Podcast Episode #84

Secondary Infertility: Robyn Birkin from The Fertility Warriors

Becoming pregnant again after you’ve had one baby is not always easy.  In today’s episode, I chat with Robyn Birkin, an infertility life coach, fertility warrior, and host of The Fertility Warriors podcast.

In this episode, Robyn Birkin discusses:

What is secondary infertility
Can you get pregnant with secondary infertility?
How does secondary infertility feel like (emotionally)?
The pain, the guilt and the emotional upheaval that can come with secondary infertility,
And ways to emotionally deal with it.

Robyn provides some practical advice and steps to help overcome the many feelings that can come with secondary infertility.

This episode was broken down into two – be sure to watch next week’s episode on Pregnancy after loss.

Please be advised that this episode comes with a trigger warning as we do discuss miscarriage, loss and infertility.  If this is triggering for you, please do consult your healthcare provider or any of the resources below.

Episode Links

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Robyn Birkin’s Instagram:  @robynbirkin

Robyn Birkin’s website: https://www.robynbirkin.com

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Beyond Blue: https://www.beyondblue.org.au

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Secondary Infertility with Robyn Birkin [Part 1]

Transcription

DISCLAIMER:

Please note that this transcription was completed with computer voice recognition software. Quite often unanticipated grammatical, syntax, homophones, and other interpretive errors are inadvertently transcribed by the computer software. Please disregard these errors. Please excuse any errors that have escaped final proofreading.

INTRODUCTION

If you are pregnant or you’ve recently had a baby, this podcast is for you. I am your host, Kath Baquie. A physiotherapist working in women’s health and a mum of three. Join me each week as we dive into all things pregnancy care, childbirth and postnatal recovery. Helping you have a wonderful pregnancy and after birth experience. And don’t forget to hit subscribe so you don’t miss any episode.

KATH BAQUIE

Well, hello there welcome back to another episode of the FitNest Mama Podcast. This topic today is all about Secondary Infertility. I am chatting to Robyn Birkin, who is a life coach for infertility. And she’s podcast host of The Fertility Warriors. So initially, we were going to chat about two topics, Secondary Infertility, and Pregnancy After Loss. They are both such important topics to discuss. And I’m really grateful chatting to Robyn today. But what I ended up doing was splitting this episode into a two-part series. Because it was it was getting long, and I just did not want to cut Robyn off because it is really important stuff. And it’s really valuable. I trust today in next week’s episode you will find really valuable. So, today’s episode is on the Secondary Infertility and Robyn describes what it is. The emotional challenges that can occur and also some really practical steps for helping to deal with this huge event in our life. Then next week’s episode is all about pregnancy after loss. So do stay tuned, as I said, and I just want to say that I’m not pregnant, but Robyn being the life coach, she is had some amazing tips, which can be translated into so many different facets of life. So, relationship, fertility, business, life. So, both these episodes are super valuable and I trust you are going to find them really helpful.

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But before we do dive into today’s episode, I do invite you to come and join us inside FitNest Mama. So, if you’ve found you’re not exercising as much as you’d like to during pregnancy and post pregnancy, perhaps you’re busy or you’ve lost the motivation to exercise, or you’re not sure how to best be looking after your body. Or you’ve got pelvic girdle pain and abdominal muscle separation and you’re not sure about the best exercises for you. Or you’d like to get back into running after birth and you want the best kickstarted possible, then FitNest Mama is for you. Join us for these convenient, short, easy workouts that you can do from home, whether or not your baby’s asleep, or your toddlers running around, or it’s the end of a long day at work. So just head to fitnestmama.com and the link is in the show notes.

All right. Let’s get into this episode.

So, Robyn, thank you so much for joining me on the FitNest Mama Podcast. It’s great to have you here.

ROBYN BIRKIN

Thank you so much for having me. And I love being able to talk about these topics because they’re things that we don’t talk about enough. So, I’m excited to be here. I’m excited to chat about all these things.

KATH BAQUIE

Yeah, brilliant. Well, let’s get started with just like I’ve introduced a little bit in the intro, but why do you do what you do like what drove you to this area of life coaching?

