Friday, April 29, 2011

Royal Wedding, Diana and Me.

Thirty years ago (minus three months) I watched the Royal Wedding of Charles and Diana with my family, whilst packing. We had a break to go and pick up my friend Mandy from the station. Mandy had come down from Manchester to stay the night as the next day we were embarking on out gap-year adventure - a year living on a kibbutz in Israel. But first we had a day of joy and excitement, crisps and lemonade, in front of the telly. That is the background to the day but my relationship with Diana had already been established a few months previously.

It was a complicated relationship including fascination, envy, sympathy, and bemusement. In his book, Status Anxiety (Pantheon Books, New York, 2004); use a Barnes and Noble coupon code for a discount, modern day philosopher Alain de Botton writes that you are more likely to be jealous of your classmate who has acheived something big or had extremely good luck, than you are of a public figure like Oprah, for example. Why? Because your classmate comes from a similar background and it could so easily have been you.

There were enough similarities between me and Diana to cause me a bit of the 'why-not-me' syndrome. She was only a year and three months older than me, did not do brilliantly in school, was slightly chubby, a bit gauche, lived in London, and loved working with children. On the other hand, I grew up in a modest, unbroken, Jewish household in a London Suburb. I didn't seriously want to, nor was there any chance that I would, marry into the Royal Family. What I wanted was the romantic fairytale of it all.

A year later I returned to England to start Teacher Training at college. Diana had a baby and was, somehow, looking more beautiful and poised than I had remembered. I was a bit more envious. As Diana blossomed, I didn't. I had a few years in college when I put on weight, was struggling with the workload (not because it was too difficult but because I have  a tendency to procrastinate and, anyway, it interfered with my social life), and, quite frankly, I was miserable. Diana, however, had blossomed, had two babies, had a fantastic figure, had beautiful clothes, had a life of luxury and first-class travel.... And all this on one O'level and a job as a nanny.

Over the years and with a dollop of maturity, I saw that Diana was not living an uncomplicated golden life. Me and the world saw and read that she was actually very unhappy. I lost patience with her at this point. Firstly, thanks to my Teacher Training, I had learned that there are other kinds of smarts apart from book-smart. Diana was extremely people-smart. She knew how to win the hearts of the media and the public. She looked fantastic - my green-eyed monster said: well I could look fantastic with a personal trainer and a personal cook. And yet she wasn't happy.

True, the romantic dream was long gone. True, her husband was still in love with his former girlfriend - but then she also had an affair and he didn't create a fuss. So it was not as if romance was completely off the menu. With all the perks of her position, I remember wondering, why didn't she just enjoy her position, find love elsewhere, and basically cultivate a private life that could give her comfort and pleasure? She had the money and the connections to do whatever she wanted. No one gets everything - not even a Princess. I had admired her, loved her even, but now I was just irritated by her misery.

Then, a week before my 35th birthday, I was shocked to find that I would be getting something denied to Diana - my 37th birthday in two years time (hopefully - I might die in a car accident but I wouldn't be escaping the paparazzi in Paris with the heir to Harrods). What a waste of all that energy, beauty, influence, love, good works....

Thirty years later I watch William - a product of his mother's love in his early life, and his father's love - probably learned from Diana as he had had a very different and more distant relationship with his own parents. I see Kate, his wholesome and well-grounded bride, and I feel that same hope and excitement that I felt in 1981. Maybe I'm naive, but I can't help thinking that this time they've got it right.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Day of the Pregnancy Test

The 2WW was over. I had resisted the urge to get a home pregnancy test at the pharmacy. I still didn't feel a thing but everyone kept telling me that you can't count on feelings. I thought about those women who go to the doctor because they're feeling tired and putting on weight and the doctor tells them that they are eight months pregnant. I always thougth that could only happen to stupid women - I mean how could you not know? Then it happened to someone I know - a normal, intelligent, educated woman who had been through a very stressful year with ailing parents and a small baby to care for. I understood that you can put a lot of strange feeling down to stress. Or if you are so exhausted, you could ignore them. I even knew that your periods could stop for a while if you were really stressed. Now I was thinking that you really could get through a whole pregnancy without feeling anything.

