Starting IVF: Top Questions To Ask At Your First Consultation

Starting IVF is terrifying; there is no other way to describe it. Realistically, there are many words to describe IVF but there are very few that are positive (other than scientifically and medically incredible). Attending your very first appointment can be a super daunting experience; you are faced with a consultant who is telling you a huge amount of information on how they intend to create your baby. From medication they are planning to put you on, the procedure itself and the entire protocol from start to finish, it isn’t unusual for you to leave that appointment feeling like your brain is a short time away from exploding. And so, to make it that little bit easier, I’ve put together an essential guide to questions to ask at your very first IVF consultation! I also think it would be super useful if you’re attending a consultation at a new clinic; in my opinion, there’s no such thing as a stupid question, never such a thing as too many questions, and no such thing as being over prepared!

So, get your notebook at the ready and here are my top questions to ask!

TOP QUESTIONS TO ASK AT YOUR IVF CONSULTATION

Are there any further tests you would recommend we do prior to starting?

The answer to this question will quite often vary depending on your clinic, your diagnosis, and your path to treatment. If you are embarking on private treatment, clinics are probably going to be more encouraging of further tests because they have the freedom to request them as you are paying for them. If you are undergoing NHS treatment, it might be a bit more difficult as the NHS will only fund so much. They may recommend further testing, but you would potentially have to pay for them separately, so do bear that in mind. It’s a great opportunity to discuss your actual diagnosis and why you are in the clinic at all, but also rule out anything further that may hinder your results. Personally, I think knowledge is power and the more information you have, the better. If they do recommend certain tests (especially if you are paying for them!) ask why – it’s important that you get to make informed decisions based on the facts before you put your hand in your pocket.

What protocol have you chosen to put us on, and why?

Your clinic should be telling you this at your appointment anyway, but this should cover what medication you will be put on, why they have chosen this medication, whether they intend on doing IVF or ICSI, and effectively, what you will be doing from start to finish!

Is this protocol standard for all your patients or is it personalised to us?

Some clinics do have a personalised approach to treatment and will tailor a protocol to you based on all the information that they have about you and your results. However, many clinics – particularly on your first cycle – do have a standardised approach where they have a standard protocol. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a good protocol, it just means they have a standard dose etc that they put you on unless they need to tweak it during the cycle, or they have anything to suggest it won’t be adequate for you! If a personalised approach is important to you, this is something to ask, as you can perhaps ask for reassurance as to why they feel their standard protocol would be suitable for you.

What side effects can I expect from the medication?

It’s important to know that everyone reacts differently, but the standard side effects include fatigue, bloating, and sometimes bruising at the injection site. It depends on your body and your medication, but the clinic should provide you with information about the risks and the side effects – it’s always good to know what to expect!

Who do I contact if I have any questions or in an emergency?

Sometimes, our brains run away with us, and we have random questions at a random hour about our treatment. We react a certain way to medication and want to check that all is normal, or our bleed starts earlier than anticipated. Sometimes, we just can’t quite remember what was said at certain appointments, or you need to change an appointment. Or you leave this consultation and remember that you forgot to ask a question that is now burning on your mind. Asking who to contact for your questions or to discuss anything to do with regards to your treatment is a sensible thing to ask. You should also be given an emergency number, for exactly that – if anything goes a bit skew-whiff.

Are you open at the weekend or are appointments only on weekdays?

I feel this is a really important question to ask. It’s absolutely personal choice how you feel about this one, but my first clinic only offered appointments (including egg collection and transfer) which meant that I felt slightly concerned about how things would pan out in terms of embryo development and transfer. I had concerns that perhaps I triggered earlier than I was ready to because they were closed over the weekend, or that transfer happened on a certain day when the embryo could have maybe been left a day longer. I am sure the professionals know what they are doing, and if you don’t trust them complicitly then I don’t think they are the clinic for you. For me, I wanted less stress, and so I wanted a clinic I knew I could contact 7 days a week.

Is everything under one roof or am I required to travel to different locations for certain procedures and/or blood tests?

This again may not be a requirement for everyone, but I always think it is handy to know! As I’m sure you’ve probably twigged, my questions are predominantly based on my experiences and things I liked/didn’t like about my initial clinic. I certainly found it more stressful having one clinic for scans, another for egg collection and transfer (and another if it was a certain day of the week!) and having to travel to a different clinic for a blood test. I much preferred having everything in one place and not needing to constantly remember where I’m heading and finding new places.

How much is this going to cost?

IVF is expensive, that’s no secret. It’s good to be totally upfront and have the cost of the treatment at hand so you know exactly how much you’re going to pay and exactly when you need to pay it.

Are there any unexpected costs that could crop up throughout our cycle?

This is a TOP TIP! Always, always ask this question. The clinic may tell you that the cost of treatment is x, y and z, but they may not tell you initially that you may incur costs for things such as extra medication if your treatment is prolonged, an admin fee/fee for medication delivery if it is under a certain amount, blood tests they request throughout and if you are egg sharing, the cost of the cycle if you don’t get enough eggs to share. There are so many potential costs it’s a good idea to be clear and transparent and ensure you have all the information possible.

How much does it cost to store frozen embryos if we have any?

Whether your cycle is (hopefully) successful, or whether it isn’t and you decide to have a break from treatment, usually after a year your clinic starts charging you to store your frozen embryos. You can make the decision to have them discarded at this point (I really hate the word discarded for your embryos), but if you want to keep them stored to potentially use them, then you will have a fee to incur. It’s great to know in advance how much that will be so you don’t have a shock in the post a year later!

What support do you offer emotionally if any at all?

A question that isn’t important for everyone, but IVF is hard. IVF is hard and any failures are even harder; it’s an emotional time and a stressful thing to go through. Finding some emotional support is really great to help navigate these times and some clinics do offer sessions with a counsellor to help you through this time. If this is important to you and you don’t necessarily want to pay for therapy privately, it could be a good thing to explore with your clinic.

Do you recommend any add-ons, and if so, why?

Some clinics are very encouraging and supportive of certain add on treatments, such as embryo glue, endometrial scratches, time-lapse or genetically testing embryos. Others will not touch them at all. It’s worth asking your clinic what their stance is on this, and if they do recommend any, asking exactly why they want to do this, why they recommend it and why they feel it will support your case. I also recommend looking at the HFEA website – they have a traffic light system that rates the amount of research into each of these add-ons which can help you to make an informed choice. You can find the traffic light system here.

When can we start?

And the question on all of our lips when we walk into these clinics… when can we start?! I remember feeling bitterly disappointed when the clinic told me I was too close to my cycle starting to start during my next cycle. I was able to start the cycle after, but it’s always great to have an idea. Sometimes, if they do want you to undergo any further testing, it can delay your treatment, so it’s great to have an idea of a start date. It really helps arranging work and such too!

I hope this list of questions has been helpful for you and helps you to navigate your first consultation! If you’ve been through this process before, what questions do you think are vital to ask?

Let me know!

Love, Amber x

Keep up to date by following me on Instagram here. Make sure you listen to our podcast – ‘Am I Ovary Acting with Amber and Annabel’ wherever you get your podcasts, listen on Spotify here!

MY FIRST TRIMESTER DIARY: PREGNANCY WEEKS 4-13

I found the first trimester of pregnancy, for the most part, rather hard. I wanted to write some kind of diary throughout this pregnancy and as someone who is pretty bad at ‘planning’ blog posts, I can’t say I have a clue how many of these ‘diaries’ I will do throughout my pregnancy. However, I know that I spent an awful lot of time googling whether certain things were normal, whether a lack of symptoms (or sudden influx) were potentially problematic, over analysing every single twinge I felt, googling everything I consumed to ensure it was safe (literally, from pineapples and mango to milk to orange juice and bechamel sauce), and the only thing that really helped me was reading other people’s experiences, knowing that I wasn’t alone with the reeking anxiety that consumed my every minute. So, I intend on documenting my entire pregnancy, my thoughts and feelings at each and every stage, as much as I can – starting with my first trimester! I wrote this and realised just how long it was, but I’ve condensed 13 weeks into a post, so I hope it makes for good reading…

