Our 2018 in Brief

This is one of the first photos I shared in 2018, along with the caption “it’s tough my dear, but so are you” - we had just found out we would need IVF in order to have a family, and were readying ourselves for what we figured would be a pretty difficult year. 

Little did I know that getting through 2018 wouldn't just take courage, but some yet unknown force I didn’t know I had in me, that we didn’t know we had in us. 

It was without doubt the most challenging year of my life, the year I felt what it was like to have to reach out and grab bits of myself to stop them floating away, to have to physically hold my heart together and claw my way through the days. It may not have looked like it, and I’m not sure it’s even a good thing but I’ve become an expert at putting on a brave face, at holding tight.

In January, we had our first specialist fertility appointment, and learned we needed private IVF - we were told the chances of D having sperm were very slim and to start readying ourselves for the possibility of using a donor.  I became the manager of the place I work, took on a third more hours, and began the juggle of holding together a career and a very fragile state of mind. 

In February, we had our first appointment at Bourn Hall in Cambridge. We were told D needed surgery to see if he had sperm. He was put on medication for three months to increase the chances and we were given around a 30% chance of success. 

In June, after three months of medication we had finally reached the day before surgery. D was told on this day, with just hours to go before he was due to go under general anaesthetic to find out if he would ever have biological children, that his teaching contract had come to an end and would not be renewed the following September.  

He had the surgery, and after waiting in his hospital room for four hours I realised, at last, and with absolute certainty, that I didn’t care what the outcome was. I just wanted him back, both back from the operating theatre and back from the very dark hole teaching had left him at the bottom of. 

We were told that afternoon that he had no sperm, and that he would never have a biological child. We already knew we would continue with a donor and D said to his surgeon exactly what he had always said to me, they may not have his DNA but our children will have everything else he has to give them. We booked an appointment to discuss donating some of my eggs, and counselling to talk through the legalities and ethics of donor conceived children. 

In August, we had the most incredible family holiday in Cornwall. I watched as D became best friends with our nephew, and looked on with unwelcome envy as my parents showed him ‘our’ Cornwall, something I have dreamt of them doing with our own children for years now.  

When we came home, I trained six new members of staff in the space of two weeks, and had nine blood tests in the hope of becoming an egg donor. D began a new career which has absolutely changed his life. There is a metaphor somewhere in here about the similarities between a cup of coffee and a bucket being lowered down a well to haul him back into the sunlight. 

In October I was told, over the phone, as I walked on my own through a very drizzly Norwich that I have a chromosome abnormality. This means I have a higher chance of miscarriage, I can’t donate eggs and that we couldn’t progress with IVF without having our embryos screened. 

I thought on that day, thirty four months after deciding to try for a baby and £5000 into treatment that my resolve was finally broken.

But on the next day, my Grandad died. 

Somehow, from somewhere, whatever it is that holds all the little bits of me together found the strength to hold on a little tighter. I went to see him at the funeral home, and a week later I watched my family carry his coffin even though the thought of it had terrified me for more than ten years, since I first learned my Dad wanted to do that last thing for him one day. I spoke aloud at his funeral, and I practiced that poem until I knew it by heart, just like he said you have to when you have to speak in front of people.

In November, we went to Addenbrooks and a genetic counsellor drew my family tree. When Grandad became a little box on a screen with a cross through it, I held on tighter still.

In December, our much loved IVF clinic told us they couldn’t treat us anymore, and that we would have to find somewhere new. I managed our little shop through the most hectic week of the year and we had our busiest Christmas Eve ever. 

And now, that year is over and we’re already a month into a year that feels totally different. We’ve started proceedings with the place that will be continuing our treatment and already it feels like exactly the right path for us. It finally, finally, feels like we might have regained some control, like maybe I can begin to let go of the bits of me I've been so frantically holding together, and instead take hold of the wheel of the ship. 

On New Years Eve, we talked about how incredible we are. Not only have we held ourselves together, but we’ve held “Us” together too. We have so much support and love around us and we could never have done it without that of course, but we realised that had things been the slightest bit different, if blame or resentment had been allowed to creep in, directed in either direction, then that invisible force might not have held. But there wasn't even a whisper of it.

