In her deeply honest, funny, gut-wrenching and touching memoir, Is This My Beautiful Life, Jessica Rowe is pretty open about many of the struggles of her life.
In this extract she writes about the point back in 2005 when she was working in her ill-fated job at the Today Show, and desperately trying to become pregnant .
Peter and I decided to have a break from the IVF to give me a chance to focus on my new job. After a couple of months I was ready to find that bubble of hope within me again and we cautiously began another cycle of treatment. The smell of the fresh alcohol swab cleared my nose as I readied to rub it over a small patch of skin on my stomach.
Quickly, I pinched a small fold of flesh between my thumb and forefinger and pushed down on the needle to let the hormone flood into my bloodstream. Squeezing my eyes shut, I imagined the drug fuelling the follicles in my ovaries. In an ideal world the follicles, which is the sac of fluid surrounding each egg, would multiply. So the more follicles, the more eggs. If the egg matured, the alchemy of magic, medicine and miracle would bring me one step closer to having a baby.
Everywhere I looked there were babies. Mums nestling their newborns in slings wrapped across their chests, twins in strollers, mobs of mothers pushing their prams along the footpath while I stepped into the gutter to get around them or to get to the barista at my local cafe. ‘Baby on board’ stickers were on the back of every car that stopped in front of me at traffic lights. Even worse were the stickers of a mother, father, baby and dog.
Wickedly, I was tempted to drag my keys across the paint of family wagons with those white stick-figure images stuck on the back window. Begone with your smug stickers! Stop flaunting your breeding abilities in my face! My hackles were already up when I spotted more of these stickers one Saturday morning. Peter and I were driving back from the clinic after having another blood test to check how my hormones were responding to the medication. My hormone levels still weren’t right and I was flattened by the latest setback; the delay didn’t fit in with the carefully crossed out dates and strategic stars I had written using my ‘lucky’ red texta in my diary.
Watch Jessica talk to Mamamia’s Shelly Horton about her best advice. (Post continues after video)
Stupidly, instead of relying on my guaranteed mood lifter of soft-centred strawberry cream chocolates and going back to bed, we stuck to our plans. ‘Can’t we just cancel? Can’t you ring and tell them I’m sick?’ I complained, glaring at the smiling stick figures on the car in front. ‘But you’re not sick! We told them we’re coming.’ Peter’s insistence on not letting people down meant there was no escape from Marissa’s first birthday party that morning. Normally I loved the decency of my husband, and we often joked about him being my PA as I was hopeless at returning phone calls and sticking to plans. However, this morning I was in no mood for jokes or first birthday parties, no matter how sweet Marissa was.
The frantic jumping castle, melted chocolate crackles and polite conversation did nothing to help my mood. ‘Hurry up, you two,’ joked one of the party guests as the conversation inevitably turned to baby-making. ‘What are you waiting for?’
I wanted to scream, ‘I’m on IVF and I don’t know if I can be a mum. I have just come from having a blood test to see if my body is responding to the hormones I’m pumping through my body. Don’t tell me how wonderful it is to be a mother! And don’t you dare complain about how tired you are.’ I wanted to tear the pink princess jumping castle apart and tell the women what they could do with their sleeping routines, controlled crying and pram debates. As I listened to them I made a promise never to bore people with endless stories of my children. I would never whinge, complain or find it difficult once I had my precious child. I would know how hard fought it had been to have a baby. Didn’t these mothers realise how lucky they were?
My raw anger took me by surprise. Usually calm and considerate, now I was ready to rip people’s heads off. The hormones I was flooding myself with had turned me into the Incredible Hulkess. Every couple of days I had an appointment with Di, my nurse at the clinic. Yet another needle would pierce my skin to take blood and check my hormone levels. It was satisfying to write down these appointments, one small thing I could document and control.
During the two weeks of hormone treatment I had regular blood tests and ultrasounds to see how my follicles were responding to the fertility drugs. Towards the end of that time, Di told me that the ultrasound was looking good. As she pointed out the black and grey images I imagined that my follicles looked like fine seaweed, delicate tips enfolding round, shadowy seeds. My eggs were ripe and ready. I just had to give myself a large injection before bed that night to trigger my eggs out of their mermaid home.
I was excited about having a general anaesthetic; an operation was something else I could mark down in my diary. The next morning at the clinic Dr Tierney told me once again to have positive thoughts as she prepared to remove a batch of eggs from my hopefully jam-packed ovaries. I stared at the needle as it slid into my wrist, embracing the oblivion that sped through my veins. Desperate to have time-out, to hand responsibility over to the experts, I let go. I wanted relief and obliteration. It didn’t last long, and in my next conscious moment I was lying in recovery on a narrow surgical bed, struggling to bring my right hand to my blurry eyes. I needed to know what my plumped-up fallopian tubes had delivered to me this cycle.
