Ask me anything
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 a baby.
1.How many rounds of IVF did it take to get pregnant? We have to do PGS testing so can only do one round. Literally putting all our eggs in one basket!
I’m sorry to hear that you only have one shot at IVF. That must be panic inducing in the extreme and I wish you the best of luck. In case this comforts you, we only had one round of IVF and we were successful first round, which we feel incredibly lucky about. We had three viable embryos from that round. One was transferred fresh, which became my son Tom, and we have two frosties currently freezing their arses off in a metal box somewhere in Woking, waiting for us to come and collect them.
2. How did you survive that awful pain the injections give you and live your everyday life normally?
This is where you will want to slap me, but I didn’t find the injections painful. Menopur could be a stingy little bitch at times, but only briefly and I didn’t bruise. Which is odd because I do bruise. Like a peach. Cetrotide is another injection that some women find painful but my thoughts were that it injected like a dream. That thick viscous liquid coursing into my fat… so satisfying. Finding Cetrotide deeply pleasing made me realise how easily I could slip in to a drug addicition, given half the chance. Although i wouldn’t choose Cetrotide as my drug of choice, obviously.
I didn’t live my everyday life normally though, throughout IVF. I cancelled all social events (all bar one - a hen do of a good friend (NOT in All Bar One) where I squirted my hormones all over a public bathroom floor and had to run home in tears). And I walked around my office with my trousers unbottoned because they wouldn’t do up over my bloat, which was beyond socially acceptable, even by my relaxed standards.
3. What was your diet/lifestyle like before you had IVF or have you always been health conscious? Because I read It Starts With The Egg and it honestly scared the bejesus out of me!
I read It Starts With The Egg by Rebecca Fett 2 years in to my healthy lifestyle journey (uh, there it is again, the term journey) and even at that stage there were so many changes that were required in my life that I freaked out. I wrote about this in my review and I was mortified to later receive an email from the author to say that she’d read my review (oh, shit) and that her second edition of the book should address some of the issues, making it less scary for readers. It was one of the best books that I’d read on fertility and instead of celebrating the brilliant, my review had mainly focused on the scary parts.
I haven’t always been health conscious. Before trying and failing to have a baby I would have said that I was healthy (except for my university and early years of working, where I drank way too much and ate sandwiches for every meal). But I suppose there are many facets of ‘healthy’. I ran marathons, went to the gym, ate wholegrain pasta and bread (none of the white stuff for me, thanks) and I tired to eat my ‘5 a day’, but it consisted solely of fruit. But I was actually really poorly with bad digestion, bad skin and I kept falling asleep in meetings (my job wasn’t that boring). I just couldn’t work out what was going on.
It wasn’t until I started struggling to conceive and undertaking tests that I realised my hormones and digestion were all over the place. I was eating the wrong foods for me (too high in carbs and I also do better when I don’t eat gluten or dairy). I have only been following my newer version of a ‘healthy’ lifestyle for a couple of years. It has made such a profound difference to how I feel that I am (trying) to keep it up for the long term. It’s just that sometimes a sandwich is mighty convenient.
4. During the 3 months prior to IVF how strict were you about following the healthy organic diet/taking vitamins/exercise etc - I feel a lot of pressure to stick to it as much as possible but I still want to have a glass of wine or some ice cream once in a while!
I should caveat this answer with a disclaimer that I am obsessive. Totally obsessive. I have never been a ‘balanced person’ and my approach to IVF was no exception. I was incredibly strict with myself in the run up - no alcohol for 9 months prior (mainly because I misjudged my timings of when IVF would start), a good sugar free diet, no gluten etc. But did I mention that I am obsessive?
Will having a glass of wine or some ice cream once in a while be the difference between a baby and barrenhood? Absolutely not. No chance. I actually think that my strictness could have added to my stress and that arguably a more relaxed approach could have been more beneficial for my IVF round then controlling every morsel of food that passed my lips. So I would say to treat yourself once in a while and try to ignore the pressure. It is hard because you want to do everything that you can to help the IVF to be successful, but occasional treats aren’t going to make the difference and so much of IVF is outside of your control in any event. The correct drug protocol and perfectly timed egg collection will make far more difference than an epic ice cream binge.
5. Did you take any time off work during your IVF cycle? If so, how much, when and how useful do you think it was for your successful pregnancy?
I took two days off work for IVF:
Egg collection - This was necessary because the procedure was undertaken via general anaesthetic and so I was off my tits for most of the day. I would have taken more days off but my egg collection fell on a Friday so I already had the weekend to recover. I did require 3 days to recuperate because I had a weird reaction to the general, which brought on crippling stiffness. A stranger in the supermarket helped me to pick items off the shelf and pop them in my basket because my mobility was so poor. It was ridiculous. I hadn’t told many work colleagues about IVF at that stage, so their queries as to ‘what the hell has happened to you?’ would have been difficult to answer. I would have no doubt spun an increasingly complex web of lies that would have unravelled at the first challenge.
