Written in August. Mulled over ever since.
“Is now a good time to talk?”
“Well, I’m on a bus, and it’s very noisy, but I can hear you alright if you can hear me.” I was very excited to be getting this call. We’d been waiting ages.
The sounds of my team mates’ laughter and chatter filled the top deck of the city tour bus. We’re a rowdy bunch.
“It might be best to call me when you’re free. It’ll be a longer conversation.”
“Not a problem, I’ll call you when the tour is over. Speak soon.”
I thought nothing of it at all. A longer conversation? It didn’t register. I was so thrilled to hear from the clinic that I’d have happily taken the call on the tour bus as we zigzagged the city, peering out at the murals on the walls and the flags that seemed to adorn every lamp post. The clinic was ringing to tell us when we could start treatment. I quickly called my husband to ask if he’d contact the clinic instead, but there was no answer.
So at the next opportunity, as half the group alighted near our apartment block, I rang the IVF clinic back.
And that’s when she told me. “I’m sorry Rachael, but your eggs aren’t good enough.”
I didn’t understand. There was nothing wrong with me, our infertility was to do with antibodies on my husband’s sperm, and this was easily fixable with ICSI treatment. She was saying my blood test results showed too high quantities of something, and the acceptable level was 10 and mine was 12.9, and that meant my eggs weren’t good enough. She started telling me about how even if it worked, which was unlikely, she said, there’s a much greater risk of miscarriage.
I didn’t understand.
Whilst she was saying more things to me on the phone, my brain was reacting too slowly to keep up so I was stuck on my blood test result showing levels of something or other that were too high. So I was expecting we’d begin talking about some drug I could take to get them lower. Like when patients have their blood pressure taken but they’re nervous, so they get a high reading. They can just go back and try again another day. I thought the conversation would go that way.
I didn’t understand.
She was saying that although I produced a lot of eggs, they weren’t of a good enough quality. So, she was sorry but they weren’t going to be working with us as patients. She kept saying sorry, and so eventually it clicked that this was her telling me that we would not be going through with the treatment. We would not be going through IVF with this clinic. My eggs aren’t good enough.
Then, whilst these words rung in my head, she was saying something about donor eggs, and other possibilities, but also about risks and disappointments and cost and other things. I don’t know. Donor eggs? What did she mean? For a split second I thought she was referring to the scheme where you can donate your eggs to other women who can’t have children, thus reducing the overall cost of your own treatment. Some clinics offer this. It was something we’d considered early on in our treatment journey. But then that flash of a thought disappeared, when it became clear she meant we could use donor eggs. Because mine aren’t good enough.
It was too much. I’d slowed down and was now a dozen paces behind the group. I stopped by a low wall and leaned against it. She said sorry again and that I could call her back later in the week when it had sunk in. In a very small voice I told her I would. I hung up. And then I got a bit hysterical.
In a total daze I managed to calm my breathing and start walking again. One foot in front of the other. The group were now far ahead. One of my friends hung back to see why I was dawdling.
I cried and cried and in a crumpled mess she hugged me and listened. I told her what the clinic told me: that whilst I produce a lot of eggs, they’re not of a good enough quality. This fact seemed so horribly me. So characteristic of me. Bloody good effort Rach, bags of enthusiasm, loads of eggs, but the finer details aren’t quite there. It’s very much my rugby playing style. Natural strength plus lots of energy and enthusiasm, but little finesse or grace in passing the ball. No fancy footwork or finely tuned technical ability. Just big hits and determination. But that’s not enough here. Plenty of eggs. But not good enough quality.
The walk back to our apartment may have taken ten minutes or thirty. I don’t know. I cried. I walked in silence. I told my friend all the details I could remember in great big sobs, or in silent tears. There were long pauses. We realised we’d have to walk an extra ten minutes down Lisburn road to the gym my husband was at, so we could get the key. I wasn’t going to tell him until we’d all got back to the apartment but, as I stood in front of him in the warm sweaty gym, he saw something was wrong so I told him it was the clinic, and it was bad news.
My friend left us two to talk. I heaved sobs into my husband’s chest as he held me on the busy road in the afternoon sun; coffee shops and buses and pedestrians fading into the background. We went to the park over the road, where earlier in the week we’d taken part in a very wet rugby training session. It had attracted local attention. They love rugby in Belfast. I’d been so happy and carefree, sliding in the mud.
Not so much now. Sitting on a bench I recalled as much as I could remember but there were so many details missing and unanswered questions. What exactly was the thing in my blood that was too high? I couldn’t remember. Could nothing be done about it? Was it hereditary? No, all my family have had lots of children. What was the scale? 10 was acceptable but 12.9 was too high, but how high does it go? How bad is it? What do we do now?
Nothing. There was nothing we could do. We were in Belfast at the Rugby World Cup and in a group of 20 fellow Sharks. Whilst many of my team mates are very close friends that I’ve known for over a decade, this wasn’t the kind of news we wanted to broadcast, and put a dampener on everyone else’s summer holiday. We still had 5 days to go before returning home. We’d keep quiet about it.
In a bleary mess we got back to our shared apartment where my friend, who was with me when I got the news, was waiting. I informed the two other girls we were sharing the apartment with by text, and opened a bottle of Rioja.
We didn’t discuss it again. We didn’t call the clinic back. We didn’t even call my parents. It was too painful. We put this enormous sadness away in a box and shoved it right to the back of the cupboard. This was far too much to handle, so we’d deal with it when we got home.
Well, now we’re home. So we’re going to have to deal with it.