"But you're not stressed," pointed out a calm friend.
"But I don't feel anything."
"Well you're only 5 minutes pregnant that's why."

There was no doubt in my mind that I was pregnant. I'd never been ill, my periods had always been regular, and my hips were as wide as a house. Even the timing had been arranged for the rendevue of sperm and ovum - an ovum that we had seen and measured on the ultrasound. I had to be pregnant, there was absolutely no reason not to be. Besides, I had told about 10 people.

I was in the hospital at 7.30am and waiting at the door of haematology as they unlocked it. There was no problem drawing blood, down the corridor to the lab with my blood sample and into the red heart-shaped basket. I was at the bus-stop by 7.50. Everything had gone smoothly, it felt like a lucky day.

The results of the blood test did not need to be discussed by the doctors. There was no treatment - either I was or I wasn't. Therefore, I didn't have to wait until after the doctor's meeting at 1pm in order to get the result. I had been told to call at 10.30. The 2 1/2 hours dragged and it was extremely hard to concentrate on my work. D who shared the office with me, was also watching the clock.

At 10.29 I took my mobile and went to find an empty office. There wasn't one so I stood on the stairwell and dialled very slowly. The ringing tone started at exactly 10.30. "We don't have the results yet, call back in half an hour." Aaargh! The waiting was supposed to be all over.  I went back to the office and D looked at me with expectant eyes. "Another half an hour." She was as frustrated as I was.

Half an hour later I got through to the nurses' station. "Sorry it's not pregnancy." I remember thinking that this was a nicer way of saying it than: Sorry you're not pregnant. Less accusatory. IT is not pregnancy, it's
not you it's 'it'. Not your fault at all.

They gave me back to the secretary to make an appointment with the doctor to discuss my next move. It was in three weeks time. "Three weeks?! Nothing sooner?"
"Sorry, we're completely booked up."
I wanted to see the doctor tomorrow and get staright back on track. I wondered if they deliberately made you wait to get over the disappointment and sort out your emotions. Now I'm sure that they purposely slow you down. You need to do this thing calmly and have quiet periods in between when you're not running around after ultrasounds and health fund authorizations. And they want you to have at least one natural menses.

I went back into the office and sat down. I kept my head down and made a short announcement: I'm not pregnant and I absolutely do not want to talk about it. There was silence but the disapppointment hung in the air. D tried to say something soothing. "D! I cannot stress how much I don't want to talk about it." I said brusquely. "Sorry, sorry," she mumbled and we got on with our work. After a while I was able to break the silence. It had to be me otherwise we would have sat there in silence all afternoon. I took a quick look at the newspaper online and made some inane comment about the headline. I can't remember what it was but we discussed it for two minutes and normal service and office relations were resumed.

As I walked home later I called some of the people I had told. "It's ok, I'm going straight back to try again. It would have been an absolute miracle if it had happened the first time."
"Maybe don't tell so many people next time?" Suggested J. And I knew she was right.

It was the beginning of March 2005. I would not be a mother at the age of 42.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Two Week Wait (2WW)

I have to write this post today as it is two weeks tomorrow that I wrote about my first attempt at pregnancy. In real life it takes two eternal weeks before you can find out if you are pregnant - it would seem, dear readers, that you are going to have to suffer the wait in real time.  

The 2WW - which looks something like the Second World War and is only slightly more traumatic - is not a phenomenon exclusive to women undertaking fertility treatment. Of course everyone who is trying to get pregnant (or trying not to) has to wait about two weeks to find out the success or failure of their efforts. The thing about fetility treatment, and especially IVF, is that you cannot simply try again next month. Apart from having to wait at least a couple of months for the drugs to wear off and your hormones to settle down (both chemically and emotionally), there is also the cost involved. All in all, the amount you put in - effort, emotion, money - is directly correlated to the level of pressure to succeed and the disappointment if you don't.