FINDING OUT I WAS PREGNANT – 4 WEEKS PREGNANT

Finding out I was pregnant was of course very different to most; I was afforded the luxury (luxury really being a very loosely placed word, for lack of a better one), of knowing exactly when my embryo fertilised, when it was transferred into my uterus, and exactly when I could test. Whilst I wish we had never had to undergo IVF, and this wasn’t our first rodeo, I always found it totally fascinating to be able to see the whole development from egg and sperm to embryo. I’ve spoken very openly about our fertility journey and this third cycle particularly on my YouTube channel, and so if you have seen any of my videos you may well know that I was absolutely certain that this cycle had again not worked. We tested on day 9 post 5 day transfer (for any non-IVFers, this means that our embryo was developing for 5 days outside of the womb; on day 5 it was transferred into my uterus and we did our pregnancy test 5 days later!). This equated to 4 weeks pregnant, a point in which most people are only just missing their periods and for the most part, have no idea they are pregnant. I was taking an abundance of medication in the form of progesterone which completely and utterly mimics the symptoms of pregnancy, meaning I had a game of mind screw ongoing at all times. However, bar the fatigue and the lack of energy, I was completely lacking in symptoms which played well into my anxiety for weeks. I was of course absolutely over the moon upon finding out I was pregnant, but to say I was terrified would also be a terrible understatement. I had a blood test about 3 days later confirming my pregnancy, where I relaxed for a grand total of around 5 minutes. I was pregnant, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of ‘too good to be true’. We had waited so long for this, tried so hard and spent so much time and money trying to reach this point, that I struggled to accept it could finally be real. I had switched from the ‘trying to conceive’ supplements to the ‘pregnancy’ supplements as soon as we had our transfer, so I was already stocked up until the end of the month, but one of the very first things I did was buy another 4 pregnancy tests. By the time I reached 10 weeks, I’d done 20 of those things…

TELLING OUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY – 4 WEEKS PREGNANT

We told our parents on the same day (minus my Dad, as he was working abroad and I had insisted on telling him in person!) and I felt like a total fraud. I will never, ever forget the privilege of being able to share that news. We were driving around the city that day with the pregnancy test in my handbag; I had to keep checking it to make sure that second line hadn’t gone away. The morning was full of joyful screams, squeezes so tight I’ll be surprised if the embryo couldn’t feel them, tears all round and a few hours of feeling on cloud 9; like it really was real. I recorded most reactions, for our private viewing only, as I feel these moments were something we had been so desperate for and I felt as though the whole day was really a blur. Conversations were launched immediately into whether we would find out what we were having, names we had thought of if any, when we were announcing and who we had already told. I was quite strict on the news being kept private; people knew we were doing IVF so we knew that we wouldn’t have the privacy for 8 more weeks and that really, if we didn’t announce earlier rather than later, people would figure it out for themselves, but we wanted to first see our baby’s heartbeat and have some reassurance that all was okay. I remember standing in the kitchen with one of my best friends, and her asking how much longer I had to be on the medication for after seeing it on the kitchen side. I hadn’t told her I had tested, so I responded with ‘well, I could have been stopping today but we know it’s worked so we have to carry it on for at least another 8 weeks’. I remember filling with panic as I realised she hadn’t twigged what I said… until she did. Standing in my kitchen with our cups of tea brewing, sobbing and hugging, is one of the most precious memories I have to date. I was extremely lucky to have been afforded so much support throughout our infertility journey that I didn’t feel this moment was just mine and my husband’s. Sharing the news with those who had held us up through the darkest of times brought me a kind of joy I struggle to articulate.

THE FIRST SCAN – 6 WEEKS, 6 DAYS PREGNANT

Our first scan was supposed to be at our IVF clinic, but in the days following our pregnancy test, my husband had opened his salon and only had one weekday off per week. The clinic couldn’t get us in on that specific day until 7 weeks rather than 6, and I really didn’t want to go alone, and so we decided to book a private scan in the 6th week locally so that we could go on our lunch breaks (our clinic was in London). The almost 3 weeks between testing and that first scan was a rollercoaster. One minute I was terribly excited, looking at lists of baby names, nursery furniture and little outfits; the next I didn’t want to talk about it to anybody but my husband. As he had just opened his new business, he was out of the house most days meaning I was home alone. I had stopped going to my exercise class twice weekly which had got me out of the house after work, and I work from home with no option of going into the office. I had become so used to Marco working from home that him no longer being here was something to get used to in itself, and whilst for many people work is a distraction, for me I found I was stuck in front of a screen with my own thoughts; a mind that wandered and would always somehow end up at the worst-case scenario. I would spend days in tears just waiting for Marco to get home, and I would never relax until I wasn’t alone. It was a really tense time for me, and I couldn’t bear feeling like I had no control and nothing to tell me that all was okay.

On the day of the scan, I was anxious as hell. I spent the morning pretty much pacing around, moving my laptop from room to room, struggling to concentrate on anything but the time. I sat like a child on the sofa waiting for Marco to appear from work, staring out the window like a dog, my handbag in my lap and checking the clock consistently. He was 2 minutes late and as soon as that clock changed I was panicking he’d been held up and we’d miss it. I ran to the car before he’d even parked and off we went on our way. We sat inside the building on a marvellously comfy brown leather sofa, waiting for our names to be called, surrounded by pictures of babies and stands selling canons for gender reveals. We held hands so tightly, both having the same scary thoughts going through our heads. My heart was pounding so hard I could feel it in my mouth; I knew that the next 15 minutes were either going to be the best or worst of my life so far. I walked into the room and spoke to the sonographer who was truly lovely; she told me to get on the bed and we’d take a look. Now, all of my scans to this point (and my next two!) were internal scans, and so I thought it was odd there were no privacy screens for me to undress first of all. So, my husband took a seat next to the bed and I started to pull down my jeans. The sonographer very quickly stopped me (and in fact found it rather amusing I had started to get naked in her room, I’m not sure she’d ever had that before), and told me this would in fact be an external scan unless they needed to do any extra checks. Feeling like a total plonker, I positioned myself on the bed and felt the cold ultrasound jelly smear across my stomach. She had explained she would go quiet and within a few minutes, there it was. Our very tiny, very little bambino measuring perfectly; the heartbeat flicking away like a ticking clock. It was amazing. I was pregnant, and now I had the picture to prove it. I was shaking and I was crying; I felt so complete in that moment.

THE SYMPTOMS STARTED – WEEK 9

By week 9, we had told all our close family and friends, and we’d had 3 scans – two with our clinic and our private scan at 6 weeks. We were discharged from our IVF clinic at 9 weeks and 4 days, and at this moment I became quite scared. I’d spent those weeks full of anxiety (I wrote a whole blog post on this which you can read here), and so at 9 weeks we decided to announce to the world so that I could talk about it more openly and hopefully, ease my mind. Without a doubt, it certainly helped. I had spoken about how I had very little symptoms; at most I was tired, I was having odd dreams and I was feeling a bit lightheaded, but none of those symptoms differed to my last two IVF cycles and the effects of the progesterone medication. I was reluctant to be so open, I was scared for my private bubble to be popped; scared that if something went wrong, we had a whole lot of people to share that with. However, in the long run I most definitely felt gratitude for the love we received, the support we gained and how many people put my mind at ease with their lack of symptoms throughout their first trimester. Some people told me I was lucky, which really was true, but after all we had been through, I was longing for some symptoms to give me an element of reassurance.

I was clearly manifesting. 9 weeks, 6 days – the sickness began.

THE SICKNESS AND THE SYMPTOMS – 9 WEEKS ONWARD

I started to feel nauseous around the same time we announced; I would spend my days feeling queasy but never actually being sick. I found that the only thing that really helped was beige food; I was living off toast and crisp sandwiches. My sense of smell was absolutely insane, still at 16 weeks at the time of writing, it’s bonkers. I feel like I could give a bloodhound a run for its money, much to my husband’s annoyance as I insist on his socks being changed as soon as he comes in from work. I soon started hating egg with a vengeance, and I was developing a real love and need for Walkers Prawn Cocktail crisps and Mr Kipling lemon slices. My sickness actually started on 9 weeks and 6 days, and it would be every morning like clockwork. For the foreseeable future I would be violently throwing up between 08:15 and 08:45, and then I would be fine for the rest of the day. This continued into the second trimester and became very much part of my morning routine. In fact, the only day I wasn’t sick was the day I ate a Lindt chocolate ball as soon as I got out of bed. Plain crackers, biscuits, and everything else I was recommended did diddly squat; chocolate however, baby seemed to be very happy with at 8am. I didn’t make this a routine, so unfortunately, the sickness stuck around.

