By Lottie Keble-Wyatt
Trigger warning – this piece contains some potentially upsetting details if you are on your own fertility journey. Please take care when reading it and refer to our Urgent Warning. Remember, the views expressed in this piece are Lottie’s, based on her own experience.
Freelance journalist and mum Lottie Keble-Wyatt tells her story of undergoing IVF treatment for the second time.
Second time round you’re supposed to be more prepared. You’re supposed to feel a sense of ‘I know what’s coming and I can handle it’, and to some extent, it’s true. But, for me, it was almost like ripping a plaster off a wound that I didn’t even know was there. All the stuff that had nicely healed away, that had actually just been forgotten, was underneath that plaster. Life had changed somewhat with the whirlwind joy of a three-year-old. I hadn’t had time to process the ‘process’ last time so it felt doubly emotional to be back on my second IVF journey.
It was the little things like walking back up the stairs and seeing the room where I had spent so many appointments before. It was the feeling that I was walking in the footsteps of my past self, that ghost who had spent so many months yearning, and wondering whether she would ever get to hold her own baby in her arms. It was, bizarrely, a sense of guilt that I didn’t deserve to be back here, that I shouldn’t be here. I had one child, so why did I think I should be allowed any more? It was an absolutely overwhelming flood of memories of the woman I had been, and the enormity of how it would feel to go through all the potential heartache again, and this time pay for the privilege. Lockdown created that vacuum of time and space to get life admin in order, and to decide what an ideal future together looked like for our family. We are so happy as we are, but would we look back and think, what if? We were under no illusions that it would be hard: we spent many a forest forage with my precious little girl, debating the pros and cons before we decided to take the plunge, literally with injection after injection.
When I was told that my body was ready for the transfer, the night before I didn’t sleep a wink. This time there were Covid-19 restrictions and a toddler to take into account. This time it was just masked faces, and whilst the nurses went to great lengths to reassure me, I just wanted my husband there to hold my hand and tell me it was going to be okay. I remember the anaesthetic bubbling into my veins and thinking it’s not working I can still…and then nothing until I woke up.
The two-week wait was the worst. I cried every other day; I felt so pregnant and then so empty inside. I really wanted to know, so I did the test earlier, which didn’t help at all because even though it said positive, I still didn’t know. I prayed the minutes would speed up, but they dragged like a toddler refusing to leave a play park. Trying to keep occupied wasn’t easy when every second thought was on this potential life growing inside me. Finally, the day came. I did the test at midnight with my husband there. The result was still two lines and I cried, snotty red-faced tears, of utter relief and joy. It had happened. It was happening. I was pregnant.
The next few weeks it felt like at any moment this little life would just slip out of me, but, as I had the first time round, I continued with my normal routine. I think with IVF, the magic of this science experiment makes it very hard for you to actually believe any of it is real. Seeing really is believing, so when we got our early scan and I saw the tiny little wriggling heartbeat of my baby, both myself and my husband were reduced to tears. Interestingly, I was far less emotional with my first when we saw her scans, I suppose having never had a baby I couldn’t connect the joy of her with this grainy black and white blur. This time though we knew what we’d end up with, and the emotions felt tenfold.
We recently found out that we’re expecting another baby girl. I’m now 36 weeks and in the third trimester and desperate to meet her. We made the decision not to keep any of the other blastocysts so she really is my last baby, and whilst a part of me feels incredibly sad at ending any potential future IVF journeys, this is the right decision for us.
Since writing this piece, Lottie gave birth to her baby girl in March 2021.
This piece was reviewed by Julianne Boutaleb and edited by Anna Ceesay.
What is fertility trauma?
Julianne Boutaleb is a consultant perinatal psychologist and Founder and Clinical Director of Parenthood in Mind. She is also a member of Motherdom’s Editorial Board. A section of this piece was first published on www.fertilityhelphub.com
Lottie’s story offers insight into the impact of fertility trauma for families who have no choice but to return to the fertility clinic if they wish to add to their family. In this piece I’ll outline what fertility trauma is more generally, and what to do if you are affected. My advice doesn’t relate directly to Lottie’s experience but is intended as a general guide for anyone reading her piece.
Fertility or infertility trauma, also ‘reproductive trauma’ is a term first coined by perinatal psychiatrists Dr Janet Jaffe and Dr Martha Diamond in 2005, to describe the psychological impacts of a range of experiences such as infertility diagnosis, recurrent pregnancy loss, reproductive injury and fertility treatment on individuals and couples. Whilst most people associate trauma with soldiers coming back from war, we know that infertility involves surviving repeated traumatic experiences over a period of many years. Whilst fertility treatment has become more accepted as a route to parenthood, in recent years negative impacts on couple and individual functioning, as well as the link to mental health issues in early parenthood have all been highlighted. Research carried out recently into the impact of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy estimated 2 in 5 women showed PTSD symptoms up to 3 months afterwards. Although only a minority will go on to develop full-blown Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it is common for individuals and couples to experience some of the following symptoms of PTSD:
- Re-experiencing or intrusion symptoms: eg constantly thinking about pregnancy or fertility treatment, flashbacks to previous losses, nightmares about previous aspects of fertility treatment, or flashbacks if back in a fertility clinic;
- Avoidance: eg avoiding baby showers or friends who are pregnant again, avoiding places or events connected with infertility;
- Changes in mood and feelings about self and the world: eg negative emotions about others who may be pregnant, feelings that the world is divided into those who are pregnant and those who are not, loss of joy, shame, anger, envy, or guilt;
- Hyper arousal and heightened emotional reactions: eg insomnia, irritability or anger, concentration difficulties, hyper vigilance, panic attacks, worry; or
- Fight-flight-freeze-flop: eg intense feelings of rage when hearing pregnancy announcements (fight), feeling emotionally cut off or ‘going through the motions’ when at work or with friends (freeze).
And, whilst thankfully studies suggest that these symptoms lessen once couples become parents, we also know that experiences that we may not have had time to process may re-emerge once our brains tell us it is safe for them to do so.
What can I do if I feel impacted?
- Recognise what you’re feeling.
- Accept your feelings.
- Interest: reflect on why you might be feeling this now?
- Non-identification: letting the feeling go once you have felt it.
- Find out more about fertility trauma and how it might be impacting you. Grounding and breathing exercises can help. (Check out Dr Emma Svanberg’s examples of grounding techniques here).
- Speak to a trusted person or your partner about what has happened, and what support they can give you.
- Seek out professional support with a counsellor or therapist with experience of working with fertility trauma, especially if you’re thinking of having more treatment.
- Allow yourself to grieve the losses and perhaps create rituals to commemorate them.
- Create a journal rewriting and accepting your ‘reproductive story’, including its losses and unexpected gifts.