Living life with no regrets

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Right at the start of this journey my gorgeous friend drew this for me and I have kept it on my fridge ever since. Things like this have been super helpful during the very overwhelming times – which have been aplenty.

I woke up the day after having everything confirmed with clarity.  I knew what I needed to do.  It was weird.  Up until the day before I was going back and forward, flip flopping between decisions.  Do I leave it and adopt later if it doesn’t work, would I now consider egg donation if mine don’t work, would I freeze embryos, would I try IUI by myself, would I do IVF but to be honest it all stood on those results as they would give me a clear picture.  And they did – a dire one.

So taking everything into consideration and looking at my wants and dreams.  I knew what was the right thing to do.

I have decided to go ahead with the egg retrieval and embryo freezing (IVF), of which I will need at least 2 rounds (a small fortune).  What I have also decided to do while I am there is to do a fresh embryo transfer as well, as I may not have any eggs or may only have a small number that are viable and I want to have the best chance possible.  In laymen’s terms, I will try to see if i can get pregnant. Eeeeek!

I was going to freeze embryos in October and January/ February but now because of my situation and results my amazing clinic in Athens, Greece – Serum, have said due to my situation it is imperative that we do something right away and have managed to squeeze me in.  They have been insanely incredible.

I was deadly scared to tell my parents – I mean how does that go down ‘Hi, guess what I want to be a single mum?’  Not necessarily the dream they had for me nor me for myself.  It’s funny as I am sure most parents don’t want to see their children turn into teenage parents or even single parents but how do parents deal with something like this that happens to their child when they are an adult?!  I was about to find out.

My parents and I have always been close, as any family we have our ups and downs but I always know they will be there for me.  This situation however, was a little different, I had no idea how they would take it.

 They have really given me space through this whole process and not really voiced their opinions very much, I guess giving me the room to adapt and take things in without other voices intervening.  So it was amazing that when they rung to check in on me the next day and before I had even begun to tell them my decision they asked if I had considered ‘putting one back while I was there’ and that they would support that or whatever decision I made.  I love the way life works sometimes!

Almost 3 weeks on and I’m dead scared.  Not of what people will think but of the fact that it might not work.  This decision was not made lightly, I have had months to think about it, the pros, the cons, the positives and the negatives and the process and I know it is the right decision for me and me alone but I can’t help but feel backed into a corner.

I have always wanted to be a Mum and that has not changed.  Most people get to choose if they do become one or don’t, I can choose that and I know that it will happen for me in someway or another, however most people get to choose when, how or if they are ready.  I don’t have any of those luxuries.

In my eyes, because of who I am, it is now or never.  If I don’t try now I know I will be thinking about the ‘what if’s’ for the years to come and the ‘if only’s’ will haunt me for the rest of my days.  I count myself lucky as someone who has no regrets in my life and I don’t want to start now.

I do feel backed into a corner on this as I can’t choose when it happens and I don’t have some one in my life to create a baby with.  The life of a single mum….I mean who wants that and asks for it?  So to plan and go ahead to try and become one seems a little ludicrous to me.  But I have no choice…I know I want to be a Mum, I have always known.  I know I want to try everything I can to have my own child first before I pursue other options.  So this is it.

If this doesn’t work I will be devastated. At this point I can only imagine the pain I will go through but I need to try.  What is that saying ‘It is better to try and fail, than fail to try’? or the even better one ‘I know that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not trying’- Jeff Bezos.

However, I am also scared of the fact that it might work!  All those questions – can I do this by myself? Am I strong enough?  Can I provide? Am I ready to give up my lifestyle? Not to mention all of the other questions I am sure most people go through when they consider having a child. But as I said, I have no doubts that to try feels right, no doubts.

So in exactly 3 weeks time, it is off to Athens overnight to get more tests done and decide on a protocol that will best suit me (medications, stimulants for low quality, reduced egg reserve) and then 1 week later back to Athens for 2 weeks to get that ball rolling.

Now, to try and get over my needle phobia.

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Stirrups…and not the fun horsey ones!

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Round 2 – definitely NOT the peace sign

Last Tuesday it was off to the clinic for round 2 in China.  Day 3 was upon us and it was blood tests and baseline ultrasounds to be had.

