Get a Life - His and Hers Survival Guide to IVF
By Richard Mackney and Rosie Bray (with expert advice from Dr James Nicopoullos)
Pages - 304
Overview of the book: A guide to IVF
The title is a big giveaway, as this book is a complete guide to the often overwhelming process of IVF. Written in a personable style, reading it is like sitting down to a cup of tea and cake with an old friend and asking them to describe to you the IVF process in detail along with their experience. This book beautifully balances the details you need about the technical side of how IVF works with the human aspect of what it feels like to go through this challenging process.
The book has 16 chapters that run through all the topics that were puzzling me: What's wrong, what tests you need, how to choose a clinic, before the appointment, the first consultation, the drugs, egg collection day, fertilisation results, embryo transfer, the two-week wait, test day, how to cope with a negative result, how to cope with a positive result, diary of a miscarriage, IVF finally works and lessons learnt from doing IVF.
Most chapters are broken out into sections covering what happens during IVF, with facts and stats (ooh, I love a good statistic, who doesn't, right?) then what actually happened to Rosie and Richard each writing independently from their perspective, tips on how to survive that stage of IVF and a reminder of where in the IVF process you now are and what is coming up. Most chapters end with some wise words from reproductive specialist Dr Nicopoullos (i.e. the man in the know).
The authors: Personal experience mixed with expertise and facts
The co-authors are Rosie Bray, a TV producer in the UK and her partner Richard Mackney, a freelance writer, journalist, broadcaster and TV presenter. Rosie and Richard write from their own personal perspective, having gone through three IVF rounds together, both NHS and private and both successful and unsuccessful rounds, so they are able to speak to the full twists and turns of the IVF rollercoaster.
Both being in the media and Richard being a free-lance writer and journalist you'd expect them to write beautifully and they don't disappoint. In fact, for me, Rosie Bray captures the what it feels like to be faced with infertility better than any author I've read, when she says: Almost everyday I would wake up and think, there's something bothering me, what is it? Oh yes, it's the fact that I don't have a child, or any prospect of having a child and I don't know if I'm going to have to rethink my whole life's purpose and the way I'd envisaged my future, and I have no idea when I am going to know this or if I will ever get over it. I've always found the heartbreak of infertility difficult to convey to anyone who hasn't experienced it. I can't better Rosie's description so now I just rip-off her words, and if they still don't get it, there isn't much more I can say.
Above and beyond their wonderful and natural writing style, they have the trait often so lacking in infertility books: humour. The most unique aspect of this book is that the authors are hilarious. A tricky skill to hone when writing about a subject as utterly devastating as infertility and a process like IVF that seems to consist of technical science, hormones and tears.
The end of each chapter contains a short section written by Dr James Nicopoullos, who is consultant gynaecologist and specialist in reproductive medicine at the Lister Fertility Clinic. So someone who really knows his stuff, understands IVF and has probably (bless him) seen more muffs than a porn star.
Who is this book for?
Men and women: Not to be one for being sexist, but it does seem that women take on most of the burden when it comes to infertility. Reading anything and everything that could help with their situation, making medical appointments, researching IVF clinics, etc. So it is refreshing that the His and Hers Survival Guide is (as the name implies) written with both sexes in mind, recognising that IVF puts a strain on all parties involved. If the male partner only wants to read the sections relating to them written by Richard, they are easy to pick out and consume on their own. This is no way means that if you are a single sex couple or a singleton going through IVF that this book isn't for you. I read all sections of the book even though I personally don't have a penis (that is luckily NOT one of my many fertility issues) and it didn't hamper my enjoyment and laughter at poor Richard's struggles.
Love of detail but easily bored: Now, I am a details person. I want to know it all in depth, don't leave anything out. It makes me a difficult patient at the GP practice, 'But why does that happen in the body? How does the testing work? How do the results interplay with each other?', as they politely shuffle me out the door. It worried me that this book may be too much about personal experience and not enough facts and data. I was wrong. It is the best of both worlds, not a boring textbook that will undoubtedly remain half read on your bedside table until you finally admit defeat, or a personal account that misses the ins and outs of the IVF process that we all so desperately crave. I understood the basics of IVF: create lots of eggs, extract them, fertilise them in a lab, pop them back in. I'm not a moron (although this is debatable) and many descriptions I found online were too basic for me. Primary school descriptions when I wanted A-level, but not degree level (ain't nobody got time for that). For me, this book is the perfect balance.
