“What I would say is, and this is probably the hardest thing to do, is just relax about it. There have been so many people that I’ve known who’ve gone through several rounds of IVF and nothing happens. And when they’ve given up, and gotten on with their lives, it miraculously happens naturally… Sometimes stress itself can have a very negative effect. So try living your life as normally as you can.” Dr Hilary Jones
I’m not entirely sure how I missed this last week. When Dr. Hilary Jones expressed that women, no let me correct that immediately, COUPLES experiencing infertility and trying IVF should just…you know, relax. Actually maybe it’s completely clear why I missed it. Although it’s great that IVF and infertility is being discussed in a more mainstream way nowadays, long before time too, I only really want to hear from experts, pioneers, alternative medicine practitioners. Not Dr fucking Hilary Jones.
(Ok, used to sort of find him dishy when I was growing up mind you, ahem. Shut up. You did too.)
So here’s the caveat – I still haven’t seen it and don’t intend to. I’ve read quotes of what was said and if the above is anything to go by as his response to a woman who has undergone several rounds of unsuccessful IVF and subsequent miscarriages, the above advice and the massive full stop at the end of it is pretty much null and void in my eyes.
The sad truth is, these women shouldn’t have been phoning him for advice. If he is a practicing GP, (I mean is he? I’ve no clue), he won’t have anything groundbreaking or new to share with them. He is following protocol, almost a script. Don’t go to general doctors for anything like this type of issue. This is specialist. This needs people who look deeply at whole body functions, the whole person. They investigate, trouble shoot, research. They are open minded to western and eastern techniques and often marry the two together. This is not a slight on Jones but he was the wrong man for the job last week, big time.
But hold up, hear me out.
Whilst he isn’t a fertility expert of any nature and therefore Lorraine simply had the wrong guy on the sofa that day, if we look purely at science, he wasn’t wrong in trying to encourage some relaxation to help aid nature along a bit. He and the producers, researchers just went about it all wrong, almost made it a brush off and didn’t delve in deep enough. People were probably tuning in to get some real nuggets of advice to be told once again to just relax.
The truth is, telling someone who is anxious and worried and concerned and on the edge to ‘relax’ simply isn’t helpful. Whatever the situation, full stop. By the point they are told this their bodies are probably already in constant fight or flight mode, the tools (if any) they usually employ to calm down tossed out of the window. If anything, it winds them up more. And specifically on the subject of IVF, a process that can be brutal on bodies, minds and bank balances. You’re an experiment, no one knows the outcome. Then you just become a statistic one way or the other.
I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of people trying to conceive now have never been taught how to relax growing up. What it means. What’s going on inside the body. It’s largely self discovery, initiated by us, triggered by something. And if we’ve never got round to exploring it, then we’re simply not armed.
If you’re still with me, rest assured that you’re reading the words of a woman who largely panicked her way through her twenties. Plagued with ‘IBS’ (aka Endometriosis, don’t get me started on that GP misdiagnosis), having to leave social situations, tube trains, lecture rooms at the drop of a hat because I literally couldn’t cope with a) the pain and b) the bubbling and often irrational panic spearing through my body that I had no idea how to get a grip on.
And so to my thirties and trying for a baby. A bit more knowledge under my belt as a lover of yoga and walks and being in nature, yet still wracked with fear that my body just wasn’t capable as the natural approach failed time and time again. Fearful and baffled of the rather inadequate title of ‘unexplained infertility’, worries that what has gone before will keep repeating itself. Failed IVF attempts, a cervical ectopic pregnancy, a cervix with an acute angle, countless hysteroscopies.
So yes, I have been told to relax, a LOT. Actual sedation being the only way when going through parts of the IVF process.
Yes you hear stories that people conceive on a drunken night out or on holiday or when they ‘stopped trying’ but there are also cases where one or more of myriad medical indications mean it’s just not going to happen until they are addressed, holistically, naturally or more invasively. So what we’re doing when we tell people to ‘just relax’ can be really harmful, they could go and channel a monk in the foothills of Tibet for 6 months and still not conceive. So what’s your advice then Hilary?
Relaxing means different things to different people. It has to be an individual approach, each and every time. What relaxes or I prefer ‘calms’ one person down might be entirely useless for another. It takes real investment from someone to work out how they can relax.
