La Vie en Rosé Part Deux – Off my FaceTime

It was an August afternoon, I had been to the gym, was showered and blowdried and ready to pack for an impromptu trip to St Tropez. My friend Jo had called a couple of days beforehand to say she was driving down to her parents countryside villa with three other girls (one who I knew and loved) and offered to pick me up in Paris en route. Yeeees! En route meant one am in the morning but I figured, Id pack, eat and maybe snooze until she arrived.

Then it happened. A FaceTime call came in at about 4 or 5pm from my friend Marianne. I couldn’t have been happier. I had just popped the cork of a chilled rosé and the welcoming, familiar wave of bonhomie from the first glass had already started to wash over me.

I hadn’t seen Marianne since she had been Jack Kerouac-ing across America (well, more Kerastase in her case) and I was bubbling over to hear from her. To top it off, it was a gorgeously hot afternoon in Paris, I was actually living here, in my own apartment, sipping a formerly forbidden but totally irresistible nectar (guilt-free) and I was going to St Tropez in a few hours for a girls weekend. All in the world was amazing and completely possible. I was on fire and feeling fantastic.

I don’t know whether it can be considered as a type of pathetic fallacy but my mood was totally mirrored with how I looked that day on FaceTime. My face was slimmer- the high impact gym sessions had finally kicked in- my skin was clear thanks to prohibition, I was mahogony with fake tan (and just a sprinkling of natural freckles), my hair was straightened, glossy and had fallen into an unrepeatable perfect parting. Yee har. Life was brilliant.

Normally I spend the majority of a FaceTime call distracted by the little window of self reflection – frequently turning my iPad around- putting my companion on their head temporarily- hoping the grainy, unflattering, bloated pink version of me is due to a bad camera angle or lighting.

The moment when you hold an iPad in your lap and gasp with horror to see your Pillsbury dough face slumped forward, unashamedly highlighting lines and thick pore ridden, peasant skin, is undoubtedly a First World problem. But a serious one.

Far from the comparative kindness of the retro ‘mirror’, there’s no smile or angling that works on the cynical eye of FaceTime.

You can forget that look you use for meditated mirror-time reflection. I personally turn my head to one side, then the other, pout and suck my cheeks and belly in, raising my shoulders unconsciously, making the tops of my arms look thinner. I flirt with the mirror and only show it my best sides.

FaceTime on the otherhand is the Dorian Gray mirror in the attic. And it hates you.

But today I had somehow dodged the impossible and looked fresh faced and fabulous and so did Marianne. We were so excited to finally get hold of each other in the sweetest synergy of perfect timing – both relaxed, happy, had hours to chat and wine to drink. So we set ourselves up as if we sitting opposite each other in a London bar.

The first bottle of rosé went far too quickly and left me feeling very panicky that there was no more in the fridge and that Marianne would use it as a natural conclusion to the call if I said I needed to run to the shop. But as this was the call of all possibilities, she actively encouraged me to run downstairs to my local Super U whilst she refreshed her own bottle.

We didn’t even end the call. I left her on my kitchen table with a view out of the window, took the lift down six flights, galloped a set of stairs, threw my empty bottle of rosé into the recycling bin by the front door past the hundreds of apartment post boxes. Half giggling to myself I skipped into the supermarket, picked up a pack of Lays crisps (dinner), a bottle of rosé for me (and Marianne) and a bottle of red for my husband (who was safely at work) and made it back to Marianne’s lovely face in record time.

It was one of those epic chats that can only come about once every other blue moon. We were both so positive about life and felt like we were on the edge of something amazing. The world was at our feet and getting better by the glass. I had already booked an appointment to start my third round of IVF but this time at one of the best clinics in London, I had got used to not working and was loving the time I had to explore different options for our future. Marianne still buoyed by her American dream was on the brink of launching two brilliant new businesses, we felt a paradigm shift taking place. And boy, oh boy could we talk about it.

I’d die if the conversation was recorded.

I don’t know if you have seen that scene in Ted where Mark Wahlberg and his bear excitedly prattle on (albeit drug induced) about the Italian restaurant they once said they were going to open – if we’re ever going to get serious about opening this restaurant, we’re going to have to start planning it now, Italian?, yeah Italian, why didn’t we do that, we should still do that, we’d be brilliant, you at front of house, me cooking, how would we decorate it…yeah totally, ok tomorrow, I’ll get onto it, I promise..

