Actually I did okay in isolation – unlike the rest of the world, I’m mostly fine with having an excuse to stay home and read (yes it sucks that I haven’t seen a single member of my family for over a year, and even more so that this happened when my dad was finally planning on coming to visit me for the first time since my year abroad in 20014, but having to stay at home/not go to bars and clubs really isn’t the end of the world for me and I already worked from home anyway) – but I couldn’t resist using that as a post title. I mean when will I ever get the chance again? It’s a line from the song Lemon Tree by Fool’s Garden if you don’t know. (Apologies if you feel I’m making light of what I know has been a terrible year for both the world in general and many people as individuals. I know not everyone shares my “if you don’t laugh you’ll cry” attitude.)
Anyway. Here’s something I wrote at the end of last year’s recap post:
“…the last few weeks I’ve finally felt like I’m starting to emerge from the fog and I am hopeful that 2020 can be a better year, even if I ultimately don’t get my wish to start a family of my own. Here’s hoping for brighter days ahead! (And no renovations, thank goodness – I’m still dealing with dust in unexpected places from the last one!)“.
So… it looks like it was me that jinxed us all. Sorry about that guys!
But let’s look back at 2020 shall we? This will be long so apologies in advance.
We started the year here in Basel, watching the fireworks with friends. (Well, technically when the year began we were still waiting for the fireworks since they don’t start until 00:30 here). On New Year’s Day the four of us slept late and then had a nice brunch before my friend and her boyfriend headed home to Germany. Remember those days when socialising and crossing borders was allowed? We also met up with a friend of Jan’s later in the month, took a bus to Gempen and then walked up the hill and had coffee/hot chocolate in the restaurant at the top. According to my January recap, we went to the theatre on 4th January. We saw a “Basel musical”, which was strange but entertaining.
After a failed hysteroscopy in December 2019, I had to go in for another attempt in January of this year – this time under general anaesthetic. (I actually had to look that up because I was questioning whether it actually happened in 2020 – it’s been a long year!) I was very pleased to be knocked out for it this time around. Everything went well. The scar tissue that was removed the first time (in August 2019) had grown back over slightly and the doctor also opened up a few cysts (but said there wasn’t really much blood in them). A week later I also had to go for a sonohysterogram (or saline ultrasound) to make sure everything looked good after the hysteroscopy and my uterus expanded as it should. It wasn’t that painful during the procedure – although it felt like it went on forever – but afterwards I had a lot of cramps for the rest of the day and was glad of the Buscopan and painkillers they gave me.
The Good Omens TV series finally came to the BBC and we recorded and then watched each episode during January and part of February. It was just as good as I had hoped – definitely worth the wait. Other than that the only thing I really did in January was read. A lot. 22 books to be precise.
February was our anniversary. 16 years together. We didn’t celebrate on the day, but we did take a trip to Baden the weekend after. It’s known for being a spa town but the entire area of town with the thermal pools, etc. was being renovated when we went. We did manage to dip our feet in a hot pool by the river though. The following week I went to the doctor with acid reflux and stomach pains, resulting in a diagnosis of gastritis caused by stress. I was prescribed proton pump inhibitors, which worked for a while.
We also went to St Gallen – the original plan had been to take a day trip, but after a late start we spontaneously booked a hotel room and stayed overnight. The following day after a walk round town and into the hills we took a train to Rorschach and walked along the side of the lake before heading back to Basel.
Then came March. Oh March! Jan’s 40th birthday was on the 1st. He wanted to go for a meal, so we booked a table at one of the few restaurants that was open on Sundays. (Ahahaha. Now none of them are open on any day at all!) At that point it had just been announced that the Basel carnival (which was due to start the next day) had been cancelled and the waiter we spoke to mainly seemed to be concerned about what was going to happen to all the extra food and beer they had bought. How naive we all were back then! The following Friday I went into the office in Germany and on the Wednesday after that, 11th March, we were supposed to travel to Poland. I had woken up with cold symptoms on the Monday and was feeling worse by the Wednesday so I called in sick to work and was debating whether to still travel right up until I was due to leave for the train to Zurich. I finally made the decision to cancel after hearing that Poland were conducting health checks at the borders and sending anyone with symptoms that could be Covid-related to hospital. The following day I went to the doctor, who agreed that I likely only had a cold (exacerbated by the same stomach problems as in February). I got a sick note for two days so I could get part of my holiday back and then still took the following week as holiday since I had to use those days by the end of March anyway.
