Part 6. The Final Round – ding ding. London Baby!!
I had been given tremendous advice by Dr George and the Zita West team in relation to supplements, nutrition and keeping calm for what was set to be our final ever round of IVF.
I was in an extremely good place, mentally, and my health was on top form. I was finally losing weight, which was utterly liberating for me!! After years of struggling to lose weight, I stumbled across the possibility that I could suffer with a dairy intolerance. It had been suggested to me before, but I wasn’t ready to accept it, as I loved cheese!! Although, apart from a little cheddar, some mozzarella and the occasional use of creme fraiche and yogurt in cooking, my dairy intake wasn’t huge, because I really really hate milk. Yuck. However, I was struggling to lose weight, even after I cut out gluten, processed foods and kept everything very low carb. I was also regularly suffering from IBS type symptoms!! So, following a simple blood test, it was revealed that I had a sensitivity to dairy and I was advised to cut it out. Although, we agreed to allow small amounts of feta, cottage cheese and halloumi, and see how we go.
Within 2 months of no dairy, I felt like a new woman and had lost 7lbs, which is utterly amazing for me, but the most shocking of all, was the fact that my body and face had changed shape completely!! It suddenly dawned on me that I’d been chronically inflamed and swollen for years!!!!! I was thrilled with the results, and didn’t look back. I settled into life without dairy with absolute ease, and I felt AMAZING. I am no longer bloated, inflamed or swollen, see this before and after picture of my face below!!
Wowsers. I still have a shock when I look at the before picture.
I had more energy as a result of cutting out dairy, couldn’t remember the last time that I had IBS type issues, was more flexible, happier, hadn’t suffered from back pain in months, and was finally losing weight!!! By this stage, I was also convinced that the dairy intolerance was playing a huge role in our IVF outcomes, as chronic inflammation is no good when it comes to fertility. As a result, I was feeling super excited and optimistic for the next round of treatment, and was sure that my new found health would support the cycle in an extremely positive way!!
My diet is mostly a Mediterranean style eating plan. Although, I would like to stress that it’s not a ‘diet’, but a new way of life. I understand that for some people, going to a weight loss club is the best way for them to lose weight, but I couldn’t stand the thought of becoming a yo-yo dieter, to me it seems so unhealthy. I wanted to work on changing my lifestyle and eating habits on a permanent basis, not just for IVF and weight loss purposes.
As a self-confessed foodie and lover of cooking, I was also worried about changing things too much. I mean, what food lover doesn’t eat bread and cheese for goodness sake?? However, I quickly found a new style of cooking, to maintain my foodie status, and I quickly discovered that you can maintain an extremely healthy lifestyle and be a foodie at the same time!!!
So, as stated above, I follow a Mediterranean style diet, with plenty of fish, plant-based foods such as fruit and vegetables, grains, beans and nuts. I replaced butter with healthy fats, such as olive oil, and I also ensure that I maintain a low carbohydrate and high protein diet. Both of which are perfect for IVF and diabetes. This diet is also considered anti-inflammatory, so win win.
An average couple of days in the life of Emma’s diet go something like this….
Breakfast – Smashed avocado, smoked salmon and 2 poached eggs
Snack – Hummus and rice cake
Lunch – Emma’s home made hearty stew, with beef chunks and butter beans
Snack – apple
Dinner – Monkfish wrapped in parma ham, with a chorizo and cannellini bean ragu, and a side of wilted greens.
Dessert (just a couple times per week) – Peanut and Dark chocolate Eat Natural Bar
It is recommended to eat 80-100g of protein per day when undergoing a fresh round of IVF, to support with egg quality, and the meal plan above has a rough total of 110g.
Breakfast – Emma’s Spicy eggs (chopped tomatoes, wilted spinach, chilli and 2 eggs, oven baked)
Snack – Apple
Lunch – Prawn and Feta salad with lemon, olive oil and chilli flake dressing.