After some initial difficulty about ensuring I was tested on the correct day and rearranging a few schedules, I was in the office and ready to go, legs all up and in the stirrups – not such a great picture, believe me!

Although I did feel like I had to tell her that she was the first women to see me like this.  Throughout all my years of having Pap smears, Colposcopies, my LETTZ operation and further biopsies, it has only ever been men that have done them.  Having a women do this was a very new experience for me!

For those that have never had one, it was a transvaginal ultrasound, meaning that it is what it looks like in all the movies….a long thin thing with a condom slipped over it, all up in your girly bits so it can get a clearer picture of your insides.  In particular for me…the follicles that grow in my ovaries and develop into eggs.

It all felt a bit weird having to do it when I was on day 3 of my cycle….the logistics were interesting….but obviously as she is a complete professional, it went really smoothly and was not too embarrassing – thank goodness for needing to have an empty bladder for the ultrasound.

After explaining the procedure she started to tell me what she was seeing on the monitor.  My right ovary showed 3 follicles but my bowel was in the way, after measuring each one and discovering that that 1 follicle was measuring 8mm, she determined that that was the principle follicle (the one that will develop into the egg), and that it was unusual to see it this early in the cycle.  Fantastic, another frustrating thing to add to my ever growing list of unusual things my body does!  She could not tell me if this was a good unusual or a bad unusual, that would all depend on the entire picture created from all the test results.

As the bowel did not move we moved on to the left side.  The left side was determined to show off to the right and had 5 follicles although they were all very small.  Then, it was back to the right side to try and use some pushing on my stomach techniques to move the bowel but apparently my bowel is stubborn and wouldn’t budge.

I then asked the ‘however much IVF/embryo transferring is going to cost me’ dollar question about what 8 follicles means….Good or bad?  Hope or no hope?

Unfortunately her answer was along the lines of that it seems good however we have to wait for the other tests to come back to really see the whole picture and how it all lines up.

Next it was onto the dreaded blood tests.  Those of you who know me, know I am deathly afraid of 2 things: Snakes and Guns and that 1 thing follows closely behind that: Needles!

For the first time in awhile I took it like a champ – no teary eyes at all! Although the nurse wouldn’t give me a lollipop, so I am not sure it was worthwhile being that brave for it.

For those interested I was tested again for:

  • AMH: estimate of the remaining egg supply
  • FSH: Follicle stimulating hormone, if this is not in the normal range it indicates problems with fertility
  • LH: the hormone responsible for helping to release your egg from the ovaries
  • Estradiol: Estrogen
  • TSH: Thyroid function – this can sometimes be the main cause for an hormone imbalance in your body if it isn’t at a normal level

I was told by the doctor that as the tests are measuring hormones, most will take 3 days to come back and the dreaded AMH would take 5.

I went off to cope, meeting up with friends and enjoying a yummy steak dinner, served outside on a lovely Spring evening in Beijing, washed down with copious amount of laughs and red wine….whoops….I really need to learn about moderation at some point along this journey.
 Cheers to another bout of waiting!

The art of being blindsided

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Take 2: The China Edition

Going through this process and having mastered the art of ‘The wait’ I really, truly thought that any emotional reactions had been beat out of me and being well researched and prepared I would be ready for anything.

Surprise, surprise, I could not have been more wrong, even if I had tried.

Last Friday (now two Friday’s ago), on a bright sunny Spring morning, I walked along the river slightly nervous for my first appointment in Beijing. This appointment would start to get the ball rolling on making sure all my tests would line up and the tests could go ahead on the correct days.  The nerves were coming from the fact that all of a sudden these tests were upon me and here I was on my way to begin the journey of getting confirmation on what path my life will soon take…left or right.

Upon arrival I bumped into a friend – which happened to be a great distraction, especially as he is a boy and talking about girly things like fertility definitely wasn’t going to happen!

A nurse then came to take my vitals and asked me a hilarious question to determine if I needed to be weighed:

“What are you here for?” Hmmmmmm, I wondered,  how to explain that in a sentence or 2? Then she asked me:

“Are you pregnant”  Lol – Well, that’s kind of the whole point of the appointment!  Thankfully I avoided being weighed.

