September 2017 and John and I were heading into our final NHS funded round of IVF. Round number 3. Two frozen embryos left in storage at Create Fertility in St Pauls, London.
I’d already taken a 3 month sabbatical from work earlier in 2017 to allow time for a few rounds, the second one ending in the cervical ectopic pregnancy you can read about here. But this was it, our final attempt before having to raise the funds to pay privately.
Now, I am lucky enough to work at an organisation that a) has quite a few female senior members of staff and b) is increasingly supporting, or at the least cognisant of their employees real lives outside of work on the understanding that a happy and more balanced employee is likely to be a good ROI in the long run.
So a conversation with HR and my immediate bosses was had, me focused and resolute in what I was trying to achieve and thankfully I was supported further by being able to take September off, to give this final attempt a real good crack. I’m forever grateful to those who stepped into cover me and for a wonderful team all wishing me the best…well, those that knew.
I have spoken to many women both in and outside work who are struggling with fertility, some too scared or embarrassed to speak to their line managers, not even scoping out their options. Just resigning themselves to not being able to take some time out or be excused for appointments at inconvenient times (IVF protocols can be very demanding on your time to ensure the most effective outcome). This has to change. Modern lifestyles are arguably impacting fertility, there’s no doubt in my mind about this. This always-on, work from anywhere, competitive and comparative state of affairs we refer to as ‘work’, often leeches so much more from us than we are obliged to give, draining our adrenal systems, keeping us largely immobile at our desks (not good for the reproductive system) and robbing us of precious carefree downtime. Women especially can really feel the tug of war between career and starting a family. How is it that to this day there is still a pitying response to women who want to voyage in to the realms of motherhood? Why is it ‘a shame/waste’ when a woman decides to break out of the 9-5 to take on more of a hands on role at home with her kids?
I sit here finessing this blog post which I started a few months back, beside my 5 week old baby who is currently snoozing in her Sleepyhead atop the dining table, a relentless soundtrack of a hoover playing to keep her calm, a tumble drier whirring to my right, a washing machine rumbling behind me, spinning countless babygros and muslins ready for the morning. I am now fulfilling my most important role to date. It’s unpaid, has ridiculous hours and my boss regularly shits herself without me batting an eye as I hurriedly mop up the yellow mess from her tush. There’s no job spec, it’s scary and exhilarating all at once. What you learned in your training courses (NCT, hypnobirthing) starts to become a reality but you realise they missed out a seminar. Where was the bit about when you come home with your baby?
The point of this blog is to share some things I adopted for this final and successful round of IVF. I am no medical professional. I am not claiming that any one of these actions or tinctures moved the dial in our happy ever after, but if sharing them leads to someone investigating some complimentary measures even if just for the placebo effect, then hoorah. Knowledge is power and feeling more in control within a process like IVF that can feel largely out of your control is a grand thing.
So here you go.
Prior to embryo transfer:
Took a month off work
I know this might not be plausible for everyone but could you take a little time off? Isn’t it worth at least a conversation with the powers that be? If you don’t ask you don’t get and all that. Perhaps reduced hours or unpaid holiday might be an alternative or just the simple nudge nudge wink wink understanding that when you need to go for an appointment or work from home there’s no issue. I started mine a week before transfer and threw myself into….
…Loads of walks in nature
It was September and the weather was lovely so I took to our local woods and fields on a daily basis with the dog. I guess this is a personal preference as being in the woods really restores me. I love it. I feel alive and peaceful there. Grateful for trees and wildlife and air and sunshine and rain. Beautiful things we take for granted, beautiful things that the earth creates and nurtures. Quite fitting really. I’d sit on tree stumps, not in any kind of rush and just wander around breathing it all in.
I did this about a month before transfer on recommendation from Hannah Watson my go-to fertility acupuncturist. The aim was to balance out my body, bring about a better flow of energy throughout, release any blockages. Amy came to my house, set up a bed in my lounge and worked on me…and a bit on Rupert the sausage dog who wanted in on the action. Amy Gallagher; tel: 07801231977, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Crystal fertility bracelet
I’m very open minded to the power of stones and crystals so took to Etsy and purchased a bracelet designed to aid female power and fertility. I started wearing it a month before transfer and only removed it at the request of medical staff when I gave birth to my baby when I passed it to my husband to wear as she was delivered. So, I wore it for 9 months straight. You can find it here.
