What do you do when all of your friends can get pregnant but you can’t? Who do you turn to? This was the situation I found myself in over the last six months in the run-up to IVF. Because, after two-and- a-half years of trying and failing, I felt like I was the last woman standing.
Yes, you have your partner, but when you’re both feeling a sense of shame and sadness, leaning on each other just cranks up the pressure. Family and friends are there, but often find it hard to know what to say. I felt I was becoming a burden in my failure. So, to channel my emotions, I wrote a book, processing the years of dismay into a comedy called TRYING. It was cathartic, but a solitary pursuit. So I hit up message boards, searching for women like me but, as every PMS ache was spun into (false) early pregnancy symptoms, they became a hotbed of medical neuroses.
Then one day, a recommendation popped up in my Instagram feed: follow @IVFBabble. I looked at their burgeoning feed – a couple of friends, Sara and Tracey, who struggled with fertility and eventually both had IVF twins. They’d newly set up a resource for people like me, even launching a pin to raise awareness for those feeling alone in the process. It was in the shape of two pineapples – the jokey symbol for fertility since eating it apparently makes an embryo ‘take’ in your womb. Then there was Emma Cannon, a holistic therapist whose account and book Fertile, would guide me through some of the self-care pitfalls of weathering the injections and potential failure.
But it was when I fell down a rabbit hole of hashtags such as #infertilitysucks that I realised Instagram, instead of being the glossy shop window of perfection I’d assumed, was being used by women as a raw outpouring of their fertility journeys. Women like CNN anchor Hannah Vaughan Jones, who was documenting every step of her seventh round of IVF. That resulted in her first pregnancy and then, sadly, just a couple of weeks before we met, a miscarriage. And Amber Woodward, who embarked on treatment the very same week as I did and documented it with deadpan wit- and is now bravely telling the world that she's 10 1/2 weeks pregnant.
These women didn’t realise what an impact they were having on my life. When I was feeling hormonal and low, they were there with me. If I didn’t know the answer to a question, they’d post something informative to explain away the doubts. They were holding my hand through the bruising injections, the woozy anaesthetic of egg collection day, the angst-ridden wait of embryo development and the delay of having to have a frozen round because I was suffering ovarian hyperstimulation, without ever having even met me. I was no longer a burden to friends.
This week, my book makes its entrance into the world. It will hopefully remind people experiencing this that they are very much not alone. And as I prepared for the second half of my suspended treatment, I met my IVF warriors to say thank you.
Meeting them all felt oddly natural considering I’d had little contact, bar a couple of messages before the day. I ran into Sara on the train, after I noticed her pineapple pin – that sense of recognition she always wanted when her own IVF failed. As we wandered to the studio, it was as if I’d bumped into an old friend. Tracey joined us and her story and rambunctious twins made me feel hopeful for the future. I was so pleased to finally speak to Amber, as I felt bad for lurking on her hilarious Instagram account while she knew nothing about me. I soon realised we had more in common than just our IVF dates – she too could see the funny side of going through this testing time and I felt buoyed by her success.
When I sat down with Hannah, I was blown away by her poise but also her softness. I expected a steely news anchor, instead, I saw a wonderfully caring woman who continues to battle and I look forward to sharing the onward journey with her. I’m booked in to see Emma for acupuncture, and was absorbed by her energy.
Having those faces together in one room, people who I’d witnessed in some of their most vulnerable moments, was so powerful. I know I’ll have good friends from here on, who understand what I’m going through. I hope they’ll all be at my book launch, too.
The IVF Warriors
Amber, 34, is a civil servant. She’s been trying for a baby for over three years and posting her experiences on thepreggerskitchen.com.
'I only have one friend who knows about my account – there’s some quite personal stuff on there, especially about sex. Most people don’t actually know I’m pregnant yet, so this will be a surprise!
'Meeting everyone was surreal and special. It’s comforting to share stories with others who’ve been through the same struggles. We expose intimate aspects of our lives online, so when you meet in person you don’t feel like strangers. It feels like you’re on to your second bottle of wine during your 20th date!