Next it was into the Gynecologists office, a Spanish person and also an English speaking doctor.

After explaining to her why I was there and presenting her with my printed out, organized doctors, specialists and fertility experts notes she turned to me, interrupted and asked:

“But I don’t understand, why you are here?”

A bit taken aback, I said “Well, as you can see my AMH level is 2.2…..”

She cut me off again and said “I can see all that, but I still don’t know exactly why you are here”

Again, a bit miffed, I looked at her in a bit of shock and then she finally elaborated.

To paraphrase she said:

“I’m not sure why you wouldn’t wait a few years to see if you meet someone and then worry about it then.  All clinics interpret these results differently.  My interpretation is that 3 is where your level should be at the moment in relation to your age bracket (she showed me yet another version of the same chart I have seen countless times).  As 3 is close to where your level is (2.2),  I would not be worried. (Hmmm to me 2.2 is not close to 3!).  If your level was under 1, then you should be worried and want to hurry things. I am not sure why you would do further tests with this number however I am happy to give you a referral for a second opinion.  As there is no real fertility experts as such in Beijing, except a guy at BJU (another big and popular hospital here),(she then spouted off his impressive sounding credentials), he sometimes gives appointments about fertility (his specialty/interest), so I could refer you to him”.

As you can imagine my head was reeling.  I have had tears well up before but I have never had tears literally leak out directly.  I was in such shock.  What had just happened?!?!?!

After all this time and from 4 different people I have been told 1 thing and then this interpretation comes along.  I felt completely blindsided.  This was just meant to be an appointment to get all my ducks in a row, not one to completely turn my head upside down.

I walked away in a trance of emotion.

The doctor had gone ahead and booked the tests and I had her personal email so when day 1 of my cycle came along, I could contact her directly to make sure I was able to gain an appointment for the much needed day 3 tests.  If I can give her one thing, it’s that she was extremely straight up and up front with me.

Unfortunately for me, directly after this, I had to go and get my new passport photo taken! Blotched, miffed face and all.

Now, as a couple of my family members have pointed out, this is just one opinion however it is a radically different opinion compared to what I have encountered so far.

I know that in reality this is good news but how do you look at something like this with fresh eyes when for the last 2 and a half months those eyes have only been looking at coming to terms with worst case scenarios and intermittent decisions with weary eyes?

So, what do you believe?  What path do you choose?  How can you make a decision when the same results point to 2 different things?

Well, my plan is to seek another opinion and hope to god that one confirms something OR it is back to the drawing board.

Gut feeling…I think you may be called up for duty again.

The power of second opinions

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After receiving my results and diagnosis one friend in particular mentioned getting a second opinion.  She had told me about her experience previously where 2 doctors had told her that she would never have kids, they got another opinion, did IUI and ended up with 3! I was a little apprehensive, as I had been told by my specialist that the results were pretty final but took on her advice anyway, wondering how I would go about it.

With her voice in mind and other friends pumping me with their incredible wealth of knowledge, I fully disclosed all of my doctors notes and results to the clinic in Greece (Serum), when filling out their online form.

Incredibly and much to my surprise, as mentioned in a previous post, I was greeted with realms of facts and knowledge.

The one piece of information that seemed key was the fact that my specialist had told me (and then a fertility nurse), that ‘The pill’ does not effect the outcome of AMH.  So, trusting in the experts I took their word as gold.

Unfortunately or fortunately, whichever way you choose to look at it, I was given different information from Serum.  They stated:

“Your doctor’s letter states that AMH isn’t affected by being on the pill, but the evidence isn’t totally clearcut for this always being true.  Several studies have shown falls in AMH among women who go onto the pill.  It’s just possible that your low AMH was caused by being on the pill and you would want to be sure before taking any big decisions.”

So, there was hope!

Then after another email with me asking a few questions they mentioned this:

“Just to mention that the studies that show AMH not being affected by the pill will have been based on women with perfect ovarian reserve and it’s not so clear how the pill affects AMH for women with more sensitive ovaries.”

Or maybe not so much hope!