My energy levels were also something of the past; I woke up feeling hungover every day, as though I had been hit by a truck and drank 3 bottles of prosecco to take away the pain. I had headaches and felt like a zombie in another world most days, hitting 3pm and being desperate for it to be 5pm so I could switch off my laptop and get in fresh pyjamas. Getting dressed became a chore and most days would consist of a greasy bun on my head, no makeup, and mismatched clothes depending on what I found first. The house was neglected, and my husband would come home to the dishwasher still waiting to be loaded, the bin still full, and a wife who couldn’t go near the bin without wanting to vomit. The only thing that got me through was Gilmore Girls, to tell you the truth. I spent every minute I could sat in bed binge watching the fictional life of Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, only ever leaving the house for dog walks. This too lasted the entirety of the first trimester, with occasional bursts of energy towards the end, but never lasting too long.

THE BOOKING APPOINTMENT – 11 WEEKS

My first midwife appointment too was very surreal. I think it was purely because I couldn’t believe it was happening and I still felt as though I was living someone else’s life, as though I didn’t belong in this newfound world of pregnancy and pending motherhood. It was a phone appointment, which I can only assume was implemented due to COVID, as I had to travel for blood tests and urine tests the following week. I had to answer a series of questions about my history, my family history, the conception, and my relationship; it was very thorough but I’m not sure I was supposed to laugh when it was asked if Marco and I were blood related. I’m not sure why, but my initial response was ‘that’s not a real question’, but turns out, it most certainly is. I was told I would be marked as high risk and be consultant led due to some family history, which initially I was quite cross about. I totally understood the need, and I was happy that it meant I would potentially have more checks and baby would be much more closely monitored (although, still at 16 weeks I haven’t yet met my consultant), but I was initially just disappointed that once again there was a little bump in the road for us. Nobody likes to hear that there are any increased risks, and truly it just took me by surprise. I was told my scan date was in the post and I would soon get to go see my baby and receive my ‘official’ estimated due date. Shortly after I attended my ‘booking bloods’ appointment, a series of blood tests, carbon monoxide tests and a urine test later, it was starting to feel that bit more real.

12 WEEK SCAN

My 12-week scan was at 12 weeks and 5 days, and it was my first real taste (bar the booking appointment) of the NHS maternity services. Now, I had a bit of a palaver getting my scan and did end up having it due to a cancellation, but once that was out the way it was rather smooth sailing. We attended the hospital for our scan and our screening tests (a blood test to confirm if our baby was high risk of having Downs Syndrome, Edwards Syndrome or Patau Syndrome) and honestly, it felt a bit surreal being in a room with medical professionals that didn’t care how we conceived. Whilst I had to tick a box to say it was an IVF pregnancy with my own eggs, that was it. It was no longer relevant. All that was relevant was that my baby was healthy, that I was healthy, and they were growing perfectly. I felt, for the first time, normal. I had longed to feel this way for a long time; I should probably do a post on this on its own at some point in the future, but I had been desperate for IVF to be put in a box, locked away where I didn’t have to talk about it, where I could stop being so consumed by it. It had become everything I lived and breathed, and I was pining for it to go away. In this moment, it did. Whilst my anxieties were there climbing onto that bed to be scanned, I imagine they were the same anxieties that every pregnant person feels climbing onto that bed. Except, I had been afforded the luxury – and I really do mean the luxury – of numerous scans before this. For many couples, this is their first, and they have gone weeks without knowing anything. I knew that a heartbeat had been detected 3 times; I knew that whilst possible, it was less likely for me that this scan would be the one to deliver devastating news. In all honesty, for the first time since I started trying to conceive, I actually felt like people who were pregnant naturally were worse off for something; I had already had that reassurance. It blows my mind that couples who haven’t had fertility treatment are expected to wait until 11-14 weeks to be told everything is okay; they are only able to rely on a home pregnancy test unless they pay for that private reassurance. My anxieties existed, but above all it was excitement.

For the first time in my journey to motherhood, I felt like any other pregnant woman, and I had longed to feel like this forever. I saw my baby on the screen, for the first time looking like an actual baby, wriggling about and doing somersaults in my womb; kicking their little legs and showing us their perfectly formed little feet. I found it so crazy that all this was happening inside me and I couldn’t feel a thing. I fell head over heels in love with an image on the screen, imagining all they could be, and truly accepting that this was finally happening for us.

After all this time.

THE FIRST PURCHASE

Friends had been turning up at our house over the 8 weeks between finding out and reaching our 12 week milestone with little gifts for the baby; we had bags full of tiny little hats and little baby grows that I still can’t believe an actual tiny human will fit into. We had been too scared to buy anything ourselves; talk of tempting fate and it being too soon, but we promised each other that when we reached 12 weeks we would. We’d ‘break the seal’ and buy our bambino their first item from us. I had bought a book (a book I truly recommend to ANYONE pregnant) – Pregnancy: The Naked Truth, as I felt it was really to the point and modern, and certainly made me feel more relaxed throughout the first trimester, but that was all. And so, the Sunday following our scan we ventured into the town centre and bought vests, cosy little outfits, a dungarees (for 6 months +) and little baby grows to add to our collection. Our hearts felt full and if my uterus wasn’t already occupied, my ovaries would have been bursting at the seams. My baby will one day be in these outfits, and I will never ever not be grateful for that.

As I write this, I am 16 weeks and 3 days pregnant, and time has started flying. I have every intention of sharing so much around this pregnancy, from our nursery plans and it coming together, to the appointments, reviews and products I’ve bought, tried and tested; you name it, I’m covering it. I really wanted to keep a diary throughout this pregnancy and I have a private ‘BUMP’ journal (my Mum bought me it immediately and it’s beautiful, so the link is here), but I really wanted to make sure I was keeping the blog active and providing content that hopefully other Mammas to be could relate to. It’s certainly been a long post, but I hope you’ve enjoyed it nonetheless.

Love, Amber xx

Keep up to date by following me on Instagram here. Make sure you listen to our podcast – ‘Am I Ovary Acting with Amber and Annabel’ wherever you get your podcasts, listen on Spotify here!

My Newborn Checklist: An Essential List

It’s no secret that I like a plan; I like a plan and I like to be in control. I’m just shy of 16 weeks pregnant and I would be a total liar if I told you that I didn’t have (numerous) lists ready for our bambino’s impending arrival. My phone contains a ‘newborn checklist’ of things I plan to buy before the baby arrives; a list of things that desperately need doing to the house before baby arrives; a list of things that don’t need doing to the house but I’m going to do anyway before baby arrives; a list of names; a list of furniture; a list of baby shower guests and a list of books to read and articles to scour so I can be ‘prepared’ (we’ll use that word incredibly loosely) to be a parent. I am fully aware that for most it is a game of ‘winging it and figure it out’, but for me, I like to at least think I am prepared. I have also never had a newborn before, or any baby for that matter, and so when I say I have created a ‘newborn checklist’, it is solely a list of things I have compiled together following my own hours of research, reading other people’s lists of what I need to buy. Combined with the advice I’ve received from hundreds of my Instagram followers when asking for advice, I’ve created a list I’m very happy with.

Now, before you start reading this list and are filled with sheer panic at the amount of things we have on this list, I am totally appreciative of the fact it is excessive. There is a LOT on this list, and many people will tell you that all baby needs is you. I don’t dispute that; but I do think social services (and social media for that matter), might have something to say if I buy diddly squat and bring baby home to a house without so much as a vest for them. I have (I think) covered all bases and I won’t buy all of this before the baby arrives – I’ve clearly categorised the list into things I think I’ll definitely need and things that can potentially wait. I have created this list based on my hopes and preferences, for example, I am hoping to exclusively breastfeed for at least 6 months. I know that this might not be the case, but I am not going to spend a fortune on bottles and such until I know I can’t – we will have some emergency bits in, and of course the hospital provide help if you need it, but if I am unable to feed for whatever reason, that’s what husband’s and Amazon Prime were invented for.

Take what you need, and what you need only. We have already made a fair dent in the list or at least planned when we’ll buy each thing, but that’s solely due to my need to be organised. I know people who had bought their pram at 12 weeks and others who left quite literally everything until they surpassed week 35. Every mother and every baby are different, and I am sure that there are items on this list I may never use, and that some may deem as pointless, but this is mine and I hope it provides you with some sort of assistance!

So without further ado, here is my newborn checklist for my October bambino!

ESSENTIAL ITEMS

Clothing

We are personally buying a range of sizes from newborn through to size 9-12 months

Daytime onesies
Sleepsuits
Vests
Outfits (few 0-3 months, mainly 3 months and beyond)
Jacket/Coat
Hats
Scratch Mittens
Pram Suit/Fleece Suit
Stroller Blankets
Bibs
Muslins
Socks
Laundry Detergent – Non-Bio (Baby Friendly)

Nursery

Furniture for the nursery can be bought at a later date if you intend on following advice and having baby sleep in your room for the first 6 months, but we have decided to have the nursery ready so we have less jobs to do once baby arrives!

