Ever since I was a little girl I remember playing mummies and babies – even being surrounded by three older brothers and lots of boys toys!
I always knew I hoped to have a family and would often think about what my children might be called. Harry and I married in 2012 and shortly after we started to think about starting a family. Once we found out conceiving naturally wasn’t going to be straight forward due to PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome), what followed were some very hard and lonely years until we conceived our daughter Lola through IVF in 2015.
During those years, I experienced so many emotions from fear to frustration, desperation to anger, guilt to loneliness. My world stopped, it felt like someone had pressed pause on my life.
I always believed that my diagnosis of PCOS never told the full story about our struggles to conceive and that actually my longer issues with anxiety played a huge part. The body and mind are so strongly connected and it was only when I started to accept that our route to parenthood wasn’t going to be the way we had hoped, that I began to settle into the challenge of infertility and started a completely different and holistic approach which I share in my first book Dare to Dream. I soon realised that the doctors would partly take over my body but I always had my mind and it was up to me about how I was going to manage expectation, disappointment and emotions.
In Dare to Dream, Harry wrote a chapter as I felt it was important to hear Harry’s side of the story. I often hear that much of the focus is on women, but actually the impact infertility has on men should be equally discussed. Harry was always incredibly supportive. I felt very responsible but he made sure we took everything on together, he came to every appointment and when he could, during IVF he would give me my injections.
Initially Harry was nervous, I think he worried about how I would cope if IVF didn’t work. For me, it was the first time in a long time that there was hope and that was enough.
Sadly after our first round of IVF we miscarried our first baby. Harry was my rock and really encouraged us to have a break before going back for another round, not only to mentally recover but also to give me a chance to physically recover too.
Miscarriage personally was a grief and something that we needed time to process. Harry and I took it in turns to be strong for one another, it’s hard when you are both going through the same sadness. I felt very responsible and often wondered what I did wrong. I put myself under huge pressure to not only give Harry and I the family we so longed for but also a grandchild for our parents. There were moments when I believed I wasn’t meant to be a mother and that somehow by having IVF I was tempting fate. Along with the grief I constantly questioned why this was so hard and why every hurdle felt so high.
I still think of our first pregnancy as our first child and wonder who that little person might have been. We had two frozen embryos from our first round of IVF and so five months later we went back and Lola was conceived.
We then went on to conceive our son Kit naturally just before Lola’s first birthday, which was a complete shock after the challenges we had previously faced. When you go through fertility struggles you often hear the stories ‘My friend was about to start IVF and then found out she was pregnant’ ‘You just need to relax’ ‘It was when they stopped trying that they fell pregnant’ ‘They had IVF and then their second pregnancy happened naturally’ So when we were the ones to experience one of these stories it almost didn’t feel fair or real.
We have one frozen embryo which I think about often. When I look at Lola I think I might not have met you and then find it very difficult not to give our remaining embryo a chance. It really is so hard, I have friends with multiple frozen embabies that feel so torn about it all. Who knows what the future holds.
It is difficult not to feel like fertility struggles define you, it is all consuming and it’s tough to manage all the different emotions. Something that helped was to accept that this was our experience and to try to think of a positive each time anything negative came to mind. It helped Harry and I to think of a line to say to people who asked us if we wanted to have children which was simply “we’re practicing” we felt this said enough, without us having to go into anything if we didn’t feel comfortable or in the right headspace to talk about it. I believe I suffered in silence because it is so difficult to know how to start the conversation. I felt very lost and confused so trying to articulate those feelings to others is difficult. EveryBODY is unique and each couple will have their own individual set of complications- the sliding scale of infertility is vast. I don’t know exactly what others go through, but I know the feelings that accompany so much of the struggle, the sense of isolation and failure, trying to manage the side effects from the drugs you have to take and the fear that surrounds so much of the struggle. I found it helpful to take one day at a time and to not project too far into the future.
In Dare to Dream there is a chapter called ‘A whole new me’ which talks about the holistic approaches I used to support me. This includes having a look at nutrition that can help with fertility, gentle exercise such as yoga, swimming and walking, acupuncture, positive affirmations, visualisations and mindfulness.
I soon realised that taking care of my overall wellbeing was having a huge impact on my mood and even if the outcome hadn’t changed with becoming pregnant naturally I felt so much better within myself.
I found the visualisations very powerful during IVF and imagined our embryo attaching to the lining of the womb like roots of a tree. I would visualise becoming pregnant and listened to fertility meditations each night before i went to sleep.
I personally believe the key is to feel safe, so surround yourself with love and stay in your happy place, remember, saying no is essential to give you the space to put yourself and project baby first.
During my first pregnancy with Lola and then with Kit I wasn’t truly able to relax until they both arrived safely in the world. I remember looking at Lola for the first time just moments after she was born and thinking I would wait forever for you. After everything we had been through I thought I wouldn’t change a thing because had we not gone through that struggle we would never have met Lola and then Kit and I can’t even begin to think about that.
Nobody can prepare you for what becoming a mum really feels like, and from the moment this tiny person arrives in your world nothing feels the same again. Having gone through so much to conceive Lola, I hadn’t given the reality of motherhood enough thought. I was a real prepper, almost obsessively so! Somehow if all the finer details were organised it helped me to feel more in control. All the practical stuff, like preparing the nursery, washing clothes, choosing a pram, was covered, but I was completely underprepared for the impact motherhood would have on me emotionally and how I would adjust to such a huge change in my life. I’m learning every day about how to manage my expectations and emotions. I know that as quickly as I can feel such love and compassion in motherhood, I can just as quickly feel impatient and frustrated.
Since becoming a mum, life is busier than ever. Mindfulness is something that has held my hand through so many anxieties and change so I hope the tips and tools we are sharing on PAUSE will help support others who are looking for some calm in the chaos.
Be kind and patient to yourself, it is OK not to feel OK all of the time, motherhood is tough for everyone. A mother’s instinct is very powerful so always remember to listen to it. Also we are all winging this crazy journey of parenthood and can only do our best, so don’t spend precious time giving yourself a hard time or worrying about what others might be thinking!
It is the greatest thing and the toughest thing all at once- and if all else fails repeat the mantra “This too shall pass!”
What’s your favourite way to pause?
I enjoy taking a pause with Lola & Kit to read them a book or join in with some colouring. I find it really helps to turn down my chatty mind.
What’s your favourite way to play?
I love singing and dancing around the kitchen with the kids to shake off tension at the end of the day!
For the full story check out Dare to Dream: My Struggle to Become a Mum – A Story of Heartache and Hope