Yep. Much the same.

The minutes turned into hours and the glasses into bottles. Including DH’s red. Before I knew where we were, I (vaguely) heard the key in the door. But DH wasn’t back till midnight! Uh huh.

I saw Marianne’s eyes widen in panic as she saw him before I did. ‘Ohlookmazza who itis” I slurred looking over my shoulder.

Our un breakable bond and phone call came to an abrupt end as Marianne sensed danger and said “I’ve got to go” and before I knew it her finger came to the middle of the screen and she disconnected the call. Gulp. I was alone in my trouble.

When I was speaking to Marianne I’m sure I sounded normal but now standing talking to my silent and fuming husband, I could hear quite how bad normal sounds.

So as to completely fool him, I attempted to do everyday things to give him the impression that I wasn’t well and truly off my FaceTime.

Taking out the wet washing from the machine and hanging it on our window ledge clothes horse. That seemed like a perfectly normal thing to do and it would totally fool him. A low down window ledge 6 stories up. As I lurched forward to place a pair of saturated jeans at the furthest rung of the drying hanger with half of my body out of the window, dangling over the courtyard below, I over stretched, lost my balance and began to topple out completely.

My husband grabbed me from the brink of death and humiliation and dragged me waist first back into the room. Falling out of a window drunk after an over exuberant FaceTime session with a friend on my first year of moving to Paris seemed a horribly dramatic 27 year old thing to do. It just wasn’t cool to almost die like this at 37. Hitting Paris with a thud not a bump.

So my “be normal” strategy had gone horribly wrong in impressing DH. So much so that looking at his swimming, blurry, shouty face, I was beginning to think he was having second thoughts about saving me.

After the outside /inside/ bending over/ manhandling/ spinning around – the only thing my body would let me do was to go head first into plan b. “I’mgoingtobesick” I mumbled as I pinball wizarded myself off every single wall in our apartment trying to make the bathroom.

“Oh bloody joy” he shouted.

He had been in from work only 10 minutes.

It couldn’t get any worse until… “Is this your phone? You’ve got 10 missed calls!” then DH’s mobile began a calypso beat, cutting through the very un melodic atmosphere and mercifully drowning out some of the Minotaur roaring coming from the toilet.

“It’s Jo. Your lift to st tropez is outside!”

OH. MY. GOD

The next 10 minutes saw an increasingly unfocused, very unfrench woman trying to get a bag full of clothes, make up and money together like a badly trained chimp. With the angriest husband/father type picking things up saying …do you need this? Did you bring your hair brush? Have you got a bikini? Hmmm? Right, pick that up, brush your teeth and I’ll bring you to the car, yes ! (“Yes”said in that berating Gordon Ramsay way). I nodded shamefaced and cross eyed.

He held onto me all the way down in the lift and the flight of stairs and I made a good semblance of being steady. As soon as he let go of my arm at the bottom of the stairs, with the front door almost in spitting distance, gravity unfortunately dragged me towards the metal, sharp edged apartment post boxes. These shiny innocent killers I walk past every day.

The post box won in the scuffle and my favourite grey cashmere jumper was ripped from the shoulder down.

DH pulled me off my attacker and frogmarched me to the awaiting car. He put me in the backseat with two girls I’d never met before and who had been soundly asleep until this wino was slung in with them. “Hellooooo” I cooed “ooh a blankie, can I get under there with you?”

DH went to the drivers window and quietly told Jo “I’m afraid she’s a bit pissed. She was on FaceTime. She’s all yours now”

If the car was a horse, he would have slapped its rear and sent it on its way.

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La Vie en Rosé

Far from being the pious figure I have cut out for myself so far, I had a couple of momentous falls from the grace wagon in Paris between the end of IVF 2 and the start of IVF 3. (August and September 2013). All involved rosé.

I lived in Toulouse (known as La Ville Rose) as a university student in 1998 and met a group of people I’m delighted to say are still my friends today. Some French, some English and some a mixture.

