There’s still a big part of me that can’t believe I’m writing this post, or these words….I’m pregnant! We’ve just been to our 20-week scan, seen our baby moving around and watched its heart beating. Every time I see our little human on a scan, it’s an overwhelmingly emotional experience and knowing that all is going well and its healthy is the best feeling I’ve ever had.
It’s been a quite a journey, and although I knew before we started trying that not everyone gets pregnant straight away, I never thought it would be so hard for us. I want to write about my experience of infertility and IVF as I don’t think it’s talked about enough, it’s a very isolating and heart-breaking time and I want to share my experience in the hope that someone else going though similar might not feel so alone.
We started trying a little over 3 and a half years ago, a few months after we got married, and actually got pregnant the second month. We were over the moon and like most people, just assumed it would all progress normally. It was devastating at 11 weeks when I started bleeding and discovered I’d had a missed miscarriage and the baby had stopped growing at 5 weeks. It was such a blow, I felt pregnant right up until that point and to learn that for all that time, when I was dreaming about my little one and reading about their development, that nothing had been happening, was a real shock and felt so unfair. I was devastated, but as I read more about miscarriage and spoke to friends, I realised how common it is and how many people had been through similar. It’s just that so many people keep this pain quiet, deal with it behind closed doors and somehow manage to carry on with their lives. I felt real grief for this little life that I’d lost but I managed to accept it and knew that once I was pregnant again, I would be able to move on and feel better.
Well, time passed, we started trying again, I have to admit that I became a little obsessed with getting pregnant again, I began testing my ovulation to make sure we didn’t miss the right time and thought about it constantly, no matter what else was happening. It all began to pressure on our relationship and I was feeling very low, I was depressed about the miscarriage and just couldn’t pick myself up. The months passed, nothing happened and it felt like every time I got my period, that I had failed somehow and the grief of loosing the first baby came back full force. It brought all the pain and loss back just as strongly as the first time.
People kept telling me to relax and try not to think about it and it would happen. Well, I have to say, it’s impossible! When the last thing you think about when you go to sleep and the first thing that comes into your mind when you wake are thoughts of what your future might be like without the family you’ve dreamed of, its not easy to switch that off and relax. I was actually quite well equipped to manage my feelings, as a trained yoga teacher I had lots of tools at my disposal, I was a regular meditator, knew how to relax, knew lots of breathing techniques, practiced restorative yoga, visualisation, setting intentions…..you name it, I did it! But at that time, little really helped to lift the darkness, looking back, I really wasn’t me during that period. I must have been hard to live with, nothing would cheer me up and I admit I retreated from the world a bit. I feel sorry for my poor husband, it was very hard on him…he didn’t know how to make it better and that’s all he wanted to do.
Something I found especially hard, was other people’s pregnancies, photos of scans and new born babies would actually make me angry, I was so gut wrenchingly jealous. It’s a very ugly and negative emotion that made me avoid friends, un-follow them on Facebook and shut myself away from their ‘good news’. I hated what it was doing to me but felt unable to feel differently. Time continued to pass, but I was stuck in a loop. Month after month, heartbreak after heartbreak, no positive test result. It was exhausting.
Over a year and a half later, I decided I desperately needed to change something, my job as a drama teacher at a local college was stressful and took a lot of my energy and time, I would get very run down and often struggled to sleep and I realised that if I wanted to look after myself and give myself the best chance of getting pregnant, I needed to go part time. Luckily, I was able to drop hours and restart yoga teaching, meaning a reduction in my income but more time and space. Even though I still didn’t get pregnant, I was starting to feel happier and more accepting of my situation, however, I was constantly looking for the reason behind our problems. After a lot of research, I changed to eating an organic, low GI diet, (no alcohol or caffeine) supplements to balance hormones, yoga for fertility, acupuncture, massage, reflexology…..anything that might help. None of it cheap, but I was determined to do everything I could.
