Wednesday, December 18, 2013

How to stop the Infertility Grinch from stealing Christmas

'I long to experience the excitement of the family going to buy the tree and decorating it to the sound of cheesy Christmas classics. This year we've decided to go away. Somewhere hot. Somewhere we're not reminded of the family we haven't got.' Jessica Hepburn

I have just read Jessica Hepburn's “The pursuit of motherhood” in under 24 hours, I could not put it down. It felt like having a long intimate conversation with the author or having stumbled across her diary and once you join her on the rollercoaster ride of trying, and failing, to start a family, you are desperate to see if there is a happy ending.

Her diary entry on Christmas resonated. Three years ago we had just started trying, I didn't drink at my work Christmas party which was paramount to wearing a T-shirt with 'I AM TRYING TO GET PREGNANT!' printed across my chest. I got knowing smiles and even a rub of my belly along with the line “You are going to be a fantastic mum!” Back then just a couple of weeks in to the trying game I smiled back and imagined how the following year would involve cards and gifts with 'Baby's first Christmas' written on them.

A year later, no baby, no pregnancy. It's Christmas Eve and I'm back in the village I grew up in staying with my parents. We attend church just once a year for the crib service, to sing carols and to catch up with everyone. After the service I'm stood with my mum and a group of her friends, each cradling a grandchild in their arms. "Come on Naomi when you giving your mum some grandchildren?" 10 pairs of eyes look at me expectantly. Seconds feel like hours. My godmother bless her, who doesn't know we're trying chips in haughtily: 'Naomi is far too busy with her important job in London to be thinking about babies!' Phew saved but that is not the case at all, I think about babies constantly and the fact that I don't have one yet.

Another year later, no baby, no pregnancy, but I have left my job, just, I go to the Christmas party to say farewell to people I've worked with almost 8 years. I'm leaving for many reasons, 32 to be precise but the overriding comment seems to be: "I bet you're leaving to have babies aren't you? You will be pregnant in no time." Christmas is just too much to handle and I officially declare it cancelled much to the dismay of family and friends. We email everyone saying we're not doing cards or presents (buy yourself something nice and stick a label on it saying it's from me) and will catch up with them in the New Year. We fly to Tenerife and stay in bizarre resort where the average age is 75 and every 2nd person has a mobility scooter decorated with tinsel! It's a strange Christmas, there is a tree by the swimming pool and we still watch the sequel to The Snowman.

Another year later, no baby, no pregnancy. There is no cancelling Christmas this year, my younger brother is bringing his new baby to the UK for a giant family Christmas. Luckily I am in a very different place to last year and am looking forward to dressing my nephew up in a fluffy reindeer onesie! However I am still apprehensive, Christmas is a time for gratitude for all that we have the flipside of this being that it is also a time to grieve that which we do not. Walking into a baby department a month after failed IVF is like walking on hot coals – excruciatingly painful unless you keep your training in the forefront of your mind. This year I will be utilising every tool I have and thought I would share a handful with you: 

Cognitive behavioural therapy – Thoughts are not facts. It is very easy in this situation to feel that infertility has stolen Christmas. I used to adore this time of year, last year it was something to avoid. But infertility is NOT a grinch like character, green and fluffy with a big sack into which he stuffs our joy, hope and happiness. Yes infertility is unfair, yes Christmas is 'all about the children' but infertility can only steal Christmas if we let it. When Christmas shopping for my nephew the thoughts running through my head went something like this: “What if I never get to shop for my own baby?” “What if aunt is as close as I ever get?” Along with these thoughts came the familiar panic in my chest and a deep overwhelming sadness. Time to bring in my first weapon, CBT. Simply ask the question:

“Do these thoughts originate from a fact? Are they true?”

Mine originated from the thought that I might not be able to have a child. This is not a fact, a possibility yes, but not a fact. Next ask:

“Is this thought helpful?”

If a thought is making you feel bad then it is not helpful. You can say to yourself:

“I notice that I am having thoughts that are neither true nor helpful!”

You may be amazed at how powerful this is and how it allows you to step back from your thinking and just observe. Be compassionate with yourself, don't beat yourself up for having these thoughts, congratulate yourself for the fact that you have realised and are now in position to change them.

Mindfulness – CBT goes hand-in-hand with mindfulness, bringing yourself into the present moment. For a copy of my '10 easy ways to bring mindfulness into your day' poster sign up here. The most useful over Christmas might be my 3 + 2 = 5 breathing. If your mind is racing or you are feeling overwhelmed just stop for a minute and count to 3 in your head as you breathe in. Hold your breath for 2 counts. Then breathe out to the count of 5. Repeat for 6 - 12 breaths. This sends the message to body and mind to slow down and relax.

Emotional freedom technique – I have written before about how important it is to acknowledge and accept our feelings, at Christmas even more so with the presumption that we should all be merry. EFT is perfect for this and just saying the below statements out loud can be releasing.

“Even though I am not looking forward to Christmas I accept these feelings and myself.”

“Even though Christmas reminds me of what I do not have I can accept these thoughts and at the same time be thankful for what I do have.”

“Even though I am jealous of those who have children I know that it is okay to be jealous and I accept myself anyway.”

