I’ve always said journaling is a great way to deal with tough times, but one incredible girl I met recently has gone one step further and written a book! ‘What to expect when you are not expecting’ by Hollie Shirley
It is not only a brilliant title, but a brilliant book that talks about everything you need to know surrounding ivf, with the help of women from all over the world who shared their ivf experiences with Hollie.
Sara caught up with Hollie who told her a little bit more about her book.
Hollie, firstly can you tell us a bit about your own fertility journey?
So, for me it all started over 10 years ago, I had a cyst on my ovary that went undiagnosed for the best part of 6 months which decided to burst suddenly, putting me into hospital for 3 weeks. After the surgery nothing was really explained until the day I was discharged and I was told “You may have problems having children, but when that time comes, just pop back to see us” Pop back. Like I would pop to the shops for milk. Jump forward to the present day, two miscarriages and a lot of my own research I realised there was something up. I knew that the surgery had messed things up but not to the degree that it has. I spent a lot of time crying, being angry and resentful, and It has been very difficult to come to terms with and something I have tried to hide from for a long time. But I’m getting there. I’m incredibly fortunate to have a partner who is so understanding of the situation and we are a bit better prepared for what is going to happen when we start our IVF procedures in the next 18 months.
Did you or your partner do much research before you embarked on your fertility journey?
Well, because I knew the situation with my own reproductive systems, I made a point not to hide anything from Tim. I told him on our first date that I would need IVF and he simply replied with “well, I guess we’ll just have to try extra hard” which was extremely refreshing to hear! I’d been on some dates where I’d told guys the situation and never heard from them again, almost as though my value was based on weather I could reproduce. Tim has already been for his sperm analysis and we have been to some fertility support groups which really helped us as a couple to get our heads around what we were going to go through. We are both aware of what is going to happen and have prepared ourselves for all eventualities – even when to draw the line and stop trying. At the end of the day, if it doesn’t work, it will be the two of us in it together, with our cat and dog, our amazing friends and families, to be honest that is still pretty awesome.
When did you decide you wanted to write a book? Had you begun to journal your own experience?
I’d never really opened up about it before on paper. I’d talked about it with friends but they never really knew what to say other than the usual “it will happen when it happens”, “give it time”, “what will be will be”. I guess I just wanted to put onto paper what it actually means to be infertile and how to help someone who is going through this. Trust me, we know it will happen at some point, we just need a little help to get there!
Can you tell us what your book is about?
So the book is sort of a collective effort from me, around 18 other people who got in touch and were willing to have their own words put to paper, and a handful of charities surrounding all areas of infertility. I didn’t want it to be full of my own story, I wanted to hear other peoples good and bad experiences too! So I’ve tried to cover all angles from how to get referred and that whole process, what happens in IVF, the costs (its pretty darn expensive), how you can talk to someone who is going through IVF, what happens when people stop trying, and included a lot of first hand experiences from men and women.
Where did you start?!
So It all started with no intention of being a book. I wrote it as a blog post just to get my frustration out. People are always asking “when are you going to have children?” and in my position it’s quite hard to answer. When you tell people “Actually I might not be able to have kids” they look at you like you just told them you’re dying. That sucks. Trust me, I don’t want sympathy, I just want people to be a bit more understanding about what that entails.
So, I made it a blog post, which I shared on social media with a little encouragement from Tim – he was the one I was most nervous to see it – and my inbox melted. I had so many messages from people who were going through something similar or had done, and the running theme was “I wish I’d had more information before we started, and knew who to turn to” so I thought to myself, huh, there really isn’t that much information out there – so why not write about it?
In terms of the women who have shared their stories, how far (globally) have you reached?
So I’ve had women from India, Australia, America, France, Italy and the UK get in touch, mainly through my initial blog post. They got in touch with me and I asked them if they would want to share more about their story – some did and some didn’t, which is understandable. I think sometimes its just having a complete stranger to open up to that helps – someone who knows nothing about their personal situation and is completely unbiased to just listen and not judge them for the feelings they have but might not be able to express through fear of being judged. We are so hard on ourselves, and we shouldn’t feel like we can’t express ourselves, so finding a good support network and an outlet for your feelings is paramount.
How have you sourced all the information?
I reached out to a number of charities such as the Fertility network, the Miscarriage association, PCOS charities, HEFA, and from a lot of research! I didn’t want it to be a book all on facts though, I wanted it to be easy to understand, which is why I have used a lot of first hand accounts rather than scientific papers and handbooks. Theres loads of those out there, you can take in all the official information until your brain goes a bit funny, but having real stories and real information in first hand terms makes it easier to digest.
The book is written in such an easy to read way. I felt like I was sat down with a friend over coffee as she talked me through ivf. Has the book helped you get through your own fertility journey?
It has helped, because it has let me express all my own emotions and feelings of failure, guilt, disgust in my body for not working properly, and let me know that I am not alone. That’s the most important thing I can tell anyone who is going through this – you are never ever alone. There is always someone to talk to, someone to confide in, weather that be online, at a counselling session, your friends, family, and most importantly your partner. IVF is such a lonely process because you just feel like you can’t tell anyone in case it isn’t a success, so it’s important to know there are thousands of people out there who are going through this with you. Fertility fight club if you will. It has also helped Tim to understand what it is we will go through and it has made us stronger. Your partner is literally your partner in crime with this, and you have to be able to talk about it and hold one another up throughout this. It takes two to tango after all.
The title is absolute genius. I honestly wish I’d prepared myself more prior to my ivf and know what to expect. I really think this book will help so many women. Have you got a publisher yet?
I don’t have a publisher yet. I have tried sending the book to loads (and I mean loads) of publishers but that’s the thing with being an unknown – no one wants to take the chance, especially with such a sensitive subject. I will most probably self publish the book online – getting it professionally published would be a dream come true because I know that this would help so many people with something so sensitive. If just one person reads it and it helps them, then that’s good enough for me.
When your book is published, can we organise a book signing please?!
Absolutely! Even if it is just in my garden with a few self published copies
We will treat you to an excerpt from Hollie’s book next week!