Hands up who thinks babies and children can be a never ending, life-long money pit? The 0-25 year accessories. Homing, feeding, clothing, educating, protecting. Trying your utmost to give them the building blocks with which they can grow.
Newsflash people: some of us breeders to be are already dropping serious coin on all sorts of trying to get up the duff paraphernalia. Fertility treatment, vitamin supplements, private adoption, surrogacy, counselling, holistic and unholistic practices – many determined and desperate among us are making huge financial life sacrifices to support achieving a mini me, with no guarantee of success. The IVF industry on its own is worth mega bucks. The added extras in a private IVF round for example can easily total in the thousands on top of the ‘basic cost’ (several thousand) of a round. Best not to think about that life choice, home and holiday you’ve put on ice while you’ve got your legs akimbo for another £400 teeth gritting, cervix opening ‘this may improve your chances’ procedure.
Nothing acts as a magic wand and for many of us the above is a necessity to try and achieve our dream. For some of us – and this is a bitter pill to swallow, one that I have and no doubt will choke repeatedly on – it will be this trying, the eventual knowledge you’ve chucked everything at it and then some that will be the start of coming to terms with where you find yourself.
There’s a lot of shit, and a lot of charlatans out there who will see your grief and take your money for the latest fertile fad. Out of everything we’ve invested our hard earned money in, it is professional counselling and acupuncture that have proven time and time again how instrumental they can be in supporting the rollercoaster of trying to conceive. I certainly wouldn’t be where I am mentally and emotionally now if we had not made the decision to cut our cloth in other areas and support me having both with two incredible women. When I look back at what we were dealing with, the set of circumstances that unfolded, the trauma that had exploded and settled like a nuclear winter, it is no exaggeration to say they pulled me back from the brink.
One of these women may even be 65.6% fairy.
Many ladies call Emma the medicine woman. Registered acupuncturist, fertility and women’s health expert, author, mentor and speaker, I had little idea of this beyond knowing about her clinic in London and watching her Ted Talk, “It’s about time we valued being fertile.” Hearing Emma talk about barren thinking, stripping back our (pre Covid) busy, competitive ways of being, lack of nourishment and under appreciation for our over exerted bodies, particularly when we didn’t get the pregnancy we wanted, her mind-body approach centres on supporting women emotionally and physically to become their most abundant, creative, fertile selves – whatever biology and circumstances are dealing. Gratitude and respect for our bodies versus frustration, upset and anger when wombs didn’t play ball. Flexibility and resilience to cope with whatever life and infertility threw at us. Psychological maturity to recognise that miscarriage, baby loss and not conceiving carries trauma that requires processing and unblocking. The understanding that conception is the greatest act of creativity; and nothing makes a woman feel more like a victim than repeated failure in not being able to have the child she craves.
I had no real idea of any of this when I went to Emma for acupuncture, desperate for my baby and to remedy the physical anxiety and emotional pain that had reached crescendo after a fourth failed round. With its firm basis in Chinese medicine, acupuncture applied to support western medicine is a game changer. Need a period to start so you can crack on with IVF? If you’ve got an issue with performance anxiety, as my womb seemed to have by round 4, a few firm and rather zingy twists of Emma’s needles brought immediate results: within 24 hours, a one week late period started with a vengeance. Grief points (inside of the wrists); anger points (on the front of the toes), Emma knew exactly which points to release and when throughout my menstrual or IVF cycle. As we moved from using up all our seven good quality embryos on the NHS to taking a sabbatical from work and making the decision to pursue an aggressive private round, the only time I felt in the eye of the storm was on Emma’s treatment bed. Needles in, my entire body would physically pause, drop and relax.
Bonding over our mutual obsession with the Handmaid’s Tale (nothing like watching THAT while going through IVF, it spoke my language better than a lot of actual people) we lusted over Nick, Max Minghella, banging June / Offred in secret to get her up the duff. (At home my husband labelled Handmaid’s Tale excruciatingly depressing viewing, particularly with us going through the full depths of baby loss and IVF for its entire three seasons; I, on the other hand, give full praise to my sense of noir and hormones, particularly oestrogen, for getting fully involved with June’s story. Still one of the best things on TV, hands down, with or without an egg collection). My conversations with Emma are amongst the best I’ve had in the babyloss business. Her own story – wife, mother, author, breast cancer survivor, keeper of stories – her needles and her counsel slowly helped to shift how I was managing grief, fear and belief.
