IVF is a gruelling process. It is impossible to grasp just how gruelling it actually is unless you have been through it. Physically, emotionally, financially; it drains you. The good news, however, is that there are plenty of ways we can be proactive in helping our bodies through the process. Firstly, to cope with the side-effects of treatment, and secondly, to assist in a successful outcome.
My body reacted so badly to our first cycle that I couldn’t walk by the second week because my ovaries were so large and painful, and I ended up in the hospital for 5 days with ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). The embryos had to be frozen until I was back to full health and when I was finally well enough months later, none of the embryos survived the thaw so we had to go through the whole process again. I felt broken, in every sense of the word, and I knew I’d have to learn all I could about the process and about why my body reacted the way it did. My remission from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis only came about thanks to years of research and a dogged determination to beat it without drugs, and what that research essentially all came down to was that the body really does not like toxins very much. A body with common genetic polymorphisms such as MTHFR or DHPR (which affect around 50% of the population – read my article about this here), finds it even harder to eliminate these toxins (which could in itself be one of the contributing factors to rising infertility levels, but I’ll save that for another article).
The thing is, for someone like me who does have MTHFR and an underlying autoimmune disease, pumping my body full of synthetic hormones went against everything I knew was right for me. But due to low sperm count and motility, we were literally left with no other choice if we wanted to have biological children. So the only way around it was to ensure that I not only aided my body holistically prior to, and through the treatment, but that I cleansed my body of the toxins once I’d finished breastfeeding – absolutely crucial in avoiding cancers linked with fertility treatments.
None of us – especially those of us trying to live more holistic lifestyles – want to succumb to the chemical burden of IVF, but for those of us who have no choice, I truly believe that the below tips will encourage the body to create healthier embryos, healthier pregnancies and in turn, hopefully, healthier babies.
Tip #1 – Prepare Your Body
When we are pregnant, most of us nest. We don’t wait until the day the baby comes home to begin these preparations, we ensure the home is as clean and comfortable for the baby as it can possibly be, and most of us allow plenty of time for this. So it makes sense to do the same for our bodies before embarking upon fertility treatment. Your body is going to be subjected to an onslaught of synthetic hormones, which most bodies do not particularly take kindly to, therefore preparing the body not just for this, but also as a future incubator for the embryos that will hopefully be put in there, is essential. This can be done through diet and lifestyle. Eliminating processed and refined foods such as sugar, gluten and homogenised dairy, as well as ready meals, caffeine and alcohol is the first step, followed by switching to organic. Enough chemicals will be entering your body from the stimulating hormones; reducing toxicity wherever possible through food will help keep the body’s toxicity levels lower. A body that is healthy, clean and prepared beforehand has a much better chance of a successful outcome. Taking the right prenatals, using only methylfolate and never the synthetic folic acid prescribed by doctors, is essential. I recommend Seeking Health Optimal Prenatal, formulated by Dr Ben Lynch, of mthfr.net.
Tip #2 – Go Into Treatment With A Clear Mind
When we find out we have to have IVF, most of us want to rush into it on our next cycle; perhaps we are desperate to have children, or perhaps it’s just the simplest way for our minds to deal with the burden. Either way, being in a good place emotionally (as well as physically) could not be more important. If there is anything bothering you, deal with this first; resolve anything that needs resolving emotionally and fix anything that can be fixed. This process will be challenging, so your mind needs to have as few other distracting thoughts as possible. Trying to arrange some time off work if this is possible, will also be beneficial, as rest is crucial.
Tip #3 – Nourish Your Mind with Positivity
Surround yourself with positive people and positive thoughts. If there are people in your life who tend to bring your mood down, take a step away from them for a little while. Do daily affirmations. Watch inspirational talks on YouTube such as The Secret, Oprah and other motivational speakers who promote positive thinking, and don’t get bogged down watching or listening to other people’s IVF stories. Focus on your story and how it will end: with a baby.
Tip #4 – Nourish Your Body with Food
An ayurvedic approach to conception is a great start. But if you’re not sure where to start with this, just keep hold of the word ‘nourish’. It invokes feelings of warming, healing foods – exactly what we need. Warm stews, casseroles and pies; vegetables lightly steamed to make them feel more nourishing than if they were completely raw; spices such as turmeric and cinnamon; warming herbals teas. Green juices, though cold, will help feed the cells in your body with vitamins and minerals essential for optimum health and cell regeneration. Treat yourself to hot chocolates made with raw cacao, almond milk and cardamom (try this recipe); not only warming but full of bio-available magnesium and protein.
Tip #5 – Acupuncture
When used in conjunction with Western fertility treatments, acupuncture increases conception rates by 26%. A recent study from Tel Aviv University reports, “When combining IUI with TCM treatments, 65.5% of the test group were able to conceive, compared with 39.4% of the control group, who received no herbal or acupuncture therapy.” Acupuncture can increase fertility by reducing stress, increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs and balancing the endocrine system, according to several studies and medical research. I found acupuncture to be invaluable. I recommend a treatment before you begin hormone stimulation, two treatments during stimulation, and a treatment on the day of, or if not possible, the day before, your embryo transfer.
Tip #6 – Meditation and Visualisation
Try and begin a meditation schedule before you start treatment so that it’s firmly built into your routine. There are guided meditations on YouTube, as well as apps like Headspace if you’re new to meditation. Following these will take the pressure out of feeling the need to “switch off” if you find it a challenge. Set aside 10-20 minutes once or twice a day, as part of your necessary routine, and do this throughout the treatment and beyond. MRI scans show that after an eight-week course of mindfulness practice, the brain’s “fight or flight” centre, the amygdala, appears to shrink. This primal region of the brain, associated with fear and emotion, is involved in the initiation of the body’s response to stress. Retraining our brains when it comes to how we process stress will greatly impact success rates, as cortisol levels will affect the outcome.
Tip #7 – Maya Abdominal Massage & Vaginal Steams
Maya abdominal fertility massage applications move congested lymph fluid, oxygenate blood, increase immune function and maintain proper nerve flow in pelvic organs. Many women put their fertility treatment success (in fact, many put their eventual natural pregnancies), down to this Westernised approach of an ancient Mayan technique. Using specialised vaginal steam herbs before, and sometimes during treatment is said to cleanse, heal and nurture the female reproductive system; just another way that Mother Nature is able to offer us a helping hand during this journey. There are many practitioners scattered around the country.
Tip #8 – Keep Feet & Womb Warm
Once you have had your embryo transfer, treat your body as the sacred, human incubator that it is. Of course, there are many contributing factors, but assuming your embryos are of good quality and you have prepared your body and mind well, you have done all you can at this point to aid the process. Encouraging your body to accept the embryos is all you can now do. In ancient Chinese culture, it is believed that in order to ensure successful conception, the feet and womb must be kept warm. Keep thick socks on your feet when possible (unless you live in a hot country; all of my cycles happened to be in the dead of British winter!), enjoy warming foot baths in the evening, perhaps even with a little Epsom salt sprinkled in, and keep a hot water bottle close (but not too close) to your tummy. Rub your tummy gently, embracing your embryo/s and encouraging blood flow.
I learnt a lot through my first cycles. Even after having my son, there are things I knew I’d do differently next time, which I did, leading (with gratitude) to a second healthy pregnancy. I hope the things that helped me (and many others) will help you, too, and will give you the encouragement to know that the outcome is not totally out of your hands and that there is plenty you can do to help this process yourself.
With love and health,