“Undocumented”

Our son is a month and one day old and the poor, little soul is undocumented, that is to say he still doesn’t have a birth certificate. “Why?” you may ask. Well, quite simply bureaucracy and systems that haven’t kept up with the times.

Fletcher was born during the festive season, meaning that Home Affairs was closed until January. This meant that we had to come back to the hospital early in January to register his birth and apply for his birth certificate, or go to Home Affairs ourselves. Anyone who’s ever been to Home Affairs knows that would just have been silly – taking a newborn baby to stand in the queues at Home Affairs for hours on end. So we opted to come back in January.

Armed with all our paperwork, we arrived at the hospital to meet the Home Affairs rep on 9 January. Two certified ID copies, one certified marriage certificate copy, a letter from the doctor who performed the IVF to say that the donor (or “father” as they like to call him) was anonymous and therefore unknown to us “in terms of the National Tissue Act”, all the necessary forms, signed and stamped by our gynae, the hospital and the nurse who completed the form, as well as the completed official registration of birth form from Home Affairs. We thought we were totally sorted. And so did the Home Affairs rep, who optimistically told us we would be able to collect his birth certificate the next day.

When Becs arrived the next day to collect the certificate, however, she was greeted with a look of incomprehension from the Home Affairs rep, who simply said, “Didn’t they call you?” When Becs responded in the negative, the Home Affairs rep went on to explain that someone from “head office” was supposed to have phoned us to tell us that the birth certificate wasn’t ready. But no one had. (And incidentally no one did.)

When we enquired as to why it wasn’t ready, the Home Affairs rep told us that when they put the second ID number onto the birth certificate and it registers that the second parent is also a woman, it breaks the system. And there is only one person at head office who can manually override said system, to change “father” to “parent B”. And she is on leave for another two weeks. WHAT? Are you flipping kidding me?

In a country where same sex marriage has been legal for over a decade are you seriously trying to tell me that the system cannot handle an exception to “mother” and “father”? Ludicrous! But there you have it. Our wonderfully antiquated system cannot compute a same sex relationship, even in today’s day and age. Basically, “computer says ‘no’.”

So, the moral of the story is, if you are a same sex couple, expecting a child, (a) make sure you’re married first or your partner will have to legally adopt the child (which requires social worker visits and a shitload more paperwork) and (b) make sure you have some time before you need the birth certificate for anything. (Oh, on the off-chance that your child has to be admitted to the NICU, as ours did, and you need to submit a claim through medical aid for said NICU visit, there is a way around this birth certificate debacle. After over an hour on the phone with Discovery, I was finally able to register Fletcher on the medical aid as “Baby” until such time as we get his birth certificate, which means they are at least able to process the NICU claim.)

The grand arrival…

Before I get into this post, I feel the need to warn sensitive readers of the slightly more graphic nature of this post. Just so we’re all entirely clear, what follows details my labour experience. If that’s not up your alley, turn back now. Read this post about Becs’s experience at Antenatal Class, or this one about things not to say to pregnant women. If you’re ok with the slightly gorier details… as you were.

What was that?

At about 04:00 on Thursday, 22 December 2016 I woke up needing to pee – as most 39-week pregnant women do. When I wiped, it felt a bit… well, slimy. I know, not the most attractive thing, is it? But not much about pregnancy is. About 20 minutes later, Becs’s running alarm went off and she quietly (and in the semi-dark) began changing for her run. Not having been able to get back to sleep, I opted to read my book for a while and turned on the lights.

Shortly after Becs left, I needed to pee again – nothing new really – but once again, when I wiped it was slimy. This time, however, there was enough light for me to see what I’d wiped away. A mostly clear, slightly pinkish streaked snot, with the consistency of egg whites. Uhm… Ja, that’s definitely not part of my normal peeing routine.

