Four years, three clinics, two positive tests, one miscarriage, then finally a successful pregnancy. Rosie Bray knows how gruelling IVF can be.
IVF is hard on you, your body and your relationship. Oh yeah, and (unless you get NHS-lottery-lucky) it’s hard on your wallet too.
It’s not something anyone actually chooses to do. You’re there because you can’t make a baby the ‘normal’ way. I knew IVF wouldn’t be a barrel of laughs but I wasn’t quite prepared for the tortuous slog it became.
But the possible prize is so great and so you sign up and hope you can survive the ride. It took me three cycles to figure out what survival tips I would have loved to know from the start:
- Get organised
There is A LOT of paperwork that comes with IVF so take control of it early on and keep EVERYTHING. If your cycle fails you will want to sift through it, and over-analyse every embryologist’s unintelligible scribble. I had five bulging folders of notes in the end and found it beyond annoying but then rationalised that, if it takes a lot of paperwork to buy a house, then it really should take a lot to make a baby.
- Trust your instincts
When choosing a fertility clinic, don’t get too bogged down by their stats. Go to a few clinic ‘open evenings’ to get a feel for the facilities, friendliness of the staff and the general ambiance. If you can’t get NHS funded treatment in the UK, bear in mind that you’ll be paying the clinic a lot of money, so you need to feel completely happy with it. (The word ‘happy’ there is obviously relative…). In particular, see if you feel comfortable with the nurses as they’re the people you’ll be seeing most often.
- Ask questions, make lists
At your first consultation your doctor will overwhelm you with information (ours drew an incredibly complex GCSE Biology diagram of a uterus). Take a list of questions with you that covers EVERYTHING. You may only meet the consultant once and they often decide on your drug protocol at this meeting so you’ll want to know exactly what you’ll be doing and why.
- Ignore the scare stories
Try to view the drugs positively. A hypnotherapist suggested imagining them as a golden liquid, magically encouraging my body to produce lots of healthy eggs. I’d heard all the horror stories about IVF drugs making women crazy but, for me at least, it simply wasn’t true. Even the injections aren’t too bad. It actually feels oddly normal to be sitting in the kitchen at tea-time with your trousers down whacking a hypodermic into your thigh. Best not done with guests around though.
- Take time off work
I can’t recommend this enough. I would recommend taking off the few days between egg collection and a possible Day 5 embryo transfer plus a day or two afterwards to rest at home. That’s a total of about a week. And definitely book the day off work on pregnancy test day. You may think you’ll be fine to just breeze straight into that morning meeting but trust me, if it’s negative, you won’t.
- Limit who you tell
The last thing you need is endless texts from friends and family who want to know if it’s worked. Tell people that YOU will call THEM when you have news. The second time we did IVF I had my first ever positive pregnancy test. Such was the uncontrollable explosion of joy, I wanted to tell the world I was pregnant. So I pretty much did – a decision I rather regretted about eight weeks later when a scan proved otherwise.
- Pamper yourself
Do whatever it takes to make yourself feel good. After injections have some chocolate. After egg collection do something lovely to help your body (and mind) recover. I had massages, acupuncture and hot soothing baths and generally relaxed so that my mind and body were well rested for when the embryos were ready to be put back.
- Discuss ALL eventualities
Whilst it’s important to be hopeful, it’s sensible to be realistic. Sometimes IVF doesn’t work. It’s not a magic bullet and we were only given a 30% chance of success. Discuss with your other half the ‘what if it doesn’t work’ scenarios BEFORE you start your IVF cycle. Having a plan B will soften the blow if you aren’t successful.
- Carry on as normal
The worst period of IVF is the ‘two week wait’, the agonising 10-12 days from embryo transfer to pregnancy test day. There’s nothing you can do to influence the outcome so try to let go. And no, standing up, walking or even running for the bus won’t cause the embryo to fall out. They’re safe in there – someone once described them as grains of salt inside a peanut butter sandwich.
- Let’s talk about IVF
I always wish I’d had an IVF veteran to talk to when I was going through it but, at the time, I just didn’t know anyone. So go on forums, ask around and talk to other women who’ve done it. That shared experience is invaluable, even just for reassurance and advice. And when you’re successful, pass on what you learnt to others. The more we talk about IVF, the more tips and advice will be shared, increasing people’s chances of success.
“Get A Life: His and Hers Survival Guide to IVF” by Rosie Bray and Richard Mackney is available to purchase here