What do you mean you’re not doing it ‘naturally’?

Oh my goodness – water birth, immobile and confined to the bed birth; whale-music, swearing at your partner; candles and calm, bright lights and chaos; aromatherapy, “What the hell’s that awful smell?”; no pain relief, ‘every single drug going’ relief. The list is endless, and you don’t realise exactly how many decisions you have to make until a midwife asks you the dreaded question – with a smiling face full of excitement that belies the reality of the inevitable onset of your extreme confusion, “Have you done your birth plan yet?”

What? What birth plan? What the heck is that? I’m pregnant – I go to the hospital when the time comes and I give birth by whatever method necessary. I had absolutely no idea how much ‘fluff’ was involved with instructions as to giving birth. As if any pregnant woman needs all that stress – it shouldn’t be this difficult!

Now, if you’re the kind of woman who reads every book, article and magazine going, and has already known ‘how’ you are going to give birth since you were 10, that’s fantastic. I’m seriously impressed. Just make sure that you get your head around the fact that you are NOT in control of anything and that there is a high likelihood that it may well not fall in line with your best laid plans.

Deciding how to give birth can sometimes take an awful lot more thought than you ever realised. Women today are bombarded with advice from all kinds of sources about how perfect the birth experience should be. How wonderful it is to welcome that new life into the world whilst floating in a lovely warm pool with some New Age pipe music or choir ensemble in the background, ‘taking the pain’ and looking radiant and lovely all at the same time. For sure, there never seems to be any recommendation for listening to Metallica whilst simultaneously eyeballing the shapes on the ceiling reflecting off the disco ball (you know, the one you’ve insisted on installing especially for the occasion) and getting all hyped up with adrenaline! What starts off as a ‘nice to have’ can end up becoming an all encompassing obsession, with a never-ending flow-chart of scenario ‘ifs’ that anybody other than a mathematician will be unable to follow once they’re past the initial veering off course of the original plan!

I know, we’re supposed to be calm and fearless. Counting to whatever and breathing weirdly in what seems like a completely unnatural fashion. I’m sure that works for a lot of women, but dream-on for the rest of us. Sometimes, the pressure of perfection and its resulting stress can turn the unexpected into a frightening event, where five minutes feel like five hours and nothing ever changes. It feels as though no-one is listening to you, and all the midwives are secretly thinking that you’re a right old pain in the a**e!

That’s definitely how it wwas for me. I had everything worked out, finally, having agonised over epidural/no epidural, move around/stay on the bed, music/nor music etc. etc. In the end I had no choice in the matter. Having multiples changes everything, even though they don’t really tell you that at the time. Emergency C-section anyone? And I definitely DID feel as though I was being ‘difficult’, although I had good reason to be. No-one should ever feel that way. Truth is, no two women have the same experience. Differing pain thresholds mean what one woman can endure another finds excruciating. And it really doesn’t help when no-one notices that your epidural line has fallen out – midwives and doctors take note! They must have all been absent for that particular class at uni!

What annoys me the most though, is the level of vitriol that other women can dish out about someone else’s wishes, or concerns, or choices. What it has to do with anyone else is precisely nothing. Being able to give birth ‘naturally’ in this day and age of medical wonderment is not some kind of honorary badge, although it is often worn as such. Of course, it would be great to have minimum intervention, although that’s what happened hundreds of years ago and many women died in childbirth back then! No, it just doesn’t make sense not to have all the help you can get if that’s what you want to do, or if that’s what becomes necessary. It doesn’t make you any less of a woman, any more than accepting treatment for any other condition makes you less of a person.

A woman should feel supported to choose her own way, make her own decision. Natural is not always best, and it certainly does not a superior woman make. The ‘right thing to do’ is always the right thing for that woman and that baby, at that time.

Inspired by http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/family/nothing-normal-giving-birth, Bryony Gordon, The Telegraph, Saturday 19th August 2017

IVF and Acupuncture

I came across an interesting article in the Mail Online the other day (04/07/16) about the use of acupuncture during IVF treatment. Having used acupuncture for two of my cycles, one of which didn’t work, one of which did, I think I may sit on the fence about this particular claim.

Apparently the use of acupuncture can double the chances of getting pregnant. The results of the research were certainly quite impressive. Whether such difference was as a result of the acupuncture itself or more to do with the psychological effects and body relaxation during the sessions, from a future patient’s perspective it will be utterly irrelevant.

