Sharing a Story: Sarah Tankel Ellis
Updated: Aug 13, 2018
Sarah kindly invited me to her house to talk all things fertility. A fashion stylist at ITV, Sarah also has a hugely successful fashion and lifestyle blog http://wearetwinset.com/
Sarah moved me with her calm resilience as she told me their tale. It was long and it was hard; but they had good times. They had great holidays, they made happy memories.
And – if you’ve tried standing on your head, eating nothing but lobsters and 300mg of spirulina every day to try and get a bun in the oven: Sarah’s done that too.
OK, not literally.
But she really left no stone unturned. She tried it all, she committed to it all and she emerged with some epic tales to tell. She speaks with such candour, honesty and acceptance of what happened to them, with such a centred, grounded connection to their story it’s impossible not to feel inspired.
We met at Sarah’s beautiful house. I met their gorgeous dog. We drank coffee and we talked and talked and… I’m just going to leave this here.
This is Sarah’s story.
It was about 4 and a half years ago that we started trying naturally (I can’t even remember if I was using the peeing sticks) but my husband thought there might be something wrong. So, we went for some tests and he had low motility, the movement of the sperm.
We carried on trying but nothing happened, so we went to see a doctor who was recommended by a friend.
We had more tests, but everything came back OK. There was a bit of a motility issue but nothing too serious. We didn’t do any other tests and we didn’t know much about lifestyle or anything like that at this point.
About a year after we started trying we had an IUI. It was disastrous. We should never have done it in the first place. When we got there, the sample was bad, and the doctor said, ‘I don’t think it’s going to work but let’s do it anyway’. Looking back – is it better to do it in a bad way? Or not at all? Probably not at all.
It didn’t work. Then my best friend was getting married in Mexico, so we thought, let’s go and have a fab holiday, have my 30th and start IVF when we get back.
We rushed into IVF. I think in this day and age you think, ‘I want it now, now, now’. We were able to do it privately, so we carried on with this doctor – again, we had no other tests. We had the first round of IVF and got a good number of eggs; a good number of embryos and a fresh embryo transfer straight after the cycle, but it didn’t work. We were devastated but it was early days. You don’t know what you’re getting into.
We had a second frozen embryo transfer which worked. I thought, oh it wasn’t even that bad, life’s great! We had no information after the positive test, no scans or blood tests. When we went for the 8 week scan they said: oh, it’s not there.
We were devastated. You paint the picture that everything’s alright. So, then I had a third embryo left and did that transfer: but it didn’t take.
With the injections; I don’t know what kind of picture I had but I always imagined it being really terrible and I didn’t know anyone that had gone through it – but I found it OK. I didn’t do them myself, my husband did them for me, but I think it’s just what the drugs make you feel like. Emotionally you feel very different to everyone else and everyone’s announcing pregnancies and you feel quite separated from people. But I didn’t find it terrible terrible…I didn’t feel great. But I’m not someone to dwell. I just try and get on with things.
I think we had a couple of months break and I had a uterine scratch which basically cut my insides open!
Then went for round 2 of IVF. I think I found the injections a little harder this time because I thought, I’ve got to do this again…why me… and it’s more time, but we got three embryos again. The fresh transfer didn’t work, the second one took but I miscarried again within 6 weeks – they put two in for that one. By then, obviously I wasn’t feeling good and I thought, I can’t go on doing this without any other information. I feel like I’m doing the same thing, and I’m not getting anywhere.
I hated putting drugs into my body, I never take medicine, I’m not that type of person. I’m quite healthy and I really hated it – I felt like I was abusing my body.
I went to see someone else. He was great. He said, I think you need to go back to basics, I’m going to send you to a miscarriage expert, a nutritionist, a sperm specialist. Let’s just take a pause and find out what the hell’s going on. I vowed I didn’t want to do it again, it was too hard. I didn’t feel it was the right route for us and I just needed to take some time.
So, we did all of that, we had chromosome tests to see if we were incompatible and everything was fine. We went to this amazing nutritionist, Melanie Brown (you can read my interview with Melanie here). Funnily enough, our diets were good – my husbands could have been a bit better – but it wasn’t even what he was eating… it was what he wasn’t eating. So, it was adding in all the fruit and veg, the nuts every day. We took some supplements and his levels really changed from that.
It was good advice and it just felt like we were doing positive things without taking loads of drugs – which I really liked.
It was another 6 months of scans- I think my lining was thin…but I just needed to get back to me before I went for anything again.
Then we said, let’s try IUI’s again. So, I had another 4 IUIs. I got pregnant on the third one but again miscarried within the 6 weeks.
