King Duncan Had Less Than I Did, I Assure You

Your Auntie Ann has some advice for you: do not, under any circumstances whatsoever, get yourself born with two uteri, medicate yourself with drugs to markedly increase the plump vascularity of your endometrium for 5 long weeks, and then eject the lot in a 16-hour bleedathon.

You will end up in hospital on IV fluids with a blood pressure of approximately Bugger over Fuck. 

I had what the older generation would classify as a ‘funny turn’ on Wednesday evening which continued until, on Thursday morning, I suddenly and painlessly lost what I then thought to be a significant number of large clots. (Ah, naive child! Such inexperience!)

The absence of any real cramping had caught me on the hop, and I thought we’d left it too late to reach hospital. There followed the most horrendous 30+ mile journey in rush-hour traffic, and, as my head was still in the funny-turn-fall-over stage, the profound and ultimate sinless public shame of being carted through the thronged main doors at 9.30am in a wheelchair, with bed hair. What expression are you supposed to adopt, for crying out loud? Stoic? Pained? Helpless? In retrospect, I should have simply feigned unconsciousness, slumped artistically, and welded my eyes firmly shut against the indignity.

Naturally, as soon as I arrived on the ward, uterine action ceased, and it was only after much to-ing and fro-ing, and – despite the Prof’s detailed but illegible notes – having, as usual, to work my explaining way up the ranks (No, you cannot send me to theatre. No, you are indeed unable to visualise that cervix. Yes, I have done this before.) that we agreed that trekking home again with a half-open cervix wasn’t an option compatible with cytogenetics (Yes, I am clearly written up for fetal karyotyping. No, I do not need to justify this decision to a Registrar. Go and ring my Professor.) and that I may as well start misoprostol a day sooner than planned. By the time the ward bed-block resolved and I moved into a room of my own, it was early afternoon, and I’d sent John home (it was, unamusingly, his 39th birthday; watching bleeding wives is not quite his metier plus Harry needed collecting) and settled down with my book for the long haul.

I did very well with the misoprostol, all things being considered. I hung onto the loading dose of 4 dissolvable tablets for approximately half an hour, before brisk southbound vaginal traffic bulldozed them back out, intact, into one of a long series of horrifyingly weighty bedpans, where the sight of them caused me a moment’s perplexed What The Hell? That 30 minutes, however, was just enough to nudge things along very gently, and by the time the second dose fell due at 4pm, I knew the sac was imminent and wouldn’t take it.

There was puzzlingly, weirdly little pain, from start to finish, and at absolutely no point did I need pain relief, although I eventually accepted some paracetamol simply to keep my nurse quiet about it for the next 4 hours. There was mild dismay from the staff regarding the sheer unbelievable quantity of… output. The veteran of two previous losses – with a double uterus, moreover – at about this gestation, I was initially fairly sanguine, but even I began to stare in increasing consternation as it just kept. on. coming. Agitated, I began to feverishly review my knowledge of Basic Anatomy, and even allowing for my distinguishing deviation from it, could not work out how several quarts-worth of endometrial wall could be so busily decanting from two little pint pots, especially as only one of them even felt active. I vaguely wondered if it was time to look for higher ground.

Of course, there is only so much of this sort of thing that a body can take before Exhibiting Complaint, and by dinner time I was towing a wheeled IV stand on my frequent staggers to the bathroom. By bedtime I was clutching it as a walking aid. By the time my uterus decided that it was, broadly speaking, finished, I was darkly cursing the drip fluids that kept relentlessly filling my bladder and driving me out of bed. By 1am, I was exhausted enough to drift off for a couple of hours – no thanks to the usual hospital clatter and clamour and the dear lady across the hall who snored like a jet engine being tested to destruct, but probably some thanks to rubbish blood pressure.  

Anyhoo. By the time breakfast rolled around, I felt a lot better, bleeding had slowed dramatically, and after short commons the previous day, I fell on breakfast and demolished it. I was keen to ensure that correct cytogenetics paperwork had been completed, and, that done, depart. Fat chance: everyone had the immortal rind to be stupidly busy. By 11am, I hadn’t seen a medical soul since 6am except for the phlebotomist (I have no idea why they still wanted full blood counts at that point, and neither had she when I enquired, but I held an arm out unbegrudgingly nevertheless.) so I removed my own IV and started politely agitating at the desk – neither action quite endeared me to Sister.