Endometrial ‘scratch’ a month before transfer
As you might’ve guessed if you’ve read previous blogs, my fertility journey has been anything but straight forward and we got to the point that before each embryo transfer I would have a sedated mock transfer to highlight and tend to any navigational issues before the actual procedure. I’ll share more about that in time, but in short, my cervix is tricksy making it very tough for a catheter to pass into my womb to safely transfer the precious cargo. So a month before the planned third transfer, I went to see my consultant for a mock transfer and while he was there we agreed to an endometrial scratch procedure which can in turn help to aid implantation as the zone heals, hopefully enveloping the embryo.
IMPORTANT THAT YOU DON’T DO THIS POST TRANSFER/OVULATION
This isn’t something you go to Cowshed for. This is a self administered massage where you essentially apply strong pressure to the big pulsing femoral artery which sits just beneath the crease in your groin between your thigh and lower abdomen. Basically on your panty line. If you dig down you’ll identify it as it pulses and pumps loads of blood about the place. And what you’re doing when you apply pressure to it is diverting blood flow to the pelvic organs including of course, the uterus, refreshing and replenishing the supply there, making it come alive, increasing its function. You hold down on one side at a time for 30-45 seconds before switching to the next side. As you release the pressure you might feel a warm rush down the corresponding leg as blood begins to flow normally again. Repeat 3 times each side, twice a day. I did it in bed upon waking up and when going to bed each night.
I did this for a while and stopped it 2 weeks prior to transfer. Do your own reading on this as there are conflicting opinions. But with all the drugs involved in IVF, the liver takes a bit of a hit so giving it a little detox can help it function better, in turn making the medication do its job more effectively. I chose to take Milk Thistle supplements for this purpose.
Royal jelly shots
Said to help thicken the womb lining, prepping it to successfully receive and implant an embryo. I went for liquid royal jelly shots that you mix in with a small glass of water and take daily. These ones, readily available in Holland and Barratt. My womb lining ended up being the thickest it had ever been.
Drinking room temperature kefir and/or kombucha daily prior to transfer can help any internal inflammation that’s present. I love these drinks, especially the Captain Kombucha brand. Yum.
Before and after embryo transfer:
I’ve been having acupuncture for fertility, including coping with endometriosis, for quite some time now, enjoying the magic that Hannah Watson of Hertfordshire Natural Fertility applies to my bod with both needles but also Moxa sticks. Look them up. Warm herby sticks of joy that you hover over your bits for instant pain relief and in the case of endometriosis helping to break down stagnant blood in the depths of your pelvic region. Anyway, I would have weekly sessions and Hannah while working on fertility related stuff and prepping my body for IVF success, but would also use these sessions to tend to my anxieties. During some sessions I would arrive pretty overwhelmed, not really able to calm down or lay still. She’d apply needles to certain points and before I knew it I felt sedated, no joke. My mind would then drift to picturing a baby growing inside me, flourishing. It was bordering hallucinogenic at times!
When it came to the third transfer, I had sessions the day before and the day after transfer and then again on 5 days post transfer. Points were left in my ears and wrists to see me through the transfer and initial days thereafter. The wrist and ear points were, I believe, related to anxiety and if I felt overwhelmed I would just press on them to fire them up…as pictured below in the IVF clinic, waiting to go into theatre for the transfer.
Intrigued about acupuncture for fertility? Read my interview with Hannah here.
Sling your legs up the wall
A bit yogic and really relaxing. At any opportunity I would take to the floor, scoot my arse up close to the skirting board and then swing my legs straight up the wall. I’d regularly just lay there either listening to affirmations, meditating or reading a book. Again you are diverting precious blood to the pelvic region.
I’m a huge advocate for meditation and downloaded the ‘Mindful IVF’ app which supports you with specific sessions aimed at keeping you in the moment throughout the IVF journey. Alongside this, if I had moments of anxiety I would practice the simple routine of 4-7-8 breathing; breathing in for 4, holding for 7, breathing out for 8, until I felt calmer.
This could be a whole blog in itself but in a nutshell, pardon the pun:
Basically telling yourself some good shit to get you psyched and positive about this whole experience. I would simply go to Spotify and search ‘fertility affirmations’ and largely do either the Sarah Arkell or Bree Taylor Molyneaux tracks while dong my makeup each morning.
Day of transfer:
But how many embryos?