Toulousan Tom (who’s from Manchester but still lives in the Haut-Garonne) happened to turn up in Paris one inauspicious sunny Monday and announced his arrival on Facebook. Although we had always kept in contact, I hadn’t actually seen Tom for about 10 years and this was too good to be true.

I was itching to get out and throw off the shackles of sensible, restricted IVF me, so I suggested we meet up. When his reply of a resounding “yes!” came back, I could hear the sound of wine bottles shuddering around the Marais.

Now more mature, we started our meeting off as grown ups do in a museum – Musée D’Orsay to be exact – to see Masculin Masculin – a celebration of the penis in art. I should point out here that Tom is of the masculin masulin persuaion himself.

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Like giddy children on a school trip, we gabbled non stop in the queue, took a photo next to the masculin masculin poster for prosperity, were way over friendly and laughy with the cashier in the ticket booth but then when we reached the exhibition, we regained our composure and I think we began to showcase to each other how mature and thoughtful we’d become.

We had suddenly changed gear and facial expressions as we began seriously commenting on the striking 1940s black and white photography of ‘man’, Bob Mizer et al, the german fixation with the figure of David as the perfect form, their regime of fitness and health…..but that then soon descended into faux intellectual poses as we held our chins, furled our eyebrows, nodded sagely and and scrutinised a sketch of a scrotum up close. Hmmm fabulous depiction of the power, yet confusion of man brought out through the vehicle of pubic hair.

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Suitably full of ‘culture’, we proceeded to paint the town pink with rosé and laugh with absolute abandon as we filled each other in on our time apart and fell about talking about our time when we were all together in Toulouse. It was like it was the 90s again but this time around I had blow dried hair, better clothes and no sign of a caterpillar boot.

We decided to only drink in bars that openly had free salty snacks (peanuts, pretzels or popcorn) and became quite adept at walking, talking and glancing at outside cafe tables surveying for little bowls of thirst-makers, without even slowing down. This I think was the only thing we were discerning about during our day together.

Our afternoon sipping, soon turned into apero which then saw us stop off for drinks at his friend’s beautiful Rive Gauche apartment before heading out again for dinner. The evening was beautifully rounded off with a lock in at his friends bar til 3am with us both grinning from ear to ear, dancing, singing, smoking like troopers and talking to people like they were our long lost or new best friends for life. Perfect. The ideal fingers up to a life of detox and self enforced discipline.

I got a cab home, took my clothes off in the kitchen, put them in the kitchen drawer (an old trick so as not to disturb a less than impressed husband) did cartoon walking on my tip toes and got into bed, happy and loving my vie en rose.

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A New High

Im afraid my lack of blog posting this week and in fact my lack of living like a normal human being, can be completely and utterly attributed to the newest member of my parents household – a 1000 piece farmyard scene jigsaw puzzle (Meadow Farm, Springtime Gathering )

I came to London last Thursday for my last ever ivf clinic appointment – a 9 week scan – and apart from the mind blowing revelation that babies at 9 weeks are almost fully formed and move, nay dance and wave like the panda in the kit kat advert, I also stumbled across a newly found jigsaw obsession.

The puzzle, bought by my mum, was originally meant for my nephews in an effort to bring fun-time back to basics and ditch the ipads, but the poor fellows were seriously put off when hissing auntie berated them for “not following the picture properly and jamming pieces in willy nilly”. Then took over.

I now use words like willy nilly it seems.

Unlike those pesky kids, I took it as seriously as Ravensburger puzzle makers take the design of the individually cut and crafted glare-free pieces. I gave it the gravitas it deserved.

At 7 am each morning, I was in position at the kitchen table, half ignoring my lovely mother as she tried to chat. Yuh huh, hmmm? Yeah, what? Ya twins crazy isn’t it, I don’t know, where the hell is the horse’s nose?

I don’t think she really understood at the beginning how serious this was. After the early morning shift, I would drag myself away for a shower and any other absolutely necessary life stuff but like any good addict, I would return immediately with full dedication to my fix.

I didn’t start off at the edges as many passing visitors would advise (it became a spectator sport), oh no, I dived straight into the middle and my first big accomplishment was a shiny red tractor. I am undoubtedly a glory hunter or an adrenaline junkie, going for the big kahuna.

