The IVF Journey Part 1 - The Very Beginning
It was one of those moments that will be forever etched in my mind and on my memory, one of those moments when time stands still and life suspends.
Here we were, E and I being told by the specialist that we may not be able to have children of our own.
Not have children of our own.
Not have my own children.
The words went around in my head as I tried to process them.
I had yearned to have my own children for as long as I could remember. It was a lifelong dream. And now here I was, sitting in the specialist’s office in Guernsey, being told that that dream may never become a reality. No part of this dream had come easily to me so perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised; I knew something wasn’t right, but hearing those words, well they’re not really words that you want to hear.
Needless to say the rest of the appointment drifted over me; there was talk of donors and adoption, and of more tests so that there was still some hope. The specialist was relatively upbeat and joked about the advert from one of the main supermarket chains in the UK, saying that we too should embrace the concept of “every little helps” as he patted his bum as they do in the advert. I’ll never forget that, not least because he was trying to be positive, but because it’s true, and it has stuck in my mind ever since.
The moment I reached the car I burst into tears. It wasn’t so much that I was thinking (at that moment) that we really wouldn’t have children of our own, just the reality that it was not going to be like I had imagined. I’m a spiritual being and I had in my mind the conscious spiritual conception with rose petals and gentle music – well ok perhaps not the rose petals, but you know what I mean! Furthermore, I’d been preparing my body for months and months, and yet that was not enough.
It was ironic really because actually it hadn’t just taken months and months, it had taken years and years. That’s years and years of me searching the world to find the man with whom I may want to have children (only to find him right under my nose here in Guernsey) and a few more up and down years with him to get to a point where we both accepted we were ready to settle down and commit, and another year before he finally agreed to the idea of having a child. And now here we were, a further year down the line, being told that we may not be able to have one after all.
If I’m honest I knew that something was amiss. I’m fairly in touch with my body, in fact it was hormonal imbalance and resulting depression that initially got me into yoga and Reiki and which helped me to connect more deeply with my body and with its wisdom. Over the years I have done a lot of work on myself, on all levels really, to try to heal the root cause of the hormonal imbalance and the depression which had plagued me on and off for most of my late teens and twenties.
So I had some understanding of my body and I had worked with a hormone specialist to balance my hormones and more recently with an Ayurvedic doctor to enhance my fertility naturally, so when I didn’t fall pregnant I knew something was wrong, albeit I didn’t know what it was at the time. I was intimately aware of my cycle, of its connection with the moon and the manner in which my mood and energy levels changed throughout the month. I was aware therefore – or so I thought – of when I was ovulating and when we should attempt to conceive.
But sadly it didn’t work and the arrival of my monthly period was a source of great sadness and disappointment, marking yet another month of being that one month further away from fulfilling my dream of being a mother. As one month became three months, became six months, became nine months, well it became soul destroying because you start questioning what you are doing wrong. And the whole time your friends are getting pregnant and you try your best to be happy for them but it just eats you up on the inside and then the fear kicks in so you question whether you’ll ever get pregnant in the end.
It’s poignant really because so many of us women spend some part of our lives trying not to get pregnant so that when you do want to get pregnant, well you assume it will just happen fairly painlessly and when it doesn’t, well it’s a kick in the teeth really. And try as you might to keep the conception as conscious and as special as possible, well truthfully it becomes a bit mechanical, something that you have to do to try and achieve an outcome. Over time it becomes emotionally charged too because you become demanding of your partner, and they feel a pressure to perform. It certainly wasn’t a highlight in our lives, that’s for sure!
So we kept trying for a year, because that is what you are encouraged to do before you seek medical advice, but it felt like an awfully long time and I was desperate for some help. It was June, just before my birthday, when I finally went to see my doctor and as I explained our predicament to her, I burst into tears at the frustration of it all. She was incredibly understanding and wasted no time in getting us into ‘the system’. There were initial tests which both of us had to undertake, to try to gain an initial understanding of what may be amiss and in the interim we were encouraged to chill out and practice!