Lots of divided opinion about this too and no two IVF clinics are the same. But 2 weeks before my transfer I was at Create Fertility picking up more medication when one of the staff came up to me and asked for a chat, just to see how I was feeling. I said the only thing I was uncertain about was the number of embies to pop in. We had 2 left. She looked at my history and we had a very non-medical chat. She was getting to know ME not looking at me as a statistic. She said ‘go for it, do two’ and she told me about her own story about conceiving her babies through IVF. That was that. I’d been veering towards two anyway and this felt like the nudge I needed to commit to that decision. All felt a bit like fate. Agreed it with the husband that night and the rest is history. We were lucky enough to have two 5 day blastocysts ready and waiting for us for the the big day; one 3bb which turned into a 4bb in the thaw the morning of transfer (I think it was this little fighter that turned into Elodie) and a 5bc. Once they were in (brace yourself) I regularly talked to them, in part via the affirmations but also just generally. I would tell them to get cosy in there, snuggle in, stay safe. I told them they were loved and strong and that I was doing everything I could to help them feel at home and that I would continue to take care of them.
Incidentally, thats what the main pic of this blog post is about; 2 embies, third time lucky.
Because I was sedated for the transfer, you are always a bit groggy afterwards so a refreshment is always welcome. Avoiding caffeine though I had a 3 Ginger tea straight after – we took our own teabag….it always surprises me when they offer you a cold glass of water and a biscuit…no refined sugar!
After embryo transfer:
Hibernate and rest
For the second transfer that didn’t end happily back in April 2017, in those initial days post transfer I took the stance that going out immediately and seeing lovely friends, doing happy things might aid the process of implantation. But something switched in me for the third attempt. For the first 4 days I stayed put at home (apart from the post transfer acupuncture appointment that my husband took me to). I didn’t go for any walks. I rested. I didn’t lift anything, including piles of washing or Rupert the sausage dog (who generally needs carrying up and down the stairs!) Instead I would plonk Rupes on my lap and bum shuffle down the stairs and I would kick piles of dirty washing down the stairs and then towards the washing machine. Important not to confuse the two. Mad, me? I didn’t even empty the dishwasher. I didn’t want any added strain on my body as it was trying to do something so delicate. From day 5 onwards I started gentle walks to the woods again…
Warm feet, head and neck
It’s thought that the temperature of your feet relates to the temperature of your womb, and at this stage we want a nice cosy warm one. So you’d find me wearing a heady mix of snuggly socks and slippers together. In September. Sure. I would also whack the heating on and rest the soles of my feet up against the radiators while napping on the sofa. Or I’d make a hot water bottle, place it on the floor under my feet while watching Netflix of reading. Something I learned via acupuncture though was the importance to keep your head and neck warm too. So I would also wear a hoodie with the hood up…and sometimes a scarf. Indoors. Shut up.
All about the lols
Finally, who doesn’t like a good laugh and there’s no better time that when your body is trying to perform something amazing. Releasing all the feel good hormones when your body is awash with a multitude of fake hormones from the injections and tablets and pessaries is only a good thing. I pre-prepared a watch list of funny films and stand up comedy to indulge in over the 9 day wait; Dinner for Schmucks, Ali Wong…Also listened to the Johnny Vaughn podcast daily as he makes me crack up. If you’ve got a particular funny friend, get them round!
Hokay, that’s it! Again, I’m no medical expert, but I was a woman on a mission and think I was fairly intelligent about the way I approached this final attempt. I researched and found comfort in trying some non traditional, non medical techniques to help my body achieve a successful and healthy pregnancy. And if all that happened was a placebo effect to help calm my body and make it more hospitable, who am I not to share…
Do things YOUR way though. Don’t carbon copy what someone else has done, make sure it’s true to you and your internal radar. It has to feel personal, your own prescription if you like.
If you are about to go through IVF, for the first, third, fifth time, good luck. It’s a miracle process, it blows my mind. And you’re not just a vessel within that process. I truly believe you have the power to shape it, even just one or two parts of the intricate process. No matter the final outcome there will be positives you can draw out in time; like the retrieval of healthy eggs or successful fertilisation. And that is a huge step that bodes well for future attempts. It CAN happen for you. You have to keep believing no matter how hard and suffocating it can be at times. And remain empowered, you’re not a bystander. Ask loads of questions, do all the reading, assemble your team and tools, whether that be an acupuncturist and your funniest friend or a podcast and fertility affirmation track. Build it all up around you so you have this amazing support network all pushing and manifesting the outcome you so desire.