PT 1: WHAT TO EXPECT & HOW TO SURVIVE
As I sit here writing this, I never imagined at 31 I would be undergoing fertility treatments. In fact, I grew up with my mum telling me if I even touched a boy, I could get pregnant. Little did she know.
My reason for being in this position isn’t genetic or due to PCOS, endometriosis or any of the known issues that can lead to fertility issues. For me, this is the result of several years struggling with an eating disorder which lead to secondary amenorrhea.
Now, I am not here to play the victim. I wouldn’t be passionate about helping other women if I hadn’t walked that road myself. I am a big believer that our biggest trials can be our biggest blessings if we allow them to be used for good.
My eating disorder stemmed from a lack of control, loss of identity and poor stress management. My parents died fairly suddenly and just months apart. I was only 22 years old and all of a sudden felt stripped of my identity and that life was out of control. So, I took some form of that control back by monitoring every little thing I put in my mouth, dealt with stress by doing hours of training and found identity in a number on the scale. CAN ANYONE RELATE??
It felt hard to eventually reach out and ask for help, but here I am many years later, life turned around for the better. Let me tell you, I missed out on so much whilst living that life of restriction and ultimately the discomfort I felt having to work through those issues is nothing compared to the now discomfort of the challenge of infertility.
Ladies, you may think having a family is far off. Heck, I was pretty sure I didn’t even want kids for a while there! But don’t risk your health for a dress size, don’t compromise your future for temporary happiness.
With that out the way let’s chat IVF and what to expect if you go down this route plus some survival tips I’ve utilised and gained as we now are mid-way through round two after also a failed IUI cycle prior to this.
EXPECT TO FORFEIT YOUR TIME
IVF is a process. You will start off having multiple appointments and tests before you even begin and it doesn’t stop there.
Every woman will vary in how this process will look. If you have a regular menstrual cycle, you will begin with a consultation and initial bloods (get prepared for a hefty consultation fee!) and from there when you can commence, your IVF cycle will be dependent on when your period begins and ends. Day 1 post period would be classed as day 1 of your IVF cycle.
For many, this is when hormone injections would begin (if needed to stimulate lining growth, follicle growth and/or ovulation). If you are blessed enough to be able to not need these intense types of treatment and say are doing artificial insemination, you may only be monitored every few days to see how your body is progressing naturally in terms of your uterine lining. WINNING!
For me, each week I have multiple blood tests and ultrasounds ranging from every day to every three days. My time frame has to accommodate these and also my daily hormone injections.
I now feel extremely at home in a waiting room because I have spent so much time there! There are rarely appointment times available, it’s first in best dressed and often your clinic may not near your home.
SURVIVAL TIP: Do research and find the closest clinic to you as possible.
Talk to your employer and even your friends and family about what you are planning to do BEFORE you start. Make sure everyone is aware of what lies ahead and that your availability may be different for a few weeks.
Also, use your waiting time for good! I often do some work in the waiting room, text a few friends to see how they are doing that I would normally forget to do or even take some earphones and listen to a podcast!
EXPECT UNEXPECTED COSTS
We are very lucky here in AUS to have a large majority of IVF costs covered by Medicare BUT there are many blood tests that are not, also some medications if you require more aggressive hormones, plus hospital anaesthesia costs, day procedure costs, consultation costs, etc. All these need to be factored in and expected.
Time off also needs to be considered.
For an egg retrieval, you will go under anesthesia and be in the hospital for the day, then afterwards I was extremely sore and bloated and definitely needed rest for 24-48 hours.
An egg transfer is done as a day patient procedure and I always was awake for this. It seems fairly simple but the whole thing still takes 3-4 hours by the time you get the call to say your embryo has thawed, to getting to the clinic, waiting for your specialist, enter the theatre then 30 mins in a recovery room. Post transfer you don’t feel terrible but you WILL feel very protective of your little “bro” onboard and most women I find, want at least a day off to rest and them it “stick”.
After a fail – I remember thinking “Nah, I’ll be right” … but the emotional side of things creeps up on you and every loss hits hard. Remember, it’s ok to need time to grieve.
So if you work for yourself, plan ahead for time off financially taking the above into account. If you are lucky enough to get annual leave, try and make sure you have some up your sleeve before commencing your cycle.
SURVIVAL TIP: Plan ahead and start putting money away PRE IVF. There is enough stress present during a cycle, worrying about finance is just the icing on the cake. Talk with your partner about when you want to start and consider setting up a savings plan to cover your first cycle before you start.
An IUI costs between $1500-2000.00 AUD out of pocket
An IVF CYCLE approx. $2500-$6000.00 dependent on the individual
Research your health insurance prior and ensure IVF hospital procedures are covered
Pre-plan around your annual leave availability
EXPECT SIDE EFFECTS
It goes without saying you will have some side effects when shooting hormones into your body. These will differ from person to person but it’s some of the unexpected ones that caught me off guard.
The main side effect that really took a toll on me was mental and physical fatigue. I’ve never felt this type of fatigue before. I felt that my body and mind truly were operating at about 40% and the first cycle this felt incredibly frustrating for me with a fairly high workload, someone who loves to train and also active social life. Put simply, I felt I just couldn’t keep up.
Body changes for me were also quite confronting. During the process of the egg retrieval, I had some mild hyperstimulation which lead to over 5kg fluid gain and for me the honest truth is some old mindsets reoccurred. BUT, it all goes away ladies! Any weight gain is temporary as long as you don’t eat like an asshole 😛
Other side effects that are common:
- Sleep disturbance
- Digestive issues
- Delayed recovery
- Skin changes
SURVIVAL TIP: Remember this is all temporary and to achieve a beautiful end goal!!
