, is definitely on the wrong side of great now. The day itself, was a lovely celebration with all of our best people. The emotions seemed to be far stronger in the lead up as opposed to the aftermath which is a bit of a relief.
I will always be a worrier. I will always have a list of ‘what if’s’ looming in the background and occasionally they take over and take up too much of my time. However I think as a mother, the pressure to have everything just so and to be on top of it all is enormous. And I know I do this to myself. I am sure that everything will work itself out eventually, says my rationalmind but sometimes that’s easier said than done. For now, I want to let myself enjoy the last few weeks with our Babe, savouring every second – even those 3am wake-ups!
Whatever happens, if it isn’t right for our family, then we can always change it up – I need to remember that. Right now though I’m off to give my girls a squeeze and maybe go out and play in snow!
So we are proud members of #teamcloth for both our nappies and wipes. We didn’t even really discuss it at length, but we just knew it’s what we were going to do. There are a few reasons we chose to go cloth and a few things we discovered along the way which may help to you if you are thinking about going with or moving to cloth.
We use the Mio Solo from the brand Bambino Mio for nappies. These can be used from 8lbs until potty trained. They have poppers on the front to make the nappy smaller and you can angle the Velcro tabs to adjust the legs hole size and shape when fastening. We chose this as we wanted an all-in-one nappy where the waterproof outer and absorbent inner are all one piece which goes in the wash together. The other kind you can get have an insert and a cover, we have never used these so not sure of the comparison.
The main reason for choosing this brand is that they are well known. Selling online at bambinomio.com as well as some supermarkets and Boots. They have also put their new designs in Aldi during their baby events over the last couple of years and that is where I have bought all of our nappies. They were much cheaper and get reduced. The first batch I purchased from there had gone down to £3.99 each vs £16.99 – and I do love a bargain!
So how does it all work for us?
We have approximately 30-35 nappies in use at any one time. By in use I mean either ready to go, being worn, in the nappy bin, or being washed and dried. There are always five in the nappy bag. And a further five in the back up wet bag in the car – for emergencies, like if I forget our massive baby bag. I know, I know, highly unlikely but you never know and I would rather be safe than sorry! Also if a poonami did hit us, we would always have a back-up.
O is 11 months old and we used approximately 7/8 nappies a day including the night time nappies. We also use a additional absorbent fabric liner, again from Bambino Mio, which is just placed inside the nappy and gets washed along with the nappies and resused again. We put a wash on every day – usually in the evening so I can get it out to dry before I go to bed – with the odd exception here and there.
In the summer the nappies were going out on the line and drying fairly quickly in the sun. Come autumn drying them on the airer proved more difficult until we invested in a heated airer, or rather my Mum kindly did for us – thanks Mum! This has halved the drying time down to approximately 12 hours, they are under a cover and look far more organised.
Give me all the nappies…
How many Mum…
I put the nappies ‘back together’ as soon as they are dry and roll them ready to be worn again. I keep them on a storage unit (raskog from Ikea) and actually find this process quite therapeutic to do in the evening.
Jumping back a bit to the actual storage and washing of the dirty nappies. We purchased the nappy bucket from Bambino Mio but you could purchase a bucket from anywhere. It is a square bucket with a lid and comes with two net bags, one of which will go inside on hooks. Basically once the nappy is used and you have changed your babe, you unpop any poppers, fold the Velcro fasteners in on themselves and pull the inner out. This then goes in the bucket. Once it’s full, which is approximately 12 nappies I find – although you can fit another sneaky couple in. You unhook and remove the net bag, leaving the bag open, just put it straight in the washing machine. This means you don’t have to go through the dirty nappies again, it’s really simple.
They go on a regular 30 degree wash. Using my normal washing detergent (we use Ecover non-bio in lavender and sandalwood if anyone is interested!!) and I use a scoop of the Bambino Mio Miofesh powder. This is designed to be used at 30 degrees, has anti-bacterial agents and is 100% biodegradable and chlorine free. You do not use a fabric softener as this affects the ‘waterproofness’ – not even a word, but I’m allowed due to baby brain right – you all know what I mean!