Cot Bed
Chest of Drawers
Wardrobe
Next To Me Crib (for our room)
Mattresses (Cot & Crib if do not come with!)
Waterproof Fitted Sheets
Changing Mats (3 – downstairs, upstairs, spare)
Swaddles
Sleeping Bags (Autumn/Winter & Spring/Summer Togs)
Curtains
Nursery Decor/Accessories

Hygiene & Health

Nappies (different brands to trial & error with baby’s skin, enough for first 8 weeks stocked up!)
Baby Wipes (as above)
Nappy Cream
Caddy (to store nappies etc in different rooms!)
Baby Bath/Baby Bath Support
Baby Shampoo/Body Wash
Hooded Baby Towels (2-3)
Bath Sponge
Baby Lotion
Baby Nail Clippers
Baby Thermometer
Cradle Cap Brush
Nasal Aspirator

Feeding

This is based on my personal hope to exclusively breastfeed, feeding items can be found in the non-essential list. They may be essential for you if you have chosen not to BF.

Nursing Pads
Nipple Shields

Transport

Pram/Pushchair
Car Seat
Baby Carrier/Sling (or both if you plan to baby wear!)

NON-ESSENTIAL ITEMS

Moses Basket/Mattress & Sheets (we have opted for a moses basket too to keep downstairs!)
Nursing Chair  (not a huge essential as baby will be in our room for the first 6 months at least but does provide a nice area in the nursery to feed if you want it)
Nappy Bin  (I am personally unsure on this one, lots of people say they’re essential and lots say they’re a waste of money, so definitely a personal choice)
White Noise Machine/Ewan the Sheep (we have opted for a white noise machine to hopefully help baby sleep!)
Dummies (definitely a personal choice, up for debate!)
Baby Powder e.g. Talc (many people love to use this but others are concerned due to research showing such things could be harmful, we have a bottle stocked which I use so personally so it’s not a necessary purchase per se!)
Bottles
Breast Pump
Milk Storage Bags
Baby Swing/Bouncer
Play Mat
Night Light/Room Thermometer
Simple Toys e.g. teddys etc

ITEMS FOR MUM POST-PARTUM

Nursing Bras
Nursing Tops
Maternity Pads (& Bridget Jones pants you’re willing to throw away!)
Nipple Cream (if breastfeeding!)
‘Spritz For Bits’ or other Perineal Spray
Batch Cooked Meals
Support Pillow for Breastfeeding (your pregnancy pillow may work! I have the BellaMoon which splits into 4 parts for this reason)
A Cupboard FULL of Yorkshire Tea (and someone on hand to make it!!)

I haven’t included a machine steriliser as I have read that these aren’t always particularly safe, so do your research, but you’ll need some kind of steriliser too!

I hope this list has proven to be super helpful for you and has at least given you a little bit of inspo for your own ‘newborn checklist’ – I’m finding it a total mixture of extremely fun and exciting, and absolutely overwhelming, so it’s certainly helped me having something to tick off and focus on as we go!

I’ll update you all once bambino has arrived on how much I actually used, and how much was a total waste of time.

What’s on your list? Is there anything I’ve not included that you think I really should have? Let me know!

Keep up to date by following me on Instagram here. Make sure you listen to our podcast – ‘Am I Ovary Acting with Amber and Annabel’ wherever you get your podcasts, listen on Spotify here!

The Anxieties Of Pregnancy After IVF

I had dreamt of this day for years. Ever since I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to be a Mum. I knew that I wanted a large family; I’ve spoken many times of my initial desire to have a brood of 6, to circle my life around my growing family and live the dream I had curated in my head. I never anticipated the struggle we would endure to get there, and yet throughout the whole process, I never quite gave up on the hope that one day I would see those two positive lines on a pregnancy test.

I hadn’t expected our third cycle of IVF to work. We had changed almost everything about our cycle, from the supplements we took, our lifestyle and our outlooks, to the clinic and the medication and the methods. I think ultimately, I had just lost faith in the process, and yet I felt more positive about this cycle than I had any other. My husband and I had one goal, and that goal was frozen embryos. Frozen embryos were something we had never achieved before, and as we were so sure this wouldn’t work, we knew that frozen embryos meant we could try a few more times. Whilst we hadn’t necessarily said it out loud and set it in stone, we both knew that this would be our last shot at a fresh cycle. The funds were drying up, our patience was wearing thin, and we knew that we couldn’t keep enduring the same heartbreak. And so, the morning of the 30th January 2022, seeing those two strong positive lines appear on the test in bright pink dye is a feeling I will never quite forget.

I had always expected that after our positive had appeared, we would feel as though we were riding a wave of euphoria; we would be walking on a cloud in a bubble separate from the world. Him, me, and our little baby growing inside of me. I would feel instantly connected and full of a love that so many people described to me as like no other. I expected my years of infertility trauma, the years of anxious waiting and disappointment to feel like a distant memory and instead for the first time in many years, to be looking to the future with nothing but sheer excitement. I was wrong.

4 days after we tested, I had to travel to London for a blood test to confirm the pregnancy was progressing. Immediately after booking, I was counting down the hours. I sat by my phone the entire afternoon after watching the blood seep out of my arm and into a vial that ultimately would make or break me a few hours later. Being told everything was perfect was something I wasn’t used to, and whilst I was relieved to hear it, I was immediately then counting down the hours to my scan. Usually with IVF pregnancies, you would have a scan around the 6-week mark, but we couldn’t get a scan on a date that both I and my husband could attend so we had to wait an extra week. That for me was an impossible task, and so we agreed to book a private scan locally at 6 weeks 4 days on our lunch breaks.

The worst part of the wait is the symptom spotting. I was seemingly having a little bit of everything; there was no doubt my sense of smell was that of the canine unit at Gatwick Airport, and my lower back was hurting constantly, I was having strange dreams and falling asleep on the sofa at 8:30pm, but I was increasingly infuriated at the fact I wasn’t being sick, I wasn’t put off my food and the smell of my husband’s coffee in the morning wasn’t quite making me gag. I was convincing myself every day that something was wrong. I knew at this stage most symptoms would be the sheer volume of progesterone medication I was taking, but I wanted something.
We walked into our scan with pits in our stomach, feeling certain that once again things wouldn’t be straight forward for us. I will remember that scan for the rest of my life, for two reasons. Firstly, because due to my history of having nothing but internal scans throughout this entire process, I started taking off my pants for the sonographer to be rather horrified and assure me that she could in fact do this externally… (although both my 7- and 9-week scans did require an internal scan!), and secondly, because it was the first time we saw our baby’s heart flickering on the screen. I let out a sob that of the moment we saw our positive line – it was there, our baby, a tiny little flicker of life inside of me; a combination of mine and my husband’s DNA; the baby we had longed for, for so long.

My 7-week scan was the same; I would relax for approximately 48 hours afterwards and instantly start convincing myself something was wrong. I would have cramping in my abdomen and I would try to convince myself it was simply my uterus expanding, after all it was rapidly growing, and yet the voice inside my head would convince me that it was all about to come crashing down. I dreaded going to the toilet, creating a fear of seeing blood when I wiped. Still as I write this at 10 weeks and 4 days pregnant, I check every single time. I didn’t start to settle until I was actively being sick at around 8 weeks. I have been incredibly lucky with sickness (although considering I longed for it as a means of reassurance, I reckon rather unlucky), having only had the odd bout here and there, often in the morning when I’m hungry. The tiredness has ramped up and the backache is still there, the sense of smell means my husband has had to change his aftershave and I have no tolerance for cheesy feet, but it still wasn’t enough for me to be sure everything was okay. The 3 days prior to my 9-week scan were the worst; I spent three days sobbing whilst my husband was at work, I couldn’t cope with how anxious I was feeling and why I couldn’t just relax and believe this was happening to me.

In a means to try and make it feel more real, at our 9-week scan after seeing our little one look slightly more like a baby and having been discharged from our clinic, we decided to announce our pregnancy.  I would shortly be coming off my medication and my body would be doing this all on its own; I knew that it would bring new anxieties, and so I knew I needed to be able to speak.
We knew it was early to a lot of people, but I was desperate for it to feel like it was happening. I was desperate to be able to talk about it more openly, to be able to speak to other people who had been in my shoes and could offer me the reassurance I needed. I have to say, it did make a difference. And whilst I still feel like I am living someone else’s life, and whilst I feel as though any moment someone is going to pinch me and tell me to wake up, I am starting to relax and allow myself to believe this is real.