A good tip when feeling jealous is to ask yourself if you would be happy to trade lives with the person you are jealous of. That means trading partners, houses, careers, family, friends and memories. You may find that when think about it from this perspective you realise how much you have to be thankful for. If you have not done so already you could also read my blog on coping with jealousy “Hands up who is jealous of Kate?”

If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness, CBT or EFT then take a look at my Embrace course. I am also being interviewed in January on mindfulness as part of a fertility and wellness summit. I will be emailing out details in January of how you can listen to the summit for free. 

To learn more about EFT right now and watch videos on how to do it see my resources page.

For my full review of 'The pursuit of motherhood' see my bookshelf page.

PS Yes I did draw the Grinch image!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Is evolution stronger than psychology? Stress vs fertility.

Being told by friends, family, even our doctors to "just relax" when it comes to trying to conceive is a guaranteed way to send our blood pressure through the roof. We can take their well meaning comments to imply that if we were not as stressed we would be pregnant by now, but is that the case? At this year’s Fertility Show in London I attended four seminars, all of which discussed the links between stress and fertility, hoping to finding some clarity on this subject.

The first seminar was by Professor Jacky Boivin from the Cardiff Fertility Studies Research Group who has been investigating links between the success of fertility treatment and stress by undertaking a large scale review of related research. They also studied women throughout their monthly cycles and found that anxiety levels soar during the two week wait (the time between ovulation and test day.) This coincides with the time that an embryo needs to implant. This fact alone was probably enough to raise the stress levels of her audience but she assured us that “Evolution is stronger than psychology to ensure that populations populate.” She backs her findings by the fact that the world’s highest fertility rates are in areas affected by poverty, famine and war. Boivin’s conclusion from reviewing fourteen studies with 3,583 infertile women undergoing a cycle of fertility treatment is that “Emotional distress caused by fertility problems or other life events co-occurring with treatment will not compromise the chance of becoming pregnant.”

Do I hear a collective sigh of relief or a niggling yes ….but? 

You are not alone, Boivin explained that we are aggrieved to let go of the belief that stress affects fertility as we feel that stress is something that we can manage, can control. How many times have you said to yourself “ Well it didn’t happen this month as I was so stressed at work, next month it will be different”?

The plot thickened as Boivin’s talk continued, although her study indicates that stress does not prevent an embryo from implanting (mini pause for celebration dance, just hearing that made me feel 100 times more relaxed) it does affect your chances of becoming pregnant for the following reasons:
  • When you are feeling stressed you are less likely to have sex. I should not need to explain why this might be an issue!
  • When stressed you are more likely to indulge in coping habits which negatively impact fertility, such as smoking, drinking, recreational drugs or having a dysfunctional relationship with food, either under or over eating. All of which have been proven to adversely affect the quality of both sperm and eggs. 
  • There is a link between stress and the immune system, those under stress are more likely to experience health issues which could have a knock-on effect to fertility. 
  • To top it off if you are diagnosed with infertility you are more likely to stop trying to conceive if you are stressed. Studies show that more people either just did not commence treatment, or abandoned treatment due to emotional stress levels rather than medical prognosis.
All of these points were confirmed and expanded on in fertility specialist Zita West’s seminar. West claims that a significant percentage of her patients get pregnant within 6 months purely by having more sex at the correct time of the month. She believes that fertility begins in the gut so stress-related disorders such as IBS could be affecting your fertility as your body is not able to absorb the nutrients it requires to sustain a healthy pregnancy. West’s philosophy is that pregnancy is a whole body experience, our cycles are ruled by our bodies, so one that is exhausted, stressed and running on empty is not the optimum for conceiving.

West discussed how trying to conceive affects couples relationships, as did Tracey Sainsbury a councillor at the London Women’s Clinic. Both suggested finding ways to enhance your relationship and take the pressure off timed intercourse which is likely to be putting a strain on both partners. Sainsbury offered that the quickest way of reducing stress often means stopping doing something. One suggestion was to stop monitoring ovulation and instead focus on bringing the intimacy back to the relationship. The most important piece of information you may take from this blog is that the ideal time to have intercourse is the day before ovulation occurs, therefore the day before ovulation sticks indicate ovulation and two days before your temperature rises! West also warned that temping and ovulation sticks are not always accurate and a late-night, illness or false LH rise may give false results. Your cycle can also change dramatically month to month. Sperm can survive for 3 to 5 days in the fallopian tube hence the advice that having sex two or three times a week will usually hit the target. The trick is to find what works best for you, some women find trying to fit in “spontaneous” sex three times a week all month far more stressful than pinpointing ovulation. 

Sainsbury’s seminar was enlightening, she discussed how the majority of people experience infertility by cycling through denial, anger, depression, bargaining and finally coming to a place of acceptance and empowerment. I discussed this subject and my personal journey through this cycle in my last blog I’ll be happy when I’m pregnant vs what can I do to feel better right now? 

Sainsbury stated that infertility is a surreal situation and therefore our normal coping mechanisms and ways of communicating may not work. She likened couples experiencing infertility to two hedgehogs on a beach with suitcases! Unstable ground, huge amounts of baggage and two vulnerable centres surrounded by spikes!

All clinics must offer counselling alongside fertility treatments and Sainsbury discussed the benefits of seeking out additional support before, during and after treatment. Sainsbury’s following quote has stayed with me in regards to fertility treatment “Nothing is going to feel 100% right as the situation is not and never will be ideal.” This really hit home, the ideal would be to conceive naturally, if this is not a possibility, then the next best thing is to prepare yourself as best you can, both physically and emotionally for the next step. 

