I’VE BEEN TO PARADISE, BUT I’VE NEVER BEEN TO ME

I love that song. I heard it at the beginning of “Priscilla Queen of the Desert” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suzwaW_SqtU . That’s a song about being enlightened or “finding yourself”. There are a bunch of songs and movies about finding yourself, but I’ll leave that for another post.

 I recently went away by myself for the first time ever. Yes, that’s a little strange as I’m almost 34 years old. It was a little daunting too.

 I really needed some time to re-charge and centre myself, so I decided to book a trip away to see my beautiful Aunty Gael up in Byron Bay.

 She has had a very interesting life. She is one of the original “hippies” from the 70’s, who spent her younger years living in California, and Hawaii, before re-locating back to the Northern Beaches of Sydney, and finally up to Byron Bay. She is single and one of the happiest, loving, and most content women in my life. She lost her son when he was 5 years old in an accident in the home, lost her fallopian tube in an ectopic pregnancy years later (where she was pronounced dead on arrival to the hospital) and has had some very interesting relationships throughout her life, sadly, with the love of her life taking his own life around 10 years ago. So to be as blissful and complete as she is, she is someone who I not only look up to, but deeply admire for her strength and ability to bounce back in the face of tragedy and adversity.

 I’d only been to Byron Bay once before around 10 years ago and I only passed through for a day. Back then it very much lived up to its “hippie” reputation, but its now a lot different to how I remembered it. Or perhaps I’m now different. I’m not sure.

 I took my flight from Sydney, by myself, which I was quite nervous about. Will I know what to do when I get to the airport? Will I know how to find my gate? Will it be weird sitting by myself on the plane?  Such silly things I was telling myself. I travel constantly. I know how to do things, and I’m a big girl after all. I checked in for my flight fine, located my gate with ease, and went and bought a few magazines, a coffee, and aByronBaycookie, and sat down on my own and enjoyed the solitude. I boarded the plane without any problems, and sat down between a young girl, and a middle aged man, and in my usual traveling fashion, promptly fell asleep for the duration of the flight.

 One thing I did notice about traveling as a woman on your own, is men are very helpful. I had men letting me in front of them, opening doors for me, even retrieving my bag from the overhead locker in the plane (which probably has to do with the fact that I am almost too short to reach it). There was never a shortage of friendly assistance which was very nice.

 Upon arriving into Byron Bay, my Aunty was waiting at the gate for me. She later told me that she didn’t immediately recognize me, and she thought I was just some local girl coming home, and in a funny way, it almost felt like I was coming home. Byron was strangely familiar to me.

 My Aunty took me to a lovely restaurant called Lilianas Cafe ( http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lilianas-Cafe/232556946830759 ) in an area in the Byron Bay hinterland called Possom Creek. We ordered lunch and a bottle of Pinot Gris, and spoke about our lives. It’s nice to be with family. There is always that unspoken connection that is there no matter how much time or distance separates you.

 After lunch we drove to Gaels home in Byron, changed into our swimmers, and went for a swim in the Creek at Brunswick Heads, before heading across to the beach for another swim. In the late afternoon we headed back to her house and showered and went first to the Beach Hotel ( http://beachhotel.com.au/ which is a great venue – mixed ages, killer cocktails, and live bands. And its nice because everyone generally comes straight off the beach so there’s no need to get all dressed up), and then to a local pub for a beer called The Rails where we watched a local band perform, and then off to The Brewery ( http://www.byronbaybrewery.com.au/ formally Buddha Bar) to have a meal where we dined on pork belly and scallops washed down by some more wine.

 I am not typically a morning person (insomnia will make sure of that), however my Aunty would wake me up each morning with the sound of the juicer (she said that was my alarm clock) and make us fresh juice, followed by herbal tea, a walk on the beach with her  dog, her “fur-child” Jules, a swim on the beach, and then some breakfast. It was great. Each day we would snack on fresh fruit, yoghurt – just what the doctor ordered. We would also go to bed at around 9pm each night which was quite strange for me. But that old saying of the hours of sleep you get before midnight counting as double is true. I never once felt sleepy during the day whilst I was there. And I also slept very soundly too.

 But then came time where my Aunty would need to get a few things done during the day (she is in the middle of building a house), so I would do my best not to get in the way, and go and have some time to myself, which was the whole purpose for my visit anyway.

 Although I spend quite a lot of time on my own at home, and happen to be a big fan of my own company, I have never really been “alone”. I didn’t know anyone in Byron Bay besides my Aunty, so it was a little daunting to go and do solo activities – something I’m not that accustomed to seeing as though I have been in relationships from the age of 14. Also, having been in relationships for the past 20 years of my life, I didn’t really know a lot about who it was that “Amy” actually is. I think I’m pretty shy, however I love to talk, so that mustn’t be entirely true. I get embarrassed easily, however I don’t particularly care what anyone thinks of me, so that mustn’t be true either. I am scared of everything, however I managed to get this far in life so there mustn’t be much truth to that either. Who am I? The question we all tend to ask ourselves at some point in our lives.

