Be Courageous

Everyone’s experience of trying to conceive is unique. Whether it’s months or years, there’s a common theme – resilience:

The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

At the heart of resilience lies strong relationships. A support team of wonderful family and friends that can provide a security blanket of warmth and comfort when you need it most.

When we first started treatment, a few years ago now, I kept myself to myself. It can be an alienating experience from your nearest and dearest, including your partner.  I didn’t read the baby forums or community pages. For a start there were too many acronyms and at the time I didn’t take comfort from other peoples journeys. I found it disheartening. I read of couples that had sadly separated. I could see how it could damage even the strongest relationship. Ross felt helpless and didn’t know what to say alot of the time. He wanted to solve things for us but there was no quick fix. I on the other hand wanted him to feel what I was feeling. I wanted comfort not solutions.

It can become hard to relate to one another as your experience and how you deal with it will be entirely different. I found it difficult to explain the sense of loss. An unexplainable grief. I have felt like I have lost babies that I’ve never technically had. Your partner won’t share these feelings or understand them. So try not to kill them when they say they would be happy if it’s just the two of you. I knew I needed an outlet to process what I was feeling. I was lucky to find a local psychologist that I could confide in. It was a safe and friendly environment where I knew I wouldn’t face judgement. Ross and I went together on occasion which gave him a better understanding of how I was feeling. She helped us identify each others coping mechanisms and how to talk through our feelings without it ending in tears. Literally. It was such a valuable and positive experience for us. I’m not ashamed to admit that I had a therapist. Sometimes it’s not always possible to get through the hard times on your own. Sometimes we don’t know how to. Find that support group, person/s or therapist who you find to be understanding, nonjudgmental, and supportive. Let these individuals know when you need help and support. Let them know how changeable these feelings can be day to day during your treatment. Reaching out doesn’t make you needy or weak. It makes you COURAGEOUS.

A person who has more recently become a friend of ours took my hand a couple of weeks ago and told me he had read my blog and offered his support to us in any way we should need it. There was a genuine connection in that moment. I had that feeling of being held up and comforted. I wasn’t feeling down or upset at the time but regardless I felt like I could stand taller. I can’t explain it anymore than that.

The more I talk about infertility the less I fear. I talk about appointments or procedures like I’m going to the dentist. This is my normality and for so many others it is too. I have found it to be empowering supporting others, even when I feel in need of support myself. It’s a real reminder of my own strength when facing adversity.

I promise you will be in awe of the support that is around you if you just open yourself up to it.

Ready.. steady.. IVF

I remember saying to Ross only a few weeks ago, “I don’t think I’ve ever felt so calm.” I had a glass of wine in hand, chilled tunes on and was feeling very zen. After the last course of treatment we packed up the car and took a trip to the West Coast for a week. It did us the world of good. The hormones, anticipation, frustration and tiredness to name a few, is a huge strain on your relationship (understatement). Timeout together is really important, whether it be before or after treatment. It’s an opportunity to talk through how you’re feeling and make future plans. I’m not sure why but I always feel like we can talk more openly and calmly out of our home environment. Less distraction.

Literally as soon as our IVF appointment and paperwork came through my nose started twitching. I have this annoying twitch that started during our first round of IVF. It’s like a tingly feeling over the bridge of my nose that comes and goes depending on my stress levels. It’s not visible to anyone else but to me it feels like my nose has a heartbeat. I felt like I had all of this under control, but the feelings quickly come flooding back. I kind of expected it to though, I don’t think you ever really rid yourself of anxiety, more keep it at bay.

We have two appointments scheduled in June. The first being a patient information evening, which is compulsory for all patients and partners that are embarking on the IVF programme. There will be approximately 30-40 in attendance for further information about the treatment and to meet the staff. This is a good opportunity to make some IVF buddies! When you’re in the clinic during treatment it will be nice to see a familiar face. Someone to make small talk with to pass the time whilst you wait to be seen. Warning: there’s so much waiting. The second is a consultation with the Dr/Nurses for initial tests. There are fairly strict guidelines in place for IVF treatment under the NHS. This includes being a healthy BMI and a non-smoker. You can find more info here: IVF criteria. Tests will be done to cover these (height, weight, smoking status assessed) and routine bloods to check my hormone levels. That’s what I expect to happen. Our first round of IVF was carried out privately in the States so protocol will be different I’m sure. We should receive our treatment plan and know our exact start date at that point. The butterflies are growing by the day!

