Causes & Treatment

Destigmatising infertility in the Indian community – Seetal Savla’s story

Seetal Savla  |   3 Feb 2020


Today, we’re sitting down with chef, freelance writer and fertility advocate Seetal Savlafaire, as she talks about her personal trying to conceive journey.

She’s also the founder of the Savlafaire fertility blog, set up to destigmatise infertility in the Indian community – and get people talking more openly about the conceiving help they need.

Over to Seetal.

Me, myself and IVF

Until it became painfully obvious, it had never crossed my mind that I’d struggle to conceive. I was aware that infertility was a serious issue with serious consequences, but I arrogantly assumed that I’d be spared.

In fact, I spent my 20s and early 30s fearing the opposite: having a baby would have been a major life change that I was unwilling to embrace during those years.

All that worrying turned out to be a complete waste of time: we’ve been married for eleven years and there’s no baby in sight. That was fine for the first four to five years because neither of us felt ready to become parents.

We lived with my in-laws for two years to save up for our own place, which we wanted to enjoy before a baby changed our lives and relationship dynamic forever. I’d also accepted a new job in Soho after working in West London for years and was keen to enjoy a vibrant location.

Being constantly asked when we were thinking of starting a family ignited my rebellious streak and made me want to hold onto my independence for as long as possible.

A miscarriage, and a realisation

We were so busy squeezing the juice out of life that we didn’t stop to reflect on why we hadn’t conceived despite not taking any precautions.

That conversation got postponed because on Christmas Day in 2015, we found out that I was a few weeks’ pregnant. Instead of fearing the future, I found myself excitedly imagining our tribe of two welcoming a new member.

I vividly recall my early symptoms: heightened sensitivity to cigarette smoke, which had never affected me before; my aversion to wine; putting a protective hand over my stomach when fastening my seat belt.

It was a new chapter in our lives, but sadly not in the way that we’d hoped: I miscarried in January. In the space of a few weeks, we’d gone from a bright future to a broken one.

The hardest part was rebuilding ourselves after we’d dared to dream of a family-filled future, only to be left with an empty womb and heavy hearts. The silver lining, however, was that after years of sitting on the fence, I realised that I truly did want children and that we’d need medical intervention.

Seeking fertility help

We sought fertility help shortly afterwards and have been on the IVF rollercoaster ever since.

Through a series of fertility tests and visits to fertility clinics, we discovered that I have a low ovarian reserve (AMH), making it more difficult when trying to conceive, albeit not impossible.

As we embarked on our first IVF cycle with a fertility specialist through the NHS, I remember being overwhelmed and confused by the terminology, protocols, medications and procedures; very little made sense to me back then.

seetal savlafaire

I went through the motions without wanting to do much research for fear of changing my mind. It all hit home when I unpacked the large box of needles, syringes, fertility drugs and other paraphernalia, questioning our motives and my ability to self-administer daily injections.

Once my angry tears had subsided, my husband administered the first subcutaneous injection. With my eyes tightly closed, I braced myself for the imminent pain and so was very surprised when he said he’d already finished.

I soon became a dab hand at injecting at home and elsewhere, at 5am and 9pm, and managing multiple pills and pessaries every day.

From renewed hope, to renewed heartbreak

Hope turned to heartbreak when the pregnancy test was negative. Since we didn’t qualify for further NHS treatment, we chose an established private fertility clinic which had brought babies in the world for friends and family.

Although I’d been briefed on what to expect, it quickly transpired that the process was considerably more intense than I’d anticipated: daily blood tests at 7:30am and ultrasound scans on alternate days for two weeks; a cocktail of fertility drugs and drips, to be administered at different times and in different dosages, the worst of which being the two-inch needle used for intramuscular progesterone injections; having to drink two litres of cow’s milk every day; and hitting pause on my HIIT workouts and feeling restless.

Then there were the emotions, which ranged from gratefulness for having access to one of the best clinics in the country and acceptance that this was our reality to phases of extreme sadness, anger and envy; why couldn’t we just conceive naturally like millions of others, whether it’s intentional or otherwise?

The hope and heartbreak cycle continued as we chalked up two additional unsuccessful rounds. I felt an unshakeable sense of failure and shame; even with expert help, my body repeatedly rejected top grade embryos.

But among all the self-pity and self-flagellation, I was proud of the positive mindset that I’d cultivated for my third cycle; a momentous achievement for a self-confessed pessimist.

Knowing what lay ahead, I’d mentally prepared myself for the process, excited to have another chance to create a new life in more ways than one.

destigmatising infertility in the indian community

Discovering the TTC community, and online support

Life may still be in limbo, but as Harry S Truman once said, “the reward of suffering is experience.”

I discovered the Trying to Conceive (TTC) community on Instagram after my second IVF cycle and the more I read about others’ infertility experiences, the more I felt seen, heard and understood.

Moving towards destigmatising infertility in the Indian community

On Mother’s Day last year, we decided to share our own experience in a blog post for several reasons: to help ourselves to heal; offer support to anyone facing similar challenges; and destigmatise infertility among the Indian community.

We were flabbergasted by the mountain of messages that we received from family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances and strangers praising us for our courage, articulating what they’d been unable to do, sharing their stories and thanking us for revealing exactly what IVF entails mentally, physically and emotionally.

Since then, I’ve met some wonderful women (and men) whose friendship has become invaluable, written several articles for prestigious publications, been interviewed on national radio as part of BBC Fertility Week, featured on fertility podcasts and participated in an awareness campaign.

In 2020, I intend to continue the conversations to humanise infertility and highlight the many supportive resources available to all.

Follow Seetal Savla’s journey

What’s next for us? After a few IVF-free months, we’re consulting with other fertility clinics and fertility specialists to consider alternatives, such as anonymous egg donors (our current clinic only uses known egg donors).

Whether we proceed with my eggs or donor conception, it’s reassuring to know that there are many routes to parenthood. It may not be what we’d envisaged, but it’s simply another way to achieve the same outcome.

Got questions about infertility in the Indian community, or anything else in this article? Follow Seetal’s story over on her Instagram.

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