Support accurate birth certificates for trans and non-binary people

Content note: suicide, transphobia

I’d wanted to get this done a lot earlier, but we bought a house in the middle of lockdown and that has a tendency to throw every other plan out the window. It’s definitely not perfect and I apologise for anything I’ve missed or messed up on.


The important bit: there’s just one day left to submit on the very concisely named Inquiry into Supplementary Order Paper 59 on the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill.

This SOP would allow people to change the sex/gender marker on their birth certificate without having to go through the current Family Court process.

It’s not perfect, but it’s a really positive step, and of course it’s being dogpiled by transphobes who claim to love women’s rights but really just want to make trans people disappear.

My submission is below. You can also check out the submission from Gender Minorities Aotearoa. And make your own here. As with the conversion practices ban, you don’t have to write a lot. You don’t have to share your darkest traumas. You can simply say you support the GMA submission, and leave it at that, if you want.

Select Committee submissions aren’t an opinion poll – it doesn’t necessarily make a difference if there’s more subs on one side of the issue than the other. But having a broad range of voices and arguments makes it easier for the Committee to consider what needs to change.


13 September 2021

To the Governance and Administration Committee

Submission on the Inquiry into Supplementary Order Paper 59 on the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill

Kia ora koutou

My name is Stephanie Rodgers. I am a feminist, Pākehā, mother and public servant from Wellington, and I write in support of the amendments to the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill.

The status quo hurts people

Although I am cisgender (my gender identity matches the sex I was assigned as birth), I have a personal interest in this legislation. The night I graduated from university with my Honours degree, a friend of mine took his own life. He was a young trans man who struggled hugely with a lack of acceptance from people in his life including his employer, who persistently misgendered him, used the wrong name for him and refused to see him as the man he was.

A few years earlier, his friends at university had put together the money for him to change his name legally, as a birthday present. I think we all cried when he opened the envelope and realised what was inside.

Even at his funeral he was mis-named and mis-gendered by others.

I don’t think this legislation would have been enough, on its own, to save my friend’s life. Not having a birth certificate that reflected who he was, was only one of the obstacles our society put in his way and in the way of many other trans and non-binary people, that prevented him from just being able to live his life as himself. It is in some ways trivial. But it is also hugely significant because it represents who you were from the day you were born. It might have helped. I’ll never know.

Having accurate identity documents is something cis people (people whose gender matches the sex we were assigned at birth) get to take for granted. For people like my friend, it was just another massive straw on the camel’s back.

The Human Right’s Commission’s PRISM report found:

Youth12 data for suicide rates supported [the findings of the Counting Ourselves report], showing 37% of trans participants had attempted suicide at some point; more than twice the rate reported by same or both-sex attracted young people.

Trans, non-binary and intersex people are whānau, but they are made to feel like they cannot be themselves, or will never be accepted by society as themselves, by processes like the current Family Court procedure for updating their own birth certificate.

The current process is onerous and inconsistent

At present, people who want to change the sex on their birth certificate must go through a Family Court process including providing proof of having undergone medical treatment. There are several reasons this is unfair:

  • Many trans and non-binary people do not seek or want to undergo medical treatment. They may not experience the kinds of dysphoria that can be treated or alleviate with surgery or hormonal treatments. This doesn’t change the fact that their birth certificate is inaccurate.
  • If they do seek medical treatment, they may face long waiting times or even a complete inability to access those treatments in Aotearoa New Zealand. Despite increased funding provided in the last term of government, the Ministry of Health’s Gender Affirming Surgery Service reported just last month that there were 295 referrals for a first specialist assessment on their active waiting list, but only five surgeries performed in 2020 and eight in 2021. It is cruel to make people wait to update their documents until they have undergone surgery which at current rates could take decades through our public health service.
  • Finally, this process is inconsistent with the far simpler statutory declaration required to change gender markers on driver licences and passports. Aligning these processes is logical, especially given that birth certificates are potentially the least commonly used of the three.

