Ask me anything
As if my life were a work presentation, I have opened up the floor to questions. I was afraid that nobody would ask anything and I would either have to immediately archive the Instagram post to hide my unpopularity or set up a pseudonym account for my husband Joe and demand that he throw some (carefully stage managed) queries my way. Luckily you kind people have asked me plenty of questions. Actually, so many that I have split it in to three parts, with some questions being rather tricky, just to keep me on my toes (thanks ladies).
As always, I’d just like to remind everyone that I am not a fertility expert, medical professional, nutritionist or dietitian (if I were I would be better at spelling that word… why is it that I continuously have trouble?). I am just a girl with a relaxed attitude to oversharing who has been wrestling with infertility for years, reads a ton of books (admittedly slowly) and is happy to try both sensible and ridiculous food and lifestyle changes in pursuit of another baby.
If you could go back in time and give one piece of advice to yourself when you were going through fertility struggles and treatment (before you’d fallen pregnant and had Tom), what would it be?
I’ve taken liberties with this question because I have three pieces of advice that I would give my former self:
Get on Instagram, your people are there. I have the most amazing friends and family but I still felt lonely in the early years of infertility. I didn’t know of anyone going through the same struggles as me or anyone to joke with about the trials and tribulations of trying (and failing) for a baby. On joining Instagram I found people I could relate to, joke with, and stalk (discreetly of course, never leave a trail…). I instantly felt like one of a tribe. There were so many fabulous people out there going through exactly the same issues as me. Instagram saved me (although see the answer to question 5 below on wanky terms I shouldn’t use).
Chart your cycles and then grow a pair of balls. Not literally, obviously. A pair of balls would just compound my fertility issues. But I wish that I had begun charting my cycles from the moment I started trying for a baby (if not before). It would have spared me the disappointment of thinking I was pregnant when my period was delayed as I came off the pill, knowing when I was most fertile so as not to waste the first 6 months having sex when we felt like it (like normal people) and most importantly it would have showed me that my cycles were messed up, following the usual pattern of PCOS. I wish I had this knowledge and then used it when speaking with medical professionals. Looking back I am annoyed with myself for blindly accepting the advice from my GPs that ‘what is normal for you, is normal’ and ‘you can tell just by looking at someone whether they have PCOS, and you don't’. I want to shake that past version of me and tell her to grow a pair of balls, stick up for yourself lass, whip out your chart and show them. The NHS is supportive of the effectiveness of charting, so use that against them!
Work with a nutritionist. I did so much to improve my nutrition to help with my fertility. The advice I followed was from excellent, relevant and well-researched books on fertility (It Starts With The Egg, The Better Baby Book and Fertile) but it wasn’t specific to me. (WHAT?! They didn’t write them specifically for ME? The cheek of it, right?). I wish that I had charted my cycles, got on Instagram AND gone to see a nutritionist as soon as I realised I was getting into difficulties. I could have saved loads of money flapping around the vitamin aisles like a wet fish and gone straight to what I needed, based on blood tests and the advice of an expert. I should have gone to a fertility specific nutritionist, such as Angela Heap, who helped me with gestational diabetes during pregnancy and made all the difference.
2. Do you normally feel negative at times while trying to conceive?
Most of the time. It ranged from just a little down to debilitatingly shit. I think that it is really common and normal to feel down when struggling to conceive. It’s not something I have written much about yet, the mental health side of infertility. But that is more to do with the backlog of articles I am writing and NOT because I didn’t suffer with the negative nellies. I did. Big time.
My 3 year infertiliversary (not one to celebrate), coincided with a delay in our IVF due to a long waiting list at the clinic, and a really close friend announcing her pregnancy. These things always hit you at once don’t they, and I hit rock bottom. I found it hard to get out of bed in the morning. I felt like I couldn’t do life that day. No, not today thank you. I promised myself that I would go to the GP if I still felt as bad the next day, or the next. I didn’t ever go to the doctors for three reasons: 1) I thought they would just put me on anti-depressants and I wouldn’t take them, 2) I had access to 6 free counselling sessions through my work, which would be a quicker and easier route to counselling than going through the NHS, and 3) rightly or wrongly, I was worried about whether I would have to declare a mental health issue in any future adoption application, if that was the road we ended up travelling down.