If you look up IVF websites there are pages of message boards featuring women going crazy over the 2WW. Every feeling, every twinge, every dream, smell, desire to eat something unusual, is examined. The most frequent, desperate question is: I don't feel anything, does that mean I'm definitely not pregnant? This is usually followed by half a dozen replies along the lines of: Don't worry, I didn't feel a thing either and I'm now in my sixth month!

Other questions relate to bleeding (Don't worry, etc, etc... and I'm now in my seventh month), how much you can exert yourself (Don't worry, I accidently picked up a sack of potatoes and I'm now in my eighth month), and women just trying to get throught the wait and looking for general support. Scroll down a few pages and the supportees become the supporters, whilst simultaneously becoming novices on the confirmed pregnant board (Don't worry, etc, etc... and now I have beautiful twin boys!)

The first week wasn't so bad as the blood-test seems so far away that you might as well forget about it. I told three or four friends. The second week is much harder, not least because you expect to start feeling something. I went to a friend for lunch and there was another single woman there whom I'd known for years and we used to be quite close. I pulled her outside to the garden and told her excitedly that I might be pregnant.

Instant fertility education lesson 1: Be careful what you say to your single or childless friends as there may be a whole lorry-load of emotions parked somewhere inside them. One word on the subject from a prematurely excited possibly pregnant person is like taking off the handbrake and sending that lorry down a ski-jump. Everyone's reaction is different. This friend, in her late 40s, launched into a speech about how she had never wanted children herself. I was shocked. All I had expected was a, "Good luck, I hope it works."

I played along, "yes I know that's never been your thing..." I had no concept of a woman never wanting a child but I needed her to stop. I realised that, in my eagerness to share, I had been insensitive and I wanted to stop her discomfort but I also resented slightly that I had to be apologetic about something so patently wonderful. Why did my decision have to be a negation of all her life choices? I now know that at 47 she still had time to become a mother (with ovum donation and IVF, or adoption) had she wanted to. But back then I thought she had missed the boat and I was kicking myself for opening my big mouth.

Over the next week I still felt nothing. At the back of my mind was the memory of sitting for over an hour clutching my little vial of sperm whilst waiting for a treatment room and a doctor to become available for my IUI. However, I found myself encouraged by the 2WW cheerleaders on the website and I told a few more friends. Maybe talking about would make it happen? Everyone you ask says that positive thinking is a great help. I was nothing if not positive in my thinking at least.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Singlemum and the Seder Night

For those of you of a different faith, here is a brief description of the Passover Seder Night. First you have to realise that this is the biggest family occasion of the year. People who keep nothing else find some sort of seder to attend (even if it's just dinner with friends and/or family). It's the equivalent of Christmas dinner with the mass, nativity play and carol service all at the table.

You start by retelling the story of the Exodus with set questions and responses, songs, and symbollic bites of food each with its own blessing and explanation. For example, we dip a vegetable in salt water to symbolise the tears of the slaves in Egypt, we eat a nutty paste that reminds us of the cement the Israelite slaves used to build the pyramids and sticks of horseradish emphasise the hardship. Then you have a festive meal followed by a lively sing-along of songs related to the story. It can, and usually does, go on until after midnight.

When I first came to Israel I usually went back to my family in London for this holiday. A bit ironic - my ancestors walked forty years in the desert to get here and I mark the occasion by leaving. So, after a few years I started celebrating here with good friends. As you know, everything changes when there are children involved and, for the past two years I have taken DD back to my family. This was partly because they wanted to see her and partly because I went all mushy and nostalgic for my own family's Seder Night after giving birth.

Now that DD is two it has suddenly become twice as expensive for us to travel by air. So I decided to stay here. I had a number of invitations - all from very dear friends. I very much wanted to be at a seder but my instincts told me that it would be a disaster. I don't take DD out in the evenings as she won't nap, gets cranky and needs to go to bed by 9pm at the latest. Of course you can't admit that you didn't go to seder - it would be tantamount to saying you don't believe in God. I half joked that I would tell everyone I was going somewhere else and just stay at home with a matza sandwich. But this didn't really sit well with me either.

