Once you and your partner have decided to try for a baby, your mind can think of little else. Months of anticipation – and disappointment – can follow until you see that longed-for blue cross.
The first time I got pregnant it was easy peasy. I was so blasé. We had decided we wanted a baby, I had my coil whipped out and then hey presto – the miracle of life happened overnight – after buying up all of the pregnancy tests to really prove it was true. I sat back in a daze of hormonal smugness. This reproduction lark was so easy and 10 months later there she was. A perfect baby. Voilà.
Three years on, and I'm standing rather hot and bothered in a West End show I never thought I'd be watching – the annual Fertility Show in heaving Olympia – weighed down with glossy catalogues of IVF centres in Russia, Barbados even Las Vegas. You would think I was at a Travel Expo if it wasn't for the seminar I can hear over the sound system entitled 'Sex, drugs and rock and roll – the impact on men's sperm’.
Getting pregnant and keeping it the second time is proving a challenge. But as I walk past another crowd of women watching a fertility yoga demonstration there is some consolation to know I'm not alone. Quite the opposite. It turns out that one in seven UK couples are estimated to be affected by infertility, so it's huge business. Hence Olympia. Hence my bag of pamphlets and ovulation sticks ….
Once you get married people ask when you are going to have a baby – the minute the first one has stopped screaming they ask when a brother or sister is coming along. You start to get advice from every quarter. Everyone has a theory, and everyone has a friend who’s been through it, a friend who’s had their tubes flushed or a friend who’s had their hormones realigned.
I actually found the friends of friends’ stories really comforting and the good news is that most couples – even the ones that struggle – still get pregnant naturally. Even if it takes a while. So finding the tips to better natural fertility is the best place to start. Once you go down the specialist route, be prepared for a lot of waiting-room walls covered with baby pictures and thank you notes.
The general consensus seems to be that the first thing to do is get your internals checked out thoroughly. That’s what I was doing when I experienced one of the worst moments of my life. There I was, legs in stirrups, when the practitioner walks in and says 'I can smell fish’. To say I felt vulnerable was an understatement. Luckily an assistant's tuna sandwich was named as the culprit, but this fertility lark isn’t for the faint hearted.
BILL SMITH - LONDON
After the fifth person recommended Bill Smith, I found out that he is the leading ultrasound person in Europe. A visit to his clinic in North London can tell you lots of things that you need to know. It's an internal examination and you’re fully awake (how couldn't you be when it is done with what I can only describe as a 'sheathed' probe). Bill's machines are so advanced that it’s all done without a needle in sight.
Bill can monitor your cycle, check your hormone levels and see if you have enough oestrogen and progesterone. A lovely man who completely puts you at ease, I was amazed that he could see my Caesarian scar from the inside – the extent of scarring can often be a problem. He sees a lot of endometriosis – another condition that often goes unnoticed. Bill lets you know if a healthy conception is possible. He's great.
DR ZHAI - CHINESE MEDICINE
There’s also a lot of evidence that traditional Chinese medicine works, so I visited Dr Zhai. She practises Chinese medicine with great success and is often referred to as The Baby Maker. She looks immaculate in her groomedto- perfection Chanel suit. She's got an ink fountain pen, blotting paper and what look like very long fake eye lashes. She looked at my tongue, questioned me on my weeing and pooing – all without a smile or eye contact. She's a little disconcerting. When I told her I was thinking about IVF it was as if I had insulted her family. She has a book, How to Get Pregnant, out in July.
Dr Zhai believes in trying naturally for as long as you can – if you can, you can – then you are given 30 minutes’ acupuncture in the next room, which is divided into six spaces by curtains. On the way out you are handed a bag full of sachets of Chinese herbs to boil up and sip throughout the day. They taste disgusting and they stink the house out but you get used to them and by the looks of her thank-you note album in the waiting room she's worth the smell.
Another side of Chinese medicine that seems linked to fertility success is acupuncture. Star Gifford is a celebrated acupuncturist, who I'd heard about from many people. She hasn’t got a website or written a book, and she’s very quick to dismiss the link between the extraordinary pregnancy success rates her clients have after seeing her and her treatment. “But I think the whole thing is just magic and sometimes if you let it be, it will be.”
She's too modest. But her clients are convinced about her abilities. She works out of a leafy West London haven, and has an ease to her that makes you relax. When pushed for some advice she suggests you “don't overdo it on exercise. Also, use a hot water bottle on your lower abdomen to increase the circulation and eat lots of protein. Oh, and have loads of sex.”
That seems to come up with everyone. When I meet Zita West – the doyenne, the numero uno of all fertility specialists – it was the first question she asked me. It seems most people she sees don't have enough – and God knows, when you start getting into the deeply unsexy world of cycles and temperature spurts – it really is the last thing you or your poor partner want. *
Zita, famous for getting women pregnant when everything else fails, is tucked away in what seems like fertility central, off Marylebone High Street, and when you meet her you sort of feel a bit like you are meeting the Queen. In fact she's extremely nice, funny and immediately puts you at your ease. She offers a full spectrum of advice and treatments such as nutrition, acupuncture, counselling, and she knows everybody in the world of eggs and sperm. She has just started her own very small IVF clinic, which is having extraordinary results.
There is a lot of data that suggests what you eat can directly affect your chances of conceiving. I met the wonderful Melanie Brown, who worked with Zita for ten years and has seen the results of changing what you eat. There is a lot of sweet potato, green veg and protein involved. “Eat and drink properly,” she says. “And remember that eggs and sperm are your potential baby and need to be as healthy as possible.”
In the mad crazy world that I saw around me at Fertility Show, where you can be tempted to buy eggs, sperm and even be offered a host uterus in the aisles of Olympia, it is important to find people you trust and can have a laugh with along the way – on what can be a really lonely journey. My journey continues in hopefully an exciting way but sometimes I wonder if I should have snapped up that Barbados IVF holiday/treatment all-in-one holiday after all.
*See my article, The Reluctant Lover, in the Mumzone for advice on getting this up and running.
Melanie Brown www.melaniebrownnutrition.com
07968 369 076
Pip Fleming www.thefertilitydetective.co.uk
Vicki Edgson http://www.vickiedgson.com/
Bill Smith Clinical Diagnostic Services
27A Queen’s Terrace, NW8
020 7483 3611
Starling Gifford firstname.lastname@example.org
07970 798 549
Zita West www.zitawest.com
Illustration by Emily Faccini.