Jessica Hepburn: my experience of the fertility rollercoaster
Reproductive & Gynaecological I have been on a long struggle to conceive, which has involved 11 rounds of IVF, several miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy that almost took my life. One thing that this experience has taught me, is the power of sharing experiences of fertility.
1 in 7 couples in the UK experience fertility problems and turn to IVF in the hope of getting pregnant. Although IVF success rates are improving all the time, 25% of couples suffer from ‘unexplained’ infertility, which means that following investigations, doctors cannot find a specific medical problem as to why they are struggling to conceive. Unexplained infertility is the most common cause of fertility problems and couples receiving the diagnosis feel very confused, frustrated, and alone.
Over the past few years, I’ve felt that I’m on a mission to help people who are going through IVF and particularly to tell them that life will be ok whatever the outcome. I truly believe there are a million ways to be a mother, and life without children can be equally fulfilling.
And, anyone who has read my book, The Pursuit of Motherhood, will understand how qualified I am to talk on this issue. I have been on a long struggle to conceive, which has involved 11 rounds of IVF, several miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy that almost took my life.
One thing that this experience has taught me, is the power of sharing experiences of fertility. There are hundreds of different pieces of advice on how to boost your fertility, what treatment to choose and other “routes to parenting” to consider, but working out which are the best for you and what path to take can be overwhelming.
I am often asked how I “came through” so many rounds of IVF, and here’s a very brief, but personal guide:
- Don’t take your frustrations out on your partner: You are in this together! It’s expected that you will have highs and lows when going through IVF and it isn’t either of your fault that you are struggling to conceive. Something that fertility clinics don’t tell you is just how hard going through the treatment is; it is incredibly emotionally draining and will test even the strongest of relationships. It is very important that you support each other throughout the course of IVF and still do regular things together
- Maintain your healthy lifestyle: When trying for a baby, you find yourself obsessing over the right foods to eat and what can help boost your fertility. Keeping a healthy lifestyle at all times is important as it makes you feel better about yourself as a whole. Stick to a diet packed with fruit and vegetables as this will ensure you get a range of key nutrients and antioxidants. Exercise also helps you maintain your health, even if you go for a short walk once a week it will help to relieve stress and releases endorphins which help to improve your mood.
- Challenge yourself in others ways: There are many ways you can keep your mind focused on other things. Challenge yourself to do something you’ve never done before, this could be training for a run or swim, reading a classic novel or pursue a hobby you’ve always wanted to try. I am running the London Marathon in April, raising money for Fertility Network UK, and have previously swum the English Channel and I recently climbed the highest mountain in South America, all of which are personal challenges I have set myself.
- Talk to people: Feeling alone is horrible when you are going through IVF, especially when people around you are having no trouble with conception and announcing their pregnancies. The best thing you can do is talk to someone, whether this is a close friend or family member. Alternatively, you can speak to somebody you don’t know as well, such as through a support group/ forum, member of the community or a counsellor. Talking about what you are going through helps to relieve stress and the pressure you are putting yourself under.
- Don’t let sex become “unsexy”: The key to getting pregnant is having lots of sex. Naturally couples who are struggling to conceive start monitoring their ovulation and stress about when they should be having sex, making it become mechanical and forced, taking all the enjoyment out of it. Sex plays a huge part in a relationship and when couples stop doing it for fun it can become a chore, especially when trying for a baby. The best advice I can give is start having lots of sex, relax, and have a good time.