My story, and how it led me to become a fertility coach, by Sarah Banks

Trying for a baby can be a wonderful and exciting time. But for a number of couples (approximately one in seven) it can be an exhausting, heartbreaking and stressful time, full of ups and downs and feelings of hopelessness, failure and grief.

I was one of these people. I felt the grief every month that I still wasn’t pregnant, the grief for a life I wanted that included children. I felt that my life was at a standstill while everyone around me was moving forwards – babies, new jobs, new homes, holidays….I was putting off doing things ‘in case I get pregnant’. I felt jealousy towards people who were able to get pregnant, which made me feel worse. I just felt that they were living the life I wanted. I was putting extreme pressure on myself and my relationship by my only focus being on getting pregnant.

I can see that now, when I look back at all those years of trying. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but in that moment you can’t just ‘stop thinking about it’ like so many well meaning people tell you to do, so that ‘it will just happen’.

My husband and I have been together since we were 18, and we got married at 25.

I had always known I wanted to be a mum. My plan was to get as far as I wanted in my career and then have a baby, at which point I would devote myself to being a mum.

I wanted to work part time so I could bring up my babies in the way I felt was right. I started a role in Buying straight from university and absolutely loved my job as a lingerie buyer, basically getting paid to go shopping. It was hard work, but very rewarding. I was the youngest buyer on the team by far and was keen to progress and get as much experience as I could.

We had been married 18 months when we decided to start trying for a baby. We always said we would love to have 2 children, a boy first and then a girl. We assumed it would happen quickly and obviously in the exact order we had planned.

The first month we started trying my period was late, and I happily thought I must be pregnant. Sadly not, and then followed 5 heartbreaking years of trying for that elusive positive result.

Each month that passed became harder to cope with it not happening. Every month I would dread going to the toilet around the time my period was due, knowing my heart would be broken again for another month when the inevitable happened.

It felt like everyone around me was getting pregnant (and on their first month of trying). In my close circles of friends 14 babies were born in the time we were trying (one friend even had 3 babies in that time).

This period of time in my life was extremely difficult. I was upset a lot of the time, crying myself to sleep, everything reminded me of what I didn’t have, I was surrounded by pregnant friends and babies, it affected my relationship – I felt upset when my husband didn’t seem as upset as me about it. Luckily we have a strong marriage and worked through it together. The key was not placing blame on either side and supporting each other when the other was struggling.

I didn’t tell my family until we were about to start treatment

They didn’t really understand about IVF but they were very supportive. My mum was desperate for a grandchild so kept making comments, so telling her about the treatment also stopped the comments.

We tried for 3 years before going to the doctors – we didn’t really know much about IVF, no one we knew had been through anything like that, we just thought we should get checked.

We were referred to our local unit and there began a long journey of tests, waiting and a rollercoaster of emotions. We luckily qualified for NHS funding, which in our area includes one full cycle, with 3 frozen transfers from that cycle. We had already said that we would start saving for further cycles in case they were needed. We also felt very fortunate that there was funding for IVF treatment.

All my scans and tests looked fine but tests showed that my husband’s sperm count was low, so no further tests were done on me and we were referred straight for ICSI.

I felt quite positive at this stage as we were taking positive action towards having a baby. Whenever I felt upset about going for appointments, or worried about treatment, I tried to remind myself that I could be going to hospital for treatment for a life threatening illness, instead I was there to hopefully help us have a baby. This really helped.

We finally had the appointment to start the medication, and the nurse told me I had to inject myself to check I could do it.

I have a phobia of needles so had already asked my mum to do the injections for me. When I had to do one for myself I felt sick. I cried all the way through doing it and wondered how I would get through having daily injections for the whole of the cycle.

The first day of injections I decided that I was going to take control and do the injections myself. I told myself that I was doing it to hopefully get a family, and told myself that every time I had to inject. I actually feel really proud of myself for doing it and getting through it. It was a big fear for me, and I took control of it to work towards what I wanted.

As it got closer to the egg collection date the number of follicles was growing rapidly.

The consultant checked my scan and said that I was at risk of developing OHSS and that the consultant at Care may decide to freeze all my embryos as it may be too risky to put one back. I was advised that a decision would be made on the day depending on how the collection went and how I was feeling.

I was really worried that it would end in a freeze all. I was desperate to have the embryo transfer as I had already been waiting so long. I desperately wanted a baby and any delay was another blow. It really played on my mind in the run up to the egg collection.

By the day of op I did feel a bit bloated and sickly. It was the first operation I’ve ever had so I felt nervous, but excited that we were getting going.

When I came round I felt awful. I felt so sick I couldn’t even move my head off the pillow without a wave of nausea, and I definitely didn’t want the sandwich I’d excitedly ordered a few hours earlier.

When the consultant came to see me I knew what he was going to say. There had been 45 follicles and they had collected 30ish eggs. I was definitely at risk of OHSS and they didn’t want to continue to embryo transfer. The eggs would all be fertilized, grown and then any viable ones frozen. I was really upset at the time and begged for them to let me have the transfer, but looking back now I know delaying it was the right thing to do.

I had to stay in the hospital for a few hours until I felt well enough to get up.