There are also practical, potentially harmful implications of the current process. Having a driver licence and passport that say one thing, and a birth certificate that says another, presents a risk of a person being outed – revealed as trans or non-binary – against their will. We know that trans and non-binary people are at a serious and real risk of violence when they are outed. The PRISM report released by the Human Rights Commission in 2020 stated:

Multiple comprehensive reviews show that people with a diverse sexual orientation and gender identity experience a higher risk of physical and sexual violence than the general population. In most cases, the person’s sexual orientation or gender identity was a factor in the perpetration of the abuse.

This demonstrates why it can be a matter of personal safety for a person’s documents, including birth certificate, passport and driver’s licence, match who they are and how they present themselves to the world.

Youth, parents and migrants also deserve to be included

Parents

Some trans people do not come out or transition until well into their adult lives, and may have gotten married, or had children, before they felt able to live as their true selves. This can mean they have additional documents such as their child’s birth certificate which reflect inaccurate information about who they are (e.g. listing them as a child’s mother rather than their father.)

The BDMRR Bill already allows for parents to be able to request that their child’s birth record include information relating to their marriage or civil union after child’s birth. It should also allow parents to request that their identifier be changed, e.g. from “mother” to “father”, if that parent has transitioned, come out, or otherwise changed how they identify as a parent. As with a person’s own birth certificate, it is important these things reflect reality, and avoids the risk of someone being outed, if their child’s birth certificate accurately represents their parent’s gender.

It should also allow people to update their marriage or civil union certificates with accurate name and gender information.

Youth

The current wording of the Bill requires applicants aged 15 and younger to have a guardian make the application on their behalf, together with a letter of support from a qualified third person.

Unfortunately, many young trans and non-binary people are not in the care of guardians who are supportive of their true gender identity.

Young people are already able to make many other significant decisions on their own behalf, if they can demonstrate an understanding of the implications and consequences of those decisions, and the law should be consistent here. Amending this process to require support from either a guardian or qualified third person would be fairer.

People with identity documents issued in other countries

The Bill does not allow for overseas-born people to change the sex marker on their existing birth certificate. For many people, it is simply not possible, and could be very dangerous, to return to their country of birth and attempt to get their birth certificate corrected. However, the Bill does allow for the government to issue name change certificates for people whose proof-of-name documentation is from overseas. It seems fair and easy enough to expand this to include the option to issue a document recognising a change of gender or sex marker as well.

Sex and gender are not simple matters

Finally, I am aware many submissions to the Committee will insist that biological sex is a clear-cut binary of male vs female, defined by chromosomes, genitalia or whether a person’s body produces sperm or ova, and that birth certificates represent some kind of definitive evidence, carved in stone, of such matters. These submissions are grounded in ideology, not scientific reality, certainly not in compassion for trans and non-binary people, and I urge the Committee to treat them as such.

As a cis woman, a feminist and a mother, I want to state as strongly as possible that all this Bill does is give people, who experience huge amounts of discrimination and marginalization, the simple dignity of a birth certificate that reflects who they are.

It is not a passport into women’s bathrooms (and I am more concerned about those who want to peer into people’s pants to check what’s there before they pee, than whether the person in the next cubicle is trans). It is not a denial of “biological” reality. We are all wonderfully complex, varied beings and our lives should never be defined or limited by the shape of our genitals or whether we can get pregnant.

Trans and non-binary people have existed in every human culture in history, facing greater or lesser prejudice. We have an opportunity to demonstrate that Aotearoa New Zealand is on the “lesser” end of that spectrum. As a bonus, we will save time and Family Court resources by removing an unnecessary and onerous process from its ambit.

I do not wish to appear before the Committee.

Stephanie Rodgers

End conversion therapy in Aotearoa

I’ve just hit “send” on my submission to the Justice Select Committee on the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill – also known as the “conversion therapy ban”, except it’s not therapy, it’s torture.

Submissions close 8 September. They definitely don’t have to be as long and detailed as mine, they can be more personal, or as simple as “I support the Bill”. The Parliament website makes it really easy to make your voice on this.