Like a pusher, I soon lured my sister in and before you knew it, there were two cross eyed, non-communicative, grunting puzzle fiends. Forsaking friends, family and food for the pursuit of the elusive duck’s beak, sheep’s foot or farmer’s welly, we set up camp with extra lamps for maximum effect.

Without words we instinctively got up and swapped places when we needed fresh eyes on the areas we were ‘working’ on, handed each other pieces we knew would be useful to the other and every now and then let out a victory whistle and traded congratulations at the completion on a tricky animal.

5 days later, I find I am 3 pounds lighter, have hardly spoken to my husband in Paris (or anyone), forgot I was pregnant, didn’t go to the bank to talk PPIs, didn’t renegotiate my contract at Vodafone, haven’t filled out the forms I got from the post office last Saturday to apply for a new driving license, severely neglected Paris With A Bump and not one pelvic floor exercise in sight.

But look at this baby…. almost finished. Tonight, my sister and I will smoke cigars and swirl aged cognac in oversized Waterford crystal glasses as we ceremoniously put in the final pieces of our masterpiece, calling each other maestro and laughing in a “We did it old gal” kinda way. Or else we’ll eat cheesecake like the Golden Girls.

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A Crime Was Committed

After the last batch of IVF, I began to give my body time to recover from it’s ordeal, until the next attempt and settled into Paris life.

Partly to avoid being one of those people who walk around in their Lycra sportswear all day after a morning workout – Lady Di skipping from a Chelsea gym vibe soon wilts into an Asda look as the day goes on – I joined a “Cafe Conversation” class as part of the Paris Meetup group.

A fabulous native- speaking animatrice (who wears a headscarf and heavy eyeliner in a way that only a french woman can) leads the group of no more than six in a one and a half hour french-only conversation, in a central Paris cafe.

Everyone is encouraged to talk and any corrections, the animatrice marks down on a mini hand-held white board. It really throws up a wonderfully eclectic cross section of migrants to Paris. Here for a year for work, few years here and still haven’t completely mastered the language, just arrived and feeling lost, or a real Francophile who wants some French chatting whilst on holiday (like a wonderful 70 year old violin maker I met from Pennsylvania)

You never know who’s going to be joining the conversation or what it’s going to be about. You go where it naturally jumps…. Sometimes to the oddest places.

The second time I went, there was a gentle, slight and simply dressed girl in her early twenties and recently married. Completely un phased by the fact that this was a french language and pronunciation class and that everyone else in the group was twisting their mouths into unnatural pouts trying to hit the right vowel sound- this girl had clearly decided that she wasn’t even going to try with a french accent. I quite admired her dedication and loyalty to her own dialect.

So much so, that unless she was in this group, with this teacher, at this moment, I might have guessed that perhaps she’d never heard a french person speak – ever. Or else she thought point blank that an unyielding Darlington accent was much better attributed to la langue d’amour.

She was pretty quiet to start off with but then came alive for an out of the blue, animated contribution about the Shannon Matthews case. The very local English news story from 2008, where a grubby mother had concocted a plan with her equally grubby sort of relative to kidnap her own child, then cunningly summon the nations heart and subsequent donations to help find the “missing girl”.

A German, an Australian, an American and a French person were probably not the best audience for this one. The animatrice didn’t know where to start correcting her as she joined the others in an open mouthed stare and utter bewilderment as to what the hell this girl was talking/shrieking about.

In fact, I was the only one who worked out the thread (after a bit) of her rant and I tried to help, I really did but there was no stopping her…
“la mere est dans la rue, et elle crie aidez moi, aidez moi, ou est mon enfant” she repeats this 3 times, flapping long boney hands and getting increasingly louder “mais elle est la dans la maison.. non, la maison de son oncle. Dans le drawer d’un lit. Elle la fait pour l’argent!”.

Eh voila. All is clear!

She then slipped back into screensaver mode and the reigns of the conversation were deftly grabbed by the German.

Three quarters of the way through the class however, her previous hysteria when relaying the now internationally recognised Matthews tale, raised its bespecled head once more.

Bursting into tears, she claimed that her husband’s job had manacled her to this dreadful Paris place. ” J’aime pas être ici, j’aime pas Paris, c’est trop grande” she kept reiterating. Smiling a little maniacally as her hysteria rose.