I felt sick, bloated and in quite a bit of pain. When we were travelling home, the road from the hospital has a really bad surface with lots of potholes, and every bump was agony for me. I was laid almost horizontal in the front seat because any pressure on my stomach was awful, I said to my husband ‘It feels like something is banging together inside’ which my consultant later told me was my ovaries banging together as they were about the size of 2 oranges. I can still remember the feeling now.

I had to be off work for a week, I was so bloated and in pain that I couldn’t stand up or walk around, I didn’t want to eat anything, and I was struggling emotionally and physically.

I had to see the consultant every day to check my recovery, and I had to monitor and measure my water input and output (not very dignified). We had to ring the unit for advice a few times, and my husband nearly had me admitted twice as I was so unwell. I was burning up, feeling dizzy and sick, slumped on the bathroom floor and not able to stand up straight.

It was a really difficult part of our IVF journey.

I struggled physically, but the emotional side was even worse. I felt like my dream of having a baby was just getting further away, it was another setback and pushed back the date of potentially getting pregnant (and I didn’t know by how long as it depended on how quickly my body recovered).

Out of the eggs that were collected we had 15 that fertilised. We paid to take them to blastocyst, and across those few days we ended up with 2 blastocysts that were both frozen.

The process for getting my body ready for the transfer was much less intensive on my body, I felt fine and much more positive.

The transfer went well and our test day was our 5 year Wedding Anniversary, so I thought it was fate that we would get a positive result – find out we were pregnant on our anniversary.

We had the blood tests then went out for the day. I was really anxious and dreaded going to the toilet (being on ‘knicker watch’). I was desperate for it to have worked and thinking back I just assumed it would.

Calling the unit for the results was hard; the wait while they checked our results, then delivered the heartbreaking news that it hadn’t worked.

Heartbroken is the only way I can describe it. I had pinned all my hopes on it working when I started treatment, and it was like a realisation that this might never happen, that even with having treatment there is no guarantee. That hit me quite hard.

It took me a long time to get over that emotionally. I struggled with my emotions for a couple of weeks, bursting into tears all the time, and it was difficult to hide it at work. I felt in limbo and I didn’t know where to turn for support.

It also took a while for my body to get back to normal. My periods were erratic (so much that I thought I was pregnant when I was on holiday, so didn’t drink and limited what I did as it was a water sports holiday, and cruelly it was just my body being all over the place).

Ironically, I had to go back on the pill to regulate my cycle, which again was hard to get my head around.

I struggled to feel positive going in to my second FET as I knew it was our last embryo, so a negative result would mean going back through it all again.

I wasn’t sure how I would cope if I got another negative result, and even going through the process after being so ill. So I went to see an anxiety coach because I couldn’t stop thinking that it wouldn’t work. She really helped me learn some techniques to manage my worry, which I used all through the process. It made a huge difference to how I felt going in to my 2nd transfer. I was still nervous but could manage the worries.

Finally I could have my second transfer in the January (after a negative result in July). This time I took a full week off work so I could relax and not be stressed at work. I wanted to give myself the best chance of it working. So I watched TV and pottered around shopping all week, which was lovely, a real luxury.

Test day came again and I was a bag of nerves.

The nurse took my blood and gave the vial a kiss and said good luck (which shows how much the teams want it to work for you too). I was dreading making the call again after last time as I now knew what it felt like.

We were driving round waiting for 12pm when we could call, and I had a call on my mobile – we were in a queue for the car wash. It was the nurse from the hospital. She said ‘I can’t leave you waiting any longer, it’s a positive’.

I think I went in to a bit of shock as I even asked her if she was joking.

The feeling was unbelievable and indescribable. I’d never had a positive result before and to say I was happy is a huge understatement. We had to go to pick up all my medication to sustain the pregnancy and then went to tell my mum she was going to be a grandma (another amazing moment).

After everything we had been through I was very nervous and cautious throughout my pregnancy. I’d believed it wouldn’t happen and still struggled with that; so I worried that something would happen to the baby. That being said, I enjoyed every minute, and I didn’t once moan about a symptom as I knew how lucky I was and what I had been through to get there.

In October 2013 my son Jack was born by emergency c-section and it was the happiest day of my life.

All the tears, scans and injections were worth it to get this perfect little boy in my arms. Every day I am thankful that IVF is available and to the team in Calderdale because they gave me my family.

When Jack was 14 months I had some more surprising, but amazing news, I found out I was pregnant naturally. And in October 2015, my daughter Millie was born.

Struggling to conceive and going through IVF, I realised that there is a lack of support available, so I set up a free support group in my local area and a Facebook group that seem to be making a big difference to people emotionally. They are gaining a lot of support from each other, sharing information and buddying up with people in the same cycle as themselves. The feedback has been that the emotional support has been invaluable, so I’m glad they have the support that I needed.

I also re trained to be a life coach so that I could support couples emotionally through this difficult journey.

I now work with women who are struggling with how overwhelming infertility is, to help them reduce stress and anxiety to increase their chances of success.

Infertility and IVF are heartbreakingly difficult things to go through, and if you haven’t been through it, it is impossible to fully understand the level of emotion and grief that couples experiencing it go through.

If you would like any more information on how I can support you on your journey please message me on sarah@sarahbanks.coach. You are also welcome to join my Facebook community for extra support Surviving Infertility, I would love to see you in there xx

We are delighted to tell you that Sarah will be at our #ttcmanchesterlunch on April 28th. If you would like to come along and meet Sarah, email katie@ivfbabble.com

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