What I’m saying is, make a submission on this Bill, because we know that the evangelicals certainly will. And after that, do one for the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill because it’s “be a good ally to our gender diverse whānau” week.

Here’s what I had to say on conversion practices – minus some quirky formatting which WordPress was not happy with!


To the Justice Select Committee

Submission on the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill

Kia ora koutou

My name is Stephanie Rodgers. I am a feminist, Pākehā, mother and public servant from Wellington, and I write in support of the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill.

I unreservedly support a ban on conversion practices, which are often mislabelled “therapy”. These practices seek to alter or suppress fundamental parts of a person’s identity – their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. They are unscientific, harmful, and grounded in bigotry against those who differ from the norm, because of who they are, who they love or how they live.

The PRISM report released by the Human Rights Commission in 2020 [pdf] stated:

Multiple comprehensive reviews show that people with a diverse sexual orientation and gender identity experience a higher risk of physical and sexual violence than the general population. In most cases, the person’s sexual orientation or gender identity was a factor in the perpetration of the abuse.

This highlights how critical it is for our Parliament to send the message that these facets of a person’s identity and life are valid and worthy, and that it is neither acceptable nor possible to change them by force or coercion. Banning conversion practices is a powerful way to send that message, as well as responding to the specific harms caused to by these practices.

Specific recommendations

I support section 5’s definition of conversion practice, and especially wish to endorse its inclusion of gender identity. New Zealand, following the United Kingdom, has unfortunately become a battleground for trans rights due to a vocal, minority, orchestrated campaign which seeks to marginalize and erase trans and nonbinary people, reaffirm a strict gender binary in society, and position the rights and lives of trans and nonbinary people as antagonistic towards cis women and LGB people.

The reality is that trans people are real and valid; every person’s gender identity is an intrinsic part of themselves which, like sexual orientation and gender expression, cannot and should not be forced or coerced to change; that trans women face misogyny and discrimination based on their gender much as cis women like myself do; and that bigotry against trans people is driven by the same restrictive binaries that are used to oppress cis gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

It would considerably weaken this legislation to remove gender identity from the definition of conversion practices.

I am concerned at the exclusion of the intersex community in section 5. Intersex people also face unnecessary and often non-consensual medical interventions, particularly in childhood, and these should be seen in the same lens as other types of conversion practice, i.e. an attempt to force or coerce someone to suppress their true selves and conform to a rigid idea of sex or gender.

I urge the committee to reject any submissions which seek to exclude gender identity from the definition of conversion practice, or re-frame affirming therapy for trans people as a “conversion practice” against gay or lesbian people. This is simply a tactic used by a transphobic minority to justify abusive and coercive treatment of young trans people, forcing them to pretend to be cisgender, and contributing directly to the extremely upsetting statistics of mental distress and suicidality among trans youth documented in the HRC’s PRISM report:

Youth12 data for suicide rates supported [the findings of the Counting Ourselves report], showing 37% of trans participants had attempted suicide at some point; more than twice the rate reported by same or both-sex attracted young people.

I oppose section 5(2)(a)’s blanket exemption for health practitioners. The 2019 Counting Ourselves report found that:

  • 26% of respondents had experienced a health provider “knowingly referred to [them] by the wrong gender, either in person or in a referral”
  • 21% had experienced a health provider “knowingly used an old name that [they] are no longer comfortable with”
  • 16% had been “discouraged from exploring [their] gender”

These incidents all have the effect of suppressing an individual’s gender identity or gender expression, and when done knowingly, meet the definition of conversion practice in the Bill. However they are not necessarily “outside of the scope of practice” of the health practitioners in question, who should be held accountable for their actions.

I further oppose any exemption for conversion practices performed on religious grounds, or by parents. Such exemptions would render the legislation toothless, and undermine the fact that conversion practices do not work and are never acceptable.

I recently became a mother, and rather than changing my mind on topics like these, having my daughter has only reaffirmed that no parent has the right to force their child to be something they are not.