ROBYN BIRKIN

So, exactly 10 years ago, this year, my husband and I started trying to conceive, I put proudly fly the flag of being a type A, you know, head down bum up. I was a corporate marketing manager. Was used to like, work hard, play hard, put in the long hours, I could succeed at anything I wanted in life if I worked really hard at it convinced that we would conceive straightaway as soon as we started trying. And needless to say, that was not the case. And it what started off as a little bit disappointed turned into somewhat dismayed, turned into absolute despair. And two years after we had first started trying to conceive, we’re being at a fertility clinic, we’ve just done our first IVF cycle. And we’ve been through multiple IVF cycles and for multiple other fertility treatments before. This one had worked. And we were pregnant, and it was amazing and awesome. Even though I was still recovering from a moderate case of something called hyperstimulation, where your ovaries just give you a little bit of meds and the ovaries go gangbusters, I was only a slight 54 kilograms and had an additional seven kilograms of fluid in my abdomen. So, my like stomach was right up in my lungs, I couldn’t stand up properly because my stomach was so distended so quickly. But we were pregnant. Until we were told that the pregnancy wasn’t viable. And it was this, I had been almost kidding myself that I was coping with infertility. Up until that point.

I had been continuing with this low-level anxiety feeling like, if I just keep my head down, bum up, if I just work harder, if I just hang on to this tiny bit longer, like surely just one more cycle or one more month, and then it’s all going to be over. And magically, any of this anxiety that I was feeling is going to melt away. And then the pregnancy wasn’t viable, and we had a medical miscarriage. And it was, I call it the breakdown before the breakthrough because that was the point I it was almost like I needed to hit that rock bottom point. When I was like, oh, actually, I’m not coping with this at all. And I need to do a better job. I need I can’t martyr myself in the pursuit of having a baby for ever like, and this may not happen for a really long time. And I actually literally couldn’t fathom doing another fertility treatment cycle, whatever, at that point, because I completely crumbled emotionally. What happened after that was a relatively quick process. It was about two to three months of completely shifting the fundamental way that I was going about my journey. And it helped that random fact I used to be a vegan food blogger. And it was published in two cookbooks, but at that time, had these other friends who were like wellness friends, and we did this charity project, we did a cookbook to raise money for domestic violence victims. Just so happened though, but they were also life coaches, mind detox therapists, a clinical psychologist, a brain care specialist, all these people who actually kind of had the abilities and tools that can give me a little bit of what I needed, as well as you know, myself reading and trying new things that I’ve managed to put myself together, had another failed cycle after that. And it was like, night and day.

It was this process of being like, why have I been struggling so much emotionally on my own? Why did I not know what I knew before? And this completely changed the game for me because even though that cycle failed, even though I’d been through the wringer and this was yet another failed cycle, I could cope and I felt like I had the energy to continue going, I felt like I had the clarity to keep going. And it changed my life. It honestly, has now completely changed the trajectory of my life. But it was such a profound change. And I think a lot of us have that like zero to hero moment.

And then someone said to me randomly one day, some of your listeners may know Lisa, who said to me one day you should start a podcast. And then just as if it was such an easy thing. Okay. And this was before I listened to podcasts or did any of that. She just said to me, you should start a podcast. Okay, I started one. And then I feel linked and we’re at near a million downloads. I’ve now trained as a life coach and Mind Body practitioner. I’ve said this in some ways, I feel like I’ve fallen into doing this, but I feel so powerless flee, that what I learned was life changing. And obviously now I know even more. It completely changed the way that I was going on my journey. And still to this day, there’s something like 76% of women who are struggling to conceive or going through fertility treatments show significant symptoms of anxiety, and around 39% meet the criteria for major depressive disorder.

So here I am feeling like this is a really important thing. And we actually really need to unlearn a lot of what we were taught at school by our parents about what coping with emotional hardship should look like and how to actually cope through traumatic life experiences. So that’s what I do. That’s how I got here, which is this random story of kind of falling into it but also having my own street cred of going through that experience.