First round of IVF: It is ideal for people who are new to IVF, who really have no idea what to expect from each stage or how the process will work. However, given that the authors undergo NHS and private rounds in three different clinics, have a disaster at egg collection and very sadly a miscarriage, before finally being successful, even if you have been through IVF already it will still bring something new to the table that was previously outside your knowledge. It is also worth a read for people attempting to support a close friend or relative through the IVF process, as it gives a fantastic insight into what each stages feels like for the individuals suffering through it.
What does the book not cover?
What this book is not designed to do (and therefore does not cover) is detailed advice on lifestyle changes to improve chances of success at IVF, such as what to eat and drink, what vitamins to take, what to start and stop doing etc. It is just not the purpose of this book. Therefore, If that is the information that you are after, Zita West's The IVF Diet (for diet suggestions) and Rebecca Fett's It Starts with the Egg (for improving egg quality) may be more suitable options. But don't expect nearly the same level of detail of the IVF process itself, or a similar personable style of writing, because you ain't going to find it in those substitute books. No Sir.
My favourite part of the book: Laughing at an erect face
Richard's description in Chapter 2 of using the tiny pot for his sperm sample testing, along with his confusing and stressful sample drop off at the hospital, had my giggling aloud on a train. It accorded exactly with the gripes that I had heard previously from my husband and I am sure plague many men going through infertility investigations. What I didn't realise was that this was just a taster, the trailer if you will, for my favourite part of this book, Richard's disastrous egg collection experience. Now, I consider myself to be a relatively kind person who would never intentionally laugh at someone else's misfortune, but I dare the reader not to be overcome by a fit of schadenfreude when reading Richard's account in chapter 7. Let's just say, it didn't go to plan. So much so that the IVF cycle was a bust as a result. That is devastating. In the IVF world that is a tragedy of epic proportions that is NOT funny at all. Oh, but it is when Richard tells it. From hauling an incubator of eggs across town to the clinic's lab, looking like the most middle class terrorist ever to ride the train, to experiencing performance anxiety when producing his much needed sample resulting in the consumption of viagra which simply gave him an erect face. I was rolling around laughing. Poor man, poor poor man. Declaring to my husband that he HAD to read these two chapters, it suddenly dawned on me that it may make him anxious about performing too. It certainly drew to my attention the enormous pressure placed on men during the IVF process, something that I had never previously considered (because, really, IVF's all about me, right?).
Takeaways from the book: What you will learn
Other than what is entailed in the IVF process, which is the big learning that I received from reading this fabulous book, my key takeaways were:
List of questions to ask at your initial consultation: One of the many perplexing aspects of IVF is the first consultation. Will they take my blood (everyone is always taking my blood) and at any point will I need to take my trousers off, necessitating a de-hairing session before I go? But most commonly, what should I ask during my initial consultation? The His and Hers Survival Guide goes in to detail about the first consultation and hugely helpfully provides at the back of the book a list of suggested questions to ask, which you can just cut out and take. I doctored these to make up my list of questions and it was probably the only fertility consultation where I felt that I gave as good as I got. So thank you Rosie and Richard.
List of IVF terms: IVF, and in fact infertility as a whole, has its own language of acronyms. For example, after a 2WW of being PUPO you may desperately want a beta to check the hCG after the HPT showed a BFP. What. On. Earth? If you struggle with some of these (PUPO - pregnant until proven otherwise - confused me for a long while. I think I may have commented 'argh, sorry to hear that' on a few Instagram accounts, completely misunderstanding the abbreviation) then the list of IVF terms at the back of the book will be invaluable. Soon every reader will be talking like an infertility pro, and making absolutely no sense to their fertile friends.
The fact that ASDA sell IVF drugs: What?! Yes indeed. ASDA pharmacies sell IVF drugs. Research shows (I couldn't help but look it up) that ASDA sells IVF drugs at cost, meaning they don't make any profit from helping out IVF patients. What heroes. Every time I pass an ASDA store I consider going in to purchase a pineapple or three as a little nod of thanks. Maybe we should all start a subtle champaign to see their sales of pineapples soar as a message of thanks from the infertility community.
How long did it take me to read?
Always a good test of a book and the answer is just 3 days. Admittedly I did have a work trip to Newcastle meaning that I had plenty of train time in which to indulge, but the content is so readable and relatable that I couldn't put it down.
For all those going through IVF, considering IVF or supporting someone going through it, I couldn't recommend this book enough. A thoroughly enjoyable, factual yet personal book that takes the reader through each step of the IVF process in detail. And above all, the most important thing in life, especially when you are going through a stressful and depressing time, it made me laugh (and laugh, and laugh).