The aim of The Preggers Kitchen is to be chirpy, and positive, to comfort, to cuddle and ultimately to coax out a little giggle from the reader. But I certainly didn’t feel like this all the time, or even most of the time. I cried my fair share of tears. I just don’t often write about the negative side, mainly because I don’t want to make already depressed people even more depressed. That is what TTC forums are for. I don’t want to neglect the difficult mental health side of things and hope to write more on this in future. Until then, I’d recommend checking out This Is Alice Rose who does address the bone crushing awfulness of infertility with good humour.
3. How do you deal with that terrible feeling of emptiness and longing when you hear that yet another friend is pregnant? It’s so hard not to become bitter. People seem to care less when it is secondary infertility too. Any coping strategies appreciated.
How I deal with it can be answered in one word - badly. This answer is unlikely to be as helpful as you were hoping for, because I never found a good way to deal with the ‘happy news’ of the people that were closest to me. I know some people who struggle to conceive who aren’t impacted by pregnancy announcements, and others (like me) who are floored by them. Maybe it just depends on your disposition. I tried to think of each pregnancy announcement along the positive lines suggested in some of the books and websites I had read:
It shows that people can get pregnant (well, I knew that already),
it’s a celebration of womanhood (yes, but a celebration of her womanhood, not mine. My womanhood is far from flourishing. Does that make me a man. Am I a man? At least that would explain my fertility problems).
Her being pregnant doesn’t make you any less pregnant (correct. And I couldn’t be any less pregnant if I tried. But her being pregnant does remind me that I’m not, not even close).
So I’m afraid that I never mastered this one. All I would say is that feeling shitty when you hear that someone else is pregnant does not make you a bad person, a crap friend, a horrible sister-in-law or a bitchy colleague. It just makes you a human who is going through a really tough time. Many of us feel exactly the same way and it is totally normal. The only thing that ever cheered me up was the saying/affirmation/quote (I don’t know the difference) that:
It will be OK in the end. If it’s not OK, it’s not the end.
I know that quotes can be a bit wanky (shall we add them to answer 5 below?) but I’d repeat this one to myself when I was feeling down and lost, like I wasn’t myself, and it helped me.
I’m sorry that you have experienced people caring less because it is secondary infertility. I believe that what makes infertility so tough to deal with is the gap, the massive crevasse, between how you thought your life would be and reality. The dashed hopes, the loss of confidence in your body, the recognition that it comes so easily to others and the unexpectedness of it being so hard for you. With secondary infertility, you experience all these same emotions and disappointments, just one baby after those with primary infertility. You could calmly explain this to people. Or you could just tell them to bugger off. I would go with the latter, it’s quicker and those so lacking in sympathy probably don’t deserve too much of your time.
4. What advice would you give a birth worker who is concerned about her own fertility? I’m a 33 year old Doula, trying to carry about normally, letting my relationship evolve organically while some fertility testing (low AMH high FSH) looms over my head despite my best efforts to remember that ‘fertility is fluid!’ all the while also trying my best to show up fully for my doula clients, while really feeling myself shy away from work these days, it all feels like too much…. I’m so heartbroken around every pregnant woman right now and know that I need to get out of my own way, put trust back in my body, and surrounded to the unknown but damn am I feeling the unfairness of a ticking clock. How do I deal?
That is a really difficult situation that you are in and I feel for you. It is hard enough to cope with infertility even when you don’t have bumps thrust in your face as part of your job. Have you read Stick It To Me Baby by Danica Thornberry? If you haven’t it would definitely be worth checking out as the author also worked in the world of female fertility, had low ovarian reserve and her book is about mindset and spirituality when it comes to conceiving. It may provide you with a new way of looking at things, or at least some tools in your box to help deal with difficult days.