They then went on to say in following emails, in round about speak, that they wouldn’t touch me with a ten foot barge pole until I had gone off the pill for at least 2 months and then got retested for my AMH and FSH levels and that I also needed to have a Baseline Ultrasound.  Well, ok then.  I was floored.

I was a little premature in my thinking that ‘The wait’ was over.  As I found out later, at least 2 months off the pill to allow my body to return to it’s normal state, means testing done at the 3 month mark, as it has to be specifically timed for FSH and the ultrasound.

Roll on the end of May when I am finally able to receive more accurate tests and I am crossing fingers and remaining positive for a more favourable result, while still being realistic and researching into all my options to make an informed decision when the time comes.

Believe me, there have been many more adventures on the journey between the results, questioning of the results and now.  And I am in no way blind to the fact that there will be many more before the end of May.

Some adventures have been depressing, some hilarious, some confusing, some hopeful but all of them have been a part of the journey.  My journey.

I am not one to wish my life away but…..bring on May!

The ‘why?’

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10 years ago (far out, was it seriously that long ago?!), literally in the middle of my move to Wellington to start my teaching career, I got news that I had irregular cervical cells.  6 months previous I had been told I had irregular cells (CIN 1), but not to worry as they usually disappear or take at least 10 years to develop into pre-cancerous cells (CIN 3).  Interestingly enough my body was some sort of super force and it only took 6 months for them to go from CIN 1 to CIN 3.  I tell ya girls – don’t EVER miss a pap smear!  At the time I was 22.

Luckily I was able to have a Lettz procedure in Wellington and have the cells removed.  This was followed by 6 monthly biopsies for a few years, to yearly biopsies, to the all clear but yearly pap smears, a few bouts of reoccurring irregular cells (that thankfully disappeared), and I was finally home free….well, if you call yearly pap smears for life home free – ‘Hi, welcome back to New Zealand, time for a pap smear!’  Not my favorite part of coming home.

With my history and peer pressure, as well as the inevitable family pressure ‘When am I going to be a grandparent?’ and ‘I’m just worried you will miss the boat’, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Where I am placed in life, both geographically and in age, some people may say that I have a few years left before I had to worry about this issue, after all, 35 is commonly known as the time when your eggs become known as ‘geriatric’.  I mean, seriously!  How is that fair?  And I am still a few years off that number.  But for some reason, probably mostly based on previous medical history, I had an inkling, a strong gut feeling and it turned turned out I was right.

When I told people that I was thinking about getting these tests, so many of them asked me why I would even think about getting these tests done, stating many reasons ranging from ‘You’re not old enough to worry about that yet’, ‘But you’re single’ to ‘But what happens if it’s bad news, what will you do then?’.

I have always had a massive thing about honesty and the truth.  If someone isn’t honest with me or can’t tell me the truth, that has always cut very deep.  It is the same with knowing things.  I would rather know the full picture, the truth, than sit back and wait when I could have done something about it earlier.  That is what drove me to get the tests done.  That and also being able to put my mind at rest because of this intense gut feeling I was having.

Getting this test and the knowledge to do so, did not just appear from anywhere.   I am lucky enough to have a good friend in my life who I met up with in October when I was back in New Zealand.  My friend and his partner have had some extremely tough experiences and after expressing my concerns to them, they told me about the AMH and FSH tests.  If I had not have talked to them about my fears and they had not shared their story with me, I would never have known about these tests until it was maybe too late and I will be forever thankful to them for that.

Back in Beijing and mulling it over, I thought that what I would do was have the 2 tests when I was home in December and then a year from then, have another set of tests to see the rate of decrease or the difference in the 2 results.  Armed with these figures I could then make an informed decision in a year or so.  Smart thinking….or so I thought.  Life decided to intervene – and we all know how that story goes.

So, in answer to a lot of your questions – the 3 reasons that drove me to get these tests done:
1 – Previous medical history
2 – Peer/family/self pressure

3 – Gut feeling

If anything has come from this whole experience so far, it is that gut feelings can be an amazing thing and from now on I am trusting mine without a doubt.

Always trust your gut!

2 options are better than none

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I actually have no qualms with Valentines Day whatsoever, unfortunately this was the day I found out my options, now the date is forever etched in my brain. So, for me, the message truly applies.

