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Coping with Infertility & the 10 Things that Helped Us Conceive

by - Thursday, April 16, 2020

So here I am, with my 8 week old baby asleep by my side, writing a post on the struggle of infertility.

I must be kidding, right?


Some of you will already be familiar with our struggle to conceive, but this may be news to others. I'd completely forgotten my desire to write about this subject until a dear friend (and one of the few people that knew of our journey) just spoke out about her same struggle. Sometimes I feel I have no 'right' to speak about infertility, having recently had a healthy baby boy. But our struggle was no less real than the ones that couples are going through right now, and I hope this post can comfort anyone walking the same path that I was walking even just a year ago.

I wrote a post about 18 months back, during our struggle, with tears rolling down my cheeks and a lump in my throat. But despite countless moments of hovering my mouse over the 'publish' button, I could never quite bring myself to reveal the secret that had been holding me hostage for 3 years.

Infertility is hands down one of the hardest things I've ever had to deal with in my entire life. I once walked out of a shop because there was a pregnant couple choosing blinds for their nursery next to me. I've lost count of the times I've purposely changed a conversation topic because I was paranoid about it turning into someone asking me when I was going to have a baby. And I've spent 3 long years feeling like I've been punched in the heart every time I saw a pregnant woman or a new mother.

I've also felt guilty for being pregnant myself, despite the struggle that we went through to get there. And it did teach me one thing; not to resent every pregnant woman you see - you just assume they had no problem themselves but of course those people who've suffered miscarriages, had IVF or are being a surrogate are out there carrying babies somewhere. I remember thinking often that I wanted to walk around with a sign on my belly saying 'it took us 3 years and we began IVF!' because I so desperately didn't want anyone struggling with infertility to assume that I had it easy. I didn't want my bump to hurt anyone the way that other bumps had hurt me.

Infertility also seems to be one of the biggest 'taboo' subjects around. But over the years, I've seen and admired brave ladies coming out of emotional hiding and beginning to talk openly about it - and I can't quite describe just how much it helped me, knowing that I wasn't alone.

So now I speak to you from the other side of the struggle and can share a few truths on how I silently coped with the heartache for the hardest 3 years of my life.

I'll also reassure you that you'll find no triggering photos in this post, as those photos that were plastered all over websites and clinic walls just made things harder for me during our journey.

In Conversation...

Firstly, if you're not trying to conceive (ttc), and I've still got your attention, please read these next few paragraphs because, from the point of view of someone who is trying for a family, it is one of the most important things you can learn:

"When are you going to have children?"
"Do you want kids?"
"Oh, it'll be you next!"

These comments are the most heartbreaking things to hear as someone trying to start a family. On far too many occasions, someone blurted these questions at me in front of other people like it was as throwaway as 'do you want a cuppa?'

As if infertility wasn't hard enough, having to grit your teeth and smile through countless replies of "oh, one day, yes" while your heart once again shatters inside your chest is a battle in itself. You want to scream at them, "I DON'T KNOW, YOU TELL ME!" and it was these comments that made me write my original (unpublished) post in the first place, because I just wanted the comments to stop so I could continue dealing with this pain internally. 

So, the biggest thing I ask of you if you are not ttc, please, please PLEASE, stop asking people these questions. Stop nudging women mid-conversation saying 'it'll be you next!' while laughing. I know you mean well and I know you don't know that that person is struggling, but that's my point:

You don't know.

And I can only begin to describe to you the effect it has on an already fragile mind that's having to deal with all this heartache in private, to have their biggest insecurity so casually and publicly discussed like it's nothing. Please, just don't ever ask the question because you never know what that person is going through. It's never ok to ask.

Please note: this also applies to people that already have children. They may have been trying and failing to expand their family for a long time, adopted or endured miscarriages along the way - so just because they have a child already doesn't mean their journey was / is easy. I sincerely hope that we can have another child but in all honesty, I just don't know if we'll be able to - so please be respectful and don't ask me that question.