 So I set out one early morning on my own to go for a walk to the beach. I borrowed a backpack from my Aunty to carry my towel and belongings (I think it was the first time I’ve used a backpack since circa 1989). I went to the local café and bought myself a coffee and a slice of banana bread, and made my way down the road to the beach. I had taken instructions on how to get there from my Aunty, however my mind at times is reminiscent of a sieve so of course I had to stop and ask for directions along the way. A young gardener at a hotel assisted me in my journey (and told me to be careful of the brown snakes which was just a lovely piece of advice which didn’t frighten me at all), and I found my way down to the beach.

 It’s strange being alone. No one to talk to. No one to mind my things whilst I swam in the ocean. Just me. Alone with my thoughts. And my gosh do I have a lot of thoughts. My dear friend Ashley told me I will get bored on my own, and perhaps even a little lonely, but I should sit with that boredom and loneliness. It isn’t easy I tell you. But after a little while, I was able to quiet the clamor in my mind and just sit and like Eckart Tolle tries to teach, be in the now. I could suddenly hear the ocean, smell the briny salt air, feel the stickiness of it on my skin. Feel the temperate breeze dancing across my face and through my hair. Feel the rough granules of sand beneath me and between my toes. There were no thoughts. I was just still. And it was nice. Really really  nice actually. Liberating. Time didn’t matter, nothing mattered. And I felt only bliss.

 

 In fact, I felt so liberated, I truly got back to nature, and for the first time ever, I decided to go topless. There were a few other girls like it on the beach, and I thought, why not. I really don’t care what anyone thinks of me, and once I lay down, I resemble a 12 year old boy so I had nothing to be embarrassed about.

 I sat there for quite a while in quiet contemplation, or perhaps I was meditating, I’m not entirely sure, but a decent amount of time passed as my Aunty soon called me to check up on me, and I slowly began to make my way back to the house, feeling calm and centred.

 Each day I would do the same thing. And it never got boring. Particularly one day when I was people watching on the beach. Actually, I was on an area of the beach that was veryByronBaylike (translation – free-spirited), and there were a few naked people around. It’s funny how men go naked at the beach. They literally let it all hang out. It’s not so bad on the younger men, however the older men and woman leave a lot to be desired. I one day saw a man and a woman who had to be in their mid 60’s happily wandering along the shoreline hand in hand, and I had to take a good look at them to see which one was which. They both had large breasts and big bellys that hung down over their privates, and they looked a little like twins. I guess we start to revert back to the way we once were as children, and the only distinguishing factor to determine our gender is that of which is between our legs once we reach a certain age.

 

 One thing that stood out that day, was a younger guy in perhaps his mid 30’s. He was sitting a little bit behind me on the beach, and he was naked. Each time he would go into the surf, of course I would peer up at him from beneath my hat. When it’s just all hanging out on display like that, you can’t help but take a look. It’s only natural. But then I saw him making his way towards me. His manhood swinging like a pendulum as he made his way over. Holy fuckballs. I really don’t want him to come over here. But too late. He crouched down near me, everything just hanging there for the world to see, and asked me if I’d like to go for a drink with him later that evening. Now I might be flattered under normal circumstances, because nobody ever asks me out (probably because I am married), but this was super weird.

“Um, no I actually have dinner with my Aunty tonight” I politely responded to him.

I really did. We were going to a fantastic restaurant called Raes on Wategos Beach . http://www.raes.com.au/raes/Home.html  I highly recommend it. Oh, and I forgot to mention, this naked dude was also a little “special” (think Forrest Gump – AND he was also missing a front tooth – I know how to pick em that’s for sure)

“You don’t want me to come to dinner with you and your Aunty?” he asked sadly.

Fuck. What do I say to this man in this highly inappropriate situation? So I pretended to make a phone call, and excused myself. Once he had lost interest and wandered back into the water, I collected my belongings and briskly headed back home. I was suddenly nervous and for the first time in days, wished I wasn’t alone. But at least I got out of there unscathed, and hopefully without offending him, and I can just put that down to experience. I think I handled myself quite well actually.

 I found myself talking to more people I met, so I wasn’t quite as shy as I thought I was. I’m actually quite effervescent. The local café owner was once from Sydney, and now lived up in Byron with his Brazilian wife and young child, the gardener would warn me each day of the snakes on the golf course, ensuring that my blissful state was reverted to an anxiety ridden one as I would power walk through the golf course with my eyes peeled for any serpents, a local truck driver stopped for a little chit chat to warn me that there are sometimes some weirdos around (probably as I walked everywhere in a bikini like a native – he could have warned me the day earlier about that).

