Jess, 38 from West Yorkshire who works in export sales is about to embark on her fourth fresh cycle of IVF. She speaks to Feminine Vitae about her ongoing journey with infertility, and how she deals with its impact on her life.
Jess and her husband began trying to conceive four years ago. “We started trying naturally around Christmas time, 2014 and nothing happened after trying for quite a while, off and on in 2015 and 2016” she says. When their attempts proved to be unsuccessful, they visited their GP, who referred them to a local fertility clinic. “We received the diagnosis of azoospermia” Jess recounts “So zero sperm in my husband’s sample.” It was later found in 2017 that Jess’ husband had congenital bilateral absence of vas deferens. “Because he’s a carrier of cystic fibrosis, this means that although he produces sperm, he hasn’t got the tube to carry it out of his body” Jess explains. So there’s absolutely no way we can ever conceive naturally.”
Jess’ husband underwent a surgical sperm aspiration after the screening. Jess was also screened for the cystic fibrosis gene to determine if she was a carrier. “If I had been a carrier, that would have been a one in four chance of our baby having cystic fibrosis and being very ill and having a life expectancy in probably the mid-thirties” Jess days. When she was found not to be a carrier, they began another course of treatment. “So far we’ve done three fresh cycles that have already failed and we’ve had one frozen embryo transfer also failed.” The last course of treatment the couple underwent was in 2018. “As of today, we’ve just had a little bit of a break. We’re in the process of changing clinic and we’re looking to start a multicycle package, two cycles and we’re going to be starting again another fresh cycle at the end of January next year, quite soon.”
“When your treatment has failed multiple times, you don’t have much optimism any more.”
More than just a maternal urge
However, the prospect of more treatment is not an easy thing to contend with. “It’s a scary thing to consider doing it again” Jess says “When you’ve already failed multiple times, you don’t have much optimism anymore.” This lack of optimism has also extended to other areas of Jess’ life.
“My outlook on life has changed quite a lot since we were diagnosed” she says. “I used to be way more optimistic and positive about life in general. But the infertility diagnosis just made me feel strongly every single day that life really can be very unfair.” One of the hardest aspects for Jess has been the prevalence of children in everyday life.
“In a world where motherhood is fetishized by the media and the society that we live in, having to see all our peers and family members move onto that next important stage of life of becoming parents or grandparents when we’re just trapped at a point in time” she says.
Sometimes, she points out, avoiding these situations can be impossible “Seeing a pregnant woman if I just walk down the street or a friend sharing photos of their kids in a group chat, or TV advert shown happy families- it’s just relentless” she says. “It’s incredibly difficult, every day.”
Working from Home
Despite the emotional effects of her fertility journey, Jess has managed to maintain a good work life. “I’m lucky that I’ve got a job, which means I work from home” she says of her role in export sales. “My employer has been really amazing throughout this whole process. I’ve been very open and honest with them from the day that I told them that we were going to be having IVF treatment” she says. “To be able to be open about it at every step and talk about personal stuff with a male manager is not always the most comfortable, but he’s just been amazing. They’ve given me time off, paid, to attend all my appointments.” Although grateful for the support she has received, Jess speaks of the more general fears her fertility issues have sparked concerning her work life in the long term. “It’s been a cause of stress to me as well having gone through this treatment, worrying about the impact that it could have on my career,” she says.
Wellbeing & Support
Developing her own mechanisms for improving her wellbeing whilst undergoing this fertility journey has been instrumental for Jess over the past few years. “Before I started the treatment I thought I was pretty good at self care, but I’ve really had to work really hard to adopt some new techniques to try and get me through it,” she explains.“It’s like a toolbox” she says of her wellbeing strategies “You kind of dip in and out of all these things. And some days some things might work, whereas the other days they might not, it just depends on what’s going on at the time.”
Following their initial course of IVF, Jess began to look at her diet and lifestyle in more detail. “After that first cycle and the issues that we had, it was like ‘Right, okay, now what can I do to improve my egg quality, improve our chances?” she recounts. “I started taking Ubiquinol, which is like a fast absorbed version of CoQ10. So I’m taking 600mg a day of that, folic acid and vitamin D, I take a multivitamin and then I take NAC as well every day” she says. In terms of her diet’s impact on her wellbeing, Jess lists “cutting out sugar, not drinking alcohol and being caffeine free” as beneficial to her whilst trying to conceive. Although already exercising regularly, Jess adapted her regime when undergoing IVF. “Coming up to a treatment cycle I kind of did it less intensely – just doing walks, rather than hammering it out at the gym or whatever” she says.
“Every night I’d do some relaxation exercises.”
In addition to this, Jess also visited an acupuncturist whilst in treatment. “This is a lady that does reef hypno-acupuncture. So the needles go in and then she puts you into a state of hypnosis and tries to reinforce positive thoughts, positive mindset whilst you’re in this state of deep hypnosis“ Jess details “I found that really beneficial just to kind of give me a reset and make me feel a bit more level headed.” Jess has also found meditation a useful form of relaxation. “I always did kind of dip in and out of it, but now it’s something that I do every single day. So every night I’d do some relaxation exercises.”Jess also cites the professional help she has received for her mental and emotional health as instrumental to her wellbeing following her fertility treatment. “I started seeing specialist, fertility counselor – I think a bit late for me really. I could have started earlier,” Jess admits “I think I waited until I was at crisis point and really struggling to cope before I actually sought help.” She also believes the support of people around her to have helped enormously. “The number one person that I had support from and who usually gives the best support in terms of what I need at that time is my husband” she believes. “We’ve really kind of clung onto each other when it’s been the hardest and we’ve been there for each other.”
“Seek help sooner rather than later.”
For anyone going through similar issues with fertility, Jess urges a proactive approach. “Seek help sooner rather than later. Don’t delay. Go into your GP” she advises. “Really it’s a shame that they don’t immediately sort of do any investigations into the male partner – that would have changed things. We might have started our first cycle 12 months sooner than we did actually.” She also believes contact with others who are going through a similar thing is key to feeling less alone. “There is a massive amount of support out there” she says. She mentions the online support groups started by Gateway Women and Fertility Network UK as particularly useful to reach out to. “It enables you to connect with other people who are going through the same thing” she says. “If that can reduce the kind of, the isolation that you feel and any sort of shame and help you with those really difficult emotions, then you should draw on those resources, because it’s going help you survive the next day.”