And one final comment, to those that have children - when you're in public and your child is acting up / crying / running riot - please never look to the nearest stranger and say 'you can have him if you want him!' It is far from funny to someone that is so desperately jealous of you in that moment, someone that would give anything to be as lucky as you. So please don't joke about giving your kids away, it's just not funny.

Things that helped me...


I joined the gym back in 2018 for one reason only, but it gave me something totally unexpected too.

I joined because I felt that if I lost weight and got fitter, it would increase our chances of IVF being successful. But working out became invaluable to me for the stress relief alone. I've never been a gym person, never been good at sports and thought exercise was such a chore. But I immediately found myself enjoying it, found it gave me a great sense of achievement and knowing that I was taking good care of my body helped me mentally, too.

It particularly gave me something else to focus on besides my grief - it gave me goals, targets and windows of time where I thought about nothing other than the task in hand. Going to the gym 2/3 times a week meant 4-6 hours of thinking about absolutely nothing other than breathing, building stamina and developing my physical strength.

And, if I was having a particularly bad day mentally, nothing cured it like turning up some Rage Against the Machine and pushing myself to run faster and lift heavier.

It honestly made me a new person, one that I do miss now as I'm not able to attend the gym due to time and money constraints. And the me of 5 years ago would be shocked to read that I truthfully miss the gym! But developing my physical strength one hundred percent helped me to build my emotional strength too.


Another thing I took up with my gym membership was attending weekly yoga sessions. Again, this allowed me an hour a week where I could completely switch off and close my mind to the world outside the yoga studio. It strengthened my body, yes, but it really helped to strengthen my mind too.
Learning yoga meant that if I found myself particularly stressed, I had the tools to reset my troubled mind and therefore soothe my soul through meditation and mindfulness. These were very important skills for navigating such a difficult situation beyond my control.


For the same reason as above, reflexology was a welcome extra aid for clearing and resetting my mind. But, it was purely for relaxation as opposed to the challenging stretches and poses of yoga, which made reflexology all the more special.

I know reflexology isn't cheap, and being totally transparent, I was fortunate enough that my lovely Aunt and Uncle offered to pay for the sessions for me in the hope it would help us on our journey to becoming parents. It's absolutely not something I would have been able to afford had it not been for their kindness and generosity.

Obviously every reflexologist will be different, but Clare always began each session with asking how I was coping that week, which is something you don't get asked very often, if at all, and is certainly something you never think to ask yourself. So we'd begin each session with a chance to get everything off my chest, and speaking about my feelings to a relative stranger really helped - of course my husband had heard it all before and was going through the same thing, so being able to talk so freely, and leave it all behind in that room was a saviour at times.

Then the reflexology itself allowed me a blissful time to switch off and forget about everything for a while - I fell asleep in every session without fail which I believe was due to the relief of letting go of that huge weight I was carrying around.

Being Open (to an extent)

So we know I never quite found the bravery to share our struggle completely publicly, but telling vital people in my life really did make a difference.

It allows you to be your true self; if you're not feeling particularly strong of a day, you don't have to put on a happy face and pretend you're OK. Sometimes you need positive affirmations and encouragement. And sometimes you just need a cuddle and someone to agree with you how much your situation sucks.

Having a strong support network around can be so, so helpful - you don't have to politely smile away those questions about starting a family and you know that they're there for you every step of the way.

I also know that had I have been brave enough to share our struggle publicly, I would have received a lot of support from family, friends and even strangers across social media - because I know it's there, I just never felt ready to ask for it.

Never Losing Hope

This one is very tricky and I completely understand if you want to slap me for writing those words. But after another failed month, another negative test and another fresh batch of raging hormones, I somehow managed to never give up hope. Granted, there were times when I felt like I'd lost it, and I had begun to decide that it just wasn't ever going to happen for us. But beneath it all, I knew there was a tiny ray of hope still flickering in my heart that one day I'd get to be the Mother I knew I was put on this earth to be. That tiny, tiny bit of hope kept me going every day until our moment finally arrived.