 So did I “find myself” in Byron Bay? Absolutely. Did I learn how to be by myself? Of course. I highly recommend going away on your own, and I anticipate my next solo adventure. And like my Aunty says, “you must learn to love yourself above and beyond anyone else”. Best advice I’ve ever been given.

 

 

QUOTE OF THE DAY #8

“Destiny is real. And she’s not mild-mannered. She will come around and hit you in the face and knock you over and before you know what hit you, you’re naked- stripped of everything you thought you knew and everything you thought you didn’t know- and there you are! A bloody nose, bruises all over you, and naked. And it’s the most beautiful thing.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY #7

“I’m here. I love you. I don’t care if you need to stay up crying all night long, I will stay with you. There’s nothing you can ever do to lose my love. I will protect you until you die, and after your death I will still protect you. I am stronger than Depression and I am braver than Loneliness and nothing will ever exhaust me.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

IVF – ILL CONCEIVED?

So many people have questioned my reasoning behind never attempting IVF when I was trying to get pregnant years ago. As I am an over-thinker, and also one that requires a lot of details before making an informed decision, I think that I made the right choice for me.

I did go and see an IVF doctor a couple of years ago. I actually went and saw the clinical director at a leading IVF clinic.

After chatting with the doctor about my history, he ordered some tests to be done. Everything came back completely normal.

Upon our return to his office, he had all the results, and he sat us down, and explained our options.

He suggested that we go straight to IVF, and not bother with anything else. I asked him why, and he said that even though they couldn’t find a reason for our infertility, doesn’t mean that there is not a significant problem, and he thinks our best hope would be IVF.

He explained that we could try some of the other methods, however the chances of success were extremely low. He said naturally, we statistically had a 1% chance of ever conceiving, given the duration of the infertility.

He said that if I were to take clomid (an ovulation enhancing drug, which has been linked to ovarian cancer) that it would only increase our chances to 2%, as I was ovulating normally and this wasn’t the cause for the infertility.

He said we could try IUI (intra uterine insemination), however that would only give us a 4% chance, as there were no blocked tubes, the sperm count was fine, and we have been “together” during the right times anyway.

He said IVF should give us a 40% chance. Now I felt hopeless at this point, as IVF was something I never considered that I may need one day. I was young (at the time of this I was 29) and healthy, and as so many doctors had told us, it was simply a case of our infertility being a complete mystery. I was sure it would eventually just happen naturally.

So I decided to probe the doctor, and ask him what the IVF process involved and what the side effects were of an IVF cycle, which many times, women are so desperate for a baby, that they don’t even consider the toll it can take on their physical and emotional well being.

He explained that first, I would have to start taking a hormone nasal spray and then begin injecting myself with more hormones to stimulate the ovaries – and sometimes, the ovaries can be over stimulated, resulting in a condition called hyper-ovarian stimulation. He said generally its just mild symptoms such as moodiness, bloating and weight gain, nausea, diarrhoea, and headaches.

He said there have been cases, where he has seen where the woman has been stimulated to a point where they have literally run out her egg supply, and she has gone into premature menopause as a result.

Now don’t forget, when we are born, we are born with our life time supply of eggs, and the whole reason we menopause, is because our eggs have run out – doesn’t that tell you, that if you are stimulating up to 30 eggs per cycle (when normally your body would stimulate 1 or 2 eggs per cycle) that there is not only a risk of early menopause, but also, what effect are all of these hormones having on our body? I have been told that there is a risk of cancers – however the IVF people say that this risk is increased as a result of being infertile itself, not as a result of the drugs.  However, having said this, just prior to going to see this doctor, my GP made me go get a precautionary ultrasound on my breasts, as the IVF drugs that they give you accelerate any cancers within your body.

After that, I would go in for ultrasounds each morning to monitor the ovaries and follicles, then I would be given an injection to trigger ovulation, and then brought in 2 days later, and be put under general anaesthetic whilst the eggs are retrieved – and lets not forget that this is a surgery, and with that comes a risk of infection, damage to your internal organs, such as your bowel or bladder, as well as the other side effects that come with anaesthetic in general.

A sperm sample is to be produced at this time.

Then the sperm and eggs are put together in a petri dish – which by the way, the doctor also informed me that if the traditional form of IVF fertilization was unsuccessful, then ICSI (where they inject just one sperm into one egg) should be considered, however there is an increased risk of gender abnormalities in ICSI conceived children – they seem to think that because ICSI eliminates the natural “survival of the fittest” selection with the sperm in this procedure, that that is where the problem may lie – now what they don’t tell you is that this is more of an experimental thing.