In terms of poo nappies. There are liners available which I liken to tumble dryer sheets, that kind of see-through, rough but very thin paper. O was a nearly 10lb baby, so we started using the nappies from birth and we also used the liners as we just thought that’s what we were meant to do. However O started suffering from savage nappy rash and after a week or so we stopped using both the liners and nappies. Having spoken to people since, it was the liners which started the rash. And using a logical brain and not a ‘new mum knackered brain’ the point of the liners is to catch the poo. Obviously a new born has very wet poo and it would soak through so they don’t need to be used. It’s obviously solid now, but we still don’t use them. Mainly because I don’t feel we need to. I do however have an extreme amount upstairs in a drawer – the curse of the bulk-buyer. I just put the poo down the toilet and put the nappy in the bin as explained before.
When she did have wetter nappies, we used water and a dedicated scrubbing brush – just a handheld one from Wilkos – and cleaned these off before putting them in the bin and put the brush through the wash with the nappies.
Being out and about, the only difference is that the nappies go into a waterproof wet bag and we bring them home to go into the bucket. From questions we’ve been asked, I think people get hung up on the dirty nappies hanging around or having to be carried about if you are out of the house, but that is really not even a thing. You will have more poo hanging around from a disposable nappy bin than from these. And put it this way, if your babe had an accident on clothing you loved whilst out of the house you would just put it in a nappy sack and bring it home to wash – right? There is no difference.
Another major difference to disposable nappies is that the smell is really contained. You know how you can usually smell if a baby has had a poo, well in these you can’t so much, if at all most of the time. We have on occasion, thought O was going, only do the good ol’ sniff test and decide she hasn’t. But actually she did. We just couldn’t smell it. I can’t speak for all reusables but with these ones that is definitely the case.
So that’s it on the nappy front. We also use reusable wipes from Cheeky Wipes. We use the terry cloth ones, and they are basically like small flannels really. We do have some of the super soft bamboo wipes which we use when O has a cold as they are good to wipe sore baby noses!
There are two pots, one for fresh and one for dirty wipes. You fill them both with water and then you add the essential oils to them. An antibacterial one such as tea-tree for the used wipes and a kind, calming one for the clean wipes – we use lavender and camomile, but we also have clementine as well. A few drops go in each pot. You store the clean cloths in the fresh pot and the dirty ones in the mucky pot. There is a bag in the mucky one, so much like the nappies, you just lift the bag out and put it in the wash. They can go in any wash but I usually just put these in with the nappies of an evening.
Fresh and Mucky pots…
Sample of wipes…
The lovely smelling oils…
You can also get a fresh and mucky travel bag to take whilst you are out and about. I tend to take 8-10 wipes out with us on a daily basis for a normal day. If I know we are going to be out for a full day I may take more, but that is usually enough. We do have a pack of water wipes in the bag, just in case but don’t often have to use them. We use the cloth wipes all the time now however we didn’t use them straight from birth and just used water as advised. It would also have been another thing to set up and fit into our schedule which I just couldn’t do as a new mum!
One other great benefit is the lovely smell. We noticed that O’s skin often smelt like wee, even after just being changed with conventional wipes. This is no longer the case. The oils smell amazing and therefore so does O. There are different wipes, pack sizes, bundles etc. all on the cheekywipes site and the bundle comes highly recommended.
The overall benefits for us speak for themselves…
Kinder to my babe: The nappies are kinder to our babe’s skin. There are no chemicals, other than the cleaning detergents involved and that is a win for us. As well as that, the gel in disposables can evoke the feeling of dryness when in fact your babe has wet nappy against their skin. This can lead to longer time between changes and increased nappy rash.
Kinder to the planet: *Each standard nappy takes approximately 500 years to biodegrade and they are one of the largest contributors to landfill in the world. Eight million nappies are thrown away, EVERY SINGLE DAY, just in the UK. To me that is madness and although our family may only be making the teeny weeniest of dents in that, we are doing our bit.
