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?