Sadly, those initial test results indicated that we had a significant problem in our ability to conceive, so we were immediately referred onto the Medical Specialist Group (“MSG”) here in Guernsey. It wasn’t until August, a few months later, when we finally had our first appointment – time takes on a new urgency when you are trying to conceive and the months tick by waiting for appointments! We were assigned to Mr Nzewi, who was new to Guernsey at the time and very passionate about access to fertility treatment, which is not available directly on the Island.
It was at this appointment, as he looked at our results, that he shared the concern that we may never have children of our own. He was very matter of fact about it, because that is what the facts suggested and he mentioned that there may be other options for bringing a child into our life if we were faced with that reality. But that said, there was a chance that the test results were flawed so he sent us off for repeat tests and in the interim, he advised us to do as much as we could to promote our fertility – healthy eating, exercise, less wine, more rest, the stuff we had been consciously trying to do anyway.
So I tried to remain upbeat and fortunately it was the summer so we were kept busy with all that entails. However, all the worry did finally get the better of me – and I know, I know, worrying is a complete waste of energy as it changes nothing, but it can be difficult not to worry sometimes! At the end of August, we joined friends at a house in France for a weekend of birthday celebrations and on that first night, sat out on the lawn in the late afternoon sun, I drank far too much sparkling wine (so much for moderation!) and got very upset and told our friends what was going on, which was almost a relief really, because it gets to you keeping it all bottled up inside.
You see the thing is I have had my fair share of challenges in life – that’s what makes life life – but this was a particularly challenging time for both of us. For me there was an all consuming ache to become a mother and the pressure of the biological clock ticking, and for E, a pressure to help make that a reality. At that point, like quite a lot of other men we know, he could take or leave it, having a child that is, he didn’t have quite the same burning desire as me, he was just following my lead. But for me it was all I could think about.
Needless to say, hangover aside, I felt much better for the release, and in many respects it was good to have the support and understanding of our closest friends who all live off Island and who all have children of their own. They were all really keen for E and I to have children of our own too and were positively jubilant that our relationship had finally made it to that point, and they were all truly positive that one way or another we would make it a reality.
Despite the sadness, and the underlying concern of it all, I too was still doing my best to keep the positivity high. I just had this feeling that this challenge was all part of the process of whatever we both needed to go through, on an individual level and jointly, as part of the big Divine plan. During my whole life, but more so latterly, I had come to recognise that I was being continuously tested in patience, trust and faith, and really this was yet another test in all three. That didn’t necessarily make it any easier, but I did feel supported on a spiritual level at least.
I appreciate that my take on the whole infertility issue may sound a little crazy. But this is how I have come to view life (when I remember!), from an elevated perspective, with the belief and indeed understanding, experience then, that things happen for a reason, that there is no good or bad per se, and that often these challenges are blessings in disguise because they provide you with an opportunity to grow spiritually and to deepen your connection with the Divine. Time and time again I have been reminded that our dreams (if we truly believe in them) can come true in the end, but rarely in the manner in which we intend.
Something was telling me to trust in the process and that was good enough for me! But that is not to say that this trust wasn’t continuously challenged – that is the nature of lessons, they will return again and again until you have recognised the teaching, and trust has always been a big one for me. And when I say trust I don’t mean some airy fairy notion of “putting it out there to the Universe” and sitting back and seeing what happens; I believe it needs greater grounding than this, crystal clear intention and taking action - and indeed some responsibility - when necessary, and trying to let go of the worry, fear and the doubt that can cloud the mind and intuition.
Sadly, the second set of test results we received during the first week of September came back identical to the first. I was expecting this, but it still came as a reality check because it proved that there weren’t any problems with the test data itself per se, it just seemed that we didn’t have what we needed to conceive a baby, simple as that really. Only that it’s never as simple as that, which in this case was a good thing because advances in science mean that there are now options for those of us who are considered infertile and have trouble conceiving.
