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The Reality of IVF - Alyssa Stringfellow

The Reality of IVF - Alyssa Stringfellow

Having a baby is not always straightforward for everyone, and as many as 1 in 4 New Zealanders experience infertility when trying to conceive. June is World Infertility Awareness Month, increasing awareness of the many infertility issues faced by couples around the world. So we sat down with Alyssa Stringfellow to talk about her experience with IVF so far, what to say and what not to say to someone going through IVF, Alyssa shares the raw honest reality of IVF treatment. She serves up openness, vulnerability, humour and words of encouragement to anyone going through the same!

VLV: Tell us a little bit about you, your background, what you're into?

Alyssa: I’m into chicken nuggets and hardcore porn… Joking aside from the nuggets I’m a huge fan of nuggets. I’m an artist I guess, I started off as a pageant queen (before it was popular where you got teased for acting dumb and objectifying yourself) and a model, then moved into acting. Now I act, I write and I produce.

Creativity is my lifeblood. I suffocate without expression. Thank god for Instagram… seriously. I also garden, bake, surf and walk A LOT of walking. Gardening is freedom and joy. There's something so satisfying about planting and growing your own food and flowers from scratch. It’s all pure creation I guess.

I’m super passionate about showing up as you are and leaving the earth better off than you found it. For me, that means leaving a million love letters about my body for future generations of women to find. I’m honestly so scared my nieces and future daughters will be in the same world I was in as a teen and early adult.

Body image, women's roles, career pressure and the pressure to be perfect lead to eating disorders and seeking out any anti perfect solution I could find. I figure talking about my own shit might help other women deal with similar issues I’ve been through. I think the world needs to be more kind and open-minded about who women can be and what our purposes are.

I’m also crazy passionate about scorched almonds and most recently peanut m&ms.

VLV: What has your journey with IVF been like so far?

Alyssa: IVF is wild. I don’t know how else to explain it. Everyone says go with the flow and trust the process, don't be attached to outcomes… Do you know what that’s like when you’ve literally got dates you need to achieve certain things by to be able to move forward in the process? I’m trying to treat it like AA one day at a time, and do the best I can today for my body which means working out, eating well, sleeping well and grabbing a few orgasms … (for stress relief obviously). It’s hard, to figure out how to not be attached to an outcome that you've spent years working towards. I’d say a lifetime but for me, that wasn’t the case. I wasn’t sure I wanted kids until I met my fiancé and I only want ginger kids haha.

It’s hard watching friends get pregnant and then hearing that they’re scared to tell you about their joy because of how you might react. It’s unfair to be bridled with “survivors” guilt or whatever you want to call it. We can be happy for you and not ok within ourselves or amazing in ourselves. We’re not all sad desperate jealous humans you know? So overall I’d say the expectation from you and from others that’s the hardest part of the IVF journey.

VLV: What is the IVF process for someone who knows nothing about it?

Alyssa: It depends on what you need to be done. For me I found out two years ago that my tubes were blocked and that I wouldn’t conceive naturally. Then I did my AMH blood levels to check my egg reserves (I got my period at 9 so they weren’t great) then you decide your action. I can only speak to what we chose to do. So we did two rounds of egg collection.

Those eggs get harvested like little humans looking for the easter bunny and then fertilised. (Your husband, human or sperm bank donor makes a one-off donation and apparently, it’s just as awkward as you imagine it to be as a woman who has never had to ejaculate into a plastic cup). Depending on how many eggs fertilise you then have an embryo count. We were beyond lucky most of our eggs turned into embryos. We decided to have a break in between cycles because we lost my stepdad at the tail end of two back to back cycles of egg collection. From there we will start the process to put an embryo back into my uterus and then pray for pregnancy.

Here’s the thing though they say ⅓ of the embryos survive. If you get 4 eggs out 3 might be viable, 2 might fertilise and 1 might reach the stage of being a healthy blastocyst. It’s like hunger games but the battle is in your vagina…

VLV: At what point did you decide to get IVF? How does it work at each stage?