In the end I accepted an invitation from one of my oldest friends and his family (If you read: What me worry? A midlife view of the Mideast, that's my friend David) who live 10 minutes walk away. I told them that when we have to leave we have to leave - even if we don't make it as far as the dinner. I was joking but you cannot plan for a two-year-old so I wanted to cover myself for any rudeness on the night.

It's a lot of work preparing a seder and I did not want to simply turn up without making a contribution. So I brought two bottles of wine and one bottle of grape juice (the seder calls for four cups of either of the above per person), and I made a large fruit salad for dessert delivered in a new container as a gift for my hostess. (I know you will read this David and Minda - please note that I do not begrudge the wine and salad, it's just part of the story.)

At the table were David, his wife Minda and four teenagers, and another family with two teenagers. We came prepared with puzzles and picture books but DD was cranky before we even started. "I'm going to take her for a walk around the block to get her to sleep in the buggy," I said. David suggested I at least stay for the opening blessing and then go. By the time we left the house, only ten minutes later, no one was sorry to see us go.

So we walked the streets for an hour. DD chatted the whole way, giving me a running commentary of all the points of interest en route: car, cat, tree, park, car, steps, car, etc... As we  passed David's house for the fourth time, he emerged to tell me that they had reached the meal part of the seder. We went in to eat and DD enjoyed her chicken soup, chicken and fruit salad. Then the tiredness hit her again, she started to rub her eyes furiously and I could see meltdown on the horizon. I excused us and we left before the end of the meal and before the concluding sing-along.

So I've made up this joke: What do you call Seder Night without the seder? Dinner. And I've made a mental note to go with my instincts in future. I signed up for this so it's not a surprise that some things have to be put on hold for a year or so, even something as important as Seder Night. And to David and Minda - thank you for a lovely dinner, I'm sorry we were so semi-detatched.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The First Attempt at Pregnancy

On the day of my I.U.I. (intra-uterine insemination) I called the sperm bank at Hadassah Hospital to tell the bank manager that I needed to collect today. She told me to come at 11 am and that it costs 350 shekels. Before that I have to do one last blood-test and ultrasound as a final check. I went through all the steps in a relaxed state and as slowly as possible as I had two hours to kill until 11am. Everything was in the right place, the right size or the right thickness. We were on!

I made some phone calls, went to the cafetaria for breakfast, tried to read my book... anything to stop watching the clock work its way round, second by second, to 11am. At precisely 11am I knocked on the door of the sperm bank with my 350 shekels in cash in an envelope. She didn't want the money. "You pay downstairs at the reception and bring me the receipt."

I return to Reception. I take a number, swipe my card, get a print-out, wait for my turn, see the same woman I saw the first time I did this two hours previously. Of course I could have paid my 350 shekels then, but who knew?

Back upstairs with the receipt and we do the switch. I get the smallest galss vial I've ever seen with less than 1cm of transparent pink liquid in the bottom. This is what it's reduced to? I wonder how many sperm are in there and I make a mental note to ask. I can't help smiling when I think of al the extra stuff you get when you do it naturally. The bank manager laughs at my bemused expression. She knows exactly what I'm thinking.

I take my vial of sperm back to the IVF clininc, trying to hide it behind the piece of paper I am still carrying and trying to look nonchallent in the lift with half a dozen other people. I go to the nurse's station and hold up the vial proudly to show them. One of the nurses quickly takes it and presses it into the palm of my hand, closingmy fingers around it. Apparently I was supposed to keep it warm.

I sit down to wait thinking: they've probably all died of exposure by now. I hold the vial very tightly, perhaps I can heat it up again in my sweaty palm and revive the little fellows.