She was obviously harbouring an acute homesickness which gave credence to her refusal to be parted with her own accent.

She continued that she had been here for almost a year and “J’aime pas être ici, j’aime pas Paris du tout”. We soothed her as best we could until she became happier and more relaxed but her newly found confidence with her newly found pals, created a french language killing monster of the highest degree who only wanted to list all the things she hated about Paris and “les Francais”.

The teacher put down her mini white squeaky board and we shuffled uncomfortably as she spent the remainder of the conversation group, murdering the conversation.

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The Day the Humming Died – Part Deux

In retrospect I wasn’t in the best shape emotionally – I was probably more Rocky III – oh you know the one, where Rocky goes into a deep depression fuelled by the death of “I love ya kid” Jackie. Apollo Creed steps in to help him get his edge back…

Anyway, back from holiday I really went to town on acupuncture to get my edge off – I still had a few weeks til egg collection, so lets make like a hen.

The Chinese acupuncturist was a wonderfully calm ray of sunshine in my life – at the beginning of each session when he would put my wrist on a small velvet cushion to feel my pulse, I had to stop myself from welling up. It was all so slow and gentle, whereas everything else outside of that room felt crashing and urgent.

He did however have me drinking a sort of poison with twigs and leaves in it which can only taste that bad if it’s immensely good for you (I hoped). He also insisted that I wear socks at all times to keep my womb warm! Even though it was 80 degrees outside, he was insistent. At that time I would have bought snake oil, so looking a little special in summer dresses with trainers and socks was the least I could have done for the cause.

The day of the egg collection DH was in Paris. He had now started work. My fantastic friend came to meet me at the hospital but wasn’t allowed into the ward because she had her son with her. Not because it was thumbing the nose to the other patients – ha, this is what you don’t have! – but more because in operating wards children are seen as more germ ridden than cat litter trays.

I sat perched on my hospital bed from 7.30am in my tie up at the back gown, squeaky green slippers and hair net til 12.30pm. They had lost the anesthiatist. When they finally located a replacement, they bumped me for another patient who had her husband with her (show off). I cried so much that they had to get my friend and her germ child to come to the ward door to calm me down. It was all very dramatic and very unEnglish.

Thank God for the wonderful Michael Jackson drugs they used to knock me out. I had harvested 10 eggs again, which just sounds so bizarre to humans who haven’t gone through IVF but for this IVF hen I was delighted.

Embryo transfer was 3 days later. The two babies were on board and so were the socks.

As an exception, the accupuncturist came to my (parents) house to treat me after the embryo transfer, so I didn’t travel directly afterwards and disturb my precious passengers. After mesmerising my parents normally ferocious Jack Russel at the door, I welcomed him in and awkwardly suggested that we have the treatment in the sitting room – it just felt wrong somehow to lead him up to my bedroom.

Just as all the needles were in place, I had forgotten any awkwardness and started drifting into a calm place on the sofa, the dog jumped up on me and displaced the needles on my ankle and I yelled.

With needles still hanging out of me, I shoved the dog in the small sitting room next door (the priests room as we call it) and apologised for the un-zen household we keep. The barking and scratching at his cell door, then turned into a full werewolf howl. Somehow we both pretended not to notice. Well at least I was pretending, my calm chinese accupuncturist seemed completely zoned out as he sat deadly quiet in the armchair next to me – like he’d taken me hostage. He asked me at the end of the session if I managed to fall asleep. Yes, I lied.

He then advised me to continue having sex. Presumably to enourge blood flow to my womb. “Oh ok, Ill do what I can” I smiled, delighted with the joke bomb I was about to blitz him with ……. “but my husband is out of the country”. He didn’t smile. Back to awkward.

That same evening I had to take my belly full of hope to a house warming barbecue. I had planned to slip in with a bottle of non alcoholic wine, show my face and then leave within 15 minutes.