I still feel like a fraud; speaking to my midwife to book my appointments felt nothing but bizarre, and the imposter syndrome is on a whole new level. I have bought nothing but some second-hand maternity dungarees (£2 on Vinted, would you believe it?!), and I am terrified of buying so much as a pair of scratch mittens. I’ll get there, slowly but surely.

I wonder if it will ever truly sink in that it’s real; whether I’ll look down at my bump and feel like it’s really my bump; whether it’ll be the moment I feel that first kick, or see my belly move with the baby’s thump, or whether it never will and even when they arrive, I will still be in total shock that it ever really happened. But right now, I am pregnant, and every day I will continue to stroke my bloat that I await becoming a bump and tell myself I was made to do this.

I can do this, and I am ready for this.

Time To Stop – Deciding To Move On From Infertility (Guest Blogs)

The most difficult part of my infertility struggle wasn’t the miscarriages I endured or the failure to become pregnant each month. Believe it or not, it was accepting an involuntary childless life.

I knew it was time to close the door on trying to conceive when my mental health hit rock bottom. After ten years of non-stop IVF treatments, the medication became more intense, causing severe anxiety – I was at an all-time low. Over the years it felt as though my husband and I had wasted thousands of pounds only to keep getting IVF fails! Deep-down, I knew we were heading towards a childless path when two rounds of banked egg didn’t pass the stress test after thawing. It meant more money down the drain, including our hopes and dreams of becoming parents. How on earth could we justify spending more money on further treatment? Wishing and praying the next time worked, we gave it one last shot. Hooray, the test was positive! Unfortunately, the joy was short-lived and my path to motherhood was permanently over when my final pregnancy ended in early miscarriage. It was the start of a very different life.

These were the main reasons for stopping, but not the only ones. The isolation hit so deep it scared me. For years I’d avoided people for fear of comments such as, “when you having a baby?”. I would dread social spaces because I’d feel like the elephant in the room and I couldn’t bear to be surrounded by those who’d say throw away comments, for instance, “just relax” or “pray harder”- people who didn’t know what living with infertility felt like a day in their life! In these moments I felt so alone and excluded. The final notch on the infertility belt was when the pain of ‘trying’ became harder than the pain of ‘letting go’ – aka, ‘giving up’. I really didn’t like who I was becoming on this journey and concluding that I could no longer live like this: It was infertility or me, and I chose me!

The transition to a childless life was a painful one and I approached my path to healing from many different angles. Therapy, coaching, faith and self-help played a huge part in my recovery. It took an enormous amount of work (as much effort as I ploughed into trying to conceive) to get to a place of contentment. Finally, I began to live a life I enjoy. I no longer feel the need to justify what my ‘plan B’ looks like, a very different attitude to when I first embraced childlessness – growth! I’m often asked if I experience moments of grief. Absolutely, is the truthful answer, but that doesn’t mean I can’t thrive in the life I’ve been given and fortunately, these painful thoughts don’t take up the space they used to. My eureka moment appeared during the healing process, this led me to quite literally quit my day job and begin mindbodyrevival_coach The aim when starting this was to provide 1:1 support to those who’ve been on a similar journey to my own.

If your infertility story is about to end without a baby, I want you to know there is hope and that a life without children can be equally fulfilling. You can search the hashtags #embracingchildless #childlessnotbychoice for community. There are many of us already treading this path, so wherever you find yourself, you’re welcome here.

Aisha is a certified Coach and the founder of mindbodyrevival_coach she also writes and speaks about the impact of being involuntary childless when the journey to parenthood ends without a baby. To find out more go to: www.mindbodyrevivalcoach.com or follow @mindbodybodyrevival_coach on Instagram

15 years ago when I met my husband, I had it all planned out… house, marriage, kids, dog. I never once thought I would have to compromise on one of those things. And yet here we are 15 years later; 7 years trying to conceive and 2 failed IVF cycles later, I’m not sure I have come to terms with being childless, but it’s a decision I knew we had to make.

After the last IVF cycle where yet again, we had no embryos to freeze and just one low quality to transfer, I had convinced myself as we were paying privately, it would work. So, we agreed this would be our last cycle because we couldn’t afford another and mentally it was taking its toll. I agreed because I still had hope, I still thought this cycle would work and I would get 2 in the freezer for later. It’s funny what you agree to when you think it’s something that won’t happen, but the moment we had our negative test and it was confirmed the embryo hadn’t taken, the reality set it.

I knew it was time to move on; I had spent the majority of my 20s and half of my 30s focused on trying to conceive. I was mentally drained and physically bruised; I wanted my life back.

It was only 7 months ago; I feel okay about it, but I still have days where I am angry, frustrated, and feel “why me”. I am slowly learning to live with the decision we’ve made, but I don’t think I’ll ever quite come to terms with it. Why should I? It is a decision I should never have to make; having babies is natural… right?

Over time, I’m getting mentally stronger and learning to cope, knowing I can’t live another 7 years in the same cycle for something that isn’t guaranteed.

Joanne Parry – @joanneclaireparry

Keep up to date by following me on Instagram here. Make sure you listen to our podcast – ‘Am I Ovary Acting with Amber and Annabel’ wherever you get your podcasts, listen on Spotify here!

Coping With The Anxiety of Another IVF Failure

It’s funny really, how you never expect to be one of the statistics. I never expected to be part of the 1 in 6 couples who struggle to conceive. If I’m honest, even three years into trying, until the words ‘You can’t conceive without IVF’ came out of my surgeon’s mouth, I never quite believed we were even ‘struggling’. I managed to convince myself that things happened when they were meant to, and it just wasn’t yet our time. Once our IVF ‘journey’ had started, I had no reason to believe it wouldn’t work first time. I knew on average it took 3 attempts, and yet I still managed to believe it wouldn’t happen to me. Now, as I hear my daily alarms ringing that same awful beeping, reminding me to take the tablets to start my cycle, I’m plagued with a whole host of new emotions that I’m trying to navigate.

Having two cycles of IVF fail has tested me in numerous ways. From the toxic positivity of people (who albeit come from a good place and are trying to be helpful) telling me that everything happens for a reason, that it will happen eventually and to ‘just keep trying’; the days of grief and wondering what could have been; the first period withdrawing from the medication; the would be due dates; the rest of the world just carrying on like normal when I felt as though the entirety of mine was crashing down around me, to the days where I wondered whether I wanted to go down this route again at all. We knew in our hearts as our second cycle failed just days into the very first U.K lockdown that we needed to take a break. The lockdown if anything gave us an even better excuse to do that; the clinics were closed and it gave us time to grieve our losses privately, without the questions. I didn’t have to fluster and panic at being spoken to about it, I didn’t have to nod and smile as another friend or family member gave me their well wishes, instead, I could return a phone call 2 hours later and have the conversations when I felt good and ready.

Now, nearly 20 months later, we’re back in the saddle and this time it has felt like a totally different experience. Initially, I blamed this on the fact we were with a whole new clinic. The protocol is totally different, it’s much more intense and there have been an endless number of changes. The staff themselves have filled me with nothing but confidence, and from the very beginning of our communication with them, I have felt like anything but a number.  I have been positive from the very first moment we discussed my protocol; throughout the last year and a half, we have endured thousands of pounds worth of tests; we have a much more solid diagnosis and as a result, the cards on the table are much clearer. I have found no reason why this time, it shouldn’t be different; why I couldn’t be pregnant in the very near future, and why at the very least we couldn’t have some embryos in the freezer waiting for transfer.

It was only two nights ago that I lay in bed tossing and turning, with the stark realisation that despite the change in protocol, despite the new clinic and despite the nutritional changes, the new supplements and every test and diagnosis we’ve gained, it could still not work. Had I once again let my mind run away with me? Had all the talk with my parents of how next Christmas we could have a very tiny baby joining us at the dinner table jinxed us? Had my Grandma telling me she had a ‘tingling’ been enough to send the universe into a frenzy, and in fact had I manifested desperation instead of ‘I am ready’? No matter how much I want it, no matter how much I torment myself with jinxing and manifestations, the hardest part of IVF is that sometimes, it simply falls down to luck. Whilst the average may be 1 in 3, the downfall to being active within the ‘infertility community’ is that you become painfully aware of every outcome. You are aware of couples with similar stories to your own embarking on their 6th, 7th, 8th or even 9th transfer, couples who have become 1 in 3 but have sadly lost their pregnancies before their scans, those whose pregnancies have continued, but no further than 12 weeks, couples for whom it just never worked. For me, I maintain the hope that it will, and I maintain the belief that one day I will have my child in my arms, and yet as the medication causes my body to feel tired, my emotions to run high and my skin to resemble that of a teenager, I find myself laying awake late at night wondering whether it will ever be worth it.