I cleaned myself up, dashed back to the bedroom, grabbed my phone and almost – almost – dialed Becs’s number. But, it was just before 05:00 so she’d likely be on the road already, or at least out of the car and away from her phone and seeing a missed call from me when she got back to the car would only send her into a tailspin of worry. I put my phone down, rationalising with myself that it was only an hour and not much was likely to happen in an hour.

I picked my phone up again and – far more calmly – opened Safari and typed in “what does a bloody show look like?” (Yes, I’m one of those people who actually ask Google questions instead of typing in keywords.) Having read the article on Baby Centre that described the bloody show as a “blob of blood-streaked pale, creamy-pink snot”, I was pretty convinced I’d had my show.

Armed with knowledge, and the assumption that it wasn’t likely for anything earth-shattering to happen in the next couple of hours, I continued reading my book and intermittently visiting the loo. When Becs got home some time after 06:00, I asked her (as calmly as I could) how her run had been. She responded, but quickly realized there was something else on my mind and, in a voice dripping with concern, asked what was wrong. I told her – once again, as calmly as I could – that I thought my water had broken and explained the symptoms and my reason for not calling her at 05:00 (which she thanked me for) and we agreed we’d message the midwife at a more decent hour and let her know what was going on.

Carry on regardless…

At about 07:30 I sent our midwife a WhatsApp to explain that I thought I’d had my show and that my waters had broken. She asked a few questions about the colour of both the show and the subsequent fluid and told us to keep her posted on any changes. Knowing the movies absolutely lie about how quickly these things progress, we decided to carry on our day as normally as we could. We headed down to Pick ‘n Pay to get some things we needed for Christmas lunch, went for breakfast with a friend and for coffee with another. All the while I continued to lose amniotic fluid but without a contraction in sight.

At around midday, the midwife sent a message to say we should come in an see how things were progressing, which we duly did. Sadly, things were not progressing – I had only dilated to 2cm and without contractions wasn’t all that likely to dilate further. She gave me some homeopathic pills and a solution of some or other medication to be taken every 30 minutes, to help bring on contractions.

Once one’s water breaks, the baby – and I suppose the mother too – are more susceptible to infection, because the door is essentially being left open. This meant that, if my progress was still slow by 16:00, I’d need to go onto antibiotics. We agreed to be back at 16:00 for another check-up and headed home.

At home, we tried everything: I walked up and down the passage and garden, I bounced on the pilates ball, I did lunges on the stairs, I even did squats! Nothing. Well not nothing, per se; I had contractions – about a 4 out of 10, pain-wise and roughly 10 minutes apart, progressing to about 6 minutes apart by 16:00 – but still not quite enough.

All that build-up, and then… nothing

At 16:00, we went back to the midwife and she said I was still only 2cm dilated. Not a great start. 12 hours into “labour” and no more dilated than I was 4 hours ago. Then, as if to cap it all off, my contractions suddenly, and for no reason at all, stopped. We sat around the midwife’s consulting rooms for another hour or so, waiting to see if the contractions would resume, while I continued to feel like an enormous fraud – like I’d made the whole thing up. And, to be honest, if it wasn’t for the amniotic fluid leaking out of me, I’d have been convinced it was all in my head.

But it wasn’t in my head. My water had broken, of that there was no doubt, which meant that I’d have to go onto antibiotics. Once admitted, I was hooked up to an IV and, along with the antibiotics, I was given a stronger solution of the contraction-inducing medicine.

About half an hour later, the contractions started up again, and they’d grown. Now about a 6 out of 10, pain-wise and coming every ± two minutes, for about 30 seconds. We agreed that the midwife would check my dilation again at around 20:00, until then I should continue to time the contractions and walk. And so, we walked. With my IV bag on its little trolley, Becs and I did laps of the hospital ward, announcing every time we walked past the room how many contractions I’d had on my last lap.