Kinder to our bank balance: The cost saving is also amazing, although this is a bonus rather than the main reason for us choosing cloth. The 35 nappies I use cost us £180 (reduced in Aldi). Obviously depending on the age of potty training that has saved us at least £700, maybe more.
So honestly this reusable nappy and wipe thing is definitely the right choice for our family. It does take more time and involves more work than taking a nappy off and sticking it in a nappy bin. But there are so many more benefits to outweigh something which didn’t take long to fit into our daily routine.
And the cherry on the top is that they look super cute right?
So it was the most wonderful time of the year. We were all hearing those sleigh bells ringing. And we were def rocking around the Christmas tree. But there were some differences this year. None more so than our bambino being here of course.
We love Christmas. The lead up. The big day. The big dinner – which Zoe lovingly preps, cooks and slaves over during the day to make it my best dinner of the year. Every year. And once again this was immense! And the magic of Christmas is something we can’t wait for O to experience and hopefully have the same warm fuzzy feelings we do about this festive period.
O’s first Christmas dinner…
But that said it was all very different with Otts in our life this year. In the lead up to Christmas, usually the nights are spent cuddling up on the sofa, drinking hot chocolates watching some kind of box set. This year, everything was the same as it was every other night. Dinner, bathing of our Babe and feeding to sleep. Now I am not for one minute complaining about that, I love that’s the reason we changed it up, but it was the first difference in the lead up.
For the last few years Zoe has done Advent Bags for me. A small gift which I get to open each night before bed. I have in previous years photographed these each night, with the same background, uploaded it to Insta etc. This year I got as far as the first picture of the bags on the side. By the time I’d get into bed at night, I didn’t have energy to go to those lengths. I still loved the gifts and I even took some pics but definitely not 24 of them and I definitely did not get around to uploading them!
Advent bags 2016…
Advent bags 2017…
Advent calendars. Though it may seem like an over extravagance (it probably is) we do advent calendars most years. We’ve done, amongst others, biscuits, playmobile, and good old traditional chocolates. This year I had The Naked Marshmallow Company one and Zoe had T2. We also had the Meri Meri woodland advent calendar where you get a little wooden part of a animal scene each day. We are going to do this one every year and build it with O, a little tradition if you will. The main difference this year was the windows were being opened in batches approximately every 5 days. We would just forget that it needed doing. We were literally bingeing our advents. No harm done of course except maybe 5, larger than your average, marshmallows at 8pm is a little much and Zoe was definitely not drinking 5 cups of tea after 8pm at night.
Christmas Eve was spent visiting family, O’s Nan and Grandad (Zoe’s Mum and Dad), which was all about O opening some of her first gifts and watching Grandad’s train ‘choo-choo’ around the Christmas tree. We also went for a late lunch/dinner just us three, which we think we are going to do every year, you know instead of the typical take-away (I always had a chinese takeaway on Christmas Eve growing up). Well at least until O is older when a takeaway may become easier – especially if they deliver.
Grandad, Mama and Bubba…
Puzzletime with Grandad…
Look at this amazing paper…
Christmas Eve lunch…
Christmas morning. This was quite chill. We opened our gifts as usual, it just took a bit longer than before. One of the fundamental differences this year was where we would have done all the running around, tidying up, cleaning etc. in the days leading up, this hadn’t happened. So we were left doing this on Christmas morning. Those of you with babies will know that these are the days when the babes just don’t want to play ball. Where they won’t entertain themselves and you can’t get just 15 mins out of them to even get ready. By the time my family arrived on the day, I had just about, like 2 mins before, managed to put some make-up on, and get us both dressed – by both I mean O and I. Zoe is capable of dressing herself and I can confirm she was not prepping veggies in the nude!
