And then, of course, there was the global pandemic.
I almost don’t even know where to start with that. Except that it made me think a few things. Firstly I was SO grateful that we had made the decision to use donor eggs before all this started. As the world ground to a halt and IVF clinics shut down, my heart broke for all the women who had planned an IVF cycle with their own eggs, but had no idea when that would ever be possible again.
I knew how they’d be feeling, watching each month slide by, painfully conscious of the fact that they were getting older each month, and that the number of chromosomally normal eggs they were producing was probably diminishing each month. Worrying that that month, right in the middle of the pandemic, when there was no possibility of IVF, was going to be the month that they released their golden egg for the year (OK, OK, I admit I don’t know the exact biological mechanism by which these things happen, and I get that eggs probably aren’t labelled May 2020 or whatever, but these are the things we women think: that the month that we don’t have sex at the right time of the month / do the IVF cycle was absolutely and categorically The Month That We Would Have Got Pregnant If Only We Had Had The Perfectly Timed Sex Or Done The IVF Cycle.)
But the pandemic also gave me a sense of comfort that I hoped that they felt too. One of the biggest things for me about all this fertility stuff has been not being able to plan. Or maybe more accurately, trying to plan multiple parallel lives at the same time that juggle all the ways in which you might or might not be pregnant at some non-specific time in the future. Maybe I shouldn’t book that trip because I’ll be doing a cycle? Maybe this time next year we’ll be taking a baby with us? Maybe this will be my last ski trip for a while? And let’s be honest, as time and all this has gone on, that aspect of things has been bashed out of me. It’s not that I now work on the assumption that I won’t be pregnant, more that I work on the assumption that if I have to cancel anything, whatever it costs will be fuck all in the grand scheme of things.
But as the pandemic made all of our lives smaller, there was a weird comfort in knowing that nobody could plan anything. Nobody could book a holiday as they didn’t know what was going to happen. People had to cancel stuff because of something out of their control. This wasn’t schadenfreude I was feeling, just a sort of relief that I wasn’t weird or unique in this way, that next month, next year, was as much of a mystery to everyone else as it was to me. There was comfort in that.
And weirdly, the combination of having made the decision to use a donor, and lockdown, gave me a peculiar kind of freedom. Earlier in the year I had already started to do the high intensity exercise that I’d spent years avoiding for fear that it would spike my cortisol levels and have some non specific negative impact on my hormones, and so in lockdown, I kept it up. It kept me sane and gave some structure to my day. I loved the changes I started to see in my body, the flatter stomach, the muscles I was developing, the way I felt stronger. (This slightly narcissistic joy might also have been because relatively early on, I had what I can only assume was coronavirus — I wasn’t tested but it was textbook in that it knocked me out for a good few weeks with no sense of smell, a hacking cough, tightness of breath, and total exhaustion like I’ve never felt before. And so when I began to feel better, and began to exercise again, I had a newfound respect for my body and what it was capable of.)
I also had all the time in the world to spend with this person who a year ago, hadn’t even moved in with me. And I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a smug twat, but I loved it. Once we’d adjusted to each other’s working patterns, I loved the fact that I got to have lunch with him every day. That he wasn’t out of the house for 12 hours of every day. That we weren’t ships in the night, only spending “quality” time together at the end of an exhausting week. That he — more than six months after moving in — finally knew where everything went in the kitchen. That we had a chance to make a home that had been mine, ours. I loved how comfortable it was, how easy it was, how we didn’t run out of things to say to each other, how it felt that — however madly quickly everything seemed to have happened — we’d made the right decision in choosing to be with each other.
I also loved that when I had a mid-lockdown Sunday afternoon tantrum about how shit everything was because every day felt like Groundhog Day and I felt like I spent every hour that I wasn’t working on the sofa, he asked me what I wanted to do, and when I said “get shitfaced and eat fried chicken” (the fact that I knew that, even if we found a donor tomorrow, at best it would be a few months before we got to the stage of doing an embryo transfer, meant I was more relaxed about booze and food than I’d been in a long time) he didn’t even blink, but made us cocktails and ordered a takeaway.
I feel guilty saying all this. I know that for so many people lockdown was really hard. But we didn’t have relatives in care homes to contend with, or the horror of having to homeschool a child, or occupy a toddler, or juggle childcare with work. And the fact that we’d had coronavirus made that threat less immediately terrifying. I’m not saying it was all a breeze. We had the same concerns that everyone else had. Worries about families overseas and when we’d ever be able to see them, worries about older relatives and whether they were “behaving” themselves and shielding appropriately, worries about our incomes and the future, and the politicians that seemed to care more about themselves and their mates than about the country.
But on the whole, I felt we were lucky. For all that the pandemic had taken so much away from us all, for all that I was impatient for us to find a donor and move forward, I can never regret the silver lining it gave us just to be. I remember there was a point in the last couple of years when he said to me “I just want my girlfriend back” and I knew at the time exactly what he meant. He wanted the version of me that wasn’t ruled by my fertility. The person I could be if I wasn’t worrying about how that food/drink/exercise/supplement/acupuncture was going to affect my chances of having a baby. And during lockdown, I became that person. He got his girlfriend back, I got me back, and despite everything being shit, that little bit of it was brilliant.