Reasons to be grateful – the NHS

The only place to be at 5 o’clock in the morning.

I had an emergency C section 2 days ago on the NHS after a pretty long, fairly painful. Many of the careful and skilled hands that looked after me and baby magpie belonged to an immigrant. We are both doing well as a result.

Under the new points based system proposed by the UK government many of these people would not be considered skilled at all. I’m not sure what is going on, but I’m pretty sure stripping the NHS of essential staff is not what most people voted for. Just putting that put there.

I think my cat may be a vampire…

I have been a bit quiet lately, despite saying I would be getting back to blogging. I’m knee deep in an IVF cycle at the moment and I’ve been really tired. I hope to be more functional soon.

In the meantime here is a little picture of my sleepy cat, who I think may be hiding a secret double life as a vampire.

Reasons to be greatful #8 – autumn sunshine

It’s been a bit quiet over here recently. I’ve been trying to manage some pretty rubbish fatigue, which I think may be linked to my on going efforts to try to balance out my hormones and manage my PCOS through changes to my diet and exercise. At the moment it feels a bit like trying to deal with infertility strips out many of life’s pleasures. At least the kind of pleasures that you put in your mouth. I’ve almost stopped boozing completely (and I was a very British drinker), coffee is on its way out and cakes and chocolate have to go too.

But there is an upside. Autumn is here, bringing with it some light, crisp days that make everything beautiful.

This is also the season of rich red colours. Turning leaves and ripening berries abound. And delicate mushrooms too.

Last weekend I was in the Cotswolds with my parents and my fiance. We were able to get out into the woods for the afternoon, to stumble through the leaves and catch a few hours of that delicate warm sunshine.

Some people I know find autumn and winter a depressing time. The light is fading. The leaves fall and begin to decay. Personally I love autumn and winter. Creatively, I find much more to be inspired by in autumn, than I do in the heavy hot days of summer. I feel it is a time of creative and natural renewal. The falling leaves create a thick and rich mulch in preparation for next year’s green shoots. I am greatful for the fresh cool air and crisp bright sunshine of autumn in the British country side.

I also make art. You can things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying.

Open water swimming and infertility

So the title of this post suggests there may be some proven link between open water swimming and (in) fertility. As far as I know, ‘officially’, there isn’t one. But I have been connecting the two things in my mind for a little while now and, if you would oblige me, I wanted to muse on that a little bit.

The photo above is of my sister and myself just after finishing the Haver Castle 5km swim last weekend. The water was really cold for us (as fair weather swimmers!) which may have contributed something to my sister whipping round her first 5km in around 1 he 45 mins, and a PB for me at 1 hour 51. Numb toes are a good motivator for a quick finish. The setting at Haver Castle is rather beautiful to look at from out of the water, but it’s not the nicest place to actually swim. It turns out that the lake at Haver Castle is pretty shallow and there is a very thick layer of squidgy mud covering the bottom of the lake. If 50 of people are swimming in front of you (I like to take a slow position at the back, doing breast stroke so I can appreciate the view) they churn the water up so it’s a dirty swim. It’s difficult to get a firm footing on the floor of the lake to adjust goggles, (or cough up some of that dirty water) and too shallow to tread water. I’m glad we did this one but probably won’t rush back to do it again.

While I was swimming (after my lungs got used to the cold and agreed to work again) I was thinking a bit about the changing relationship I have with my body. I think when I was younger I may have been a bit more interested in what it looked like. Now I’m more interested in what I can (and can’t) get it to do. So I can get it to swim me around a chilly muddy lake a couple of times. But so far I’ve not coaxed it (either with or without medical intervention) into making a baby.

When you are having treatment for something like infertility a strange thing happens in that you become more aware of what is (or isn’t) happening in your body, while at the same time feeling less control over that situation. This week I’ve been learning more about the link between exercise and better health for women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, and how regular exercise and good diet can help settle some of those wayward hormones. I’ve been trying more consciously to do the things I know that would support my body through some of the treatments I’ve been having. Its true that I feel better when I’m doing some training for something than when I skip out on exercise. Maybe the link between swimming and fertility isnt just in my mind, but a reality in my body too.

I also make art. You can things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying.

DIY Sould repair and ‘Womb Art’ – does anyone really want to see that?

I think I have been putting off posting this for quite some time because I’m really not sure who would want to see this kind of thing. I had been working on a little series of pieces called DIY soul repair, which had included a skull and a heart. I was thinking about a kind of gothic steam punky series that would involve bones and other bodily organs. And then I started having all sorts of tests and treatments for infertility and the series itself felt more relevant. So I felt I had to get a uterus involved. So this third piece in the series now looks like this (available on things on redbubble here).