2019 will mark sixteen years of “Us.” Moving forward with treatment will require us to display to someone who makes decisions about funding that we’re in a strong relationship.


They don't know the half of it.  

IVF: The Journey So Far

I realised today that it's been almost six months since I last wrote anything about our journey to parenthood. I haven't really gone into too much detail here, because this isn't only my story to share. It belongs to both of us. 

We've both had a lot of time to process what's next for us now, and ahead of another appointment today, and having just returned from an amazing family holiday to Cornwall which seems to have hit some sort of reset button (and explains the photo with our nephew) I thought it was about time for an update.

So, if you've been reading for a while, you'll know that back in November last year, we found out that there was no chance at all of us conceiving naturally, and that IVF would be our only option if we wanted to have a baby through pregnancy rather than adoption. 

D, my husband, had taken a semen sample to the hospital to be tested, precisely timed and nestled in his arm pit so it didn't get too cold. A week later, our doctor phoned while we were on holiday in Sweden, and initially he told us that there weren’t enough sperm in the sample to test, so it would have to be repeated. I was so relieved. So relieved that there was something wrong. My worst fear had that point had been that everything would be fine and we’d be sent away to carry on the monthly torment by ourselves, but no, this was something we could hopefully do something about. Also, not enough sperm must mean some sperm, right?

The test was repeated the following week and we went to the doctors together to discuss the results. It turns out not enough sperm did not mean there were some sperm. While the rest of the sample was made up of everything that’s supposed to be there, in both samples there had been a total volume of 0% sperm. Not even one. 

‘Not even one’, were my first words once we’d heard the prognosis. In that very moment we became part of a whole different system, a whole different community of people. We weren’t trying for a baby anymore, we were dealing with infertility.

The doctor told us about there are two different types of azoospermia, which is the medical name for an absence of sperm in the semen. Obstructive, where the testicles make sperm but it can’t get through because of a blockage or similar, and non-obstructive, where there is a problem with sperm production. He referred us to a fertility specialist at our local hospital to start investigating which D has, and explained that surgical sperm retrieval and IVF would be our only option if we wanted a biological child. 

We had to wait two months for that appointment, and sitting in the waiting room among all the other couples in January felt bizarre. How had we ended up here? This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. 

The specialist booked us both in for more blood tests, to check my egg reserves and to check D’s testosterone and FSH level, and also to check for any chromosome disorders and to make sure he wasn’t a carrier of cystic fibrosis. I also had an internal ultrasound to check my uterus and ovaries all looked ok. I’d been remarkably ok until the nurse turned the screen towards me, just like they do on the TV, when couples get the first glimpse of their growing babies, and showed me how very non-pregnant I was. Everything looked absolutely fine, but seeing something so inherently linked with having a baby when I wasn’t hammered the whole situation home. 

The doctor told us he suspected non-obstructive azoospermia, most likely caused because of an operation D had when he was child to lower his testicles, and that the blood test results would tell us more. This operation was routinely performed later in a boy’s life during the nineties, but more recently (because those boys of the nineties are now men trying for families) doctors have realised that if left too long, it could affect the fertility of as many as 90% of men who have had it. D was around seven when he had his, and it would now be done before a baby boy turns one.

So, off we went to get our bloods done, clutching a slip of paper with the details of Bourn Hall, a private fertility clinic. This set of blood tests would be the last we could have on the NHS because in our area, male factor infertility isn’t funded at all.

A few weeks later, in February this year, we were trapped in the depths of 'the beast from the east.’ However, we battled though the snow drifts to the Bourn Hall clinic in Cambridge to see their andrologist. Up until this point, we had no idea what the word andrologist even meant, but it transpires that it is the male equivalent of a gynaecologist and he would hopefully be able to give us some more answers. 

He looked at D’s test results, and confirmed that his low testosterone and high FSH level indicated non-obstructive azoospermia. He drew us a very nice squiggly diagram to explain, but basically his body wasn’t producing sperm properly, and his pituitary gland was shouting at his testicles to make some, hence the high FSH level.