'It was fabulous meeting Emily – and crazy to think we went through IVF at the same time. I can’t wait to read her book – we need more humour when discussing infertility. Too often, it’s all melancholy and those of us suffering don’t need help with the tears, it’s cracking a smile that’s tricky. I hope we’ll all stay in touch. I’ll be following their journeys, whether they know it or not'
Hannah, 36, CNN International news anchor. She and her husband Lewis documented their seventh round of IVF in a video diary.
'"Brave" has been the overwhelming comment we’ve received but, if anything’s brave, it’s when you’re doing things quietly on your own, because it’s scary and unknown. Doing the diary was a way of sharing the burden.
'This round was my first pregnancy. Being so public, people over-share at inopportune moments. Someone sent me a picture of their 12-week scan, when I hadn’t yet done a video diary to say that I’d miscarried.
'This shoot was a really cathartic experience. Talking to Emily and the other ladies about shared experiences highlighted how much we have in common, how we can all empathise with each other’s situation, but also how no one situation can be mirrored in another. I felt con dent at the end of the shoot, pleased to have met people who understand me. People who sympathised when I explained my marathon (and thus far unsuccessful) journey, without being patronising or shying away from me. I noticed that all the women were strong, ambitious, often funny, self-deprecating types.
'I guess it goes to show that, success or failure, you need to remember how to laugh and smile and find the light in all the darkness.'
Emma, 49, is an integrated fertility specialist and acupuncturist and the author of a number of books, including her most recent, _Fertile_Fertile**.**
'This experience con rmed to me why Instagram is such an important forum for women struggling to conceive or struggling with other issues. As a fertility specialist, I have found it a place to share my ideas and reach out to women who may not be able to come to my clinic.
'Every conversation I had was open and honest and sometimes raw. This is so refreshing, because I think in the past women have not always supported one another. I think gathering together showed me that the sisterhood is strong and women are beginning to appreciate that together we are stronger. This is a huge and important step for women; collaboration not competition. Just knowing that other women feel the same goes some way to ease the isolation. It was lovely to meet Emily and the others. I have spent many years listening to women’s fertility stories in my clinic, sharing in their hopes and dreams and supporting them in their time of need.'
Sara, 43, and Tracey, 50, set up **IVFBabble.comIVFBabble.com as a resource for couples having IVF after their own experiences.**
Sara: 'It took me four years to conceive (my twins are now seven), and I knew no one doing IVF and got support from nowhere. When I went through it, I was embarrassed. I said to my husband, ‘Don’t tell anyone they’re IVF,’ when the girls were born. But people need to know that infertility is nothing to be ashamed of. Today was so special. I walked into a room of strangers, but missed all of them the second I left. We drank coffee, had our make-up done and picked out clothes while sharing the heartache we've suffered, our determination and, for some, our bloody lucky success stories. It's crazy to think it started with a few "likes", but after just a few months of Instagram, there we were, sharing such personal stories face to face, and it felt totally natural. Friendships have been made and I will not let these go.'
Tracey: 'I was 47 when I had twins. They said I had a 2% chance but we just went for it. I thought about the journey I’d been through, all the misdiagnoses and waiting rooms and devastated people I’d seen and I thought there was a need for people to be able to talk to each other. I’d gone a whole decade of trying and hadn’t spoken to anyone except Sara. With IVFBabble and our pineapple pins, we’ve dedicated ourselves to breaking the silence.
'The shoot was a unifying experience – to know we all understood each other despite the fact we were all at different stages on our fertility journey. It was fantastic to realise we are helping people. That’s all we wanted from the start.'
