If At First You Don’t Conceive: Liz Ellis’ advice on IVF and fertility

Kinderling News & Features

"Love is Quicksilver in the hand. Leave the fingers open and it stays. Clutch it and it darts away.

-Dorothy Parker

The same can be said for fertility."

So begins Liz Ellis’ new book, If At First You Don't Conceive. You may know Liz from her amazing 18-year long netball career – she’s won two Commonwealth gold medals, three world championships, four National League titles and four Most Valuable Player awards.

What you may not know is that Liz and her husband, Matthew experienced secondary infertility and went through a long and winding road to have their second child. Her book is an attempt to support other couples through their experiences with infertility, with real stories and well-researched information.

What does infertility actually mean?

Many people consider infertility to mean that you’ve tried to fall pregnant for six to 12 months, and you can’t. But Liz explained on Kinderling Conversation that there are many gradients of infertility.

“The World Health Organization actually has broadened that definition, which I really quite like, to include, ‘Where you are unable to fall pregnant.’ It doesn't have to be medically. So if you are in a same sex relationship … you generally are deemed infertile,” Liz said. “For same sex couples, it's important because it opens those fertility doors to them … in the society we live in now that ability to form a family is just such a primal or such a vital ability, and it's such a primal need regardless of the situation you find yourself in.”

When to consider IVF

Liz says that IVF shouldn’t be the very first thought you have after you’ve been trying to fall pregnant.

“If you're under 35, then the generally accepted wisdom is that you try for 12 months before you seek help,” Liz said. “If you are over 35 and you've been trying for six months, that's when you should seek help.”

Listen to Liz on Kinderling Conversation:

Liz explains that there are so many ways to tackle infertility. There are many treatments around, but first you should start with the cheap, easy, lifestyle changes. Make sure you’re healthy, so ditch cigarettes, reduce your alcohol consumption, consider how much food you eat and how much (or little) you exercise.

“Often that can lead to a greater chance of success of conceiving naturally. If it doesn't, it actually sets you up for a much healthier pregnancy and your children are much healthier as a result,” Liz says. “In the words of an IVF specialist, it should be the treatment of last resort.”

When you do decide to start the journey, be really careful about who you trust with your fertility. “There is no doubt that some people who provide fertility treatment are far better than others and there are some places who don't use the latest technology, who churn patients through and from talking to people who had been to both places, it was their gut feeling that that really sort of gave them that idea,” Liz says.

Some clinics have a high success rate, while others have a low success rate but those statistics are not publicly available. Liz suggests asking questions about the information gioven on a provider's own website, such as how long they’ll grow your embryos for - this will tell you whether or not they’re using the right technology.

If they try to suggest an immune suppressant form of therapy, you should have massive alarm bells going off. Not only are they going to do another cycle, it is actually asking you to buy more services from them. Think about what you're being sold. And listen when someone suggests there might be diminishing returns.

“Be your best advocate,” Liz said. “Don't let things slip because you're waiting for somebody else to come up with something. Doctors have a lot of patients. You only have you, so worry about you. But there is the flipside of that is, a good patient will listen.”

Be prepared that it may not work

Liz emphasises that before you start the whole process of needles, specialist appointments, blood tests, and egg harvesting, you need to stop and think about how far you are prepared to go to have a successful pregnancy.  At which point will you pull the pin if it’s not working?

Is it your budget, a certain period of time, or a significant birthday that will be the sign to stop?

Make these decisions before you’re on the emotional rollercoaster of fertility treatment and IVF, when you’re in a rational state of mind, and your brain is working as it should. When you’re in the middle of the upheaval of IVF, the decision-making part of the brain reverts to what’s called your lizard brain, the primal part used for fighting fear. And it will tell you to stop at nothing until you get your baby.

Once you get to IVF, it is such a tunnel that you get in and you can't see where you should get off.”

Liz says that sometimes a fertility specialist will tell you when it’s time to stop trying, but that it doesn’t happen enough.

“Before you get to that point, you need to be careful about who you trust your fertility with,” Liz advises.

Support from friends and family

As a friend or family member of someone going through IVF, it’s hard watching them go through such a difficult time.

“But if you're the friend of someone [doing IVF], don't walk up to them and say take a break,” Liz recommends. “Sit with them, be with them, talk about what their options are and help them to explore that."

Liz Ellis and Shevonne Hunt.

And don’t give advice if you haven’t been through it! Liz said that’s the worst thing a 'helpful' friend can do.

“If you were to describe the feeling of it to somebody of being infertile, it is almost like all the stages of grief. There is denial, there is anger, there is frustration, there is a sense of loneliness, you feel like you're so alone through the course of your journey … It is confusing because you don't know what information to trust, you don't know where to find the right information. I always had a sense as I was going through treatment that I was missing something … [even though] I had the best fertility specialists that money can buy,” Liz explained.

“There's a sense that you are out of control; you have no control over what is happening to you.”

This is why Liz decided to write her book in the first place, to help other parents like her.

“Your experience is whatever you want it to be. How you deal with it is up to you; if you need help get help.”

You can find If At First You Don't Conceive at all good book stores, or buy online.