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IVF: “Things I wish I’d known – 2 years, 3 clinics and 4 unsuccessful cycles later”

Writer Seetal Savla’s first IVF cycle failed two years ago - she shares what she wishes she’d know 24 months ago, at the beginning of the process. 

Our first IVF cycle failed two years ago. Thanks for the reminder, Facebook. From the consultation to the negative pregnancy test, it was a whirlwind. While my body had been present, my mind struggled to accept reality and simply checked out. 

I’d spent so many years avoiding pregnancy and assumed everything would work out when we were ready. 

It didn’t. 

Two years, three clinics and four unsuccessful cycles later, we’re still waiting to receive a positive result. We’d hoped it’d happen this month so we could finally break the hope-and-heartbreak cycle that has become depressingly familiar, but no such luck.

Yet, we dare to dream. The advantage of all this experience is that we’re more resilient, better informed and more communicative. If I’d had my current knowledge, strength and support when we started our fertility journey, things might’ve been different. But it’s never too late to alter your approach, whether you’re considering IVF or have been on the TTC (Trying to Conceive) treadmill for years. 

Here are seven things I wished I’d known when I started out my journey two years ago. 

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You don’t have to stick to the same clinic

Fertility clinics aren’t like football clubs: it’s OK to switch allegiances. If yours is too far, not supportive enough or doesn’t offer the services you now need, you can choose another one. Most clinics host free open evenings where you can get a feel for the place. Some even offer discounts on your first consultation if you attended an open evening. Our first cycle was overseen by the NHS before we sought private treatment. After two fresh rounds at a private clinic, we switched to one offering fresh cycles and anonymous donors. If you don’t have a clue where to start, I recommend the HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority), which regulates UK fertility clinics. Their website lists the factors to consider when choosing a clinic, demystifies the data and provides plenty of downloadable reports.

Advice is all well and good, but do what’s right for you

It’ll come at you from every direction if you decide to be open about having IVF. For me, hearing the platitudinal “just relax” or “stay positive” immediately irritates me. These well-intentioned words place the blame on me, fail to acknowledge the complexity of infertility and minimise the anxiety, anguish and overwhelming sense of shame. You’ll probably also have to smile and grit your teeth while people share unwelcome stories about their neighbour’s colleague’s daughter who had several failed cycles then went to Bali on holiday and was #blessed with a baby. Or how acupuncture guarantees a successful outcome. Or following a fertility diet. Or accepting all the add-ons. Or taking all the supplements under the sun. Try to tune out the unsolicited advice, follow your clinic’s guidance and do what feels right for you. 

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The injections aren’t as bad as you think they’ll be

On unpacking the meds for my first cycle, I sank to my knees and sobbed. All I saw were needles, syringes, vials and failure. The thought of injecting myself filled me with such dread that my husband had to administer the first one. With my eyes clamped shut, I braced myself for the imminent pain and was surprised when none came. I soon became a dab hand at injecting, and you will, too. If you get the angle right, the subcutaneous injections are painless. You won’t think this when you first set eyes on the needles, but trust me, it’ll become second nature. If, however, you’re advised to administer intramuscular shots, I’m afraid I can’t promise that a two-inch needle sliding into your backside or thigh won’t hurt. Try not to get that angle wrong. 

Shop around for the best price when buying meds

Certain medications have to be purchased from your clinic or their pharmaceutical partner. When this isn’t the case, don’t feel obliged to stock up at the first pharmacy they recommend. Sometimes it makes sense to do so as patients can benefit from preferential rates. However, even when discounts apply, it might be even cheaper to order them from another pharmacy, so it’s definitely worth taking the time to compare quotes. You wouldn’t have new windows or sign up for car insurance without checking out the competition, would you? It’s no different for fertility drugs. Also, I have it on good authority that some supermarket pharmacies are the best places to score.

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Jealousy is normal

You’d have to have a heart of stone to be undergoing IVF and not feel any envy of hearing pregnancy or birth announcements or seeing them on social media. The closer the relationship, the more it hurts. Especially if nature did its thing in a few months while you’ve been trying and failing to conceive with medical assistance for years. Then you feel guilty about these negative feelings when you should be celebrating the news. Jealousy is a normal reaction and doesn’t make you a bad person: you can be happy for them and deeply sad for yourself at the same time. 

Don’t suffer in silence – there’s so much support available for people going through IVF

Maybe you don’t want to divulge that you’re undergoing IVF to anyone. Maybe you want to tell the world. Whatever your preference, you’re not alone: one in six UK couples face fertility issues. Treatment is physically, mentally and emotionally draining, so having a solid support network is essential. If you can’t or don’t wish to talk to your nearest and dearest, podcasts such as Big Fat Negative, Fertility Life Raft and The Fertility Podcast, plus Instagram’s TTC community, are a lifeline. Fertility websites, festivals and shows are also informative and supportive. And therapy. It’s refreshing to confide in a stranger who won’t shower you with sympathy and gives you a new, neutral perspective on your problems.

There are alternate routes to parenthood

If IVF fails and you decide to draw a line under it (and remember that it’s not a competition: if you call time after 2 rounds instead of 10, it doesn’t mean you’re weak), it’s not the end of the journey. Donor conception, surrogacy, fostering and adoption are some alternatives to consider. This may not be how you’d envisaged building your family, but if you’re not willing to wave goodbye to your dream just yet, try a different tack. You will, however, have to deal with the fact that your child may not be yours biologically, which might be an insurmountable challenge for some. In which case I advise reading Meant To Be by Lisa Faulker as she speaks about her IVF experience, adoption fears and how she allayed them. I devoured it in the days after my third cycle failed and it gave me much-needed hope.

Images: Getty

For more information on IVF treatments in the UK, see the links below. 

  • NHS website

    NHS website

    For more information on IVF in the UK, the NHS website has a practical guide online. 

  • HFEA

    HFEA

    The HFEA website provides free, clear and impartial information on UK fertility clinics, IVF and other types of fertility treatment, and donation.

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