He prescribed Clomid, which is off-lable and untested for use in men, and usually only prescribed to women. However, he said he had seen some very promising results and that it has been known to trigger increased sperm production in men in a similar position to D. 
After three months of taking Clomid, D would be booked in for surgical sperm retrieval, where the surgeon would search under a microscope for any sign of sperm, and freeze any he found.  

So, three months later, at the beginning of June, we headed back to Cambridge for D’s operation. We had been given a 30% chance of finding sperm, so were prepared for bad news, but I still felt incredibly anxious about how I would feel if we found out we could never have children that were biologically related to us both. I couldn’t imagine looking at our children and not seeing the man I have loved for 15 years in them, and I worried that D would use it as a weapon against himself when he was caught in the sometimes cruel and judgmental downs of bipolar. I was terrified of how I would feel, but tried to remind myself, as Professor lupin once said “That suggests that what you fear most of all, is fear itself. This is very wise.” It didn’t feel very wise, but as we signed consent forms and the very-funny-nurse explained how to correctly wear the paper pants (i.e, not on one’s head) and D strolled confidently down to the operating theatre, I tried to hold that thought. 

Something quite unexpected happened while I was waiting for D to be brought back up to his room. In between trying to drink the nasty coffee machine hot chocolate, listening to the Harry Potter audio books and watching the clock incessantly, I realised I didn’t care what happened. When D had been done for two and a half hours, and I began to realise that this meant the search must have gone on much longer than the anticipated 45 minutes, and this in turn meant that it had more than likely been unsuccessful, I just wanted my husband back awake and safe, and ready to be a Dad however that happened. 

After three hours, he was wheeled back in by the very-funny-nurse and shortly after the surgeon came in to confirm that he hadn't found any sperm. And we were ok. We said that we thought that would be the case, that we were prepared, and that we had been waiting so long for a family that we were almost past caring how that happened. And surprisingly, we meant it too. 

The very-funny-nurse came back to explain how to correctly place gauze in ones supportive pants (with detailed mime accompaniment) and we drove home. The following day we called the clinic to start the process of IVF with donor sperm, and although we’ve been expecting the weight of the situation to come crashing down on us, so far, we’re ok. 

We still have huge difficulty with the fact that we’re not yet parents, and I’ve found myself feeling really angry that this is happening to us. The price lists continue to appear, and  the waiting for appointments seems to go on forever. We’ve recently had to confirm that we’re not at risk of harming any child born as a result of our treatment which was nothing short of insulting, but as so many people have told me, its just another tick in a box.

We’re hoping to glean as much positivity from the situation as possible. As well as having a family of our own, I’m hoping to become an egg donor too so we can help to complete another family too. On the day we found out we would need to use a donor, I couldn’t help but imagine another family, in the exact reverse of our situation, or a same sex couple hoping to have a baby through egg donation and surrogacy. We’ve been stuck in this nightmare for  over two and a half years, and if we can help someone else wake up from it too I can’t possibly not be a part of that. I’ve been provisionally accepted to donate, so I’ll be writing more about that process too. 

So that's where we are Today we’re having counselling, and an appointment with our consultant, and then there will be another long wait for my final blood tests to come back to confirm I can donate eggs, then it should be full steam ahead with our first cycle. 

I’ve you've made it to the end of this - thank you! The support I've found online, particularly on instagram has been incredible and I cannot thank the people who are also sharing their stories enough. I’ve said it before, but this can be a very lonely place to be, and having other people to call on who know exactly how it feels is absolutely invaluable. 

DIY Tutorial: Embroidered Slogan Sweatshirt

I've been seeing an awful lot of embroidered slogan t-shirts recently, plain t-shirts with cute (sometimes cute, sometimes they're crap) sayings embroidered on the chest, sort of where the breast pocket would be.

I've been wanting to make something similar as I love a good quote or slogan (three out of the six tattoos I have are text based) plus embroidering lettering is one of my favourite things to do to switch off because it's sort if mindless but really satisfying at the same time. The lighting in these photos is a bit weird, so just ignore that bit...

