Eloise and her husband Ian found that putting time aside to spend together as a couple and being more open with others about their fertility struggles helped them to move forward and better cope with unsuccessful IVF.
The couple from Luton both had infertility issues and were eligible for three NHS cycles of funded treatment (later in 2022 this funding will be reduced to one cycle). Luton & Dunstable Hospital acts as a satellite clinic for Bourn Hall clinic and so the couple had most of their appointments at the Luton & Dunstable with egg collection, IVF and embryo transfer taking place at Bourn Hall.
Their daughter Esti was born on 11 January 2020 after two fresh rounds of IVF (with ICSI) and two frozen embryo transfers.
Eloise comments: “We are so grateful for the level of NHS funding that we were entitled to in Luton at the time. If we had only been entitled to one fresh cycle, we wouldn’t have our baby girl.”
Eloise reflects back on how counselling helped the couple cope with their IVF treatment journey.
I was naïve and thought IVF always works first time
“Experiencing infertility and going through IVF is something that only those who go through it can fully understand,” says Eloise, aged 30. “Sometimes I just really needed to talk about how I was feeling but none of my close friends were in the same position.
“The first time we had IVF we literally told no one and then when it didn’t work we felt as though we had no one to lean on. We have both learnt that being more open with people around us about our infertility struggles and having IVF is really beneficial and it has also stopped the awkward questions from people about ‘when we were going to have a baby’.
“I had been a bit naïve and just assumed that it would work first time. I think I just needed a little bit of a reality check and coping mechanisms to help me if it didn’t work again. So, we had two free counselling sessions through Bourn Hall after our first IVF treatment and found it really helpful.
Counselling helped us become stronger as a couple
“The counselling made us think not just about getting pregnant but also about being a couple, which I think is really important.
“It helped us to understand how we could help each other moving forward into the next round and be a little bit more open-minded. It also helped Ian be more open about how he was feeling instead of just feeling that all he had to do was support me.
“One thing which our counsellor Jackie suggested we do, which still sticks with me now, is that she told us to take time out for just the two of us to do something once a month and so every single month we went for a massage together.
“It is something that I would never have even considered doing before, but it really helped.
“We needed to get an open mind of ‘okay….it hasn’t worked, but we shouldn’t focus on the fact it hasn’t worked but focus instead on the hope that it will work’. We needed to find that middle ground and I think that is what the counselling helped with. And I am quite a private person emotionally, I wouldn’t normally cry in front of anyone and I think Jackie helped with that as well.
“The counselling after our first treatment definitely helped me cope better with the fact the second one didn’t work either. It was also nice to be able to talk to an independent person who wasn’t actually emotionally involved. I would normally talk to my mum, but she was also grieving the loss that it hadn’t worked and also sad for us because it wasn’t working.”
The couple had a further unsuccessful cycle and then tackled a fourth.
Pregnant but bleeding
“When we found out I was pregnant after the fourth attempt I felt such a mixture of emotions. I had started bleeding before we were due to take a test and so we assumed it hadn’t worked. But then the next morning I woke up and I had really sore boobs and I was like ‘well that has never happened before…’ so I took the test and it was positive but then because I was bleeding I was like ‘well are we losing it, has it worked or not?’
“So, it was a constant ‘oh I am really happy that we are pregnant, but what is going to happen?’
Remain a team to cope with unsuccessful IVF
“The main piece of advice I would give to other couples is to make sure you remain a team and I think for people who haven’t had a child yet I do think the advice that Jackie gave us about still making time for each other made a massive difference. I know that a lot of people are quite private about having IVF which I completely understand but I actually found it easier going through it once people knew.”
The couple had further IVF treatment after the birth of Esti and Eloise thinks that further counselling would be helpful.
“I do think even from having Esti in 2020 to having more IVF last year I had forgotten what that disappointment felt like which is crazy because obviously it hadn’t been that long but once it does work you then expect it to work.
“I think either way whether we continue with treatment or not I think it is going to be worth speaking to a counsellor again because we will either be closing a door or opening the door to go through it all again. We are still very much on our journey.”
The emotional impact of infertility - Jackie Stewart, independent fertility counsellor at Bourn Hall
“Infertility can slowly impact on relationships, work life, social life and finances if allowed to. It can lead to a feeling of being in limbo, with decisions to book holidays, career choices, moving or renovating a house often put on hold until ‘treatment is over’. These feelings are all natural.
“If you recognise that you are experiencing this, please be reassured you are not alone.
“By giving yourself the best support and allowing some of these feelings to be present, it is possible to work safely with these thoughts and feelings. Give yourself permission to feel sad and to grieve for the sense of loss you are feeling.
“Specialist fertility counselling support is available for patients in treatment and for those working towards infertility resolution to help support your feelings and to provide helpful information.
“It can be comforting to know help is at hand if you are struggling at any point. Accepting and talking about your feelings can be a scary prospect, but it can also be easier than resisting them continually.
“It can help to find the right time and person to talk to in confidence, somebody you trust who will understand your feelings. This could be your partner, a close family member/friend, or a work colleague. It can also help to speak to an objective outsider like a professional counsellor, a GP or other patients who can empathise with you.”
Jackie talks about these feelings and coping strategies that couples and individuals can use to help them through IVF in the Fertility Blog and also at the Fertility Support Group. See here for details of the next meeting.