The actual festivities on the day were pretty standard. Obviously once Nanny and Grandad arrived, they (aka Nanny) wanted to take O which meant we could get on with the little bits, like setting the table, wrapping the last few gifts (yes I was that unorganised I was doing it upstairs on our bed once our guests had arrived). After that it was a pretty normal and pretty good Christmas in terms of the day with family etc. O was a complete champ as well, well done Babe. And every now and again I caught myself just thinking how lucky we were to have our family and now our babe here with us.
The last 3 Christmases have been so different. 2015 was the saddest time as we had just gone through the loss of our first babe and our hearts were really not in it. 2016 I was heavily pregnant, had massive swollen feet and legs and could hardly walk. And then this year, here she is, here we are, our girlgang.
I am looking forward to so many more. Making traditions, watching the excitement build. I loved this year, but for different reasons I think Christmas 2018 will be the one – only 350ish days to go, lets start the countdown…
So our previous post got us to the point of making the decision to start with IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation). IVF vs IUI is a whole other ballgame. It’s basically the process of fertilisation by extracting a woman’s eggs and manually combining them with sperm in a laboratory dish. If the fertilisation is successful the embryo(s) are then transferred to the woman’s uterus.
When we decided to start with IVF, it seemed the natural progression from IUI and home insemination, but when I look back at it now, it is actually a massive step. When you are in the thick of it however, it just becomes normal for want of a better word. It’s just a part of your everyday life. From tracking your ovulation to injecting each night, it just falls into daily routine.
At the time when we started IVF, the success rates were 50% for my age group which compared to the 12% IUI success rates, these were amazing. So we embarked on this journey of injections, bruising, suppositories, pessaries, internal scans and sharps boxes. We had to wait for a full clear cycle and then take the pill to regulate my cycle.
Unlike IUI, the responsibility of knowing when is best to do everything, is taken out of your hands. Dependent on each individual cycle, and the particular medication, the doses vary and the next steps all depend on how the body reacts at each stage. I feel it also important to point out here, before we get too deep, that eveyone’s journey will be different. And also clinics are different, this is just our story, with some facts thrown in!
You start with a baseline scan which is an internal scan completed whilst on your period just to check the lining is as it should be and not too thick. You are then given a schedule to follow which details all of the medication you are going to need and the dosages. Each of the different medications do different things, but they are all to get your body ready for hopefully a successful implantation.
Now the injections sound scary and many people would say to us, I don’t know how you inject yourself, but you do what you got to do to get to where you want to get to. And they are not actually that bad at all. It does take a bit of getting used to but once you find your groove it’s pretty easy.
One medication which I never really loved was the Cyclogest pessary/suppository. These are progesterone in the form of a bullet shaped delight. And they do an amazing job of thickening the womb lining in preparation for implantation. The problem is you have to make a decision, front or back. Now this is a bit TMI – but we are all friends here right? Use the front and you would have that oozing out all day (I was prescribed 3 a day). In the back and although it was more quickly absorbed and there was no leakage (I know what a visualisational (that’s a made up word I think) treat I am giving you right now!) it really made me need to go for a poo, like a lot. I also had to continue to take these for 12 weeks after the transfer. In the grand scheme of things it was nothing and there was no pain with it, but just a bit of an annoying aspect.
Back to the injections. For our first IVF cycle we were prescribed Gonal F for the follicle (little pouches that may or may not contain an egg) stimulation. It is a pen type injection which has multiple doses in it and you click it around until you get to the correct dosage and then inject. You pinch some skin on your stomach, inline or below your belly button but not above, push the needle, which is about 1.5cm, into the pinched skin and depress the button on top of the pen. I would let go of the skin and leave the needle in for about 10 seconds, then pull out the needle. Not sure what if that is the actual process or not – but it worked for us! The needle would then come off and go in the sharps box and the pen back in the fridge. At first finding a spot is easy but once you are bruised it can become difficult to find an untouched area.
