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TEAM ZOELLA NOVEMBER 30, 2020

The Fertility Series: 4 Women Share Their IVF Stories

Whether you’re just beginning your IVF journey, feeling overwhelmed by the medical terminology or looking to read something from someone who’s actually gone through it, we hope these real-life stories will make you feel less alone and help you prepare for the road ahead.

In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a cycle of fertility treatment that involves collecting an egg from the ovaries and fertilising it with the sperm in a specialised lab. The fertilised egg, called the embryo, is then returned to the woman’s womb to develop. The treatment is suitable for people who have been unable to conceive naturally or if you want to get pregnant as a solo parent.

IVF is usually carried out when the sperm quality is considered ‘normal’. If there are issues with the sperm quality or motility, a procedure called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) may be used instead. This is where a single sperm is injected into the egg.

Whether you’re just beginning your IVF journey, feeling overwhelmed by the medical terminology or looking to read something from someone who’s actually gone through it, we hope these real-life stories will make you feel less alone and help you prepare for the road ahead.

TW: Baby loss, miscarriage, fertility based mental health problems.

Sarah, @Wearetwinset

How long had you been trying to conceive naturally before you began fertility treatment?

We were trying for about a year and a half when we thought something might be up. We booked to see a fertility specialist, who made us have some tests, confirming that there were issues on both sides and that we would likely need assistance to get pregnant. We were then given various options for the next steps.

How did you know you needed IVF treatment? Can you tell us a bit about the initial consultation and other fertility treatment you tried before starting IVF?

For our third round of IVF we went to a new specialist, Dr Talha Shawaf who I think was the missing piece of the puzzle for us. Sarah

We actually started with IUI before IVF but with the success rates being lower than IVF and our particular issues we moved onto IVF after one unsuccessful IUI. IVF is a much bigger commitment and it took a lot of thought and research but we felt like it was the best decision for us at the time. We actually went privately to a Dr that was recommended by a friend and had two IVF rounds with him. For our third round of IVF we went to a new specialist, Dr Talha Shawaf who I think was the missing piece of the puzzle for us. We found him to be the most wonderful, thorough & honest Dr.

Can you explain what your IVF journey looked like?

Our IVF journey was quite a long one and it took 4.5 years in total for us to have our little miracle boy, Lenny. It was by no means quick or easy and I think that’s what you have to be prepared for, it really can take time. This was not something I had taken into consideration pre-IVF. There are so many different factors that need to work together and it’s not one size fits all. Often, we didn’t have answers for why one particular process didn’t work or get the results we’d hoped for & then we would try something different, perhaps with slightly different medication and protocol. It can be draining, frustrating & heartbreaking throughout but hopefully, in the end, it can also be magical.

In terms of the process, I’m going to try and share as much as possible in and the simplest way possible & hopefully in the correct way too – there are quite a few steps to IVF. The first step is the hormone injections (I did them in my tummy), my husband Craig injected one (sometimes two a day) to stimulate my ovaries to increase the number of eggs my body makes typically for 10-12 days. I found this process quite difficult, making sure we were in together at the same time every night and it was sore injecting the same area daily. But before, during and after my injections I found it so helpful to listen to calming music and think positive thoughts. Every injection was one step closer to my baby (I used to repeat this over and over in my head!) I also felt quite bloated from the drugs but again I always tried to think of the bigger picture and the final result, a healthy baby.

The next stage is the sedation to have the eggs removed, I also found this quite scary as I had never had an anaesthetic before. But again, it was one cog in my bigger journey and I just tried to take each step at a time and get through that hurdle. For each of my three rounds of IVF I had 12-15 eggs removed. As I was under it felt quick & I had no real pain after, I was just a little groggy waking up from the anaesthetic.

The 12-15 eggs are then mixed with the sperm (for us we had IVF ICSI which means the sperm are actually injected into the eggs) and you have to wait to see how they fertilise over the next few days. In each of our three rounds of IVF we had 3 embryos fertilise each time but this can obviously can be more or less for each case.

The next step once the embryo/s have developed in the lab, is an embryo transfer back into your uterus, either in the same cycle as your egg collection or in a fresh cycle in the next month/s. If it is the next cylcle/s the embryos are then frozen (this is what we did each time.) For me, one of my issues was the lining of my womb, so sometimes it took a while for the lining to look right for us to put an embryo back in. This was of course difficult as I would build myself up towards for the embryo transfer and then it might not happen. It was a constant daily exercise to talk myself into being positive as much as I could. But again, I just kept thinking I would rather everything look as good as it can be to increase my chances of success.