As I mentioned earlier, the ladies that started speaking out about their ttc journey online really helped me feel like I wasn't alone. The main corner of the internet where I spend my time is Instagram, so if you're the same, try searching the hashtags #infertilitysucks #iam1in4 #ttccommunity #infertilitywarrior #ivfgotthis - you'll be surprised at just how many people are actually saying it out loud.

Enjoying the Here and Now
Travelling, gigs, days out together - we never put our lives on hold during our journey to becoming parents and I really think that's key. Carrying on as normal is best, in my opinion - if you're still doing all the things you love together then it's going to:

a) balance out the tougher days,
b) keep your relationship strong, and,
c) do wonders for your mental health.

No, I'm not going to talk about how that would relax you and you never know, that might be the thing you need blah blah blah. We've all been told that a thousand times and I appreciate that it doesn't help. What I will say though, is that for us, carrying on as normal meant that while our 3 year journey ttc was bloody difficult, it also saw us living some of the best years we'd ever had - because we didn't let it take over and we set our minds on enjoying what would hopefully be the last year (or 3) before we had children. And, as a result, we now look back on those years very fondly, have forgotten most of the tears and feel completely ready for our lives to take a different path now. 

What We Did Differently...

Whether you've just started on your journey to becoming parents, or you've been walking that road a long time, I want to share what we started doing differently in the months before we conceived naturally. I've put this bit at the end so you can choose to read it or not, because again, I appreciate that you may not want to hear about our success. But please know that we didn't try for 3 years then one day wake up pregnant. We made a lot of sacrifices and a lot of changes to help get us where we are today. Obviously I have no way of knowing which changes worked in particular, if any, but I strongly believe these changes collectively brought our bodies in tune with each other and with what they needed to do.

Please note that this isn't medical advice. Some of the changes we made are things that are recommended by fertility / medical experts, but this is purely what we decided to do, and what ultimately worked for us, so please do do your own research / speak to your doctor.

1. Reduced alcohol intake - (Both of us)
We both gave up alcohol 7 months before we fell pregnant. The advice is to also give up smoking but this wasn't relevant to us as we don't smoke. We had the odd drink for Christmas, New Year's and our Birthdays, but other than that we were completely teetotal. And although I missed a glass of proper wine on a Friday night, we're so spoilt for alcohol free options these days that it wasn't that hard giving it up.

The IVF doctor actually told us to not stress ourselves out being so strict, so we gently introduced 2 drinks each a week back into our routine, and ironically, that ended up being the month that our dreams came true.

2. Stopped focussing on ovulation days (Me)
I know how obsessed you can become with this, and I found myself pouring over the Ovia app that I had on my phone, trying to time things down to a tee. But I deleted the app around 6 months or so before we conceived, because it was doing more harm than good to my mental health. Especially as when you enter your 'symptoms' of a month, it said things like, 'you've reported feeling cold and flu symptoms - this can be a sign of early pregnancy so this could be the month!' It's dangerous to be giving so much false hope to fragile women ttc so that was the main reason I removed the app - and I felt so much better for it. 

3. Reduced caffeine intake (Both of us)
We both gave up caffeine around the same time as alcohol and we still only drink decaf even now. I had quite a struggle to give it up, more about that and my advice if you want to do the same, in this post

4. Drank more water (Him)
We all know that the body functions so much better when it's properly hydrated. I've always been a biiiig drinker, and would average 2-3 litres of water a day. But Paul isn't quite so on top of his hydration, so I encouraged him to drink more water as best he could. It was a big change to his usual habits, so he didn't always manage to keep up with it. But he did try to, and at weekends I would regularly put pints of squash in front of him to encourage him to drink more. I think having it put in front of him really helped - his problem was remembering to stop at work to go and get himself a drink. 