Sainsbury stated that we can not consciously affect fertility, if we could there would be no need for contraception as we would just think each month; “I do not want to be pregnant!” This leads me nicely into Russell Davis’s talk in which he stated that only 5% of our thinking is conscious, 95% is unconscious and makes up our automatic behaviour and beliefs. Davis is a cognitive hypnotherapist specialising in fertility. He has an opposing view to Boivin and quotes Harvard studies that show that stress does impact fertility. The pituitary gland controls all of our hormone levels from stress hormones to fertility hormones and a delicate cocktail of hormones is required for conception and implantation to take place. When we are stressed, we are in fight or flight mode, stress hormones flood the body and blood is pumped to our arms and legs and away from our internal organs such as stomach and womb. You can feel this effect by the butterflies you feel in your stomach when you get nervous. 

Davis asked us to tense our entire bodies and then imagine trying to get pregnant. As more and more studies prove the intricate link between the mind and the body it is worth considering how our thoughts are contributing to our well-being. Davis asked us to say to ourselves “I accept myself as I am today” and then tune in to our internal response, he went on to explain how external circumstances do not dictate how we feel, it is the thoughts we have about those circumstances that affect us. Relaxation techniques such as focusing on our breathing can help quieten our inner dialogue and bring our hormone levels back into balance. Davis’s seminar was inspiring, he concluded that it is possible to come to a place of peace while trying to conceive, this is an area I am passionate about and the reason I set up Mindful Muma-to-be. Zita West has the same philosophy and ‘managing the mind’ is always part of her treatment plans. 

All of the seminars focused on reducing stress and anxiety to improve quality of life while trying to conceive and words such as nourish and nurture gave comfort to audiences dealing with the uncertainty of infertility and treatment. Each speaker encouraged us to find our own coping strategies and among the suggestions were cognitive behavioural therapy, relaxation techniques such as meditation, visualisation and yoga, hypnotherapy, gratitude, distraction, counselling and peer support groups such as those listed on the Infertility Network website. 

A final quote from Sainsbury “We hear what we want to hear.” So you can pick and choose the information from this blog that you feel will benefit you most. I have chosen to take the following; I know that my body functions better when I am calm and relaxed, I am able to think more clearly and logically. When I am stressed my body feels physically uncomfortable and I want the feeling to pass. Therefore I intend to continue to focus on making space in my life for activities that nourish my well-being and reducing the activities that make me feel depleted. I will also be pocketing the nuggets that worrying about my fertility will not cause my womb to reject an embryo, nor will worrying about miscarriage cause a miscarriage. 

Mindful Muma-to-be

Final thoughts and resources:

1. A few final facts from Boivin, there is no evidence to suggest that going on holiday, adopting or ‘not thinking about it’ increases your chance of pregnancy. (Excellent ammunition for the next time somebody suggests one of these to you.) Stress can affect sperm quality. Depression can affect fertility. Read my blog on infertility and depression for more information.
2. Boivin’s study:
3. Boivin’s studies are controversial, the data and conclusions have been brought into question.
4. Zita West’s website:
5. From Sainsbury: “Stress can not cause miscarriage, but can lead to a small birthweight, which has its own complications.”
7. Russell Davis’s website:
8. Webinar from Russell Davis for the Infertility Network UK
9. Russell will be speaking at our January support meeting in London. See events page for details.
10. Infertility network UK support groups

Friday, October 18, 2013

I'll be happy when I'm pregnant vs What can I do to feel better right now?

I’ll be happy when I’m pregnant. I’ll see those two little lines and all the anxiety, worry and grief of the last few years will be lifted like a huge weight from my shoulders. I will heave a great sigh of relief and feel like I can breathe again. I will have a permanent grin on my face, the world will become a beautiful rosy place and the sun will always shine!

I think I am more likely to take another deep breath in and start to hold my breath again, waiting to get to the ‘safe zone’ of the 12 week scan. Our mother’s generation did not believe that they were pregnant until they had missed 3 periods and (I wish I didn’t have to write this but as the 5 foot poster at Finsbury Park station shouts at me) 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage. Devastatingly we also all know people who have gone much longer than 12 weeks and still not made it to the medical establishments ‘goal’ of a live birth.

So let’s start again, I’ll be happy when I’m leaving the hospital with my healthy bouncing baby. But the first few months are so overwhelming, I’ll be happy when he/she is a bit more robust and crawling…..…maybe walking….…maybe driving!

My mum will never stop being my gran’s baby, her youngest, in turn I will never stop being my mum’s baby and I will never stop loving and worrying about my child no matter what age. There is no destination to be reached in parenthood, a point in time when you can sit back and say “I’ve made it”, parenthood is a journey to be experienced.

Therefore I have a choice, spend my entire life in a state of perpetual anxiety or, if only for a few precious moments at a time, release the past and gently let go of my expectations and worries about the future and just exist in this moment, the present moment. In truth we only ever live in the present, our past is made up of thousands of present moments strung together and the future never arrives, it is always just now.

Ask yourself why do you want a child? The essence of any answer you give will boil down to:

“I want to be happy, to feel content in my life.”