Meanwhile, my family decided to still go to Poland, arrived just before the announcement was made that borders would be closing and tourists could either leave or quarantine. Ryanair sent far too few rescue flights, so they ended up taking a taxi to Berlin, spending one night there and flying home via Düsseldorf – during that time Germany closed its borders with Austria and Switzerland but luckily flights to the UK were still unaffected. Basel-Landschaft (where I live) became the first canton to go into a shutdown, in which all bars, restaurants, night clubs, etc. and shops with the exception of supermarkets and pharmacies had to close. Supermarkets were only allowed to sell essential items and actually had to cordon off the aisles with toys or clothing. All but essential medical services were cancelled, meaning the fertility clinic was forced to close just as I had been planning to try another transfer after the two procedures in January. I also had a dentist appointment cancelled – only emergency treatment was allowed. Jan’s employer announced that anybody who could work from home should do so and we set up our spare room as an office for him, and by the time my holiday was over all my colleagues were also working from home. That first lockdown weekend was also the first time in 2020 that I missed my weekly walk, being unsure what was actually allowed (as it turned out walks most definitely have been allowed throughout this entire pandemic, but the early days were full of confusion). It’s strange to think that if everything hadn’t gone wrong our twins would have turned one and I would have finished my maternity leave right around the time everybody started to lock down. Obviously both of us working from home during a pandemic has been much, much easier without two toddlers to care for but I can honestly say I would rather have my boys than an “easy” life!
A friend her first baby in March a daughter – so obviously I had to stitch a card for her. See, some people got good things this year!
April saw hairdressers, garden centres, DIY stores, medical massage practices, physiotherapists and dentists allowed to open again, with customers having to wear masks and limited numbers of people allowed in. Jan and I went for many, many walks in every possible direction – we are very lucky to live where we do, within easy walking distance of both Basel city and beautiful nature.
Those weekly walks and one supermarket trip per week were the only times I left the house in April. Work slowed down quite a bit and I had to finish early a few times. I tried to stay online longer on the days that I actually had enough to do and only ended up having to use four hours of overtime, which I then easily made up in the following months so it all worked out. We started watching Richard Osman’s House of Games (repeats, but we hadn’t seen them the first time round) and I got into colouring again after my friend sent me a colouring book, with the result that I only read 11 books in April – definitely not a bad amount, but very few for me!
In May Switzerland reopened even more and I finally got to go to the dentist… for the appointment that should have been in March! It turned out I needed a filling so I had to go back two more times, first for a cleaning and then for said filling. I jumped on the baking bandwagin and baked Zopf – a kind of Swiss bread – and Jan and I made a speciality of Graubünden called “Capuns.”
I received my new Swiss residence permit – ages after applying for it – meaning I am officially allowed to stay until 2025 no matter what happens with Brexit. Hurrah! We continued going for walks, including driving out to where some friends were staying and joining them for a socially distanced walk, and also drove to a village called Altreu that’s famous for its stork colony. We saw baby storks there. Baby. Storks!
I took part in the second Believathon and read nothing but children’s books for two weeks, which was lots of fun.
The fertility clinic reopened after two months and we got to go back. I had a transfer on 18th May and everything went perfectly. The embryo even managed to implant. Unfortunately I spotted basically from the day of the positive test. I ended up going in for an extra ultrasound on 10th June where they found no obvious cause for the bleeding (but it seemed to be related to the cervix) but I did see a heartbeat. Unfortunately when I went back for my regular scan 5 days later there was no longer a heartbeat. Based on the size they thought the embryo had stopped growing 2 days earlier at what would have been 6 weeks, 4 days. I had to keep taking hormones and come back 2 days later to make absolutely certain that the pregnancy wasn’t viable. The ultrasound at that appointment showed there was no heartbeat again and the embryo had actually shrunk, but my body showed no signs of wanting to miscarry naturally – what’s known as a missed or silent miscarriage. I was given the option of waiting to see whether my body would catch up or taking medication to induce it, and I chose the latter. First I was given mifepristone, which I had to take immediately with the doctor watching. You may have heard of it… it’s commonly known as “the abortion pill” but it’s also given in combination with misoprostol (Cytotec) to induce miscarriage or labour in cases of fetal death – the combination of the two makes it more likely that all the tissue will be expelled so no surgery if needed. So if you are “pro-life” have ever said/thought that mifepristone should be banned please remember that it’s not just for abortion. Without it I would most likely have needed a curettage to remove leftover tissue which is exactly what my already dodgy uterus does not need if I’m ever going to successfully carry a pregnancy to anywhere near term! I left the clinic with Cytotec, to be taken the following afternoon, and a prescription for strong painkillers. The next day, I lost our baby on the day I would have been exactly 7 weeks pregnant.