At 20 weeks old (even before you are actually born), you have 2 million eggs, 2 million!  This is just one of the crazy facts that I have learned in the last 2 weeks of my life.  This particular fact I learned during my conversation with my specialist when we were discussing what my results actually meant.

He started off by telling me about egg reserve in general and then told me more about what AMH actually tells us.  He then went on to tell me what my AMH level meant for me.

Most women who do a round of IVF, because of their eggs being hyper stimulated will produce between 16-20 eggs per cycle.  Half of those would be able to be fertilized. With my results it means that I would only produce 6 eggs or less, half of which may be able to be be fertilized.  Not great, however, not nothing.  He also told me that this number could possibly be an indication of early onset menopause….eeekkkk…..let’s not even go there yet!

The specialist then stated that if I was in a relationship, he would tell me to ‘Go ahead, and try to get pregnant’.  However because I am single, it was more of a social (my god, seriously, in this day and age?) and a financial decision.  I had him stumped.  This obviously made my blood boil but being in shock and faced with all of this jargon and the news being relatively new to me , I held it in to process it, all the while thinking ‘If you would tell someone in the same situation who was in a couple to go and try to get pregnant, why wouldn’t you be telling me the same thing?’  Granted I am single but from my limited experience at the time, there are ways around that.  Ways I hoped that he would talk to me about.

That left us with a bit of a stalemate….we went around and around talking about things until I finally was able to get 2 clear cut options out of him.

Option #1 – Egg freezing

This would involve having IVF, retrieving the eggs, freezing them and storing them.  Sounds simple enough however due to my lack of eggs I would have to do AT LEAST 2 rounds at between NZD$11,000 – $13,000 a pop (then you would have to factor in the pre tests and flights home). Also he informed me that when you thaw the eggs they are not as good as ‘fresh’ ones.  Who’s the chicken now?  So if all went well from 2 rounds of IVF I would produce 12 eggs, 6 would be viable and then when I unfreeze them maybe half or all would not be good quality.  Not such good odds there.

The specialist told me this option would obviously be time and money heavy.  I would have to be on the pill so they could control my cycle, I would have to have a battery of tests to ensure everything else was ok (around $NZD2000), then I would have injections to turn off the natural body signals, then injections of hormones.  The whole process taking around 2 months and I would have to be in Christchurch for at least 2 weeks.

I then went on to ask about ‘the oven’.  My worry, after reading a few articles on egg freezing over the summer, was that it isn’t just the egg factor, it is the age of the body factor as well.  Brilliantly I had some great news there – he reassured me that it is overwhelmingly the age of the egg that is the biggest factor not the ‘oven itself’.

The timing issues because of me living overseas and only having set holidays would involve a lot of pre organization – ovulation tracking with scans, counting and planning date for harvesting, more blood tests, pelvic exams, ultrasounds – all the fun stuff.  Luckily I have a great clinic nearby in China, with great staff and fantastic turn around time.  My specialist could send a PDF of the tests that would be needed and I could check with my clinic if they could do it, saving time and ensuring that when I was back for the 2 weeks, all would run smoothly.

The specialist was also quick to tell me that the fertility nurses on staff were amazingly knowledgeable and dealt with a range of scenarios and sorted all the timings so they would be in contact soon.

Option #2 – Sperm Donation

Two weeks in and that still makes me laugh whenever I talk about it or say it because it comes so naturally now and is so weird that I talk about it in regards to me!

It took awhile for my specialist to really put out this option. I had had enough of stories of single women going it alone and it not working out successfully e.g. in the words of him ‘having a romanticized idea of parenthood’, ‘a mentally challenged child’, having to quit work and stay at home etc.  I understand I need to be told both sides of the coin however ‘My god!’, this is the first conversation we are having.  I just need the options.  Save your negative stories and scare tactics for later when it has all sunk in.

After I finally got up the balls to tell him that I really wanted to have my own child and that I wanted to explore all the options I had to do that before I even looked into other ways to become a Mum, he finally started talking.  He told me that this (sperm donation), would be the cheapest option however I would be committing myself to having a child on my own (well, obviously!).  It would involve artificial insemination (AI), I could do it immediately, it would have to be timed with my natural cycle, I would have to be off the pill for 2-3 cycles to check ovulation, then timed for natural egg release…and then it is pretty much for lack of a better explanation as he put it ‘a substitution for intercourse’, (AKA ‘turkey basting’). Lovely.