5. Why do you hate the term journey? What term do you use instead? Any other terms that you hate?
It just sounds a little wanky. A little free-spirited, driving around the world in a VW Camper van, yogee, long armpit hair, hippy-ish, wanky (God, whilst writing that description I had major life envy!). That’s not to say that I don’t use the term ‘journey’. I do. All the time. I just do so outside of earshot of my husband who claims he will divorce me if I start using it. But I’m calling his bluff. What is he going to say in the divorce papers? Unreasonable behaviour due to persistent use of the word ‘journey’ despite repeated warnings. Nah, I don’t believe him.
Potential alternatives to ‘journey’:
Story - sounds fictional (I wish it were)
Experience - sounds a little clinical
Struggle - Sounds grandiose (but I use it all the time as a little exaggeration is necessary seasoning for a good story)
I use all of the above, along with ‘journey’. But then I am also a bit wanky, so…..
Other terms that I hate:
Blessed - again for reasons of wankiness.
Saved me - possibly overly dramatic, but one I use frequently, including in this post (see Q1). (But Instagram did save me. It did! I may have become mentally unbalanced if it weren’t for the obsessive online stalking of others.)
6. Any thoughts on reducing stress whilst trying to conceive? Anything that you have found that has worked particularly well on that front? And where DO you stand on mini eggs versus creme eggs?
Struggling to conceive is inherently stressful, which is bad news because a) stress can delay ovulation and b) it is the time in your life when you are most likely to hear the words ‘just relax’ (I’ll ‘just relax’ when you ‘just bugger off’). The things that help me to battle stress are:
Mediation - It’s a classic. You knew the Big M would pop up in this answer, right? But it really helps me to connect with my body (a bit hippy but true) and to generally give less of a shit about the things that don’t matter. The best meditation programmes that I have come across are the app Headspace and the fertility programmes by Circle + Bloom. Headspace is really easy to access and their ‘cancer’ programme is perfect for infertility, if you just switch the word ‘cancer’ for ‘infertility’ in your mind each time it is said. Honestly, I have completed the cancer package three times and it is worryingly relevant. Circle + Bloom is also brilliant. They are fertility specific and use visualisation techniques to increase the changes of success. They have packages for everything - PCOS, natural cycles, IUI, IVF, FET etc. (Circle + Bloom kindly give my readers 20% off with the code PREGGERSKITCHEN20).
Cut down on hobbies and social events - I’m hugely introverted and would become a hermit if that were a legitimate career choice, so this one may only apply to me, but during IVF I cut out nearly all social interactions to gain back my evenings and weekends and it was hugely liberating and relaxing for me. Whenever things become too much I find that scaling back all commitments and doing not a lot really helps to calm me.
Yoga - Yep, I bet you anticipated this one too! I find yoga that focuses on moving to the breath really helpful for my stress (not necessarily the type of yoga where you hold the pose for so long you wonder if you are going to die, that’s just hardcore). Maybe I’m uncoordinated, but moving limbs to timed breaths is difficult and I cannot think of anything but the yoga for the whole session.
Making a conscious effort not to give two hoots - Infertility helped me to focus on what was important to me and what I wanted to give a shit about. Family, yes. Work, nope. Healthy food, yes. Supportive friends, yes. Long distance running, nope. I didn’t have time to care about everything and give 100% in all aspects of my life. Working out which ones mattered meant I could drop or reduce my effort in other areas. And it was like a release of my time and weight off my shoulders.
And in answer to the last part of your question: Mini eggs, obviously. I’m not a monster.
7. How did you start your blog? What websites, resources did you use, etc? I want to start one, but I have no idea. I’m not so much a computer person.
Do it! DO IT! I’m not much of a computer person either, but luckily the internet makes it really easy to write a blog these days and for it to look really pro. Long gone are the days when all blogs were just ‘cat pictures and strong views’ (as my boss used to say). Here are my top tips and tools:
Choose a platform to write your blog - Check out Wordpress. It is free and easy to use, so you can get up and running quickly and easily at no cost. I use Squarespace for my blog, which I love, but it has a monthly charge of about £25 ish. About that amount, I think? (an indication of my grasp on my monthly outgoings….)
