Wow! This is incredibly exciting news for me – I have been asked to be an Ambassador for the Centre for Reproductive & Genetic Health in London – the clinic that gave us our twin stars. Watch out for more information coming soon! A heartful thank you to the whole team for asking me to take on this most important honour.
If you’re in the Madrid area and are thinking about or are embarking on fertility treatments, the inviTRA Fertility Fair might be for you. Open between 14 and 16 November at the Melia Hotel (avenida de América), you’ll find a wealth of information from many national and international providers. The perfect event for anyone considering treatment with all the objective information you need in one place, as well as access to stands and conferences in which specialists will illustrate the fertility treatments, and talk through all the options available for patients.
Here’s a link to an appearance by Mr Serhal of The Centre for Reproductive and Genetic Health (formerly the Assisted Conception Unit at University College Hospital) on ITV’s This Morning programme on Thursday 16th October 2014.
Mr Serhal and the team feature in my book – if it wasn’t for them it wouldn’t exist!
Now things have calmed down a bit since the book launch I need to make a start on some other IVF, pregnancy and twins posts. I might also throw in a few non-mummy observations if something comes up that takes my fancy, here on in referred to as the ‘other bits and bobs’. So, to kick off, I wanted to say a little something about one of the things that is very important to me and which I found particularly comforting during my most difficult IVF moments. That something is music, and, in case you hadn’t noticed, Eros Ramazzotti in particular (who just happens to have a new single out, Io Prima Di Te, see):
Now, if you’ve read my book you’ll know that he’s mentioned in my acknowledgements page as a special appreciation of his sheer brilliance, and several times throughout the text. He’s on permanent play in my car, and even the twins sing at full volume morning and afternoon during the school runs – bless, they’re absolutely clueless as to what they’re singing about but their Italian accents are coming along nicely. Per Me Per Sempre (For Me, Forever) is a particular favourite of theirs. It may seem a little weird as I don’t know the bloke – obviously and unfortunately 😉 – and although I do have a rough idea of the gist of his songs, I must admit that I too am clueless as to an exact translation. Must get round to learning Italian properly at some point. Whilst I’m very proud to be English I do believe I was born into the wrong nationality. Anyway, there’s something in the composition of his music and his voice that can calm me down when I’m stressed, lift my spirits when I’m sad, and make me sing at the top of my lungs and smile like an idiot when I’m happy. The fact that he’s absolutely gorgeous has nothing to do with it whatsoever. Honest.
Music has always played a large part in my life – I even learned the violin many, many years ago. And I did attempt karaoke at my 40th birthday party. Anyway, I digress. I first heard Eros back in 1993 when I was living in Geneva. This video came on MTV and as soon as I heard the guitar at the beginning it caught my attention. I was hooked and have been ever since. That video was to the song called Cose Della Vita (Things of Life) and the meaning in the message has been unbelievably appropriate to me on many levels. It also happens to be my absolute favourite, although with Eros’ songs it’s pretty difficult to choose. Stella Gemella (Twin Star) is another one, which did provide the inspiration for part of the title of my book – how fabulous is that? Here’s Cose Della Vita below – the original version mind, which will always beat the reworked one with Tina Turner (although that’s good too). And thank you Eros. For the music, as they say. You are a truly gifted and talented soul.
As it’s Sunday 3rd November and the last day of Infertility Awareness Week, and also that of The Fertility Show in London, here’s the last part of the A to Z of IVF feature. I hope the article has been informative. Look out for more posts in the future not only about IVF, but also on pregnancy and life with twins.
A sugar alternative – it looks and taste just like it, but is much, much healthier, not just for your teeth but for your hormones too. Found in small amounts naturally in our bodies, it is commercially available from plants, usually birch or more often corn cobs. A study in May 2013 showed that there may be a benefit in a lower sugar, higher protein diet for patients going through IVF[i]. It’s only one small change but it might be worth considering.
Not always easy, but do try to be extra kind to yourself. You are still a person, not just a baby-making machine, and with your mind so preoccupied with all thoughts of IVF and your eyes on the prize at the end, it is very easy to lose your sense of self. You still have all your other hopes and dreams, they’ve just taken a back seat for the time being.