Alyssa: I found out at 20 I had stage 4 endometriosis, I’ve had around 5 surgery’s for it the latest surgery I’ve had two years ago removing a cyst which is where it was confirmed that I was unable to conceive naturally as my Fallopian tubes only had an upward flow no downwards flow.

I am only at the transfer stage. So for me I found out I was unable to conceive naturally then we did our test, then we did a round of egg collection unfortunately that didn’t go so well so we did another round. Each round has a lead up of about a month or two. My last round was three injections a day, plus patches. We then got the eggs harvested and had them turned into embryos in which case we froze them next to the mint chocolate chip ice cream… Joking.

Now we are at the transfer stage for the second time. The first time I had a rough reaction to the drugs and took some time off and now we are back on the cycle again. 4 tablets a day and a patch that is on for 21 days then we get a blood test and a scan. We’re aiming to get my uterus to 7 mm at which stage they can transfer our embryo.

The thicker your embryo lining the higher chances you have of the embryo sticking. Once that happens you go into the surgery and they insert your 4-week old embryo!

Which is crazy imagine waking up one day having someone rifle around in your vagina and then boom for at least one day you’re 4 weeks pregnant. That’s how I’m choosing to celebrate it at least! I’ll be the most pregnant I’ve ever been and that is terrifying and so exciting.

VLV: What tips can you share with others on this journey if they are struggling or need some support?


Honestly be brutal, tell people what you’re dealing with if you need to, and talk to your partner honestly. Don’t hide anything.

It’s hard at the moment because covid really puts a spanner in the works. If you catch covid you risk losing everything you’ve been walking towards, try to get out safely and enjoy your life.

Don’t let the dates stop you from making other plans, honestly having something else to focus on really bloody helps your brain. If you need help with your diet call a dietitian I did and it really helped me a lot with a lot of my nausea symptoms.

Look I’ll be honest you’re going to bloat so I’d suggest getting some flowy dresses and leggings. Put your jeans away for the time being.

Don’t plan to be pregnant, you don’t need that pressure honestly as much as it sucks just focus on one day at a time. Take every opportunity you can to take the pressure and expectation off yourself.

Also for the love of god let them fully knock you out when collecting your eggs don’t put yourself through that sober it’s unbelievably painful. They lie and tell you it’s not but it hurts. Sorry to be a scary cow but it hurts. The drugs are there so use them.

Mostly be kind to yourself. It’s an emotional battle, you do not deserve this, nothing you did in a past life or in the past led you here. You deserve only good things and love so stop the self-punishment.

VLV: What have you found most useful during this time?

Alyssa: Netflix and chill, taking little trips, coffee dates, keeping to life as much as possible. Without expecting the pregnancy just try as hard as it is to not be attached to the outcome but believe in the long run it will work. Stress doesn’t help anything.

What are some things you shouldn't say to someone doing IVF treatment?

Alyssa: ‘Tell me how that IVF stuff is going…’ It’s not stuff, stuff is lip balm and pens in the bottom of your bag.

Also, stop telling people to think about the outcome and be grateful for your future baby. Just let me be honest about this process without trying to fix it. It’s toxic positivity and it’s so unhelpful.

VLV: How can a friend/family member best support someone going through IVF?

Alyssa: Everyone’s different. I am really independent so for me I don’t want to be asked questions about it unless I bring it up. It’s not a stocking filler for when you run out of conversation it’s hard and hard to talk about so don’t force convos and just listen instead of trying to fix it.

VLV: Is there anything else you want us to know or share with us…

Alyssa: If you have endo and haven’t been pregnant and are in a long term partnership you can get government funding to help you with your IVF treatments but it is a 2 year waiting list so don’t mess around.

Be active in your fertility, seek second opinions if you need them and get the help you need ie dietician, natural medicine, acupuncture try everything explore and try to stay open to all possibilities.

Your mental health may take a battering. I would recommend finding someone professional to talk to if you need it.

Above all, be kind to yourself.

You deserve love, you deserve kindness, and you deserve to be a mom. It just might not be on your timeline so be open to that changing.

Alyssa, thank you for this important conversation and for your honesty and openness to talk about it with us.

VLV xx


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