Snack – Mixed nuts
Dinner – Chicken and vegetable curry with small portion of brown rice
The average amount of carbohydrate in the above day 2 meal plan is 75g. I try to limit my daily carbohydrate intake to 50-80g per day. Studies have shown that reducing carbs, especially refined carbs and increasing protein can significantly improve egg quality, potentially double your chances of blastocyst formation and considerably improve clinical pregnancy rates. This is also good for non IVF’ers, especially those with PCOS, as low carb diets helps with insulin resistance. Elevated blood glucose levels, caused by high carb intake, can cause a pretty hostile environment for an egg to develop. I’m not talking about blood glucose levels high enough to be in diabetic range, just the general spike that a normal, healthy adult would get after a high carb meal.
I would like to take this opportunity to state that everything I write is my own opinion, thanks to research and actual first-hand experience. I am not a nutritionist or a medical professional, so always consult with your doctor, before making any drastic changes!! I also wouldn’t advise cutting out dairy, unless you feel that it is contributing to inflammatory and stomach issues, like I did.
Ok, so back to the IVF prep and in the 4 months leading up to the treatment, I also began taking a host of Zita West Supplements, including inositol which is known to improve insulin resistance and help with egg quality.
In previous cycles, I took everything under the sun. I am pretty sure that IVF no. 3 consisted of around 30 supplement pills a day!! What I have learned from my experience is that you don’t need to go overboard with this stuff. As long as you eat a healthy diet, packed with nutrients and take a good quality pre conception supplement, you’re good to go. I also found that taking so many things stressed me out, because I would panic if I forgot to take some, and then panic that I wasn’t taking enough, leading me to do hours of Google research and buying another 30 different types of supplements, on top of the 30 I was already taking!!! Ok, slight exaggeration in the amount of pills, but you know what I mean. I’m pretty confident to state that half of the ivf’ers reading this are either taking a considerable amount, or at least considering it!! Take it from someone who knows ladies, please keep it simple, for the sake of your sanity, if nothing else!! Below is the list of supplements that I took in the final fresh round, which gave us the best ever results.
Inositol x 1.5 level teaspoon
Vitafem x 3 per day
Vitafem boost x 3 per day
Vitamin D spray x 2 squirts a day
Vital DHA x 3 per day
Folic Acid (I need a higher dose due to being diabetic)
Link to Zita West shop as follows – http://www.zitawest.com
I’m not on commission by the way, hahaha, I just genuinely believe in these products. They are extremely high quality, and I wouldn’t take anything else now.
De-stressing and accepting our fertility issues was something that I was determined to achieve before this cycle. I firmly believe that stress plays a huge role in poor ivf outcomes, so working on my mindset was a must. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my nephew played a huge role in helping me to find peace with our situation, because he filled a huge baby-less gap in our lives. However, there was so much more that contributed to it. I remember going to a yoga and meditation workshop a few months before the cycle, and I got so much out of it. So much so, that I cried for 2 days afterwards, but the intense feeling of an almighty release was quite amazing. Other things that I did to help with my mindset was talking at length to a counsellor about my feelings, using the app ‘headspace’, regularly exercising, attending occasional guided meditation and yoga sessions, positive visualisation, and writing it all down. I love writing and it has definitely become a portal for dealing with my feelings. I have become my very own counsellor as a result. I also became better at giving myself a serious pep talk when I felt my head slipping into negativity. When I lay it out clearly in my mind and tell myself that ‘thoughts are thoughts, not facts’, it really works for me.
I was also ensuring that I was getting 8 hours sleep per night and began using an eye mask to help with achieving greater deep sleep. It all worked tremendously well and to eventually feel comfortable with the fact that it may happen for us, but equally, it may not was incredibly healing. To know that whatever our outcome, baby or no baby, I’m looking forward to an extremely full and exciting life with my husband, is an achievement so great that it has quite literally changed my life.
December arrives, I’m in a good head space, and I’m fit, healthy and very happy. Time to begin the IVF cycle!! The protocol was long, with buserelin to down regulate and fostimon and merional to stimulate the ovaries. I was to have a course of intralipids before embryo transfer, and begin clexane injections from the day of transfer, as part of my new and additional immune support.