You’ll probably feel as though you’re living in one, what with all the probing and poking by doctors and medical staff at what seems like countless hospital or clinic appointments. You may also feel as though your whole life is on display too, and that you’re being judged by people you don’t even know. Rest assured this is not the case – at least not from the medical professionals’ point of view. Whilst the IVF experience is highly personal to each couple going through it, it isn’t always conveyed that way by the doctors and nurses involved in the process. With regard to friends, family or even strangers, try not to take it personally, especially when you hear comments from others voicing their opinion on IVF when they have no knowledge or experience of the subject. Practically you could also give meditation a go: if you’re lucky enough that your head allows it, it’s the ultimate method of attaining a calm and peaceful mind. If it all sounds a bit too ‘New Age’ for you, do it anyway. If it works that’s a bonus, if it doesn’t you haven’t lost anything. Try to live in the moment as far as you can, and experience every aspect of your treatment as and when it happens. Keep optimistic, but stay realistic.
[i] Low-Carb Diet Improves In Vitro Fertilization. Medscape. May08, 2013
On your part, understanding the treatment cycle, what it involves and some of the technical and medical jargon and procedures behind it can help you to feel slightly more in control of your destiny than you would otherwise. On the part of your partner, family and friends, they need to understand that you’ll require as much support and consideration they can give, for as long as you need it. Don’t be afraid of telling them that – the onus is on them to be concerned about you, not the other way around.
As well as taking time to visualise yourself being pregnant, and ultimately holding and being with your baby, it also helps to envisage each step of the treatment cycle too. Think about what’s happening to your body when you take the hormonal suppression drugs, picture the follicles producing the eggs when you’re on the stimulation phase, and during the two week wait visualise the embryo implanting and growing inside your womb. There are special CDs that can facilitate this if you find it difficult to do. Try the cliché of visualising yourself on a desert island surrounded by gently lapping waves when you find yourself on the treatment table before egg collection and transfer. It’s cheesy, but it can work.
You’ll feel as if your whole life has turned into one long wait. You seem to spend your time just waiting for this that or the other to happen, then when it does it’ll be replaced by another version of the same. Know and accept that it will be a part of your life for quite some time, especially the dreaded ‘two week wait’. Implement your plan for relaxation whenever you know there’s a defined period of waiting approaching – or make a point of keeping your mind occupied. It makes everything go by much, much quicker.
Last day tomorrow . . . X to Z
There will be an awful lot of these, both of the medical profession, and of yourself. You can never have too many so don’t be put off by asking whatever you like. You may feel as though you’re being a burden, especially where your clinic or doctor is concerned. Don’t worry about that – it’s exactly what they’re there for. If you feel more comfortable log on to on of the fertility support forums – Fertility Friends is a good one. There’ll always be someone there to answer your queries, no matter how trivial you feel they may be.
I know, everyone tells you to ‘just relax’ when you’re going through IVF, as if that alone means the treatment will work. It is incredibly annoying at the very least being told that all the time, and I’m the last person to advocate such a simplistic solution. However, what it can do is aid the release of stress which not only gives your mind a break but your body too, so it’s worth keeping in mind. Try not to whizz about so much – if you work, when you come home just switch off and forget the chores for a while. It doesn’t matter if the house isn’t tidy all of the time. Read a book, go for a walk, meet your friends. Relaxation CDs can be useful too giving you a way to escape for a while. Do whatever works for you, and never feel guilty if that means just vegging out in front of the TV.
From your partner, your family, your friends. Tell as many or as few people as you wish. If you can’t handle everyone knowing what you’re going through then tell only a select few who you know you can trust. On the other hand, if you cope better having a wide pool of friends you can call on in times of stress, go for it. Do ensure, however, that those you tell are accepting and supportive of you, your partner, and your decision to go through with IVF. The last thing you need is insensitive comments and probing questions.
You may feel like talking or you may feel like you’re the only person who’s ever been where you are now and want to curl up and disappear for the duration. Professional, outside help can be a good idea – your clinic may be able to put you in touch with a counsellor to help you through it. I was given the chance and initially didn’t take it, but after some thought I realised that it could be of benefit so I took the offer. Offloading your emotions to someone neutral to your situation really can work – they aren’t going to judge you or make assumptions, and can offer a clear and rational opinion and suggest ways to cope. Therapy could also mean of the stress-reducing kind, so if you have time and the finances allow it why not try a gentle head massage, facial or acupuncture too?
Tomorrow . . . U to W
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.