That was the second week in 2020 that I didn’t go for a walk… I think I had a good excuse though!
I cross stitched cards for two friends’ babies – the second child for each of them born 15 days apart. One boy, one girl.
Switzerland reopened even more and the border with Germany also reopened, although I chose not to go back to the office. Jan went into the office once because he needed to pick something up, so he ended up working there for a few hours, having lunch with some colleagues and then working from home in the afternoon. He also went to a socially distanced choir practice. Covid-19 case numbers at the beginning of the month were around 18 per day and around 60 by the end of the month. Figures that are actually unbelievable at this stage! Oh Switzerland… where did you go wrong?
July started with me having to go for an eye test due to itchy eyes and blurry vision. I ended up being prescribed glasses, although things have normalised now and I don’t really seem to need them any more. I’ve been told to use them as “relief” glasses for when my eyes are tired or strained after working for long periods of time. I then had weird sinus pressure/dizziness/headaches. After several trips to my doctor, blood tests and a referral to a ear, nose, throat specialist, I was told there was no sign of an infection. Although I had lots of mucus it looked clear and my nose was dry but not inflamed. Basically it looked to him like a classic case of allergies. I was prescribed a nose spray and decongestant pills (basically really strong eucalyptus capsules). The decongestant pills made everything taste like eucalyptus but provided almost immediate relief, meaning I could actually sleep! I’ve since had an allergy test (blood test) which revealed I am allergic to absolutely none of the things they tested for! Not trees, not various fruits, not nuts, not grasses, not moulds and not dust mites. However, I think I may be allergic to a certain brand of liquid soap because every time I use it to wash my hands I end up sneezing! For what it’s worth I had no fever, no cough, no sore throat and neither of the doctors I saw thought it was Covid related. My symptoms were very similar to the cold I had in March when we cancelled our trip to Poland, which made me wonder whether what I had back then was the same thing. There’s no real way of knowing though.
On the weekend after my eye test, I decided to rest my eyes (so no reading) and we drove out to Creux-de-Van, a giant circular rock formation in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. We had a lovely walk (staying at least 2 metres from other people at all times!). The scenery was really impressive – my photos do it absolutely no justice.
I went back to the fertility clinic in July for blood tests to rule out rheumatic conditions as a cause of my miscarriage/infertility – you’re supposed to have 3 miscarriages before those tests get approved but my doctor successfully argued that twins plus a single embryo meant I had miscarried three babies even if it wasn’t three pregnancies and that the five failed embryo transfers before the second miscarriage were also a cause for concern. One value was slightly high so I had to repeat the tests a few months later but the second time everything was normal, so that was not the explanation.
August was holiday month. Hurrah! Yes, we went on holiday during a pandemic. Yes I have been told I was irresponsible and selfish for even considering it, that it’s irrelevant that we spent most of the time in a car, kept our distance from other people and always wore masks indoors and that case numbers in Switzerland were around 150-200 per day at the time and most of those were in Geneva and Zurich – two places that we purposely avoided (to put things in perspective in November Switzerland was reporting around 10,000 cases per day and at the end of December the daily figure was 4,000-5,000). Never mind. We weighed up the risks and decided that as long as we were very careful we were okay with it. We had an amazing time touring Switzerland, and also celebrated my birthday towards the end of the holiday which was nice. I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be turning 37 still childless but a tour week tour of Switzerland, delicious three course hotel meal, and watching the sunrise from a mountain on my birthday wouldn’t have been possible with young children so I can’t really complain too much.
The rest of August mostly just consisted of work (pretty quiet but I mostly had enough to do), cross stitch (birthday cards plus working on something for my brother’s 30th) and Richard Osman’s House of Games. Jan spent one whole (socially distanced) weekend at choir rehearsals/meetings so I used the time to start making Halloween cards for Post Pals. I also had an ultrasound to confirm that, after two periods, there was no tissue left in my uterus from the miscarriage and I would be allowed to continue treatment.
In September my godson turned 8, I continued making Halloween cards for Post Pals and I finished stitching my brother’s birthday present – unfortunately I can’t show you a photo because I forgot to take one. I had the repeat blood tests that I mentioned earlier (all normal) and started preparations for another transfer. I also went into the office in Germany for the first time since March to say goodbye to a colleague who was leaving. It was okay. The train home was full but not so much that I couldn’t get two seats to myself.
