An A to Z of IVF, Part 4 (M to P)

M    Music
Uplifting or relaxing, music can play a large part in your IVF treatment cycle. If you’re feeling stressed the right music can take you away to a place where you can forget about everything going on around you, at least temporarily. Music therapy has been used for years to help improve mood and restore energy, and soothing rhythms can calm your mind, regulate your heart rate and help you to breathe easier. I found it an invaluable tool in coping with the stress of IVF.

N     Nutrition
Eating well is an absolute must. That’s not to say you can’t afford yourself the odd treat – we’re humans not saints after all! It’s important to remember though that what we put in our bodies really does affect us physically, mentally and even emotionally. It’s probably a good idea to avoid too much junk food in general, but a burger every now and then isn’t going to make any difference whatsoever, especially if you make one yourself at home using organic meat if possible. It goes without saying that the bulk of your diet should come from the usual suspects – vegetables, fruit and grains. Don’t forget a small amount of dairy too. It’s never a good idea to omit complete food groups – just go for moderation. If cooking isn’t usually your thing why not buy a cookbook with easy and quick to make recipes? You’ll have fun putting ingredients together and maybe learn a new skill too, and that’s always a good thing.

O     Optimism
In the beginning you’ll probably be full of positivity and optimism hoping that your very first cycle will be successful. Often it is, and the emotional risk of multiple treatments is minimised. If, however, your first cycle is negative you may find that optimism starts to wane, just a little. The longer it takes and the more treatment you have, the harder it can get to remain in a positive frame of mind. Whilst cautious optimism is recommended, try to also be a realist. Your chances do increase with each cycle i.e. the more you do, the greater the odds of success. Keep that in mind and it will help to balance your view when you’re feeling low.

P      Plan B
It’s a good idea to make alternative plans for if your treatment doesn’t work and you find yourself unable to carry on with further cycles for whatever reason. Hopefully you won’t need one, but having something else to focus on so that you know there is something new and exciting in your future regardless is a huge help. Try and make a plan that involves something you wouldn’t normally do otherwise, but that is still achievable. If your treatment is successful that’s fantastic, but if not having something alternative to work towards can be beneficial.

Tomorrow … Q to T

An A to Z of IVF, Part 3 (I to L)

I    Irrationality
IVF patients can develop a tendency to read anything into everything. What if this and what if that, your thoughts can be incredibly difficult to deal with and you may feel like you’re going crazy. When emotions are involved it’s always more of a struggle to try and look at things in a straightforward, logical fashion.  If you find yourself getting carried away in your thoughts try and distract yourself by doing something detailed that keeps your mind occupied.  Sleep is always good too – it gives your head time to dispel the cloudiness. Alternatively, write your fears or questions down then look at them again later and see how you answer your original thoughts. Sometimes all it needs is a little time to clear your head.

J    Journal
Keep one. It may seem unnecessary at the time but at the very least it will help you to get all your thoughts and feelings out of your head. Just the act of writing things down is therapeutic in itself and it may help later on if you find yourself struggling with negative cycles – it is a form of stress relief. It could also help others to understand what you’re going through, if you feel like sharing it.

K    Knowledge
Generally a good thing – the act of researching and finding out about your/your partner’s condition and the type of treatment you’re having can be a huge help. It’s also good to read about other people’s experiences as it can give you some comfort knowing that everything you’re feeling and going through is completely normal. It can also boost your mood reading about people who have had successful cycles, and give you reassurance that other people have gone on to fulfilling lives regardless of whether their cycles worked. It’s not easy to do that when you’re in the midst of things; just being mindful of it is enough at the time. You should also be sure to research anything of a medical nature carefully, and don’t draw conclusions in isolation – I didn’t always do that and found myself in a spiral of unnecessary panic on many occasions. Try and keep what you learn in perspective – at the end of the day your situation is totally unique and what is true of one person’s experience may not be entirely true of yours.

L    Loneliness
If you tend to internalise your emotions, loneliness is a real risk. If you’ve chosen to tell friends and family what you’re going through then you may be able to avoid it. There will always be an element of loneliness though, due to the nature of IVF and the fact that it’s your body it’s happening to. If you find it getting out of hand try and talk to someone. Use the infertility/fertility forums online – they can be very effective in providing an outlet and making you feel less alone.

Tomorrow … M to P

An A to Z of IVF, Part 2 (E to H)

E   Exercise
Not only will exercise release those feel-good endorphins, it will also force you to concentrate on something else for a while. If you’re really active it might be wise to take it down a notch though – moderate exercise is probably best i.e. avoid that trampoline in the garden for the time being. Walking is a great exercise and if you can do it for an hour or so every day that’s great. Do, however, make sure your body has time to rest – IVF is physically very demanding.