Eventually I recruited a delightful young SHO who cheerfully grappled with the cytogenetics paperwork – evidently not something anyone was familiar with – and tried his best to calm my worries that after 20 hours in the fridge already, Turbo’d be useless by the time the pot arrived anywhere.

I was finally sprung at lunchtime. I came home. I slept. Nagging nausea is still an issue, but I feel nearly human again – or did, until I saw the news, which upset me back at the time.

In terms of where we go from here, I honestly don’t know. We haven’t discussed it, although I have booked an IVF follow up appointment with the Consultant who had the titanic struggle with my transfer. The Prof (primarily an obstetrician) said she was happy to manage scans of any future pregnancy but was, bizarrely, ‘too depressed’ by events to discuss the actual way ahead – if there still is one for us. After consultation with Transfer King Consultant over management of miscarriage, she brought back a message that he was devastated to learn our news, but was still very upbeat about the future. Given that A) he is an absolutely delightful chap, B) he doesn’t seem to want to give up on me, C) he is the only senior consultant in the unit I haven’t yet seen, and D) he was so spectacularly nice to Harry when they met: we’ll go see him in a few weeks.

Life is full. But I feel, in every possible sense, very empty.

There Is A Limit

to how much I can cope with, and I have just reached it.

Miscarrying for the 5th time, I can just about manage.

My MIL twisting the knife, I can nearly put up with.

The fox eating all Harry’s hens, I can live with.

My Professor now viewing me as a hopeless case and referring me back to someone else, I can stand.

I have, after all, been most kindly supported by everyone else.

But I’m not sure I can sustain the further intense disappointment I have just been hit with, namely that the lab did not, in fact, freeze our other blastocyst. We have nothing, now. The letter that should have been sent out to us immediately after transfer explaining what happened, wasn’t.

They are very sorry, apparently.

I didn’t feel beaten this morning. Hurt, wounded, wretched, yes, but not beaten or despairing. I thought we had something left still to show for all the trouble, hassle, and financial wipeout.

No. Now: I feel really bloody destroyed.

I have, I know, felt worse than this in the past. Miscarriage pre-Harry was a bleaker existence than miscarriage post-Harry. I didn’t have the fabulousness of the interwebs back then, either.

Today, however: I do feel trampled hard into the floor. 

I still haven’t bled, although I can feel the mifepristone they gave me this morning doing something vague; I’m going back into hospital on Friday for the big misoprostol guns if nothing occurs before then.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends… close the wall up with our English dead.

HenryV Act 3 Scene 1

Peripeteia

Turbo’s heart stopped in the early hours of Saturday.

I’ve known since Saturday morning. I didn’t post before today, because I didn’t think I could quite cope with the likely reaction following a flat statement that I knew this pregnancy was over when I couldn’t find a heartbeat with a foetal doppler at 8 weeks + 5 days. I didn’t want gentle admonishment about doppler reliability, and I didn’t want hope kindly prodded my way – simply because I knew there wasn’t any.

Once I’d finally figured out where the heartbeat was located, on Friday, it was entirely straightforward to find again – I am nothing if not an old hand with this doppler – and I listened in again, briefly, before bed, on a normal-sounding 175 bpm foetus. On Saturday morning, following a night of evil dreams, dopplering was like scouring the empty ocean. I spent hours – pitiful, trembling, weeping, increasingly panic-stricken hours – listening, searching in vain. By Saturday evening I’d accepted my findings, and stopped looking altogether.

On Sunday, I simply hoped that nothing would kick off until I’d had a chance to see the Prof this afternoon, and at least have an opportunity to discuss if there was anything we could learn from tests. There’s not a fat lot of karotyping you can do with a foetus that has disappeared into your septic tank, plus I had a selfish notion that I would rather like to be asleep and oblivious for this one. I’ve been awake, dilating, and sadly analgesic-free during expulsion of 7 and 8 week pregnancies before, and I anticipate absolutely nothing pleasant or painless about the propect of losing a nearly 9-weeker whatsoever.