During my first round, I gave it my everything and threw all my energy into being the perfect IVF candidate. I had to make it a success. But the reality is that it is out of your control. It’s down to science and luck. It’s not natural for your body to harvest multiple eggs, nor is it natural to be implanted with a fertilised embryo, so it’s not surprising that your body would reject it. I can’t solve my problem. My health has always been a priority of mine and I don’t think there’s anything else I can change or want to change that will actually make a difference.

If you are overweight, drink excessively, don’t exercise and your stress levels are high then yes there’s an abundance of things you can do. The majority of recommendations that I see for IVF patients regarding diet and wellbeing are those that I give to all of my clients. Eat a balanced diet, avoid processed foods, limit sugar intake and so on. There are several alternative healing therapies that are also recommended for IVF treatment that will help you throughout your journey. Acupuncture, Reiki healing and morning meditation all help me mentally and emotionally so they have become part of my life and routine.

My approach this time is a relaxed one! It actually makes me laugh (nervously) to think about how crazy you get from all the hormones. It’s so stressful. There will be no complete bans on things. Away with the no caffeine, no added sugar, no dairy, no alcohol, no high intensity training sIMG_6063.jpgessions, no heavy weights sessions. Undoubtedly my gut would be singing “hallelujah” if I stuck to the above, but mentally it’s too much. This doesn’t mean I’m going to drink a bottle of wine every night. Far from it. I don’t drink much anyway. But I’ll leave any alcohol for special occasions and during injections I won’t drink at all. I’ll continue to have my morning dark roast coffee until the day I’m pregnant because I enjoy it and I don’t want to deprive myself from life’s pleasures. It’ll only stress me out more.

In January I met with a Registered Dietician and discovered I had the following food allergens: eggs, wheat, carrots, cows milk, sesame, peanuts and hazelnuts. I’ve eaten eggs everyday for the last 5 years!! Initially I removed these foods completely and followed an elimination diet to reduce inflammation and heal my gut. My stomach troubles definitely improved. Secretly I hoped that a healed gut would lead to fertility. Sounds silly I know. But it was stressful to maintain and it affected social situations. 30% of the time I don’t worry about food intolerances/allergens and I enjoy eating out with friends/family. The rest of the time I cook from scratch and avoid them. Having a cream tea scone (my fav) will NOT be the cause of a failed round of IVF. If you have set some ground rules then I suggest giving yourself a break and stop being so hard on yourself. If you set too many boundaries you will fail. Feeling like a failure will only add to your stress.

Look at your work-life balance and how much time you’re taking out for yourself. A few months back I changed my working hours. Since I became a PT, I’ve trained clients from 6am. Early mornings have never really bothered me but this last year I’ve felt them taking their toll. Now I begin clients sessions from 8am and I’ve noticed a big improvement in the quality of my sleep, energy levels and generally I feel happier. I’m more in sync with Ross too. We relax in the evenings watching tv or workout together before dinner. I was always conscious I needed to be in bed for 830pm so I never fully relaxed in the evenings. I’ve no doubt lost potential clients because of this but I’m allowing myself to come first. Be selfish and look at your routine. Are you putting others before you?

Whatever the outcome of the treatment, I want to feel like I have given it my best shot, that I’ve given it my all. I don’t want to blame myself anymore than I already do. Spend time revelling in the positive things in your life in the lead up to treatment. Create a more calming environment and be kind to yourself because it’s having the mental power to get through IVF that’s key. Other than that you are in lucks hands.

Diagnosis:

As the Dr spoke, all I heard was that it was my fault. I felt ashamed. He told me my lifestyle was the cause. I was the reason we couldn’t have a baby. What was I doing wrong?