Time for some meds, and not the pain-relieving kind

At 20:00, I was still only 2cm dilated and, much to my dismay, the possibility that I wouldn’t dilate further was becoming more of a reality. I was starting to get a bit despondent but I was trying to keep positive, hoping that next time she checks, I’ll be more dilated and then it’ll go quickly. But, it was not meant to be. At 22:00, we checked again – still only 2cm, but with contractions now coming every ±90 seconds and lasting about a minute each time. They’d also climbed the pain-scale and were tipping 8 by now. Each time my body was wracked with another contraction, I clutched Becs’s hand and – breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth – counted my out breaths until it passed.

Time for a new cocktail

Although the induction meds had worked as far as bringing on contractions, they had failed to dilate my cervix any further. We thought little man’s head would do it, because he was well-and-truly engaged! But unfortunately, that hadn’t done the trick either, so it was time to add something new to the cocktail of meds – a muscle relaxant jab to the bum (the site of which, by the way, is still sore, almost two weeks later). We’d give the muscle relaxant time to do its work and check the dilation again at midnight, if it still wasn’t progressing, we’d have no choice but to call the gynae and go for an emergency Caesar.

With the gaps between contractions now sometimes as a short as a few seconds, I was completely exhausted. Throw a potent muscle relaxant into the mix and I was about as useful as an Orthodox Jew at an all-you-can-eat pork buffet. I continued to have contractions, which, according to the machine I was periodically hooked up to, weren’t increasing in strength (although it felt like they were), but they were coming more frequently, but my cervix still wouldn’t dilate.

Time to call the cavalry

By midnight I was still only 2cm dilated and, after 20 hours of labour, we pulled the plug and called the gynae in for an emergency Caesar. My drip was shut off, meaning my contractions immediately began coming less frequently, but after 20 hours, I was completely shattered and feeling them with increasing veracity.

At around 01:00 on 23 December 2016, I was wheeled into the operating room, closely followed by Becs in all her finery (read: scrubs). I’ve never been more thankful for Becs than I was at that moment because I was as high as a kite and barely able to string words together, much less a coherent sentence. The anesthetist was explaining the procedure, what he would do and how the spinal would work. I was trying really hard to follow but finding it difficult to keep my eyes open, much less follow what he was saying. I was presented with consent forms to sign, which I think I signed (whether it was legible or not, who can say), I was moved over to the operating table, where two needles were inserted into my spine: first a local anesthetic and then the spinal block. The anesthetist explained that I’d feel a cold, tingling sensation in my legs and although I’d feel pressure, I wouldn’t feel what was actually being done.

At about 01:20 the Caesar got underway and the first cut, which wasn’t the deepest, certainly was the smelliest. Caesars are done with an implement that cauterizes as it cuts, which means there is a gut-wrenching stench of burning flesh while the cut is being made. It was like a car accident. I couldn’t take my eyes off the surgical lights, because, if you looked closely, you could see a reflection of what was going on “behind the curtain”. I watched them slice through layers of skin, fat, tissue and muscle before all three doctors joined forces to “eject” our son from his home. With the anesthetist pushing down from behind the curtain, the assisting doctor pulling from one side and the gynae pulling from the other, they were eventually able to pull our son from my womb at 01:36 on the morning of Friday, 23 December 2016.

Welcome to the world little man

His screams cut through everything else – our perfect little bundle was here, screaming his tiny lungs out! To say the sound is overwhelming is beyond an understatement. I’ve never felt emotion like I felt in those moments, fleetingly seeing the tiny human I’d grown for the past 39 weeks before he was whipped away to be weighed and measured. He was briefly placed on my chest before being taken to the NICU. The paed was worried about fluid on his lungs, so he needed to be placed on oxygen. Becs went with him and left me in the capable hands of the surgical team for closing up.

After I’d been closed and taped up, I was taken up to our room to wait for Becs to return. I don’t know how long I waited, but I fitfully slept while I did – unable to keep my eyes open anymore. When Becs came back at around 03:30, she explained where he’d gone and why and where she’d been. She told me he was OK. I cried some more and fell into a drug-induced, but brief sleep. Shortly after 08:00 that morning, we went up to the NICU to see our son.