I found that really hard because I knew that meant I would have to do IVF again and mentally I just thought, I’m not doing it again, not again, not again…
But throughout this time, I actually welcomed some really positive people into my life.
There’s a lady called Rachel in St Albans who is a reflexologist (I also did acupuncture but it was quite far, and I followed good advice Rachel gave me – do things that could help you, but if they hinder you and make you stressed because you’ve got to rush there after work, it’s not worth doing- and that really rung true with my acupuncture). So, reflexology I found really good. We did a lot of chatting and she was very spiritual and I felt that was a side of me that I needed to delve into a bit.
We did some tapping – I saw her a lot and I felt like I could call her, and she really became a big part of my support network. She gave me some books to read and I had a lot of meditation tracks. I found one on Spotify that was just positive affirmations and I found that just listening to those things, ‘it’s fine, it will happen, I can get pregnant, this is going to be my time’ I found that really helped. So, during that period I just tried to feel good about myself, because I realised I really hadn’t been.
We had a very strong marriage and we really had good times throughout. So, I really tried to get into a good head space. I also went to see a kinesiologist. She told me to cut out gluten and dairy because I was so allergic to gluten I would never get pregnant eating gluten (this was, like, a 900 year old woman in Essex) and I said, sure I’ll try anything. I felt that if someone told me something that would work, I’ll do it.
I mean I don’t know how much it worked…
I went to see another kinesiologist (that my Mum met at a random party…who didn’t eat gluten and she got pregnant and Mum thought it was meant to be, so I had to go and see this woman…!) so I went to see her. She agreed with the gluten and dairy thing, gave me loads of other supplements, but in the end, I found it was too much.
I took on the gluten and dairy thing which I still do now with the help of Mel Brown in a better routine. But it was good at the time to have another outlet, another avenue of information.
When you’re having IVF it’s very clinical, doctor-y. Some things complement it, but you’ve got to find out what works for you to go alongside it.
Another person I want to mention who I found was my missing key, it’s a bit weird…she’s called Julia Butwold and she is an osteopath and a spiritual healer. I was told that: “she cures the ions in your body”. Whatever that means. I was like – I’ll give it a go!
I really did everything and anything to help myself along the way.
I was just about to start the first round of IVF when I went to an appointment with her, and it was the weirdest thing that’s ever been done in my life, but what I got from it was incredible. I’ve subsequently probably sent about 20 people to her, not for fertility reasons, but whatever they’re going through and she’s changed everyone’s life!
She is an osteopath, but she has this spiritual energy, I don’t even know what it is. So, you go there, and she scans your body and she will do whatever your body is asking for. The first time I went there, I ‘spose I can share this…
She said that my uterus felt twisted, maybe from all of the procedures or whatever, so she worked at manipulating – not forcefully – but she kind of puts her hands over your body and goes *fast sniffs*….I’m not even joking!
She pulls your hair and does weird things around your body. My eyes were closed but she does what your body asks for -it’s very hard to explain!
Then, the second time she said there wasn’t a love connection between my heart and my uterus and she needed to take the pain and the loss out and feed it with love. She knows my husband, so she was putting love from him into my body and taking out the pain and the loss and the sadness.
Another time, she said I wasn’t grounded. This is something that Rachel also said. So, she ‘unravelled my roots’. For 20 minutes she was ‘unravelling’. She cries during this stuff, it’s bizarre.
I went to see Rachel, my reflexologist and before I’d even had a chance to tell her about it, she said, your feet feel so grounded. Reflexologists can tell so much from your feet!
The final time I saw her she was doing really crazy stuff, she put her finger in my mouth (with a glove!) and at the end, she said, “I just had an experience” and I said, what?
She said, you had a fertility curse on you from a past life. I said…right.
So, she said that her spirit guide took me to Africa. Into a tribe. I was taken in to a tent with an Elder Tribesman, who pierced my nose and lifted the curse and I held a baby in the air and everyone danced around me!
I think she was my missing key. When I told her I was pregnant (even though she knew already apparently) I told her she was the final piece of the puzzle. She lifted the curse and the energy was flowing.
It’s… not for everyone but I’ve always been interested in that kind of thing. Then she said, that’s it. Your work is done.
She also told me that I really needed to accept what had happened to me.
It was a massive part of it all. Massive. As much as I felt like all the things I’d done – a mindfulness course too, loads of stuff – and I was generally in quite a good place, she really wanted me to accept that it might not happen. That it might, but it also might not and that whatever happens it will be OK.