My anxiety here was so bad every time, I would always try and be positive but also prepare myself for the worst-case scenario and I would just swing between the two counting the days away. Sarah

After calculating dates and scans with the Dr to find the right day to put an embryo (or embryos) back in, the now thawed embryo is inserted via a cannula. It’s a little unpleasant but it’s quite quick about 15 mins. The worst part of this is that you need a half-full bladder and I never managed to get it right – I was always bursting! After the transfer, it’s time for the dreaded two-week wait where you have the longest two-week countdown of your life…to either take a pregnancy test or to have a blood test to see if you are pregnant. My anxiety here was so bad every time, I would always try and be positive but also prepare myself for the worst-case scenario and I would just swing between the two counting the days away. I found talking about my emotions with my reflexologist here really supportive and I always tried to have a couple of nice things to look forward to during these two weeks – anything to take my mind of things. During our three rounds of IVF I had 7 embryo transfers, three of them were sadly miscarriages, three were unsuccessful & then finally I got pregnant on my 7th transfer with my son Lenny.

What are the mental & physical side effects of IVF that aren’t often talked openly about, especially due to the lack of fertility awareness in the workplace?

I think the emotional side of things is just huge, not only are you putting your body through a lot (so you don’t feel yourself) – injections, drugs, egg collection, weekly scans – your emotions are all over the place. I found that sometimes I could put on a ‘brave face’ and get on with things and other times I just couldn’t. I really tried to accept those bad days when they came in and knew that tomorrow would be a new day. The hardest part for me was the waiting, for results or my body’s responses to medication which I found so agonising. I often didn’t feel like myself throughout the process, keeping things a ‘secret’ felt strange, coping with the losses & the highs & the lows but still having to get on with normal day to day life as it wasn’t something I openly spoke about to many. Getting up and going to work somedays just felt like the biggest struggle. I also stopped going to people’s baby showers and kids’ parties as it always made me feel so awful afterwards.

Did you join any support groups on social media?

Often, I would find myself late-night googling things which always made me feel awful & it would have been great to be able to connect with people going through similar things. Sarah

I actually didn’t at the time. I would say that 6 years ago it was quite a different space on social media but if I had them at my fingertips it would have definitely been the most amazing support and would have helped me not feel so alone. Often, I would find myself late-night googling things which always made me feel awful & it would have been great to be able to connect with people going through similar things. This was one of the main reasons why I was so desperate to share my story and help people in any way I can.

Did you talk openly about your IVF with your family? How important was it that you had that network of support?

I was quite open with my family but only when I felt comfortable, which worked best for me. There were periods where there was just nothing to say and it felt like bad news after bad news and that’s when I found it hard to talk about. But I have an amazing support network of family and a few friends who often didn’t need to say anything but were there when I needed to talk or just be. On the day of one of my embryo transfers (it was a Wednesday), my girlfriends sent me a bunch of flowers simply saying ‘happy hump day’ to make me smile. They massively helped me stay strong throughout and to take my mind off things. They booked in lunches and pedicures so I would have things to look forward to which would always shift my mindset.

Was there anything else you tried alongside your treatment to help manage your mindset and prepare you for IVF?

My spiritual healer Julia was incredible, she helped me work through some crazy things that came up during our sessions & I really feel she made a massive difference to my fertility journey.Sarah

I tried everything! From psychics to kinesiologists to osteopaths and I truly believe that if something makes you feel good then you should do it. I did try acupuncture but I just didn’t love it, instead, reflexology was my saving grace and my reflexologist Rachael Posener (who also does counselling) was a huge support to me through all my ups and downs. I confided in her a lot about how I was feeling & I found it helpful when she shared some of her experiences with me and she truly gave the best advice. It was a real coping mechanism for me. My spiritual healer Julia was incredible, she helped me work through some crazy things that came up during our sessions & I really feel she made a massive difference to my fertility journey. I also saw a nutritionist Melanie Brown who advised I took some supplements and ate specific foods which I also believed really helped me in the long term.

Do you have any advice for those who are still going through their fertility journey, IVF and otherwise?