My wishes are not, however – and as usual – going to be gratified. My distraught and ‘really depressed about this’ (!) Professor left clinic to talk to the Consultant who had the struggle of his career inserting the embryo transfer catheter through my S-shaped cervix, and they have both come back with an apologetic but decided negative. I am simply the wrong shape for a medical evac, and they dare not attempt it unless in uttermost end of need and I am about to cark it. I have spent an hour sat listening whilst my Prof filled in elaborate ‘Do Not Dare Take This Woman To Theatre Unless You Are The Night Shift Consultant Obstetrician Who Has Read Her Entire Set Of Notes, Spoken To Dr X, Failed To Keep Her Stable On A Drip, And Has An Ultrasound Machine To Guide His Every Move’ -type paperwork, and has sent it over to Gynae A&E. 

She gloomily predicted that I might be getting on with things myself fairly soon: I have an ‘enormous’ clot sat right over my cervix. I have requisitioned bedpans and a suitable lab pot for the pregnancy sac – she agreed that karotyping would be worth a try – in case I am caught embarrassingly short of the ward. Judging exactly when to make the 30+ mile dash to hospital is a decision I fear I will get wrong, and sure as God made little apples: it’ll be in the dead of the night.

To my gall, I will have to summon my MIL, who lives very close, to look after Harry if so. I am not quite sure what entitles her to make free with information that most certainly is not her own – apart, that is, from a lifetime’s industrious practice at breathtaking impertinence – but she has just informed us, upon hearing our news, that she has, today, told Harry’s nursery staff (the ones I am theoretically scheduled to meet and bollock on Wednesday) that I was pregnant, but that it was early days, and we’d had ‘lots of problems’ before. They all then had a lovely conversation about how Harry is evidently picking up vibes from the situation. (He isn’t.)

I have told John that I am confident he will take an early opportunity to invite her to apologise for her invasion of my privacy, which is dialogue he won’t enjoy. The poor man (who did not really buy into my doppler findings, and so has had a particularly bad afternoon) was even attempting to defend her empathy skills as we drove into the yard to collect Harry, after I grimly announced that I might as well come and hear her inevitable reverse-bon mot in person. I am sure I have mentioned here before that this is the woman who coolly informed me, after miscarriage number 3, pre-Harry, that John would be ‘so disappointed if you don’t have any little ones’. There are many just retributions in this life that I deserve: John’s mother is not one of them; although, who knows? Perhaps ousting grief with anger might even be vaguely beneficial to my emotions, although, assuredly, not to my blood pressure.

I had bloods done before I left, just in case everything goes about as wrong as it can go, and I attempt to bleed out. If nothing happens this side of Wednesday, I am to go back in for mifepristone, and back in again on Friday, when everyone senior is floating about, for misoprostol. Misoprostol is an absolute fucker that hurts like blazes, so I have ensured I am also written up for vast quantities of pethidine, a drug I previously availed myself of far too late in the proceedings for comfort. I don’t think this’ll run as far as Friday, but we’ll see.

And… I can’t think of much else to say. By yesterday, my uterus felt entirely different, and the cramping I have experienced since the off had subtly changed in nature.  The nausea and crippling exhaustion have, now, begun to recede a good deal. I think I would have guessed by this afternoon, even without the doppler; I’m glad, in any event, I didn’t have to endure the shock of a unexpectedly bad scan, and silent medical personnel. Today, I knew before they looked, although the ‘I’m afraid I think you’re right’ still wasn’t easy.

I did so, so want to be wrong.

Thank you for all the hand-holding. It does help, I promise.

Metaphorically, I Look Like A Fat, Drowned Chihuahua

Still here. Still haven’t changed the duvet cover. Still twinging. Still sicky. Still stressed.

But, on the bright side, the bleeding is darkening and tailing off; the pain isn’t getting any worse, at least, and John is turning out to be surprisingly domestically adept when he is given no choice. He’d even washed and dried Harry’s school uniform since Tuesday ready for his afternoon nursery session today, which made me narrow my eyes a little in thoughtful contemplation of future division of household labour.

I believe I mentioned something rash about going for another scan today; I have no better news than failure to bring you. I spoke to a markedly less sympathetic nurse on the phone who, after eliciting that I was not doubled over in agony or standing in a bloody puddle, told me that I would do better to come in for a viability prognosis after the bleeding had stopped altogether. When I politely demurred, she told me flatly that they had no appointments – this is a gynae A & E – until next week.