The best and worst day

During the agonising two weeks that followed the embryo implantation, we had a number of ups and downs. Having committed to being positive and trusting in the universe to bring our little bundle of joy to us, we tried not to focus on the downs, but sometimes that was easier said than done.

I had occasional sharp pains – similar to period pains – which caused panicked moments for both of us. We consulted a number of blogs and forums, absorbed every bit of information we could find, hoping to find solace in knowledge. A lot of the blogs and forums said post-implantation pain was totally normal and that it could be the embryo burrowing its way into the lining of the uterus, creating a more permanent home for itself. We took this to be a good sign and tried to keep ourselves distracted with our day-to-day lives.

Twelve days after the embryo implantation date – the day we’d been told to go for the blood test – happened to be my mom’s birthday. Wouldn’t that be an awesome birthday present for my mom?! I had a series of meetings in the morning, which meant I’d only be able to go for the test at lunchtime. Knowing we’d likely to die of anticipation if we had to wait until the afternoon to find out, Becs had bought a stock-standard pee-test for the morning before we left for work.

As you would on the day you’re due to leave for holiday, I woke up early, thanks to the excitement the day promised, and could barely contain myself. At about 05:30, I decided I couldn’t wait anymore and Becs woke up to the sound of me scratching in the medicine cupboard for the pee-test. She immediately knew what I was up to and eagerly perched herself on the edge of the bed to wait for the results.

In case you were wondering, peeing on a 1cm wide piece of plastic in near-dark with half-open eyes is no mean feat, but I managed. I placed the stick on a piece of toilet paper on the bathroom counter, washed my hands and went to wait the instructed 5 minutes. Let me tell you, that was the longest 5 minutes of my life!

Becs and I read and re-read the instructions and eventually, unable to contain ourselves, went back to the bathroom to check the results. Negative. What? My world crashed down around me. We consulted the instructions again to make sure we’d read the results correctly. How could it be? We’d been so sure this was it. We were totally convinced this was our time to get it right, so how could the test be negative? But there is was, as clear as day, only one little red line. We were devastated. We crawled back into bed, curled into one another and cried in each other’s arms until the alarm went off.

The rest of the day passed in a blur, the tears never far from my eyes. I sat through my meetings, adding little-to-no value, barely managing to keep it together. But, the doctor still needed a blood test to confirm the results – after all, she hadn’t seen the pee-stick. So at lunch time I got into my car and drove to the hospital.

I walked into the hospital, across the reception and down the stairs to the pathology labs in a total daze. I walked in, half greeted the sister and handed her my form. She called me through almost immediately. Sensing my apathy towards the process (and possibly seeing my puffy red eyes), she didn’t make the usual friendly banter with me. Having filled the vials, I thanked her and walked out, up the stairs, across the reception and out to my car. I don’t even remember the drive back to the office, I was on some other planet.

About two hours later, my phone rang. It was the receptionist from the doctor’s office to give me the results. Worried I’d burst into tears again; I went into a private meeting room to take the call. Dejectedly, I answered, “Hello?”

“Barbara, it’s Muneerah from Dr Patel’s office. Your results have come back and it’s positive. The reading should be more than seven and yours is 103, so it’s definitely a positive.” It took a while for her words to wash over me, to sink through the blur of my heart-broken psyche and into my consciousness. When they eventually did, I sat straight up.

“Pardon Muneerah, could you please repeat that?” I asked, barely willing to believe my ears.

“It’s positive – congratulations! Now you need to go for another test in 48-72 hours to check the levels have doubled, but it’s definitely a positive.”

I thanked her emphatically and immediately dialled Becs’s number. She answered in much the same way I had answered Muneerah’s call – half-heartedly and with a tone of abject dejection. I asked her how her day had been. “Terrible,” she replied. When I asked her if I could make it better, she hardly perked up, the possibilities unlikely to have even crossed her mind. “Sure,” she said, “you can try.”