Everyone has freedom to follow their own religion and practise it how they choose; however, that freedom clearly stops when it becomes an excuse to abuse people. The fundamentalist churches who claim that this Bill will criminalise prayer must have a very different definition of prayer to the mainstream, and if it involves coercing people to change or suppress their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, it should be criminalised.

I propose that section 8 be expanded to include people who are under the care or guardianship of others, regardless of age.

Jurisdictions such as the District of Columbia, despite having a more restricted ban on conversion practice (limiting the ban to people under 18) have explicitly expanded that ban to include people for whom a conservator or guardian has been appointed.

People, including those with disabilities, who are either not permitted to make or assumed to be incapable of making their own medical decisions, are at a much greater risk of having conversion practices imposed on them. They may also be at a disadvantage when advocating for themselves, again because they are assumed to be incapable of doing so.

I question section 9’s reliance on the notion of causing serious harm, or a person’s intent to cause serious harm. Conversion practices are inherently harmful, yet those who commit them typically believe they are in the right and even “helping” the people they are abusing. I am concerned that a requirement to prove that a person “knew” the practice would cause serious harm or were “reckless” about the possibility of causing serious harm creates an obstacle to properly prosecuting and ending these abusive practices. 

I oppose section 12 which requires the Attorney General’s consent for prosecutions under this Act. I refer the Committee to a comparably “contentious” piece of legislation, the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007 which abolished the use of parental force for the purpose of correction, and required the Chief Executive of the relevant department to monitor the effects of that Act and report on them two years after the commencement of that Act. I invited the Committee to consider a comparable clause if they believe this legislation requires close oversight.

I note that the report into that Act found no evidence of any detrimental impact on parents “lightly” smacking their children nor any other unintended consequences. This is often the case with pieces of legislation which challenge abusive, but socially accepted practices, and attract overblown, even paranoid responses from those who do not wish to have those abusive practices challenged.

I do not wish to make an oral submission to the Committee.

I commend Parliament for progressing the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill and hope it proceeds smoothly through the remaining stages. It is important, it is necessary, and it is past time to put such practice behind us.

Baby talk 6: and then, the good news

Read the full Baby Talk series

Content note: infertility, pregnancy

I hate curtain patterns that don’t repeat in a nice orderly fashion. Something about them makes my brain twitch, and I don’t like to think how much of my life I’ve spent staring at drapes (or wallpaper) trying to find the nice clean border where everything starts all over again.

It feels like I should draw some deep-and-meaningful lesson from that but I can’t think what it is.

The curtains in the little rooms – more like cubicles – in the old Fertility Associates office in Wellington did not repeat. They were an obnoxious mess of green and blue and orange and yellow, squares and swirls and stripes, and oh, what a relief for my brain it was to have that chaotic vomit to focus on instead of what was ahead: our second embryo transfer, with the spare, frozen blastocyst from our first round of egg harvesting.

The clinic was busy that day and I could hear parts of murmured conversations in the neighbouring cubicles. It felt very isolating, and not just because I was on my own for this one. The thing is, you and every other person in there is in exactly the same boat – nobody else in the world knows as well as they do what you’re going through at that exact moment – but you’re separated, by literal walls and also social ones. This isn’t a waiting room where you make eye contact and smile at other people, much less strike up a conversation. You don’t know what stage they’re at – what news they’re here to hear – but you know exactly what the worst case scenario is.

The clinic is obviously aware of this dynamic, so there’s a sign on the cubicle wall for their Facebook group. Here, it says, here’s a safe place to make those connections. We never joined. I don’t like sharing my grief in the moment (she says, on her public blog), I don’t even know how to contain it within myself, it just felt too hard to push it onto others or have theirs pushed onto me.

Once again, it was a quick, clean procedure. Almost too much so. There’s nothing big and scary like sedation or a waiting period to focus your anxiety, so it all goes onto the next week-and-a-bit waiting for the next pregnancy test; and in my case, on work. I was at Parliament while we went through this, and our second transfer happened at the end of July; only six weeks before Parliament dissolved and I lost every scrap of job security.

