Friday, December 8, 2023

The Motherhood Diaries: What It’s Like To Be A Midwife Going Through IVF ‘You Have To Give Yourself A Lot Of Grace’

If you’ve ever gone through a fertility journey, you’ll know first-hand that dealing with other people’s pregnancies can be a minefield. But what happens when that’s literally your job? We talk to Grace Strange about being a midwife going through IVF.

Welcome to our series, The Motherhood Diaries – a safe space for you to share your experiences, advice, hopes and heartbreaks. We’ll be hearing from industry experts giving practical advice alongside Capsule readers (You!) sharing your firsthand experiences. We’re looking at everything from fertilitytrying to conceivepregnancythe fourth trimester, newborns, toddlers, children’s mental health and teenagers, fertility issues and  everything in between! 

For people who have gone through a fertility journey, one of the most complicated parts can be when people around you start getting pregnant. But what if that’s literally your job? For Grace Strange, a career spent as a midwife always seemed like a good idea, because she loved being around women and she loved babies.

From a young age, Grace knew she wanted to work in the birth space and have her own babies. But when the latter proved more difficult than expected, the reality of working as a midwife was “a particularly confronting job.”

After working as a birth midwife and then a postpartum midwife, Grace was working in a private obstetrician’s office when she was trying to get pregnant herself.

“I remember taking calls and booking people in because they were pregnant, and getting off the phone and just sobbing,” Grace recalls. “I would go to the bathroom, collect myself, come back, take the next phone call and cry.”

“I remember taking calls and booking people in because they were pregnant, and getting off the phone and just sobbing.”

As well as her midwife job, Grace runs Antenatal Co. – an antenatal course for expecting parents that covers all your birth and postpartum options. So her entire week – and many weekends – were all things pregnancy and birth. And in the meantime, she and her husband Denby were going through one of the hardest, loneliest experiences possible: the IVF journey.

Grace and Denby had met in their 30s, had married and started trying for a family in quick succession. Being a midwife, Grace knew to look for issues and had had ‘lots of the tests and scans’ before they started trying.

Six months in, nothing was happening. So they did more tests. All was fine for both Denby and Grace, but after another six months, there was still no pregnancy.

They saw a fertility specialist and did more tests – Grace was diagnosed with having lower than normal AMH levels for her age and a tiny amount of adenomyosis (like endometriosis but it instead grows inside the uterus), but neither of those were enough to be the cause.

They looked at their fertility treatment options. The waiting period to go for publicly funded IVF was too slow – it would have been around three years, and Grace was keen to get started. So they self-funded, to the cost of $15k.

“You just have no control over the entire process,” says Grace. “It could work instantly. Or you could get pregnant before you even start. Or you could do all of this for 10 years and never end up with a baby. It’s definitely a mind-f—k.”

After making the decision to skip IUI and go straight to IVF, there was a three-month waiting period where they sought help from a naturopath, Loula George from Mother Well, to help them use every tool possible to try and increase their chances.

Both Grace and Denby changed their diet completely, and consulted with their fertility doctor about the best protocol that might suit their needs. It was harder, and lonelier than either of them expected.

“Everyone I knew had got pregnant within six months of trying,” Grace said. In the end, they turned to friends of friends who had been through either fertility issues or IVF experience to help them feel less alone. “People who haven’t been through it don’t understand the heartbreak that comes every single month,” she says.

“I remember on the day of our first IVF appointment, we were driving to the clinic and one of my closest friends texted our group thread pulling out of a meet-up that night, telling us, ‘Sorry, I’m really sick. I’m actually 12 weeks’ pregnant.’ And I lost it. I couldn’t stop sobbing; the timing was just so horrendous.”

Every cycle, Grace says, was a rollercoaster – starting with hope, ending with a period. It was all consuming. “You’re constantly thinking, ‘Am I too stressed? Do I need to change my work hours?’ Every choice you make, you’re thinking, ‘Is this going to impact my chances?’”

All of this will be familiar to anyone who has struggled to get pregnant. But as a midwife, Grace was quite literally surrounded by people who were. “Some days were good, some days were very hard,” she says.

“You’re holding somebody’s beautiful little newborn baby, and you just don’t know if that is ever going to be you. Ever.”

And then, the IVF worked. Grace and Denby are expecting their first child this month. But the other part of being a midwife means being all too familiar with the lived reality of that cursed statistic – one in four pregnancies ends in loss.

“We didn’t really tell anyone until we were about 20 weeks along,” she says. “The anxiety was worse than I imagined and being pregnant is way harder than I imagined.”

“And of course, you don’t really feel like you can complain. I wanted this so much, I went through so much for it and I paid a shit tonne for it,” she laughs.

“I’m so grateful – so, so grateful – but then also it’s like… this kind of sucks? I’m throwing my guts up the whole time!”

When it comes to advice for other people going through a fertility journey, Grace says there are two things she found the most helpful.

Firstly, find a community – talk to people who have been through this and make sure your partner is also talking to fellow partners who have supported a pregnant person for this.

As someone who has gone through this, Grace says she is super keen to help others going through IVF. She also recommends The Human Race, the pregnancy podcast from Nadine Higgins.

Grace and Denby kept their IVF journey relatively quiet, but told a few close friends and family members who kept tabs on them in a supportive but not pressured way.

They “kept a note of the big days – egg collection days, transfer days – and would send messages of support, with no expectation of a reply,” she says. “It is very helpful knowing someone is on the journey with you and thinking of you.”

The second thing, she says, is to feel everything. The good and the bad. “You have to give yourself a lot of grace and feel all of the feelings,” she says.

Even the feelings that you struggle to put into words, when you’re watching your friends, family members and, in Grace’s case, patients effortlessly reach the goal you have spent years striving towards.

“You are so, so stoked for them… and then you go and cry,” she says. “What more can you do, apart from feel all of the emotions and hold onto that hope that maybe you’ll be next.”

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