Special Reports

'My eggs use Zimmer frames'

Tamsin Oxford

Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus. Infertility is from the Moon.

Fertility. (Felix Karisson)

It fucking sucks getting your period when you’re trying to have a baby. This is particularly true if you have spent the last 28 days shoving  bicarbonate of soda up your wazoo and having sex that is about as exciting as flagellating yourself with a mouldy strand of spaghetti. Let’s not forget the fertility drugs that turn your usually sunny self into a weeping, miserable, angry, depressed, raging bucket of hormonal insanity that would have been locked away for being a witch not so very long ago. 

I was 39 when I started down the infertility road, convinced that a few good shags and a sperm delivery later I would be waddling about in pregnant complacency and complaining about my weight gain like I did when I was pregnant with our first child. Instead it has been a miscarriage in the dark of winter — early days, very quick, hardly distinguishable from a period. Two miscarriages in the sun of summer — horrible, vivid, emotionally raw. And month after month of no line on that stick.

To every other woman out there who has spent years with No Fucking Line, I salute you. I hug you. I hope you got (or get) that line.

One month I was late, really late. I was tentatively excited and casually bought a test. I waited for another two days so that I was absolutely sure that I was at least a week late, and I peed on the stick. As I waited for the line to appear, at that very minute, my period started. If ever the word Fuck was to be used, it was at that moment along with tears and a bit of rocking back and forth in disappointed dismay.

I’m 43 now and have had no more children. I am, however, complaining about the weight gain, so there’s something at least.

My battle with infertility has not been helped by the fact that I’ve encountered a bunch of sexist, self-involved and indifferent men who only see walking wombs with credit cards. Surely the vocation of gynaecologist should draw the attention of people who actually like and respect women? Or am I just deluded?  The one gynaecologist felt it imperative to talk me through Biology Basics 101 like I was merely a brainless heating system for a vagina, and then charged me a fortune for the privilege. 

Then I got a new specialist who put me through a battery of tests, one of which was the hysterosalpingogram.  The only information I was given was that I needed to arrive before 9am. 

There was no warning my vagina and cervix that someone was about to shove a multitude of cold instruments up and around them and then proceed to inject ink into them, a procedure that admittedly plays a valuable role in letting a professional know that your tubes are cheerfully unblocked, but one that should come with a warning that reads: “This is fucking painful, bring a friend and prepare the wine.”

I was led into a room and asked to strip. I was cold and scared. Nobody talked to me and the pain as the gynea injected the walls of my cervix with anaesthetic was extraordinary. One minute I was having ink placed where, honestly, ink shouldn’t go and the next I was told to leave. I stood up and blood poured down my legs and onto the floor. 

No, he said, there are no cloths for you to wipe yourself, please hurry there are other patients waiting. I went home with my blood on my toes. 

Why didn’t I stand up for myself? I’ll tell you why. I am over 40 and I have revolting fertility statistics and the waiting lists are long and because women are pretty damn tough. That’s why. 

You have a 48.7% chance of falling pregnant under the age of 30, which drops to somewhere between 10.2% and 2% when you’re over the age of 40. These statistics get only slightly more depressing when you look at the success rates of in vitro fertilisation (IVF), which are 32.2% for women under 35 and a brilliant 1.9% for women over 44. 

All of these figures are variable dependent on weight, diet, egg reserves, ovarian issues such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, reproductive problems such as blocked tubes, and let’s not get into the crap that goes with hormones. 

No woman is exactly the same and there are always miracles in the making. But please, please, don’t ever tell a woman battling with infertility to stop stressing or try adoption because your best friend/workmate/Great Aunt Esmeralda did that and fell pregnant right away. 

This never happens to the infertile you are saying it to and it doesn’t help. Also, while I’m on the topic of Stupid Things To Say To Infertiles please don’t say to women suffering from secondary infertility: “Oh, but you should be grateful you have the one.” 

Sorry, what? Are you saying that I was only allowed one child or are you adding to my already staggering pile of guilt by saying that I am ungrateful for what I have and am being punished by some random god? 

I have spent the past five years waiting in queues for indifferent doctors to shove ultrasounds up my private parts and make comments about my age and mouldering eggs and completely fail to see me as a person. I’ve taken tablets and injected myself in the stomach; and I really did put a solution of bicarbonate of soda up my wazoo to make my cervical mucus less acidic and more welcoming for those little (fussy bastard) sperm. I asked for my test results and never received them until I changed doctor. I was told my diet didn’t matter when it so obviously does. I was pushed towards IVF even though my chances were shocking.

One day I asked – what will IVF cost me? R50 000, he said. Well, I replied, I think I will keep trying with the strategy we are doing now and only look at IVF after a decent period of time has passed. No, he said as he adjusted his expensive platinum watch, you must do IVF and you are too old for adoption.

I have cried more than I thought I ever could.  On the way home, pulling my car onto the side of the road so I didn’t have an accident as I sobbed with those hiccupy, burpy tears that remind me of being five. On the bathroom floor as the test said BFN (big, fat negative). In the bath as the pregnancy I had finally achieved slid from me in pain and blood for the third time. I’m still not immune to that loss.

I left and found another clinic. A rather fabulous doctor who was kind and genuine. Thing is too much had happened and I was broken. I had put on so much weight from the pills and I was tired and emotional and, honestly, I just wanted to have sex with my husband that wasn’t at an exact time or day.

I walked away from the tests and the medicine and the statistics. I walked away from being constantly reminded about how I was so old and my eggs so fucking decrepit that they were tottering down my fallopian tubes on zimmer frames. I walked away from the desperate sorrow that I could not afford three rounds of IVF and the guilt for not providing that fertility specialist with his new golf set.

I may never hold a baby of my own again. I’m 43 and a statistic. There’s likely no miracle moment for me when my period doesn’t arrive and I am amazingly pregnant. I am done getting sperm to chase eggs and visualising them chatting up eggs while I lie with my legs in the air and my husband looks on in mild terror (although this is probably brought on by my chanting: go go go, you buggers, go).

But this is not how it ends.

My story isn’t just about how I have had three miscarriages and experienced staggering sexism and indifference while trying to defeat infertility. My story is about a woman who is going to keep trying until menopause kicks in and says, “Hey babe, maybe not a baby, but how about champagne on the Great Wall of China instead?” And that is where I will go with my husband to celebrate what I do have and not what I don’t. Until then, here’s hoping…

Also if you have a baby you want to give me, I’ll take it.

Tamsin Oxford is a freelance journalist for local and UK media.

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