How to describe someone so boho-glam but down to earth; self-confessed “bit woo woo” but beyond real about life, people, relationships, love, loss and hope? A friend of hers summed Emma up beautifully when she gave her a handbag inscribed 65.6% fairy. In a world where science cannot answer everything, there is something rather magical about her and never more so than now. She is the disco ball above the infertility and miscarriage pity party; acknowledging the grief and pain absolutely, shining a light on the deep existential life rut I found myself in, and encouraging me out of feeling like a victim of our fucking shit circumstances. At a time when my confidence had run aground and I saw very few ways out of the awful pain – other than an inevitable and gruelling round at a private clinic which went on not to work, *faceslap* – my visits became a refuge for my soul. She has taught me how to release fear and anger; turn my wounds into wisdom; to be fertile in other ways, embrace my long dormant creativity, be flexible and surrender to what is.
Like Offred escaping Gilead, this has not been an overnight, or indeed over several months’ light bulb moment. It is a work in progress, with all the imperfect ebbs and flows of an emotional and psychological shift, plus the element of wrenching thrown in for good measure.
Sometimes I’ve seen Emma on a good run, chatting for shits and giggles, enjoying a welcome mental respite from it all; at times I have dragged myself to her sanctuary in the depths of total and utter despair. I remember our mutual FUCKING HELL when our private IVF round (odds 70/30 to get pregnant, gave our life savings) didn’t work. The work Emma had to do to get me to appreciate the hundreds of sub-cutaneous, inter-muscular and clexane injections, womb biopsies, pessaries and pills as potential baby making medicine and not an exercise in mental and physical fear had been significant. It had made the NHS rounds look like a walk in the park.
I remember the times we have discussed the many different routes to motherhood and Emma has looked at me and said, “I see you as a mother.”
I remember the times I have told Emma yes, I’m surrendering. Accepting what is. Or, yes, I’ve surrendered! Or, after everything that’s happened now I am finally surrendering to, uh, surrender. I didn’t know what the fuck surrendering was until I turned 40 a week and a half into a global pandemic where anxiety about life, loved ones and livelihoods lurked around every corner.
In my life cinema reel, turning 40 was having one, possibly two small children, mega celebrations and a party where the emphasis would be on being ‘out out’ and looking forward to what the fourth wall / fifth decade held. IVF, pregnancy and birth would be behind me, the experience indelibly etched on my story even if time made the memories a little rough around the edges. You never forget your first Assisted Conception Unit do you? Pumbaa would have been the spitting image of my husband, his personality his own and oh, how we would have marvelled at him, once I’d got over my four drink plus hangover.
Instead, a different present.
Birthday party, dinners, precious times with friends and family cancelled. My recently toned reformer pilated bingo wings going nowhere. The world on a perversely much needed pause, waiting for the onslaught. As friends, family and neighbours began to reel and hunker down, and fertility treatment across the UK was cancelled, I realised I had reverted to IVF cycle headspace – living with absolute uncertainty laced lightly with fear. I could finally observe that not only had I managed and continued to cope with my losses, through monumental perseverance and the instinct to survive I was coming out of it intact, the toolkit ready to access in my emotional bank account. There was nothing I could do, but like most of us I suspect, cry and vent when needed and revert to our new way of being. No control, power or influence. No desire to have or exert it. No sudden breakdown on my birthday because we are currently childless, and I am no longer in my thirties. Just: this. The present.
Six weeks into lockdown – and before the trailer came out for Handmaid’s Tale season 4 – I had a zoom call with Emma who read my tarot cards for the first time. Meaningless, Trust and Flow. I don’t believe in a god but by the power of Zeus I can get on board with those cards. If there was ever a time to trust and go with the flow, if not now, when? By the summer solstice – a time of the year I used to recognise for Glastonbury more than anything else – I realised the quiet peace I felt had bedded in, much like the turbulent anxiety did years ago, and an infinitesimal weight of some sort had lifted.
Emma talks about the courage to surrender and us being the medicine. After trying and rebelling with every fibre of my being for the last eight years; from having the first consultation for IVF after my 35th birthday; to being pregnant on my 36th birthday to bleeding on my 37th, to another failed round before my 38th, to returning to work for my 39th, expecting and hoping every birthday would bring progression to our family and being devastated when it didn’t; I think now is my time. My surrender, where I am my own medicine. A state of acceptance supported and most likely sped up by lockdown’s emotional and physical pause. As Emma wrote to me, “softening into what is – it’s very healing. We walk this path together.”
You can follow Emma on Instagram @emmalcannon and go to emmacannon.co.uk for fertile enquiry and emotional support.
You can go to the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy at bacp.co.uk to find a counsellor local to you.