It is my usual practice, when thwarted by the NHS, to instantly, and with complete absence of any type of qualm, throw money at the private sector. I rang my local private ultrasound clinic, only to discover that they do not work on Fridays. Bugger. The only remaining option would be to drive many miles to another clinic, a much more expensive one, in a location I don’t know, alone, when I am supposed to be sitting down doing nothing. The risks didn’t seem to outweigh the benefits, quite, so I am sat here calculating just how many hours of weekend I have to get through until 3pm on Monday.

Not, of course, that Turbo’s continued survival at that point will mean a great deal in terms of prognosis. Julie will perhaps correct me if my memory is adrift here, but I remember reading some years ago, somewhere in the depths of her wondrous archives, that her husband Paul had once spoken words to the effect that: even the most reassuring scan can only ever tell you what has happened. Past tense. How true. Because, of course, I am now simply sitting here under the suspended sword of Damocles, waiting – and shall continue to wait for the entire undetermined length of this pregnancy – for the next crucifying haemorrhage, for the sharp, harbingering cramps.

It’s a shit of way to spend a few days. Weeks. Months, if we’re lucky.

I knew this was a strong possibility when we embarked on this cycle, but a little part of me was stupidly, illogically optimistic, and was clinging fast to the unquenchable, refulgent spark of the It’ll Be Alright This Time hope. I have been thoroughly fire-extinguished, and am sat sodden, shivering, deflated and depressed  – and in a stinking bad mood to boot – in the spreading puddle of my hopes for Uncomplicated and Straightforward. I don’t think my fur is ever going to look the same after this.

*** Updated to add***

In a return to my previous Champion Doppling form, I have just picked up 8+4 weeks Turbo on my doppler, chugging away determinedly at 175 bpm still. Probably IS wearing a tin hat.

Blood

I… wasn’t expecting that.

Bright pink, watery blood.
The pregnant side is currently the ouchy side.

Shit.

The day comes when they have to declare

I hopped nervously onto the scales this morning, and noted grimly that I had gained Shriek! pounds over Christmas. (There are three Imperial Groans in a Shriek, and roughly two Shrieks to the Ululation. 4 Ululations to the Shitload. I reckon a Groan = 2lbs.)

I’d half expected to gain more: my eating has been pretty profligate since *thinks* well, since Harry became poorly with ‘flu in the middle of December, I suppose. I become, under stress, a person with alarmingly embiggened food entitlement issues. As the ever-inspiring Cecily said recently, it’s easy to slip into “I deserve” behaviour. And it really is soooo, so sweet and easy when there’s festive biscuits, chocolate and cheese under your nose, morning, noon and – literally, because I spent a lot of ’em awake in December – night.

Stepping off the scales, I started furiously planning my assault on Mount Weight. Againagainagain. John has been nagging me to cancel my gym membership, as I’ve not been since I returned to part-time work back at the end of summer, and I was feeling grimly satisfied that I’d continued my haemorrhage of £30 a month for bugger all, after all. I was busily calculating how long it might take me to get back down to 13 stone (an Ululation+a Shriek away and my self-imposed maximum weight for beginning a pregnancy -or I will end up trampling on my own boobs when I walk waddle at the end of it) when it dawned on me that my reptile hindbrain is running (figuratively. Even my inner lizard feels podgy) before my higher thought processes have finished deciding whether to walk or not. Againagainagain. 

 Here’s the thing: Nice Consultant, having had a damn good rummage about in my innards, peered closely at everything, blitzed a wee bit of endometriosis on my left uterus, performed a polypectomy (benign) in my right uterus (that was the ‘synechia’ seen on scan, I expect and hope) and taken two biopsies that came back showing proliferative endometrium with no sign of atypia (the letter said atopia, mind you) has pronounced the Harry-Housed Uterus Of Doom, attached to my one decent-ish ovary, fit for purpose – and would like us ‘to try for a baby now.’