When I’m told to relax about anything actually my initial instinct is to roll my eyes. It’s a trigger to be all ‘you have no idea what you’re talking about’ towards whoever is doling out the advice. But why does it annoy me? Because it’s so blasé? A lazy suggestion? Seemingly a bit of a shoulder shrug reaction to a circumstance that is clearly overwhelming me to the point of hunched shoulders, shortness of breath and a perma-furrowed brow?
And if you’re in a state of panic, being told to relax when you can’t relax leads to, guess what, MORE PANIC because you worry that you can’t stop the panic. That you’re just not doing it right. You’re out of control.
The bottom line for me is that infertility is fucking complex and if a TV show is going to cover the topic of IVF in a very short space of time it should’ve done a bit more research into exactly what viewers, probably desperate for answers were expecting. General questions like ‘What else could I be doing? I can’t do this anymore’ are not going to be solved. He isn’t going to suggest royal jelly for thickening the lining of your womb pre transfer, he isn’t going to tell you to sprinkle cayenne pepper on your food after your transfer to keep your insides warm and inviting for implantation. And does this type of stuff work anyway? Who knows. But soon I am going to publish a list of things I try in order to keep my bits in, well, order. Some of you will think I’m bonkers, others might then go on to do their own research into these little alternative and complimentary approaches. But at least they’re tangible, not generic suggestions.
When going through IVF, it is one heck of a clinical process. The human side of it often gets lost. You know, the bit about feelings and emotions and wellbeing. It’s all injections, charts, results, procedures to remove things, procedures to replace things, shoving stuff up your vag, gulping down pills, procedures to nick the lining of your womb, wee tests, blood tests. And timing is everything. If you hold down a full time job on top of all this, the time let alone the ability to relax can seem utterly unachievable, especially if you’re going about it in secret with colleagues or even family not knowing. Memories of my sister in law’s wedding spring to mind when 7pm came about and I had to scurry off and find somewhere to inject myself, the only option being the back seat of our car where I hoisted my dress up around my ears and shoved a needle in my tum, people walking on by.
I work in TV so I get that they’re on a stopwatch each segment of a show, but Jones could’ve gone into HOW to relax. That should’ve been a moment where the producer was in his ear saying ‘expand on that!’ because what does it even mean? For anyone who doesn’t know the scientific link between the breath and the nervous system, taking nice deep breaths and longer exhales might not be a regular go-to for calming down. He should’ve explained further the effects of a highly stressed body on the hormone imbalances this can create. He should’ve told people to avoid additional body stressors like caffeine and alcohol. He should’ve explained how magnesium which we are all rather depleted in can help smooth muscles and tension, especially, I believe, when absorbed through the soles of the feet.
If you’re generally unsure about how to relax, I think there’s something to be said about the placebo effect alone of doing your own research, buying into what makes YOU feel more empowered and in control of a situation that otherwise you feel powerless in. So what if it’s lighting some sage and wafting it about the place to rid negative energy. So what if it’s wearing crystals said to boost female reproductive function? NB – I haven’t taken my fertility bracelet off for 10 months now, not once. It doesn’t ‘look cool’ and literally no one says ‘oooh nice bracelet, where’s it from?’ because it’s a bit of a mix of ugly coloured gems truth be told but I do not care. It comforts me, I feel better because of it. It’s staying.
A stressed person can typically look hunched and uptight and for want of a better word, gripped. So to relax might be to learn a practice that guides you through each part of your body, even for 10 seconds each to notice what the hell is going on in there and to then make little changes to soften it all out. For example, your head.
And that’s just the head! What other bits of your body are you ‘holding’.
When we’re stressed we tend to hold on to body postures that are defensive, harsh. Shake that all out. Stop telling your precious body that it’s in danger, just let it flop about the place. That has to be a good start, altering the physical manifestation of being stressed, something we are in control of adapting.
If you’re trying for a baby or facing some other seemingly insurmountable mountain and someone tells you to relax, try and work out what that might mean to YOU. Or throw it back at them with by asking them how and for any tips. Guess it was lucky for Jones that I was’t on the end of the line last week.
So let’s start the convo how Dr Jones ended one of his – What does relaxation mean to you? How do you relax? Do you? How could you?