Written in thin black biro on a torn piece of masking tape stuck on the top of my hand were two words: eight eggs. It was the third time I had woken up in this recovery ward and I felt safe hidden behind the blue curtains pulled around my metal bed. I recognised the familiar stirring of hope, excitement, dread and desperation as I stared at the cream-coloured tape. The number written there held my hopes for a family, eight more chances to create a new soul. Eight chances for the scientists to inject my husband’s sperm into my ageing eggs. I slipped down the oxygen mask that still covered my face and pressed the scrappy masking tape to my lips: please let it be this time.
At ten past ten the next morning, my mobile rang. It was Liza from the laboratory. ‘You’re doing well. Six of your eggs have fertilised. We’ll ring you again tomorrow and let you know how they’re going.’ ‘Oh thank you—that’s wonderful news.’ The next day I sweated by the phone, wondering what was taking so long. Had something gone wrong? When my mobile finally rang I snatched it up quickly. It was Liza again. ‘You have five left, but two have started fragmenting, so that leaves three that are looking quite good.’ ‘Quite good?’ I was desperate for more reassurance, but unfortunately Liza couldn’t give me any. Dr Tierney called in the afternoon to explain the plan of action. She said if the three remaining embryos weren’t doing so well tomorrow she would transfer one of them into my uterus around lunchtime. Apparently they had a better chance of surviving inside of me than in a Petri dish.
Di also rang to check how Peter and I were coping. Her kindness made me want to weep. It was hard to stay balanced with the huge amount of hormones that were still sloshing around my body. We had chosen not to tell our family that we were going through IVF again—it was too hard to manage their hopes and expectations along with our own emotions. Earlier failed attempts had left me heartbroken and angry and I couldn’t keep repeating the story, explaining the medication and the treatment. However, there was one person I did tell about our third IVF attempt: my girlfriend Annebelle. Without intruding or constantly asking how the treatment was going, Annebelle was just there. I loved that she was into chakras, the moon and magic.
She was preparing a spell for our inky black smudge, lighting three pink candles with three pink flowers. I was not convinced by the pretty potion, but I was prepared to believe in unicorns if it meant becoming a mother. The next two weeks until a blood test would reveal whether I was pregnant took an eternity. I had allowed the bubble of hope that I carried to get a little bigger. Perhaps those three little cells I saw on the screen had now developed into a blastocyst. Perhaps the embryo had now embedded itself into the wall of my uterus. Perhaps it was flourishing. Or perhaps it had shrivelled away. Just a day after the transfer, Peter had to fly to Italy for a 60 Minutes story on Formula One racing. His constant travel had begun to wear me down. Lately we seemed to have an argument just before he went away and then when he first came home.
Our conversations also seemed rushed and incomplete before he had to zip away on a story. All I wanted was to cling on to him tightly and have him close by as we tried to make sense of what was happening. Now I only had myself and hopefully my growing embryo for company. At least work was a distraction.
There couldn’t have been more of a distraction than that festival of insincerity, the TV Week Logie Awards. The Australian television industry’s awards evening broadcast from the Crown Palladium in Melbourne was always full of glitter, sequins, fake smiles and fake conversations. But I loved being a part of it, loved the chance to dress up and feel rewarded for the hard work I had put into my career. This year I would be hosting the red carpet arrivals show to be broadcast before the awards. After being shown up to my hotel suite on the executive level of the Crown Towers Hotel, I stretched out on a grey velvet couch and rang room service to order a club sandwich, my hotel room staple, before my gig for the evening began.
‘Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the forty-eighth annual TV Week Logie Awards red carpet show. I’m Jessica Rowe, and tonight you’ll see all the glitz and glamour from our biggest stars.’ I was wearing a floor-length, silver-sequinned Collette Dinnigan gown. The make-up artist had expertly covered the acne that continued to plague my face and back, an ugly side effect of the IVF. I was interviewing my colleagues on one of the highest-rating television shows of the year, but the best part of the evening was the secret I was carrying inside my watery womb, shielded from the flashes and bright lights. It was easy to avoid the champagne without attracting any suspicion. My excuse, that I had to get up at 3am to co-host Today, satisfied my workmates. Nothing was going to jeopardise the chance of this nine-day cell growing, and growing. I could cross off another day in my diary—only ten more days until I knew if I was pregnant.
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