Sunday, January 30, 2011

IVF Reunion - A chain of love, friendship and hope

On Friday afternoon DD and I hosted our IVF friends for lunch. The excuse was that they didn't get to celebrate DD's birthday two months ago as we went to London. Then DD had her birthday at the nursery one month later so we were really done for this year. However, the real celebration is that S could came with her eight-week-old son, O. For that, it was worth having another birthday party.

We were five mothers and five children, ranging in age from three years to two months. That means we have waited three years and nine months for all of us to have successfully brought home a baby. And, strangely enough, after five long journeys and many disappointments along the way, each of us came home with the exact baby she wanted.

It all began when I met N whilst trying to get pregnant. We both succeeded but, sadly, after a difficult first trimester, I miscarried at 22 weeks. I followed N's continuing pregnancy with hope and excitement. Her success was vital to prove that IVF does work for us. My involvement with N helped me regard my situation as a big, disappointing and frustrating delay. It was not the end, just a setback.

During a subsequent attempt, I hooked up with S and R. On that cycle both S and I became pregnant. For me, one year later, this was a totally different pregnancy experience. The numbers were high, the signs were strong and there were no complications. S lost her baby at 19 weeks. She clung on to the fact that I had experienced the same tragedy only one year earlier and here I was, with a healthy pregnancy. And she didn't give up.

Meanwhile, by the time I gave birth to DD, R was three months pregnant. And another R, who had joined our unofficial family of mutual support and encouragement, was two months into her pregnancy. And S was still trying.

At DD's first birthday party S took the group photo of mothers and babies as she didn't feel the need to be in it. By the next first birthday - a picnic in the park - she was already pregnant, but didn't tell. I don't know how she managed not to say anything. I knew and I nearly gave it away twice.

Finally our little group is complete. I can't post the photo but I assure you that it is one that radiates pure joy. And DD thinks that she gets a birthday party, with presents, once a month.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Mr Grasshead


Two weeks ago it was Tu B'Shvat - this is a Jewish holiday celebrating the rebirth of nature after the winter and specifically the blossoming of the almond trees (though this year it's fallen early so the almond trees didn't quite make it). It is the sort of minor holiday that can pass you by and has done for me for many many years. The sort of holiday that you need a young child to involve you in. In English we have dubbed it the New Year for Trees.

In the DD's nursery they had a Tu B'Shvat party in which they ate (tiny amounts) of 15 different fruits, they planted seeds and plants in the garden, sang tree songs, painted pictures and... they made Mr Grassheads to bring home. Of course I've seen these before, but nothing prepared me for the intense excitement I would feel on seeing a bit of grass grow out of the top of a soil-filled stocking.

First let me describe our Deshy. Desher is the Hebrew for grass and a very suitable name for Mr Grasshead. He is basically a length of stocking tied at one end, filled with soil, topped with grass seeds, and tied at the top. Then the children stuck on eyes, a nose and a mouth. Deshy came home with instructions to keep him saturated with water and watch his hair grow.

We sat Deshy in front of a sunny window and watered him faithfully for over a week unitl, last Friday, I suddenly noticed a few small shoots poking through his bald stocking scalp. "Look! DD Look!" I cried. I could hardly contain myself I was that excited. After that it was running to inspect Deshy's emerging coiffe every 10 minutes. And believe me, the hair was growing as we watched.

For I while I worried that he was going to have a bald patch where the seeds were unevenly distributed, but he seems to have covered it up quite cleverly by keeping the rest of his hair long and letting it flop over the barer bits. Funny how a comb-over looks ridiculous on anyone else, but when it's your own you sort of understand the emotion behind it. I will have to consider a haircut for Deshy soon, after okaying it with DD first of course.

Tu B'Shvat comes and goes every year. Here in Israel we all know about it because the dried fruit gift-boxes appear in the supermarket. However, this year I celebrated Tu B'Shvat and loved it. Who knew that would happen?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The First Visit to the IVF Clinic

Six years ago and after much deliberating, I evenutally made my first appointment at the IVF clinic at the hospital. I don't know why it took me so long to make an appointment. As my friend N said, when she gave me all the details, they don't make you come home with a baby after the first meeting. In hindsight - would that it were so easy.

Hadassah Hospital is in Jerusalem and, it being a smallish city, I was terrified of bumping into someone I know. In the event, I did bump into someone but it happened to be N who was visiting a friend. She was more than happy to take me up and introduce me. The receptionist greeted N with a big smile followed by a hug and a kiss. Then one of the nurses came out of the office and did the same. Hmm seems like a friendly place...

I was told to wait and I sat surveying the other clients lining the waiting-room. They ran the full gamut from ultra-orthadox Jews (the married ones with covered heads and the unmarried ones in the familiar modest style of dress), religious Moslems (in Arab head-covering and accompanied by their husbands), through to more modern and sometimes scantily clad women (with and without husbands and wedding rings). No one spoke or even exchanged smiles which is very unusual in Israel. Later, when we were all less scared, I started to make friends among the women I met along the journey - affectionately known as my IVF friends.