There are other women waiting for the same thing. You can tell by the way they or their husbands have one fist tightly clenched. I am about fourth on the list. The woman next to me tells me that the procedure only takes about five minutes but then you have to lie still for twenty minutes until your cervix closes. I see that she must be right as the doctor is in and out of each treatment room in a very short time and the woman only emerges much later.

The waiting area is lined with doors. I know what is behind some of them and I try to calculate how many treatment rooms there are. I  hope there are more than four or I will be waiting for more than half an hour for my turn. My hand is beginning to cramp. I try not to think of the sperm shrivelling up from exposure, cold, or from boredom maybe.

At 12.10 I was called in. I had to prize my fingers open from an hour's worth of gripping. I undressed my lower half and lay on the bed with my feet in the stirrups. The doctor inserted a metal clamp and opened it to create an unobstructed passage through my vagina. This hurt and I braced myself for more pain. Then he prepared the catheter and slowly inserted it. There was a small twinge of pain as it passed through my cervix and entered the uterus. And then it was all over. On his way out the door, the doctor passed me my book and my phone, told me to wait at least 20 minutes, and wished me good luck.

Half an hour later I emerged. "Come back in two weeks time for a blood-test," said the nurse. "Good Luck."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

For goodness sake, can we do it already?

I was so close to having my first attempt at getting pregnant. I had my Hadassah Hospital morning routine for ultrasound and blood-test and could do the whole thing and be at work by 8.30am. I had sorted out Maccabi (my health fund) and the bank - I no longer had to worry about owing them money as I now had a working direct debit.

So far I had been in to the IVF clinic on the morning of the third day of my cycle, the fifth day, the tenth day and the twelfth day. As I've already said, we decided to start with I.U.I. (Intra-Uterine Insemination) which is basically the turkey-baster method with very little or no intervension. When I called to get the results on the twelfth day I was told to come in another two days. "Will that be the day of the I.U.I?" I asked hopefully.
"No, this is another blood-test and  ultrasound."

They tell me to call the sperm bank and tell them that I will be needing to collect within the week.

I am so ready to move on to the next stage. On day 14 I am told that the I.U.I. will probably be in three days time. The ultrasound doctor can see the ova still in my ovaries (I think I had two) and she reckons they're not quite cooked yet. The ovum sacs only measure in the early teens and they need to be 18 or 19 apparently. 18 or 19 what, I don't know. I don't care - let's just get on with it already!

On day 16 I go to check in at Reception. Every receptionist is busy except the one in the window marked 'Personnel.' There the woman is filing her nails. I go up to the window and hand her my print-out and notes. She begins to process them without batting an eye-lid. Suddenly there is a man behind me who is obviously in a hurry. He is wearing a plastic name badge which classifies him as personnel. He taps me on the shoulder. When I turn around he searches my breast area and, not finding what he is looking for, asks, "are you personal?"

He pronounces it 'personal' (emphasis on the first syllable and with 'al' at the end). I look him straight in the eye. I'm in no mood for any more delays. I've dealt with Maccabi, I've dealt with the bank, and I can deal with you too! "Yes," I say, emphatically, "very personal." And I turn back to the window to collect my notes.

At IVF, they tell me to come in tomorrow for I.U.I. It will be at about 11.40am after I've collected the sperm from the sperm bank. I have to call the sperm bank at 7.30am and ask them to prepare the sperm.

I had the I.U.I. on day 17 and... it was a complete farce. I'll tell you about it tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What Bedtime Stories Do

This is not a bedtime routine blog. We all know that bedtime stories help to calm and relax your child ready to go to sleep; and that they can be a rich and valuable bonding experience between parent and child. This is a prepare your child for a bright and successful future blog. And the first step is the regular bedtime story.

Ten years ago I wrote my MA dissertation on how to encourage children to become avid readers. My research involved interviewing avid readers and comparing their experiences with books to the educational literature already published. I found that five factors were most prevalent:

1. Regular bedtime stories from a very young age.
2. An older reader in the household to act as a role model.
3. Parental attitude that reading is a worthwhile activity.
4. Access to a wide selection of age/reading level appropriate material.
5. The time to read.