“Muneerah just called, the blood tests results are positive – we’re pregnant!” She was silent for a second before almost screaming down the phone, “I knew it! I knew that stupid pee-test was wrong!”

The rest of the afternoon passed in a blur of who-knows-what. We were pregnant, nothing else mattered to either of us! That night we were going to be able to give my mom the best birthday present ever!

How many did you say?

After a series of scans to make sure everything was “just so”, we scheduled the embryo implantation day, which happened to be over a weekend (guess that’s why we pay these doctors the big bucks, hey!). On Sunday, April 10th, we arrived at the clinic ready to welcome, what we hoped would be, the newest addition to our family.

Our doctor was (as most doctors are) notoriously late for everything and, true to form, she arrived late for the implant appointment. But to be fair, we did drag her and her staff away from home on a Sunday, so we couldn’t really be upset with her, and it’s not like we had anything else planned for the day. When she arrived, we followed her into the procedure room, where she briefed us on the process.

Her assistant would hold the ultrasound wand on my tummy, allowing the doctor to see where the implanting needle and tube were, to make sure she implanted the embryo in the right place. Once everything was in place, she’d tap on the little window in the wall, and the umpa lumpa behind the one-way glass would open a hatch and pass our embryos through. She would then implant the little guys and we should look out for a “flash of light” on the ultrasound screen, which would signal they were in. Awesome sauce. We were ready.

“Just one other thing…” she began tentatively, “we froze the four embryos that successfully fertilized last month and, when we thawed them, one didn’t survive the process.” OK, I thought, not a train smash, we’ve still got three, right? Right. The embryos had been thawed two days previously to enable them to continue to develop into 5-day embryos, or blastocysts, which statistically have a better chance of implanting. She continued explaining, “One of the embryos has developed perfectly and is exactly on track, the second one is a bit sluggish, but not far behind. But the last one is a little further behind and won’t survive being refrozen. So, either we implant all three, or we lose the last one.” Becs and I looked at each other with worried faces. Ummmmm…

We asked for the room and started discussing the pros and cons of implanting three embryos.

Pros:

  • If we don’t implant the third one, what if that’s the one and we effectively chuck it down the drain?

Cons:

  • THREE BABIES!

“Let’s play rock, paper, scissors?” I said. Cool. “I’ll be three, you be two.” I said to Becs, assuming the position, with my clenched fist behind my head. We played, best of three rounds. I won. Almost simultaneously we said, “No ways, only two, three is just madness.”

We called the doctor back in, told her our decision and the rest of the implantation went off without a hitch. We watched our little flash of light on the screen as we cried like little girls, clutching each other’s hands. I lay there for about 20 minutes after the procedure before I dared to move. We spoke about our miracle as if it was a sure thing – we knew, this was going to work, no doubt in our minds.

We headed home and I spent the rest of the afternoon lounging in my hammock while Becs gardened around me. The next day was business as usual, we both went off to work and carried on our days as if nothing extraordinary had happened in the previous 24 hours. When people at work asked how our weekend had been, we nonchalantly responded, “chilled, thanks. Yours?” All that was left was the waiting game…

The back-up plan

The two weeks that followed that eventful day passed by in something of a blur. Our doctor had called to say it wasn’t necessary to continue the various medicinal protocols they had put me on immediately after the egg harvest. Without question, we accepted her advice and I stopped all meds – not really thinking about the maybe-fertilised eggs that were now floating around in my uterus.

The days stretched on and soon it was the magical window 12-14 days post-insemination window – time for the dreaded test. During my lunch break, I printed off the form the doctor had provided me with and dashed off to the hospital for the blood test.

Feeling like an old hand at this, I quickly passed through reception and went down the stairs to the pathology labs. For whatever reason, although we knew this attempt had as much chance as any of the others of success, we weren’t putting too much stock in it. We were so much more comfortable with a potential negative than before. Maybe it was because we knew, deep down, this wasn’t Plan A – it was the back-up plan – so it didn’t really matter too much if it didn’t come off.