Switzerland decided to allow large events with up to 1000 people – including allowing crowds at football matches – from 1st October even though coronavirus cases had been steadily creeping up throughout September. So we started October with an average of around 300 new cases per day and ended it with around 7000 cases per day… a fact which surprised absolutely nobody except, apparently, the Swiss Government. Remember when I was irresponsible for going on holiday while we had less than 20 cases per day? Yeah…
Anyway, at the beginning of the month we got to do another embryo transfer. This time I spotted literally from the day of the transfer. Neither I nor the doctor expected it to have worked and we started discussing a new treatment that’s recently been improved. But somehow the pregnancy test was positive. Since my second beta hcg number had been pretty high I was given an appointment for an early ultrasound, at 5 weeks, 4 days. Again they could see no reason for the bleeding, no blood within the uterus. It was too early to see a heartbeat but they confirmed that there was a gestational sac and a yolk sac. The next day I started bleeding heavier after walking into town to buy some Christmas presents, but still went to Jan’s choir concert that night (hygiene measures in place, 8 rows distance between the choir and the audience and everyone in the audience had to wear masks) – one of the last concerts before the Swiss government realised their mistake and banned large events again. The following day, Sunday, the bleeding had died down in the morning but when I started passing clots at around lunch time I knew it was over. I emailed the clinic, who called me back and basically said to go and lie down, try not to worry and come for an ultrasound in the morning. The next day I called in sick to work, went to the fertility clinic and got confirmation of what I had suspected… the gestational sac was gone. At least this time I had passed everything naturally.
Jan’s friend started coming over to study a couple of times a week and I bought a table cloth to make the living room table look a bit nicer. At the end of the month I had an ultrasound to check that the miscarriage had completed. Thankfully it had and no surgery was necessary. And I ended the month with my annual autumn walk along the stream near where we live – with coronavirus cases rapidly increasing I was once again very grateful that we live where we do.
In November I made, wrote and posted Christmas cards for every single Post Pals family! That was a total of 44 cards. I also continued cross stitching cards for my own family and friends (I had made a start in October but didn’t get very far). I posted my cousin’s birthday present, plus a card that I had stitched in October, to New Zealand. Her birthday was on 12 December and it ended up arriving 3 days late even though I posted it earlier than usual this year!
I baked Vanillekipferl, attempted to start the pre-Christmas declutter (it made no difference – we still have too much stuff!) and bought myself a new dress. One of Jan’s choirs was supposed to have a concert but with events cancelled again they live-streamed it instead. It was actually quite nice to sit and watch from my living room with a cup of tea and my cross stitch.
At the beginning of December I had to go to the fertility clinic for an ultrasound on day 7 of my cycle to confirm that there was no tissue left in my uterus from the latest miscarriage. Everything looked good, which meant we could move on to the next step – an MRI to get a better look at my uterus and confirm my diagnosis. For a while we’ve been working on the assumption that I have adenomyosis. The MRI provided confirmation, so that’s definitely what caused my first 5 embryo transfers to fail and most likely what caused at least one of my miscarriages this year (with the first one it’s more likely to have been an issue with the embryo itself, but the second time there is a high chance that my uterus was unable to hold on to a perfectly good embryo). Recent studies have shown that an extended period of down-regulation before a frozen embryo transfer significantly increases pregnancy rates in women with adenomyosis, and my clinic has recently approved the procedure, so we’ll be trying that next time round. However, since we only have one embryo left, I’m going to do another full IVF stimulation round first. My doctor explained that affects of the down-regulation last a while, so if the final embryo transfer didn’t work it would be months before we could start a full cycle and get more embryos. This way we will have some waiting already, and if it does work out, we will have some frozen embryos made using my 37-nearly-38 year old eggs waiting for a potential sibling in the future. I will be at least 40 by the time we get to that stage and my egg quality will only get worse with each year that passes. So that’s what we’re going to do. If I’ve worked everything out correctly then in the absolute best scenario we can expect to have a baby in January 2022. And he or she will absolutely have been worth everything it took to get there!
Anyway… I’ve only just recapped December so I’ll make the rest of this quick. Work was busy, which I was actually grateful for. I ended the year with about 20 hours of overtime, which could be very useful with all the appointments involved in IVF (during stimulation there comes a point where I have an ultrasound every single day!). My mum and grandma got their first doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Many biscuits were baked… too many if I’m honest. I finished my Christmas cards and got them posted, sent my final box of Christmas gifts and then also took the packages for Jan’s family to the post office, where I stood in the longest queue I have ever seen there, and I once had to post gifts for Jan’s family 2 days before Christmas! I decluttered some more, cleaned and tidied everything ready for Christmas, and on the 23rd we finally bought our tree – we went to three places and at the third one bought the very last one they had. It was huge! Jan invited a friend round for Christmas Day and I made a traditional English Christmas dinner then avoided people entirely for the next 5 days (bar one supermarket trip) just in case I had picked up anything while socialising. We did go for walks but didn’t come into contact with anyone. New Year’s Eve involved stuffed peppers for tea, Christmas pudding, a Zoom call with some members of my family and drinking mulled wine on the balcony at midnight while watching the fireworks that other people were setting off (the few we could actually see from there). And then, finally, this incredibly strange and uncertain year was over.