That was the hardest part for me during my IVF journey – I knew no one who had experienced anything similar to me and I often felt alone & different, especially as nearly all of my friends were also having babies at the time.Sarah

My biggest piece of advice would be to ask all the questions (there are no silly questions!), do your research for each step & understand the different processes & if you don’t ask for clarification. Speak to people who may be able to offer advice or tips & give you support. That was the hardest part for me during my IVF journey – I knew no one who had experienced anything similar to me and I often felt alone & different, especially as nearly all of my friends were also having babies at the time. There are so many incredible online spaces like my friends @Alicerose & @itscatandalice that are so helpful, give such amazing tips & advice and I think being part of a community would have made me feel so much better and stronger during some of the lowest points.

The most positive part of the IVF experience?

For me, it was getting my dog Maggie. Rachael my reflexologist suggested we get a dog to help us through the hard times, to take our mind off everything. Maggie was one of the best things to ever happen to us and she truly made everything better. It was something else to focus on and care for and she honestly changed us for the better.

One thing you wish you’d known…

I was naive to the whole process and sometimes there are just no answers as to why things happen.Sarah

That IVF can be lengthy & challenging & it’s not a quick fix. When I had my first round of IVF I got pregnant the first time (before I miscarried) and I genuinely thought, wow it’s not that bad! I was naive to the whole process and sometimes there are just no answers as to why things happen.

Stephanie, 29

How long had you been trying to conceive naturally before you began fertility treatment?

We had been trying for 2 years.

How did you know you needed IVF treatment? Can you tell us a bit about the initial consultation and other fertility treatment you tried before starting IVF?

After we had our referral and had the initial tests myself and my husband were given the diagnosis for Unexplained Infertility

After we had our referral and had the initial tests myself and my husband were given the diagnosis for Unexplained Infertility as everything on paper looked okay I just wasn’t getting pregnant. So we were recommended by the Fertility Doctor to try 6 months of Clomifene which is an Ovulation Induction Drug and in the meantime, we were to do our research into IVF.

Can you explain what your IVF journey looked/looks like?

So for us, it started with our first NHS cycle in July 2017 (our NHS trust gives you one go on the NHS), we went into this feeling really clued up having done our reading and attended the hospital’s open night and personally we felt really hopeful and positive, I did long protocol which involves a month of going into menopause using daily injections and then around 2 weeks of ovarian stimulating injections. After this period I then went into hospital to have an egg collection procedure and then they mixed my eggs with my husband’s sperm. We, unfortunately, didn’t get any embryos at all in this cycle and we quickly learnt that I had issues with my Egg Quality and Quantity.

Now looking back I regret bouncing back so quickly as it did nothing for my mental health

I quickly bounced back, now looking back I regret bouncing back so quickly as it did nothing for my mental health and we went very quickly into Cycle 2 in November 2017, this time around we switched from IVF to ICSI and still was given a reasonable chance of success, this time around the eggs that were collected were injected with my husband’s sperm and we managed to make 4 embryos and then 5 days later we only had one poor-quality day 5 embryo left (called a Blastocyst) I then had that transferred, unfortunately, two weeks later we found out that this cycle had been unsuccessful as well.

This for me was where the mental impacts of IVF really hit home, I very quickly started having horrible night terrors (mostly about the procedures I’d had and from nowhere started with horrendous anxiety and depression. We decided that in the best interests of me and my husband we would take a year off. I sought counselling through my GP as I was diagnosed with PTSD and Anxiety and Depression.

In February 2019 I went back to the hospital as we were planning on trying again with Cycle 3 later on that year, with the issue of my egg quality the doctor advised me to have an AMH blood test which gives a full picture about my ovarian reserve, a few weeks later I got the news that it was low and we shouldn’t delay trying again as my chances of success had now dropped to 10%. So we did cycle 3 in June 2019, this was exactly the same as cycle 2, however this time I was on maximum doses of the stimulating injections. This time around we got the same result, however, we ended up only having a day 3 embryo rather than a day 5 embryo (the chances of success are greater with a day 5).

We decided in September 2020 to go down the adoption route and are currently going through the stages as we speak

This, for us, is where our fertility journey ends, we still haven’t been successful in a cycle and was told after cycle 3 that our chances were now below 10%, when we started with odds of around 30%, we were given the option of Egg Donation (where a donors egg would be mixed with my husband’s sperm) or adoption. We decided in September 2020 to go down the adoption route and are currently going through the stages as we speak.

