Absolutely Mama Editor Carly Glendinning shares her IVF survival tips…
It took five years to conceive my daughter via IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation), and during that time I went through 10 egg collections, six embryo transfers, an ectopic pregnancy, and a few miscarriages.
It was a difficult journey in every way you can imagine – putting me and my husband through the wringer physically, mentally, and emotionally. During this time, I was always very open with friends and family about what we were going through. This was for many reasons, but not least because I feel very strongly that we need to end the stigma around fertility treatment.
According to the NHS, around one in seven couples in the UK are affected by fertility struggles. It’s so common, that there really shouldn’t be reason why people should have to suffer in silence anymore.
As this week is National Fertility Awareness Week (30th October – 5th November), I wanted to share a little bit about what we went through and also give my survival tips if you’ve got an IVF cycle coming up. I really hope it’s helpful, and I’m crossing my fingers for you (and sending a big hug!) wherever you were.
Do your research
I didn’t really know anyone who had gone through IVF when I started. So my journey had an element of trial and error to find the right clinics and specialists.It can be good to speak to someone who has been through it. The clinic that helped us conceive our daughter was recommended to us by two different people.
We went with a ‘natural’ approach to IVF where they give you less drugs with the aim of retrieving less, but better quality eggs. This approach worked in our favour, due to me having low ovarian reserve. I wouldn’t have even considered natural IVF if it hadn’t had been recommended to me by a friend of a friend.
When you’ve settled on a fertility clinic, read the reviews and consider factors like success rates and patient care.
Tell your work
This is a tricky one. Telling your work that you’re trying to get pregnant and go on maternity leave (but you don’t know when), is nerve wracking. During the five years I was trying to get pregnant, I worked at several different companies in freelance and full-time roles, so I had to go through this several times.
When you’re going through an IVF cycle you often need to go to appointments regularly, and excuses about needing to go to the dentist or optician can run out super quickly. I decided to tell each place that I was working at, and I was so surprised at how supportive people were. It made it a lot less stressful when I had to get to appointments with little notice.
In return for the flexibility, I worked around my appointments – making up time when I needed to. Granted, I was working in very female-centric businesses, and some of my bosses were mums themselves. If you’re nervous about telling your work though, I’d think of it as a test how good an employer they’ll be when you actually do become a parent.
Build an amazing support system
I can’t stress this one enough. Tell your friends and family. IVF is tough, so you’ll need everyone’s love and support.
I also found it really good to widen my support circle, because everyone has different perspective to offer. Some people were there for great hugs; others were really good at keeping track of all my appointments and texting to check in when I most needed it; and then there were the people who were just really great at making me laugh through all the absolute worst of times.
Find ways to manage the stress
IVF treatment can be a lot, so finding outlets for the stress is so so important.
I didn’t do any counselling through my IVF journey. I had lots of amazing friends to support me and I just didn’t feel ready to talk to a professional. In some ways I wish I had, because I’m now going through some therapy post-treatment.
However, I don’t think you necessarily have to have counselling at the time if you don’t want to. There’s lots of other ways to manage the stress, whether that’s a breath-work course, taking yoga classes, or letting it all out in the gym.
Just make sure you’ve got something that makes you feel better.
Learn how to do the injections
This may sound a bit silly, but during my first couple of rounds of IVF, I was nervous to do the injections myself. I worried I would mix the medications wrong, and I didn’t want to see the needle going into my stomach. So I entrusted the job to my husband, who took to the task like a medical pro.
After a while though, I realised that this probably wasn’t the best idea. If he was running late on the way home from work, I would panic when an injection needed to be administered at a specific time. It also gave me zero flexibility to do the injections myself if I was out and about without him. Plus, I discovered that if I did the injections myself, they hurt less. Probably because I knew my most sensitive spots.
If you have a partner, definitely get them involved administering medications because it’s important for them to understand and be a part of the process. But I would 100% recommend that you make sure you’re comfortable with doing them yourself.
Share the journey with your partner
IVF can be hugely tough on a relationship so make sure you keep communicating with your partner. It can feel unfair sometimes when everything is happening in your body, so it’s important to involve them in all stages of the process.
Try to remember what things were like before you started IVF. It’s so important to make time to go on dates and do fun, silly things together to relieve the pressure.
If you’re going through IVF outside of a relationship, I’d firstly like to say you’re incredible! Secondly, you definitely don’t need to feel like you’re on your own. It’s even more important to build an amazing support gang around you. So find your people, whoever they are.
Be gentle with yourself
IVF can be a rough road. It often takes several attempts and for some people it’s a long journey. Ours was definitely on the longer side, and I never imagined it would take five years for us to conceive when we started out.
Seeing other people get pregnant before you; people just living their lives and being happy with their families; and getting invited to endless baby showers and kids birthday parties in this time can be so hard.
I would always hold onto the saying: ‘It’s ok to be happy for someone else, but sad for yourself.’ That phrase really helped me, as did the reminder to treat myself with kindness. Whenever I’d get angry at my body for not doing what it was supposed to, I’d try to counteract the feeling with an act of self care. Whether that was a long bubble bath, a walk in nature, or binging my favourite TV show.
Remember to keep living your life
One of my biggest regrets is that missed out on so much during the five years I was trying to conceive. Following a healthy lifestyle is obviously important for IVF success, but I was so strict with myself. I also put so many plans on hold and didn’t get to go to weddings, on trips to see family abroad, and on much-needed holidays.
Hopefully your journey won’t be any where near as long as mine, but it’s important to remember to keep living your life when you’re going through IVF. Let yourself have that slice of birthday cake, or glass of champagne. And book that flight – that’s what insurance is there for! You can always cancel if it ends up clashing with your treatment plans.
Make peace with different outcomes
This is the hardest one of all. To keep going through IVF, you definitely need to hold onto hope. But I think it’s important to make your peace with different outcomes as well.
My husband was really great with this. He’d always tell me that he’d be completely happy if it was just us. He’d imagine a childfree life for us full of travel and adventure. I wanted him to be a dad more than anything, but it really helped to know that we’d be ok if that didn’t happen.
Families come in all different shapes and sizes and are made in all different ways. I’d always imagined having two children, but I know after everything we went through I’m very lucky to have my daughter. Things don’t always turn out how you imagine, but that definitely doesn’t mean they won’t turn out great in the end.