KATH BAQUIE

Amazing what an incredible story. Thank you so much for sharing. So, we are going to be talking today about two main topics, and I’m sure our conversation might go in any which direction. But we’re going to be talking about Secondary Infertility and Pregnancy After Loss. Yeah, so two really important topics that I think as you said, we just don’t discuss enough but affect a lot of women. So amazing. Let’s get into it. Secondary Infertility let’s just all get on the same page. What is it?

ROBYN BIRKIN

So Secondary Infertility is essentially women who are navigating infertility, but actually have one child already. So, there may be some people coming through who had infertility with their first child, but by and large, a lot of people who really struggle with Secondary Infertility. Those mamas who got pregnant fairly easily the first time around, and then second time around, something’s going on. And it’s just not happening for them. So that’s in a nutshell, Secondary Infertility means we have a child already. But when we’re trying for our second, third, fourth, whatever, child, we’re never getting infertility.

KATH BAQUIE

Yeah. Amazing. So, when I was about to jump on this call with you, I touch base with an obstetrician contact friend of mine, and I have said can we get as she’s a fertility specialist. So, we are going to be having keep stay tuned, ladies, because we are going to have a doctor on the podcast to give more the medical side of things with Secondary Infertility. But can you name some of the causes of Secondary Infertility?

ROBYN BIRKIN

Yeah, so there can be a big range of infertility, like courses of Secondary Infertility and stuff that could have been things that were going on for us, even when we had our first pregnancy, but by chance we got pregnant. But when we have our first baby, lot can change in our health, and a lot of us are dealing with things like postnatal depletion. And I always say, so coming to this from, I guess, a bit of a life coach perspective, it takes energy to create a baby, physical energy, emotional energy, all sorts of energy. And we can look at things just from a physical point of view. But the reality is that when we’re existing in chronic stress, so not everyday stress, like, you know, somewhat, you’re stuck at the lights or your car breaks down, like chronic stress, we’re day after day after day, we’re experiencing stress, we’re stuck in fight or flight mode. That impacts our hormones as well, it is it’s not different systems in our body, you know, our nervous system, everything is our hormones are all very interconnected, and particularly our sex hormones.

So, when we have our first child, quite often, we are depleted, we can end up especially when we’re not getting a lot of sleep with like melatonin and cortisol dysfunction. They go wacky, they’re the opposite. Sleep is important for so much of our fertility. Also, so much of like, even things like diet and what we eat. So, when we are significantly lacking in sleep, we crave higher salt, higher carb foods. That might mean though, that we’re depriving our bodies of essential mitochondria to create healthy eggs. So, mitochondria is like the battery cells of our body. And an egg has ridiculous amount of mitochondria in it, especially in comparison to a sperm basically, fun fact is that I’m pretty sure a woman’s egg, like once it gets together with the sperm kind of ditches, the men, the man’s mitochondria. But you need a ridiculous amount of energy, emotional and physical to create a baby. Even if we look at it from the perspective of mitochondria, right? We can look, we can start after having another baby, getting thyroid issues, we can start developing autoimmune issues, all sorts of different reasons. But also, it could have been underlying causes like endometriosis or PCOS that we could have had before. That we weren’t diagnosed with first time around and we lucked out. got pregnant.

KATH BAQUIE

Right? Just a few things that needs, just to name a few. Yeah. Okay. So, let’s say a woman has had a baby and she’s discovered she’s having trouble falling pregnant again. What are some of the common emotional challenges you see arise?

ROBYN BIRKIN

So, there’s a few different quirks with Secondary Infertility. The very first one that we have is almost this feeling of I already have another baby, why can’t I just be grateful for what I’ve got? Because all of a sudden, they entered into this world of infertility. And there’s all these women who are like, I would just pray to have one baby, which is completely valid. So, then there’s this guilt, this shame on ourselves. And I liken it too sometimes. If you’ve broken arm, right? You would not say to yourself, let me just twist it a little, and like make it a little bit worse. But we do that to ourselves all the time. We feel really crappy inside because we really want to grow our family, we had this picture of how our lives would go, maybe we were envisaged this perfect. You know, two adults, two kids or two adults, three kids’ kind of family. And then all of a sudden, the dream or the thing that we’d had in our heads of that we thought we’d grow up with and that would happen, has shifted on us, our whole world has shifted. But also, when we’re dealing with primary infertility, it’s really easy for us to say turn up the self-care, like just turn on that tap of self-care, take time for yourself, rest, sleep in, go get a massage, acupuncture, whatever it is, it’s really hard to do that when you have secondary infertility. Yeah, get some more sleep. How is that possible?