What are the mental & physical side effects of IVF that aren’t often talked openly about, especially due to the lack of fertility awareness in the workplace?

I, fortunately, found with my place at work that they’d already started to make positive changes concerning IVF, we got 5 days leave to use during the cycles and my manager was great whilst I was having the injections with all the side effects that come with it. The hardest thing about work is the fake smile you’ve got to plaster on every day with the people that don’t know and the “Are you okay?” questions whilst you’re desperately hanging on.

Did you join any support groups on social media?

We joined the support group on Facebook for the clinic we were at, this was a useful tool for us and I would highly recommend anyone going through it to join one. Even on those days I felt like I was going mad, it was great to chat to other people going through the same thing as us.

Did you talk openly about your IVF with your family? How important was it that you had that network of support?

We were open with our immediate family from day one of going to the clinic for the first time, we honestly couldn’t have dragged ourselves through those dark days.

Was there anything else you tried alongside your treatment to help manage your mindset and prepare you for IVF?

We didn’t start doing anything until cycle 2, we both had counselling after this cycle and this really made a difference

We didn’t start doing anything until cycle 2, we both had counselling after this cycle and this really made a difference, I went to a Fertility Coach before cycle 3, and this really helped me to come to terms with it all. We didn’t do anything nutrition-wise apart from both follow healthy diets and I took Vitamin D and Folic Acid as advised by the clinic.

Do you have any advice for those who are still going through their fertility journey, IVF and otherwise?

Now looking back, I would say make sure you ask all of the questions and don’t stop asking. There was sometimes I wish looking back I’d of asked more times. Also, don’t be afraid of asking for a second opinion, we didn’t until cycle 2 and I wish we’d of asked sooner.

The most positive part of the IVF experience?

How much closer it brought me and my husband together I think I learnt things about him whilst we were going through it that I would have never have done had we not had to.

One thing you wish you’d known…

I thought they were my fairy godmother who was going to magically give us a baby.

I went into it thinking that’s great, by next year we’ll have a baby! Looking back this was really naive of me, but I think I thought they were my fairy godmother who was going to magically give us a baby.

Francessca, 39

How long had you been trying to conceive naturally before you began fertility treatment?

We started ‘not-trying’ soon after we got married. What do I mean by not-trying? Well, you know, we started, like most couples, thinking that we wouldn’t use any contraception and that we would get pregnant basically the first time we had sex. 

So many of us have it drummed into us during our teens and twenties that if you don’t use contraception that you will fall pregnant straight away.

So many of us have it drummed into us during our teens and twenties (and now early thirties if you want a career), that if you don’t use contraception that you will fall pregnant straight away. Well, it’s a shock when that doesn’t come true, I can tell you! It’s like someone slapped me in the face. After the first month, I thought, okay well, it will definitely happen next month, and on and on that cycle went! I eventually realised that we might need some intervention after quite some time of trying ‘naturally’. Most professionals will tell you to try naturally for a year before you seek medical help. However, I firmly believe that this advice is fundamentally flawed because women/couples are leaving it later in life to have children and after 30 you are considered to be a geriatric mother if you fall pregnant. So time really is of the essence…. If in doubt seek some advice from your GP. 

How did you know you needed IVF treatment? Can you tell us a bit about the initial consultation and other fertility treatment you tried before starting IVF?

We saw our GP and had some tests undertaken. We were told that there was “nothing obvious wrong”, according to the GP, and were referred to our local IVF clinic. We had our first two rounds of IVF treatment (neither were successful!) here and this is where our journey began. 

Can you explain what your IVF journey looked like?

We consulted our G.P. We had some tests run and nothing was apparently wrong – “unexplained infertility” was the term used by the GP. 

We went to our local IVF clinic and they walked us through the process of IVF. We were lucky because, at that time, our local NHS area were offering three free rounds of IVF. We had two rounds of IVF at this clinic and it wasn’t working. With a third free round on the table, I began to question whether I had confidence in the dr at the fertility clinic (he had told me that it would take “7-8 goes” at IVF before it was likely that I would fall pregnant). I was not fond of the doctor and really had no faith or confidence in the protocols that they were adopting, so I started looking for other options. I just felt that pumping myself full of drugs without knowing the cause for our infertility wasn’t logical. 

