By Cat (@tryingyears)
After likely years of heartache and anguish as you try to build your family, fertility treatment and perhaps loss, you find yourself pregnant after IVF, finally. Now what? Physiologically an IVF pregnancy is usually safe to progress as per a natural conception; with (sometimes scant feeling) midwife appointments and family members excitedly buying tiny babygrows. Emotionally though, the fertility journey that you embarked upon to make it this far may have left you feeling a bit bruised and battered. If you’re pregnant after IVF then you’re likely elated but likely feeling lots of other confusing things too. Qualified coach, Cat Strawbridge, supports parents on their ‘finally pregnant’ and ‘finally parenting’ journey after her own seven year fertility battle and IVF pregnancy.
She also wrote for us here, about what it’s like being a forty-something toddler mum.
“But where is the support for this stage of our journey?”
This was the question I repeatedly asked when I found myself finally pregnant after IVF, after almost seven years of infertility and loss. My IVF pregnancy came after nine rounds of fertility treatment. However, when I looked, I couldn’t find any support. I took matters into my own hands and started the Finally Pregnant Podcast, for those pregnant and parenting after infertility and loss.
You see, people often think you’re ‘fixed’ once you see those two pink lines. But the reality is that whilst seeing a positive pregnancy test is everything you could dream of, that joy has a tendency to come crashing down pretty quickly when you’ve been there before but not brought your baby home. Or perhaps your IVF pregnancy is the only time you’ve successfully conceived. Either way, the next emotion is all too often anxiety. And it can be really difficult to shake!
How will I make it to the next scan? Will there be a heartbeat? What if I do something wrong and we lose the baby? If I tell someone will it ‘jinx’ the pregnancy?
Just some of the questions that ran round my head and I know I’m not alone in that.
Then there are other, more unexpected feelings like survivor’s guilt.
Many of my TTC friends, my incredible support network up until now, were still trying when I got pregnant after IVF. I was so conscious of their ongoing struggle that I couldn’t possibly celebrate because I worried about coming across as gloating. Nor did I want to complain. When all I had wanted to see for almost seven years was a positive pregnancy test, I couldn’t ever imagine telling anyone that being pregnant was actually really hard!
At that point, when we really need to be surrounded by support, what many people do is the complete opposite. All too often retreating into the discomfort of our own thoughts and fears. Definitely not something I would recommend. All this and we haven’t even got to the practical side of things yet…
I had only ever allowed myself to think as far ahead as possibly, one day seeing a positive pregnancy test. Never had I looked into what to do next if I found myself actually pregnant after IVF. I think it’s all the things that nobody really tells you about ahead of any pregnancy. When do you call the doctor? How do you get a midwife? What is a booking appointment? Who tells you when and where to go for your next scan? The next scan is how many weeks away? I can’t possibly wait that long!
It was at this point, as a fertility patient in particular, I realised just how much I had relied on my fertility clinic. They took care of the medication I needed and booked me in for scans and test days. It felt amazing to finally ‘graduate’ from their care but it was equally terrifying!
As someone who had been through previous early losses, that initial 6 week milestone weighed on me heavily. Would I ever get further along than that? Yes! But I soon realised that from there, the pressure merely shifted to the next milestone – would there be a heartbeat? Would we make it to the 12 week scan? NIPT testing, anatomy scans…what, when, how?
If you are finally pregnant, I don’t want to scare you. I am eternally grateful to have had to ask these questions and even more so that my daughter is now two and a half. But even good problems are still problems. The fear and anxiety was very real for me. It was also for the hundreds if not thousands of women and birthing people I have supported since then.
The good news is that since then, I feel like there has been a shift in the understanding around pregnancy after infertility and loss – not to mention the impact it can have on parenting too. We’re not completely there yet but I know the support in this area has grown and, from conversations I have with people still trying, the understanding that ongoing support is needed throughout an IVF pregnancy seems to be more evident too.
The strangest thing I found – one that really surprised me – was that even when pregnant, I still found pregnancy announcements difficult. Even now my daughter is here, they can still get me. I can only put it down to the years of trauma they caused when I was trying to conceive. It just goes to show how much of an impact those years had on me throughout my IVF pregnancy and beyond.
If you are lucky enough to find yourself finally pregnant after IVF, fertility treatment or loss, please make sure you ask for help. I saw a counsellor who helped me process some of my emotions. I was also lucky enough to have people around me I could talk to too. But if that’s not the case for you, please do reach out to me.
In addition to the Finally Pregnant podcast you can find me on Instagram @finallypregnant where you’ll see takeovers, lives and hear more about the Finally Pregnant Yoga and Pilates Sessions. Other support also available at catstrawbridge.com.
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