I stared miserably at her, sat in the plush surroundings of the local private hospital (as the NHS kindly gave me a surgery follow-up appointment in late March) and tried my best to explain to her why I have such deep-rooted misgivings. I am darkly convinced that the blood supply to my right uterus is borked. I’ve never, in the 25 years I’ve been suffering this shit, had a proper bleed from that uterus, pregnancy excepted; primordial brown-black gunk is all I ever get. (That thud you just heard was likely my father slamming the laptop lid shut in hasty recoil, btw.) My right-uterus pregnancy with Harry was successful only in that he survived with what appears to be very minimal brain damage. I started spotting at 9 weeks, and had increasingly heavy episodes of bleeding every few days, eventually accompanied by contractions. His heartbeat on the doppler was terrifying to listen to, because, every couple of hours (I spent a lot of time listening. A lot.) it would stutter, hiccup, and decrease from its gallop to a throttled set of slow – very, very slow – thuds. It was a while before Harry obliged me (and vindicated my slew of worried phone calls to my midwife – ‘your own abdominal sounds, I expect, dear’) by performing this particular trick in the presence of medical equipment operated by someone with an MD, but when he finally did, Consultants Were Urgently Summoned. Ultrasounds Were Ordered, Stat.

I had over 20 scans during my 33 week pregnancy with Harry, and was in and out of hospital like a fiddler’s elbow, but at no point was a cord or placental abnormality spotted, and I wish I’d had the presence of mind to ask for my placenta to be properly examined after birth. Harry gradually fell away from the growth charts, and was born with symmetrical IUGR. He became very unstable shortly after birth, required fully ventilating, and had atypical seizures accompanied by massive desaturations in NICU. He did not, evidently, manage to dodge all the bullets. But you know all this.

I blame my right uterus. I blame the crappy endometrium. I blame my faulty housing. It seems so inescapable to me that evidence indicative of a poorly oxygenated child, added to evidence indicative of a poorly oxygenated uterus, should equal CONCLUSION in the eyes of the medical world. How is it just me that thinks this?

And it is just me, you see. Everyone around me thinks I’m wrong about the uterus, and I am marooned by my fears, painted into a corner alone, bleakly conspicuous as the one who is expected to do all the bleeding if I am right and they are wrong, and it all goes totally tits. I am defensive, bewildered and afraid.

John has never shared my view of Right’s poor performance, stoutly citing the tally of my 3 miscarriages in Left. As far as he is concerned: only one uterus has produced a living baby; quod erat demonstrandum.

VIP Consultant was of the opinion, when we last spoke, that Harry’s difficulties are probably co-incidental.

In response to my expressed worries, Nice Consultant reassuringly (in manner. Not, regrettably, in effect) told me that the biopsy on Right is clear, and that it was a ‘lovely looking uterus!’ before she began talking about aspirin and heparin therapy and those bloody awful progesterone lard torpedos. I didn’t have the mental wherewithal to ask her explicitly while I was there, but I suspect that she would not countenance performing an expensive and quite major procedure – IVF – when there is no medical evidence, apart from my dark forebodings and probably-brain-damaged son, that it is required. Ethically grey, I think.

And, as John does not forget to point out, I swore I’d never have IVF again, in any case. I responded inversely to downregulatory drugs and gonadotrophins half the time, and it was the hormonal shock of chemical menopause that started my pesky heart palpitations in the first place.

 Take your life in your own hands and what happens? A terrible thing: no one to blame. I am under no obligation to believe either my doctors or my husband – only pressure, of an oblique and partially self-imposed sort. If I let myself, and myself alone, take this risk – because I want another child – in the face of what I believe to be great danger, then how could I avoid great bitterness and blame to myself if my child is born severely brain damaged, or dies?

And then, of course, there is the fact that I appear to have some type of auto-immune or clotting disorder, which has, thus far, declined to be identified by blood test. My first-ever pregnancy went so very, very heart-beatingly well (right up until the point where it abruptly, unfortunately and probably-chromosomally didn’t)… and all my subsequent pregnancies have been distinctly troubled affairs, a fact which I brood upon, darkly.

I am having a lot of dark-brooding type thoughts all round, in fact, because I have a lot of reasons not to have another child. The chances of my carrying a baby to term are, we know, pretty much zero. My terror of prematurity is fairly profound. We’re not rich (and surrogacy, although a logical suggestion, is not the solution for me.) John and I are both sporting a shocking amount of grey hair lately. Harry’s behaviour, although in no way his fault, often puts our relationship under strain. Coping with a newborn as challenging as Harry, as well as looking after Harry himself, would be… an utter impossibility. My forebrain backs wildly away, waving frantic *jazz hands*.