For graphics - I highly recommend Canva for any graphics you want to include on your site. The Canva website is really simple to use (the App, much less so!) and it has hundreds of templates created by people who know what looks pretty and how to design (unlike me). To top it off, most of the templates are free to use. Result! The ones that you do pay for are usually only $1.
For inspiration and advice - I listen to loads of Podcasts, including ones on blogging. Some of my favourites that would be great for a newbie are Darren Rowse’s ProBlogger Podcast. If you go to the very first podcasts available (launched in June 2015) he has a series called 31 Days To Build A Better Blog, which are free podcast lessons followed by an action to get your blog in tip top shape. This could help? Another podcast that you may find helpful is Blogging Your Passion with Jonathan Milligan (he has a free 7 day video course on how to launch a blog without any technical hassles). Depending on how seriously you want to take your blog, you may also enjoy Make It Happen by Jen Carrington and Smart Passive Income with Pat Flynn.
Editorial planning - If you get to the stage of editorial planning (I’m trying to, but my haphazard life keeps taking over) then the book CREATE Blog and Editorial Planner is excellent. I’ve bought it, and I’m desperate to make use of it, but I haven’t managed to follow my own planning just yet!
My top tip: Write your posts to one specific person - When I started my blog it was totally boring. Like, incredibly boring. I was just writing factual stuff about what food to eat for fertility, which other websites did much better than mine and with more expertise. Even I was bored reading it. It had none of my personality in my writing (arguable a good thing, as my Mum said before my first day at secondary school “It will be easier to make friends if you hold back on your sense of humour, just for the first few days…” - thanks Mum). It wasn’t until I started writing my IVF posts that I really got into the swing of it and started to get more people reading and commenting on my site. As nobody was really reading my stuff at that time I didn’t feel restricted or hemmed in by what I should write. These posts were the first to properly sound like me, and people seemed to enjoy them. So my top tip would be - picture your closest friend, the one that you are most yourself with and write every post as if it were an email to them, answering their query or providing an update. This is what I do. My best mate Aurelia and I have a very similar sense of humour and I write every post as if it is for her. Otherwise I become overwhelmed at the thought of everyone reading my work and I start to try and please them, which invariable leads to me dumbing down my language. What if they don’t get my meaning? What if they are offended, or think I’m being flippant with a serious issue? But writing for everyone means you are writing for no one. Forget everyone and just write for that one good friend.
8. How long does it take you to write your blog posts? Because they are funny and brilliant and packed with all the good info.
Oh, stop! Stop it! You flirt. I really appreciate you saying that as the blog posts take ages to write. My IVF posts, which are the most popular ones on my site, took, I would guess, about 10 hours each to write. I didn’t write them whilst going through IVF but a few months later, beginning in February 2018. I went over and over them, editing, inserting snippets of memories that my subconscious had temporarily blocked out, doing more research, and lightening up any parts that were too serious or depressing. Every time I re-read one of my past blog posts I want to edit it again. I’m never 100% happy. But the Duke of Wellington had it right when he said ‘Publish and be damned’. Sometimes the humour comes when I’m writing the first draft, but usually the funny is shoehorned in afterwards, with a change of language or a ridiculous metaphor. I think it is the greatest thing in the world to make someone laugh, and I spend most of my days in pursuit of this. Even at work I spend each meeting trying to elicit a giggle. It is far more important to me than the factual accuracy of what I’m saying or reaching a solution, much to my announce of my ever patient boss.
It only occurred to me just how much I have waffled on about infertility when I recently pulled all my posts together into one monster document. I have written over 50,000 words (that’s half a book!) on infertility. 50,000 self indulgent words of varying quality. Who’d have thought. And I’m still pacing around the bottom of the mountain of what I want to say.