People who haven’t been down the IVF route seem to know two things:
- It always works.
- Everybody gets twins.
However, neither of these are true - in fact, IVF isn\'t a perfect solution for everyone.
It’d be great if IVF was that successful. But it is not. According to IVF Australia, the success rates range from 34.9 per cent per embryo transfer leading to a live birth for patients under 30 years, to 8.7 per cent per embryo transfer leading to a live birth for patients over 40 years.
In other words, that’s a failure rate of 65 per cent, per embryo transfer, for the 30 and under age bracket – and a failure rate of 91 per cent for the 40 and over age bracket. Not great odds at all.
Truthfully, it’s a bloody miracle to have one baby via IVF, and twice as miraculous for twins.
I’ll never forget a morning I trekked with my newborn twins to the local Woolworths to be met with questions about how they came into the world.
It didn’t matter that I’d only had two hours sleep. It didn’t matter that I’d only put eyeliner on one eye. It didn’t matter that my gut was still sore after the doctor sliced through nine layers of muscle to yank out two babies.
What mattered was this: I was at the supermarket, pushing three-week-old baby twins around the junk food aisle in a “desperate search” for a pack of clinkers (the lollies I loved as a kid). I paused my hunt to smile at anybody who stopped to gush over my babies. I didn’t mind when they asked silly questions like, “Are they twins?” But I felt pissed off when people wanted to know how my kids were conceived.
As far as I was concerned, my babies were a heaven-sent miracle, like the light from a star. Why the hell did it matter to anybody else how they got here?\x3c!--kg-card-begin: html--\x3e\x3c!--kg-card-end: html--\x3e
I lost my first baby two years before my twins were born. Being blessed with twins after all that heartache was my reward for all that praying and crying, and all those invasive tests I went through to find out why the hell I miscarried. For all that pain, I was given not one but
TWO babies. That’s what it felt like. A magnificent reward.
So I was at the supermarket with my living, breathing miracles, searching for Clinkers, when a woman stood by the pram, smiling and cooing at my boys.
“Awwww, they’re so cute!” she exclaimed. Twins?”
“Oh YES!” I beamed.
Then, she burst my bubble.
“Are they natural?”
Three words to wipe the smile from my face.
I mumbled something about my father being a twin – my dad (an identical twin) is always my alibi – and scurried away, without my Clinkers.
But that was just the beginning.
Since then, hundreds of people have asked the same question. Some boldly ask, “Are they IVF?” But most ask “Are they natural?”
The soft people ask, “Are twins in the family?” That’s when I start talking about my dad and they nod – you can almost hear them thinking, “Okay, so they’re natural – not IVF.”
If I’m in the mood for an information dump, I’ll tell them more: my Aunty Janet was a twin but her sister died at birth. I also tell them about my sister-in-law’s twins who arrived three months before my own.
“I’m the daughter of a twin, the mother of twins, the aunty of twins and the great-niece of a twin,” I say.
But sometimes that’s not enough. They want to know if you had fertility treatment and they also want to know why you had fertility treatment, “What was the problem?” some people ask. As if it makes any tiny difference to their life.
And that’s why, all these years later, as the mother of teenage twins, I’m still pissed off that so many people “need” to know how my twins were conceived.
When you’re trying to get pregnant, every time your period arrives you feel like a failure.
The thought of having to wait one more month to “try again” is painful. Also, when you’ve lost a baby and you’re trying to get pregnant again, the very sight of a pregnant woman feels like daggers in your eyeballs (okay, that’s very dramatic, but I did feel a stabbing pain in my heart when I saw a pregnant woman, a baby, or any child really).
When you ask a mother of twins if she went through IVF, you have no idea about the years of pain leading up to attempting fertility treatment. It’s not as though people wake up one day and say, “I’m going to try IVF!” There’s almost always a sad story on the path towards that decision.
When you ask a twin mum if her twins are “natural” it feels like you’re really asking why you needed help to do something that most people do easily. Even if you’re just being innocent and curious, it feels like you’re prying, or making us feel like we’re being judged somehow.
Whenever someone asked one of my friends if her twins were “natural”, she would always reply “no, they’re aliens.” I wish I’d had the nerve to use that comeback, but I never did.
Two women in my mother’s group had conceived via IVF and they’d had singleton babies – yet they told me nobody had ever asked them if they had had IVF. So next time you see a twin mother, think twice before you ask her if her babies are “natural.”
If she’s anything like me, you’ll be sticking one more needle in her bubble of joy.
And if you feel the need to chat, just tell her her babies are cute. Help her find some Clinkers. Smile at her babies. They’re alive, they fill her life with joy. That’s all you need to know.\x3c!--kg-card-begin: html--\x3e
“But, how are you going to get enough protein?”
I never asked for an opinion about my diet. But when we were told to submit dietary requirements before our office Christmas party, they began flowing in.
Suddenly, my co-workers were experts in nutritional health. They diagnosed my 3pm coffee habit as A Sign Of Low Iron. My falafel salad became an opportunity to remind me I’d be hungry in an hour. I felt like a science experiment with my lunch order under the microscope.
Although plant-based cafes and alternative meat products are more common than ever, following a vegetarian or vegan diet still incites scrutiny. The nutritional value of the diet is hotly debated, often by those who’ve been meat-eaters their entire lives. Swapping t-bone steak for tofu prompts critique, as if those who choose the latter are taking the Higher Ground.
But external judgement aside, how does our diet impact our fertility? Does going meat-free reduce our chances of a healthy pregnancy? And what practical steps can we take to ensure we’re maintaining a balanced, nutrient-dense diet?