I decided to embroider a sweatshirt rather than a t-shirt and I found this oversized somewhere-between-nude-and-blush-pink one in H&M. It's not somewhere I usually shop, but I'd gone in as part of a massive hunt for the perfect yoga leggings and I found it reduced to £6! I've got a bit of a thing about collarbones so I've curved the text so it sits just under the neckband rather than having it straight on the chest.

I'm so happy with it! It's not strictly supposed to be oversized, but I bought a large so I could roll the sleeves up and wear it baggy. I chose to embroider the words 'dream catch me' which is part of a line from the Newton Faulkner song of the same name.  We walked back down the aisle to it after we got married - ever the sentimental soul me!

Anyway - on to the tutorial:

You will need:

Sweatshirt (or whichever item of clothing you want to embroider)
Embroidery Thread
Embroidery Hoop
Tissue Paper (or tracing paper which would probably have been easier if I'm honest)
A Soft Pencil
Air Erasable Pen


Iron on embroidery backing

How too:

Unless you can do beautiful cursive lettering, you'll need to type your chosen phrase in a font that you like. I used a free font called 'fox in the snow', but a quick search for cursive fonts will bring up millions so choose one you like that isn't too complicated or tightly looped as you'll need to be able to embroider it.

Using an image editor, type your chosen phrase and resize it to fit nicely on your piece of clothing. If you want it to curve as mine does, any programme with a 'text warp' or 'word art' type of function that will curve your text is perfect.

Next, you'll need to flip your text so it's backwards. If you're happy to trace the text straight from the screen, hold your tracing paper over the lettering and trace with a soft pencil. If you can't, or don't want to do to this on the screen, you can print it out, but make sure when you're sizing your text to fit your item of clothing you're viewing it at 100%. If you've printed your text hold the paper up to a window (technical!) place a piece of tracing paper over this and draw over the text.

If you've not been able to flip your text, you can print it out the right way round, then hold it up to the window backwards. You should still be able to see it well enough to trace it.

Whichever way you choose to do it, you need to end up with a piece of tracing paper with your chosen phrase written on it backward in soft pencil. Are you following so far? This is very simple, honest!

Next, position your text, pencil side down in position on the item you'll be embroidering and using the back of your fingernail, or the wrong end of a pencil gently rub over the whole surface. I used tissue paper which wasn't the best idea as it was very flimsy, so you will be able to be a bit more forceful with your tracing paper.

This should leave a feint pencil line on your item. You can then draw over this with an air erasable pen which will make it much easier to see and also much less likely to rub off. The other bonus is that  the pen will fade in 24 hours so you'll be much less likely to leave your project half finished and think 'Oh I'll finish that later' then come back to it in four years time when it's crumpled up and you can't even remember what it was supposed to be. I can't be the only person guilty of this...    

Once you've got your text successfully transferred onto your jumper, use an embroidery hoop to pull the fabric taught. To say this next part feels like a bit of an insult, but I'd be lying if I said I hadn't made similar daft mistakes...make sure you only put the hoop on the layer of fabric you'll be stitching on to - don't stitch the front and back together!

Cut a length of embroidery thread and split the strands in half so you've got two three-strand lengths. Tie a knot in one end and thread the other onto a sharp, fine needle. Using back stitch, work along the length of your text with small even stitches. (If you're unsure about how to do backstitch, Mollie Makes Library of Embroidery Stitches will be helpful here)

Tie off your thread at the end, and you're done! If you want to make your stitching more secure, and stop the stitching rubbing if you've embroidered a t-shirt or something else worn next to the skin, you can iron a piece of embroidery backing onto the reverse.

Inner Stregth is Quiet

It’s funny isn’t it, how the person you feel you are can change in a moment. In the time it look for a doctor to utter a single sentence, I went from someone who was trying for a baby to someone who is facing a very different journey to becoming a parent than I ever imagined. From the day we heard the words ‘so IVF treatment will be your only option’ we’ve become part of a whole different community of people, thrust out of the ‘normal’ circle into a place that we didn’t even really realise existed - and it’s lonely out here. 

