Before we started trying for our family - before even Samuel was born - John and I had talked about fostering vulnerable children. I had grown up with fostering being the norm: my grandparents fostered a number of young people and there were a few families in our church who also fostered. I had never really known any different and knew that it was always what I wanted to do. John, when I first mentioned it to him about ten years ago - early in our relationship - had his reservations. It wasn't something he had ever really thought about but as the years passed and we talked more about it, he became much more positive about the idea until we decided that, once we had had our own family, it would definitely be what we did. Over the years we spoke about it an awful lot and when I was pregnant with Emilie, knowing that she would have been our last biological baby, we spoke about waiting a couple of years after her birth before we registered as foster carers.
I have mentioned a number of times that when Emilie died it felt that the rug had been pullled out from under our feet. Every plan we had ever made seemed to come crashing down around our ears and we didn't know where we stood or what to expect from the future. As time passed and our hearts began to heal we began talking about foster caring again. We had thought that, maybe if we were unable to have other children, we might look at adoption but this would be after exhausting every biological option and only when this felt like the right thing to do, which at the time it didn't. As we talked about fostering, however, we were both filled with a real sense of excitement and expectation. Very early on in the process we only told two other couples; Phil and Helenor and Paul and Sally who were already foster carers. We spoke to both couples at length about what we were thinking. As we had spoken to them about it prior to the problems with infertility, it didn't come as a shock to either couple and we decided to register an interest with the local authority.
At this time, and prior to us telling anyone else, a number of people spoke to us about whether we had considered registering as foster carers and more and more it was seeming like the right thing to do - and what we would have possibly started considering at that time had Emilie survived. And so, with trepadation, I filled in the online form and waited to be contacted by social services. They contacted us the following morning!
I also began my injections for my IUI treatment. The medication I used was called menopur which contained the hormone FSH (follicle stimulating hormone). I had read online that FSH was extracted and purified from the urine of post menopausal women and wondered what on earth I was injecting myself with! I was umsure whether to share this piece of knowledge with John as I am certain that he already thought he was living with a menopausal woman without factoring in even more hormone cocktails! I had assumed that it would be a simple 'open syringe, inject myself' process like with the fragmin but I actually had to be taught how to mix the injection prior to using it. I had to mix the menopur powder with saline to form a liquid and then I had to use 2 syringes and a drawing up needle to draw it into the syringe, swap over to an injection needle and then had to inject the whole syringe into my stomach. I managed to bruise myself every time! The first time I injected myself I flinched as soon as the needle touched my skin and grimaced as I pushed into my stomach. I remember being surprised at how easily the needle slid into my flesh and was equally surprised - and alarmed - at how sharp it must be. This was confirmed the following time I injected myself as I cut my index finger on the needle removing the cap. Needless to say I improved following this and thank goodness I did...I had a longer than normal path of injections ahead of me.
In between the first set of injections and my ultrasound we went to stay with Tom and Lindsey, who had supported us during Emilie's funeral, for a couple of days. It was such a relief to get away and Sam, as always, loved seeing them. We talked and talked about the infertility and losses we had suffered and spoke in depth about the foster caring plans. The others drank wine whilst I sat watching, jealously, having not had anything to drink for nearly 2 years and not being able to drink due to the treatment. We laughed together a lot and relished the time we were spending there. Lindsey and I took Sam to London Zoo - a huge experience for both Sam and I and I remember being comforted by the uncomfortable stomach cramps I was feeling that I assumed confirmed the hormones were working.
On our final night with Tom and Lindsey we ordered a take away curry. I remember the look of absolute horror on Tom's face as he accidently bit into a cardamon pod. He was horrified and his reaction resulted in hysterical laughter from the rest of us. On exclaiming that surely it couldn't be THAT bad, Tom suggested I try one...which I did. Knowing that the taste was pretty awful I didnt chew it and swallowed it whole - causing more laughter. I remember at this point Tom exclaiming that the seed would sprout and grow inside me to which I commented 'at least something will!'. More laugther followed by sobering smiles. We felt - and still feel - so at home with them that nothing is hidden. Three is no shame in what we feel and even in the saddest of times we can laugh together and find homour to break through the pain.