Because his clinic did not have a ‘back catalogue’ of donations, they could do AI however I would have to find my own donor or use a donor bank (he suggested Fertility Associates).  The problems being: the request for sperm donors is not high, there is a long wait, certain legalities and now donation is open meaning the child can find out about their father later on (this, I really, really liked to hear).

So with 2 options at the ready I felt better prepared and just damn right relieved that I now had a direction to go in and that I actually was a lucky one who had some options.

I also asked him a few questions that some friends had suggested I ask.

#1 – Does the pill effect the result of AMH?

I was told that the pill is not harmful or does not effect the result of the AMH test.

#2 – Is there anyway to improve egg quality?

I was told no, just the usual things like not drinking high levels of alcohol (damn it!), no drugs (easy peasy), eat well (oh man! There goes those yummy Great Leap burgers and it’s back on the Weight Watchers band wagon I go), exercise and to make sure I am getting the right nutrients.  Well that sucks, doctors orders to get healthy, you can’t really argue with that.

One of my final questions was:

#3 – Going off the results of the AMH, when would I have to do something to ensure that I have the best chance?

His answer (and the answer I have had from most specialists over the last few weeks) was:

‘Within the next year, as every 6 months things decrease’

Yay, fun!  Roll on the next few months of playing fact finder, scenario builder and putting the puzzle pieces together to form an answer.  This is not how I pictured my 2016 when I was calling it in on New Years.

I have always wanted to be a Mum but I have to be honest I have always thought I would have a child with Mr Right.

So, over the next few months I really am faced with trying to answer the most monumentous questions I have faced yet, because in reality I have limited time and need to make a decision soon.

Do I want to be a Mum now?

OR

Do I still want to wait for Mr Right?

At this point, who knows.

‘The news’

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I know, I know…and it is only the start of my journey…imagine all the gems I will find during the rest of it!

 Four weeks ago today I received the results of my AMH and FSH tests that I had when I was back in New Zealand for Christmas.

Be warned this post will not be fun, witty or quirky…as it is just the plain old facts!  Cue the boringness…

An AMH test essentially tells you your ovarian egg reserve (pretty much roughly how many eggs you have left) and how easy it is to get someone pregnant using IVF.  It does not infer about your egg quality or how easy it is for you to conceive naturally.

Before taking the test my Doctor told me that as it is a relatively new test in New Zealand he was happy to order the bloods but was not happy to analyse the results.  I completely understood, so he recommended a specialist at Oxford Woman’s Health which I was happy about as I had dealt with them in the past.  I got in contact with them to ensure they were ok to receive the results, analyse them and then set up a Skype or phone consultation with me when I was back in China.  It’s always oh, so simple when you don’t live in your home country!

My doctor being the diligent man he is felt that upon receiving the results he had better inform me and since we have an email relationship for the better part of the year (that’s a whole other post!), he of course chose this method to let me know my results.

Here is what I was told:

My AMH “was 2.2.  This is what you would expect if you were aged 40-45.  For your age you should be 8-30. So this would suggest reduced ovarian reserve”

Cue extra long pause for this to sink in, followed by shock (nothing could have prepared me for this), then tears, then phone calls home.

Of course all I wanted to do was GTS, which the sensible part of me shot down pretty much straight away – my inner voice stating ‘I need to talk to the specialist to get the full picture before I start jumping to conclusions and upsetting myself and my parents for no reason’. See, sometimes I can be sensible….but only sometimes!

What I did look more into was the number and what that meant.  With AMH there are 3 bands.  My results put me in at the bottom of the bottom band.  Basically, putting it simply….I’m not going to lie or even sugar coat it…..it puts me in a pretty shitty position.  My only savior was knowing that I was luckier than some others and had options.

What those options were, were still a mystery and unfortunately I was not able to get many answers right away due to New Zealand holidays, clinic condensing and personal events….cue 3 weeks of utter hell also known as ‘The wait’.