There was little that Mr Nzewi could do for us other than refer us to a fertility clinic for further tests. At that point he was trying to establish a better working relationship between MSG and Wessex Fertility Clinic in Southampton to make it easier for Guernsey patients to undertake fertility treatment. All fertility care in Guernsey is private so his intention was to try and help to reduce, at the very least, travel costs and inconvenience where possible, in respect of needing to go over to the UK simply for a scan or a blood test as part of that treatment.
Luck was on our side in terms of the timing because we were fortunate to be included in the first handful of patients who received appointments with Wessex on their first trip to MSG so that we didn’t even need to leave the Island for our first consultation. Ironically we were due to be off Island that day so I’m not entirely sure that it was any more cost effective for us, but nonetheless we appreciated the contact in Guernsey and the ease with which this happened for us, albeit not until early October which meant another month of waiting!
The consultant and nurses we saw were just great, both very welcoming, positive and calming. The consultant studied our results, looked at us both and concluded that there was indeed hope, we appeared healthy and looked like we most probably both had what we needed; I guess she must get a feel for this after years of working in the fertility world! She proposed carrying out a procedure the following January which would seal our fate, well our initial fate, one way or another. In the interim we were welcomed into the world of fertility treatment and all that that entails, namely a ton of forms and seemingly endless screening tests.
It was pretty full on but we were delighted that we had a chance, not as we had intended of course, but a chance nonetheless – the motto was most definitely, “trust in the process”. I remember very clearly completing those forms. I was sitting at a table with E and one of the nurses who was guiding us through them and in one of them it asked us whether I would consent to my eggs and embryos (if created) being used for training purposes, and I remember thinking, “wow, this is real”, and “it’s not something I’d usually do, but I’m so desperate to be helped that anything I can do to help others in the future is worth doing, so yes, yes, yes, tick the boxes, yes”.
Then there were questions about what would happen in the event of your death or mental incapacity and what would happen to your eggs and/or embryos, and for E, what would happen to his sperm, and whether you consent to your partner using them, or them being used for training purposes. We briefly discussed our position but to be honest we were so jubilant to even have this chance, to be talking about us having eggs and sperm and embryos and the like that we were happy to sign away on this too, “yes, yes, yes”.
There were also forms to ascertain the welfare of the child, where you had to disclose whether there is any serious violence or discord within your family environment, whether you have any drug or alcohol problems and whether there are any aspects of your life or medical history which may pose a risk of serious harm to any child you might have or anything which may impair your ability to care for such a child. In many respects I considered that perhaps everyone should have to compete one of these forms before conceiving a child, not just those having IVF!
Then there was the concept of a multiple birth. Being 37 at the time it was recommended that we have two embryos implanted at the same time to increase our chances of success. It goes without saying that this would also increase the chances of us having twins and all the risks associated with multiple pregnancy. Still, I don’t remember us giving this too much thought. Again we were happy to go with the advice being given to us and we ticked the box, “yes, yes, yes, bring on the twins!! “
To me that kind of summed up the situation. I never wanted to have fertility treatment – let’s face it who does – but here were Wessex providing some hope and I was willing to do all I could to make that hope a reality. That’s the trouble with hope isn’t it. I know its frowned upon in some spiritual circles as it has no grounding, no certainty, but hope gives life a reason to be lived and that was good enough for me! The fact we were even considering these options before we knew whether it was even possible was uplifting in some way.
So after seeing the clinic, feeling positive, we had to embark on a number of screening tests including Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV for each of us and Chlamydia, Rubella antibodies and Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH) for just me. As you can appreciate this all gets rather expensive and rather time consuming fitting in all the appointments. Not only that, but having an HIV test for the first time, for example, is quite full on really so there is some anticipation that comes with these additional screening tests, and some of these, the HIV for example, needing to be repeated annually.
Still it was all part of the process and with all the tests and the paperwork we were given to read we were soon well and truly in the IVF zone and we now had a few months to prepare ourselves physically and – just as importantly – mentally and emotionally for what lay ahead. We were given an information sheet with pre-conceptual diet and lifestyle tips which included the following:
Weight - Ideally you should be as close as possible to the recommended weight for your height when trying for a baby. Apparently being underweight or overweight can reduce your chances of conceiving.
