If at first you don’t conceive…

There’s a fertility clinic in Israel that former Australian Netball captain Liz Ellis says shares her view that there are very few situations in life that can’t be vastly improved by a good laugh.

“Hospital clowns actually come in after women have had their embryo transfers!” she explains. “Their pregnancy rates are higher, and it’s because the women have had a good laugh!”

Famous for her positive attitude, it’s no surprise that when Ellis decided to pen a book about IVF, it was going to be a little different to the clinical information currently on the market.

If At First You Don’t Conceive is described by its publisher as “your friendly guide to tackling IVF” – and if you think you don’t often see the words “friendly” and “IVF” in the same sentence, Ellis says that’s exactly why she wrote it.

With three world championships, two Commonwealth Gold medals, four National league titles and four MVP awards, Liz Ellis had every reason to believe her body was serving her very well indeed, thank you very much.

But then she tried to conceive her second child.

Ellis spent a total of five years undergoing fertility treatment, which included IVF and three miscarriages.

Eventually, she conceived her son Austin naturally (“It just about sums up his whole personality: doing things in his own time!”), but not before she had accumulated a pile of experience as well as a stack of information.

“I had all these huge files of notes I had collected and I thought, what a shame to throw them out,” she explains. “I was pregnant and I was reflecting on the whole journey and I just thought there’s so much I know now that I wished I had known five years ago.

“I thought, I should write a book that is basically all the information I wished I had had.”

So Ellis got together with her GP, her obstetrician Professor Maneesh Singh and Head of IVF Australia Professor Michael Chapman, and produced a book that is part fertility resource, part best friend holding your hand through the whole experience.

According to Ellis, infertility is a roller-coaster ride of emotions.

“There will be times you will laugh at the absurdity of it and there are times you will be in the depths of despair,” she says.

“I remember once I sent photos of myself in those hospital underpants to my husband with a message, ‘I just don’t understand why we can’t get pregnant, given how sexy I look…’ You have to laugh!

That’s not to say she treats fertility treatment as a joke – quite the contrary.

Infertility is shithouse. It’s just one of the worst things you can go through, I just think if you don’t laugh you’ll go mad.”

Of all the things Ellis learned through her fertility journey, she says one of the most confronting was the realisation that IVF may not work for her.

“I always assumed that we’d try to fall pregnant and if that failed, well we’d just do IVF,” she remembers. “I really didn’t appreciate IVF’s low rate of return and that it gets lower with age. I just thought it was a fail safe way to get pregnant.”

These earth-shattering statistics are just one of a million pieces of information Ellis says women are bombarded when they first turn up at the fertility clinic.

“You’re in the fertility specialist’s room, you can’t really take it all in. You need time to process it and talk about it.

“That’s what I really wanted to do with the book.”

If At First You Don’t Conceive is published by Pan Macmillan Australia and you can buy it here