Around the same time, a colleague from work (one who I had confided in) gave me a book written by Zita West. After I devoured the book in less than two commutes to work on the train, I consulted the Zita West clinic and sought their views on what might be going wrong. 

The Zita West clinic’s focus is very much on the whole person; the body, mind and soul and that really appealed to me. After speaking with Dr George Ndukwe (all his patients call him the miracle man) we paid to have some additional tests run and he was of the view that I had overactive natural killer (NK) cells. These NK cells are the cells that your body uses to fight the common cold or infection. Mine were just a tad hyper and were also attacking our embryos (I was falling pregnant but just not being able to sustain a pregnancy). My tests came back that I had very high levels of NK cells and Dr George was of the view that I needed a different protocol (course of drugs) to try and help me fall pregnant, whilst going through IVF. Basically, he suppressed my immune system to ensure that the NK cells were less active whilst I was undergoing treatment. 

I was so disheartened with my local clinic and the ‘one-size fits all’ approach that they were adopting for our treatment that we sacrificed a free round of treatment at our local clinic and took the plunge and funded around at the Zita West clinic.

I was so disheartened with my local clinic and the ‘one-size fits all’ approach that they were adopting for our treatment that we sacrificed a free round of treatment at our local clinic and took the plunge and funded around at the Zita West clinic. We didn’t regret it. At my local clinic, I had produced a meagre number of eggs per cycle and they were not really of good quality. However, after reviewing our nutrition (I thought I ate rather healthily – I wasn’t getting anywhere near enough protein!), partaking in acupuncture, hypnotherapy and intralipids treatment (we threw everything we had into this treatment), we ended up having lots of very healthy embryos and some to freeze. We hadn’t had these results before and were completely over the moon. As a result of that one cycle at the Zita West clinic, we have our two boys (now aged 4 and 2). 

What are the mental & physical side effects of IVF that aren’t often talked openly about, especially due to the lack of fertility awareness in the workplace? 

How long have you got?! The mental and physical side effects of IVF really can’t be understood unless you have been through it. It is exhausting. To be hoping and wishing for a baby month after month and it not work, is utterly draining. To see your friends fall pregnant ‘by accident’ or ‘without trying’ really is soul-destroying. Are you pleased for them? Sure. But do you also feel like you’ve been punched in the stomach every time someone announces that they are pregnant again, YES. Coupled with the effect that the drugs can have (they don’t always – but most women have some side-effects). Not to mention the financial worries, can we afford this treatment? Should we pay the mortgage? Or risk becoming homeless to fund another round of IVF? The effects really are extensive. 

The need for a child really is a deep-seated and primal instinct that most of us have.

I think a recent study said that women who have suffered miscarriages can, and do, suffer from PTSD and I can honestly say that I understand why. I would consider myself to be a strong and independent woman. However, creating a baby goes to the core of who you are and what you are designed to do. If women don’t produce children the human race ends. It is that simple. The need for a child really is a deep-seated and primal instinct that most of us have. Some women may not want children and I understand that choice too. However, when you have decided that you do want a baby, and you can’t produce one, I don’t think that the effects on you can be underestimated. 

When we first started trying and it wasn’t working I felt like a complete failure. A failure as a wife. A failure as a daughter (not being able to give my mum grandchildren). A failure as a woman. If other women could do it, why couldn’t I? I didn’t smoke or drink to excess, what was wrong with me? When we had our first failed IVF cycles, I didn’t discuss it with anyone. I think I had only told my husband and my mum and my brothers. I think it is fair to say that I am your classic, controlling, over-achiever lawyer; ‘I don’t do failure’. Yet, I had no control over this and this left me floundering and uncertain about what to do next. 

During my second failed cycle of IVF, I remember that I had been promoted at work. I was working really long hours, routinely leaving the office at 10pm to try and improve a team that had not been performing well (sneaking off to the toilets to inject my IVF drugs without anyone knowing). The cycle failed. I was worn out and devastated and to top it off I had to take time off from work to miscarry ‘naturally’ as I was worried about having a procedure performed that would remove the ‘non-viable embryo’, as it was referred to by the doctor who looked for a heartbeat. I will never forget the way he couldn’t look at me when he didn’t find the heartbeat. Like it was just a yes/ no situation. But to me, it was my hopes and dreams for a baby and a family with my husband. Non-viable. Pretty much how that Dr. at our local clinic made me feel that day. 