London is fair trek from the Swansea valley, so we hired a gorgeous little flat in St John’s Wood, which was walking distance to Zita West and Care London, where Egg Collection (EC) and Embryo Transfer (ET) would be taking place. Lyn couldn’t take the whole time off work, so me and my mother went ahead, in time for my first stimulation scan, to check how many follicles were present. Apart from a scan and bloods every other day at Zita West, we had nothing else, IVF wise to do, so we packed our diary with every touristy trip possible. My sister came to visit at the weekend, and we had a ball. We went to the Tate, Little Venice, Madame Tussaud’s, Sushi Samba for the nicest sushi I have ever tasted, Camden Market, a catch up in Sketch with some gorgeous fellow IVF’ers, Churchill’s war rooms and so much more. I honestly loved every second, and didn’t stress once about the cycle. I had the best time ever, and felt like I was on holiday. I fell in love with London during this time too, we had a great adventure in a city that I can honestly say is my adopted second home. My heart will always belong in the mountains, but there is certainly a piece of my soul that belongs in that city!!
During all of this fun, I began to feel more bloated than ever before, and I was occasionally getting pain in my ovaries. Stimulation scans showed that I had up to 20 follicles growing and a lining of 10.4mm, however my estradiol levels were through the rough at 28,000. No wonder I was bloated. I was at risk of OHSS and unfortunately it was deemed too risky to go through with an ET until everything settled down. It was decided that we would freeze all fertilised embryos and return for a frozen embryo transfer (FET) in the spring. I was surprisingly calm about the whole thing, and actually felt happy with the decision. I believe that the pressure a fresh IVF cycle puts on your body is too great, so to wait for everything to settle before a transfer made so much sense to me. Also, we had gotten pregnant via a FET before, so I felt confident that it would work.
Egg Collection day arrived and unbelievably, 26 eggs were collected. We were floored, because the average in previous cycles was around 10-12!! The next obstacle though, was fertilisation. This is where we struggled almost every cycle in the past, but blow me down, 22 eggs were mature enough for the treatment and a whopping 16 fertilised. Even more amazing, was that 12 of the 16 went on to blastocyst and were good enough to freeze! 12, waaaa!!!! We literally had no words for this amazing result. To go from as little at 20% fertilisation rates, and none to freeze in some of our previous cycles at other clinics, to a 74% fertilisation rate, with 12 top quality blastocysts to freeze, is just unbelievable. We always knew that making the move to Zita West was the right one, but never in our wildest dreams did we expect that result. We would have been thrilled with 1 or 2!!! Dr George and the whole team at Zita West are miracle workers and we’re still blown away by their knowledge and expertise in all things fertility. If you are considering a move to this clinic, do yourself a favour, and go now!!!! Thanks to Dr George and team we could honestly start to believe that after 7 long years, we may actually become parents someday. We can never thank them enough for that!!
So armed with this wonderful news, and the London 12 safely tucked away in the freezer, we decided to head out and have a well deserved glass of champagne. We went back to Camden, as we wanted to catch up with family living close by, and I had seen a bar there the previous week, that I fancied. Bear in mind that I hadn’t consumed a drop of alcohol in months, and I had borderline OHSS, so champagne probably wasn’t the brightest of ideas, but I was excited, and drank it anyway. Some friends of mine also happened to be in London on a trip that evening, so we met up with them for a quick drink too. My intended 1 glass turned into 4 and by the time I got back to the flat, I was as sick as a dog!!! Jeeeepers, not cool at all….
I was so unwell, we decided to abandon the flat that was booked out for another 3 days and go home early. The train ride was hell on earth and it was at this point that I was beginning to worry that I had done something to make the OHSS develop and/or worsen. The Zita West team were amazing, they gave me a prescription for Dostinex (Cabergoline), which would help keep OHSS at bay, told me to eat plenty of protein, drink plenty of fluids with electrolytes, inc coconut water, keep off my feet, and they checked in on me every day for well over a week. They joked that I was probably getting sick of them, but the truth was, I was so grateful for their support. I was very impressed by the level of care offered, without a second thought to them.
I soon got over the cycle though, the bloating subsided after a couple of weeks and I was beginning to feel better, and ready to begin the prep for frozen embryo transfer no.1 of our London 12, but transfer number 6 in total. Exciting times!!!
Tune in next week to hear about the transfer, a pregnancy and another miscarriage….
Part 7 – A frozen Transfer, a miscarriage, and another nephew on route… Coming Soon.