Food - Studies have shown that foods and fertility are linked in both men and women. For that reason you are encouraged to improve your diet three months to a year before conception. The Food Standards Agency recommends eating a variety of foods while trying to conceive including:
· Fruit and vegetables – aim for at least five portions a day.
· Carbohydrate foods such as wholegrain rice and bread.
· Protein such as lean meat and chicken, fish, eggs and pulses.
· Fish – at least twice a week, including some oily fish, but not more than two portions of oily fish a week.
· Dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt.
· Iron-rich foods such as red meat, pulses, dried fruit, bread, green vegetables and fortified breakfast cereals, to help build up your resources of iron in preparation for pregnancy.
Supplements – Folic acid - this B vitamin has been linked to a lower rate of heart attacks, strokes, cancer and diabetes. It also reduces a baby’s risk of being born with defects to the spinal chord such as spina bifida. Make sure that the supplement you use does not contain Vitamin A or fish liver oil. In addition, it is good to eat folate-rich foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, nuts, wholegrains, brown rice, fortified breads and cereals.
For women a supplement for pregnancy before you conceive. For me, a vitamin preparation containing Selenium Coenzyme Q whilst zinc may be beneficial for sperm health and production.
Alcohol - In terms of alcohol the advice at that time was to drink no more than one or two units of alcohol once or twice a week.
Caffeine - Evidently there is no consistent evidence to link caffeinated drinks to fertility problems however studies have shown that having more than 200mg of caffeine per day may be linked to miscarriage and low birth weight.
To avoid - The Foods Standards Agency also recommends that women who are trying to conceive should also avoid the following:
· Too much Vitamin A – you need some Vitamin A but too much during pregnancy could harm the baby;
· Fish containing mercury – high levels of mercury can harm an unborn baby’s developing nervous system.
· Smoking – cigarette smoke contains harmful substances to eggs, sperm and developing embryos.
Excessive stress – this impacts the way the body functions. Prolonged periods of pre-conceptual stress should try to be avoided to help conception and improve fertility. A hectic, busy lifestyle with little time for relaxation, attention to diet or socialising – a less busy schedule generally promotes more happiness and a greater sense of wellbeing leading to improved pre-conceptual health.
To be honest we were already eating a healthy and balanced diet and we had made a conscious effort to reduce our alcohol intake. If anything my major issue was stress and a hectic lifestyle. Ironic really because as a yoga teacher and Reiki practitioner, you’d expect me to have a grip on this, but I am so passionate about yoga and Reiki that I have always kept myself very busy sharing my love of both with others where I can, while also keeping up with the office day job, albeit part-time.
It was at this point that I read Zita West’s marvellous book, “Fertility and Conception” that I recommend to anyone interested in increasing their chances of conceiving whether naturally or with intervention. It really is a fabulous book with lots of useful tips. And silly as it sounds coming from a yoga teacher, but it was reading this book that encouraged me to re-prioritise my time and incorporate daily meditation and Yoga Nidra into my hectic schedule.
I am absolutely certain that it was these practices that helped me to maintain my sanity during this time and keep myself focused and my spirits high. I began to look forward to my daily sitting, just twenty minutes if I could, but this was more than enough to feel that it made a positive difference; I just felt clearer and calmer too, there is no doubt that my mind was stronger as a result of this, and I felt more level-headed, focused and less emotional somehow.
As for Yoga Nidra, well I have always been a huge fan of this but the IVF made me dig deeper into the practice and I would encourage anyone else with fertility issues to tap into this as I have no doubt that this helped me enormously. Essentially Yoga Nidra is a powerful meditation technique inducing complete physical, emotional and mental relaxation. During Yoga Nidra one appears to be asleep but the consciousness is functioning at a deeper level of awareness so that you are prompted throughout the practice to say to yourself mentally, “I shall not sleep, I shall remain awake”.
Before beginning Yoga Nidra you make a Sankalpa, or a resolution for the practice. The Sankalpa is an important stage of Yoga Nidra as it plants a seed in the mind encouraging healing and transformation in a positive direction. In practical terms, a Sankalpa is a declarative statement, resolution or intention in which you vow to commit to fulfil a specific goal, in this instance to become pregnant with a healthy baby – “I am pregnant with a healthy baby”.
