The First Time

22 Apr

It all began with a dress. It was an exclusive print, a manic explosion of colour on a base of Crepe de Chine. The handle of the fabric, the punchy print, and the contrast stitching on the intricate self covered buttons would normally consume me until it became the latest acquisition for my museum of finery.

But today was different because I was wild with grief, uncontrolled and vulnerable as a baby bird just left the nest. He wouldn’t want everybody to wear black, wear colour for the kids. Today and everyday I could do without this dress. So I wore it to the funeral and stood in solidarity with the family he’d left behind, his youngest son eight weeks old, a baby bird himself.

I don’t know why I put it on again, maybe I thought a good memory could erase a bad one. Whatever it was, it was what I chose to wear on our sixth anniversary, on the day of the appointment. We drove along holding hands. The grass was always so yellow in Adelaide at this time of year, the parklands looked sunburnt, as if Mother Nature had let the kids play too long at the beach without any sunscreen.

We’d gone from Melbourne, to South Africa and were now in Adelaide for Christmas. Months ago I found a card that said “It’s always been you” on the front, and bought it. That was what I’d had engraved on his wedding ring. I had started writing the card before we left the house this morning, but didn’t get to finish because we were running late. Four years later, I still have that card, hidden away, like the memories of a cruel ex-boyfriend you don’t want to revisit but can’t forget.

I had to drink a lot of water. I knew from so many times before that you really don’t need to drink as much as they say you do, but despite halving the quantity I was still so uncomfortable in the waiting room that my eyes started tearing up. Then they called my name. We both stood up. We held hands tightly and we walked into the room.

There was the monitor, the curtain, the paper pulled across the examination table. The walls were an incipit watery blue-grey. He hadn’t let go of my hand yet. “Can you please check all of your details are correct?” she said to me and told me she was going to leave the room so I could get undressed. I knew every step of this encounter before it even occurred. For me the fear was not in the unknown but in the knowing. And right on que, like a seasoned actor, who rehearsed the lines until they could be regurgitated in her sleep, my body tensed up. My heart was galloping away without me. I got up onto the bed. She was back. He squeezed my hand.  It was happening. We both knew what to look for and it wasn’t there, this was the first time, the first loss, there would be another four months later. Those two pink lines had lulled me into a safe place where rosy pink babies were delivered into arms outstretched. All of her donations resulted in babies, that’s why I chose her, it said so on the paperwork.

I’m not really sure what happened next, but at some point I noticed that they had all left the room, my colorful silk dress still flung over the chair. Worn to two funerals in one week, the second with no obituary. Could I put it back on and take this all back? And I turned to him, we clutched at each other, a drowning pair on a sinking raft, slowly going under, with no life vest in sight.

I threw that dress away.

Fiona O’Neil, The IVF Lady

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The One

14 Apr

CA6B119F-3F32-4707-82AF-BC550C98B477Just the one?

Just fuck off.

I am not the Mum at the park pushing the Bugaboo Donkey, trying to hide a cleverly concealed expanse.

So you can just, keep your just.

I have not felt the victory of getting two kids to nap at the same time during a mundane day.

So you can just keep your just.

I do not have a pile of hand me downs and I didn’t keep the cot.

So you can just keep your just.

Because

I am the mum at the park who had more injections than a junkie to get here.

You can just keep your just.

Because

I have felt the failure of knowing I’ll never get two kids to nap at the same time.

You can just keep your just.

Because

All my hand me downs went to a girlfriend along with the cot.

You can just keep your just.

But most of all you can keep your just because “just the one” is not a just at all.

Love Letter of the Infertile

8 Apr

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Dear Husband,

Sometimes it’s hard for you to talk about our struggle to build our family, but you have come so far in our years of trying. We talk now more than ever before, I want to thank you for that. When we are open with each other I feel the strength of us as a team, this helps me to cope.

When we first found out that our infertility was due to endometriosis the guilt was oppressive. There was a heaviness, like a chain had wrapped itself around my heart, padlocked up tight, without a key. It was my fault.

You didn’t feel the same. You always called it “our problem” and never once have referenced the fact that it is my body that is letting us down. This attitude has been my key. I appreciate your steadfast loyalty to “the team” and I walk through life knowing I have a strong and skilled teammate by my side.

I want to thank you for being my champion, but it is important for you to know that sometimes you can put the sword down to rest. You can pick it up again later.

I know that you have a hard time when people ask you why we don’t have children and lately you have found the courage to say that we do want children but haven’t been able to have any yet. I am proud of you for owning our situation and removing the shame. It’s been liberating to let go of the façade. Your candor has changed my heart for the better.

The plan was get married, have kids. The plan didn’t go to plan. I admire that you’re naturally adaptable. When plan A became plan B became plan Z, you never faltered. Each new plan is accepted, embraced, executed. Your enthusiasm is my energy, your dedication fuels my drive.

I appreciate your cold hard cash contribution. You have become the soul driving financial force behind each treatment. You do what needs to be done. I admire this about you.

I was very much in love when we got married. I was also naïve. Trying to start our family has been exhausting, humbling, confusing, and painful. Infertility has shaken the city of us so hard, where once grand buildings stood proudly, only dust and rubble remaine. But buried underneath the ruins were unexpected gifts for us both to uncover.

Infertility has given me the opportunity to see you- completely. Would you have come into focus so quickly had we not had to endure this?

You are a man who is not afraid to be vulnerable, a man who is hopeful, a man who puts me first and provides me with unrestrained love and support. A man who says to his wife “you are enough” – I am enough.