I truly believe it would be unusual to go into IVF feeling no anxiety at all, whilst I do feel that this time the anxieties are less so than previously. This time, although I feel there is more pressure, with every cycle feeling like we are getting further away from our happy ending than closer to, I do know more. Knowledge, in my mind, is power. I know how to do the injections, I know that for the most part I enjoy them, I enjoy the element of control. I know how to prepare my body, what to pack for my egg collection and my transfer, and what to expect every time I step foot in the clinic. The anxieties of the unknown are gone, but the anxieties of the outcome remain stronger than ever.

I have learnt to cope with many things along this ride, from pregnancy announcements and seeing friends grow their families, to baby showers and questions from strangers about my family situation as small talk. Yet, learning to cope with the anxieties of another failure is a different kettle of fish entirely. Everything else you can somewhat separate yourself from. You can appreciate that people aren’t asking to be cruel, people are finding a quick common denominator and “Have you got kids?” over the table at a wedding is miles more simple and easier to generalise than “Are you a Fleetwood Mac fan?”. You can understand that you would never wish the pain of infertility on a friend, that there isn’t finite numbers of pregnancies and baby showers, and one more doesn’t mean one less for you.

All I have found I can do on this journey to cope with my fear of yet another failure, is to quite simply take one day at a time. I have no control and learning to accept that has been the biggest peacemaker in my life. I will do my very best with the tools that I have, but ultimately, if it does fail, I have no choice but to once again ride the wave. I have to process my grief, accept the outcome, and find a way to move forward. For now, if that means spending my evenings with a head in a book instead of scrolling on my phone where I’m liable to get lost in Pinterest baby showers, Dr Google and ‘is a twitchy eye a symptom of pregnancy’; long walks with the dog in the middle of nowhere with a podcast, or getting my ducks in a row by finally sorting out the admin cupboard, then so be it. Distraction is key, until it’s time to face the facts. And even then, my mantra will always be to take one day at a time. The sun may go down but it once again, must rise.

For now, we hope.

Keep up to date by following me on Instagram here. Make sure you listen to our podcast – ‘Am I Ovary Acting with Amber and Annabel’ wherever you get your podcasts, listen on Spotify here!

My Top 5 Books of 2021

2021 was the year we all expected normality to come crashing back in, we hoped for a year better than 2020, and yet it stormed by with as much turbulence and as much confusion as the former. Reading is something I find incredibly therapeutic; it helps me to escape my own mind no matter what’s happening in the real world and immerse myself into the depths of someone else’s. Throughout the year, I have shared on Instagram my own personal reviews of the books I’ve read, from the ones I’ve loved and struggled to finish. So, without further ado, here are my top 5 books I read in 2021!

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links which means that if you order one of these books using my link, I may earn a small percentage in commission.

SMALL PLEASURES – CLARE CHAMBERS

1957, the suburbs of South East London. Jean Swinney is a journalist on a local paper, trapped in a life of duty and disappointment from which there is no likelihood of escape.

When a young woman, Gretchen Tilbury, contacts the paper to claim that her daughter is the result of a virgin birth, it is down to Jean to discover whether she is a miracle or a fraud.

As the investigation turns her quiet life inside out, Jean is suddenly given an unexpected chance at friendship, love and – possibly – happiness.

But there will, inevitably, be a price to pay.

In Clare Chambers’ novel ‘Small Pleasures’, I truly felt like I had been transported back to 1957 (as though I was ever there…). Often with books that are set in a different era, the dialogue reflects the language that would have been used rather than the entire novel itself, and yet throughout the whole of Small Pleasures, I felt as though I was listening to my Grandma tell a story. The book has a clear focus and Chambers has a real ability to vividly describe the most dull imagery, such as the ‘porridge-coloured doilies’, leading you to picture the brown and beige, tobacco stained home with such clarity. The book kept you guessing right until the end, with enough of a twist to keep the page turning, without the eyebrow raising ending it could have quite easily succumbed to.

Buy Small Pleasures HERE

NORMAL PEOPLE – SALLY ROONEY

Marianne is the young, affluent, intellectual wallflower; Connell is the boy everyone likes, shadowed by his family’s reputation and poverty. Unlikely friends, and later lovers, their small town beginnings in rural Ireland are swiftly eclipsed by the heady worlds of student Dublin. Gradually their intense, mismatched love becomes a battleground of power, class, and the falsehoods they choose to believe.

I was incredibly late to the party with Normal People, both in terms of the book and the series. I remember when everyone first started watching the series and spoke so highly of it, yet I refused to watch it until I’d read the book. I was so glad I did. Whilst the series itself I thought was beautiful, the book was a different level altogether. Rooney’s style of writing is worlds apart from the average novel and certainly takes some adjusting to, yet it’s delicate, witty and often surprisingly graphic. I felt Normal People was very ‘tumblr-esque’, and somewhat glamourised the troubled indie teenagers, and I found myself both adoring the characters and being frustrated at the communication between them. I was totally and utterly engrossed, feeling absolutely engulfed by the ‘will they, won’t they’ love story. It lacks the rose-tinted glasses of a youthful love affair, highlighting the way we float in and out of love and lives, leaving you feeling unanimously uncomfortable and full of pleasure.

Buy Normal People HERE

AMERICAN DIRT – JEANINE CUMMINS

Lydia Perez owns a bookshop in Acapulco, Mexico, and is married to a fearless journalist. Luca, their eight-year-old son, completes the picture.  But it only takes a bullet to rip them apart.

In a city in the grip of a drug cartel, friends become enemies overnight, and Lydia has no choice but to flee with Luca at her side. North for the border… whatever it takes to stay alive. The journey is dangerous – not only for them, but for those they encounter along the way. Who can be trusted? And what sacrifices is Lydia prepared to make.

A book has never impacted me to the extent of American Dirt. A true page turner filled with nothing but suspense, my heart ached for Lydia and Luca from the second I started reading. I felt scared with every page and it is the longest it has ever taken me to read a book – I contemplated stopping reading so many times, not because the book was anything short of impeccable, but because it filled me with such a dread that given all the happenings in the world right now, it felt too real. I found it truly difficult to read, and yet it is a book I recommend everyone reads. The lasting impact is immense, and I think about this story at least once a week. American Dirt is so far from my usual choice of genre, and yet it was everything I could possibly hope for in a book. A book that everyone needs to read at least once.

Buy American Dirt HERE

ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE – MIKE GAYLE

Hubert Bird is not alone in being alone. He just needs to realise it.

In weekly phone calls to his daughter in Australia, widower Hubert Bird paints a picture of the perfect retirement, packed with fun, friendship and fulfilment. But Hubert Bird is lying.

The truth is day after day drags by without him seeing a single soul. Until, that is, he receives some good news – good news that in one way turns out to be the worst news ever, news that will force him out again, into a world he has long since turned his back on.

Now Hubert faces a seemingly impossible task: to make his real life resemble his fake life before the truth comes out.

Along the way Hubert stumbles across a second chance at love, renews a cherished friendship and finds himself roped into an audacious community scheme that seeks to end loneliness once and for all…

Life is certainly beginning to happen to Hubert Bird. But with the origin of his earlier isolation always lurking in the shadows will he ever get to live the life he’s pretended to have for so long?

Mike Gayle, in All the Lonely People, has created a beautifully moving story with a hugely diverse array of characters. Gayle has combined each of the character’s modern realities, from the life of a young single mother, a young Latvian man making his way in London, and the life of a black widower who made England his home as part of the Windrush generation. It’s a story that made me both laugh and cry, a true rollercoaster of every emotion. It was a real story, it felt close to home, and it was engaging from beginning to end. It is a story that focuses on loneliness, mental health, friendship, hope, and how family doesn’t stop with blood connection, but family can in fact be those you choose to spend your time with. It’s a genuinely heart-warming book that I could read repeatedly.

Buy All The Lonely People HERE

DOLLY ALDERTON – GHOSTS

Nina Dean has arrived at her early thirties as a successful food writer with loving friends and family, plus a new home and neighbourhood. When she meets Max, a beguiling romantic hero who tells her on date one that he’s going to marry her, it feels like all is going to plan.

A new relationship couldn’t have come at a better time – her thirties have not been the liberating, uncomplicated experience she was sold. Everywhere she turns, she is reminded of time passing and opportunities dwindling.
Friendships are fading, ex-boyfriends are moving on and, worse, everyone’s moving to the suburbs. There’s no solace to be found in her family, with a mum who’s caught in a baffling mid-life makeover and a beloved dad who is vanishing in slow-motion to dementia.

