If you are reading this, you may be in the throes of the dreaded Two Week Wait (TWW). This is one of the most exciting, nerve-wracking, scary stretches of the fertility road. All the work is done. It feels as though there is nothing left for you to do to influence the outcome. But having put every ounce of your energy into preparing for this moment, it feels dangerously like you are now just coasting; the rocket has launched and all we can do is watch and wait.
However there still is potential to make a difference to the outcome, and potential to make a difference to how you feel about the outcome.
The Added Pressure of IVF
An IVF induced two week wait is a very strange time. It comes after weeks, months (and sometimes years) of planning and preparation. In many cases the financial price tag for a round of IVF is an eyewatering gamble, and for which we women feel particularly responsible for the outcome.
The TWW After IVF – the Twilight Zone
When you go through the final stage of IVF, a presumed healthy embryo will be placed into a fully primed and prepared, presumed healthy uterus –from that instant, in theory, you are pregnant. Pregnant Until Proven Otherwise. PUPO to those who like to abbreviate. You walk out of the door carrying all your hopes and dreams buried deeply inside you, afraid to cough, worried about running up the stairs, slightly scared every time you go to the toilet – terrified that you are going to lose it, drop it, misplace it.
We need to recognise the weirdness of the IVF-induced two week wait. Under normal circumstances the two week wait is one of hope . . .
hope that there really was an egg . . .
hope that the sperm found that egg . . .
hope that the sperm made it through to fertilise that egg . . .
hope that the resulting embryo made it to the uterus . . .
In an IVF cycle, the overriding emotion is more often one of fear.
Fear that we might blow it.
Fear that we have been given a chance and we may not be able to make work.
For a capable, confident, problem-solving woman, the post IVF two week wait is like the worst kind of limbo land.
Pregnant Until Proven Otherwise (PUPO)
From the moment the embryo goes in, you are pregnant, but until the embryo properly implants, you won't know whether you will be staying that way. In that situation it is no wonder that stress rears its ugly head. You are dealing with the emotional complexity of being 'pregnant-ish' but 'not safely pregnant yet'. This can really mess with your head.
Anything that can help you to get some clarity on that mixture of voices is a good thing - there will be thoughts and emotions in your head that are really positive and hopeful, there will be thoughts that are full of fear and pessimism. We might not want to listen to those fearful voices, but they will be there, blocking access to the positive thoughts and calm thoughts. Sometimes we need to extract these thoughts in order to get some perspective on them because internally they are quite conflicting which is difficult to process.
Journaling can be an effective way to do this – two sides of the page, one for the positive thoughts, one for the negative thoughts. This process can help you to identify how you really feel, it can give you permission to voice your more negative thoughts, and yet to see them clearly balanced with your more positive thoughts. Trying to create a clear, positive internal voice without allowing any space for fear and dread is very confusing; the process of journaling can be a simple way to explore this safely and in private and gives you a chance to see the optimism that is lurking under al that pessimism.
Stress – the Final Frontier
In terms of what you can do in the meantime - be particularly attentive to stress-management.
walk away from stressful situations.
if other people bring their stress to your door, gently refuse to get involved.
structure in time to decompress and destress, find a meditative exercise to turn to, a breath exercise, or a mindfulness exercise to reach for.
steer away from gripping TV drama, high adrenaline films or page-turner novels. Instead, keep your environment and intake particularly bland - select slightly bland, rom-com films, documentaries, happy books.
don't invite anything into your head that is going to message to your body that the world is frightening or stressful.
same with your diet; if your digestion is sensitive, don't give it any excuse for a flare up. If you have a range of foods that don’t cause you bloating and digestive issues, stick within that range for the next few weeks.
no extremes of hunger, no extremes of thirst – you may need to commit to small, healthy snacks so your blood sugar level stays in balance and keep yourself hydrated.
no extremes of tiredness, so no marathon running
if you are feeling tired, allow yourself to rest more than you normally would (your body is being pumped full of hormones which can take its toll on energy, so if you feel tired, support yourself by listening to that and resting).
no saunas, no icy plunge-pools or swimming in the North Sea!
Positivity in the Two Week Wait
Some people have a wonderfully positive attitude to the two week wait and if positive thinking alone were enough, they should win every time. Others find it difficult to feel so positive; afraid to get their hopes up, fearing disappointment might break them.
Positive affirmations can be helpful at this time – not focusing on empty promises but acknowledging the journey so far and the effort and love that has been put into getting to this place of hope. There are different ways to work with positive affirmations, but to me their strength comes from the mental handshake of speaking and hearing your voice speak an affirmation that communicates to you at a deep level.
Make up an affirmation that resonates with you, or pick one of these suggestions; say it out loud to yourself, repeating it over and over again for 3 minutes, roll the words around on your tongue, hear them echo in your mind; do this every day. If you find speaking it over and over again too awkward, record yourself saying it once, then play it back over and over again. Write it on a card in your wallet, pin a card on your mirror, write it at the top of your diary or journal. Soak it in. Over and over again.
· I inhale peace; I exhale stress
· I am grateful for/love my body and all it does for me
· I feel safe, supported, and loved through my fertility journey
· I am healing my body, everyday it heals a little more
· I am worthy of love, life and happiness
· I did everything I could to ensure that I was ready for this IVF cycle
· My womb is a healthy place that will nourish my baby
'But All I Want Is A Big Fat Positive . . .'
Before you get one, this is all you want. Once you have one, you want a heartbeat. Once you have that you want a good 12 week scan. Once you have that you want a good 20 week scan. After that you want a safe delivery, after that you want a healthy, happy baby, after that you want a healthy, happy child, after that you want a healthy, happy grown up who is able to find a partner, a home, a career and so it goes on.
There will always be the potential for tomorrow to ruin things, and if we live for tomorrow, we will never appreciate what we have today, and the stress of worrying about the next step can have a negative impact on the outcome. In as much as you put effort in to cleaning up your diet and lifestyle prior to IVF, put effort into supporting your emotional wellbeing through early pregnancy and beyond. In the Chinese view of health and wellness, there are no divisions between mental and physical health, and both need equal attention.
If you are in the two week wait, at the moment you are potentially the whole world and more for a little tiny spark of life. Your emotional state will influence the environment that you are creating even down to the tissue fluid and hormonal influence on a potential developing embryo. So find a way to reconcile your thoughts and feelings, work out how to come into a place of balance. Seek help if you are having trouble doing this on your own.
In my experience acupuncture can be an incredible therapy to help encourage a sense of peace and calmness through this tricky time. If I am working with someone who is struggling through the two week wait, we may schedule some additional appointments so that I can help her to nurture a sense of calm. If you are heading into IVF and know you find the two week wait unbearable, find an acupuncturist who can work with you to help support you through.