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Unfortunately it was spotted immediately that I wasn’t drinking and my tell tale bottle of Bonne Nouvelle (sans alcohol) was held up to ridicule for everyone to see. My host then announced to the room.
“Oh my God you’re pregnant aren’t you!!”
“No, no Im really not, Im just not drinking”
“You are aren’t you!”
“Im not, really I’m not, please stop going on”
This excruciating ping pong continued for some time.
“Im just trying to lose weight” I pleaded.
An older guy piped up with “no way, you’re not trying to lose weight, Ive got bigger tits than you!” This was just awful.
Then another younger guy who Ive never met steps in, can in hand – “hang on Im really good at this, I always get it right” he looked me up and down as I stood horrified, shook his head and said “no she’s definitely not pregnant, no defininetly not, I can tell”. Then shot gunned his can of lager.

All I could do was look up to my imaginary camera 2 and raise my eyebrow. How the sweet Jesus am I here and how am I having this conversation the day of embryo transfer?

It turned out that the shotgunning soothsayer at the party was in fact right – I wasn’t pregnant. It hadn’t worked again.

Whilst I had produced 10 eggs on each IVF round so far, the hospital hadn’t taken them all to maturity, so only 6 were able to be used each time, lowering my starting chance. I know that the third time I tried IVF in a different clinic they had me in every day, altering my medicine and scanning me to make sure they brought all my eggs to maturity and they did – another 10.

I can’t say for sure if it was the lack of attention from the hospital that meant it didn’t work, or that I was still carrying a lot of stress when I started. Ultimately, it just wasn’t successful. I found out the day I moved to Paris. What a bump!

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The Day The Humming Died

On June 8, 2013 I left my job after 14 years – all of my adult working life.   I joked that I went in as a girl and came out as a sweary sort of man.   I enjoyed and endured two weeks of leaving lunches and soirees with speeches, presents, story swapping, raspy laughter and an enormous kindness of spirit  -  I am still overwhelmed by the generosity of it all  - it was special.  I felt like a favoured raven finally leaving the Tower of London.
 

I said so long to this amazing dysfunctional work family – sharing several many glasses with everyone.  I left my former life broken and bloated.

The detox started immediately like the Rocky I montage.  I was getting stronger.  I devoured the Zita West’s Guide to Fertility and Assisted Conception – no white wine, no hot baths (God, I wish I had read this before), lots of protein, gallons of water and acupuncture.  I drank witch-like green brews of barley grass each morning, pots of warm water with red dates for the rest of the day, hit the gym and walked everywhere.
 I had lost 8 pounds by the first week and felt physically better and a bit more prepared to start my second long protocol of IVF treatment (this takes approx 2 1/2 months from deregulation drugs to pregnancy test)
 
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I decided to have my treatment at the same (ACME kit) hospital which disappointed me before.   Yes, I really learn from my mistakes as you can see, but I couldn’t wait a second longer and changing hospitals would have meant repeating all our tests and now paying for them (we had already used up our one free NHS token).    And surely now I was paying for it, I would be given a truly bespoke service where they monitor, reassess, reassure, increase drug dosage if need be…oh and answer their phones or emails? You’d think, huh?

The decision was made and that was that.  I had a dogged, unshakeable resolution and woe betide anyone who tried to cross me on it.   It wasn’t up for negotiation or delay.

DH and me were also soon to be homeless.  Having packed up our house, we were still desperately searching for our Paris pied a terre – which he was meant to be moving into in 4 weeks when he started his new job.

This proved harder than seemed reasonable.   Straight off, our wings were clipped when we were categorically told that it’s forbidden to pay more than a third of your salary on rent, regardless of any savings.  This is to protect the French landlords.  Understandable but with only one income, that certainly didn’t leave us with the pick of the crop.
 
 The French agent we were using refused to send links of potential apartments so that we could view them online, tick them off and save time.  It just wasn’t done that way.  We had to come and see them in person.  So DH took a day off work and got a train to Paris to be shown around 15 properties.   He returned glazed and crest fallen with his hair sticking up all over the place.  
He reported that they all looked like they were from the 1970s series ‘On the Buses’.  Not known for it’s Parisian chic.  Lots of purple, lime green and unecessary fabric and fuss in 25m squared flats up several flights of stairs.   Sans ascenseur.
We decided it was too stressful and ridiculous to choose our apartment this way and would find a temporary month let and go from there.

So DH finished work, we packed up the last of our belongings and went on holiday with friends to rejuvenate.

