By early December last year (2017), I’d moved through the motions and I was ready for round 2. I had read about treating the first IVF cycle as a “trial and error” round and that you shouldn’t be too disheartened (if you can ever say that to a woman desperate for a child).
The consultant made adjustments to my drug cocktail recipe (we upped the dose to 450iu Menopur) and the protocol (we needed ICSI – see lessons from my first IVF cycle here). The clinic was closing over Christmas for a few days, so we would only be able to start the second round if my period arrived by 3 December – and lo and behold, it arrived on that very day. Aunt Flo had never been this compliant. This had to be a sign that it was our turn, surely…
The timing was perfect, we were staying in London over Christmas, I was off work for two weeks so I would have plenty of time to relax after transfer. Not that I’m religious, but this had to be our very own baby Jesus?! Another sign, surely…
The cycle was smooth. I knew the drills – the 10pm injection had become a ritual and I felt calm. We retrieved ten eggs: nine of them were mature and seven fertilised with ICSI – we jumped with joy! I was booked in for a transfer and sat tight until day 5 (my NHS clinic check embryos on day 3 but don’t call with an update, which I totally appreciate as they have resource constraints). On day 5, we only had two early blastocysts and three stragglers still in the game. Two embryos had already degenerated. The consultant suggested we put both early blastocysts in – H was a little hesitant at the thought of twins, but we wanted to maximise our chances so we went for it. Sadly, none of the three stragglers made it to the freezer on day 6.
And the infamous two-week wait took place over Christmas. I took a pregnancy test on 28 December and it was a Big Fat Negative. CRUSHED. No baby Jesus…
The next few weeks and months were really hard. I was depressed, had panic attacks and couldn’t sleep. To top it off, my 38th birthday was in early January – I usually love birthdays but this one made me feel like my biological clock was ticking like a bomb about to explode.
This was eight months ago – and despite feeling like I was in a black hole, I somehow managed to turn things around and get ready for my third IVF cycle in March (which was a disaster – more on that another day).
Everyone is different, but here’s a list of 10 things I did and wish I had done to cope with IVF failure (and miscarriage or any other kind of fertility failure too):
#1 Cry – let it out. A week after the devastating news, I felt like I should be OK. I was panicking because I was still crying / biting my bottom lip to stop myself from crying all the time. Cry for as long as you need to – expect that you’re going to feel sh!t for a while – not only is it, to put it mildly, emotionally challenging but you’re also on a hormone come-down. So, cry, cry, cry.
#2 Sleep – I’ve never been a particularly good sleeper, and especially not if I have something that’s troubling me. These days I’m wise enough to realise that things get much worse if I haven’t slept (there are some benefits with being “old”). So, I had a ritual of taking a hot bath with magnesium salts to relax and then listening to Paul McKenna’s sleep hypnosis (counting backwards from 300 works…zzz…). And, I’d go to bed early – because even if it took me hours to fall asleep, I realised that the earlier I went to bed the more I’d actually sleep (perhaps not rocket science, eh?!). H would tell me to “go to bed” – and while I’d pull a sour face like a 5-year old, I knew (annoyingly) he was right.
#3 Talk – I found it difficult to talk to my usual support network. H was struggling too, my lovely parents were heartbroken on my behalf and my friends were either pregnant (with baby number 1, 2 or 3) or done having babies and, as sweet as they were, they just couldn’t relate. Ever since my miscarriage I had seen a therapist who helped me deal with the trauma, the grief and the exhausting infertility roller-coaster. I also had a few sessions with a fertility therapist through the NHS clinic (for free! 🙏) and after that second cycle failed, she was invaluable. She listened, but most importantly she made me realise that what I was going through was completely normal – I wasn’t crazy!! Hallelujah!! I also reached out to a local fertility support group so I could talk to people who could relate – read more about support from other fertility warriors on an earlier blog post.
#4 Make a plan – I love planning. I love making lists. So, as soon as I jotted down the next steps on a piece of paper, I would feel a little better about the whole process. I could look forward. The plans and the lists helped me feel like I was taking back control, and that helps when you feel like you’ve lost all control. Essentially, tricking that control freak in you that she’s in control – sheer genius!! My top tip: use colourful highlighters to make a plan or list more “smiley” 😊.
#5 Do NOT blame yourself – although I knew logically that all this wasn’t my fault, and there was really nothing I could have done to change the course of events, I felt immense guilt and all I kept thinking was “WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DESERVE THIS?” With a little therapist help, I managed to convince myself that i haven’t done anything wrong. I still fall into this trap sometimes, but the negative mental feedback loop really doesn’t help me, so as hard as it is I have to think “it just is what it is”.
#6 Eat – this sounds so basic, but when I’m feeling blue I struggle to eat. For me it helped to think that I needed my body to be strong and healthy for the next round of fertility treatment, so I’d force myself to eat nourishing foods. If you struggle to eat, keep that end goal (read: baby) in mind. I had seen a fertility nutritionist early on in our process, so I had a programme and plan to fall back on – keeping it structured meant that I could keep that little inner control freak happy too (two birds in one!).
#7 Write – writing down my feelings on paper works wonders – I get it all out of my head to try and stop those thoughts spinning like a hamster on a wheel. I’d set aside 20-30 minutes a day – either first thing in the morning or at lunchtime – to write in my diary. I’d feel lighter after my session. I’d refrain from doing it just before you go to bed as then you risk struggling with #2 above. If writing isn’t your thing, perhaps you have another creative outlet you could try?
#8 Breathe – it sounds so simple, but breathing and slowing down is so hard when you feel like your mind is racing a thousand miles per hour. I’d try and do mindfulness and breathing exercises as often as I could, even when I really didn’t feel like it. Not only would I feel much calmer, but there’s scientific evidence that it lowers cortisol levels in the blood and can help reduce inflammation in the body. I find it easiest to use apps and regularly use: Headspace, Calm, and I also like the Mindful IVF, which has a great session called “Test Result – NEGATIVE”. At one point, I’d listen to that session on repeat.
#9 Tell work – I never told work until after my third round, and I regret this. When I spoke with HR, they said they could have given me time off if I had just asked – instead I was trying to be super woman and juggle a million and one things at once. If you feel you can, tell HR, tell your boss and confide in a colleague. I wish I had done.
#10 Find your mojo – and last but not least, try and do things that make you happy. Start small. Years ago, when I was down in the dumps after a major breakup, one of my besties gave me a challenge: I had to go on a “mojo treasure hunt”. I had to take a photo of one thing a day that I enjoyed. So, I put on my safari vest back on, dusted off my vintage camera (read: charged my iphone) and went back out on the Mojo Treasure Hunt. And after a (loooong) while, I started to enjoy life’s little pleasures again.