Gemma Bowker-Wright’s journey to fertility was open-minded and experimental. Here she presents her findings.
Meditation and mindfulness
“All your cells are smiling,” says the soothing American voice. “And you,” she says, extra soothingly, “are smiling along with them.”
Soothing music signals the end of the podcast. I open my eyes. My partner is standing in the doorway grinning. “So…. are all your cells smiling?” he asks.
“Shuttup,” I say, closing my eyes. I try to channel the soothing feeling. In the next room I can hear him laughing.
Meditation and mindfulness are generally not my kind of thing. There’s some evidence, though, to suggest my fertility could benefit (mostly via reducing stress and anxiety). I use the Circle&Bloom programme, mostly because I like the soothing voice. And the sessions are reasonably short. They feel relaxing. Until my partner comes in, that is.
After a few weeks I get bored and give it up.
Impact on my fertility: low
Teasing potential: high
Acupuncture has been suggested to improve fertility. While there is no conclusive evidence to support this, proponents say it can boost blood flow to the reproductive organs, balance hormones and relieve stress. That’s enough for me. I go to see a practitioner specialising in fertility and women’s health.
She’s lovely and warm-looking and wears a beautiful scarf. She speaks in a soothing voice. We discuss my malfunctioning ovaries (I have polycystic ovarian syndrome). She is sympathetic. She holds my cold hands and tells me I have kidney Yang deficiency and possible liver stagnation. She gives me handouts on warming foods.
We get started. I lie on the bed and needles are put into my wrists, tummy and forehead. She puts a heater on and covers me in a blanket. I wake up 45 minutes later feeling very relaxed and calm (until I realise I’m half an hour late for a meeting at work).
I keep going for six weeks.
Cost: around $60-$80 per session depending on where you go
Impact on my fertility: low
Relaxation potential: high (maybe too high)
Naturopathy is also a new thing for me. I’ve always been healthy(ish) – I exercise and eat a lot of green things. I’ve never taken supplements regularly (apart from vitamin C during winter because it comes in those pills that taste like lollies).
Naturopathic medicine, it is claimed, can help boost fertility. On the female side it is suggested that taking herbs and supplements can help regulate menstrual cycle and help egg quality. For men it can help sperm motility, morphology and overall counts as well as DNA fragmentation.
I give it a go.
At my first appointment the naturopath – again a woman – makes a plan and goes over some blood tests that she requested I get done before our session (not easy to get these unless through a GP). I am prescribed an alarming number of things that all come in matching bottles and tubes. These include a multivitamin for preconception (instead of Elevit), omega-3, zinc and various herbs to attempt to kick my ovaries into gear.
She also goes over my diet and recommends a lot of flax-seed and avocado. No alcohol. No caffeine. I leave feeling a little deprived but also motivated.
I keep up the supplements for six months. I don’t manage to ovulate (the goal) but my skin and nails look great. I need a haircut because my hair seems to be growing very fast.
My partner takes the zinc he’s prescribed but isn’t keen on the herbs.
Cost: around $100 – $150 for the initial consultation, $60-$75 after that; herbs and supplements varied, but overall I spent almost $1000 over the 6 months.
Impact on my fertility: negligible
Impact on my skin, hair and nails: high (glossy and glowing)
And then we decide it’s time to get the big guns out. We go to a fertility clinic.
The specialist is handsome and kind and informative. He talks in a measured, careful way; a tone of caution, of knowing the fine balance between hope and reality.
We start with an inexpensive drug treatment for ovulation. This lasts a few months. We do more tests. Things are more complicated than they first seemed. We find out we need IVF.
The nurse shows me how to inject myself with the hormones. There’s a big bag of drugs to take home and we have to keep it in the fridge beside the Edam.
My skin turns purple and bruised at the injection sites in my stomach. I feel bloated and uncomfortable. I cry a lot and get headaches. I can hardly walk by the time of egg collection. I get a sedative and don’t remember anything until I’m back in the cubicle with a blanket over my knees being told we got 20 eggs.
And then I get sick and end up in hospital. It’s a mild case of ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome they think. I go home and black out and go back to hospital in an ambulance to a morphine drip and a worried doctor who looks far too young to be a doctor and a night nurse who tells me jokes about her dog.
It’s a severe case of ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome they think. There’s a lot of Googling. It’s very rare. The days merge. I gain 10 kilos of fluid. Another patient asks me when my baby is due. I tell her I’m having triplets. I need a lot of white blood cell transfusions. The fluid takes days to drain. It takes a month before I can walk around the block.
We have to wait six months before we transfer an embryo. The second one works.
Three years later we do it all again.
Cost: a small house deposit
Impact on my fertility: brutal but effective
Impact on my life: brutal but effective