When choosing a holiday after being strung out for 3 months and now sniffing hormones, think carefully if you might not be better off on your own at the top of a mountain with the wind whistling through your ears.  There you’d find no one to unconsciously tap at your very raw emotions like plink plonking a glockenspiel.

The mood was set on the first night. Feeling positive as I could be and shoving any anxiety into my flip flops, I had decided to have one last momentous glass of wine before starting my hormone injections on day two of the holiday.   It was a beautifully warm evening, my shoulders beginning to relax and we were about to eat in the most spectacular setting.  All was good and all will be great.
 
As I smiled contentedly around me, a normally adorable (albeit sometimes blindly insensitive) friend asked me if I should be having that, while pointing at my glass?
 
By the time I’d spluttered and cobbled my defence together the conversation had moved on but I remained in that sentence for a long brooding ten minutes. Snapping myself out of it eventually, I started chatting to my offending companion again, who asked me about IVF.  I was surprised and delighted by his interest and at that moment I really felt like talking about it.
 
It was the elephant in my head and I wanted it out.  I began to tell him how difficult the process is and that there is only a 30 per cent chance of it working anyway so you do what you can but you also have to leave it in the lap of the gods somewhat.  Hmmm, he said.  Took a drag of his cigarette and then began to tell me about “a really obese friend” of his who before she did IVF really prepared herself, began exercising, eating well and lost loads of weight – and it worked for her.  I waited for another sentence.  But he simply looked at me and  left the word  “so… ” linger in the air.
 
Oh my god – he thinks I’m the elephant in the room,  he thinks Im obese and is suggesting I haven’t done enough, this is all my fault.
 

But the fact was, he wasn’t being nasty, just honest and helpful as he saw it.   I felt completely wronged and hugely upset and wanted to tell him about my Rocky exercise montage, my 8 pound loss (so far) and my size 12 label!  I had to excuse myself before the Spitting Image tears squirted out at obtuse angles.

There were a few more incidences like that during the week when I felt slighted, nay mortally wounded by the slightest thing – like being asked if I had given up on bikinis when one day I wore a swim suit or the time I was told perhaps I should get my own moped as I look like I’m squashing my husband.

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That one really stung, I had loved gripping onto him and feeling that closeness as we whizzed around the cliffs away from everyone and everything. I actually secretly thought I looked pretty hot too – like Michelle Pfeiffer in the unlauded Grease 2 and had up until that point been sticking my face into the wind and humming “I’m looking for a coo- ool rider”.
That was the day the humming died.
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Hunt for the Bump Begins

First ever round of IVF – January 1 , 2013

So, here we go – adopting a John Wayne style approach, puffed out chest, arms swinging to my side, legs walking as if my boots were full of concrete – I was ready to take on IVF!

If I was Katie Price I would have said. Bring. It. On.

It was my right and my time – our original scheduled start date of November had been pushed back by the hospital because of Christmas – but now we were finally on the starters blocks.

Leading up to this, we’d already spent over a year being spun through the NHS system, filling out forms, oh and more forms, the same forms over and over, waiting weeks for appointments, having blood tests, being told the blood tests and records were lost, repeating the process ad nauseum. Little did I know at the time that it was in fact a wonderful bureaucratic boot camp to prepare us for living in France. The NHS is Im sure a Paris offshoot.

But my bullish attitude to IVF showed a naive arrogance and a lack of respect for the process and my body.

As I saw it, I have an abnormal physical strength for a female (ox), wasn’t daunted by injecting myself daily (worryingly), I didn’t need the touchy feely counselling offered by the hospital and the suggestion of ‘fertility forums’ was poo poo’d immediately – this was going to work. Sans doute.

During my treatment, I never slowed down one jot – least of all at work where there was absolutely no let up on the responsiblitlites given. In fact I was put in charge of one of the most demanding and time consuming projects at the same time.

The stress the body goes through during IVF treatment is immense and it’s a time for acupuncture, meditation, calming environments and good food. If that’s the Disney approach. I took the Terminator route.

Opening emails on my blackberry from bed at 6.30am and finishing my last mails just before getting back into it that night, slamming down black americanos all day to keep me going with adrenaline flooding my system. My body must have been as welcoming to a baby as a cactus cradle.

The hospital treatment I received mirrored my “just get on with it” approach and perhaps fed into it some way.

