After trying to get pregnant for almost a year, my Husband and I decided to undergo fertility testing in March 2015. We soon discovered that it is impossible for us to conceive naturally, leaving IVF as our only option.
Following various appointments with Fertility Consultants, Geneticists and Urologists another bombshell was revealed - we both have a recessive gene which makes us carriers of Cystic Fibrosis, a chronic condition which can severely impact the lungs, digestion and other organs. We also have a 25% chance of our children having the disease, meaning any embryos used in the IVF process need to undergo genetic testing to ensure they are Cystic Fibrosis free.
The past 18 months have been a complete rollercoaster and the fact that we are infertile hit us hard. The realisation that we are genetic mutants was pretty shit too.
In the UK, around 1 in 8 couples are affected by infertility, yet many conceal their conception troubles. If every eighth couple may struggle to have a baby, then why don't we talk about it more? Surely we need break down the taboo of infertility in this day and age and if I can help just one other person to know that they are not alone in the infertile fog, then my job is done.
So, in the aim of breaking down barriers and giving hope to my fellow "reproductively challenged" folk, here are my ten tips on how to survive infertility:
1 - Do your research
Firstly, you need to learn your stuff.
Infertility has its own language, get to understand the lingo as much as you can and before you know it you will be speaking in acronyms and spouting off medical phrases. The internet is full of information - Instagram, blogs and clinic websites are my go to places for facts and guidance.
Make use of the Consultants you see and ALWAYS take a notepad to appointments. Also, don't be afraid to question "why?".
Build your knowledge and arm yourself with it.
2 - You are allowed to have emotions
Remember, you are allowed to be emotional. After all, being infertile is really bloody hard at times and is often akin to grief. Cry, shout, break a chair if you need to (preferably not an expensive one), but make sure you don't let a crap day, become a crap life. There are so many wonderful things in this world and where you can, focus on the happier times.
A friend recently told me that I had a choice. I could decide to be miserable and spend my day bawling my eyes out, or, I could get up, dust myself off and push forward. From then on I realised that I had to make my own choice to carry on and that no one else could do it for me.
Feel the emotions you need to for that moment in time, but when you go to sleep at night, let them go to bed as well. Fight your hardest to ensure the grief of infertility doesn't consume you. Wake up the next day and make your own choice to carry on.
3 - Your partner is in this too
Whatever your infertility issue, you and you partner are in this together. Ensure you make time for each other and talk about what you are going through.
You have a shared goal in mind; you both desperately want those sleepless nights, dirty nappies and to work baby vomit chic as the next cutting edge trend. This time is about working together and not against each other. You are a united front, your own personal army fighting the battle of barren and together you are stronger.
4- Filter out some of the "advice"
I am going to caveat this by saying that people mean very well generally - but, I could write a book on the "advice" bestowed on me in the last few years. For sure, people do try to be supportive and most comments truly come from a good place, but lets face it, someone recommending I fashion an inseminator out of a turkey baster is less than helpful. Whilst I accept that some suggestions have legitimately resulted in pregnancy, I often filter this stuff out of my brain and instead I think about cats.....or hummus!
Now, when I am being told a story about Barren Karen and how she just "relaxed" about trying for a baby, went on holiday and got pregnant, I think "That's great for Karen, but I doubt a week in Majorca is going to make husband's sperm tube grow back. Thanks for sharing though."
5 - Talk to people
I guess this seems a little contradictory in comparison to the above, but there are many amazing people who want to help you. Talk to friends, family, get online, chat with other people who are dealing with infertility, even consider counselling if you need to, just know that you are not alone and people do want to listen.
Build a support network of people who's advice you trust and value, that you can call upon in your darkest hour. These people will be crucial to getting you through.
6 - Make yourself strong
I am no health expert and I like a bacon double cheeseburger as much as the next girl, but even I know that if you have a clean body, you have a clean mind. So eat well, drink more water and exercise. Look after your mind too, it's just as important.
The changes don't need to be drastic, they just need to be enough to make you feel good and help you gain the strength required to cope with the challenges ahead.
7 - Try not to hide
At times it will seem easier to avoid anyone who is of child-bearing age and I own up to hiding in bed when things feel particularly tough. However, I now realise that staying home and crying over the episode of Sex and the City where Charlotte can't get pregnant will only help me so much.
I am not suggesting every weekend is spent at Baby Showers, but there are some situations where you have to put on your big girl pants, plaster on a smile and be seen in public. It is very likely that you will feel an immense sense of pride that you turned off Carrie and the girls, moved a comb through your hair and socialised with people who were genuinely happy to see you.
8 - Accept that things may not go the way you expect
Life doesn't discriminate and Nature couldn't give a rat's ass about your plans, so don't presume your fertility journey will go as you expect. I learnt this the hard way - when we were told we needed IVF I naively thought I would be pregnant within a matter of months. Yet here I am, a year and a half later, still waiting to carry a baby.
Try to relinquish some control to the process, even if it is just a tiny bit.
9 - Don't put your life on hold
Feeling like IVF had put my life was on hold caused a huge impact to my mental health, making me feel anxious and miserable. Things became pretty bleak for a while and I genuinely couldn't see a way out of the darkness. However, I eventually realised that things would get better and that life does go on. It took a rather immense breakdown, a stone of stress related weight loss (every cloud and all that), a month off from work and LOTS of Diazepam for me to finally come out of the other side and back in to the light.
Yes, there are always going to be some sacrifices on the road to baby, but you don't have to give up on everything. You deserve to make plans, to have fun and to make fantastic memories - these things don't stop being allowed just because you are trying to have a baby. Your life isn't on hold, so book the holiday and open the bottle of gin.
10 - Laugh
My Husband and I usually deal with our circumstances with some humour...well he does, I typically cry and eat cheese, before seeing the funny side. He openly daydreams about how big my boobs will become during pregnancy and I often suggest we put our cat in a baby grow for practice (RSPCA - please know this is something we have NEVER done). My point is, we laugh. There is so much seriousness, heart-ache and raw emotion when it comes to infertility, you have to break it up with a bit of laughter. At the end of the day, internal scans with dildo-cams and men cracking one out in to a cup is actually pretty funny.
For me, the times when my Husband and I laugh so hard at each other, are the times I realise it doesn't matter that it can't happen naturally, that I need to inject myself with hormones or that it may bankrupt us. All that matters is how much I love him and that I cannot wait to be the mother to his child.