We also had Orgalutran injections. These were ready measured injections and were by far my favourite one. Mostly because they injected really easily and as it went in, I could also feel it under the skin, which I kinda liked – maybe that is weird though?! Orgalutran blocks the natural luteinsing hormone. This hormone communicates to the body to release the egg from the ovary or begin ovulation. By suppressing this action it allows the Gonal F to continue to develop the follicles fully. Once everything looks to be at its best, with follicles not too big or too small, a third injection, Ovitrelle, is taken.
This is known as the trigger shot, and releases the eggs ready for collection. Ovitrelle contains the active substance called choriogonadotropin alfa which is a copy of the natural hormone hCG (human Chorionic Gonadotropin). This helps maintain pregnancy and triggers ovulation It is taken at a very specific time based on when you are booked in for egg collection. We did ours at 11pm, then went in for collection around 34 hours later.
First injection, here goes…
The beginnings of the bruising…
Though many aspects are taken out of your hands. There are a few things which you are responsible for. Administering the injections I described above is one of them. Some of these are kept chilled so if you away from home for an evening (as I was for work) you have to think about transportation of these. I worried for the entire time that if the temperature was not correct it could jeopardise the whole cycle – welcome to the mind of a constant worrier! They were all fine but let’s just say we had an insulated bottle bag long before we had a baby to make sure our precious cargo was kept safe and cool!
Throughout the injection process, we were scanned every couple of days to check how my lining and follicles were doing. Depending on the results, the medication was adjusted accordingly. There is a fine line between stimulating them to get to the best size and being over stimulated. This could cause the bigger ones to get too big and the smaller ones may never get to the size needed. Follicles had to reach a certain size before the procedure will be arranged. If none make it to required size, the cycle could have been abandoned. Fortunately for us, we did not have to abandon a cycle at any point.
The regular scanning was very necessary, but there were many. My boss was super supportive and whenever I needed to go, I could. I tried to get the appointments at the most convenient time for work as well as us, but they did involve a commute into London each time. This meant the early or late appointments were not always the quickest option, when it felt as though the whole of London was using the underground!
Once you have a good number of follicles at the correct size you are scheduled in for your egg collection. This procedure is fairly short and involves you being sedated under general anaesthetic. So where as some of the other appointments could be just me attending on my own (although on cycle one that didn’t really happen), this one can’t be. So you get gowned up, you walk to the room, get given your plastic shoe covers. Then everyone comes and speaks to you about what sperm you ordered, asking you if this is your signature on the donor order from, tell you about the anaesthetic etc. Then you are put under. The actual procedure takes about five minutes and in that time all of the eggs are removed and I assume put in a test tube or petri dish (???).
Before our egg collection…
Waiting to go into theatre…
Now anaesthetic and I do not get on particularly well. I take blooming ages to come round and in that time Zoe takes as many dodgy photos of me as she can. During our first transfer, I came back from the theatre and the porter was (according to Zoe) saying come on Amy, up you get, and I was just slumped in my wheelchair like a sack of spuds. In the end, Zoe and this poor man had to lift me out of the chair to get me on the bed and it was a good 45 minutes until I came round (some people come back from the theatre completely awake). Zoe thought a biscuit might perk me up (a biscuit would usually do the trick rather easily) but I fell asleep during the consuming of said biscuit – again what a photo opportunity to miss!! Before you leave the cramped ward, you are told how many eggs were retrieved. For our first cycle this was 9 and our second was 5.
Still under anesthetic…
Taking every opportunity…
Once the eggs are collected then comes the process of egg meeting sperm. We opted to have ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection) with our cycles. ICSI is where a single sperm is injected directly into an egg as opposed to them just being put together and left to do their own thing.
Once this is done you wait for your phone call a couple of days later to find out whether any of the eggs have fertilised. It’s a long wait for that phone call. And in fact the whole conception process, from waiting for your period, to ovulation, to this and the two week wait, is just one long waiting game.