Nobody really knows how it feels, and sometimes we don’t really know how we feel either. A single word suddenly has the power to have me holding back tears, and sometime I feel like if I hear ‘you’ll get there, it’ll happen’ one more time I might give up altogether. Because it might, but it also might not, and being out of control is something I don’t deal well with. I stumbled across this 'Notes To Strangers' note in London, Inner Strength is Quiet, and it really spoke to me. On the outside, I’m dealing with this whole journey. I’ve been promoted at work, I’ve been optimistic and glad that we’re moving forwards. I’ve not cried in public or cancelled plans. Some days though, on the inside, it feels like I’m using every bit of energy I have not to literally crack into two. 

People ask if I’m ok, and the reply is always ‘yeah I’m good thanks.’ If I tell people that I almost cried on the train because a grown man pulled a carton of Ribena out of his pocket and every missing thing about having a child came crashing down around me then they might start thinking I’ve gone round the twist! 

Some days it’s the truth and I really am fine. This time last week, after a day at the beach, some laughter and sunshine and a pie for dinner, I felt like this was just the way things are meant to be for us. Optimistic. Hopeful. Today, after hearing that there’s likely to be travel chaos because of the snow and we have to go to Cambridge and there seems to be nothing but bad news everywhere, I feel like at any moment pieces of me might start floating away, like Voldemort crumbling at the end of The Deathly Hallows and all I want to do is wrap myself in a duvet to hold all the bits of me together. 

Of course, does any of this really make up who I am, or is it just the stuff the ‘who I am’ is dwelling on and being consumed by at the moment. The latter, mostly, but being a Mum one day has been so deeply engrained in me for so long that it feels hard to detach the fear, and the sadness of the situation from my everyday life, and remember that there are things that still bring joy and happiness. I am a wife, and a sister, and a daughter and a friend. I love food and art and sewing and decorating our house, going out for breakfast, growing house plants, writing. I am chronically late, excellent at procrastinating and terrible at saying no. The the list of things that make up who I am, underneath the thing at the forefront of my mind, goes on. 

Yesterday we popped into the Tate modern and, although brief, it was enough to top up the feeling that there is more to me than this. 

It’s important, I think, to try to remember that we have so much to be grateful for, and still so much to look forward to. To try and fill our days, where we can, with dreams and plans that are separate from being parents.

But right now, we're off to Cambridge in the snow, in search of the last of the answers, a therapeutic hot chocolate, and mostly, in search of a plan. 

DIY Tutorial: Faux Fabric Cable Light Fitting

I have something of a thing about light fittings. I feel like they're a really important feature in a room, and in most of the rooms in our house we've completely changed them for something that's a focal point. However, striking light fittings aren't cheap, and if they are then they're almost always striking for the wrong reason, so in our two spare bedrooms we've left the plain white fittings up, and with a little help from some cotton yarn given them the look of fabric cable without re-wiring anything! 

As you can see, it wasn't the most attractive thing, but wrapping the cable is quick, relatively easy and after changing the discoloured part of the lamp holder for a new white one, and hanging a new shade, it look significantly less...blah. 

First, unscrew the ceiling rose, and thread the end of the yarn up through the hole. Tie it to the top of the cable, then screw the rose back up.

Then just get wrapping! Keep the loops as tight close together as possible, sliding them up the cable to close up any gaps.

Your arms will definitely ache, but it's much easier to wrap the cable with it still attached to the ceiling - in our other spare room I took the fitting down to wrap it and everything kept getting tangled up.  If you need a rest, stick the yarn to the cable with a piece of masking tape and let the ball trail to the floor (watching out for any cats who may have come along to "help")

Keep wrapping until you reach the bottom, then tie the yarn off with a knot. 

Cut off the excess, add your shade (ours is from Next) and you're done!

Much better I think you'll agree.

I'll be sharing a full reveal of this room soon. One day it will be our first child's room, and it feels like a really positive thing to be getting a room ready for whenever and however they arrive. If you'd like to read our IVF journey so far you can find it here.