I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovaries (PCOS) at 20 after discovering cysts on my ovaries. I’ve had issues over the years but thankfully nothing too sinister. My lack of cycle (period) I assumed to be a side effect of the contraceptive injection, Depo-Provera which I had been using for 10+ years. When we decided to start trying for a family, I stopped the injections and waited for my cycle to return. I was advised that it could take up to 12 months after the last injection but it never arrived. To be honest I didn’t really know how conception worked. I didn’t know about the signs of ovulation. I didn’t know there was a tiny window (3-5days) during your cycle that you could conceive. I thought it would be easy. It appeared that people were ‘falling’ pregnant all around me. But the chances of conceiving in any given cycle is actually very low. I’ve learnt that pregnancy is undoubtedly one of life’s beautiful miracles. After 18 months of waiting and trying we met with the Fertility clinic.

After some simple routine tests for both of us I was diagnosed with Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA). It is the technical name for when the hypothalamus stops sending “go ahead and reproduce” signals to the pituitary gland. There’s a disconnect somewhere! This results in absent menstrual cycles, along with other symptoms such as failure to ovulate, troubled sleeping, depression, anxiety, low libido, low energy and always feeling cold.

The crux of it is I have a hormonal imbalance. Medication can help to a degree but there’s an underlying problem that it won’t solve. That is why other types of fertility treatment don’t work for me. My hormone levels are hard to control and they can’t provide my body what it needs to conceive. I’ve researched both of my conditions and a common factor is diet and gut problems. This encouraged me to meet with a Dietician for food allergen tests as mentioned in a previous post. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) has troubled me for as long as I can remember. I do wonder how detrimental my early 20’s were to my health. For a few years I followed a scarily low calorie diet with very little carbohydrates. I couldn’t digest them so I avoided them like the plague. I was very thin and despite exercising alot I was probably very unhealthy. I didn’t know any better. The last few years my IBS has been at it’s worst. I believe this to be because of the stress of treatment, moving countries, moving house… lots of moving!

The Dr’s advice for HA was – “eat more and exercise less”

I looked at my life and panicked. My body fat percentage was low, but I never felt it was too low. Eating more sounds like a ‘fun’ prescription to many I’m sure. Who doesn’t want to eat more? But gaining fat as a Personal Trainer scared me. I had worked hard to get to the condition I was at. Add to this less exercise and I was having palpitations. Exercise is my life, it’s what I thrive on, it’s my medication. I looked at my regime and knew I could reduce the intensity and frequency of my training. I felt gutted that what I was doing was apparently wrong and damaging. But I focused on the bigger picture and made the changes as advised.

I follow progressive strength based programs to stop me from going hell for leather in sessions. I still push myself to a degree as I wouldn’t be happy if I wasn’t hitting goals. It isn’t about aesthetics anymore. I want to feel good and strong in body and mind. I am approximately 10lbs heavier than I was when we first started treatment. I don’t measure my body fat %. I don’t care. The less strenuous activities such as running or practicing slower paced yin and restorative yoga is a welcomed break from the gym. It enables me to focus on breathing, stretching and calming the mind. I watch my calorie intake to make sure I’m eating plenty for my activity but I am very aware of not becoming obsessive or overly restrictive with my diet. Initially I felt like my diagnosis sent me in a downward spiral. I over-analysed everything – food, drink, exercise, sleep. It was soul-destroying.

I gently remind myself that I’m not to blame for this. I live day to day as I know how. Knowledge is power and I feel I’ve learned so much about my body since we started this. I don’t know when doing everything at 100mph became a habit. Embracing peace and quiet has been nothing but good for me. I cook, bake, enjoy a glass of wine with a trashy book and more quality time with family and friends. I have bubbly aromatic baths which are definitely more enjoyable with a gin! I also treat my body to a relaxing massage every other week. Despite doing all of the above I still have no cycle. I try not to let this deflate me despite always feeling like I am waiting for something. I have read countless stories of women in the same shoes who haven’t successfully regulated their cycle. I take peace from that.

I have come to the realisation that it’s not in my power to reverse my diagnosis. The exact cause of my infertility as I see it is unknown. Maybe it’s not in my destiny to have a baby. I’m not being negative, I’m being realistic. Please don’t tell me not to give up because I won’t allow infertility to define me. I have the most wonderful husband, a loving family and a beautiful circle of close friends who all support me 100%. This may be what I choose to be my version of family. My diagnosis won’t dictate how I live my life anymore.