Embryo transfer - it was a quick 15 minute procedure that was thankfully painless. Physically I could have worked after it but I couldn’t concentrate and spent the remainder of the day buzzing around the house in absolute awe that a clump of our mixed DNA was inside of me.
Many people take time off work for the two week wait. I personally didn’t, as I welcomed the distraction and tried to carry on my normal life to trick my mind into thinking that IVF was no biggie. It didn’t work. Obviously, as what I was trying to trick (my mind) had come up with the strategy in the first place. For me it helped not to be knocking around the house on my own, pondering whether the little one was clinging on in there. But for others that break is much needed, it just depends on your personality.
6. How much did you tell your manager at work?
I can feel another slap coming my way, but my manager was that most supportive boss that I could have wished for. She was amazing. So I told her everything. But I think you can manage IVF without telling your manager, if that feels better for you. My clinic scheduled nearly all of our scans before work, so I could have attended without my boss being made aware. She would just have thought that I was being tardy with my lax time management skills (again). But I could have just about managed it without telling her.
If you aren’t planning to tell your boss then you’ll need to take medical leave or annual leave for egg collection, probably for embryo transfer and possibly a couple of other appointments or scans too. In theory, your manager does not need to know why your require this annual leave.
I didn’t tell many work colleagues about my IVF at the time I was going through it. Not because I was embarrassed about fertility treatment, but because I didn’t want people looking at me and wondering whether it had worked (I’m just FAT today, not pregnant, ALL RIGHT!) or (god forbid) asking me about it. I didn’t want to share the result, positive or negative, until I was good and ready. I didn’t tell my colleagues I was pregnant until after my 20 week scan. Given that my bump was 99th percentile in size, my big reveal was met with looks of ‘well, yeah, it’s bloody obvious’. Maybe don’t do that. Not my finest moment. Later on I exposed myself to the whole office by writing a post for the work intranet on what it is like to go through IVF. And then I ran off on maternity leave a few days later. It still feels daunting to be open about infertility in the office, despite me regularly oversharing on this website. It is just different.
7. Is there anything you would have done differently on your cycle?
This question really got me thinking. Other than the obvious, not pouring Menopur all over the floor of a public bathroom, not obsessing about insertion of the cannula for my egg collection (WHAT a thing to focus on), and making less of a twat of myself immediately after egg collection (kind of out of my hands - I blame the drugs intensifying my natural twatness), I wouldn’t change anything about my IVF cycle. Yes, I could have been more relaxed about my food and exercise before the cycle. And yes, I could have been less controlling during the cycle and not cancelled all social events. But to be honest, I needed that and it worked for me. For my next cycle I will be more relaxed, but only because I have been through it before. If I were to redo my first IVF cycle again, I would behave the same slightly obsessive way, I’m sure.
8. How did you stay positive during the IVF process?
Personally I found staying positive through IVF easier than staying positive through the 3 years beforehand, when infertility was taking its toll on morale. The whole infertility thing is incredibly emotional, mentally draining and devastating. For me, it felt like IVF was a welcomed change for the never ending natural ‘trying’. During IVF, the stage in which my positivity took a hit was the two week wait. That was a toughie.
What I did to stay positive was:
Reading Get a Life: His and Hers Survival Guide to IVF, a brilliant and funny book that made me relax about the somewhat daunting process I was going through. Having a chuckle (even if it is at someone else’s expense) always makes life better.
Practising Circle + Bloom meditations, which are fertility specific (there are ones for IVF and for FET), which helped me to trust that my body isn’t always a total douche bag and could grow eggs/make a baby. (Circle + Bloom give my readers 20% off with the discount code PREGGERSKITCHEN20)
My only other tip to stay positive is to keep away from Google. Sometimes searching the internet would tell me exactly what I wanted to hear. I found webpages that said the odds were in my favour, provided I placed all my trust in that one study of 5 IVF patients that took place in a different country and decade, or that Mum’s Net thread of random women I’ve never met chatting shit. But most of the time the internet just filled me with negativity, self doubt and depression.
9. What are you top tips for getting through the dreaded two week wait?
Following on from the answer to 8, stay away from Google! Put your computer down and step away, no good comes from that. Trust me, as someone who obsessed over everything during the two week wait you can find articles that point to IVF working for you or failing. Google doesn’t know whether you are pregnant (it is clever but it’s not that clever) and the statistics for other women in your situation don’t help either, because they are not you. There isn’t anything you can do except wait. And it is tough.
The best advice I can give is to distract yourself and fill those two weeks with things that you love doing, all those luxurious experiences and treats that you deserve because you and your body have just been through a physically and emotionally rough month. And whilst enjoying your treats, leave your phone in your bag so that you’re not temped to carry out just one more little search.
10. Did you go to NCT classes? Did you make friends with any of them? Any of them have IVF babies?
No, yes and yes.