Click through to see the best of Blake Lively's maternity style
Blake Lively Maternity Style grazia
Red carpet fashion is Blake's strong suite, and this black and white dress by Carolina Herrera (complete with floral detailing and semi-sheer skirt) doesn't disappoint (June 2016)
For 'The Shallows' after-party, Black chose an asymmetric look from David Koma's most recent collection, layering a cold-shoulder black body under a skirt with cut-out detail (June 2016)
Another sartorial triumph for Blake, who stuck close to her winning maternity style formula of a form-fitting midi dress in a bold block colour (June 2016)
For her red carpet 'princess' moment, Blake chose pale blue Louis Vuitton - and looked like she'd stepped straight out of a fairytale (May 2016)
Denim jacket + embellished ball gown = surprisingly cool. Blake went full Noughties when promoting 'The Shallows' in New York, layering a Madewell jacket over a Jenny Packham dress (June 2016)
Cinderella who? Blake chose another fairytale gown for the Cannes screening of The BFG, this time by Atelier Versace (May 2015)
The pale peach shade of this heavily embellished Elie Saab gown compliments Blake's skin tone perfectly (June 2016)
Teaming a grey hoodie with a feathered mini-dress and towering Louboutins is certainly unchartered style territory - a move worthy of Gossip Girl's Serena? (June 2016)
Promoting her new film 'The Shallows' on 'The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon,' Blake channelled this season's off-the-shoulder trend in a royal blue midi style from Cushnie Et Ochs, complete with crossover neckline and cut-out detailling (June 2016)
Promoting 'The Shallows' at the Cannes Film Festival, Blake appeared to take inspiration from her role in the surfer horror flick, choosing a cut-out midi dress fashioned from scuba material (May 2016)
Could anyone apart from Blake pull off this sequinned coat (heavily embellished with flowers, natch) and this striped red minidress (both by Chanel)? Probably not (May 2016)
Can anyone else pull off tricky shades of yellow with as much panache as Ms. Lively? We don't think so. Golden girl Blake chose velvet Valentino for the Café Society luncheon in Cannes (May 2016)
Sheer panels? Check. Skin tight? Check. Sparkle? Check. Blake's fashion formula certainly isn't for the faint-hearted, but the actress certainly looked the part at the opening gala for her film, Café Society (May 2015)
Coat dresses aren't usually part of Blake's sartorial vocabulary, but she pulls off this chic feathered number by Salvatore Ferragamo with aplomb (May 2016)
For the Café Society photocall in Cannes, Blake channelled the dancing lady emoji (you know the one) in this scarlet jumpsuit by Juan Carlos Obando (May 2016)
So Blake's pale pink Burberry gown for this year's Met Gala didn't exactly tie in to the event's 'Manus x Machina' theme, but when she looks as great as this, we aren't exactly complaining... (May 2016)
Lemon yellow isnu2019t the easiest shade to pull off, but Blake made light work of it in this V-neck Gucci style at the Angel Ball in New York, while pregnant with her first child (October 2014)
The 2014 Golden Hearts Awards called for another pitch-perfect evening look from Blake – this time, a delicately embellished pale pink dress in a simple, A-line style from Michael Kors Resort. Straight out of Serena van der Woodsenu2019s wardrobe, donu2019t you think? (October 2014)
Proving she can pull off u2018bronde’ just as well as her trademark California blonde, Blake looked effortlessly stylish in a form-fitting, one shouldered black gown by Kaufmanfranco at Lu2019Orealu2019s Women of Worth dinner in New York (December 2014)
Wave print Versace? So appropriate for another The Shallows promo appearance - complete with gloriously corkscrew curls (June 2016)
For the press conference for her latest film 'Café Society,' Blake chose a patterned pink dress by Jonathan Simkhai, teamed with heels by Brit designer Sophia Webster (July 2016)
For a night out with friends in New York, Blake wore a blue wrap dress with graphic stripes by Diane von Furstenberg (July 2016)
For her appearance on the Tonight Show to promote new film 'Café Society,' Blake wore a dramatic cut out style with floral embellishment by Emanuel Ungaro. Who said maternity style had to play it safe? (July 2016)
Summer in the city calls for a fashion-forward take on the bohemian trend. Blake's patterned midi dress with mesh panels is giving us serious Serena van der Woodsen vibes, too (July 2016)
Continuing her spot-on maternity style spree for the 'Café Society' promo trail, the actress opted for pale grey Carolina Herrera - complete with white pom-pom detailing (July 2016)