Part 1 – our current cycle
I’d like to share my experience of combining IVF with running and exercise. And I’m not referring to a bizarre interval workout in which you alternate injections with hill repeats and lunges! 😉
I don’t want to wait until we’re successful before writing a ‘Yay! We Were Finally Successful!’ post. We may not be.
I want to share my thoughts about the reality of IVF for us; disappointment, sadness, and grief, mixed with the cultivation of positivity and hope. And I think I can express this most accurately while we are in the midst of it.
This approach was borne out of my frustration with looking online for tips and guidance from other runners/triathletes about managing IVF and training, and not finding much except for ridiculous, recycled myths, such as that you can’t run at all because you might rupture your ovaries.
My husband Andrew has agreed to let me do this, because of course I’m lifting the lid on his private life as well. So some brief background information: we’ve been doing a form of IVF called ICSI since early 2015. We are currently in the middle of another cycle, which is also our first for this year.
Because I’m a runner, you might assume that I over-exercise and that multiple failed cycles is my fault. Loved ones have suggested I eat meat again, that perhaps I run too much, and that I should rest more. Whilst I am grateful for the endless care and concern shown by family and friends, it seems to me there is an assumption that there’s always something more that I could be doing to increase our chances.
Actually, there isn’t.
After 2 & a half years and 3 IVF clinics, we have learned that fertility doctors don’t have all the answers, nor can they implement fail-safe formulas to ensure a successful cycle. Aside from noting that infertility increases with age, all that doctors can do is try something, and if that doesn’t work, try something else. Just like FDR’s New Deal during the Depression – some things worked well, but others did not. The point is he kept trying. I’ve discovered that fertility treatment is like this too. (Except that unlike the Depression, another world war won’t ultimately resolve our problems.)
As far as nutrition and training is concerned, I have always talked to the doctors and nurses to check that I wasn’t doing anything detrimental to my health. Only one nurse at our first clinic a couple of years ago reminded me to ease up a little when I arrived for a blood test in running gear. (I ran to a blood test this week but the nurse just commented on how well the exercise had prepared my veins!) I’ve been told to carry on as normal, to listen to my body when I need to rest, and to not consume more than 3 alcoholic drinks per week. It’s hardly wrapping myself in cotton wool.
This is common sense. If you look around at women who are pregnant, you’ll see they come in all shapes, sizes, ages, and stages of health. They could smoke a packet of cigarettes per day, be morbidly obese, be dangerously underweight, and yet they can still fall pregnant and carry a healthy baby to term.
Unlike regular attempts to get pregnant, there’s no doubt that what you’re putting your body through for IVF is not normal. People respond differently to the drugs. My advice for nutrition and exercise during an IVF cycle is to do what your medical professionals recommend for you. In my case, the doctors and nurses have told me to carry on, listen to my body, and respond accordingly.
So this has meant more rest at times when the fatigue or headaches are too much, or skipping morning training because of early blood tests and scans, or the need to sleep in. But I have certainly not cut out exercise due to assorted fertility myths doing the rounds on the internet. I’ve continued to work full time and study part time. Any races or events I’ve participated in since February 2015 have occurred between cycles or at a time in the cycle when it felt safe and comfortable, or in the case of my recent half ironman, just as I was beginning a new cycle (approved by the clinic.)
In terms of food, I have continued to eat like a normal and healthy vegetarian. And I’ve not spent thousands more on herbs or acupuncture, or anything resembling quackery. I’ve been instructed to take folic acid tablets with iodine (doctors recommend this to all pregnant women anyway) and iron supplements, and that’s all. (Iron deficiency has been a issue my whole life, even when I ate steak for breakfast as a teenager.)
I believe that exercise, in whatever form you can handle it during IVF, is absolutely essential. IVF messes with you mentally, not just physically. I’ve never felt more like a failure as a woman, a wife, and a daughter, as I do right now. Reconciling our desire to have a family, with the brutal reality of our current situation, is no easy task.
So running helps me to cope. It makes me feel strong and accomplished; it’s an outlet for socialising; it’s something I can control; but most of all, it brings me joy. Paired with the unconditional love and support of the best husband in the world, exercise keeps me sane and balanced, but also fit and healthy – exactly what I would want to be if we are ever lucky enough to experience a successful pregnancy.