There is a chance all, some or potentially none of the eggs will fertilise. We were lucky and at the end of this cycle (including egg sharing, which I’ll post about at a later date) we had 5 embryos, and over the next day this went down to two good embryos. We chose to let our eggs to go day 5 blastocyst. Blastocyst refers to a human embryo that’s five or six days old, it is the stage at which an embryo must reach before it can implant in the uterus. Waiting to the blastocyst stage (as opposed to transferring on day 3) allows the cells to develop further and provides better co-ordination between the embryo and the uterus as the embryo is placed back in the right place (uterus) at the right time (blastocyst stage). Many clinicians believe that transferring better developed embryos makes a pregnancy more likely.
Once all is good in the hood, or the lab in this case, on day 5, we went back in for the embryo transfer of one of our embryos. The other was frozen. This is again a fairly short procedure. However I found this one really hard. You need to have a full bladder for the consultant to be able to get the catheter in the right position to place the embryo back in. A full bladder, coupled with a speculum – you know the success I have with them – and a posterior cervix, are not a match made in heaven let me tell you. The urge and need to wee, especially when they are pushing down on your stomach with the probe constantly is not a nice feeling. Once done, they take the catheter out and check that the little embryo has left the tube and you’re done. Well, done to run to the toilet to relieve your bladder!
Then you wait again. 12 days until you pee on another stick.
We had two cycles of IVF. The first was successful, however we heartbreakingly lost our baby through a silent miscarriage. I won’t go into details now, this deserves its own post. We then had a frozen embryo transfer (FET). This is where the embryo is thawed and transferred. You take some medication, but far less than you do to get your body ready for collection and then the same procedure as above. There is a chance that an embryo will not survive the thawing process, however this is looked at during the fertilisation stage. Decisions are made at that point as to whether the embryo is strong enough and of a good enough quality to withstand the freeze/thaw process. Even if it is deemed strong enough, this is still not guarantee.
The FET was unsuccessful, and once my cycles were back to normal we went in for round 2 which is the same process as above with the exception of using Menopur instead of Gonal F for our hormone injection. Menopur is the more natural choice. It contains human menopausal gonadotrophin. This is a combination of two naturally occurring female hormones – follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinising (LH). These are extracted from the urine of post-menopausal women, hence it being more natural. We actually ended up with less eggs using this hormone injection. From the 5 retrieved we had two embryos get to the blastocycst stage. We could not have a fresh transfer however as I was suffering from ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS).
OHSS can affect women who have been taking injectable hormone medication. It is where the level of hormone in your body is too high and leads to your ovaries becoming swollen and painful. This can be mild, severe or critical. It was basically like I had been pumped up around my stomach, not nice at all. The clinic will not ordinarily transfer if you are suffering from OHSS.
So we had to wait for an FET. And that is the transfer where we fell pregnant with our little rainbow babe, Ottilie Asta.
And we still have one embryo in the freezer.
One thing that really impacted my thoughts, was having a frozen transfer on our last attempt. I was really hung up on needing a fresh transfer. In my mind, we had fallen pregnant with our first transfer (a fresh transfer) and not with our second transfer (frozen). When I was told we had OHSS, I was convinced that the next attempt would not be successful based on the fact it wasn’t fresh. However, looking into some research (Zoe not me!) there is some thinking around this being better for implantation. Due to your body not being pumped full of hormones etc. from the injections, it may be a more natural environment for a teeny-tiny embryo to flourish.
I can’t say which is better. I have been pregnant twice, once from fresh and once from frozen. It will happen when it happens. As we have experienced, pregnancy is one thing in life that you cannot guarantee or predict unfortunately.
The whole IVF thing is a pretty big deal and a whole lot of time, emotions and money go into embarking on that journey. Fertility treatment is full on. The countless scans, pills, injections you have to have, really do take their toll on you. However it does get easier as you go along. At first, every injection was an event in the evening, every scan was booked when we could both attend. But as you get further into the treatment and cycles, this becomes more ‘normal’. Those things just become part of your life. You just do the injections without a second thought. You may have to go to a scan on your own because of a work commitment etc. Personally, although it was a massive part of our lives for so long, I think, like many others, we just took it in our stride. Yes I worried every single second of the day, but I would be doing that anyway, and at least this way it was about something important.