Obviously, they are crossing their fingers and hoping for the best, however they are going to put the sperm and egg together, and see what happens under the microscope – and generally they will fertilize (70-80% of the time), but it’s the next 24 hours that will let them see if there is a suitable embryo to be transferred.

The embryo  (I say embryo, rather than embryos, as this particular IVF clinic only likes to transfer one embryo back in, as most, if not all IVF babies are born premature and of a low birth weight – which they seem to think may be linked to the solution that the embryo is cultured in – and having more than one embryo, increases your chances of complications such as cerebral palsy, and breathing and developmental problems) is then transferred back into the uterus a couple of days later, and then I would have to start using a vaginal progesterone gel everyday to prevent the lining of the uterus from shedding, it an attempt to get the embryo to implant, all the while hoping and praying and trying to distract myself during that 2 week wait to see whether or not it has been successful.

Now the doctor explained, that there are links to breast, ovarian and uterine cancer – but this hasn’t been proven – of course it hasn’t been proven as this would damage the multi million dollar business of luring people in with the hope of helping them conceive a baby when they are in such a fragile and desperate state – one IVF procedure costs anywhere between $1500 at a public fertility clinic all the way up to $8000 for a private clinic – not including the cost of freezing any extra embryos, or if pre-genetic implantation screening is required, so this is a very lucrative business that relies solely on emotions – after all, a baby is a desire, not a requirement for a fulfulling life. 

There is also the possibility of early menopause if you were hyper-stimulated, and an extremely rare but possible side effect of that is also death.

I think a classic example of what can go wrong, is E! news presenter Guiliana Rancic. She suffered every imaginable complication throughout her IVF process. She became pregnant with her first cycle, and then sadly miscarried, and developed hyper ovarian stimulation with her second cycle where she was dramatically hospitalized and required a blood transfusion, and then she failed to conceive in that same cycle, and by the time she went to attempt her third cycle, she was given the devastating news that she had developed breast cancer at the age of 36, with no family history of it, nor having the gene for it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Ued2p5–AI

And the worst part is this – the average success rate of a pregnancy through IVF is just 30% (which is actually only 5% higher than a natural cycle), and to add to that, there is a 25% chance of miscarriage (this is the chance in all pregnancies – assisted or natural).

Now to add to that is this – if you are lucky and are successful in becoming pregnant through IVF, the babies born as a result of IVF, often have health problems,  that they won’t actually tell you about, because they say there hasn’t been enough evidence collected to suggest that this is the case. Now I’m not saying that all IVF children have problems – obviously that’s not true, as there are many healthy IVF children out there – but more than you realise do have problems, and the reason why its more that you know is this.

What has actually happened, is there hasn’t been many studies done on IVF children, as once the woman is pregnant she will generally go into the mainstream system, and any complications that do arise, will not be associated with IVF – and a lot of the problems don’t begin until after the baby is aged 1 year – why? Because the organs fall into place when the child begins to walk and that’s when a lot of the problems begin to appear, and because of the late onset of these problems (as opposed to it being diagnosed in-vitro or shortly after the birth), the correlation is not established, and therefore overlooked.

Just look at a few of the examples below:

A new report has found that children conceived using in-vitro fertilization (IVF) were generally as healthy as children conceived naturally, but they do have a higher rate of ADHD, depression, and binge drinking. Researchers say the overall risk of having ADHD in the population is between 3 and 5 percent, while the risk for kids conceived by IVF is over 27 percent.

There are two reports published in genetics journals which have found that children with Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome were four to six times more likely to have been conceived through IVF or ICSI than not. The syndrome, which normally affects one in 15,000 newborns, can cause an oversized tongue and internal organs, high birth weight and a greater risk of some cancers.

A report in The Lancet, implicated IVF with a five- to seven-fold increased risk of a rare form of eye cancer known as retinoblastoma among children born in the Netherlands.

In an issue of the Journal of Urology, Johns Hopkins researchers concluded that babies conceived though IVF were seven times more likely to be born with a set of rare urological birth defects that include the formation of the bladder outside the body. Other case reports linked ICSI with Angelman syndrome, yet another rare condition that can cause developmental problems and speech impairment.

And a lot of the other problems don’t even surface until the child hits puberty.

Now a lot of the doctors will tell you that these problems come as a result of the infertility itself, and not the IVF / ICSI procedure. Fair enough, but doesn’t that in itself, act as a red flag to the potential parents? If all couples were made aware of the risks associated with IVF, and tried to consider the reason why they were indeed infertile, would they still choose to pursue it? Did they ever stop to think that there is a reason why they can’t fall pregnant naturally, and it might simply be because they cannot produce a normal healthy baby?

Who are they doing this for anyway?