With one in seven couples in the UK having difficulty conceiving, and many babies now being born through IVF, it seems strange that there is still a sense of secrecy or even awkwardness surrounding the subject. One woman on a mission to get people talking openly about fertility is professional musician and author, Izzy Judd. Her book, Dare to Dream, is a deeply personal and brutally honest account of the journey she and husband Harry (of McFly and Strictly fame) have been on to become parents. Mummy Social’s Sarah Turner caught up with Izzy to find out more.
Massive congrats on Dare to Dream, Izzy! There’s so much to chat with you about so I’ll jump straight in. When did you first realise that it might not be a case of simply ‘falling pregnant’ for you and Harry and how did you react at the time?
Harry and I got married in 2012 and shortly after decided to try for a family, so when my period didn’t start after the first month of trying we just assumed I was pregnant. After many negative pregnancy tests, I completely panicked and went to see a gynaecologist to find out what was wrong. I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and immediately started a medication called Clomid to help me ovulate. What followed were months of disappointment as my body didn’t respond to the medication. I very quickly felt depressed, alone and frightened.
It was when I reached my lowest point after yet another negative pregnancy test that Harry took my hands and said, “Izzy, worst case scenario it’s you and me.” It was then that I realised that through all those months I had completely lost who I was and that Harry was right, we had each other. I knew something had to change and so I decided to stop all medication and go on a complete mind, body and soul detox, which was something I continued when we started IVF.
In your book, your talk very openly about your fertility journey, providing a raw account of the IVF process from behind closed doors. Why did you feel it was so important to share your experiences?
Harry and I made the decision to be honest and open about our fertility struggles when we announced our pregnancy with Lola. I remember how hard I found pregnancy announcements and felt I wanted to be sensitive and respectful to those who may be going through a difficult time. It would have felt wrong if we hadn’t been open and also I feel proud of the way Lola was conceived. I was amazed at the positive reaction we had, not only from friends who were facing fertility issues, but also from many couples who got in touch to say how grateful they were that we had spoken out about our difficulties and that our experience had given them hope. It is those people and encouragement from Harry that inspired me to write Dare to Dream.
IVF was so much more magical than I ever expected it to be. It was the first time in a long time I felt hope. I learnt to put myself first and was the healthiest I had been in body and mind for a very long time. The moment that took Harry and I by surprise was the day of transfer. Even though we were in a very medical and sterile room, somehow it was just as romantic as I hoped the moment we conceived would be! We saw our little embryo on the screen and then as it was transferred we saw a flash of light on the monitor. Harry and I were in floods of tears, it was one of the most amazing moments of our lives.
It was really important to me to share my experiences as when I was going through our struggles I found it difficult to find a book that spoke to me on an emotional level so I hope Dare to Dream is a companion to others and that by telling my story it will give those going through their own fertility journey hope, comfort and support.
You have been through a lot of heartache in your life, particularly with your eldest brother Rupert’s car accident, the at times crippling anxiety you’ve experienced and in more recent years the devastation of a miscarriage. Despite adversity, the tone of your words remains uplifting and hopeful – inspiringly so! What is your strategy for seeing the light and remaining upbeat when things are tough?
My mum has always been an incredibly positive and proactive person and I have grown up watching how she responds to difficult times. I will never forget when my brother Rupert was in intensive care fighting for his life after his car accident and mum would go off and buy lunch for the other families who were also sitting by their loved ones’ beds. She has always put others first and I admire her strength and bravery.
Of course, I had my tough days during our fertility struggles, but I felt much better once I made a conscious decision to be positive. Looking after my mind, body and soul was something I felt passionately about and I believe made a difference to our fertility journey. The mind is so powerful and needs to be looked after as much as the body. I felt the doctors took over my body but I had control of my mind. I found holistic approaches incredibly helpful such as acupuncture, mindfulness, healthy eating and gentle exercise like yoga and swimming. Once I accepted that becoming pregnant wasn’t going to happen for us quickly, looking at fertility from a different point of view completely changed the way I felt about myself and the situation.
Tell us about Lola! Do you think she takes more after you or Harry, or is she a perfect combination of you both?
I am still getting to know Lola every single day and I think she is very much a combination of us both. She has a very determined and cheeky side, just like Harry but also can be quite calm and cautious which is more like me. To look at, I see a lot of Harry’s side of the family, she is definitely a Judd!
Lola has been a very calming influence on me, I often feel like the duck paddling furiously underwater and Lola just glides along the surface! I do wonder if we are sent what we need in our children. Having battled with anxiety most my life, since having Lola my symptoms have eased. Perhaps because when you have children you are constantly living in the moment, with every day mostly living around their routine. I don’t have time to look backwards or forwards as I’m very much living in the present moment which helps my anxiety.
Do you ever feel like there is more pressure on parents who have conceived via fertility treatment to ‘cherish every moment’ and if so, how do you deal with that?
I have often wondered if having IVF makes you a different parent and I honestly feel I would be the same mum however we conceived. I have however experienced guilt for finding things difficult. Having waited so long for Lola, I did feel so very lucky and couldn’t understand why in the early days I wasn’t in this constant blissful bubble of happiness. I speak about this in Dare to Dream because I felt going through fertility treatment and suffering a miscarriage stopped me from allowing myself to think about the reality of life with a baby. All I was focused on was Lola being delivered safely into the world and the practical side of how to prepare for a baby, I wasn’t emotionally prepared at all! I have to remind myself that it’s ok to have hard days, being a mum is overwhelming.
One of the quotes you credit as having helped you stay positive was ‘Amazing things will happen’ and an amazing thing has happened, or rather is happening at the moment, as you are currently pregnant and this baby is not an IVF miracle. What a plot twist! How have you been feeling and is Lola looking forward to being a big sister?
During writing Dare to Dream I found out I had fallen pregnant naturally. It was New Year’s Day morning and Lola was in the bathroom with me (when as a mum do you ever get to go to the loo in private again?!) As the line appeared I just kept saying to Lola look there’s a line, there’s a line. I then woke Harry up, said happy new year and look I’m pregnant. It was so surreal, I just couldn’t believe after all we had been through that it would ever be so simple. People often said, “oh it’ll probably happen naturally next time!” but I never believed we would be lucky enough. I hope my story gives others hope that miracles can happen.
This pregnancy has been tougher than my pregnancy with Lola. I’ve felt more nauseous and physically a lot more tired. When you have a toddler to look after you can’t just put your feet up when you feel like it. I do feel guilty for ever admitting to struggling more in this pregnancy though. I think having gone through so much to have Lola I don’t feel it’s fair to complain as I feel so lucky to be pregnant. I have to remind myself that it’s ok to have tougher days and allow myself the odd moan (poor Harry has basically been living with a hormonal wife for the best part of 4 years!)
Lola is really sweet with bump, ‘baby’ has been one of her first words and she often strokes and kisses my tummy. She will love being a big sister and I think will be very caring, but I’m sure at first she might wonder what’s going on!
Lastly, if you could go back, right to the very beginning of your fertility journey and give yourself one piece of advice what would it be?
There is a section at the back of Dare to Dream called ‘Ask Izzy’ which answers many of the questions I often get asked about dealing with fertility struggles. From my experience, going through fertility issues is a very isolating and lonely time, so take time to do the things that make you happy with the people who make you happy. Put yourself first, deal with things one day at a time, and never give up hope. Look after yourself mentally and physically and discover your own space where you can find peace and quiet from your busy mind and begin to think positively. Always believe amazing things will happen.
Dare to Dream: My Struggle to Become a Mum – A Story of Heartache and Hope is out now. You can find it here.