F   Faith (in the process)
When you’re in the driving seat of the IVF process you really are in ‘last chance saloon’. It is usually the last resort in a bid to become a biological parent, and whilst it is easy to have unrealistic expectations it is equally as easy to get lost in the very real possibility of having to remain childless. What you really must have though is faith in the process itself. Look at the statistics for your age range and circumstances, weigh up your odds based on how many cycles you think you may be able to go through. Visit as many clinics as you can and base your decision on which to choose on the environment and how comfortable you feel, as well as their success rates. When you’ve made that decision, put your trust in the doctors – they will do everything they can to help you achieve a positive outcome. Probably most of all have faith in you.

G   God
If religion plays a large part in a person’s life they may struggle with the decision of IVF in the first place, never mind the worry of how they may be judged by others. If the moral and ethical questions have been considered and still the path has been chosen, then for some, their beliefs keep them strong during the process.  For others, they may choose to find their strength in alternative ways. It doesn’t matter what you do – the important thing is that you’re comfortable with your decision.  No-one will be judging or deciding whether treatment is to be successful or not; the outcome is purely down to science.

H   Hope – and its opposite, hopelessness
You will, I guarantee, find yourself flitting between the two extremes of hope and hopelessness more times than you ever thought possible. You will be full of excitement and positivity one minute then come crashing down with sheer desperation the next. This is completely normal, and it will pass. Hope will not guarantee anything but it will keep you going when you thought all was lost. Don’t lose sight of that, and never give up.

An A to Z of IVF, Part 1 (A to D)

To coincide with National Infertility Awareness Week I thought it might be useful to post a daily update with some nuggets of advice about how to cope if you find yourself on the IVF path. Based on an article I wrote for the Irish Daily Star newspaper, today’s post covers A to D:

A   Acceptance
When you’re first told that you need medical help to have a family one of your first reactions could be that of disbelief. It will take some time to sink in, but the sooner you can come to terms with accepting that ‘it is what it is’, the sooner you can start to think ahead and be proactive and positive about what you need to do next. It is hard as all you can see initially is the huge mountain you need to climb, but that feeling will pass when you’re ready for it to. Don’t rush it. Let each stage take its course and you’ll find that you’ll know when you’re ready for the next step in the process.

B   Blame
To be avoided at all costs as the only thing it does is waste emotional energy.  You’ll more than likely want something or someone to blame for the situation you find yourself in, whether that’s discovering you need treatment, or getting a negative pregnancy test afterwards – it’s human nature to want to find a reason. By all means allow yourself the indulgence of thinking about the unfairness of it all – I spent many days doing exactly that – but recognise that ultimately it is no-one’s fault; least of all yours.

C   Crying
If, like me, you’re quite an emotional person, crying will be par for the course. It’s important not to try and suppress it whenever it hits, even if you’re in the middle of the fruit and veg aisle at Sainsbury’s! There could be any number of triggers that set you off, most of which will be completely out of your control, so when it happens just go with it. You’ll feel a whole lot better afterwards.

D   Doubt
You may have lots of doubts when you learn that you need fertility treatment – the emotional, mental and physical impact, the worry of whether it will work or not, the concerns about having to take so much strong medication; the list is endless. It may be difficult to recognise your real feelings about treatment as your head can very quickly get overloaded with information and questions that it leaves you no space to think. Give it a little time though and you will know whether the IVF route is the one for you. You will probably always have doubts of some description throughout the process, but your heart will guide you through, whichever path you’ve chosen.

Tune in tomorrow for E to H …

Publication Day

Whilst I’m still running round getting articles written and official launch event planned for 27th October, I thought I’d take a small moment to reflect on today. The day I thought would never happen – my book is finally published. Hurrah!! Drum roll, trumpets and all that.

Being a rather poignant day for me and my family, it’s also apt to think about why I started writing my book in the first place, and what I hope to achieve by having done so. It took me the best part of a year before I was able to find the space in my head to feel able to revisit the experience of IVF. My initial aim was one of pure self-interest. I thought that getting everything down on paper would be cathartic – and it was. I had absolutely no intention of sharing any of it with anyone, James and my parents included. I didn’t see the point.

However, as I began to write things down, I began to remember more and more, and I eventually wondered if it might be worth writing a book about. Then I managed to convince myself that actually, no-one would be interested in my story, and the whole thing turned into one of those ‘pie in the sky’ dreams. Looking after twins was pretty much a full-time occupation anyway, and along with the fact that I was self-employed part-time and had to work, and I also needed to finish my studies, the idea and the project fell by the wayside. My desire to graduate with a diploma, followed by a degree in a subject I loved was very important to me and I needed to complete the educational path I’d already chosen. So, that’s what I did.

But then, before I graduated, something happened.  Something that made me think that maybe I should try and complete that book. Maybe it had the potential to help someone out there who is, or could in the future, be experiencing fertility issues. My dad introduced me to a colleague of his who was struggling with her own IVF battle. We spoke. We had a connection. And I was able to help her in a way that probably only a fellow ‘IVFer’ could. So, to you Michelle, I say a huge thank you. For providing the inspiration I needed to finish my book and get me to this moment today. You are a very special friend indeed.

And to anyone else out there who is or will be on the IVF merry-go-round – I wish you all the baby dust and positive vibes in the world. Stay strong