It took me a while to get that that was my journey and she really harped on about this acceptance thing which I knew I hadn’t done…she said I needed to apologise to my body for taking the pill for so many years and that I didn’t love my body enough, so I also did that.
She told me to go into a room and cry and get it all out, but I said to her and to Rachel- I can’t do it. I’m cried out. No more tears left. So she told me to put pen to paper, and write, ‘I don’t know what to write” again and again and it would come flowing out. I think I wrote 5 sides, whatever it was and I felt so much better and I thought you know what? I’ve tried everything.
My husbands tried everything, we can’t try anymore. And if it doesn’t happen – we can deal with that and I accept that, and I accept I might not be able to do this.
I also got a dog which I can’t recommend enough!
The advice I was constantly given was ‘my friend’s sister’s dog’s mum went on holiday and they got pregnant when they were about to have IVF’ and I always thought, well that’s great but if you’ve got serious problems, it’s probably not going to work.
The other one was: what about getting a pet.
So we found our dog really quickly and got her 6 weeks later. It gives you routine. Your focus isn’t appointments, blood tests…instead it’s: I’ve got to look after this thing, morning, noon and night. Going for walks, connecting with nature, all that kind of stuff, is so important and it gives you that focus.
And you pour your love into them. I love my dog so much, I love her! I could never imagine life without her. My dog, Rachel and Julia were my guardian angels.
This is how I felt about the people that I met. I had my acupuncturist, my reflexologist, my Doctor and my nutritionist – and they stay with you forever.
Your journey is your journey. I personally didn’t find it easy to share while I was going through it. It was a really long time, 4 and a half years and often there wasn’t anything to say. A few of my best friends knew what was going on, but I couldn’t start telling people stuff because it was so long.
I found it difficult to make decisions on who to go to for the next round of IVF. But we went to see another doctor and my husband was just convinced he was the right way to go. Everything he said, he backed up with information which I loved (I found with my other doctor he’d say, go and look online and decide what you want! And I used to think – how am I supposed to know what to listen to and what not? I also found looking on the internet the worst thing in the world, because I’d be like: my eyelash is fluttering! It means I’m pregnant. I’ve got an itchy head! It means I’m pregnant. You can find anything on the internet, these crazy people on forums in their two week wait that can literally drive you to the point of insanity and I found it too overwhelming. Plus, everyone’s got different opinions so it’s fruitless).
So, we went with this other doctor. At our initial chat he told us to go and have a fabulous holiday and to come back refreshed, relaxed and then we’ll start which was really good advice as well.
He redid all the tests, so he had all the information in one go. I then felt in the past I had been given bad advice. The first thing I say to people and I have said to people now is: just don’t rush into it.
I rushed into it. Someone told me a consultant to see, he looked good online, but I didn’t really do any research, I didn’t know what I was doing and I put my trust in someone and that’s great- if you have reason to put all your trust in them. But now I just think: get every single test. Ask all the questions, don’t rush into it. Otherwise you could be three rounds down the line and that’s what we ended up with…
So, every test…we retested. We started IVF with the new doctor, and when I came to check my lining and levels he would do a scan and a blood test. I didn’t even know that was a thing compared with my other one. If he emailed me and I hadn’t got back to him within 10 minutes he would call me.
I felt like I could call him, text him, every decision we chatted through, he never rushed me. It just wasn’t bad. It really wasn’t bad at all. Even the injections were better. And one day I went to him because I was nervous to do it myself, my husband was away, and he did it for me.
He suggested genetic screening, which I would recommend. I’m not a doctor but if you’ve had a few failed rounds and you have enough embryos…
I think because we’d had three miscarriages and a lot of tries where I hadn’t got pregnant, he was thinking it was the embryos looking good on the outside in the labs, but not good on the inside.
With genetic screening, they take a sample and they send it away, so you have to wait a month and freeze it…it’s essentially a frozen embryo transfer. So, we had 5 embryos initially. After the genetic screening, 2 came back fine and 3 weren’t. It’s a risk with the screening that they could all come back abnormal, and in the UK, you are not allowed to transfer an abnormal embryo. In America, if an embryo is abnormal, you can still decide to put it back in. They are saying now that an abnormal embryo could work but it’s just the chances are lower… so they’re throwing away potential pregnancies for people who’ve had genetic screening.
I did the first round with him which took quite a long time. I did find it difficult but then I knew that was the approach I needed: to take it slow. It was Christmas and our Doctor was away so it was touch and go for the cycle whether I could have the transfer before Christmas but we did it.
It was December 27th or 28th and we got a call saying we were pregnant. He said it’s early, let’s get through the next couple of weeks. That’s another piece of advice– one hurdle at a time.