So with this in mind, we mustered up the courage to start a round of IVF at the Zita West clinic and I really can’t describe how different it was. I was supported and encouraged to talk to others. I don’t know if it was the new-found optimism that caused me to open up to friends, family and colleagues, or because the cat was out of the bag because I had been forced to email my colleagues and explain why I had not been in the office leading the team. (I didn’t include in my email that my male boss hadn’t contacted me once during the time that I had been absent owing to my miscarriage to see how I was, or to enquire about what support that he/the organisation might be able to offer me!) But hey ho! We pick up and press on. I returned to work with vigour and I was now open about what I was going through. I told HR. I started talking to colleagues about it and you know what, others started talking to me about the issues that they were having. It was like I had opened a can of worms at work. So many of my female colleagues (also thirty-somethings) were having issues. I was also really surprised, I don’t know why looking back, but a few of my male colleagues also came to talk to me too about what they could do to help their wives going through the same thing. 

So to summarise the effects are huge. But ask me if it is worth it? Yes. Without doubt. Because like any warrior who wants something badly enough, you just keep picking yourself up and pushing on. 

Did you join any support groups on social media? 

Looking back now, I can absolutely see the benefit of talking and sharing and recognise that everyone has to process their grief, anguish and journey in a way that is right for them.

The short answer to this question is no. I had attended a group therapy session at our local IVF clinic and it really was not for me. I didn’t like hearing about other people’s negative results. I am a really positive person by nature and whilst it sounds callous to say it, listening to other people’s stories of woe didn’t inspire me. I just felt that I needed to surround myself with success stories and people who IVF had worked for. Looking back now, I can absolutely see the benefit of talking and sharing and recognise that everyone has to process their grief, anguish and journey in a way that is right for them. So I think that the social media groups are really great for that. I do get concerned about some of the advice that seems to be given by those who are not particularly educated on the subject… but that’s another question! 

Did you talk openly about your IVF with your family? How important was it that you had that support?

At first I didn’t. But in the end, because it had been going on so long for us and so many people who didn’t know we had been going through IVF kept asking me “so, when are you having a baby?” that the easier answer was to reply “actually we have been trying for sometime and it’s not been working”. Aside from the slightly smug feeling that I would get putting people in their place, I came to realise that people mean well. They really do. But saying that, I have experienced all sorts of things being said to me, by ‘well-meaning individuals’ – such as ‘you will have 8 babies going through IVF’ , ‘God doesn’t approve of IVF’ and my favourite ‘do you think you should take it as a sign that you might not be right to have children?’ Needless to say, that you develop a thick skin quite quickly when you are on this journey…. 

Was there any other lifestyle you made alongside your treatment to help manage your mindset and prepare you for IVF?

For our third successful round, I can honestly say that I was in the best physical and mental shape of my life.

During our first two cycles of IVF, no. We didn’t really adjust anything. Nobody guided us that this was a good or sensible thing to do. However, for our third successful round, I can honestly say that I was in the best physical and mental shape of my life. I had been having regular acupuncture, we have overhauled our diet, cut out alcohol, caffeine and gluten and I was doing everything I could to de-stress. It had an impact because we had our two boys. 

Do you have any advice for those who are still going through their fertility journey, IVF and otherwise?

Question, question, question the advice that you are receiving. A good doctor will take the time to explain things to you. If you are just a number, they won’t. You will quickly start to see the difference. 

TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. If something does not feel right, it probably isn’t – even if you don’t know the reason for it and/or it doesn’t seem logical at the time. For example, my husband had kittens at the thought of walking away from a free round at our local IVF clinic only to pay for it somewhere else. But I just knew that that’s what felt right and I was proved right. Against all logic, I followed my instincts, we changed clinics and we got pregnant. 

The most positive part of the IVF experience? 

Without a doubt my two boys. 

But second to this would be that I have started a new company: The Fertility Retreat. We are offering support to women/couples on their fertility journeys. We have consolidated the lessons that we learned along the way and are hopefully removing some of the mistakes that we made to prevent others from making the same mistakes. Combining this with some fabulous nutrition, yoga, expertise and fun along the way.

One thing you wish you’d known…

Can I have more than one thing?! 

Um, that nutrition and what you put into your body has a HUGE impact on your chances/outcome during fertility. Change your diet, change your chances. I really believe this. Your diet and what you do, and sometimes don’t, eat – have an impact on your results. 