If we envisage having a child to be a source of joy and we know that once we have a child there is no end-point, no goal other than to enjoy and experience parenthood itself, then does it not make sense that we should strive to feel happy and content on the journey to parenthood as well? Some of you may be shaking your heads and saying this is simply not possible when dealing with infertility. I’ve been there, I’ve been in a place where nothing can lift the darkness of what I am experiencing and everything that used to make me happy has no relevance as described in my poem “The Unborn Mother”. 

It was a real eye-opener when a dear friend said to me:

“It sounds like what you are experiencing is grief.”

I have not experienced a miscarriage, I’m yet to see a positive pregnancy test, so what am I grieving for? When I started to think about it, it was so many things, the baby I have not yet conceived, the old me, my life before infertility, our relationship before infertility. A quick Google search brought up the five stages of grief.


This completely changed the way I viewed how I felt, this was normal, it was okay to feel like this. The model is not a set of rules for how everybody experiences a traumatic life experience, nor is it the set order in which you may experience these emotions, but it gave me something to work with. It meant that whenever I found myself back in a dark spot instead of panicking and thinking “I can’t cope with feeling like this” I could be sure that it would just be a matter of time before I shifted into a different emotional state. I felt like I was on a merry-go-round of the first four emotions, denial – “This cannot be happening to me”, anger “This is not fair what have I done to deserve this?” Bargaining “Just let me be pregnant this month and I promise that I will………” and depression where nothing felt real anymore.

Mindfulness is the key that allows me to reach a place of acceptance time and time again and it feels like a sigh of relief, I stop fighting what is. Acceptance of infertility does not mean in any way giving up my dream of being a parent. For me acceptance means being able to focus on the next stage of my journey. I had to come to a place of acceptance in order to proceed with IVF. I fought this step for months as I desperately wanted to conceive naturally. I cycled through each of the stages, denial that IVF was possibly the only way we would conceive, anger that this was so, bargaining, just a few more months it might happen and a major low after the doctors told me that if I did not commence IVF then I was risking the cysts returning and I may loose my ovaries. I needed to accept this reality in order to begin treatment rather than denying and resisting it.

We usually take it for granted that we are not in control of our emotions and for the most part our emotions control us. Mindfulness teaches us to notice how we are thinking and feeling and gives us the power to step back and realise that although we may not have a choice about what is happening to us, we do have a choice on how we respond to that situation. Mindfulness is in essence about coming to that place of neutral, the natural acceptance that being in the present moment brings. You are then in a position to move forward, making informed decisions from a balanced standpoint.

Sometimes what you really need is to accept that you feel angry, upset, jealous! I spent so long trying to fight how I felt, trying to talk myself out of it. Accept that you feel how you feel right now and you may find that the feeling eases. The 3 Minute Time Out exercise is perfect for this as is EFT, journaling or screaming! 

Preparing an action plan of how to best take care of myself was part of my mindfulness course. You create a list of activities/mindful practices that will help you to keep happy but also to deal with negative situations/thoughts. My list includes activities such as writing, ringing my friends and having my own theme tune on standby! In films any change of mood is enhanced by a change in soundtrack. It is impossible for me not to feel at least slightly better after listening to “Rain on my Parade” really loudly! Listen/watch now for an instant pick me up!  (If you have not seen the film our leading lady has just decided to join her lover who is taking a cruiser to Europe - hence the tugboat! This girl will not give up and neither will I.) 

The trick is to not attempt to jump straight from anxiety to happiness, but to aim to shift your mood to a lighter one than your current standpoint. I’ve come to realise that when I have been unable to lift my mood I was just trying to make too big a leap! When you are feeling particularly angry trying to jump to happiness is like trying to go from 5th to 1st gear, you stall and it does not feel comfortable. Just do anything you can to ease how you feel. Ask the question “What can I do to feel less sh*t right now?”

Here is a scale of our emotions:
Love / Joy / Empowerment
Neutral - Acceptance
Grief / Fear / Powerlessness

There are obviously many more that I could add to the list but the above gives you an idea and allows you to place yourself somewhere on the ladder, your aim is simply to shift from where you to a slightly better feeling.

Keeping a gratitude journal has been really helpful for me. Each evening I list five things that I am grateful for. I started with the big things like my partner and family and then kept adding to the journal with anything and everything I am grateful for in life. My list includes the film Moulin Rouge, it's soundtrack and Ewan McGregor! You can include really simple things like gratitude for the dinner you have just had or the fact that the sun was shining. This can be really hard when you’re down, but it does help. A few weeks in and you will have a journal full of all the things you are grateful for in life and the book itself is a visual reminder of this. 

In this journal is a statement I never thought I would write: 

Today I am grateful for my infertility! 

That is not to say that I don’t want it (infertility) to end immediately, but I would not rewind time to when we first started trying. If Marty McFly pulled up in the Delorean with the offer I would decline. I am so proud of myself for all the changes I have made and I wouldn’t give that up.

This journey has been the most difficult of my life and is not yet over, I am yet to be pregnant but it has also changed my life. I have changed the way I think about myself, about my relationships and about life. 

I can now honestly say that I love and accept myself exactly as I am which is the complete opposite of a year ago when I could not meet my eye in the mirror as I hated myself and my body so much for failing me.

I am retraining and building a new career, one that I love, one that allows me to inspire and support others. My lifestyle is drastically different, I used to travel the country and work long hours arriving home exhausted and irritable. I lived my life on fast forward and only truly relaxed on holiday. I now work from home, walk in the woods every lunchtime and am attending college. 