I am grateful that our IVF journey has revealed to me such an extraordinary character, one of which I am fortunate enough to have married.

My gift is you Husband. Take your wedding ring off for one minute and look inside. The words say what my heart means, “it will always be you”.

Fiona O’Neil, The IVF Lady

IVF and Work – The IVF Lady’s 10-Point System for Nailing it

7 Apr

barbie working

If you visit any of the IVF forums, talk to women who are undergoing treatment, or are struggling to find balance yourself, you will know that coping with work during treatment time is concern shared by many.

I have worked in fashion wholesale for twelve years, five years years of those doing IVF. With my latest round I have had the luxury of absconding from work (it is a little difficult to show up for work in Melbourne everyday when you are doing treatment in Capetown). That said, it can be a little difficult to show up for work everyday in Melbourne even when you are doing your treatment in Melbourne!

Here is my 10-Point System for Nailing Work/ Treatment Balance:

1)   Book treatment in your “downtime”. If there is such a thing in your workplace as a slower period, book your treatment in at this time.

2)   If possible, tell the truth. The biggest anxiety about undertaking treatment while working is that you have to come up with a million different “excuses” for your appointments. If you have a workplace that is supportive and open, and you are comfortable sharing your journey with your boss or team members, go for it. There is no shame in requiring a little extra help to start your family.

3)   When in doubt lie. One unfortunate aspect of being open about treatment is the very real possibility that you will be passed over for new opportunities. This is a sad truth. Somebody has to have the children but in competitive workplaces women can be ostracized for this choice. If you do not feel as if your workplace supports building your family simply don’t tell them.

4)   Embrace the white lies, leave the guilt behind. If in fact you do have to discreetly undergo treatment don’t take on-board the guilt of missing meetings or having a patchy attendance record for a while. When those thoughts sneak in remember in the long run a woman never thinks, “I should have worked more”, she thinks about her family. You are doing this for yours.

5)   Allow mental health days. If things don’t go to plan, or you are just having a particularly hard day don’t beat yourself up for taking a day off.

6)   Take a “holiday”. If you are unsure whether you can turn up during your treatment at all simply “take a holiday”. It may be spent in your couch but nobody needs to know that.

7)   Wake up half an hour early. On some days during treatment the last thing you want to do is get out of bed, let alone half an hour earlier. However during your treatment stage it is important to take a few moments to prepare yourself for the day. This may mean a few reflective moments of journaling, doing some breathing of simply getting up to put the slow cooker on to relive some dinner pressure.

8)   Ask for help. Undergoing treatment is throwing a whole other dimension into your normally busy life. During this period ask those who know for support with the daily chores. Your man can be in charge of dinner, throw on a few loads of laundry and grocery shop for you.

9)   Slow down the social calendar. Treatment can be pretty unpredictable. If you are about to start a cycle make sure that social commitments are kept to a minimum. This is one simply way to reduce your stress level.

10) Nurture yourself. The most important of my 10-point system. Treat yourself as you would your best friend or sister. If you are having a bad day it’s ok, if you want to eat your favorite chocolate bar while watching Sex and the City on repeat go for it! Now is the time to take care of yourself first and foremost so do what Samantha would and declare “I love you (work) but I love me more”.

The IVF Lady

Building a Support Network within the IVF Community

8 Jun

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Worried about talking to other infertiles about their situation? Scared you will say the wrong thing or react badly when somebodies journey delivers “the goods” before you do? Don’t have the energy to support somebody else through their rounds while you are barely able to support your self?

These are thoughts that have all crossed my mind at certain times but I am here to tell you nobody gets it like your fellow IVF’ers, embrace them!

 This road can be isolating and although it can feel like you’re out of control, there are certain things you can do to take some power back and “normalise” your situation as much as possible.

The key factor to making IVF less isolating is to know that you are not alone. The Fertility Society of Australia quotes that 1 in 6 couples experience infertility, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention sights that 10% of women in the United States (or 6.1 million) experience infertility. I could keep going down the list here, but the moral of the story is there are millions of us out there.

This information doesn’t really help when you hear is as a cold hard figure, who cares about everyone else? You just want to have a baby right? Here’s where I weigh in on that. I can tell you from personal experience that it feels good to talk to other women who are going through what you are going through. I have never been so embraced or comforted in my hard times than by those women who have also experienced infertility themselves. There is an understanding of the pain you have been through that only an IVF war buddy can truly understand.

When you first reach out to the support networks within the IVF community it can be confronting. I find that when I say something out loud it seems like it becomes true and if facing your journey is not something you are ready for then the interaction may feel uncomfortable. The good news is that there are ways to dip your toe in the support system without fully diving in. There are great online forums where you can relate to others from the safety of your living room.

If you’re more comfortable support groups can be a great place to share your experiences with others. I recently made contact with the head of The Melbourne IVF Support Group and received the most beautiful email back from her after my initial contact. This is a group led by two patients who truly understand what you have been through. Check with your treatment facility to see if they have an active support group that you could attend.

And last but definitely not least are friends and family who have travelled this road before you. I have one friend in particular who has been on this journey for some time. She provides me with a constant safe place to fall if I am having a wobbly day and can talk me off the edge if my anxiety levels are getting the better of me.

This is not to say that those close to you who have not experienced infertility are not a priceless source of support, they definitely are. The thing about connecting with someone in a similar situation is that the relationship re-iterates the fact that you are not alone with every interaction.

If you are not currently connected with any other women experiencing infertility do yourself a favour and embrace your sisters. They will be there for you when the going gets tough.

Keep your sparkle alive with The IVF Lady

xxx