And my second thing is – it is okay to feel how you are feeling right now. Breathe. Feel it. Acknowledge it and then cast it aside and focus on what you want. Because wallowing in self-pity gets you nowhere. Yes it can be painful, yes it can be hard, but tighten your bootstraps, slap on some lipstick and put your best foot forward – because only YOU can change the things you want to change to get what you want. 

Tara, 29

How long had you been trying to conceive naturally before you began fertility treatment?

I came off the pill in 2015, we weren’t actively trying but if it happened we would have been happy. After we got married in 2016 we started actively trying for a total of two years before starting our first round of IVF.

How did you know you needed IVF treatment? Can you tell us a bit about the initial consultation and other fertility treatment you tried before starting IVF?

I found not falling pregnant a very stressful time the disappointment of getting my period each month was overwhelming and it starting taking over my life trying to work out dates, taking ovulation test and searching for pregnancy symptoms so I was actually relieved when we started the IVF process as it took them pressures away and I knew it was the right thing for us.

To start the IVF referral process we went to see our GP I think this is always the best place to start, our GP ran all the basic tests on both my husband and me to see if there were any obvious issues to why we weren’t conceiving naturally.

Can you explain what your IVF journey looked/looks like?

She ran a lot more tests again on us both which showed our issue was male fertility based. Tara

Our journey started at the GP, once he had run all the basic tests on both my husband and I then got referred to another GP who specialises in fertility. She ran a lot more tests again on us both which showed our issue was male fertility based. My husband had an appointment with a male fertility consultant, the consultant decided on the best treatment path for us. This meant my husband going on hormone tablets and us than starting IVF using ICSI. ICSI is a type of IVF where they take my egg and my husband’s sperm and they physically implant the sperm into the egg.

My IVF protocol went; go on the pill so the clinic knew exactly where I was in my cycle, I then started an injection called Buserelin which is a hormone which stops your body naturally ovulating, I then started another injection called ovaleap which stimulates your ovaries to create follicles which contain eggs. I was having scans and blood tests every 3 days to check the progress of my follicles. The scans you have are done internally, they aren’t painful but can be a little uncomfortable the more follicles you have. once they were happy with the amount and size of the follicles I used an injection called ovitrelle this is known as ‘the trigger’ and exactly 48 hours later I had my eggs collected this is done whilst you are sedated. I then had to start taking progesterone pessaries, to anyone starting their journey please don’t be surprised if they tell you to put these up the ‘back passage’ initially. This can then be changed to using them as normal but I have to say they are very messy and once I get a positive pregnancy test I had to use them until I was 12 weeks.

I had 5 days from egg collection to embryo transfer, I had 12 eggs collected and 3 of them survived and turned into high-grade embryos one of these was implanted back in me and the other two were frozen for future cycles. This is a very stressful time as you’re waiting to hear from the embryologist every other day to let you know if and how your embryos are progressing. The embryo was transferred back into me, this is done when your awake and you see the process on ultrasound. After this, I waited 9 days before taking a pregnancy test which was positive. I think I felt as prepared as I could I read IVF books, cut out caffeine and alcohol and started acupuncture.

What are the mental & physical side effects of IVF that aren’t often talked openly about, especially due to the lack of fertility awareness in the workplace?

The fear of the unknown, feeling like a failure if your body isn’t doing as it should be and feeling isolated are just some of the things I felt during my cycle.Tara

Mentally IVF can put a huge strain on you, I’m naturally a positive person but it can be very testing. The fear of the unknown, feeling like a failure if your body isn’t doing as it should be and feeling isolated are just some of the things I felt during my cycle. The days after my embryo was transferred and I was waiting to take a pregnancy test I had a very hard time with the fear of it not being successful and It did consume me slightly. Physically IVF takes its toll in lots of ways firstly the daily hormone injections left me very bloated and uncomfortable. I found I didn’t sleep well before, during and after the cycle due to the anxiety. After Egg collection, I was very crampy and got very bloated but this did pass after 3/4 days.

The fear of the unknown, feeling like a failure if your body isn’t doing as it should be and feeling isolated are just some of the things I felt during my cycle.Tara

I was always very transparent with my workplace about my journey and they were super supportive but I do believe if I wasn’t so open things would have been a lot harder, fertility is such a taboo subject and the fear of your workplace knowing you’re trying to conceive adds extra stress when you’re already under such strain. You do have to take a fair amount of time off work for appointments which can be difficult and some days your just not in the right frame of mind which I think anyone who hasn’t been through the process struggles to understand.