I am now truly grateful for all the good in my life whereas before I could only focus on the lack of. If I had fallen pregnant when we first started trying then my life now would be very very different. I believe that this journey has sculpted me into a better parent for my future children and even though I still have very low moments when fear creeps in, I am certainly a happier person overall. 

I hope that this gives you inspiration and hope that you too can learn to embrace your journey to motherhood and remember, infertility is not a thing, in a way it is not real, it is simply a label of a period of time between when you decide to be a parent and when you actually get to be one xxxxxxxxx

I have included a list of activities/mindful practices/inspiring talks/websites/videos that help to lift my mood in the files section of the Mindful Mumas-to-be group page or email me if you would like a copy.

Also see my blogs on coping with jealousy, depression and negative self-talk.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Sniffing and Injecting: Coping with IUI / IVF part one

Here is a collection of advice from myself and other members of Mindful Mumas-to-be, I will be adding more to this blog over the coming weeks but for now a few tips for coping with IUI/IVF:

~ Knowledge: Get yourself clued up to what exactly is involved. I would recommend this INUK factsheet and official medical websites for the basics and ask your hospital for as much information as possible as all hospitals seem to have slightly different protocol. Note that what someone on a forum is experiencing may not be your treatment plan/experience. What to expect before you are expecting has a short chapter on IVF or you could get Kate Brian’s book The Complete Guide to IVF 

~ Take one step at a time: Each stage of IVF should be celebrated as you “jump through the hoops” as my hubby says. Each injection is taking you one step closer on your family building journey. Be proud of yourself for completing each step. This should also be remembered if treatment does not succeed. Try not to view any treatment as a failure, there is much you can learn, obviously easier said than done. Advice and suggestions are very welcome on this point and all aspects of treatment, I would like to build this blog post up into a practical and inspiring resource for all those about to commence treatment.

~ Overcoming any fear of needles: This was a biggy for me and EFT helped tremendously. I am writing a specific EFT script for IUI/IVF injections, which includes the statements:

“Even though I have a fear of needles I deeply and completely love and accept myself.”

“Even though it is not fair that I have to do injections in order to get pregnant, I completely forgive and accept myself anyway.”

“Even though I absolutely hate injections, I deeply and completely love and accept myself.”

Until then you can tap along with either of these Needle Phobia for IVF or EFT needles videoIf you have not used EFT before then check out the resources section on my blog for links to free tutorials. 

~ Numbing: I experimented with using numbing cream on my belly before doing injections, you can buy this from your local chemist. It means you cannot feel the needle going in. The same can be achieved by an ice cube on your belly for 10 minutes. I recommend putting the ice cube in a sandwich bag so cold water does not run down your belly!

~ Get your partner involved: My husband prepares and does my injections for me. I feel happier knowing he is in charge and like the fact that he is involved in the process.

~ Rewards: Every evening after my injection I have dairy free chocolate ice cream as a reward. This has been so successful that now when I think 'injection' my mind thinks 'ice cream'! We also watch an episode of one of our favourite comedies to get us laughing, currently Gavin and Stacey.

Sniffing: My down-regulation has all been with injections, but some members have used sniffers (it depends on your hospital/clinic) and advise to have a glass of water ready following inhalation, oh and a piece of chocolate!

~ Assume and Affirm: Once you understand all the risks and success rates etc assume the best in a relaxed way, i.e. not demanding that it will work just being open to the possibility that it may work. This could be it! Again easier said than done, but I am a big fan of affirmations and find the following are helping me:

“My body is responding perfectly to all medications.”
“My body loves these new hormones!”
“I am feeling strong, calm and confident.”
“Every day I am a step closer to meeting my baby.”
“I can do this! I am doing this!”
"This too shall pass."

A warning note on affirmations/positive thinking, if you are stating an affirmation that makes you feel in any way anxious, upset or angry, then stop using it! For example stating “I am pregnant now” or “This IVF will work” are unlikely to make you feel empowered if at the same time you are feeling anxious and desperate for it to work. Affirmations should make you feel excited, empowered and above all happy. A good starting point is:

“I wonder if I will get pregnant this cycle.”

Which opens you up to the possibility of it working and therefore can allow you to feel excited or:

“When I am pregnant I will feel…………”

Insert your own feelings and really revel in what that will feel like. For more on affirmations see the Mindful Mumas-to-be and Me page and blog post Are you willing to love your future child unconditionally?

A quick disclaimer: Mindful Muma-to-be members and I cannot and will not take any responsibility for you. I/we are not medically trained and all information posted is purely to share personal experiences and to inspire. If you choose to make use of any of the information shared you agree to take full responsibility for your own well-being. 
EFT can be learned and self applied by almost anyone, and although no side effects have been noted, if you have a diagnosed psychiatric disorder you may want to consult the advice of a skilled EFT professional and your doctor, as you would with all therapy use.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Unborn Mother

The Unborn Mother

Nothing has changed yet I am completely different
I may look the same. Same body. Same life.
But inside my heart is broken
My belly is bruised and bloated from the nightly needles
My vein punctured from the sucking syringe
My eyes are hollow, empty
Nothing is real anymore. Nothing matters.
I close my eyes and shut out the world
So it is just me and you
My little unborn non-existent baby

You did not stay. You did not grow
Did you choose to up and go?
Did no one tell you how you would be loved and kissed?
Did no one tell you how much you would be missed?
My little unborn non-existent baby.