They say there’s never a good time to have a baby, but I still feel like we chose a particularly terrible one;* on the other hand, it wasn’t a choice. It was a need.

And then the results came in.

And we won the lottery.

I’d spent the whole month, since our first transfer failed, telling myself over and over that someone has to beat the odds. That’s the ironic thing about what I mentioned in the last post, about the idea that every infertility story has a happy ending. When you’re going through it, it feels like everyone you talk to has an unhappy ending. Or tried and tried and tried and tried again and maybe, finally, through sheer force of will and luck and persistence, it happened.

I don’t think I know anyone who got as lucky as we did.

J was home when I got the phone call, so he found out almost as soon as I did; and in true J fashion, his first question was whether there was something performative he was supposed to do. I told him jewellery, or a car.

It was the happiest day of my life, and yet … it’s the same story I feel I’ve told already. Every bit of success on this path just opens up more avenues for failure and anxiety. This blood test was good. But there was another only days away. Three weeks after that, the “early scan”. More appointments in the diary to get good news, or the worst.

I just assumed these early days are when there’s the highest risk of losing a pregnancy. But no one ever said it. I guess you don’t need one more thing to worry about.

Probably the worst bit was having to keep up the damn pessaries. I was looking forward to having clean underwear again.

And on top of all that we had J’s contract at work ending, the election another week closer, and at some point we had thought about moving house before we had a baby, and …. how???

I’m almost happier now, reflecting back, than I was on that day. Because now I’m free of those worries (found plenty of new ones, have no fear). I know that the Wednesday blood test will be strong again, and the early scan will be the first time I see my baby’s heart beating, and everything, everything will work out. Hindsight is great like that.

~

*Four days after the pregnancy test, four cases of COVID-19 were found in Auckland, which went into a level 3 lockdown, the rest of the country to level 2. Great timing, like I said.

Baby talk 5: the bad news

Read the full Baby Talk series

My life is just a series of unexpected hiatuses (hiati?) at the moment so I shan’t keep apologising for the break in posting.

This is pretty much the verbatim post I wrote, on 11 June 2020, when it was confirmed our first embryo transfer hadn’t taken. I still find it upsetting to read, and it gets sweary, so, approach at your own discretion.

Content note: infertility, pregnancy loss

I was pretty sure what the result would be. I thought I’d been pretty chill. Not getting my hopes up, and not setting any expectations, reminding myself it’s all just a coin toss and no one knows why it does or doesn’t take. But there was too much blood, and it was too red, and so it wasn’t a surprise when they called with the blood test results. Negative. No baby this time. And I cried anyway. For a moment. But I was at work – my first day back after the COVID lockdown, what fun – so I pulled my shit together and powered through the next four hours, with just a tiny catch in my throat when I called J to let him know.

It’s always really awful to realise you have no idea what’s going on in your own head. Because I thought I had it together. Like I said: no expectations. No telling myself the stars were aligned, the odds were in our favour. I think a core part of me just assumed we’d fail, like so many of our friends failed, again and again and again. I hoped, but I didn’t stake my mental wellbeing on hope. I thought.

It’s so fucking hard to cry and not have any idea why. To not be able to pin down the frustration, the source of the pain. I didn’t think of our embryo as a baby, not yet. I kept telling myself the odds were bad. But – as J kept reinforcing to me because he’s wonderful – it’s still a loss. It’s still a disappointment. And whether you’re thinking about it or not, whether you think you’ve got closure on it or not, there’s all the years of disappointment that suddenly crystallize into one point in your mind and demand emotional release.

The TLDR is I just cried a lot. Without having anything to say, which is unusual for me.

I decided to vent everything by drinking a whole bottle of prosecco. It wasn’t as satisfying as I thought. J had his friends over for their usual game night so I stayed in the study, trying to find something on Steam that would give me the right mix of mindless, violent entertainment without requiring any skill or coordination, which is not in any way my usual gaming taste. I watched some random YouTube videos. I wrote angry tweets about Black Lives Matter and explained in cold, crystal terms why JK Rowling was a confirmed transphobe in Facebook comments. I daydreamed about shouting at people I’d never be allowed to shout at.

