Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Pregnant pause

It took two years to conceive Firstborn. Two tearful years of worry and paranoia and dissapointment and tests and indifferent doctors to whom I was just another statistic, another stroppy patient sick of being stuck with needles and sucked of blood, probed and prodded and once, dye pushed into my fallopian tubes with such force I was sick on the nurse's shoes; she looked at me with barely disguised distain and said, "People don't usually respond so badly to this proceedure, it is just routine you know" - like maybe I did it on purpose, like maybe my body was being a drama queen.

A year after all the probings, a year of trying to explain that there was no point testing my hormone levels based on the cycle of 'normal' women since in this respect I am far from 'normal', a hatchet faced specialist told me I would never have children naturally, I wasn't ovulating, and by the way I had polycystic ovaries. She then told me IVF was my only option but the waiting list on the NHS was two years on average and I would only get one shot at it (I can't recall the success rate for one treatment of IVF, let's just say it's not good betting odds). And she swept off in a suitably regal manner, leaving me to pick myself up from the floor.

Then I found the Lister Hospital in London which, at the time, was offering three free cycles of IVF in exchange for a percentage of the egg harvest. Great, I thought, why not? Save a few grand and do some good for a childless couple at the same time. So off I went to sign up. And what a difference it was to my local NHS hospital (which, by the way, is one of the good ones).

The receptionists, rather than looking at me as one might regard a mugger before the pounce, smiled and asked me for my name. The waiting area offered well-upholstered chairs and carpet rather than plastic seats screwed into the floor (do they think we might steal them? And if so, why?) and peeling, cracked linoleum in a no-colour colour. A water cooler! Magazines published in my lifetime! Paintings on the wall rather than nanny-state reminders printed on posters with the curled edges of a three-day old cucumber sandwich. The doctor listened to me, did not look bored, and promised test results within five working days. And best of all, they promised to call me with the results, rather than me having to brave the automated hospital system for longer than my patience lasts, hoping it would spit me out in the right department, then hoping I would be able to speak to someone prepared to go to the inconvenience of bringing up my file on their system ("Computer says no.")

The pregnancy challenge had never been so enjoyable.

As it turned out, the IVF didn't happen and a childless couple didn't benefit from my DNA; I got pregnant naturally three months before I was due to start the first treatment. I'm not sure what happened but I suspect that the boot-faced NHS consultant may have screwed up. When your fertility tests are based on flawed calculations, diagnosis based on one menstrual cycle does not suit all. I may have though that this was a fluke, some kind of freakish happening or possibly an act of God (I did pray fervently to St Francis at a church in San Francisco a month before conception) which would explain why a doctor could advise with such certainty that I had no hope of having a baby without medical intervention. I might have thought this except that I got pregnant for a second time with the Small(er) One - entirely accidentally and naturally - when Firstborn was a mere thirteen months old, breastfeeding (my contraceptive of choice at the time) having been abandoned the month prior. Go figure.

I have great empathy for women having problems conceiving. Not only because of the emotional strain it places on you, the aching misery of thinking you will never hold a baby in your arms (and let's face it, adoption in the UK is not an easy path to follow), but because of the extra stress the NHS causes in the process of trying to get treatment. And as it is commonly known that stress has a negative impact on conception, surely the NHS might be persuaded to think about how it could make this process less difficult, less disheartening, and less downright annoying. We may pay for the NHS through our taxes rather than on a per-visit basis, but does this mean that we are less deserving of a little common courtesy, a small serving of recognition, and a soupcon of understanding?

Am I really asking too much?

4 comments:

Emily said...

Dear LORD YLM

What a horrid experience and how wonderful that you managed to bypass it all.

As for your question, yes you are asking too much. The NHS just doesn't have to resources to nurse and care, let alone offer a smile and understanding.

I had a horribly stressful job before I got pregnant. My periods stopped. I thought I could be pregnant. I went to the doctors and she was utter evil (this was when I lived in Blackheath).

She looked down her nose at me and said: "What makes you think you are pregnant?"

I said because I don't have any periods. She tested. She smiles: "You are not pregnant. It's likely you have PCOS and are unlikely to have children. If I were you I would start right away to try as it could take up to 10 years."

As I sat there in shock, I then asked what PCOS was.

She sneered and told me matter of factly.

She then added: "One of the symptoms is being overweight." She looked me up and down. I was about 2 stone overweight (from all the work stress, I might add as the late nights and long drives made me eat weirdly and binge style).

Oh. If I lose weight will PCOS be reversed I ask dumbly. She laughs and said no. "You need to lose weight anyway, that will help control hormones. But I am not here to help you do that. I am not going to teach a hen how to suck eggs."

I was shocked. It was made worse by the fact she was about 6 months pregnant.

I left in tears. I called the surgery manager and complained and asked for a referral to private consultant.

The consultant couldn't find anything wrong with my hormone levels or bits and pieces. We talked for a long time. He deduced it was my lifestyle and the stress. He advised I change the way I work and suggested relaxation techniques. I complied and my periods returned.

This is the time the GP should have spent working out what the hell was wrong instead of instilling needless fear in me.

I hadn't really thought about children at that point (I was 27). I came off the pill immediately. We tried for a baby six months later. It took just three months.

I agree with you that there is serious a lack in bedside manner!

PS I'd like to write about this. Can I link to your post?

Yummy London Mummy said...

Hi Emily - feel free to link, I'd be delighted. I think it's time people talked about it rather than putting up and shutting up. And why is it that the female doctors are the worst when it comes to cowbag beside manners? You'd think they'd know better, wouldn't you? Or is it that the medical profession attracts a particularly heinous type of female (ouch, here comes the outraged posts), or have we been particularly unlucky?

Emily said...

I hate that vile female GP in London as I mentioned up there. But the one I have now is female and she is amazing. The most wonderful GP I've ever had. She's friendly, warm and open. She isn't superior and makes you relax. She is very practical too. I am so very very grateful. The day she retires, I will mourn.

I'll write about it next week. I have done SO much heavy writing this week my mouth is looking like a cat's bum.

Yummy London Mummy said...

LOL - I'll drop by your blog over the weekend for a good read, when it is possible I may have three seconds to myself. Possibly.