As Phil and I have just celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary I think about everything we have been through since we married back in August 2013. We are also celebrating 15 years together this year which seems like a lifetime since we met when I was just 21. I don’t think we had any idea what our journey to parenthood was going to be like and I am so grateful that throughout all the heartache we continue to stay happy and supportive of each other. We started trying for a family straight after we married, it is very normal for young healthy couples to take up to a year to conceive naturally so for me there was no harm in getting going so to speak! Roll on a year later after spending a small fortune on ovulation kits and pregnancy tests we found ourselves on the fertility rollercoaster.
Where do you start when you are embarking on fertility treatment? For me, it was a referral from my GP to our local NHS fertility clinic after I had a 21 day blood test which revealed I was not ovulating. After a discussion with Phil we decided to opt for private treatment and I feel so lucky that was an option for us, especially as now the two NHS funded local clinics have been cut and no longer take on new patients. For many, going private just isn’t an option and it must be heartbreaking to have to wait whilst money is saved or borrowed. This just adds to the already mounting stress and anxiety when trying to conceive.
I really am grateful that our relationship survived all the pressure, worry and heartache and together we thought about some points to consider if you are embarking on such a journey, looking back these things really helped alleviate some of our stress.
- Success rates for clinics are obviously an important factor when choosing where to start treatment but the size of the clinic will also have an impact on those numbers. For me, a smaller more personal clinic was preferable so that I always saw the same nurses and the same consultant. You also need to feel able to raise concerns or fears that you may have but also a platform to do that in an environment you feel comfortable and safe in. A good site to check clinic success rates in the UK is HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority)
- Think about the location of the clinic you choose (if you have the option) as appointments for fertility treatments (even less evasive ones) often require many, many visits for scans and check ups. I was lucky that my clinic opened at 7.30am so I often scheduled appointments for before work. You don’t want the added pressure of rushing to your clinic or taking time off especially if you employer isn’t aware of your treatment therefore finding a clinic closer to your work place maybe more suitable.
- It’s a very hard decision whether to be honest with your employer about what you are going through. The less evasive treatments don’t necessarily need to impact your work life too much on a day-to-day basis but certainly when we moved on to IVF the emotional and physical impact drastically changed and there was no denying it took its toll on me. I was working in a very supportive environment and had a very understanding manager, ultimately this relieved so much stress from me when I needed to be absent from work. I know not everyone is in that situation and for some it can be very detrimental to discuss with your employer trying for a baby. Your holiday can be used wisely if you don’t want to disclose what treatment you are doing. I really hope one day women (and men) feel comfortable enough to be able to reveal fertility struggles and be supported within their workforce without the worry they are compromising their careers.
- Together, have a very honest conversation about any financial obligations you are going to endure if you are paying for treatment. Phil and I discussed our limits before we even started so that the conversation happened before any emotions took over. When a cycle fails it is very natural to want to jump straight into another and if you haven’t had that conversation regarding money before, rationality often goes out the window to the heartache you are feeling. We certainly didn’t have an unlimited budget so for us we had to make a plan B. We had 8 failed cycles of treatment before IVF and costs mount up very quickly even for blood tests and drugs. My private healthcare cover at work covered some of my initial fertility investigations which helped us jump on the private ladder. Always worth checking your plan and you don’t have to disclose to your employer what treatment you are claiming for.
- Some clinics (ours included) don’t have embryology on site so you may have to travel to a different location for embryo transfers. On the day of my egg collection my husband had to transport my eggs in their incubators from Surrey to Harley street in London! This can add to the stress, although for us it was fine. I also had my transfer done in London too so definitely something to check.
- Fertility treatment takes it toll physically and mentally so you really have to prioritise looking after yourself. So that may mean taking a step back from work commitments, making sure you don’t have extra stress and be as healthy as you can be (not always easy I know). What gave me confidence was knowing my body was as ready as it could be, I researched diets and therapies that could aid my success rates both mentally and physically. These don’t have to be expensive either, whatever makes you happy and relaxed is key. Lack of sleep and a heavy schedule are not conducive to feeling prepared and ready. I think it’s so important to feel as relaxed as possible.
- Think about who you decide to tell when you start treatment. Although lovely to have friends to lean on, it can also add to the pressure if cycles fail and you have to constantly update people. I found it easier to open up about our treatment to people outside of my immediate friendship cycle, maybe knowing I wouldn’t see them as much? If you know friends or colleagues that are also trying to start a family think about how you will feel when they tell you they are pregnant when you have opened up about your struggles. It is inevitable that friends etc will announce their pregnancy whilst you are trying (and sometimes failing) but I aways found it awkward when I had disclosed our situation beforehand. I hated people feeling sorry for me, or taking pity on us. It’s not that you can’t be happy for others celebrating their news but you just have to protect yourself a little and its ok to be selfish. Self preservation is key.
- Try not to compare your situation to everyone else. Every journey is unique and you will waste energy constantly focusing on others. It’s much better to march to the beat of your own drum, you can find such a great support network but ultimately your journey is the one to focus on.
- Nothing can really prepare you for the up and downs of trying for a baby through fertility treatment but an open honest dialogue with your partner and family (if you wish) will really keep you on track in the hard times. You are on the same team but it can be hard for your partner and they can feel helpless at times so that’s not to say they don’t need a shoulder to lean on or an opportunity to off load too. You have to be honest about how you are feeling and it’s ok to be sad, upset and not always know the right thing to say.
- Although hard, try to be happy for others. You never know someones situation and I really believe that you should always be kind as most people are fighting their own battles behind closed doors. What to you looks like a picture of happiness isn’t always the reality.
I am always grateful for Mr M, who quite frankly has always held my hand through everything. It’s been a tough road, still is but I wouldn’t want to experience this journey with anyone else.