It’s almost cliche that when I’m upset, my brain turns to the political injustice of the situation. It’s too painful to dwell on my own frustrated need to be a mother. It’s too hard to reflect on whether I already did think of our doomed little embryo as a baby, a future child. I hadn’t picked a name. But I had picked the name I wanted to pick if the test were positive. But that’s not the same. Unless it is.

Fuck all that. It was so much easier to sink into a rant – to myself, to my non-operational webcam – about fat politics, about our fucked up health system’s racist fatphobia which just happens to impact some white women like me.

We could have been trying this five years ago (when the odds are incrementally better) if the Ministry of Health didn’t use fucking BMI to ration healthcare. If we’re doomed to not have children, if that’s something I’m going to have to accept and work through, we could have been and gone through that fucking trauma already, and have a plan to age disgracefully through our 40s and 50s instead of still being stuck at the trying, and failing, and having no fucking idea stage.

I keep yelling at the mirror: I do (well, before COVID, did) eight hours of dance class a week. Our infertility isn’t anything to do with my health or my size. Yet my size is used, was used, continues to be used to deny us the chance to have children without forking out tens of thousands of dollars.

How the fuck am I supposed to succeed with that stress hanging over my head?

Addendum

The funny thing is, there’s been some conversation on Twitter recently about how every infertility story you hear has a happy ending. The accepted, appropriate narrative to share is one that ends with miracles and sunshine. And let’s be honest: that’s what these posts are. I know I only feel comfortable sharing my outpouring of grief and frustration *because* there’s a baby-shaped pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

And that sucks. It was something I felt really strongly when we were in the middle of this process, and a big part of me was convinced we were going to fail anyway. And aren’t I now just contributing to that narrative by only posting these posts with the hindsight of a positive outcome?

The thing is, whatever the outcome, the process is a gruelling, alienating one. And a lot of it gets glossed over even in the happy-ending narratives (probably because comparing your vaginal discharge to candle wax is a little TMI for most people. But not me!). There are few enough raw, nitty-gritty accounts of what it’s like to go through IVF – certainly I couldn’t find many when I needed them – and from other experiences I’ve had since baby was born I’ve really appreciated the power of a personal account with those little details you just don’t get from a fertility clinic webpage or a human interest news article. The feedback from members of our family, who knew we did IVF but had no idea what that really entailed on a day-to-day basis, and the sheer number of people I know, who’ve now told me they did IVF but never mentioned it before, tells me this has value.

For those who have tried, or are trying, or stopped, for whatever reason, I know that it’s only a matter of sheer bastard luck that I’m not in your shoes. And that’s so unfair. And your stories deserve to be told too.

Baby talk 4: first transfer

Read the full Baby Talk series

Content note: this one involves my vagina, like, a lot. Also blood. And that whole infertility/anxiety thing.

Of our four fertilised eggs, two were deemed high-quality enough to proceed to the next stage, embryo transfer. The old days of putting multiple embryos back into your uterus to increase the chances of pregnancy are gone, apparently, so we were able to keep one, and freeze one as a backup. That provided a lot of reassurance, and even a tiny sliver of hope that we could think about having a second baby one day, without having to go through all this rigmarole again.

But first: the pessaries.

Between egg collection and embryo transfer the clinic gave me progesterone pessaries. “Luteal support” they call it. It’s great for maintaining a soft cushy lining in your uterus, and also for getting SUPER FAMILIAR with your own vagina.

I was on two pessaries, three times a day. You insert them much like a tampon, except it’s a small plasticky ball bearing (indeed, two small ball bearings) going right up to the edge or your cervix – and sometimes the little sods WILL try to follow your finger back out and sit uncomfortably like an over-full tampon right at the opening.