There were some days I felt so tired I honestly wanted to pull the pin, it was in those moments going back to my WHY for doing this was so important. I would recommend writing down your WHY, focus on the end goal and even have this somewhere visible daily.
Also focusing back on things you LOVE about yourself non-weight related. This was challenging but very rewarding for me. Focusing on my personality traits, work ethic, what my body was currently undergoing and surviving.
Lastly, SPEAK UP. I eventually had to open up that some old mindsets were occurring and be accountable to taking action to stay on top of them. Have someone you trust like a coach aware of what the process may involve and ask them if you can come to them or to check in on you.
EXPECT YOUR LIFESTYLE TO CHANGE
I was adamant this wouldn’t happen but surprise, surprise… it does. But, its good practice for pregnancy right?!
Due to the appointments, time restraints and fatigue, I found my social life took a hit, what I could achieve in a day was different and if you are someone who loves to train like me, sometimes this had to be amended especially around times of transfers. I like to train hard! Give a big 2-hour, hardcore strength and conditioning session any day and I’ll be thrilled. But sometimes this just isn’t what will aid fertility or your chances of success. It’s about weighing up the costs, making decisions and amendments for the greater good. This doesn’t mean giving up, simply changing your approach and even your goals and expectations of yourself. If you are into a lighter style of training it may be ok, but always good to bring this up with your doctor and get clearance. This is not a time to be starting a new vigorous exercise regime!
Training wise I took at least a week off post-transfer and closer to 10 days post egg retrieval I had to until my OHSS calmed down.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO SAY NO!!! It’s ok to say no to catch-ups and events. This is a short period in your life and you need to prioritise your health and the journey.
Open up to your friends and family. Let them know how you are feeling and be open about the fact you may need a bit more downtime.
In terms of training – accept your 100% will look different for a time. Set realistic goals for THIS season rather than focusing on what you did in the past. E.g. On the weeks of my transfers, I simply had a goal of going for a slow walk daily and listening to a podcast or doing some gratitude. SIMPLE! You’ll be back into in some capacity before you know it.
EXPECT SOME “FEELINGS”
I remember going into this thinking no matter the outcome I would be fine. Hey, I didn’t even know if I wanted to be a mum when we first started.
But let me tell you… things change. You become very invested along this journey especially the woman as so much of your time and effort is going in and you are giving so much of yourself.
When we lost our first embryo, I felt like my heart broke. All of a sudden, this fear of never having a family fell upon me and I felt a heaviness I haven’t felt in a long time. You know what, it’s ok to feel things. What matters is how you deal with those emotions…
Also, hormones play tricks on you! Those little bastards. I would often cry at things that never used to set me off, feel a little more overwhelmed than usual and sometimes a little down in the dumps. YOU ARE HUMAN AND THIS IS NORMAL.
Be kind to yourself first and foremost. If you need to cry, do it!
Channel your emotions in a positive way – journal your feelings, do some daily gratitude, read about success stories.
Open up to people and especially your partner! I used to like to put on a brave face and a show and then I quickly learnt it’s better to let people in, let them know where you are at and have a support system around you as you walk this path.
Don’t expect too much – as harsh as this sounds, lower your expectations. I went in expecting round one to work and the reality is, that’s not always the case. It’s so hard not to get overly excited but remember if one round fails, it’s not over!
EXPECT TO NEED A BREAK
It’s so easy to become addicted to the outcome and want to go for round after round after round in hope for that positive!
But it’s ok to need to have a break and it’s ok to even hit a point where you stop.
Taking a break isn’t admitting defeat. Sometimes it’s important to refuel, reset, have a few months feeling yourself and then go again when you are ready.
Similar to this, if you hit a point you cannot continue… You haven’t failed, you gave YOUR all and that may be different to someone else’s.
Plan your breaks and cycle start times in advance and have something to look forward to. Maybe it’s a holiday or a night away or even just an epic date night! BE AWARE: take note that flying may not be ideal post transfer or in the early weeks of pregnancy so plan something closer to home or that can be amended if need be.
Discuss with your partner your limitations and how many cycles you feel you can both commit to PRIOR to starting and then reassess each cycle and make sure you are on the same page.
This blog tells you the hard parts and the struggles but let me tell you, there are silver linings that have shone through this whole process!
- Getting more comfortable in my own skin and developing more self-worth outside of aesthetics
- Learning to slow down and not everything is in my control
- A deeper relationship and bond with my husband
- Clarification on real friendships
- PLUS MORE!
In part two of this blog, I will delve into all the above and POSITIVES of IVF even before its successful so TUNE IN!!!
Ladies, if you are struggling with an eating disorder. Let this blog not scare you but rather encourage you to reach out for help and take action now. It’s never too late. Take time to tell your loved ones who you trust, seek a therapist or medical professional, invest in a coach you trust… it’s worth it!
If you are struggling with some issues around your cycle, hormones or trying to conceive, remember firstly that no two females are the same. What’s normal for one women’s cycle may be different to another.
- Start tracking your cycles with an app like FLO and establish your normal. Listen to Alice and Victoria Felkar podcasts here: Part 1 — Female Hormones, Menstrual Cycles & Fertility and part 2 — PED’s, Steroids & the Female Body
- Have a full blood panel done and get a referral to a specialist if you do suspect something is wrong, experience sudden changes or if your cycle is absent for more than 6 months.