How one woman used swimming to cope with the stress and grief of her infertility struggle

In a recent article for Harper’s Bazaar, Lisa Niven-Phillips lays her heart bare as she chronicles her struggles with infertility, and how swimming helped her through her rocky journey

As she points out at the beginning of the article, one in seven couples have difficulties conceiving. For those who are having fertility troubles, finding a healthy coping mechanism is incredibly important. For Lisa, swimming got her through one of the most challenging times of her life.

She explains that she found the entire fertility process an icy and lonely experience. “The language of infertility is cold, blunt and cruel. My ovaries “failed” to perform their duties. Attempts to manipulate my “unresponsive” reproductive system were “unsuccessful”. Cycles had to be “abandoned”.”

Based on a lifetime of irregular cycles and a PCOS diagnosis, Lisa wasn’t surprised when she failed to get pregnant easily. But that didn’t stop the hurt. She says that she felt, “faulty, defective, broken.” Many women struggling with fertility can relate to her words.

Swimming – her saving grace

She and her husband spent 2019 in a blur of fertility treatments, but she cites one saving grace for her mental and physical health: she started swimming again seriously for the first time since her teenaged years.

“I started going to the local pool regularly, my stamina quickly returning… I’d arrive ruminative and sad and leave exhausted but focused, my muscles aching and my skin pale and puckered from the water.”

For Lisa, swimming wasn’t an ‘instant fix’ that made everything all better. However, she found the pool a place where she could meditate, grieve, and renew her relationship with herself, even when fertility treatments failed.

“Swimming didn’t teach me to love my body, or to find “inner strength”. But it did make me feel angry, alive and confronted. Some people say that infertility makes them numb. And the endless cycle of baby showers, pregnancy announcements and well-meaning but wounding questions can force you into an almost resigned state – you learn to disengage.”

“But my body felt like it was humming with a kinetic rage. Swimming gave me 45 minutes in an almost meditative state, focusing only on the movement of limbs and the rhythm of breathing. Then I would emerge, somehow energised. It reminded me that I was still here, and still determined.”

A miracle happened

Six months ago, and the month before she and her husband were due to start IVF, Lisa discovered that she was pregnant. She gingerly continued her swimming routine, but soon the country was put into lockdown when she was 18 weeks pregnant. Since pools have reopened in July, she has taken back to the water.

“Sometimes I feel the baby move inside me while I swim, kicking its little legs as I kick mine. I’m slower than I was before, but I don’t mind – I feel a calm I never expected to find, and a gratefulness for finally getting to where I desperately wanted to be for so long.”

It is so incredible to hear that Lisa found an activity that helped her keep a sense of calm and control during such a difficult time in her life. Swimming is an incredible activity and one that we get asked about quite often by women going through fertility treatment, especially by those in the two week wait. We asked Michalis Kyriakidis, MD, MSc, Gynecologist, Assisted Reproduction Specialist, Embryolab Fertility Clinic to talk to us about swimming during the two week wait.

“Swimming can be a very enjoyable exercise. However, the two week wait post embryo transfer is usually accompanied by vaginal progesterone use, the pregnancy hormone, and water can interfere with its absorption. In addition, swimming in the sea or pool can cause vaginal and cervical infections which in turn could affect the positive result, so it is best to avoid them.”

Please note, it is also very important to speak to your own clinician about what you can or can’t do.

Do you have a hobby, sport, or wellness routine that has helped you deal with the grief and pain of infertility? We’d love to hear about it. Drop us a line at info@ivfbabble.com

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