They gave me a sort of ACME one size fits all IVF pack and sent on my way, with no real explanation or any information of do’s and don’ts. I wasn’t brought back in for frequent blood tests, scanning or monitoring – which I now know to be crucial.

OneSizeFitsAll

I was a novice to this but I didn’t want to speak to other IVF mothers – I didn’t want to be one of them. They were all about the unwanted and unasked for advice.

Especially those who had succeeded, I found many to be evangelical, strangely insensitive and a little show offy as they rammed home what you should do and when and how and reiterated that it worked for them. Im sure it came from a good place but they made me anxious and I was beginning to hate them.

Then there were those who don’t know anything about IVF but felt the need to say something. Im not sure quite how many times I was told the story of a friend of a friend who had IVF success and so therefore somehow it would work for me and DH. Or one of the more frustrating versions was the much touted “it will probably happen naturally when you have relaxed and given up hope” I listened patiently like a simmering Mount Vesuvius.

Funnily enough it didn’t work for me that first time, despite it working for someone else’s friend somewhere.

Something fundamental had to shift. The job was never going to change or the people I worked with, so I had to. DH and myself went for a huge walk after the dreaded negative result. I was at the end of my tether and a ball of anxiety. We easily came to the conclusion that for the sake of starting a family, I had to leave work. As soon as the decision was made, we ate a huge bowl of pasta outside a park cafe. It was the best meal I ever remember.

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Who Am I ?

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean couldn’t have summed it up better when he vehemently punched out the question through his wet lips in Les Mis – Who am I?

Ok, possibly not as heart-wrenchingly dramatic and a question of giving “my soul to God long ago” but arriving in Paris, without a job, a network of friends and family, a routine or purpose and with the ever present baby-making cloud hanging over my head, I was left in a sort of existential identity snow globe (yes very French philosophe/6th former i know)
What were the bits of me that I wanted to bring to Paris and how much should I leave behind? what will be my new role?  - house wife in training for children? mature student polishing up French?  For the first time in my adult life I had time to assess and reassess and work out what I wanted to do.   It gave me a clean slate to start again.  Brilliant.  Woo hoo.  Ok, how do I do that then?
As if a subconscious way to ground myself, we moved to postcode 75011 into an area called Charonne.  My name is Sharon.  I joked with friends that I went to Paris and found myself.  But the truth was I was still searching desperately.  With aimless, blind enthusiasm and vigour.
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Whilst DH was working his state stipulated 7 hour days, I found myself bounding the rues and boulevards with a puppy like excitement, skipping in and out of cafes and shops, bonjouring anyone who would give me eye contact.
With my Luxe Paris City Guide in hand I ticked off the ‘fabulous’ shopping and activity itineraries – chocolate chaud in St Germain’s les Deux Magots, zipping around to Debauve & Gallais, Pepe, Sabbia Rossa and Le Bon Marche, diligently made the necessary pilgrimages – Pere lachaise cemetery, the Eiffel Tower, Momatre, Jardin du Luxembourg.
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I wandered around churches – many, many churches and took pictures of job vacancy signs in shop windows, which I had no intention of following up on.
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I picked up a frenetic gym habit, and an even more vigorous french TV routine – ‘must watch as much as I can to learn’ was the goggle eyed mantra.   I have to assimilate or I have failed!
Religious TV watching with stylo and cahier in hand always included the heady mixture of France’s version of three in a bed, Les Douze Coups de Midi (highly addictive midday quiz show with spontaneous dad dancing on correct answers), and a popular wedding show.  Well, I was trying to assimilate with the masses afterall!
After a few weeks of intense, clockwork orange style Frenchifiying, I began to feel part of Charonne and was flooded with an unfamiliar hopefulness and positivity that anything is possible (see Candide).
However, the impending, dreaded third round of IVF started calling and that meant frequent visits back to London.  I put my Luxe guide and beret back in my pocket and began the Eurotunnel bogo pogo.  Back and forward.
However the strangest thing happened.  When I would return to London, my shoulders would rise and I felt displaced and angry.  I didn’t know what my role was there now,  what I was meant to be doing whilst all my friends and family worked.  Why did it feel so lonely?
Bring in the Les Mis violins..
Who am I?
I’m Charonne 75011.
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