I was starting to get desperate, so eventually went to see the GP who started investigations. After tests, it was discovered that I had Polycystic ovaries, not the full syndrome, but it meant that I may not have been ovulating regularly which may well have been the problem. I began 6 months of a drug called Clomid, supposed to make you ovulate. I was hopeful, if I wasn’t ovulating and this made you ovulate, then surely it would fix our problems? It was awful. The drugs made me feel very low, I couldn’t sleep, felt incredibly hormonal. We still had to try every month to hit the ovulation window, but I felt so horrible, it was the last thing I felt like doing! Needless to say, it didn’t work, and I was so unhappy on the drug, I didn’t want to try taking it any longer.
The consultant mentioned IVF but also broke the news that since I was over 35, we would have to pay privately! Who knew that 35 was too old? It made no sense to me, surely its older women who struggle more to conceive? Just another blow in a series of blows and something that I feel very strongly, needs to change.
A close friend at work was going through IVF and watching her go through it made me really anxious. It seemed very stressful, she had a few unsuccessful rounds and every failure was devastating. I was scared. I knew it wouldn’t be easy and I also knew I couldn’t do it whilst still at my teaching job. The way I had been feeling had really affected my ability to do my job, I was anxious, couldn’t cope with any kind of conflict or challenging behaviour from my students, felt resentful that the stress of my job might be affecting my fertility. I was angry at any pressure from management and I began to realise I had to leave. It was a hard decision, I has been there over 10 years and although I was struggling, it was familiar, structured and I was surrounded by supportive friends. But it had to happen, I had to let go and make some space. I think I had reached burnout, I had nothing left to give.
So, I decided to focus on my yoga business, I could teach as much as I wanted, would have time to look after myself and would hopefully feel more positive and relaxed. The first few months were hard, I felt adrift and the change from a very structured environment to working from home was a big one! Although I now had time, I was still feeling depressed, so a lot of the time, when I was home alone, I struggled to do anything, I would watch Netflix or sleep and just about managed to get classes planned and teach a couple of hours a day.
But slowly, teaching and practising more yoga began to help, I realised that although I was practising and teaching a lot, I wasn’t living my yoga, I wasn’t following the yamas or niyamas, (yoga’s ethical and moral guidelines) So I began to theme my classes about gratitude, acceptance and compassion, focusing more on the present moment, on finding contentment in what I had. It wasn’t easy, but I began to feel calmer. I realised that I was suffering because I was so attached to something I couldn’t control. My desires were ruling my emotions. It began to help me feel more compassionate to others going through difficulty, those who had health concerns, those who were grieving or struggling with mental health. I began to explore styles of yoga that helped with stress and fatigue conditions, discovering a more gentle and somatic practice that soothed and supported, and I realised how many people needed this type of practice and how hard life can be for so many.
Eventually we both felt in the right place to try IVF. Last summer we began the first round, which involved taking drugs to stimulate my ovaries to produce eggs that could be collected and fertilised. I certainly didn’t enjoy injecting myself, nor the way I felt on the drugs. You are basically putting yourself into a mini menopause to shut down your ovaries, with all the associated symptoms the hot flushes, mood swings, disturbed sleep. Then you are stimulating the ovaries to over produce eggs, they get quite swollen and towards the end I could actually feel my ovaries when I moved, swollen and painful. The egg collection procedure itself was pretty painful for me and I was quite sick afterwards from the sedation, but overall it was good news! They collected 12 eggs and all off them fertilised!! It was a massive relief! It felt like we were over the first hurdle. We had to wait and see how they did and 5 of them developed to blastocyst stage. It was a good result, we had one to put back and 4 to freeze, so felt very lucky. When we finally had our embryo put back, it was such an amazing feeling of completeness. As they do the implantation, you can actually see the embryo on the ultrasound, travelling down the tube and being released into the uterus, it was like being reunited with a loved one, I felt a deep feeling of love and happiness, I felt complete for the first time in years.
I can’t explain how excruciating the 2-week wait was, like a special kind of torture. Every day I visualised the embryo implanting, happy in my receptive uterus. I repeated mantras of trust in my body and the little life inside me, I did restorative yoga to calm me and keep me relaxed. I broke and tested a day early in the end and to my delight, there was a faint positive line on the test!!!!