Ditching meat and animal products is nothing new. But in the past few decades, the numbers of us going plant-based have been steadily on the rise. The latest stats from Roy Morgan reveal over 2.5 million Aussies are now almost entirely vegetarian (that’s 12.1% of the country’s population).
There’s good reason for this, with studies sharing the benefits of a meat-free diet, including:
● Lowering our risk of cancer
● Lower instances of obesity
● Reduced risk of hypertension (high blood pressure)
● Decreasing our risk of type 2 diabetes
Recent studies have shown the environmental benefits of going plant-based. One study by Oxford Martin School researchers found that if the globe switched a vegan diet by 2050, we’d save 8 million lives, cut greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds and save USD$1.5 trillion (AUD$2.2 trillion) in healthcare-related savings and avoided climate damage costs.
And for those of us switching for ethical reasons, the stats are staggering. Over 1 billion animals are killed every year for food in the UK alone. Coupled with the increased media coverage of live exports and the treatment of animals, reducing our meat intake has become an attractive option for many.
But, for those starting a family, how does what we eat impact our ability to conceive a healthy baby?
It might seem like a strange analogy to make, but think of pregnancy like baking a cake. "Bun in the oven" jokes aside, these processes actually have a bunch of similarities.
If we don’t take the time to read the recipe and swing by the grocery store before we start, we’re thwarting our chances of baking glory. Sure, we can dive into the back of our pantry and cobble together most of the stuff we’ll need. Gluten-free flour can be swapped for self-raising flour, right? Surely maple syrup and honey are the same? And who will actually tell if we swap full cream for almond milk? But every small decision we make has a big impact on the final product.\x3c!--kg-card-begin: html--\x3e\x3c!--kg-card-end: html--\x3e
When it comes to conceiving, the health of our bodies play a huge role in shaping the health of our potential offspring. And understanding how to maintain a balanced, nutrient-dense diet is an essential part of that. In fact, studies have shown that women who follow a balanced diet during pregnancy reduce the chances of their babies developing chronic conditions (such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and neurodevelopmental delays).
In the past few years, the number of studies investigating the link between diet and fertility has grown significantly. A recent study from researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School reviewed a sample of these studies, and drew a few common conclusions.
Ultimately, women trying to conceive naturally (a.k.a. without IVF or other assistive reproductive technologies) saw a positive impact on fertility linked with nutrients such as folic acid, vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids when following healthy diets (such as the Mediterranean diet).
Unsurprisingly, trans fats and diets heavy in red or processed meats, sweets, and sugary drinks were linked to negative effects on fertility. Sounds like common sense, right? But what about the link between meat consumption and fertility?
Following a meat-free diet is safe before and during pregnancy, but there are a few important factors to bear in mind. Although there are benefits to following a meat-free diet, there are also important nutritional trends to acknowledge. In some cases, plant-based diets can be linked to deficiencies in certain proteins, iron, vitamin D, calcium, iodine, omega-3 and vitamin B12.
Why is this important? Research has shown that key vitamins such as B12 are essential in preventing nerve damage, with deficiencies linked to long-term irreversible symptoms (such as numbness) and even an increased risk of stroke. It’s recommended that we consume 1.5 micrograms of B12 daily, with this vitamin naturally found in meat, fish, eggs and dairy products.
However, there’s a simple fix. For vegetarians or vegans, taking a B12 supplement is an easy way to ensure healthy nutrient levels. This is particularly important when trying to conceive, when pregnant and when breastfeeding, as a B12 deficiency can interfere with normal brain development and increase the chances of conditions such as neuropathy.
Iron is also a hot topic when it comes to diet and fertility. And it’s essential for healthy development, as it works to carry oxygen through the bloodstream and aid the growth of yet-to-be-born bubs.
● Dark leafy greens
● Wholemeal bread
● Eggs (for vegetarian)
● Fortified breakfast cereals (which included added iron)
● Dried fruits (such as apricots)
Protein is essential for building and repairing muscles and bones and the production of healthy hormones and enzymes. Although animal products are most commonly known as sources for protein, there are plenty of vego-friendly options including:
● Soy products (such as tofu and tempeh)
● Plant proteins (such as beans, lentils, nuts and whole grains)
With all of this in mind, there are steps we can take to prepare our bodies for pregnancy (even while following a plant-based diet). It all comes down to planning and preparation.
Research shows that women who have a strong understanding of the key nutrient balances required (and how to curb any possible deficiencies) are able to maintain proper nutrition before and during pregnancy.
To help ensure you’re getting all the vitamins and nutrients you need, mums-to-be are encouraged to speak with their GP who can help advise the best course of action. In many cases, taking a prenatal daily vitamin will be recommended in the weeks and months leading up to conceiving.
As iron is super important to a baby’s development, some women may be advised to take an iron supplement to ensure optimal vitamin levels before and during pregnancy. Plus, a higher dose of
folate or folic acid (another key vitamin needed for healthy development) may also be recommended in the months leading up to pregnancy.
If you’re following a vegetarian and vegan diet, make sure to book in to speak with your GP prior to conceiving to understand what diet changes and supplements may be needed to maximise your chances of success.
After feeling tired for weeks (and with my co-worker’s voices running through my head), I booked in for a blood test. Convinced I was deficient in something, the results surprised me. All my levels were normal. But, I only discovered that after visiting my GP.
Seeking professional guidance is essential to finding out the best course of action for your body. Whether you’re starting to go meat-free, have been vegan for years, or are somewhere in between, have a chat with your doctor before trying to conceive to ensure you’re in the best possible position to ensure a healthy pregnancy.\x3c!--kg-card-begin: html--\x3e