"I had healthcare professionals warning me to take things easier and stick to walking to keep active. Even with the reading I had done, I began to question whether this would be detrimental to treatment outcomes."
I’ve been on both sides of the fertility treatment journey, first as a support for my partner, and then undergoing treatment myself. Being physically active has been a high priority of mine, because I know there are mental and physical health benefits, so I wanted to remain active throughout my fertility treatment journey.
Five years ago my partner, Lucy had IUI using donor sperm to have our first son. During her appointments it became clear that the healthcare professionals were unsure about what advice and guidance to offer when it came to physical activity. Lucy had both an unstimulated and then a stimulated cycle of IUI and it was interesting that both times she was advised to just rest, take it easy and avoid running. These comments led me to explore the literature on the topic and I was intrigued to find out more. This experience had a huge influence on me, it even led me to study for a PhD in this area.
After the birth of our son, Lucy and I decided it was time to start my fertility treatment to try for another child and we used the same sperm donor. Throughout the treatment I kept a workout log and a diary to track my physical activity levels. I decided to continue with my usual routine, and this included lifting weights in the gym 5-6 times a week.
It wasn't without its difficulties, I had healthcare professionals warning me to take things easier and stick to walking to keep active. Even with the reading I had done, I began to question whether this would be detrimental to treatment outcomes.
Unfortunately, as soon as I started my stimulation phase, the injections caused my stomach to become sore and I also experienced ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome symptoms, which meant I was unable to bend without discomfort. This progressed to me not even being able to walk and I ended up having my egg collection earlier than planned.
Following treatment, I asked whether it was safe to go back to the gym and was advised to wait at least two weeks. Another healthcare professional advised I could do arm exercises but no abdominal work. I wanted to keep active and my body moving to prepare myself for embryo transfer, but my body wasn't ready to have the fresh embryo transfer and I had to wait until I was fully recovered.
It was completely different for Lucy, during her treatment she continued to go for a run 3-4 times a week, despite the advice and guidance to stick to walking from healthcare professionals and parents. After a failed attempt the doubt seeped it and she began to question if being active was the right thing. She continued to run throughout the next attempt because we felt the physical and mental benefits were important.
Throughout my pregnancy I still wanted to remain as physically active as possible, but unfortunately during the first trimester my activity levels were at their lowest, due to a constant feeling of sickness. My gym visits became less frequent, and intensity was reduced until around 14 weeks when the sickness faded and I could pick them back up again. As my pregnancy progressed, I had to adapt a few exercises such as reclined leg press, because my bump was physically in the way. I also focused more on increasing the reps and sets as opposed to weight so that my body and mind was still benefiting from the activity, but I was no longer training with intention.
The most noticeable and obvious changes to my physical activity levels occurred at around 39 weeks when I began to prioritise light cardiovascular activities such as the stair master. I went on long walks and did fewer resistance-based exercises, with the hopes of helping the baby into position for birth and encouraging labour to start.
Once I reached my due date I was offered an induction, which I declined. I trusted my body, continued to be active every day and eventually I went on to give birth to my son at 41+6.