5. Got fit (Both of us) & lost weight (Me)
I wasn't overweight before, but I was definitely carrying some unnecessary extra padding, so I know shifting that will have aided in conception. And getting my body fitter and healthier will have played a big part, not to mention the benefit to my mental health as discussed earlier. Paul took up baseball purely as a hobby, but it was regular exercise for him, and great for his mental health too.

6. Improved our diet & reduced artificial sweeteners (Both of us)
I did find a website that listed all the best foods to eat at each stage of your cycle (luteal, menstruation etc.) and I wrote them all down to keep on the fridge for my meal planning throughout the month. But to be honest, it ended up being quite a bit of hassle trying to make sure I was eating certain foods at certain points of the month so I gave up after a little while. (We certainly didn't need the extra stress!) But just being more aware of what we were eating was much easier and sustainable. The one thing I never forgot though was how much a lot of websites praised baby carrots for increasing fertility so I did keep buying those when I saw them!

We also reduced our consumption of artificial sweeteners. We both avoided anything that contained sucralose or aspartame as research has shown that they can have a negative impact on the body. So we switched diet and low fat foods to full fat versions (low fat spread to real butter for example) as they are much purer, due to not being loaded full of sweeteners to make up for the lack of flavour. Most fizzy drinks contain aspartame or sucralose, and given we were avoiding caffeine too, we'd mostly drink just appletiser or sparkling water in placement of our favoured alcoholic drink or can of Coke.

7. I asked Paul to look after his men! (Him)
I would apologise for this being too much information, but you know what, if it helps someone to conceive, I'm not sorry at all.
I asked Paul to stop having hot baths as this can damage / kill off sperm and they take 3 months to mature to the point where they are able to fertilise an egg. So I saw it as one hot bath = no chance of conception for the next 3 months! A bit over analytical I'm sure, but we were willing to try anything to help things happen - especially with IVF coming up, we needed his sperm to be in tip top shape!
I also asked him to stop sleeping in underwear - again, TMI I'm sure but I don't care! I hoped it might help if things had a chance to breathe a bit overnight and I do honestly think it helped.

8. Saw a reflexologist (Me)
If it's something you can afford, it's really a very enjoyable experience, and is fascinating to learn about how parts of the feet connect with parts of the body. I'm also a big believer in acupuncture, although this isn't something that I tried as I was doing reflexology instead. I do feel that this played a big part in us conceiving, as it helped to recentre my mind and taught me to take the challenge a bit more in my stride.

9. Booked holidays & carried on as normal (Both of us)
Even if you're going down the IVF route, things can take a while to get going (waiting lists, appointment availability etc) and they will take it into consideration if you've got a holiday already booked, and can arrange your treatment around it. (Our clinic were certainly accommodating as they didn't want us to put our lives on hold). The one thing to look out for though, is travel to certain countries with an increased risk of Zika virus will put your treatment on hold for 3 months after your return. Information on Zika is available on the NHS website.

10. Took Royal Jelly supplements (Both of us)
But to be honest, we stopped these a few months before we conceived because they have been known to play around with ovulation timings, so I doubt they played any part for us. We were told by the IVF clinic to stop taking them as they needed to have complete control over my cycle for treatment. But do research into them because I've read a lot of accounts of people swearing by them for conception. The one thing they did seem to do for me was they made my very forgetful mind suddenly super sharp! I literally can't remember stuff that happened 5 minutes ago, my short term memory is awful... But while I was taking royal jelly, I weirdly didn't seem to forget a thing!

I hope that somewhere within these words you have found comfort, reassurance, hope - or even just the knowledge that you are not alone.

I now have the strength to be completely open and honest about our experiences of the struggle to conceive, pregnancy, labour and post partum - so if you ever have any questions or topics you'd like to know more about, please feel free to get in touch in the comments here or in my Instagram inbox.

Wishing you all the luck in your journey, and please remember, what's meant for you will not pass you by.

Lots of love,

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