When my turn came I was shown into a small consulting room with a swarthy looking doctor. To my relief he offered to speak English. I can do Hebrew but sometimes you want to be sure you're saying exactly the right thing and understanding everything to the full. Anyway, the doctor was Israeli-Arab so neither of us had Hebrew as our mother-tongue.

Swarthy Doctor asked me for my medical history, age, etc... I was ready for the questions about why I wanted to do IVF and I had my speech prepared, and practised - a lot. But the questions never came. I was almost disappointed that I'd been done out of my performance. Instead I came out with a list of blood tests I needed to take, the phone number of the sperm bank, and a date for the next meeting.

I called N to tell her how it went. How quick and simple it had been. "I told you," she said, "they don't pry into your personal life. The initial signing up is like buying a fridge from people who care."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Great Sterilizing Debate

When DD was born I had a pretty good idea what I wanted to do about most areas of her care. For example, along with breastfeeding, which I did for six months, I knew that I was going to give her one bottle of formula a day. My reasons? As an older mother, I didn't totally trust my milk to be sufficient and I wanted to see at least one bottle of milk go down. As a single mother, I wanted her to be used to the bottle so that other people could feed her occasionally and it not be a big trauma - in case I was not available for any reason. Very soon other reasons joined the list such as, when I was with friends this was important adult company time for me and I didn't want to spend half the time in another room (or at least away from the dinner table) whilst feeding.

However, I had no idea whether sterilizing bottles was required or not. As with most issues, I went looking for the answer I wanted. The sterilizing units were very expensive and would take up yet more counterspace in my already cramped kitchen.

On one side were the mothers who told me that sterilizing was left over from the past when the water supply was not treated as it is today and could not be trusted to be clean enough. On the other side, mothers of children with allergies or sensitive constitutions told me I absolutely must sterilize. Others informed me that dishwashers are sufficiently hot to sterilize as they clean - I don't have one.

In the end a comment from a paediatrician swung the balance. She told me that there was no question I must sterilize. When I asked her why, she replied that parents bring her their babies with diarrhea and they don't make the connection between the runny-tummy and the shmootsy bits left on the bottles when you wash them by hand and don't sterilize. That did it for me - I don't leave shmootsy bits when I wash-up by hand! So I didn't sterilize (although I did pour boiling water over the clean bottles in a mixing bowl for a while) and DD was fine.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Forget 9 to 5, how about 2.30 to 6.30 A.M.?

Working at home (WAH) was a choice. Except that I didn't really have any other option. Since starting nursery last September DD has been sick every other week. January (peh, peh, peh) seems to have been better. I'm hoping that she may at last have built up some immunity to the bugs and viruses that whizz round and round the nursery, hitting her from behind before the last coughing fit from the previous bought has left her system.

This I expected. I was warned. It's obvious really and, as N always says, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. What I didn't expect was that I would also come down with the coughs and colds and stomach flu. I'm a teacher for goodness sake - I've spent most of my life in the germ-infested system. It is true that my pupils in school never wiped their noses with the backs of their hands and then crawled onto my lap to play with my facial features. All in all, had I been going out to work, I probably would have been fired by now.

So I have cobbled together a career of private teaching and various writing and editing projects on the computer. My aim is to earn enough money to finish the month. The problem is not a lack of work but a lack of time. A basic law of physics is that, if you have five hours while your child is at day-care, you cannot do five hours of billable work and clean the house. Sommats gotta give. And even though it is amazing what you can live with, that living-room carpet does need to be hoovered once every six months or so.

DD is scared of the hoover and she also hates the magimix. On the other hand she loves running through the dirt pile that I have just swept up and making footprints in any wet floors. However, these are not the sort of chores you want to be doing after hours if you live in an apartment and you want to get on with your neighbours. Apart from the noise factor involved in housework (moving furniture, clattering dishes, washing machine, etc) and the toddler input factor, I just don't feel like cleaning when it's dark outside.

So I do work in the mornings, but I also do house stuff. Afternoons and evenings are DD time. It sounds virtuous but, again, it's not an option - "Mummy sit chair!" orders the boss every time I try to leave the room. As she gets older and more interested in what I am doing, we are slowly introducing laundry and tidying up as mother-daughter activities. Nevertheless, when she goes to sleep at some time between 7.30 and 8.30 in the evening, I still have work to do on the computer.

Whats the problem? Sounds simple - sit down for a few hours every evening and still be in bed by 11pm (or even midnight would be fine). The problem is that often when I lie down with DD until she falls asleep, the next thing I know is 2.30 in the morning. So I've had my 6 1/2hours sleep and I get up to work until 6.30 when the real day starts.

What can I say... it's a living.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bath Issues: How often? And how to use the time.

Queen Elizabeth I is famously reported to have announced that she bathed once a month whether she needed to or not. By the mid 20th century most ordinary people in the western world were bathing once a week. And when I was a child in the 1960s, my parents were showering every day and we children had bathnight every-other-night. Since my own friends started having babies in the late 1980s, bathtime has become a nightly ritual. All the child-rearing reality programmes on television advise the parents to stick to the regular evening routine including supper, bath, teeth, story and bed (not necessarily in that order - except for bed).