At this point there was a huge shift in my thinking and I started to realise that I no longer knew what the desire of my heart was; but I was safe in the knowledge that God knew me better than I knew myself and HE knew what the desire of my heart was. He could see past the fear. I stopped begging him morning, noon and night for a baby and instead just prayed that he would give me the desire of my heart. Whatever that was.
The day after we returned home I attended the hospital for my scan. There was a dominant follicle. It was bigger than the others although not significantly so and so I was given another round of FSH injections and sent home for another couple of days. When I returned for my repeat scan, the dominant follicle had grown although was not quite big enough to trigger with the HCG injection. I was given another few rounds of injections before the follicle had reached the desired 21mm needed for taking the HCG trigger shot; another injection which, this time, was to trigger the release of the egg in the follicle. I had to take the trigger shot at midnight and set my alarm to wake me up incase I felll asleep. It felt like the latest night of my life! I took the syringe out of the fridge and injected it as I had learnt to. My hands were shaking and I was terrified I had done something wrong. This precious liquid was the key to me ovulating and therefore was the key to me getting pregnant. I did not want to mess up.
Over the following couple of days I felt awful. I felt really nauseous and bloated and was suffering from awful stomach cramps. I drew comfort from this that ovulation had happened. We dropped Sam at a friend's house, drove to the hospital to register and hand in John's sprem sample and went out for lunch as if it was the most normal thing in the world. I tried not to think about how clinical the process was and tried hard to see it as a means to an end. The artificial insemination was possibly one of the most surreal moments of my life. Again I lay in a bed with a nurse making small talk and John holding my hand whilst thoughts of fertilisation and conception were racing through my mind. We left the hospital one more time and once again I tried to relax but had hundreds of 'what ifs?' racing through my mind.
Over the next couple of weeks we carried on progressing with our foster care application. We met our social worker; a really down to earth man who was not fazed or concerned about our suffering from infertility. We were - and had to be - completely honest about our feelings and experiences. He fully understood and appreciated our motives for wanting to register as foster carers and was more than willing to support us through the process and (huge wealth of) paper work, medicals and checks.
Nearly two weeks after the IUI, we went camping with some friends and their children. Again I welcomed the escapism that getting away provided. Sam played happily with his friends and we had a wonderful time inspite of the inevitable rain. We sat under the gazebo around the camp fire and chatted and played games. Our friends knew that we were in the middle of a fertility treatment cycle and were amazing supportive and emphatic throughout the entire weekend. They listened when we needed to talk, normalised our feelings when we (I) let my anxieties get the better of us and distracted us with humouur, good food and conversation when we needed it. The morning we were packing up to return home I started experiencing very painful stomach cramps. Although I was unsure what a 'normal/natural' menstrual cycle really felt like, I was convinced that I was getting my period. I panicked and spoke to Sarah about it, who reassured me that with each of her three pregnancies she had experienced what felt like premenstrual cramps prior to missing her period/finding out she was pregnant. I felt sad that even though I had been pregnant three times I still didn't know what 'normal' was nor did I know what to expect.
John and I sat in our house that evening whilst the stomach cramps continued. I kept rushing to the toilet to see if I had got my period. By the end of the evening I felt at peace and at a place of acceptance at the thought of my period being imminent and therefore the treatment having failed. The following morning I was surprised to realise that my period hadn't started and the cramping had stopped. I took a pregnancy test as I knew I was meant to and followed my normal routine of hopping in the shower whilst the result developed.
On stepping out of the shower I picked up the test to throw it in the bin as my reflexes had become accostomed to doing. However, as I glanced at the digital test window I was surprised to see the words 'pregnant 2 - 3'. I took a number of tests that morning to confirm. Each of them was positive.