I never thought about ‘telling people in three months’. I just thought: let me get to that 6-week appointment. That’s all I could I could think about. I found thinking like that so helpful: one hurdle down.
Then we went to the 6-week appointment and it was a mm or something – and I just thought: Thank Fuck. Thank Fuck! Then obviously it was the 10-week and the 12-week…
I look back and people say it must have been so hard. But a) it’s easy to forget when you get to the end goal, and b) you know what? I got through it. People go through worse. When I was going through this, my friend lost her Dad and her husband lost his dad and me and my husband said to each other, it’s not that bad.
This is our journey. Life goes on. You can’t always have everything you want right now. Despite what this world makes you think. I learnt a lot about myself and it was what it was.
Comparison is not a good thing in general. I had a close friend and we were both starting IVF at the same time, we started going through it together and she got pregnant first time. That was 4 years ago, and I said to my husband, I just can’t see her. She would check in with me all the time, but it was so raw and close.
I really just cut out people and things that didn’t make me feel good. I didn’t go to anyone’s baby shower, because it was too hard for me. I didn’t need to go and feel terrible for 2 hours just to be a good friend, I know I’m a good friend in other ways. And if I didn’t feel up to going to things, I didn’t go. It wasn’t worth the after effects of me not being well mentally and if they are real friends, they understand.
I didn’t share during the process but now I’m quite open. I thought if I can make one person feel better…I didn’t really know anyone going through it, not that I would have wanted to speak to anyone. I never imagined it would be hard because I never knew it. You can feel alone and different from people.
I felt like if I could let one person know that this is my story so the hundreds of people who messaged me on Instagram could see– and the general consensus was, thank you I’m starting my journey if you’ve got any tips…thank you, you’ve given me hope.
The duality of Instagram and real life is interesting… I really found Instagram was a good escape for me. I would get dressed up and take my pictures, and everyone would think: oh this glamorous lifestyle – but really, I would come home, inject myself and cry myself to sleep.
I want people to not just stop asking people when someone is going to have kids, but to stop saying to couples with one child – “you only have one”. There are plenty of people who have one and would like two. I’ve got a friend whose got one child which took years and they had a terrible time. She would love to have another, and I’ve heard people say it to her. Why is that? I want to change people’s mind-set.
There is a complete lack of awareness. It shouldn’t be an acceptable thing to ask people why they haven’t had children yet.
If you haven’t gone though it, you will not understand and that’s mainly because it’s not discussed that much. And just because you don’t openly cry and say: it’s so hard…means nothing. I had someone say to me, ‘you were fine! You didn’t find it that bad!’ And I thought, ‘how the fuck do you know!? When I see you weekly and I’m being normal because I’ve pepped myself up for going on a night out or whatever – how can you say that to me?’ People don’t understand. Some people don’t have the skills to be understanding. So, you don’t see them. You’ve got to be selfish.
You have to find things you enjoy, I did a lot of meditating, a bit of yoga (although my yoga teacher got pregnant! My fertility yoga teacher.) I used to do 3 things I was grateful for in bed at night, and Julia (osteopath and spiritual healer) said: that’s rubbish. Do ten!!
I always went to bed thinking, life’s not that bad. And it would set me up for the day.
I did a lot of Law of Attraction stuff during Round 2. I read The Secret and I had my Vision Boards and all of that. But I think when you come down from a real low from being so positive, it gets harder to get to that stage and then you need to get to that stage in a different way. I remember saying to a friend of mine who has a business centred around it and is massively successful and she said to me, but it doesn’t happen straight away, and I said I know but it’s so hard to get back up again.
I found different ways to do it. I did look at my Vision Board but I went through phases.
Rachel gave me the CD hypnotherapy thing – before embryo transfer and after which was really good.
I also had transitional hypnotherapy. You listen to a recording for 21 days to change your brain. This woman was totally weird, her voice was so annoying! But I did it. It was going back to the reasons why you might not be getting pregnant. And just family things rehashed and whatever. I felt better from it. I felt like I would try anything that would make me feel better. And that’s what I say to people about the spiritual healer. Just go for an hour and feel good. Even if you don’t get anything from it, it’s an hour without your friggin’ phone and you can’t come away from it not feeling good!
I found it was better for me to put my energy into things like that while our friends spent weekends together with their kids. It gave me something to do, which was positive.
THANK YOU SO MUCH SARAH FOR YOUR INSIGHTFUL, POSITIVE, BEAUTIFUL INTERVIEW. You can follow Sarah on Insta @sarahtankelellis and @wearetwinset