I, so far, have not dared to admit that DD does not have a bath every evening. So de riguer has it become that it almost seems slovenly not to comply. OK, in the summer when the children are outside playing with water in the sand-pit and getting all hot and sweaty - then we will probably do a quick bath on a more frequent basis. However, in the winter, when she is dressed from ankles to neck and all exposed parts are wiped several times a day, and whilst still in nappies - meaning that the nappy area is also washed at least three times a day, I really feel that three times a week is sufficient.

Recently I found an article in The Daily Mail that suggested that children were being bathed too often. It claimed that a nightly bath dried out their skin and washed out the natural oils. Before I start sounding like an advert for a new moisteriser, I want to emphasise that I am not preaching about the optimum number of baths a week. Just that, for us, three baths a week works for now and I'm happy with it. Also we have not received any complaints from the nursery about DD's personal hygene.

And now for my ingenious use of bathtime. Obviously a two-year-old cannot be left alone in the bath, so you're pretty much held hostage for about half an hour. I don't impose a time-limit but DD's inbuilt clock usually signals that she's ready to come out after 30 minutes or so. So what can you do with the time to stop you pleading, after the first 10 minutes of watching her play, "haven't you had enough? Wouldn't you like to come out now?"?

First you have to understand that I hate cleaning the bathroom. My whole apartment could be spotless and I would leave the bathroom for another time (usually ten minutes before guests arrive - sometimes I'd invite guests just to motivate me to clean the bathroom). Not so anymore! Now, after I've washed DD's hair and soaped her down, I clean the bathroom whilst she plays in the bath. These days she's practically climbing out of the bath herself whilst I quickly finish polishing the mirror.

Once I'd got into the swing of this routine and was feeling more than a little smug about my ready-for-guests bathroom facilities, I had to admit that my bathroom really didn't need to be scrubbed to that degree of cleanliness three times a week. So then I started to find other things to fill the bathroom time. Tonight, whilst DD played in the bubbles with her plastic cups and animals, I gave myself a pedicure.

If it were still fashionable to fill a tin bath in front of the fire in the kitchen, the possibilites would be endless...

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Lost Hours

When I first brought DD home from the hospital I read that a newborn baby sleeps for about 16 hours a day. That's perfect, I thought, I need about eight hours sleep so I'll have eight hours to do my stuff while she's asleep. I'm still not quite sure where those eight hours went.

I was reminded of this today as the following phenomenon occured. The nursery is open for five hours on a Friday morning; 7.30am until 12.30pm. I had to teach one English class lasting an hour and a half. The location of the class is one short bus ride away. So how come I dropped DD off at the nursery, went straight to my class, and then came directly back to the nusery to pick DD up? I swear I did nothing else this morning.

My life is full of these lost hours. It probably always was but I never noticed until every spare moment became so precious.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Best Advice I Ever Got

All my adult life I had been saying that if I didn't get married I would have a baby on my own. However, I was holding out to do it the traditional way with a loving other. Or at least an other. It wasn't until I saw my friend's twins, who had come into the world with the help of IVF, that I got over that hurdle. They were her babies, her family. I looked but I didn't see any question marks hanging over their heads.

Now, at the age of 41, I knew it was put your money where your mouth is. Either I did it now or I came to terms with the prospect of never being a mummy. I started to develop symptoms for about five major diseases. I am not a hypochondriac. I wasn't even registered with a doctor as I hadn't needed one for at least ten years. I was the opposite of a hypochondriac, if there is such a thing.

So I found a wonderful woman doctor (WWD) and told her about my pins and needles (MS), palpatations (heart disease), unstable hands (parkinsons), twitchy restlessness and buggy eyes (thyroid) and painful boobs (breast cancer). WWD diagnosed stress and then, with no prompting from myself, she asked me, "have you ever thought about having children?"
"All the time," I replied.
"Don't dwell on all the details of how you would cope or you'll scare yourself out of it. I know many many women who have done this on their own and not one of them has regretted it.."

That was the best advice I ever got.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The First Question About Daddy

It was at my daughter's birthday party at the nursery. Seventeen two-year-olds sat on little chairs in a circle and Darling Daughter (DD from now on) sat on the birthday throne. I sat next to her and waited eagerly for the teacher to begin - it was my first time. "Who's having a birthday today?" asked the teacher? "DD!" shouted the children (except that they used her real name of course). "And who has come to celebrate her birthday with DD?" "DD's mummy!" "That's right." Before she could continue a little voice from stage left called out, "where's daddy?"

I turned to the little girl and stetched my hands out, palms upward, with a look of I don't know, where could he possibly be? on my face, and we moved on. DD didn't even notice. As yet she has no idea (as far as I know) that our family of two is in any way unusual. However, this event has given me a 'heads up' that we are heading into question territory and it's possibly just around the corner.

So I came up with a line that we will use until more detailed explanations are appropriate: "DD doesn't have a daddy, but she has a mummy who loves her as much as a mummy and a daddy together!"