It’s National Infertility Awareness Week in the US. To mark the moment, we spoke to UK mama influencer Megan Stevens about her fertility journey.
Megan and partner Jamie have a two year-old son, Rudi, and a new daughter on the way, both conceived via IVF. We asked her about the emotional and physical impact of fertility treatment, and got her tips on parenting during lockdown.
You had your first baby via IVF. What can you tell us about that? Is there any advice you can offer others mums going through the same experience?
IVF is such a personal thing and can be so different for every person or couple, but unless you have been through it… As much as people try to understand, it’s very difficult, so talking to your partner is really important or sometimes a stranger on something like Instagram is a great release too.
I get a lot of messages and I find people can be more open because they don’t actually know me or I’m not in their circle. It’s helped me as well as others. Everyone is different on how open they are: we told close family and friends and then once I was pregnant I decided to share more on my blog, in the hope it might help other people to feel less alone. It can be a very lonely, consuming experience.
I also think if you are on an IVF journey and you get to the point where you feel drained and down from it all, take a break. It’s so easy to stay on the IVF treadmill (as I like to call it), but getting off can be just as beneficial – if not more so – to you both.
We tried naturally for two years then with IVF for two and a half years. I wish we had researched clinics or were able to go to ones that were recommended but we really didn’t know anyone at the time, so we just went local, thinking that’s the best option as we were likely to have a lot of appointments. But I can’t stress how important the clinic is – it’s really not just what they do it’s about how they make you feel. How comfortable and relaxed you feel is such an important thing. I’ve only learned this through experience, as we have been through three clinics.
All the testing can be so daunting at first, IVF is so personal yet so intrusive, especially for the women. But believe me, you do get used to it all. We were diagnosed with unexplained infertility and basically they told us to go away and keep trying naturally as there was nothing wrong. We did, for a few months – we went on holiday. The memories aren’t particularly nice to look back on, as you can’t help but put so much pressure on yourself. Fast-forward to our first round of IVF and we managed to get a good amount of eggs and with Jamie’s sperm made around ten embryos to blastocyst (five days old) so we were so lucky to have those. We had two failed cycles and in the lead-up to the third they found something called hydrosalpinx, which is a problem with my tubes. We were so naive and thought all clinics must be the same, but at this one we just felt like a number, like no one really cared about us. We just kept paying and paying and hoping for the best.
The communication was terrible and among other things my egg extraction was so painful and traumatic, which again I thought must be just how it is. But when the hydrosalpinx was diagnosed, we couldn’t understand how it had been missed before. We were gutted – I’d been taking medication and was due to have our third transfer within days, which now couldn’t happen.
After this, a new clinic was recommended and I went to see a specialist who said he would not be able to see anything more via a scan. He did an operation to check my tubes etc., and I had to sign something to say that he could remove them while I was under general anaesthetic if he thought that was best. They were so damaged that sadly they both had to be removed – as you can imagine I was shocked, upset and sad. I knew there would never be a chance to conceive naturally again, but then I came to terms with the fact: if they were no good there really was no point in them being there. We had our embryos transferred and once I’d healed we did another; looking back, although I’d healed physically, mentally I hadn’t. That frozen transfer was a negative.
So we took a break! We needed one so bad! It was my 30th and we had a great three months of holidays on our own, with friends and just generally forgetting about everything fertility-related. It was the best thing we ever did! After this we did another transfer and it was successful! We put two embryos in but only little Rudi was viable and I had the best pregnancy and birth. Not a day went by when I wasn’t grateful, he is the most beautiful little boy and we feel so blessed that he is ours.
We decided to try again as we always wanted a big family. If that wouldn’t be possible, we knew we would want Rudi to have a sibling and this time we were recommended a clinic by a number of friends. It was more convenient too – from experience, we knew how many appointments it takes and between Rudi, work and childcare, convenience was important. So we moved the one embryo we had left there, and it failed. Which I kind of expected, I think, as we had put two in with Rudi – I thought maybe I needed to do the same again. This clinic was amazing! I told the doctor all my fears, all about our previous experiences and he went above and beyond to always be our point of contact. It just made me feel so much better and in safer hands – this is an emotionally draining experience and an expensive one, so how you both feel about the place or doctor is important. We did a whole new round and I had my extraction, which I was so terrified of, and I did not feel a thing!
Fast-forward again to our second transfer on this cycle: we put two in and I’m now pregnant with a baby girl! We are so blessed, we know we are, and we couldn’t be happier to be able to give Rudi a sibling.
No matter what knock-backs we had, even in the darkest times I always imagined us as parents in my head. I always told myself that no matter what it takes, we will be someone’s mummy and daddy one day. Never lose sight of that.
Fertility problems worldwide are on the increase. Do you think it’s important that people share IVF stories?
I think it’s such a personal thing and although we’ve shared our story, I also know people that wouldn’t even tell their family – so I really think it’s down to the individual. But I felt like once I was pregnant with Rudi, I wanted to share. I never did while I was going through it or having treatment, because to me that would have just been added pressure. I’m so glad I have now, because IVF can be a lonely journey and if our story has helped at least one person feel less alone, or like ‘why them?’, or to feel more positive… then it’s all worth it.
You’re now expecting number two – and during lockdown. How have you been coping? What have been some of your strategies for getting through it?
I’ve been really fortunate in one sense as my husband has been off work for the whole of lockdown, so that has made it a different experience. I’m trying to look at the positives and having this extra family time, just the three of us, has honestly been quite special. We miss our family and friends and the world is a scary place but we are so lucky to have each other, have our health and our home. I’m trying not to think ahead about birth etc., and how this situation will be by then, and to just take each day as it comes. I don’t want to drive myself crazy with what-ifs as we don’t know!
Can you share some of your favourite indoor activities with Rudi?
How lucky have we been with this weather? We are a family that loves summer so to have this early sunshine has made a huge difference – to be able to go in the garden to lift our moods! Just as this was starting, I did some orders from Hobbycraft and Amazon and I hid the box of crafts, some gifts like puzzles and fancy-dress outfits! I’m not very crafty but I got him things that we could decorate, like a bug house and a treasure box. We’ve done baby yoga, which he loves, and one game of freezing some toys in a bowl so he can smash it open the next day was fun. I also stocked up on some cupcake-baking kits. I kept them in a cupboard so if we were having a desperate day I’d get out a surprise!
In all honesty, at his age he’s quite happy just to have us home, especially Daddy! He’s loved doing jobs around the house with Daddy, we get him involved in as much as we can. I don’t think this is the time to put pressure on ourselves – we need to keep as sane and happy as possible as I believe that will rub off on how Rudi feels. Some days he watches too much TV but this won’t be forever and it won’t hurt him. All we can do is our best!
What do you hope to remember of this time when we’re no longer in lockdown?
I will remember this as time with my little family in our own little bubble at home. Doing lots of DIY! Decorating and moving Rudi into a new room, transitioning him into a ‘big boy’ bed and potty-training him! We’ve kept ourselves busy!
I’ll remember doorstep visits with family and family Saturday night quizzes on zoom! This has given us time to reflect and I think everyone will come out of this situation with a different mindset and priorities, and be more appreciative of the smallest things.
All pictures courtesy of and © Megan Stevens, 2020. In the second photograph, Megan wears the Jem + Bea Edie Eco Holdall, £130.