No one told me, of this waiting, wanting.
Thousands of poems and songs to describe unrequited romantic love
But what of a mothers love when that mother does not yet exist?
The unborn mother. Waiting. Wanting.

No one told me that my wanton empty womb would crave you
No one told me that I would miss you
This deeply, this consumingly.
Nothing has changed yet I am completely different.

Everything I cared about is insignificant
The endless talk, the noise of work
And friends and family
Nothing matters, their lives go on.
My life goes on
But yours has stopped
Did it ever start?

They told me not to but your birthday is etched across my mind
At what point of loss is it acceptable to grieve for you?
To some any number under 12 is not a baby, but a fingers crossed noncommittal half promise of a baby
Less than 8 and you are just a fleeting visitor
Under 4 and you may be labelled as just a chemical miscalculation

And if you only ever existed in my mind?
Does that mean I cannot grieve for the you that never was?
I have never been pregnant, yet I have been pregnant 21 times
Pregnant until proven otherwise
No booze, no blue cheese, no horseriding, skydiving, saunas!

You did not stay. You did not grow
Did you choose to up and go?
Did no one tell you how you would be loved and kissed?
Did no one tell you how much you would be missed?
My little unborn non-existent baby.

People tell me not to think of you and you will come
But they won’t tell me how
Would they tell an alcoholic not to think about drink?
I try but it is impossible not to count to 9 and hope
A spring, summer, autumn, winter baby

Nothing to do but press on with the next round of hormones
But not just yet, let me take a moment to say goodbye.
Nothing is real anymore. Nothing matters.
I close my eyes and shut out the world
So it is just me and you
My little unborn non-existent baby

You did not stay. You did not grow
Did you choose to up and go?
Did no one tell you how you would be loved and kissed?
Did no one tell you how much you would be missed?
My little unborn non-existent baby

Nothing has changed yet I am completely different

An unborn mother

I wrote this last year after my second stimulated IUI fail. A year on and I’ve just started an IVF cycle and I can truly say nothing has changed, I am still not a mother, I still live in the same house, am married to the same man, yet I am completely different. Mindfulness and the other mind body techniques I have been studying are allowing me to face this cycle with a strength I did not possess last year. I am not saying that I’m not still vulnerable, angry, upset, but instead of these being my only emotions I can allow myself to step back and take each day, each injection as it comes. 

Sending love to everyone out there who is also, as yet, an unborn mother xxxxxxxx

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Laparoscopy Preparation and Packing List

Due to endometriosis and ovarian cysts I had a laparoscopy and bilateral ovarian cystectomy in June in preparation for IVF. I was petrified and had put the operation off for months in the hope that I would get pregnant and then not have to deal with going into hospital and have someone play with my ovaries! My mindfulness practice was indispensable in the run-up and on the day of the op and as it turned out the day was mainly relaxing! Dotted with moments of anxiety, boredom, pain and gratitude but on the whole relaxing. Before learning how to be mindful I would have written off the entire day (if not the weeks preceding and following) as horrible, time to be got through as quickly as possible and then forgotten. Mindfulness teaches you to split each day into moments and to observe rather than judge your experiences. Unless you are in extreme pain with no access to painkillers it is highly unlikely that an entire day can be excruciatingly awful. If you break the day down into moments you may find there is even humour and kindness in the day. I was looked after by a fleet of amazing nurses who, on seeing how scared I was, became my own distraction team telling me funny stories. There were parts of the day and night, as I ended up taking longer than expected to come round after the anaesthetic and having to stay the night, that were horrible but by focusing my breathing and the bigger picture, which is having a baby, I coped.


Paperwork - Your doctor should run through the whole procedure in advance and Google, the Infertility Network website and forums can be good to research and prepare a list of any questions to go through with your doctor.

Mindfulness - For me meditation really helped me to stay calm in the run-up and on the day of the op. I use various guided meditations and I also listened to Paul McKenna’s confidence hypnotherapy tape. I have put some links to free meditations and information on mindfulness on the resources page of this blog: 

Affirmations - I love affirmations, they make me feel better when my head is all over the place, I used the following in the weeks before and after my op:

“Every hand that touches me is a healing hand.”
“I am so proud of you, you are so brave. I know that you are scared, but this is the right step to take towards pregnancy and becoming a mother.”
“My body is getting stronger and healthier with every breath that I take.”
“My ovaries and womb are perfect.”
After my op: “I have nothing to do today other than to heal and to be happy.”

Emotional Freedom Technique - I used tapping with the set up statement:

“Even though I am scared of the operation and of losing control, I deeply and profoundly love and respect myself.

Check out this website for free videos and information:

On the day - I got up early to have breakfast just before the start of the fast time. I had a bath and washed my hair so I didn’t have to worry about it for a few days after my op. At the hospital I asked for numbing cream on the back of my hand before the anaesthetic. You need to put this on an hour before going to theatre so ask when you first arrive on the ward and preferably in advance.

Packing list:

Ipod - I packed my iPod full of guided meditations, funny pod-casts and my favourite music. I listened to it continuously from leaving home until going to theatre and then once I woke up.