And then there’s that guilt as well of going and sitting in a fertility clinic. And having a two-year-old, like, go crazy, jumping from the rafters crying, wanting snacks, all of that, and really not having that opportunity to look after ourselves or even have the peace and quiet to process. And sometimes when you’re dealing with secondary infertility, you want to have that mental breakdown, all that little moment of falling apart. But you can’t, because there’s a little human or other little human, you have to park close emotions, and then we end up not having the ability to really circle back and address that. So, it builds up and builds up inside us.

KATH BAQUIE

Wow, it’s full on. And I yeah, I perhaps haven’t given it, you know, I have been lucky in my pregnancy journey. So, I just feel so grateful that we can chat because it’s huge. And so, there’s so many of us that know women going through this even if we’re not going through this ourselves. We, I’m sure we all know someone out there going through it. So, would you say they’re the biggest main challenges that women have emotionally?

ROBYN BIRKIN

Yet through Secondary Infertility, I mean, when especially if you haven’t had trouble conceiving the first time around, or what I say also is, I had a lot of personal friends who this happened to as well, if they had trouble conceiving, they went to a fertility clinic got pregnant on the first try. So same thing, they go to trial for their second baby, they expect they go straight back to the fertility clinic and expected to be like, okay, I know the process. I’ve got this down, Pat. It’s almost like you know, when you have you second baby. Oh, well, this was my experience anyway. And I was like, I know sleepy signs now, I know, naps, like Hello, I’ve got this down pat. And then all of a sudden, it’s his new set of things. Like, crap, this is really difficult. Like my first baby would only sleep in the rap. My second baby was like a cot sleeper, she would, she would rather cry 50 minutes in the car that entire way home, then fall asleep in the car.

It’s like this whole, to the way you expect that I’m going back to the fertility clinic, this is how things are going to work, you have these expectations. And all of a sudden, you know, life happens. There’s a phrase by Mike Tyson, that says something like, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. And that’s what I liken it to you go through secondary infertility, you’re like, I know, I know how to track my ovulation, I know what to do, it’s going to be three months of trying to conceive, I’m going to get pregnant, or I’m going to go back to the fertility clinic, I’m going to use my frozen embryos, it’s all going to pan out and then all of a sudden, it does not pan out. And it’s this shock to the system. And this whole entire process of reframing and shifting what you thought your life would be.

KATH BAQUIE

Okay, well, let’s dive into that. Because I know I’m putting you on the spot here. But I also know this is a huge question. This is probably everything that you cover. But if you could boil it down to three, like if, I want to ask what are three things that someone can do if they’re going through this situation now? And then after that, just before I forget, I want to also find out if you know someone going through this, what are couple of things that you can do to help them? So let’s start off with your Yeah, let’s go.

ROBYN BIRKIN

Okay. So, what I would say the very first thing to do is watch the way that you speak to yourself. Alright? So, I’m going to give you a really good example that I use with everyone. It was about this day that I went out when I was dating, and I went out to dinner with my friend Jessica. I’m sorry. I went out to dinner with a first date someone that I’d met on Tinder, and we got into the restaurant. We sat down, got a drink, we ordered our meal and then randomly out of the blue, this guy just looked at me and he said, I can’t do this. And he walked out of the restaurant, right? The first thing I did was call, I said, they’re in the restaurant all by myself. And I called my friend Jessica. And I was like, this is my best friend at the time. And I said, Jessica, I don’t know what to do. This is the experience that I’ve had. And she, the first thing that she said to me was, are you still using that old profile pic that you had will make you look a bit different now and you’ve put on a few pounds? And maybe you weren’t what he was expecting? Did you talk too much? Because sometimes you do that? Do you talk about your business all the time, but maybe that was why he left?