I’ve mentioned many, many times before how IVF has the propensity to take over your life, and neither your mind nor body seem to be your own anymore. It is entirely possible for a patient to believe that any ‘old wive’s tale’ treatment will increase your chances, hence my dalliance with Western herbalism (which I found was a complete waste of both time and money). Acupuncture though, did seem more plausible to me, and there is some scientific evidence to suggest it can be useful for some health conditions (The Cochrane Collaboration). Despite it not making any difference during my first sessions, it didn’t put me off trying again for my last IVF attempt. What I will say is that I felt completely different on both occasions – the first treatments were done in the hospital; not an optimal environment and I wouldn’t recommend anyone doing it in that setting. The other was in a private acupuncture clinic (The London Acupuncture Clinic), which felt homely, relaxed, calm and professional. My practitioner, and Clinical Director, Daniel Elliott, was softly spoken and clearly knew his stuff. The entire staff couldn’t have been more helpful.

Whether acupuncture made a difference in my case or not will never be known, but anything that can help the mind to relax during this most difficult time can only be a good thing. Choose your practitioner wisely and acupuncture can be one weapon in your arsenal against the stomach-churning upheaval that is IVF.


Twin Stars reviewed by a medical professional

Twins and multiple births

A very short note to say I am thrilled to receive a fab review by Dr Carol Cooper – author of Twins & Multiple Births: The Essential Parenting Guide from Pregnancy to Adulthood, medical journalist, TV & radio medical expert. Here’s what she says:

“This lovely book spans nearly four years, during which Tru Spencer and her husband put normal life on hold in their quest for parenthood.

Most of their bumpy IVF journey is written as a diary, so it’s a detailed personal account of their ups and downs, some of which are frankly harrowing. While assisted fertility is routine for those providing it, it’s anything but to those going through treatment. If you read this book, you soon realise you’re not alone in having to cope with stress, hope, despair, spiralling expense, the effect on the rest of the family (including your own parents), the impact on your work, and above all the helplessness that comes with the process.

Making babies is a gamble for anyone, but especially for those having fertility treatment. By the time they get to IVF, most people are well-established in their careers and used to being in control. It’s hard to lose this and face the unknown, as the author explains so well.

This book would be most useful for anyone having fertility treatment. In fact they should probably know something about the emotional fallout before they embark on treatment. As a doctor, I think it would also be a useful resource for health care professionals and medical students.

It’s not a medical book but there are a few helpful references. Just one note of caution: don’t assume that everything Tru went through will happen to you (though it may, because life’s like that).

One minor quibble: Tru glosses over the difficulties of moving house at 15 weeks. I always found it an ordeal, even when not pregnant. Maybe I should use her removal company next time.

Like the rest of the book, the end is hair-raising but left me with a warm glow. I love a happy ending!”

So a huge thank you to Dr Cooper. Getting a review like that gives me a warm glow too!
Click to read this review on Amazon


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

Do you love your body post pregnancy?

I came across an article via a tweet from the CRGH today that was featured on the BBC website back in July. It interested me for a couple of reasons – firstly, I find it odd that this project (A Beautiful Body Project) even needed to exist in the first place. Secondly, after thinking about it, and as the article points out, whenever we see or hear an article or discussion in the media about women’s bodies after they’ve given birth it’s invariably a critique of some celebrity or another and how they’ve magically ‘pinged’ back into shape in record time … or not. For instance, all the hoo-ha about the Duchess of Cambridge’s completely normal ‘baby belly’ recently – what was that all about? Surely people can’t be that averse to seeing what nature intended? We don’t all have the irrational urge to hit the gym, get abs of steel and fit back in to the clothes we wore months or years earlier – or at least we shouldn’t. There’s no disputing that for the most part many women probably do feel that way though, but why exactly does that pressure exist, and who does it come from?

According to the photographer and founder of the project, Jade Beall, 95% of women will not see themselves reflected in mainstream media. I find that a rather worrying and disturbing path to be following – I think it sets an unrealistic and unattainable expectation for both our daughters and sons, of what a woman’s body is supposed to look like after it’s given birth. In the West, particularly, we place so much emphasis on external beauty and that it must be preserved for as long as possible and it makes me wonder whether that can ever be reversed.  If only we could look further than the superficial and stop judging each other in such a simplistic way. How on earth have we got to this point, and why can’t we be more accepting? In today’s crazily obsessed world of ‘body perfection’ how do you feel about yours?