Did you join any support groups on social media?

I followed a lot of ladies accounts on Instagram who document their IVF journey, there is a huge fertility support network on social media. People from all over the world and all with different stories really make you feel like your part of a community.

Did you talk openly about your IVF with your family? How important was it that you had that network of support?

We were a newly married couple who had just bought our first home so we were getting asked all the time when we were going to have a baby so telling people really took that pressure away. Tara

I did speak openly to both my family and friends, I decided as soon as we found out we were going to need fertility treatment to be completely open with people. We were a newly married couple who had just bought our first home so we were getting asked all the time when we were going to have a baby so telling people really took that pressure away. I do think it’s so important to have a support network, if people didn’t want to tell their family/friends then finding someone to confide in will help, speaking to other people on social media who are going through or gone through fertility treatment can be a great support and my inbox is always open for anyone who needs it.

Was there anything else you tried alongside your treatment to help manage your mindset and prepare you for IVF?

I personally did acupuncture, I would recommend this to anyone going through fertility treatment. I choose a clinic that specialised in fertility acupuncture, not only is it a great way to relax and switch off through what is a very stressful time you get great advice on your diet and guidance on what you can do to encourage a positive result. I also used IVF mindfulness apps that helped to switch off and keep my mind in a positive place. I know my clinic offered me counselling so that option is available to you if you should need it.

Do you have any advice for those who are still going through their fertility journey, IVF and otherwise?

Don’t feel ashamed of your journey, having children is beautiful it doesn’t matter how they are conceived.Tara

The best advice I can give is to stay as positive as you can, take time out for yourself and try not to put to much pressure on anything.
I would keep a notepad with me and write down any questions I would think of so when I went to my appointments I had them ready. If you aren’t sure about something don’t be embarrassed to ask, getting things explained so you fully understand is so important. Don’t feel ashamed of your journey, having children is beautiful it doesn’t matter how they are conceived. Don’t take the pregnancy test before the day they have told you, it’s very tempting but getting a negative because it’s too early isn’t worth it and finally don’t feel alone lean on your partner, family, friends or support network you will feel a lot better for sharing your thoughts.

The most positive part of the IVF experience?

I honestly do believe getting to see the full process from seeing your eggs grow, watching the embryos develop, and then seeing the embryo being transferred is so specialTara

The most positive part for me has been getting the positive pregnancy tests and having two gorgeous little boys but I honestly do believe getting to see the full process from seeing your eggs grow, watching the embryos develop, and then seeing the embryo being transferred is so special and something you can really treasure.

One thing you wish you’d known…

Honestly, I really wish I had known that on the day of embryo transfer you have to have a full bladder and I’m not talking about slightly needing a wee I’m talking about full to the point if you drank another sip you would burst! To then add to the enjoyment of your bladder being that full they use an ultrasound to watch the embryo be implanted so they push down on your stomach. I can confirm as soon as the embryo is in your allowed to use the toilet though which is a great relief.

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Mireia

Really loving this series, hearing about so many stories and learning a lot of things that aren’t usually openly shared

Kell

As a 31 yr old person who is child free after 4 years of infertility I really appreciated you included one story that didn’t end in a baby after infertility treatment. We live in such a mom-centric society. Everywhere you look on social media and the news all you see is this celeb is pregnant! Or look at how great my life is now that I have a baby!! Not often we get to hear our stories told -when you try your hardest and that just isn’t enough to get you what you dreamed of.

Amy

Thank you for sharing these stories, going through the struggle to conceive is so challenging and not talked about enough.These stories are a great help!
Online there is more focus around female infertility, so I’m pleased to see a story here around male factor infertility, which is something myself and my husband are facing.

Zoey

Thank you for sharing these stories. IVF isn’t commonly talked about and it should be. I went through IVF in January 2020 and was unsuccessful sadly. The whole experience was awful as I had an endometriosis cyst on my right ovary and it got punctured during embryo transfer, which sadly got infected and caused me to have a stoma bag for a year! I will try IVF again, once my stoma has been reversed in 6 months time. x

Zoey | http://www.zoeyolivia.com

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