Without a shadow of a doubt, Ghosts is my favourite book I read in 2021. It is possibly the most relatable book I’ve ever read, with every single character speaking to my soul in one way or another. From the realisation that your parents are ageing and the fact that they too are human and not just your parents, the change in relationships as our friends reach different points in their lives, from marriage, to work and children, and the ways in which our lives just seem to be a mission to tick boxes, I fell in love with Ghosts during the very first chapter. Dolly Alderton has a marvellous talent and I have maintained ever since I turned the final page that this is a book that every millennial woman needs to read.

Buy Ghosts HERE

I’ve got my Waterstones points saved up to make some 2022 read purchases (I am still to read Where The Crawdads Sing, and The Thursday Murder Club; certainly some catching up to do!), but I’m excited to explore the literature entering our orbit over the next 12 months.

What are your favourite books you’ve read this year?

Love, Amber x

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The Endometrial Scratch: My Experience

When going through fertility treatment, it’s fair to say that you will explore any option that’s given to you. You reach a new level of somewhat desperation, willing anything to work and willing to give anything a try. Furthermore, when you enter the territory of multiple cycles, I’ve found that willingness can go one of two ways; you’re eager to try almost anything to help improve your chances of success and reduce your chance of needing to go through the whole rigmarole again, and yet, you become somewhat reluctant to try certain things because those sold to you before in which you invested so much hope, simply failed you.

For me, one of those things I was unsure about was an endometrial scratch. An endometrial scratch is a procedure that has been around predominantly for little over a decade and is one that still has rather varying research and evidence to prove its success. With a likeness to a smear test, an endometrial scratch involves your womb lining being scratched/scraped at a particular point in your cycle, usually around day 16-23. It is often recommended to women who have had previous failed implantation in IVF. It is suggested that the scratching a reaction in the womb, causing chemicals and hormones to be released to help the uterus repair itself, aiding implantation (Your IVF Journey).

The HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority), who regulate fertility treatment in the UK, have a traffic light system on their website which exists to rate “add-ons” based on the controlled research presented. Endometrial Scratching is rated as ‘Amber’, which means there is conflicting evidence from randomised controlled trials.

An endometrial scratch had never been suggested to me before, however, I am a strong believer in knowledge being power, and so the IVF process and all the potential add-ons were something that I had researched to an extent that I imagine some would view as borderline obsessive. Endometrial scratches were something I had long heard of, and yet my clinic had never broached the subject. However, in the world of social media, I have seen and heard of so many experiences and an endometrial scratch is one that had a whole wealth of mixed opinions. Many said it was excruciatingly painful; others said it caused nothing more than a mild cramping. There were people who swore it was the reason their treatment had worked; others had successful cycles but couldn’t be confident it wouldn’t have worked without the scratch; a few had said it didn’t make the slightest difference and it wasn’t worth the time. As we started the preparations for my third cycle with a new clinic and a whole new protocol, it’s something the clinic suggested pretty quickly, and one I accepted with little reluctance. Prior to the clinic suggesting it, I’d always shrugged it off, insisting I’d never try any add-ons that weren’t rated ‘green’ by the HFEA. When push came to shove, ultimately, I was willing to give it everything I had, and if my treatment failed and I had refused, I knew I’d pinpoint the lack of scratching as the reason why.

My scratch was scheduled for day 18 of my cycle and I was full of nerves for a multitude of reasons. I was unsure whether or not it was going to hurt, my husband wasn’t allowed in to hold my hand (another thing I have to thank COVID for…), and we knew that this meant that we were well and truly back on the road. I had been taking norethisterone (a progestin medication used in birth control and menopausal hormone therapy, which stops uterine bleeding, allowing clinics to time a period) for 4 days as my cycle has been medicated, meaning the clinic know pretty much to the day when my cycle will start, so the scratch wouldn’t be wasted by my uterus not playing ball. Norethisterone is far from fun for me, causing me to be irritable and emotional with the skin of a 14-year-old, and so I was already a bag of fatigued emotion without my uterus being scored like a sausage roll. I arrived in the pristine white clinic and my nurse, who is nothing but lovely, introduced herself yet again and explained everything that came with it; how the procedure happened, what it did, why it was being done, and the aftercare. The clinic were always very clear that it may not work; for some people it’s beneficial but there is nothing to suggest it will definitely be the case for me, but given our history, they thought it was worth a trial.

I lay there with my legs in the stirrups as my incredibly tall consultant inserted the speculum. Unfortunately for me, I’m 5ft2, so it meant the bed had to be tilted rather significantly to give the Doctor ‘easy access’ to my cervix. There’s nothing like feeling like you’re about to slide backwards, headfirst down a bed whilst someone peers into your vagina, that’s for sure. It took a little while to get the catheter and the ‘scratching device’ into my uterus; a few problematic corners that didn’t want to play ball, and at this point it was rather uncomfortable. I had a nurse to my left talking to me about the scan I had the week before, telling me how well I was doing, and generally putting her soothing voice to good use. The scratch itself lasted likely less than a minute… it was painful. I had taken 2 paracetamols about 45 minutes beforehand which I do think helped, but it did feel like a bad period pain and most definitely far from natural. Being a woman who loves nothing more than feeding her stomach, I distracted myself by insisting every medical professional in the room told me in great detail what they had for tea the night before. It was a useful tactic, and before I knew it, I was laying flat with no foreign objects in my uterus.

The aftercare was relatively simple; I had 4 antibiotics to take later that day and another in the form of a pessary that needed inserting rectally before bed (not fun). I wasn’t allowed any baths for a couple of days, showers only and only water, no body wash or anything other than pure water near the vagina for the next few days. This included unprotected sex, although from day 1 of my cycle (known as the preparation month, the month before active treatment begins) I had to ensure that any sex was protected, so this wasn’t new. I was rather uncomfortable for the rest of the day; I felt absolutely exhausted and spent the afternoon with a blanket and my book, experiencing nothing more than mild cramping. Within 24 hours, I had forgotten I’d even had it.

Whether or not it pays off is currently anyone’s guess, but for the sake of a 30-minute procedure that was relatively straightforward, with really nothing more than a short-lived discomfort, for me it was worth the shot.

Only time will tell.

The Calm During The Storm: Staying Sane When TTC

I don’t remember exactly when trying to conceive became my entire life; I quite often try and pinpoint where I spiralled. When did ovulation sticks, and basal body thermometers become part of my daily routine; when did pregnant women become a thing to avoid and baby showers the equivalent to putting a hand in a blender? When I look back over the last six and a half years, I’m not sure when I crossed the bridge into the murky territory, but I do know that keeping my head above the dirty water has been tough.

On Sunday, I joined The Fertility Show for their first online summit for a chat about staying sane when trying to conceive. I was joined by the incredible Becky Kearns (@definingmum) and Noni Martins (@unfertility), as we sat and discussed our fertility and IVF journeys. I never thought I would get so much joy from talking about my faulty reproductive system, but there is something deeply comforting about knowing that your story resonates with other people whilst listening to their story resonating with you. I can honestly say the primary thing that has kept me sane over the last few years has been talking; sharing my story and hearing the stories of others has been nothing short of liberating.

I told the world I was infertile approximately 4 hours after I found out myself; I had come home from my laparoscopy, still really rather high on painkillers and coming down from anaesthetic, cried into my Dominos pizza (that I had been advised not to get after anaesthetic but, what’s a girl to do when the world has come crashing down around her?), and told everyone on Facebook to stop asking me when I was having children, because it wasn’t going to happen. Sometimes I look back and cringe at the hanging of my laundry so publicly, and yet in the same breath, I know that if I hadn’t done it in that very moment, I may never have done so.

It’s only now as I head into my third cycle of IVF that I truly realise how much talking has saved me, and how far I have come since that day. I regularly make people uncomfortable with how openly I’ll talk about my uterus and my husband’s sperm, but the taboo surrounding infertility is still rife and I refuse to play a part in that. Without talking, nothing changes, and I cannot be part of a community where it feels like we are regularly misunderstood and do nothing to try and change that.

I cope with my infertility in a manor of ways; I bake brownies with an obscene amount of sugar, I read fiction novels that transport me to a world different to my own, where I can escape and find joy in the words of someone else. I plan a life in a tiny cottage with a big garden, wisteria, and magnolia trees, where I drink tea and wine and eat pasta at my French patio table with numerous dogs at my drooling waiting for leftovers. It has been essential in my healing and in my growth that I become as in love with the life I could have without children as I am with my dream of becoming a mother.