And here’s what I want to say. Completely made up that story. However, is that the way isn’t that the way that we always talk to ourselves? Something happens. And the very first thing our brain defaults to is where have I messed this up? What have I done wrong? It’s me, is it? Is it my profile picture? Did I do something wrong? Did I talk too much? Is that what I was wearing? Instead of looking at it. The way that a true best friend would, right? Yeah. Because if I was my own best friend, or I had a best friend who was Jessica, who’s actually amazing. She would say something along the lines of, “Stay there. I’m coming there. You know what, come to my house, let’s sort it together.” They’d Listen, they’d say, give yourself some grace. Maybe he just got out of a relationship. Maybe he was a cheating dirtbag, all of these other scenarios, rather than shaming and guilting me and it’s exactly what I say with you don’t break your arm and then go and twist it a little bit.

So, the very first thing is, let’s not amplify the really hard time that we’re going through. And let’s give ourselves some grace and be our own best cheerleader. And a lot of that looks like parenting ourselves. If you had a little child, and your little child was having a really hard time and crying, you would pour a bunch of love on that. So, we need to pour a bunch of love on ourselves. So that’s number one is watch, just watch the way you speak to yourself.

KATH BAQUIE

Yeah, and I just love that. And I know these are two totally different topics. But what you said resonates with a lot of my mums inside FitNest Mama, where they join the program because they want to exercise during pregnancy. They want to recover really well. They want to feel strong. But then they’re like, I’m finding it really hard. I’m exhausted. I’m, you know, I am tired. I don’t have time. And then there’s this massive guilt trip…

ROBYN BIRKIN

Yes.

KATH BAQUIE

…as well, and that internal talk, I’m like, “Hey, guys, you know, this is a phase of motherhood, you’re in it.” And by talking through all those factors, like we don’t need to guilt ourselves like this is just the situation and then yeah, so I’m really it really resonate what you just said, and it can be applied probably to every different so many different facets of life.

ROBYN BIRKIN

Yep. How can we be more cheerleader and less drill sergeant?

KATH BAQUIE

Yeah, absolutely.

ROBYN BIRKIN

So, then the next thing that I would say is to notice every day, the things that you’re grateful for. This was the easiest and simplest and littlest thing that I started with that made one of the most profound differences to the way that I was coping. There’s a lot of science behind why this works. But our brain has a natural negative bias. Your brain is always looking out for, like, how you can minimize past pain and maximize future pleasure, i.e., your brain is designed to look at where did I mess up in the past? And how can I avoid, like drama in the future. So, it’s stuck on this whole like, you know, this is why we end up completely worried about, you know, these worst-case scenarios that may never eventuate. But what we do when we just start this really simple gratitude practice is we start to shift that negative bias. So, all you’ll do is every night before you go to bed, takes all of two minutes, write three things that you’re grateful for, right? And don’t pick the same things like I’m grateful for my family. I’m grateful for the child I already have. I’m grateful for my house. Don’t pick that pick tiny little things. “Husband brought me a coffee this morning.” “I am grateful that there’s no rain today.” “Im grateful that my floor is vacuumed for the first time in three weeks.” Write tiny little stuff and try to think of different things every day. What will happen is after about two or three weeks, instead of your brain always looking for what’s not going right. Although it’s like you’ve got to write three different things in this journal tonight that you’re grateful for so you are going to be walking around your house everywhere and be like, what’s going well? Like what’s working, right. And so, we start to, you know, turn down the volume on everything that it feels like it’s not working and turn up the volume on what is working. And it’s a conscious way to rewire and shift the way that our brain is working. And it takes about two weeks, it takes like two minutes a day, it’s one of the easiest things that we can do, even if we’re sleep deprived, going through a really hard time is to do that.

And then the next thing that I would do is break it down into smaller steps, right? So often, we look at everything with this big picture view, we’re always looking at the finish line. And as humans, what like let’s say, you said to yourself, got a goal to run five kilometres. What happens when you achieve that goal, and you can run five kilometres? You say, right, now I’ve got to run seven kilometres.