I am firmly of the opinion that when the archaeologists dig me up in a few hundred years’ time, the fancy-pants futuristic bone-mineral-density-type scan they do of my skeleton will reveal a tree-ring of complete devastation caused to my frame by sleep-deprivation, fear and stress during that time of pregnancy and early motherhood. I dread future baby sleep-deprivation to my very marrow, because prem babies generally aren’t restful. With colic, reflux, hole-in-heart, alarming apnoeic-distress episodes at EVERY nappy change due to (what, with hindsight, was fairly sodding pronounced) sensory processing disorder, and it’s unsurprising I was so battered, that, on a couple of occasions I actually hallucinated, which was interesting and un-fun.

And, when Harry was 2 or 3 months old and breastfeeding for England every two hours, my immune system fell through the floor and I came down with the most God-awful illness; flu symptoms, multiple cold sores all over my lips, tongue and up my nose, searing 40 degree temperature… I can remember, for the first and only time in my life, wanting to die. I wasn’t remotely depressed: I just felt so spectacularly wretched in my very febrile state that I thought that I was, in actual fact, really dying, and as the inevitable was happening it might as well get a move on and stop prolonging the agony. And I couldn’t even get anyone else to have Harry, because by that stage, he was disdainfully refusing a bottle. Emptying stomach=hurts=MOAR BOOB, MUMMY! It was quite a low point, and I am pretty sure I said I’d never do it again.

I am so horribly distressed. Harry would, I think, love to have a sibling and I would likely grieve that loss of his in later life as much as my own. Being an only child has its own peculiar set of benefits and penalties. But I just can’t bring myself to step off the edge, and commit. Commit to that Right Uterus of Doom – as opposed to the Left Uterus of Slightly Higher Numerical Doom But Markedly Better Blood Supply. Everytime I try to think about it seriously, I have a nasty mental wobble, feel quite sick, start sweating and hastily push the whole idea right to the back of my brain.

The back of my brain, where the podgy reptile lives. Lizard Hindbrain has, without consultation with higher authority, ordered the repro-friendly vitamins that Nice Consultant demanded, in the loveliest possible way, we both take. (I thoroughly enjoyed John’s expression when she told him she expected him to take Well Man Conception vitamins, but my smile sank out of sight when I discovered these particular vits were £10 a month. Each!)  Plus, Hindbrain also ordered some easy-dosages of the low-dose aspirin that I am supposed to be taking already, and aren’t. Hindbrain has also had a major re-arrange of the bedroom over Christmas to facilitate the path of multiple night-time trips to the ensuite. Hindbrain has even managed – and this was quite clever of it, working unsupported – to book an IUI cycle, commencing February. And today, it seems, Hindbrain is keen for me to quickly lose some weight.

I am still bewildered. I am still afraid. I have experienced 6 months of clomid, 2 IUIs, 2 IVFs, 4 miscarriages, a stressful pregnancy, a premature and dangerous birth and serious worries, first, about Harry’s survival, and later, his health – and withstood it, as people generally do when they have to, because being entirely overwhelmed by events is seldom a valid post-Victorian option. 

I know what lies behind and I know what might lie ahead. And the ground I’m standing on right now looks pretty damn comfy, thanks. But I’m 36 next month, so it’s now, really now, or… not. There’s nothing to gain by waiting. Refusing to choose is also a choice.

For some people the day comes
when they have to declare the great Yes
or the great No. It’s clear at once who has the Yes
ready within him; and saying it,

he goes from honour to honour, strong in his conviction.
He who refuses does not repent. Asked again,
he’d still say no. Yet that no – the right no –
drags him down all his life.
CP Cavafy

Pong

Fact Number One:

There has been a damn funny smell in our kitchen for the last couple of weeks. It started as a breath of unpleasantness which I quite happily ignored: the house is inhabited by a farmer, complete with encrusted overalls carrying their own individual bouquet, two extremely clarted dogs (just so we’re clear, by ‘encrusted’ & ‘clarted’ I actually mean shit-plastered) and a toddler who not only insists on being ambulatory whilst eating, but drops food behind him like rain. We frequently have zephyrs of Unpleasantness passing through, and they are thankfully transitory. The dogs generally find the dropped food before I do, then leave, in company with the offending overalls, and we return to the usual inoffensive status quo. 