Infertility rips you in two and it consumes you in every way it could, from what you eat to what you drink, to your sex life and the way you spend your money. It creeps into your home and invades every safe space you have; it creeps into your kitchen and lines your baking trays making you wish you were baking the cake for your child’s first birthday instead of comfort food for your head. It appears in the steam on your bathroom window as you soak in a bath so hot it makes your head light, imagining what your pregnant belly would look like as the water caresses your stomach. It’s the silence in the spare bedroom; the mouthful of hot coffee that you secretly wish had gone cold whilst you tended to a newborn. It doesn’t have to be the end.

Communication opens up the dialogue, it’s key to explaining why your heart hurts so much; why you’re so happy for your friend and her pregnancy and yet feeling so sad inside; why you can’t face your colleague’s baby shower and if you have another maternity leave collection shoved in your face, you might just have a breakdown. How you cope with infertility is a personal thing, but one thing I’ve learnt in my almost 7 years is that having that outlet is a vital tool to get through.

I can’t change my circumstances, but whilst I ride this wave of uncertainty, finding a way to breathe is the only way I can make it out alive.

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How to Make the BEST Super Slutty Caramel Brondies

Hi, my name is Amber and I am a chocoholic.

I have been a self-proclaimed chocoholic for as long as I can remember; I have never and will never relate to those individuals who tell me they don’t like it. If I’m really honest with myself, it’s more of a sugar addiction than a chocolate addiction. Whilst I truly believe that chocolate is the top tier flavour and nothing quite beats a large bar of Dairy Milk when PMS takes hold of me, I love anything sweet, and anything that means the nutrition information on the packaging is solid red.

My love for sweet has developed more recently into a love for baking, something like many people I used to do every week with my Grandma. It always fills me with such a wholesome feeling of home. My Italian husband regularly calls me his English Rose because my ideal life would be that where I lived in a cosy cottage in the middle of the countryside, with a garden full of chickens (in theory, I’m actually petrified of the things – don’t ask me why), a wisteria front and multiple rose bushes, spending my evenings drinking wine with a Jane Austen classic after an afternoon filling the house with scents of warm shortbread and cinnamon rolls. There is something about baking I find so therapeutic, and I always find when you nail a recipe, the food almost tastes a million times better because you know that you’ve done that yourself.

Over recent months I have been baking more and more, delivering them every weekend to my family and friends for them to try. So far, my Grandma and father-in-law are my biggest fans, with my Dad beginning to look with sheer horror when I turn up with a box full of goods, not because they taste bad, but because he knows my bakes are not for the faint hearted. They are gooey, they are chocolatey, and girl… are they good.

Last weekend I played around with some staple recipes and created my very own version of the slutty brownie. I have seen many versions of the slutty brownie do the rounds on Instagram, with numerous incredible cake shops absolutely nailing them (yes, Wilma’s, I’m looking at you…), but I decided I wanted to step it up a gear… and so I did. I took inspiration from recipes by the incredible Jane Dunn (Jane’s Patisserie) and combined a couple of her recipes… with a twist.

You are about to be privy to the most wonderful slutty brondie (brownie and blondie) recipe you will ever get your hands on. Are you ready?

Now wash your mouth out, because I promise you these are the filthiest things you’ll ever experience. Introducing… the super slutty caramel brondie!

 

A FEW NOTES

  • You can eat these hot or cold. I initially made the mistake of cutting them to eat hot before leaving them to cool. Leave them to cool first, and then if you would like to experience one hot, heat it up. If you cut it before it’s set, you risk completely ruining the layers.
  • A blondie is traditionally a vanilla brownie and doesn’t have to have white chocolate in it. I prefer to add white chocolate as I feel it really makes it, but by all means go ahead without.
  • I personally wouldn’t advise you substitute the ingredients for low fat versions, it can mess with the consistency. Full fat is meant to be enjoyed.
  • I like to use Dairy Milk Caramel, Twix and Rolos, but you can swap these for any chocolates you want. I wanted these to be the ultimate caramel super slutty brondies and so it made sense, but you can personalise it and try different flavours however you want in their place.
  • I recommend serving with a hot cup of tea and sitting down with a good book (or an episode of Gilmore Girls), for the full, cosy, slutty experience.
  • I’ve created this recipe with a 10 x 10inch baking tray; if you don’t have a square tray, you could use a 9 x 11inch instead.
  • If you prefer a richer tase to your brownies, substitute the milk chocolate chips with dark chocolate chips. I chose milk chocolate as it is already a very heavy, sweet recipe that I didn’t want to make it too rich.
  • If you want to change it around, put the blondie layer at the bottom and the brownie at the top.

 

INGREDIENTS

For the blondies
250g unsalted butter
125g white granulated sugar
125g soft light brown sugar
3 eggs
1tsp vanilla extract
200g plain flour
150g white chocolate chunks

For the caramel centre
100g unsalted butter
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup
200g condensed milk (I buy the Carnations condensed milk and use half of it)
Pack of 4 Twix
Pack of 4 Rolos
Pack of 4 Dairy Milk Caramel

For the brownies
200g unsalted butter
200g dark chocolate
4 eggs
275g caster sugar
100g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
200g milk chocolate chips

THE RECIPE

  1. Start by preheating the oven to 180°C (160°C fan), and line a 10 x 10inch baking tin with greaseproof paper. If you don’t have any paper, you can grease it with vegetable oil, coconut oil, or butter/margarine.
  2. In a smaller bowl, melt the 200g unsalted butter and the 200g dark chocolate. You can do this in the microwave in 20 second bursts, ensuring you stir between each burst, or in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Once it has melted, leave it to cool to room temperature.
  3. Whisk together 4 eggs and 275g caster sugar for about 5 minutes. I advise using an electric whisker – you need to mixture to expand so it is light and fluffy. It should double thereabouts. If you are doing this by hand, it will take longer, so expect some graft!
  4. Fold in the buttery chocolate mixture, and gradually sift the 50g cocoa powder into the mixture, folding as you go.
  5. Add 100g plain flour, again folding gently. Add the milk chocolate chips here and fold through to create a nice brownie mix. Pour the brownie mix onto the parchment paper in your tin.
  6. Once you have an even brownie mixture in the pan, break up all 4 of the Twix bars (8 fingers) and place them gently across the top of the mixture. Use 2 of the Dairy Milk Caramel bars and do the same. Make sure you scatter them; they don’t need to be placed neatly. Leave the topped brownie mixture to the side whilst you continue. Wash up your mixing bowl to save you using another for the blondie mixture.
  7. Put 100g unsalted butter, 2 tbsp caster sugar, 2 tbsp golden syrup and 200g condensed milk into a medium sized saucepan over a medium heat and stir continuously.
  8. Once the sugar has dissolved, turn the heat up to high and using a whisk, stir continuously. You can expect to be stirring for around 6-8 minutes – it is really important that you continuously whisk to stop the mixture both burning and catching. The caramel gets extremely hot so please be careful as it can splash. Don’t be alarmed if it looks like there are golden bits appearing – it is the mixture caramelising and it will soon all be that colour.
  9. Once the caramel has thickened and it has created a lovely golden colour and has thickened up to a nice caramel consistency, pour on top of the blondie mixture. Once cooked, this will create a caramel layer similar to that of a Millionaire’s Shortbread, but with chocolate surprises!
  10. Using a wooden spoon, beat 250g melted butter, 125g white granulated sugar and the 125g soft light brown sugar. Add 1tsp vanilla extract and 3 eggs, and again beat until smooth.
  11. Gradually add the 200g plain flour, beating until combined. If you are adding white chocolate chips, fold them in gently at this point.
  12. Pour the blondie mix evenly on top of the warm caramel mixture. Top with 3 packs of Rolos and the remaining Dairy Milk Caramel pieces.
  13. Bake for 35-40 minutes. When you take it out of the oven it should have a slight wobble in the middle.
  14. Place the remaining Rolos gently on top. The bottoms will melt to stick on once it has set.
  15. Leave to cool to room temperature in the tin. Once it has reached room temperature, place the tin into the oven for at least 2 hours.
  16. Cut into 12 pieces (or more… or less! It’s your choice how big!) and serve.

 

Enjoy!

I really hope you love this recipe as much as me. It’s a real indulgent treat, but one I haven’t stopped thinking about ever since.

Trying it yourself? Make sure you take pictures of your bakes and tag me in your pictures on Instagram. You can find me at @amber.izzo.

Happy baking!

Love, Amber x

Keep up to date by following me on Instagram and subscribing to my YouTube channel.

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