Still F__king perfect_blue

So I was actually pretty happy with the way that turned out. But I also felt it was a bit depressing, so I took photos the white paper cutouts that I used as stencils for the red paper parts on this piece and used the outline of these to ‘cut’ other photos of papercut flowers I have to create something a bit more positive, which turned out like this (available on things on redbubble here), which I kind of like because if feels a bit cheeky and a bit more positive given the current empty state of my own uterus.

The lady garden 2 red

So I am not really sure if anyone would be into this kind of thing, but here it is, anyway. I think I kind of enjoyed making these for me anyway so I’m not bothered if no one else is interested.

I also make non uterus related art. You can things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying.

Reasons to be grateful #6 – swimming with my sister

SWIA0424-20x30There hasn’t been a huge amount of activity on this blog for a week or more as I’m a bit exhausted and taking a bit of down time. However, Laurie from the lovely blog Meditations in Motion posted this post a few days ago which included a very kind write up of me and the magpie blog. It reminded me of the picture above which I had wanted to post for a while, mostly with her in mind. She writes very well about her experiences of running distance races. I’m not a distance runner, but I am a distance swimmer.

I started swimming longer distances last year, at a similar time as I began looking having tests and treatment for infertility. It was also about the time that my sister and I started swimming regularly together. The photo above is from the Great East Swim at Alton Water which happend back in June – it’s of me and my sister, finishing a 2 mile swim together (I’m the bigger, more sausage shaped one!). My sister is faster than me, but I have the edge when it comes to stamina. In that swim in particular she flew off at the start but I caught up at around the 1.5 mile mark and we swam the final half mile next to each other. In these group swims everyone wears the same coloured hat, and it can be difficult to find another person if you dont start together, so we got really lucky. At the end we got out of the water together, and finished just one second apart. We had a great swim that day, mostly becaue we got to finish together.

My sister and I swam a lot as kids, but during our early adulthood we lived in different places and I certainly took big breaks from swimming at times. My sister lived abroad for 4 years, and moved back to London two years ago. Soon after that we began swimming together regulalry when we could. Its been really great as we never really spent that kind of regular time together as adults before. She was one of the first people I spoke to about my infertility, which was kind of suprising because I’m not really a talker when it comes to difficult things. I am greatful that we had swimming to come back to together. It made me think about how it is worth spending the time establishing yourself in a physical hobby or sport when things are going well. Having something physically challenging (that you enjoy moderate progress in) to indulge in when things feel a bit dark is a very helpful thing indeed. I have just signed myself up for a 9 km swim next year in the Big Welsh Swim. This will be the longest distance I have to date. I am looking forward to traing with her for that.

I am also greatful to Laurie for prompting me to write this post and for her supportive messages over the last few months.

I also make art. You can things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying.

Thinking of parallel futures

It’s been really hot in the UK over the last month and I don’t do particularly well in the heat. I love spring and autumn, have a good bash at enjoying myself in winter, but summer is not my friend. Friends at work casually joke, on a regular basis, that I should move to Norway, or Iceland. The North pole maybe. In previous years I’ve got on a bit better because we traditionally have awful, overcast summers in the UK. Not this year – a never ending heatwave. I have spent the last two weeks taking FSH injections so I am sure the external influence on my hormones is not helping my mood. I run from grumpy to gloomy and back again. Let’s just say that’s not the most fun thing ever for my fiancé to deal with. I dream of swimming, all the time.

I have been thinking over the last few weeks and months about how the experience of infertility is pushing me to consider parallel futures on a fairly constant basis. I’ve always been a bit of a fan of the parallel universe, alternative future genre of sci-fi. I am finding that while actively having fertility treatment my eye is on two possible futures a lot of the time. My effort goes into living life as normal, in making plans for fun things and future challenges, but my mind drifts off to consider other possibilities. Next year I will swim a 10km event, or I will be looking after a baby. Next year I will work on several interesting projects at work, or I will be looking after a baby.

We made a conscious decision not to stop making longer term plans, not to reduce our world to the single pursuit of making a baby. We plan trips, I pay entry fees to swimming events and do a bit of training. I work out what kind of swimming body I will need to swim a marathon swim next year, and (loosely) plan to train for that. All the while I know that a pregnant body would be something quite different, it would not be making a 10k trip around a cool lake next summer. We’ve been doing this fertility thing for a while now. It’s not been working. A heavy pregnant body doesn’t feel like it could be a real thing for me. Yet I plan for that too.

Like what you see? I also make art. You can things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying.

Things to do when you are busy not having a baby

One of the things that my partner and I discussed early on in the process of having fertility treatment was how not to let the ‘trying to have a baby’ stuff consume all the energy we may have to do the ‘make life fun’ stuff. This sounds great in principle but isn’t  particularly easy in practice. A lot of the advice early on is to carry on ‘life as usual’. It is also to lose weight, do moderate exercise, but not too much, eat more of fruit and vegetables, less cake, and restrict your alcohol intake. And dont forget to ‘just relax’. So if your ‘usual’ doesn’t involve many of these things, ‘carry on as usual’ could translate to ‘undergo a radical lifestyle change’, which isn’t a very relaxing thing to think about.