KATH BAQUIE

The goal post keeps changing.

ROBYN BIRKIN

Yeah, we as human nature that we do this, we forget to pause for applause. But also, it’s really hard to always be like, only rewarding ourselves. And this is probably also going to apply to all your members. It’s really hard. When everything is like that we choose to celebrate or not celebrate is based on a goal that is actually out of our control. What we have control over is the tiny little actions that we take. How can we break it down and look at just the next right step? Just the next workout, just the next day, rather than set, like always looking at the goal, break it down into the actions and break it down into just the tiny little actions, right? All I need to do whatever it is; do you know what I’m going to celebrate if I can do just one workout? Yeah, I’m going to celebrate if I can do just five minutes of a workout or whatever it is, you know what I’m going to celebrate if I make it through this just this one appointment, it regardless of what my kid does at the fertility clinic, if he’s climbing the walls and jumping on the seats, okay, whatever, if he is all hell breaks loose, I’m going to celebrate as soon as I get out of that appointment, just breaking it down into tiny little steps and actions.

KATH BAQUIE

My heart is singing at the moment, like Yes. Oh you know, my Instagram, I think just a couple of days ago, I wrote small steps. And I’m obviously talking about it from a recovery perspective and pregnancy, health, but just small steps like its motherhood is challenging. It’s got sleep deprivation, we’re busy. Just what’s something you can do 10 minutes stretches in the sunshine to help you feel more alive, right? Or five minutes or something while your toddlers climbing on top of you like what’s something small can help you feel better today, like now. Sum it up. Make it easy.

ROBYN BIRKIN

Lots. Often, like if you are constantly walking through your day, like pat on the back, pat on the back. Five minutes, pat on the back, you are going to feel so much better about life than if you sit there saying to yourself, you know, whatever it is, I need to do six workouts today or I’m going to I need to get pregnant this month. It’s made or break this month. If we can break it down into celebrating actions and not goals. And celebrating often, life feels a lot better.

KATH BAQUIE

Do a little happy dance every time.

ROBYN BIRKIN

Yeah, totally.

KATH BAQUIE

Kids can join in.

ROBYN BIRKIN

Totally. Yeah. DJ Rafi on YouTube.

KATH BAQUIE

I don’t know that.

ROBYN BIRKIN

If you’ve got if anyone has young children. You want DJ Rafi on YouTube in your life.

KATH BAQUIE

Oh my gosh. I’ll have to check it out.

ROBYN BIRKIN

Yep.

KATH BAQUIE

Okay, brilliant. Look, I am aware of time that has all been amazing. Just quickly as a friend, if you know someone going through this, what’s one thing you can say or do to help?

ROBYN BIRKIN

This is the biggest piece of advice that I have for anyone who has anyone, go going through anything that is hard. Let’s not give advice. Let’s be validating. There is so much compassion that can and love that can come from just saying to someone. Wow, that sounds really hard. Just validate that what someone is going through is really big. And those are big emotions and big things that they’re going through. Just doing that can be completely life changing.

KATH BAQUIE

Love it.

Right, so I’m cutting off the podcast interview there because next week we will dive into Pregnancy After Loss. So, it’s a two-part series. This is the first one. And then do stick around next week. It’s a really brilliant episode. So, before I sign off from my team and I will be putting the show notes for this episode together with all the links including how to connect with Robyn at fitnestmama.com/podcast. Have a fabulous day everyone and I look forward to you joining me next week for another episode of the FitNest Mama Podcast.

Thanks for listening to the FitNest Mama Podcast brought to you by the FitNest Mama Freebies found at www.fitnestmama.com/free. So please take a few seconds to leave a review, subscribe so you don’t miss an episode. And be sure to take a screenshot of this podcast, upload it to your social media and tag me, @fitnestmama so I can give you a shout out too. Until next time. Remember, an active pregnancy, confident childbirth, and strong postnatal recovery is something that you deserve. Remember our disclaimer, materials and contents in this podcast are intended as general information only and shouldn’t substitute any medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. I’ll see you soon!

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