Running, with a side of IVF

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! πŸ˜‰

I don’t want to wait until we’re successful before writing a β€˜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.

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During the injection phase of an IVF cycle I am able to continue running. It’s often with less volume and frequency than usual, but I still get out there when I can. This photo was taken in 2016 after an evening run.

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With hubby at a 5k race last weekend. The combination of still recovering from Cairns 70.3 & a cold, and currently injecting myself with IVF drugs every night, meant that I was happy to just do the 5k (instead of the 10k which would normally have been my first choice).

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In October 2016 I did the Nepean Tri during an injecting phase. Five days later I went under a general anaesthetic for egg retrieval, thus ending another cycle. This was one example of being able to particpate in an event during a cycle – I was feeling fine and wouldn’t have competed if I didn’t or if it was not recommended.

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20 thoughts on “Running, with a side of IVF

  1. Thanks for writing this. I’m not going through IVF (nor planning to), but I appreciate having information for people who may be seeking it. There’s much variability in terms of how people react and feel, and all of this is NORMAL. As you said, there’s a lot of misinformation and misplaced concern.

    Best of luck to you and your husband.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great article Kel! Thanks for sharing. You are a real inspiration and I wish you all the luck in the world getting pregnant. Keep enjoying running. It seems that everyone has an opinion, but I feel like tri’s and running were my biggest “happy” outlet pre and post baby! What is good for your body is good for your head!

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  3. Hi Kel thank you for your amazing post. Very courageous of you to be this honest. I love you and I wish I was there to give you a big hug. You deserve the very best. You are so strong and so determined. Please don’t give up, I don’t think it is uncommon for women to have more than 3 IVFs before getting pregnant and you are so correct in saying there is no secret formula or perfect health. You listen to your heart. Rest more if you want to, eat what makes you happy. No one can ever put you down. The “runners rush” can only bring good energy so keep on running. β€οΈπŸ’™πŸ’œ

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  4. Hi Kelly,
    Thank you for sharing your story! We had our daughter naturally, then fell pregnant again but miscarried& after a year of not falling pregnant went down the road of IVF. It is such a roller coaster (I think exercise is the best medicine to deal with it all!). After a year of IVF I had an ectopic pregnancy& was rushed to emergency for a rather complicated surgery (it had been misdiagnosed & I had already had a curettes knowing it wasn’t a viable pregnancy). At this point we decided to stop trying for #2. I wish you lots of strength in going through this journey. Thank you for talking about it- there are many more out there going through IVF than you would think!

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  5. Good luck to you, I had 4 failed ovulation inductions, and 5 rounds of ivf, one miscarriage and two chemical pregnancies. I ran all the way through as much as I could and had constant advice from everyone around me about things that I should be doing and learnt to ignore it all (except my doctor of course). I am now 35 weeks pregnant and can assure you that the best thing you can do is to look after your body and mind to help you through the journey, and when it happens there is no logic behind it. My successful round was my worst statistically – poor egg collection and only one fertilised, and I was told to expect a cancellation.
    All the best to you, I hope your happy news isn’t far away x

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  6. What a journey! Thank you for sharing Alicia. It’s so good to hear other stories too and what an amazing ending for you after a poor egg collection. Mine have always been very poor too, but somehow I can’t help but feel positive about it all. Thank you for reaching out and for your supportive words. πŸ™‚ x

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  7. Hi Kelly,
    I loved your article and wished someone had written it seven years ago. My husband and I were the 5% who couldn’t conceive and had nothing wrong with us! Mentally, that was tough. Five transfers and three pick ups, we were one of the lucky ones and conceived our beautiful boy naturally. Exercising was my saviour and fully agree with you when you say do what your doctor says is right for you! The only time my doctor wanted me to relax was for the first three days after the transfers. Other than that, it was all systems go! Another challenge for us was when the defrosting of embryos was not viable. I think on those days, I just ran, hating the world! All the best to you and your husband and I hope your beautiful miracle isn’t too far away! How lucky will he/she be, being born to a beautiful mummy! xx

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    1. Hi Amanda, you’re too lovely. Thank you. And thank you so much for sharing your story – wow! What a rollercoaster! I’m so glad it all worked out in the end – although not quite in the way you were probably thinking it would when you started! And thank you for your kind and supportive words – I really appreciate hearing about other people’s experiences. It’s definitely encouraging. πŸ™‚ xx

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  8. I found so much of this heart breaking, I think mainly because after following you on Instagram I am so impressed and in awe of you that it pains me that anyone would criticise your way of doing things. I can’t wait for the post entitled ‘Yay we were finally successful!’ β™₯

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  9. Thank you for sharing. My husband and I are about to embark on our first round of ICSI. This time last year I was the fittest I’d ever been, unfortunately I let the words of those who mean well get to me. The suggestion that I exercised too much brought out in me the fear that, perhaps, I was not taking care of myself, not doing enough, to allow a pregnancy to happen. So I stopped running. After 6 months I was still not pregnant, and not only has every blood test come back perfect, but I have been described as ‘very fertile’. Our issue is likely male factor. Yet those well meaning loved ones continue to suggest that it is me who needs to make a change… eat more, eat differently, put on weight, work less. It has even been suggested that perhaps we aren’t doing the ‘deed’ at the correct time. Hello, but spending thousands on specialist appointments guarantees we know EXACTLY what we should be doing and when. My biggest piece of advice to anyone experiencing fertility challenges is to listen to the experts and listen to your body. No one else knows best. I wish you all the luck in your journey. Keep running x

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    1. Thank you for your response Emma and for sharing your experience so far. I do appreciate hearing from others. Yes, we have been doing ICSI as well and ours was a sperm issue to begin with (although enough time has passed that I’m now part of the problem too!!!) I totally agree though – the assumption from the start was usually that it was my fault in some way… but eventually you do learn how to move on from that, and it sounds like you have. I really wish you all the best in your journey and make sure you’re looking after yourself (and each other) and doing what feels good and right for you, regardless of what others (who have no idea, but well-meaning intentions) say or think. xx

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    1. Hi Jen,
      Yes, I did. I was just told to take it easy for a couple of days and to see how I felt. There was no issue with it. I can’t remember exactly how soon I was running, but I would’ve been running a few days later.

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