They warn you, “You’ll get some waxy discharge.” The pessaries are mostly made of vegetable oil, and that’s the part that doesn’t get sucked up your cervix. So it makes sense something’s going to come back out. Except you’re thinking “vegetable oil” and not “it will look like someone’s literally ground the end of a candle into your knickers”. It’s white. It’s solid. Bits WILL fall out of your labia or off your loo paper and float on the surface of the toilet like cut-price fake snow.

It is a deeply weird process.

My top tip? Set your timer ten minutes early. Use that time to cue up a podcast, get into your pyjamas (obviously for the last-thing-at-night round, but maybe also for the other two as well?) and go to the toilet, after turning the bathroom tap on to warm.

I was doing this as winter was threatening, and there is nothing that’s going to make this routine worse than washing your hands in icy cold water before they go up your snatch.

The transfer

Every other stage of the process has a heavy sense of ceremony, even though what’s happening is invisible. The daily injections. The close monitoring of your ovaries. The drugged-out ritual of egg collection.

Embryo transfer was simultaneously the most important thing we ever did, and the most trivial. No sedation, no long waiting period; you walk into the room under your own steam and lie down on the same bed, but fully aware of everything; you try to make out the shape of your own uterus on the ultrasound; and then there’s a long needle, a twinge, and a tiny white speck seems to float up into your body.

And that’s it. Get up, off you go. The paperwork is reassuring: literally, “don’t worry, your embryo won’t fall out”. They are very good at knowing what you’re afraid of. But I was already an overthinker before we started all this and after weeks of hyper-focusing on every little detail, worrying that anything could be The One Thing That Makes Or Breaks This – am I timing the injections properly? When do I need to stop eating? Are the pessaries in far enough? Have I lain down for long enough? Don’t forget you can’t lie down all the time, some exercise is good! But what kind of exercise? – having that microscopic dot so full of potential and hope sitting back inside your body really does feel like the one thing you cannot fuck up.

I’d seen it. It was really there, even if I couldn’t feel it. And everything rested on whether or not it would find a home in the lining of my uterus. I was the closest I had ever been to being pregnant, but things were still completely out of my control.

There was nothing to do but wait for the blood test that would seal my fate. (You could probably take an over-the-counter test but God, why do that to yourself?)

The wait.

Nine days later, I was 90% sure my period had started. But I didn’t want to think about that, so I ignored it, telling myself again and again that what mattered was the blood test, the phone call, the certainty of a clinician’s voice on the line, not my own total inability to determine if the smear on my pad was actually red (bad) instead of reddish brown (possibly good).

Some brownish spotting is normal, you are told. Or at least they phrase it, “some women do have brown spotting before a positive pregnancy test” but they don’t give you the exact numbers because like every other stage of this process it’s really just magic. It happens or it doesn’t. No one knows why.

Of course, for me and many other people who menstruate, brownish spotting is ALSO perfectly normal immediately before my period properly starts. So the past 24 hours was really fun: checking the paper every time I wipe, is that brown? Brownish? Is there a bit more pink than last time? Inserting pessaries becomes a whole new world of miniature gore when you get to pull out your finger and assess what’s trapped under your fingernail. Definitely brown. Reddish but brown. Definitely.

Don’t worry, part of me definitely wonders if this is Too Much Information. But I really do wish I’d known about some of this in advance. I wish I’d spoken to my friends who have also gone through IVF about these small mucky details – but that’s a whole other difficult topic. The point is, what the clinic are going to tell you is the cool, clinical (sorry) details. However compassionate they are, there are just details you don’t hear about and have no way of anticipating.

The literature they give you is full of reassurance. It’s normal to overthink things. It’s normal to worry, or cry, or take a day off work. Normal normal normal.

But when it’s your first time, nothing is normal. And every abdominal twinge, every damp feeling in your knickers, is either a sure sign you’re pregnant and it’s wonderful OR a definite sign you’re not and you’ve failed again, and you swing between the two on an endless painful oscillation that only ends with time.


The phone call came. And it was not good news.