Coming out of my reverie as the nurse called my name, I handed her the form and followed her into the little cubicle, already rolling my sleeve up and beginning to tighten my fist. A few minutes later I was done, taking the stairs two-at-a-time and heading out the automatic doors at the hospital’s reception back to the office.

A few hours later I received the call that a huge part of me had been expecting since the 10th of February – the results had come back negative, I wasn’t pregnant. Our doctor said I should wait until I started my period and then call and make an appointment for a scan so we could plan the next steps in the process. I thanked her, hung up and called Becs to let her know.

We weren’t heart-broken, in fact we were hardly affected at all. It was as if we’d been expecting this all along. When my period started a few days later, I called our doctor as instructed and made an appointment for a follow up appointment and scan.

At the appointment, she outlined the medicinal protocol I’d be going onto in the next few days and gave me the relevant prescriptions. Pills to thicken the lining of my uterus, injections to help with that, more injections to stop my body producing an egg, other pills to tell my body it had produced an egg when in actual fact it hadn’t… She went on to explain that, of the 11 egg sacks they’d harvested, they had managed to take four embryos to day-3 maturity before freezing them for future use.

Over the next two weeks I followed the protocol of daily injections and tablets and, when the lining of my uterus was deemed to be a suitable thickness to welcome an embryo, we scheduled Plan A – the embryo implantation.

IVF: the start of the process

In January, after three failed attempts at IUI, we had a consultation with our doctor where we told her we wanted to step things up and move on to IVF. We discussed how the processes differed and agreed I would start the meds in my next cycle. For the next few weeks I injected myself, took pills and injected myself a bit more. All in preparation for the big egg harvest.

The day before the harvest – more as a matter of course, than thinking anything could possibly go wrong ­­– I emailed the cryobank to ensure our chosen donor’s swimmers were ready. But, I received a response saying there were no more of his samples left. Crap. Now what? I called my wife and explained the situation, Whatsapped her a picture of the donor list with the 2 remaining shortlist candidates. They were virtually indistinguishable – both had blonde hair, both around the same height and weight, both had similar academic backgrounds – the only difference was their eye colour. One had blue eyes, one had green. That decided it. I have blue eyes, so does my wife. Let’s go with that. And so we made the quickest decision we’d made throughout the process. It would turn out to be one of the most important decisions we’d ever made.

On 10 February, I went into the clinic to have my eggs harvested (sounds very “farm life” doesn’t it). After the procedure our doctor came to tell me they’d harvested 11 egg sacks, but some of the sacks had been empty, which meant it was possible some eggs had already released into my system. She said they had an extra sample of swimmers and explained that, given the possibility some eggs were left inside me, she suggested we try one last (unscheduled) IUI attempt. Without much consideration, we surged ahead.

Because I was in the theatre ward and not in the normal procedure rooms, she didn’t have her usual equipment. So she borrowed a head lamp from one of the orthodontists who share the ward, gathered a tray of instruments and closed the curtain around my bed in the recovery ward. Looking more like a coal miner than a gynaecologist, she tucked herself down between my spread knees and began the procedure. As she’d done so many times before, she handed me the vial, instructing me to keep it warm until she was ready. I nervously clutched the vial in both hands, knowing the discomfort that was coming next.

When she was ready, I handed her the vial, which she took in one hand turned to face and said, “Now boys, you’re going into the arena – time to perform!” I suppressed a giggle and tried to keep myself relaxed as she finished up.

Fifteen minutes later, we were on our way home with (what we hoped would be) as close to an accidental pregnancy as we were ever going to get. We still had the obligatory two week wait before we could do the test, but we were happy in the knowledge that we had a back-up plan if this didn’t work – well, we had a primary plan we could go back to if this didn’t work.