I'm assuming that we all want our children to be avid readers. Just for the record, the reasons are:

1. An avid reader has access to thousands of lives and worlds outside the confines of his/her own reality.
2. An avid reader never has any reason to be bored or unoccupied.
3. Avid readers do better in school and in life because they have a greater general knowledge and basically know more.

I would love to simply publish my whole paper but this is a blog not a book. And even though it was, in a way, my first baby - not everyone finds it as interesting as I do. So I'll merely tell you why bedtime stories for even young toddlers are so important if you want your child to love books. Much of this is documented in: What No Bedtime Story Means by Shirley Brice Heath (Lang. in Soc. 1982, 11: 49-76 Cambridge University Press). It's not rocket science and, like most theories based on common sense, you probably intuited most of it by virtue of being a good parent.

1. Your child gets to know what a book is and how it works. He understands that there is a story inside and that you can get it out and enjoy it.
2. Your child looks at the pictures but knows that you are looking at those lines of black symbols and are able to tell the story. She knows that they say the same thing every time. Those words must be magical things and therefore highly desirable.
3. The child hears many stories and gets a feeling for how stories 'go'. Soon he expects a beginning, some action, and an ending.
4. She knows that the pages turn from the right and you read the page on the left first. At some stage you can point at the words. Your child will see that you read from left to right, from the top line down to the bottom of each page. (Unless you only read Charlie and Lola.) When your child gets to school he/she is already familiar with books and how they work, which is a huge advantage.
5. Your child will see that you love books and this is contageous.

Goodnight and sweet dreams.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bed-linens for All Seasons

I haven't blogged properly for a week. It's been a difficult week, largely taken up with a poorly toddler needing to sleep on my lap for vast chunks of the day. I wasn't going to blog today either, but then something caught my eye on Twitter. British Mummy Bloggers held a Twitter Party from 1pm to 2pm on the subject of colours and clothes, soft furnishing, crafts, etc... (#mycolours). I missed it but some of the entries found their way on to my home page.

The tweet that caught my eye was from TOTS100.  It asked if anyone else changed their bed-linens and soft furnishings in the bedrooms for summer and winter. Immediately I remembered something I once heard on the radio and which has puzzled me ever since.

I can't remember which radio station it was on nor when it was. There was an interview with someone who had grown up in Russia, in a family that was once part of the aristocracy. I don't know how old the interviewee was, or maybe she was describing the childhood of her grandmother, I really don't remember. What I do remember was that she said: In the winter all the soft furnishings were changed - bed spreads, curtains, cushions, rugs, chair covers, everything. In winter it was all white. In the spring we threw open the doors and windows and changed all the fabrics back to bright, vibrant, colours and floral designs for the summer.

I never understood this. At most it brought the winter snow or the summer garden into the house as an extension of the outside and nature. But why? I now live in a hot climate and everyone knows that it is good to wear white in the summer because it reflects the heat. Conversely, darker colours in the winter will absorb the heat and make you warmer.

If I were running such a household, I would want cool, crisp, whites for the summer and warm, dark colours to keep us snug in the winter. I have tried to google this Russian thing but to no avail. Does anyone know if this was a Russian tradition and, if so, what was the reasoning behind the choice of colours?

Does anyone else do this? If so, what colours do you use? TOTS100? I would like to start doing this as I love buying bed-linens  but really don't need anymore. I would also love to have summer and winter tableware. Summer and winter music? Or let's go the full monty and have a home for all seasons - changing every three months.

Here are my colours for a northern climate.

Spring: Buttermilk yellow and cornflower blue to ease us in to the warmer weather. Changed on March 1st.
Summer: On June 1st everything would go white with accents of blue and green.
Autumn: On September 1st we switch to an autumnal theme of orange.
Winter: On December 1st - Red, Navy Blue and Bottle Green, with gold.

What would your colours be?

P.S. I have all white walls so I could probably get away with it.