It is so easy to get lost in the process of everything. I found it quite comforting trying not to focus on the now. Instead thinking ahead to our baby being in my arms or in the *pram waking around a shopping centre whilst I stopped at various coffee shops to feed – who know how true that would be. Well except about the pram bit as she hates this – insert *carrier.
The love I have for that pram…
Pixie ear right there…
Tiny baby in a carrier, oh my heart…
Oh that baby-wearing life…
Wear that baby…
The clinic overall was great for us. I mean we have our baby and another frozen embryo which they are keeping all cold for us until we need it – at a cost of course! But at the end of the day, they are a business. I found this quite hard to deal with, after all you have every single ounce of yourselves invested in this, every emotion is running high – heightened because you are pumped full of hormones. But you are just one of many to them, as harsh as that sounds.
There are some amazing people who work there, but the bedside manner at times was questionable. Even after going there for 4 years pretty much, the receptionists still acted like we had wandered in to ask for directions – come on lady!! It was also rarely on time which when you have left work for an appointment, you just needed it to be an in and out kind of affair. We did however meet some lovely people. The sonographers were great (most of them. One of them we did name the baker as she would use that internal scan wand like she was mixing a heavy cake mixture!). We saw a lot of people but there were some who stick in your mind. One sonographer, Becky, who is also an awesome midwife was so good we carried on our private scans with her and still have a bit of an insta convo every now and then – she also has a great blog – go give it a read if you get five mins midwifenextdoor
But at the end of the day, everything aside, those people we saw at the clinic, as well as those behind the scenes do absolutely amazing work. If it wasn’t for them we would not be mums to this little beaut.
So as you will be aware by now, as a couple we are missing one vital part to make a baby. And when you don’t have the tackle, you have to go out and source those little swimmers.
When we first started out on our journey in 2012, we decided to go to the ‘Inseminar’ which is a free seminar held at London Women’s Clinic, we fondly refer to this as ‘Fanny’s Big Day’. We found out so much during that hour, things that we hadn’t even considered, and had a lot of questions answered. If you are starting out on this journey I would highly recommend that or something similar just to get you going. Also I look so young in the photo below, well compared to my haggard-self with super eyebags now – and as much as I loved that skirt and bag, that is def not me anymore – also where are my eyebrows?
As a same sex couple, for us and others, there are a couple of options. We could ask for help from those we know and use a known donor. We could source an ‘unknown’ donor ourselves or we could use a clinic.
For us the clinic was the only option. We knew that this would be the most expensive choice, but there were so many factors that were right for us. For example, through a clinic Zoe would be the legal guardian of our baby at birth and would not have to adopt them. This was something I wanted. I can’t imagine having to adopt your own child – that was not going to happen for us.
There were really only a couple of contenders and after Zoe did her research (researching shiz is definitely her forte) we decided on London Women’s Clinic. To us, and I’m sure others who use a clinic especially for the first time, this is a super daunting experience. Not only are you embarking on something which is going to change your life forever, but there is so much of the unknown involved.
After making that decision and having our initial consultation, I was promoted at work and we knew that I couldn’t embark on both of those things at this point. The new role was more stressful and far less flexible in terms of schedule so we held off for a bit. We live and work in Kent and the travel to London, although not ridiculously far, when you factor in travel to and from stations, the train times etc. It was just not the right time. And that was definitely the right decision for us.
During that time though we did all we could to get my body (and our bank balances) in the best place to grow a baby. Neither of us smoked, I don’t drink and Zoe only occasionally. But we did eat out a lot! I gave up caffeine, tried to eat less sugar etc. But you know we still had to live so it wasn’t super strict, just doing little bits here and there. Incidentally, my skin vastly improved when I stopped drinking caffeine and there is always decaf!