The joy didn’t last long, the next day, the line was fainter and then that evening I started bleeding and cramping. I had to wait for the results of a blood test, but I knew anyway, it hadn’t worked. It was eventually explained that we had achieved implantation which is why I’d had a positive result but for whatever reason, probably a genetic problem, it hadn’t developed any further. It was hard to take, to have a glimmer of hope that was then taken away, felt so cruel. I was crushed and also suffering the hormonal imbalances from coming off the drugs and I felt pretty terrible for a while. I didn’t even want to think about another round.
However, after a few months off we decided to have another go, I was hopeful that it would be easier this time as we didn’t have to go through the egg collection but would do a frozen cycle. But predictably, once I was back on the drugs I felt horrible again, after a couple of weeks of down regulation (cue mini menopause) a scan revealed that rather than my ovaries being quiet (as they were supposed to be) I had multiple cysts on them and would have to have a procedure to have them drained. I panicked, I didn’t want another procedure like the egg collection and I was worried about the implications on the cycle, which the doctors told me to continue with after the procedure. However, the op wasn’t as bad as I feared, and I carried on with the drugs and we had our second embryo transferred. Again, an agonising 2-week wait, but somehow, I knew already that it hadn’t worked and it was confirmed when the test was negative.
I was very sad but also getting fed up with feeling like crap! I decided I wasn’t going to let my life be ruled by this anymore. I joined a personal training gym, worked hard on building my strength in my yoga practice, stopped worrying so much about my diet, got very drunk a few times and generally started enjoying myself. I actually started to feel better! More like myself, more energy and better sleep. But, we had to make a decision, we weren’t getting any younger and we desperately wanted a family so, over summer 2018, we went for another round. We decided to have 2 embryos put back this time, despite the risk of twins. We both felt that we could cope with 2 and that we would be over the moon with any number of babies! I think what was different this time was my attitude, I don’t know if it helped, but I was much less attached, I guess I wasn’t expecting it to work and was thinking about how I would carry on and stay positive if it didn’t work. I was eating whatever I fancied, I didn’t do the visualisations or restorative yoga, I just carried on as normal, as much as possible. I was sad to stop my personal training, but I did after egg transfer, as I felt I needed to conserve my energy. I did keep active and went for loads of long walks and kept up a gentle yoga practice.
Miraculously this time it worked! My test (a day early, I’ve never had much patience) was a strong positive line that came up straight away and the same the next day and the next! I was feeling a bit sick and my boobs were very sore…I was definitely pregnant!
It not been easy to relax and enjoy it so far, when all your experience tells you that things just keep going wrong, you can’t quite believe it when they go right. We’ve had quite a few scans and each one has been both nerve wracking and wonderful! I will never forget my husbands face at the 10 week scan, seeing our baby, heart beating strongly and waving its arms and legs around! Words don’t do it justice. The 12 week scan was amazing, joyous and wonderful and the 20 week scan that we’ve just had marks the half way point in this pregnancy and feels very significant and profound. We are finally starting to believe and I am starting to have days where I’m not worried and actually looking forward to the birth and bringing our little one home!! We know we still have a long way to go and that nothing is guaranteed. However, we are choosing to be hopeful and trust the universe that our dream of having our own family will soon come true.
I want to end this rather long post with a thank you. During this journey I have had the most amazing support from so many people, my wonderful husband, family and friends have been there for me every step of the way but I’ve also met some fantastic therapists and yoga teachers who have been so supportive, kind and positive, they’ve really helped me cope with the difficult times and their commitment to helping me get pregnant has felt like a warm blanket, wrapping me in support and comfort when I was at my most low.
Lastly but no means least, I want to thank the incredible team at Wessex Fertility, I feel so grateful that modern medicine is so advanced to be able to help create life in this way and I feel endlessly grateful to the doctors and nurses that dedicate their lives to helping people conceive, they really are true heroes. All experiences of infertility treatment will be different, as we are all so different and will respond to the drugs in different ways but I felt I could really trust the professionals, they have the most experience and knowledge and an incredible commitment to ‘giving life a helping hand’.
Please feel free to get in touch with me, if you have any questions, or, if you are facing your own fertility journey and just need someone to talk to. If I can help, I will. I feel that women going through these difficult times need to support each other more, it’s such a hard thing to talk about, a time of terrible anxiety and sadness but it helps to know you are not alone and that with perseverance and support, lots of people get there in the end.
With love and hope x