More people are going through it than you realise. We tried to get pregnant ‘naturally’ for over two and half years before we walked through the doors to the ACU Unit at Guys Hospital. I couldn’t believe the couples I saw waiting to be called in for their appointment – younger than me, healthier-looking than me, thinner than me…people I’d never thought would have trouble getting pregnant. It’s a valuable lesson. Stop giving yourself a hard time.
If you have the luxury of time, try and avoid certain times of year to start treatment. We were given the option to start our cycle in December and discovered that the run-up to the festive period is one of the busiest times of year at our particular hospital, meaning that the staff were overstretched and I started to feel like a numbered chicken on a battery farm – hardly Zen.
Some people in your life won’t be supportive of your decision to have IVF. Some don’t understand it, some don’t like the idea of it and some will not get why you can’t just relax because that is when you’re most likely to pregnant. The last sentence in particular still makes me want to smash the nearest window and run howling into the street. It takes super-human effort (but hey, if you’re taking on IVF, you’re pretty badass already) but try and detach – as a certain Ms Swift so wisely once said, haters gonna hate, and my reactions to thoughtless comments were usually coloured by my own pent-up stresses and anxieties around trying to get pregnant. Take advantage of any free counselling you’re offered during the course of your treatment (we were offered one session) and shake it off that way.
If you don’t like needles, it’s time to make friends. There are a lot of blood tests, both before and during treatment and depending on which course of treatment you are on, a lot of injections. Pinching a roll of fat on my midsection (never my favourite thing to do) and injecting myself, twice a day, was something I just couldn’t handle, so the burden fell on my poor husband. Without wishing to stray into Trainspotting territory, there is something pretty intimate about allowing your loved one to inject you with drugs – it was an oddly bonding experience. Which brings me on to my next point…
If you’re going through IVF with a partner, remember it’s tough on them too. In the heady early days of trying to get pregnant, I read several articles, many of which advised me not to discuss the details of my cycle with my husband for fear of “putting him off”. At the risk of not sounding like a throwback from the 1950s’ I say discuss it all. Go to the hospital’s IVF information session together, get your partner to research the medications you’re taking, try to attend appointments and scans together if time and work allow, but most of all, talk about it so it feels like a process that you’re going through together.
Don’t forget to keep looking after yourself. By the time we reached IVF stage, we had stopped drinking, given up caffeine, upped our fruit and veg intake, spent a small fortune on vitamins and supplements (Royal Jelly? Sure. Maca? Bring it on). I had been on a moderately successful diet and I went to the gym once a week. During treatment, I kept as much of that up as possible but also ate a lot of fudge brownie ice-cream and became obsessed by Tudor historical novels – if I thought I had it bad, at least I wasn’t one of Henry VIII’s wives.
Once treatment starts you’ll be peeing. All the time. It’s recommended you drink at least 2 litres of water a day once you start injections to minimise the risk of OHSS (ovarian hyper stimulation syndrome). Buy a nice glass carafe to keep next to you at work and be prepared to spend a lot of time on the loo. On the plus side, it’s a great excuse to get away from your desk.
Don’t stop making plans during treatment. It’s too easy to just focus on the day you can finally take that pregnancy test. To stop me going crazy we made a lot of Plan Bs in the event that we weren’t successful – I researched other clinics, sure, but we also talked about taking a trip to Japan and a house move. Having exciting and positive plans in place made a ‘normal’ life post IVF feel achievable.
How to Help Yourself
Going through IVF can be incredibly stressful. When we’re stressed the body stores adrenalin and cortisol - the stress hormones - and these tend to lurk in the larger muscles of the body. During your yoga class the standing sequences will help relieve these large muscles and use up the stress hormones, helping you feel more calm and grounded. Try Rocking The Baby - swaying from foot to foot and coming into a semi squat, use the wall or a partner to come into Chair Pose or balance on one leg as in Tree Pose.
And remember to breathe. We tend to panic breathe when we’re feeling anxious, taking short shallow breaths high in the chest. Try to focus on deeper, slower breaths into the belly. Imagine filling the belly like inflating a balloon on the inhalation. And on the exhalation, making a big sigh through a slightly compressed throat, as you would when steaming up a mirror or a pair of glasses to give them a clean. Deep, slow, belly and back of the throat breathing stimulates nerve receptors which actually talk directly to your nervous system, telling it to calm down and that we are ok.
For more information and guidance about IVF, we found these sites really helpful:
NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence)
IVF at Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital, London