So… what can I say about 2020? I know it was a terrible year for many people. For most people even. The world at large was an absolute shit show and I’m very aware that I haven’t really addressed that here. But honestly, while a lot of things came together this year, there has been a lot of crap going on out there for a while now that I have never addressed in my personal annual recap post so I’m not going to start now. This summary will all be personal to me.
At the end of 2019 I said I felt like I had spent most of the year in my own bubble, licking my wounds from what had come at the end of 2018 (losing our boys, my maternal grandmother dying a week later, my dad being diagnosed with cancer which is thankfully now officially gone). In 2020 I wanted to emerge from that bubble and really make the most of the year – see friends and family (my dad was actually going to visit us for the first time since the end of my year abroad in 2004!), visit places and do things that wouldn’t be an option if we actually succeeded in having a child. And then came the pandemic, forcing me to spend another year mostly at home, not seeing anyone. Which isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world – we are in the very lucky position of having various technologies at our fingertips (I even got to see my mum and brother’s new house via Skype!), I got to spend more time with Jan since he wasn’t commuting and didn’t have choir rehearsals and other things basically every weekend, and we had time to explore our local area on some really enjoyable long walks. And we got to tour Switzerland, which in all honestly we probably wouldn’t have done if we’d been able to actually leave the country for a holiday. I can definitely see the positives in this year. But when it comes to the closing of the fertility clinic, meaning we lost two entire months of treatment (I could have done another IVF round and started the new treatment by now, ready for another transfer this month and potentially been looking at becoming a mother by October of this year), and the miscarriages I just cannot look on the bright side. Yes, I would have been giving birth during a pandemic (my due date for the first miscarriage would have been 3 February and things will definitely not be back to normal by then) but so have plenty of other people and while I’m sure they would have wished for a different birth experience all I want is a healthy, living, baby, and if that meant having to give birth wearing a mask, without Jan by my side, I would happily have taken that over the alternative. Empty arms and no idea whether parenthood is in the cards for us at all. So despite the bright sides, despite the fact that I am in the very, very lucky position of having barely been affected by the pandemic (nobody I know died, we were both able to work from home throughout, we still have our health, our home and each other), or any of the many other terrible things that have happened in 2020, once again this has not been a good year for me. Looking forward… I don’t even know what to say about 2021. Obviously things are not going to get back to any kind of normal until at least the summer, and even then who knows what that “normal” will look like. I already knew that humanity is inherently selfish, but this year has shown me that it’s even worse that I thought. So will things be better this year? I don’t know. Brexit is coming, the pandemic isn’t over, and honestly the whole world is a mess. But I do believe we can all do our bit to make the world a tiny bit brighter. So while I have no idea what 2021 is going to throw at me I am determined to face it with as much positivity and gratitude as I can muster up. I don’t expect starting a new calendar to magically make the world a better place, but I am happy to be able to draw a line under 2020 and look to what’s to come. My hopes for this year? That this new treatment will be the key to me actually getting – and staying – pregnant. (And if it isn’t at least I will be satisfied that we’ve tried all the options that are available to us – bear in mind that surrogacy is illegal in Switzerland and to adopt we would have to have been married for a minimum of 5 years, meaning even if we got married tomorrow it would be a long time before we could even be considered for adoption.) That I will be able to see and hug my family and friends in person. That Brexit won’t be as bad as I’m fearing and that life won’t get any worse for my family and friends in the UK, and that I will actually be able to keep my job despite the fact that I neither live nor pay taxes in Germany. That everyone I know will stay healthy – physically and mentally – despite all the challenges I’m sure are still to come.
I also hope that 2021 brings good things to you, dear reader. If 2020 has been a bad year for you then I hope it’s a better one and if you’ve managed to make it through unscathed and even have a good year then I hope that continues.
If you’ve actually read this far then THANK YOU! I have no idea why or how you read all that waffle, but you are actually, genuinely amazing! Happy New Year friends. Despite everything, we’re still here so if nothing else I feel like we can celebrate that.