IVF babble co-founder, Sara Marshall-Page and Natalie Fitzpatrick, the creator of the brilliant IVF diary ‘Me Myself & IVF’, talk about dealing with the roller coaster of emotions that go hand in hand with IVF.
IVF babble has an abundance of brilliant advice to offer about what to eat, medication to expect, tests to take and supplements to choose before starting your IVF, but probably, the biggest challenge anyone entering in to IVF will face, is coping with the enormity of the emotional rollercoaster. Most doctors recommend Pre and post counselling, but I personally didn’t take this advice. I just wanted to crack on with my treatment. Even when my IVF failed, I still spoke to no one. I just shut my front door and hid from the world. What I did do though, was open my diary and pour my heart out. Although I chose not to talk to a professional counsellor, downloading my emotions and thoughts on to the blank pages was my way of clearing my mind so that I could have a bit of breathing space from my own fears.
I also chose to have regular acupuncture before my second round of IVF.
I felt so calm when I was in the room. I could actually feel a real energy swirl around my body as the needles were placed. In retrospect, I actually talked to my acupuncturist as though she were my counsellor. She never advised, she simply listened. I always left her practice feeling calm and positive.
As a result, I entered my second round of IVF with a different mind-set to that of my first. I realised that my IVF could fail. I realised that I would survive whatever the outcome. I realised this was a journey and I would stick with it no matter how long it took. I was lucky though, my journey was relatively short. My second round of IVF was successful.
Last week I caught up with the beautiful Natalie Fitzpatrick, who has been through 5 rounds of IVF and is about to enter her 6th round next week, armed with determination and drive. Despite the tragic loss of recurrent miscarriages, Natalie is one of the most energised and positive women I’ve ever met. Here, she tells us how she has coped, and is coping emotionally.
Natalie, to have had 5 unsuccessful rounds of IVF must drain you both physically and emotionally. How have you helped yourself heal each time? Have you had any counselling? If no, what did you do?
My first three cycles were tough, mentally and physically. With each failure or miscarriage I wanted to push through with back-to-back cycles, despite being advised against this by medical professionals. They wanted me to let my body rest, but I went against their orders and carried on, pushing any negativity to the back of my mind.
In hindsight it was one of the worst things I could have done for my mental health. Although I seemed fine and dealt with it pretty well, one day it all caught up with me and anxiety and depression hit me hard.
Ironically I still didn’t connect the pieces and often sat wondering what had brought on such a low state. It wasn’t until I spoke to my GP that I realised I had been foolish to not look after myself during the process.
Even then I still refused to believe it had brought me down, almost like admitting that I had failed. I felt weak and blamed myself for failures – which are probably why I never allowed myself to opt for counselling despite it being offered.
Naively I believed it was to be judged, would I be classed as ‘unstable’ if I broke down during a one to one session? What if I let down my guard and admitted out loud that I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing? Would I be struck off the treatment list?
Looking back it seems so naive and ignorant, which is why I am now open about my emotions. If I’m having a low day or need to talk, I can speak to the Instagram community for advice. It is non judgemental and not a stone goes unturned.
It’s ok to not be ok, and my new motto is if I can’t prioritise my own health, then how am I expected to look after my future children’s health.
You are about to enter into your 6th round of IVF. Where do you find the energy to remain positive?
If you had asked me this question 18 months ago, before I took time out, my reply would be vastly different. I didn’t plan on taking such a long break, but actually it has helped me remain positive.
I started to take a break whilst I concentrated on my business and in all honestly it snowballed. I enjoyed my free time, but I still yearned for the routine of treatment. I made a promise to give myself at least 12 weeks break, and I had so much fun and quality time to reconnect with my husband, friends and family that I didn’t realise it had been 18 months. Stepping back into treatment is daunting yet exciting, it’s fresh, it’s new hopes and expectations.
Having experienced such disappointment, how do you keep your fears under control?
If there was a magic pill to stop me worrying then I think we all would take it. There is nothing to control my mind at times, I can be lying in bed at 3am wide-awake speculating, or I can be sat at work daydreaming – I have to keep busy. Once I stand still, the fears set in, the Google searches come out and it only makes things worse. Never ever Google IVF result stories, you will only compare yourself to everyone else’s results and you will be bitterly disappointed. The race is long, but you are only in this for yourself.
Are you entering into this round of IVF with a different mind-set from the previous rounds?
Not exactly a different mind-set but most certainly a sense of excitement. I lost that with my other cycles, it became too much of a routine and with each disappointment it was half expected.
This time I am eager to continue and genuinely enjoy the injections and scans. It gives me a sense of control – will that come back to bite me if I have a failure?.. Maybe so but I’m ever the realist, I have to be honest with my expectations and expect nothing, anything else is a bonus.
How is your IVF treatment different this time round?
This time round I’ve opted for PGS. With recurrent miscarriages I needed a new outlook and treatment plan. I didn’t want to be clutching at straws and hoping on a miracle. We needed to look at science, hard facts and figures.
I will also be a lot more involved in my treatment. I was happy to plod along last time but I feel that fire in my belly roaring. I feel having that desire is great for thinking, from a clinical point of view rather, than a patient who simply wants a child.
You created the diary Me Myself and IVF almost as a way of coping, would you say?
‘Me, myself and IVF’ was initially a personal venture. After taking a break from IVF 5 I found myself lost. I genuinely missed the routine and support during my break, and whilst exploring further treatment I observed that I had no clear record of my previous cycle to compare future treatment to, including medication, medication dosages and test results. I felt my medical notes were too generic and I felt detached to the text upon the paper, my journey almost felt too clinical for me to connect with. Scrap pieces of paper lay within the bundle of notes with no belonging nor purpose. As an advocate for mental health and the emotional process during fertility this most certainly came in handy when including this into the design, as well as light hearted humour, something to soften to process and relate to the reality of treatment.
We will catch up again with Natalie next week, but it goes without saying we all wish her huge love and support.
(Natalie has kindly offered our subscribers a discount code should you wish to buy one of her diaries. Simply go to bearfaceprints.etsy.com and enter BABBLE10 at the checkout and you will receive your discount.)
IVF is emotionally draining. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you are feeling. Cry, shout, be grumpy, be happy. You are allowed to switch between these emotions at regular intervals too! Just don’t keep them in. Don’t feel guilty for hating your pregnant friends and work colleagues. Don’t feel guilty for losing your temper with your partner.
Choose an outlet for your fears and concerns. Download your thoughts in a diary, or talk to a close friend, or your partner.
Talk to other women and men on the incredible Facebook support groups, consider having some counselling, or simply find yourself a lovely acupuncturist like the one I had. Reach out; you are not alone on this emotional rollercoaster.