Pillow - Mainly to put over your belly under the seat belt for the car/taxi ride home, but I also used mine under my knees in hospital as this position allows you to relax the muscles in your abdomen.

Socks - Preferably with the non-elastic tops to allow for correct blood flow. My acupuncturist also recommends these while trying as anything that stops circulation to your feet will also be impeding your abdomen.

Overnight bag - Even though you will probably just be in for the day I would recommend taking everything you need to get a good nights sleep even if it is to just grab a couple of hours shut eye in the afternoon. Hospitals are very noisy and very bright. I was so pleased I had packed an eye-mask/earplugs/nightie/toothbrush/face wipes/tissues.

Peppermint tea and wind ease tablets - Some ladies experience pain from the trapped gas that they pump into you to separate your organs. This was my main complaint after my first lap when I was 20 but this time I started popping wind settlers about an hour after I came round (on the go ahead of the nurse) and did not have any pain at all from gas.

Maternity Trousers - If you have not heard me say it before I’ll say it again: If you have endometriosis, IBS, are going through fertility treatments, surgery or just don’t like anything tight on your belly get yourself down to H&M and buy yourself some maternity trousers. My Mum-to-be jeans are now my favourite item in my wardrobe, why would I ever go back to muffin tops when these look like regular jeans with a big fabric belt that can be covered by my top! Either these, jogging bottoms, yoga pants or a big sack like dress so you have nothing tight on your belly to go home in.

Slip-on shoes - You will not be wanting to bend down to do up laces.

STs - There is a chance you may have some light bleeding afterwards and they request that you do not use tampons.

Phone and charger - I thought that you are not allowed to use phones in hospitals but you can on the wards and it was really nice to be able to text my family and friends after the op to let them know I was okay.

Pen and paper - I find journalling very healing, you can also use it to jot down any questions for the doctor, and notes about any prescriptions etc.

Food - Since I’m following a gluten-free diet and eat extremely regularly I took my own food and asked them to put it in the ward fridge. Be aware that your throat maybe sore due to the anaesthetic so easy to swallow foods are good. Listen to your body when you feel like eating as some people are sick with the first food after anaesthetic. Take little nibbles and wait a few minutes to see what your body wants. I also took boiled sweets to suck on and herbal teas.

Water - I usually drink filtered tap water, but I found after the anaesthetic I was really sensitive to the chlorine in the water so wish I’d taken my own bottled water as you have to drink a lot when you come round to re-hydrate your body. Again I would recommend sipping  small amounts of water constantly rather than having to drink full glasses on demand if your blood pressure is too low for you to be released.

After the op:

Pain relief - Don’t be afraid of asking for painkillers if you need them, do not wait until you are in pain, as soon as you feel uncomfortable ask for some. I try not to take painkillers normally, but in this scenario you need them in order to allow your body to relax and heal. I would also recommend keeping a personal record of what you have had at what time as one nurse was convinced I had had a full dose on the last round when I’d actually been missed and was in need of relief.

Walking - They will encourage you to get up and walk around ASAP to help move the gas out of your body. I had trapped gas and it looked like the scene from aliens as my belly was pulsating and looking like something was trying to break out! Do not overdo it! I walked to the end of the ward and back and then nearly fainted. Listen to your body.

Time Off - I recommend taking a week off afterwards even if you feel okay to let your body relax and heal. They prescribed painkillers for me for a month as I had cysts and endo removed but I stop taking the really strong ones after five days as they were making me feel sick and stopped the paracetamol after 10 days. Everyone takes different times to heal and it would depend on what you had done. If you can make the most of the time off catch up on your reading/watching and ensure you have someone to look after you have released the first day to treat you like a princess!

Dissolvable stitches – These are supposed to dissolve within 3 to 4 weeks. My stitches did not dissolve and were irritating my skin so I went to see the nurse at my GPs to have them removed.

I hope this helped, please do email me any feedback or items you think might be helpful to others to add to the list.

Mindful Muma-to-be xxxx 

PS This combination of packing lists and advice is great too

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Hands up who is jealous of Kate? Coping with jealousy while trying to conceive/experiencing infertility

This post was originally going to be called “Green Eyed Scary Lady!” but I decided to adapt it as, unless you live in a cave, you will know that Kate Middleton as was has had her baby and even though that has absolutely nothing to do with my own journey or yours for that matter, it might still of made you pause when you heard the news.

Jealousy, a very human trait, but one we fight against, none more so than while trying to conceive. Every bump or baby we encounter can feel like a punch in the chest, winding us, causing us to stumble. When that bump (or baby) belongs to a close friend or family member the emotional storm inside of us can be debilitating.  We can feel envious, inadequate, upset, confused, even grief stricken. Why them and not me? You then feel awful for having these feelings.

At times, distancing yourself from encounters can be essential as a survival technique and many TTC websites suggest avoiding baby showers and situations involving children in order to protect yourself.

I have given up so many things in my quest to become a mother; caffeine, dairy, gluten, alcohol, to name but a few. I also lost many things for a time, my self-confidence, my trust in myself, my body and my faith in life. However I refuse to give up or to lose my friends.

I love my friends’ children; they are miniature versions of the people I care most about. I spent much of last week in the company of friends with children. I take great joy in the games I play with those children. I love the fact that my friend’s baby is comfortable enough with me to fall asleep on my chest. I cherish the fact that a two-year-old greeted me using my school nickname as that is what her mum calls me and Friday afternoon was spent on a trampoline with two small excitable boys and I had just as much fun as they did.