Sankalpa or resolution holds a special and highly esteemed place in the ancient teachings. The concept of Sankalpa appears even as early as the Rig Veda, the most ancient of all the Vedic texts. The ancient concept of Sankalpa is based on the principle that your mind has measureless capacity to effect the quality and content of your life. As the Buddha said, “The mind is everything. What you think you become”. That said, it is also important that you feel how it would feel to achieve your Sankalpa so there is some felt-sense, some sensation then, related to it.
Furthermore, a Sankalpa provides you with an opportunity to notice any resistance that may be holding you back in creating/manifesting what you dream in your life. For example, if you are struggling to conceive and there is no recognised medical reason for this, working with Yoga Nidra may help you to realise any unconscious resistance you may have to getting pregnant or becoming a mother. You may not initially recognise this consciously, but over time, the unconscious element of this will become conscious (bring it out of the shadows) so that you are able to recognise it, if you see what I mean.
It is very powerful indeed and I cannot recommend this enough for anyone wishing to conceive. Not least working with a Sankalpa, but also just taking the time out for self-care and to rest – this in itself presents many physiological benefits such as lowering of the heart rate and blood pressure, the release of lactate from the muscles that can cause anxiety and fatigue, a more restful night’s sleep and, ultimately, a calming and unwinding of the nervous system, which is basically the foundation of the body’s wellbeing. So you see our physical health and sense of wellbeing can improve too, which can only help to support the fertility process.
Needless to say all of this certainly helped me to drop even deeper into my spiritual practice. I already had a daily mat-based yoga practice, but I carved out more time to make this an absolute priority prior to the meditation and Yoga Nidra. For me daily silence is essential too and I’m fortunate in that I have the space to achieve this at home. So each day I would take to my mat; sometimes I needed to move my body and practice actively and other times I needed to practice more gently, quietly or restoratively.
But what became very important to me during this time was prayer. Now I’m not religious but as I’ve mentioned I am spiritual, and for me prayer has always been a way to connect more deeply with the Divine and with the angels, and now here, I found it essential to my grounding and wellbeing to commune daily with these aspects of being and self. It made a huge difference to me to align on this level and feel even more supported by the Universe, (however you define that), and therefore deepen my trust and indeed faith in the process and wherever it was leading us.
There were other things that I tapped into including She Oak, which is one of the Australian Bush Flower Essences that is very beneficial in overcoming imbalances and bringing about a sense of wellbeing in females. It is said to benefit women who feel distressed about infertility and it helps therefore to remove personal blocks that prevent conception. For me this was essential, doing what I could to ensure that I was ready and receptive on all levels, making sure that I had addressed all aspects of my being, not simply the physical, but the mental, emotional and spiritual too.
I also started Acupuncture. I had heard that while there is no scientific evidence to support the link, there does appear to be some correlation between acupuncture and successful IVF. If nothing else it enabled me to take time out of my schedule to lie down and chill out, although I did notice a positive uplift in my energy levels after each session. I complimented this a little with Reiki, massage and reflexology, fortunate as I was to be able to swap this for yoga and Reiki with friends.
Treatments and spiritual practice aside, life carried on much as usual the rest of that Autumn. I kept myself busy with a combination of my existing yoga teaching and Reiki channelling schedule, and the office job. At that time the company I worked for was being sold to a larger company in the UK and as company secretary this meant many more hours in the office than usual – a welcome distraction from our fertility issues and helped me to earn extra money to be able to pay for the treatment (more on that later!).
Before too long it was Christmas and we decided to make the most of this as we were quite certain – positivity and all – that this would be our last Christmas just the two of us. We decided that we would enjoy ourselves and have lots of fun. We even took ourselves away for a night of partying in London, to kind of get it out of our system, knowing that from 1 January it was absolutely all about IVF and conceiving and we were feeling really focused in that 2013 would be our year. It was just a waiting game really until the next round of tests in late January.