Skip forward to 2014 where we decided that we were ready and headed back to the clinic. We had further consultations and based on the fact that I had no known fertility issues (just no sperm available in our relationship) we started with IUI – here comes the science bit…Intrauterine insemination (IUI) is a simple procedure that involves transferring specially washed semen directly into the uterus via a thin catheter. You may have heard of it more commonly as artificial insemination.
We started by tracking my cycle which was something that I had never done before, but that mucus you get down there maybe a couple of weeks before your period, that’s ovulation – I know, who knew right – well we didn’t. And it goes through different stages to bring you to your optimum fertile window. You can track this by peeing on a stick, tracking your temperature when you wake up as well as the physical changes in your vaginal discharge. I know, I know, discharge was not one of my favourite words, along with the words panties and moist, but I quickly got over it – for the record panties and moist are still a no-go for me!
When you think you are ovulating, through intense scrutiny of your vaginal secretions, you call the clinic. Making this call at the right time is completely down to you – no pressure! The IUI procedure is basically like having a smear test. Funny story though, during one of the procedures, I snapped a speculum. Yep that’s right, snapped it in half…inside of me, with my vadge of steel. Even funnier story is this wasn’t the first time it had happened, it also occurred once in an actual smear test. Both plastic, not metal I might add, I’m not superwoman!
So after the 5 minute procedure, that’s it. At first we, by we I mean I, asked all of the questions: Do I need to lay down with my legs up now? No, oh ok. Can I put my tights back on, will they be too tight? Yes you can. Great. What happens now? Well, you just go about your regular day and then you wait 14 days to do your pregnancy test.
Flashback to before you book in your IUI. Picking the sperm. That process is basically the same as picking a piece of furniture online. It is pretty much an online catalogue of sperm donors. You don’t get to see who they are but you get some characteristics such as eye colour, hair colour, skin colour, nationality, height, weight and then some other bits such as religion, allergies and profession etc. You filter to what you are looking for. You can compare donors like you do on any other shopping site and then you put your chosen donor in the basket, honestly, it’s just like picking a new sofa. The clinic will then send you over a form to sign, then it’s all ordered and waiting for the call that you are ready to go in. We purchased our swimmers from the London Sperm Bank at the bargain price of £850 a time (which had been increased to £950 last time we saw, and could be even more now).
We tried IUI a few times and then we tried home insemination again with an unknown donor, but this time with a sperm bank in Denmark. You again choose your donor based on characteristics. The difference being that some donors submit pictures of themselves as babies. You also pay more or less for the sperm depending on the quality and number of swimmers per ml. The better the grade, the more you pay however it was still cheaper than here (all donor sperm at the LSB cost the same). It arrives via DHL in the bright yellow chest we called the dalek, frozen in liquid nitrogen with stickers on the side stating ‘Human Tissue’ (I wish I could find the pictures!) I wonder what the delivery people thought was going on. Probably that we were some kind of Frankenstein couple, attempting to create life – some of that is true I guess. When ordering you choose when you want it delivered, this needs to be the same day or the day before you are ovulating. If you have a regular cycle then that’s relatively simple. If like me you don’t, this is quite tricky. If it comes too soon, the liquid nitrogen won’t keep those swimmers frozen and if it arrives too late you could miss your window of ovulation.
Once you are ready, you open up the dalek and you thaw the contents for 10 minutes. You are supplied with a needleless syringe and you pop it in yourself. You obviously can’t get as close as the clinic can but you can get as far as a man and woman trying for a baby can. Oh another funny story, although this was absolutely not funny at the time. We were getting ready to free the swimmers and thawing them out. I attached the vial to the syringe and filled it up. Then I actually do not know what happened, but I somehow pushed the plunger and sent it flying everywhere. It sounds funny now, but at the time, it was literally heart-breaking. Luckily we had another vial, but we had ordered two to better our chances and instead we literally spunked it up the wall (maybe that’s too vulgar – welcome to our blog!)
After several attempts, we decided the odds of conceiving through these processes were not great. It may work for some but it wasn’t meant to be for us and so we started on our IVF journey…