This particular scent stuck around. It became Ominous. Initial forays in cupboards, under the sofa, behind the dresser and beneath the island all drew a blank. It was a tang I couldn’t positively identify, but it was certainly beginning to fill me with a mild apprehension. The last time I was obliged to investigate an emanation that had outstayed its welcome, I dragged a furry dog bed out from under the worksurface to discover that my extraordinarily dim spaniel (frequently in disgrace) had eaten a small bird before vomiting it neatly UNDER the top cushion of said bed.

I began to think about the parents of an old boyfriend of mine, who had a similarly elusive aroma in their immaculate, minimalist master bedroom in a recently converted old barn. We crawled all over that room, sniffing like the Bisto kids,

 trying to pin down the origin and nature of the Whiff. We emptied the wardrobes. We took the bath side panel out. We turned out the divan bed drawers. We discussed anxiously whether there was an animal buried under the floor that was mysteriously sending a putrid stench through the concrete floor raft.

Eventually, someone shone a torch into the 1-inch gap between the divan bed and the floor, and it was suddenly like that scene out of Se7en where Brad Pitt goes all hoarse.

‘You better come take a look at this!’ 

It transpired that the cat had brought in a mouse that was not quite expired; it had evidently scurried just underneath the bed before finally succumbing to its injuries. I am puzzled to this day to how the decay of this tiny creature could produce such a noxious, near-solid stink, but it was a real rip-snorter of a whiff right enough.

As I say, this episode, coupled with the Congealed-Bird-In-Dog-Bed Horror, was making me nervous. I had searched everywhere, sniffing like the bloody Child Catcher, and drawn a blank. Walking into our kitchen was becoming distinctly – and increasingly – repulsive.

Fact Number Two.

During my recent short-lived pregnancy, I had a collection of pregnancy sticks lined up on the kitchen table, where anxious comparisons of the (phenomenally sensitive. A win for Tesco’s own brand pregnancy tests!) line colour-depth were made on a day to day basis. Following an excruciating incident when I unexpectedly entertained 3 friends, in full view of the elephant in the room row of fading peesticks, I decided that they would be better off living concealed in the tin on which I had been balancing them in order to photograph.

I duly shoved them in there, and dismissed them from immediate consideration. I wasn’t planning on taking them upstairs and storing them, but neither was I quite ready to throw them away; they were the only thing I had to reassure me that I hadn’t imagined the whole incident.

Can you connect facts One and Two? No? Well, here you go:

Fact Number Three.

Our kitchen island often looks like this;

the tin is vaguely visible on the left hand side.

Every few weeks someone generally wants me to create something that requires a hygienic kitchen and a large clear space, so I boot every living thing apart from myself out the door and blitz the rubble of bills, toys, fruit, cameras, paints, coins, binoculars, catalogues, telephones, fridge magnets, biscuits, books, newspapers, junk mail and cheque books into tidy order. Upon performing this task earlier this week, I looked at the peestick tin and resolved that it would actually suit Harry’s crayon collection better than his current pot. I also decided that I was now ready to let go of my ephemeral double lines. I moved toward the bin, briskly removed the lid, and… wowsa.

Ain’t nothing ephemeral about that.

Now. Ladies. I know quite a few of you have kept your ancient, yellowing, positive pregnancy tests. That’s just fine. I still have the first two positives I ever had, in fact, sat harmlessly in an envelope upstairs in the bathroom cupboard. The trick to keeping old tests successfully, it appears, is to keep them someplace where gaseous exchange isn’t an issue.

In other words, don’t keep them in a very-nearly-but-not-quite-airtight tin where they can’t dry out.

They pong, you see. And when you have 8 of them, they have a reek-potential level somewhere between ‘Eye-Watering’ and ‘Deadly Poisonous’. Merely putting the cap back over the damp end does not mean that you have rendered them socially acceptable and futureproofed.

Urine smells!

And I live and learn.

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