While my partner and I did pretty well on the exercise and veggies, the beginnings of our relationship did involve the ‘British method’ of dating. For the uninitiated, I’m afraid to say that this involves some (by which I mean lots) public drunkenness, and other socialising involving at least a drink or two. So there was lifestyle change of a sort needed, which has been more successful at some times than others. Not drinking has been one of the things I have been doing while busy not quite having a baby, which really means less socialising too. In the UK there is an absurd cultural pressure to drink when socialising, and it’s kind of wierd to have to explain to people that you’re not drinking because you aren’t pregnant. It’s not like not drinking because you got knocked up (hurrah! Hopefully). It tends to prompt conversations about how you should have a drink and ‘just relax’, as if you just aren’t quite doing sex right. Which isn’t relaxing at all.

So not socialising becomes one of the things you do when you are busy not having a baby. Personally I feel better for not spending as much time socialising. I want to spend my spare time swimming and doing arty things. I think my introverted parts have become more dominant as I’ve got older and I don’t have the energy for it any more. But I can see how this in itself could be very isolating for someone more extroverted. I have noticed may self that my social circle has narrowed somewhat, and now includes several ladies who are also busy avoiding conversations that unintentionally suggest that they don’t quite know how sex works. While it’s kind of nice to hang out in that boat with them, all extraordinary individuals, the conversations can be sad. For several of us, things are not working. Counterintuitively, my social circle has expanded to include several friends who have just had babies (I can hang out with babies and not really get too sad – I think I am lucky here), so they can’t drink much, and don’t want to talk much about how sex works just right now, thanks. They also had some success at actually getting pregnant, and who knows, that magic could be catching.

So far it feels like what one does when busy trying to have a baby is actively try not to do things. Which is kind of hard on the mental health, and opens the door to an unhealthy level of guilt about ‘not doing things right’. Am I drinking too much coffee? Am I breathing too much polluted London air? One of my lovely, clever friends, Julia, who has had two gorgeous babies now, gave me some kind advice recently. She said that if I just make it as inconvenient as possible to have a baby right now, it will happen. Book that expensive wine tour in central France. Plan to train for a marathon. Go for that tricky promotion. So next weekend I’ll be swimming a 5K race in the lake district, and today will be spent working on my film and checking out an open air swimming pool I’ve not been to before. Go after the juicy difficult rewarding other things in life, she said. And I shall.

Like what you see? I also make art. You can things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying.

Patience and watching my garden grow

I started writing this a few weeks ago, but I’ve been kind of working through a sticky depressive brain fog since then and I feel so slow at the moment (and I already picked the slow road so you know, snail pace slow right now) so apologies for the relative radio silence. I also wanted to think a bit about pressing the ‘publish’ button in this, as it’s a bit more personal than the posts I normally go with. But I’ve decided it’s ok. I hope you think it’s ok too.

A few weeks ago I planted out some plants into the garden we had raised inside from seed. Anyone living in the UK at the moment will know that we’ve had some unpredictable weather recently and so we kept these little plants inside a bit longer than was really good for them because of some very late snow and ice. A week ago in the heatwave I caught myself going out into the garden every few hours when I was home, inpatiently tracking the growth of my plants (and monitoring which ones were being eaten by the snails, but that’s another story).

I’ve been thinking about this a bit this week as I surprised myself a bit. In my work life patience is one of the ruling principles of doing the work I do. I work in mental health research – rush tends to lead to ruin here. At home I have picked the kind of art forms that are slow. The finished thing reveals itself over a period of weeks, months or years. While I have often felt frustrated with myself, I have mostly made peace with picking such slow hobbies.

In the last few weeks, pacing around the garden I have questioned a little my full capacity for patience. One of the big things in my life, that had been silent in my writing here so far, is that my partner and I have been trying to have a baby, for quite some time. There have been some tests, some medication, some more tests, and now some more medication. Yesterday I started injecting myself with hormones, and this will be a daily deal for a while. There has been healthy living and less alcohol and talk about reducing stress. Thus far things have not worked. I am aware of the importance of patience here too. I have very little control, apart from the obvious (wink wink), over making a baby happen.

Some times I think that I need more than patience. Patience isn’t enough. I need a better strategy or plan for managing the weird emotional fall out from this situation. Holding my friend’s gorgeous 2 month old baby is a joy as it should be. But there is sadness on the train ride home. Some days I actually don’t feel at all bad about where we are – we are lucky, I can access good medical care on the nhs, and have a great doctor helping me. Some days I talk to my friend who is devastated after her multiple attempts at ivf have failed and think, that could be me in a year. Right now I still have hope, and have been building on my mental stamina. But I’ve not been building a plan. I’m not sure what that would look like. Outside the peas in my garden are just beginning to flower.