For all the books, websites and advice columns on the subject, nothing really prepares you for the impact IVF has on you and your partner.
When the lovely Delia asked Tony and I to describe how we’re managing our relationship as our IVF journey continues, we drew a blank. Not because there wasn’t much either of us had to say. Like many couples, this physical and emotional rollercoaster has tested and taught us more than we could ever have imagined. We have and are continuing to learn about ourselves, each other and how much each of us needs to support the other during this process and indeed throughout the life we’re building together.
I was slightly stunned, quite touched and blown away when Tony said what follows. He keeps teasing me saying that I’m the writer and communicator, not him. It took him a little time, but we got there in the end. And biased as I might be, I’ve never been more proud.
Just so everyone knows, I rambled while Divya tried to write this (no really, he did say this).
When Divya told me she was pregnant in late 2019, I was over the moon and cried for joy. She did warn me early on in our relationship that she had quite bad endometriosis, so it felt like a miracle. When we lost the baby in December 2019, everything just went black. Divya haemorrhaged shortly afterwards and was rushed to hospital on Christmas Eve. I was terrified that she’d be wheeled away to theatre and would never come back. I’ll never forget that. Luckily she pulled through but was really ill for a while afterwards. December’s not really our favourite month. It still isn’t.
After the miscarriage, Divya and I talked about her cutting back on working hours if she could and going freelance so she could recover and try and have more of a work-life balance. We also talked about her pulling out entirely if things got too stressful and it took a toll on her health, and that we would manage financially if it came to that. But by this time the pandemic had started and both of our work situations became quite precarious at one point. We were lucky enough for things to stabilise though.
We tried to conceive for 6 months after the miscarriage but it was just heartbreak. Month after month of heartbreak. When we decided to explore IVF, we did the research together. Trying to find the right clinic for us made us both realise what a minefield IVF can be. I got quite obsessed with the stats and success rates. But now that we are where we are and having understood that there are many different treatment protocols and procedures, there’s a lot more to those numbers. After talking to Dr. Venkat, we knew that we didn’t want to be anywhere else but under her care at HSFC.
When we started IVF in July 2020, I did not have a clue the first time round. Looking back, I was consumed by the stats and probably scared of all the things I might find out. I didn’t understand what happens or anything about the drugs.
I felt absolutely awful thinking about the endless appointments, all the blood tests and injections Divya had to have. I wished it was me and really struggled with feeling like a “fifth wheel” in the whole treatment process because Divya was the one needing all the drugs. But Dr. Venkat’s emphasis on stress having a negative impact on family planning and IVF outcomes was ringing in my ears and I felt I had to do something about it. So I kept thinking “How do I de-stress my wife? And me?” I tried to help around the house more, did a little more of the cooking (I won’t dare to make Indian food for Divya though) and when COVID restrictions allowed, tried to plan nice things to look forward to that didn’t involve IVF. When you realise that every dog-walk around the park is about IVF and how much it consumes you, you’ve got to remind yourself that there is a life beyond it, that there are good things to look forward to. I understand that so much more now.
When all the oestrogen and progesterone started before embryo transfer, I could see how much the high doses of all those things were affecting Divya. We can both look back on it now and agree that it did affect her mood. But it didn’t help that a long-standing medical issue I have and my own job stress flared at exactly the worst time, so we were both pretty strung out and there were flashpoints. Everyone has them. But whenever we could, we had to just take a deep breath, be patient, and remember that as gruelling as treatment was, we were so fortunate to be able to even have a shot at treatment. And that’s something I always remember. How lucky we are, in spite of the challenges.
Learning how to do Divya’s progesterone injections was bizarrely, one of my proudest moments. I felt I was finally doing something to proactively help with her treatment. I was quite chuffed when Divya’s dad, a retired orthopaedic surgeon and GP gave my injection technique the seal of approval. I did struggle to reconstitute things myself and felt better when Divya, being a trained pharmacist, prepared everything for me. It made me realise just how much human error can potentially impact the outcome of treatment if you don’t get the dosing right, forget or struggle with injections. In spite of Divya gaining weight because of fluid retention, she was still pretty tiny, and trying to find a new, non-bruised site to inject every day was actually really upsetting. Her body was in tatters. It made me appreciate the hell that every woman going through IVF experiences.
We tried to live as normally as we could when we got to the 2 week wait, but we were both really nervous. It was only when we were faced with putting ourselves back together after we got the bad news that treatment hadn’t worked that I admitted how much I’d been holding on to hope too, even though I hadn’t said anything. Of course I imagined names and thought of life events that could have been. But we had to pick ourselves up somehow and look forwards.
We both talked a lot about how we both felt during round 1, what we could have both done better and how we knew we had to tackle round 2. As we talked about the previous months, it became clear that there was a lot about the whole treatment process that I didn’t know, and needed to. I realised I had to be more involved and had to step up so I could support Divya better and be less worried myself.
So I got myself a book about IVF that talks about the process from the perspective of a patient, her husband and their consultant. As Divya has a medical background, I asked her to write down a list of all of her medications, what they do and when they’re given so I could understand treatment a little better, and then I wouldn’t have to keep asking her or misunderstand anything. I also keep an appointment diary purely for IVF, so that both of us can keep track of everything and write all the important things in one place. Going back to the stress issue, I keep trying to help at home and there was a point after our second egg collection when I took over the kitchen entirely because Divya needed rest. I make it a point of reminding Divya to do something nice every week so that there’s something to look forward to that’s not an IVF appointment. Now that COVID restrictions allow it, we also looked at engaging a cleaner, so that we had one less thing to worry about.
So my take-aways from all of this are probably:
1. Learn something about treatment.
2. Keep trying when you communicate – it won’t always come out right but keep trying.
3. When there are flashpoints, just take a deep breath and move forward.
4. Do whatever you can to help.
5. Make time to do fun things outside of treatment that help you both de-stress.
6. Talk about something that’s not IVF – it can get quite consuming.
7. Remember all the good things and that you have a life beyond IVF.
On Friday 11th June, Harley Street Fertility Clinic hosted a webinar titled "Male Fertility" where some aspects of male fertility were discussed by top panelists. To visit the webinar page, please click here.
*Divya is an HSFC patient, her story being featured previously as a lesson of courage, resilience, and hope. She kindly accepted our invitation to write her story, in her own words, from where she’s been featured. As a trained medical specialist, Divya will also write about different important subjects such as medicines to be taken during pregnancy and the fertility journey.
Divya’s previous stories can be read by clicking the links below.