To buck with tradition, I attended a midwife led course on birth and baby care rather than the usual NCT course. It was highly informative but not very sociable. I therefore entered motherhood with zero ‘mummy friends’. To make amends I then threw myself in to local baby courses - baby massage, baby sensory, baby swimming - and all the other ‘middle class mat leave mummy courses’ that you can think of. There I made a few friends who knew each other from NCT and like a limpet with addictive personality, I latched on. They couldn’t shake me.
From this group I know another IVF baby and a Clomid baby. Once people hear that I have had IVF (and let’s face it, you can’t shut me up about this) they all share their stories with me too. We are everywhere, us infertiles, hiding round every corner just waiting to make an innocent questioner feel awkward with our stories of sperm samples and twat wands.
11. Do you know anything about natural IVF? I have heard of it and intrigued by the apparently less amount of drugs and generally a more gentle approach. However, I have also heard negative opinions on it, so not sure it is worth exploring any more.
Natural IVF is something that I have heard of and I know one person who has undertaken it. It is less intensive for the body, as fewer drugs are used, and for some people I am sure that this will be of benefit both to them and to the outcome. However, by its very nature you are unlikely to grow as many eggs per cycle. It would definitely be worth talking to your IVF consultant about it, assuming that you trust their opinion. I would imagine that how the pros and cons of a natural IVF cycle weigh up against each other will depend on your personal circumstances and diagnosis. It may be just right for you. It’s got to be right for some people, right?
12. Can you tell me about your breastfeeding journey and any tips for persevering, especially with low supply?
‘Breastfeeding is completely natural’ is a statement that is both true yet conceals how bloody difficult breastfeeding can be. I imagined my milk supply coming in quickly, my little angel instinctively seeking out my nipple and suckling away peacefully. The reality was rather different. After unceremoniously flopping out my boob, usually in front of my husband’s family (my dignity had long departed), my baby would thrash his head in every direction as if raving at a silent disco. Aren’t they supposed to smell the milk and latch on? Why was he not latching*?
*LATCH - A word that quickly enters your vocabulary, dominates all conversations for a month post birth, then disappears from your vernacular as quickly as it came. I now hate the word latch.
For me, breastfeeding wasn’t natural or easy. I was lucky (I use that word loosely) that Tom and I were in hospital for 5 days post birth, each with our own infections. This allowed me 24/7 support for breastfeeding from the midwives on the ward. And boy, did I need it. My milk took around 4 days to come in, in which time my little raver had sucked and chomped me until drawing blood. It was miserable, toe curlingly painful stuff. Although being shown different positions to feed him in really helped, it was still so uncomfortably sore. Everyone would say ‘aw, I think he is hungry. Do you want some milkies little one….’ and I’d recoil in horror, responding ‘Nah. No, no, nope. He looks fine to me. He’s probably just enjoying his silent disco’ . I just couldn’t face it.
What helped me with the ‘discomfort’ (an understatement if ever there was one) were cooling breast pads thatI kept in the fridge and nipple cream. Both were life savers.
On returning home from hospital with my 5 day old sausage in my arms, brand new nipples shields in my bag and two red raw nips, I was ready to give up. And then it suddenly became easier. The only change I made was to take my time and to focus on the positions that hurt less. I know that I am lucky in this respect and that this revelation does not happen for everyone. From about 7-10 days the feeding began to feel less painful and after a 2 weeks it was painless. I breastfed for 9 months before weening him on to formula.
In terms of persevering in the face of low milk supply…..
13. I know that you took supplements. Why did you take them? Did you have low supply? If so, what did you do to overcome it?
I was always worried about my milk supply, as PCOS is associated with lower supply and increased problems with breastfeeding. I often wonder if there is anything negative that PCOS is NOT associated with. Bloody PCOS! I also had a large (8lbs 10oz at 39 weeks) greedy baby to feed. I felt like my supply was low. My baby was feeding for hours, I was sore and he remained hungry. In retrospect, that could just be the nature of breastfeeding. It was my first time, so I didn’t know.
To increase what I feared was a low milk supply I:
Made sure to drink loads of water - at least 3 litres a day. I’d strategically place a pint of water on the table next to my ‘breastfeeding station’ (the sofa with the best view of the TV for Netflix) so that I always had water to hand when I was pinned down by a hungry baby.
Made sure I was eating sufficient calories to fuel my body for the extra demands, again by leaving food next to my feeding station.
Drinking lactation herbal teas (known as a cup of ‘boob tea’ in our household). I drank about 5 cups a day and switched brands with such frequency that unfortunately I can’t tell you which ones had the best impact.
Taking supplements to increase my supply. I thought that it was worth a shot in giving herbal remedies a go. Couldn’t hurt, could it? Well, other than my bank account. The herbs I tried were the Breastfeeding All-That-Bundle by Euphoric Herbals which contain four different blends so that you can see which ones benefit you the most. I do think that these helped to improve my supply as the amount of milk I could pump increased substantially after I started trialling these herbs. They are expensive though and are shipped from the USA, meaning that import tax is slapped on to the cost when they enter the UK. HMRC never miss an opportunity.