The joy I take from these encounters far outweighs the difficult emotions which inevitably surface. Yes, it is difficult being around children when I desperately want them myself. Yes, it brings home the longing, the wanting and the lack, but my grief will not be any less acute, my situation would not be any different if I’d stayed at home.

I can be doing something completely unrelated to pregnancy and children, like dancing in a club and having a fantastic time when out of nowhere a little unwanted thought will rise up and be just as painful as walking past a group of new mums in a cafe.

The fact is that until I am pregnant I need to deal with the fact that I am not pregnant! I need coping strategies:

1. Be honest with yourself:

Part of my mindfulness practice is to stretch. The phrase “Yoga is not about touching your toes, it is about what we learn on the way down” sums it up perfectly. When you stretch your body to the point of resistance you are learning your boundaries. The idea is not to strain, but to find that point of resistance and breath into it for a few moments to fully experience it, and then gently back off. We can use the same tool in scenarios when encountering emotional resistance. Learn your boundaries.

If you are in any given scenario and overwhelming emotions arise simply remove yourself from the situation for a time. Practice the “3 minute time out” exercise (blog post 21st April) and really allow your emotions to surface. It is okay to cry. It is okay to admit that you are jealous. It is perfectly understandable and natural. Be with your feelings. You may find that after a time, you are strong enough to continue your game of hide and seek and take pleasure from it.

2. Be honest with others:

This leads on to being honest with your friends and family. We can fall into the trap of seeming positive and upbeat when inside we are silently screaming. No one can truly understand how we are feeling but by sharing a little you may help to protect yourself from well-intentioned but painful comments. The family member who tells you to hurry up and have a baby before it is too late or the friend with a newborn who says you are lucky that you get to sleep at night. You don’t need to give them the whole story, but maybe a comment such as “You know it’s not as easy for some people just to decide to have a baby, these things can take time.” Or to friends who know you are trying “Most of the time I’m okay, but some days I just want to curl up under my duvet and I find it really difficult to stay strong.” You could send this blog to your friends and say that this is a little bit like how you are feeling.

3. Other people’s ballet pumps:

Everyone, no matter who they are, has their own difficulties and worries. You may look at someone who is heavily pregnant or who has a baby and think that they have everything, but unless you walk a mile in their shoes you do not know the entire story. Take Kate for example, she has a new bouncing baby boy, lives in a palace and has hair so beautiful that it makes even Jennifer Aniston envious! But we will never know the full story; she was married for 18 months before she conceived, were they trying for the entire time? Did she go through fertility treatments? Did she suffer a miscarriage? Whenever jealousy has you in its grip, take a deep breath and put yourself in the other person’s shoes, you will be amazed at how much this simple technique can help.

4. Don’t see babies as babies:

This one helps me the most when I feel myself judging other people’s parenting choices, you know, when you say to yourself “Why do they have a child when they obviously do not want them?” Imagine that child in 16 years time, giving that parent grief and getting their own back! This also helps to remind you that you don’t want just any baby, you want your baby, that person who will be in your life for your entire life.

5. The “Yes please” game:

This one can be really hard to start with but when you get into the habit of doing it it is really fun and can be a lifesaver. Instead of seeing every bump or baby as a reminder of what you do not have, use them as a reminder of what you want and say, “Yes please!”

If you have read any positive psychology books you will know that this is highly recommended for lifting your mood and moving towards what you want in life. The idea being that if you see the things you want and only register the lack of them in your own life you are putting yourself on a downward spiral that can lead to anxiety and depression. By saying yes to the things you want and imagining that you too can have them, you are putting yourself on an upward spiral, which is altogether more fun.

An example for you; every year I go on holiday with my husband, gran, parents and uncle to the seaside and every year I tell myself that next year I will be bringing our gorgeous baby with us. For the third summer Aunt Flo joined us instead and this year I was in the beach toilets. I stepped out of the cubicle to find not one but two heavily pregnant young ladies in front of me, in string bikinis! I had two choices, the first to turn round back into the cubicle and have a good cry or to say “Yes please, that will be me in eight months time, but possibly without the string bikini!” I went for the second option. I’m not saying it’s easy and sometimes it can take all of your strength, but it is so worth it.

6. Stop expecting life to be fair:

I went through a period of using the phrase “It’s not fair!” almost continuously. “It’s not fair that some women get pregnant when they do not even want a child.” “It’s not fair that I have to go through tests, injections, surgery and treatment and some people get pregnant on their first try.” “It’s not fair that some women have ten children and we don’t have any.” My husband simply said: “Why do you expect life to be fair?”

Life is not fair, shit happens to lovely people every day. The trick is not to be weighed down by this fact, but to change your perspective. Instead of stamping your foot and crying, “It’s not fair!” whenever life throws you a curveball instead see each challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow.

On my journey I have learnt to be proud of myself, really proud of myself for who I am not what I do. I have learnt to accept my current situation while acknowledging my feelings. I have learnt to really love and listen to my body. I have learnt to communicate on a new level with my husband. I have learnt that I will not crumble, that I have an inner strength and I have learnt that I can be happy on this journey.

I would love to hear what strategies you use and if you find any of the above helpful, do join our online community and share your experiences.