Sarah Roberts

07 Nov 2019

In my 30’s, like most women, I valued my career and freedom over and above my desire to get pregnant. My life was full, I lived in London, had a successful career in design and marketing and had just met my future husband to be. Even after a few months of being together we knew we’d like to start a family one day, but that day seemed far enough away not to worry about it – we were too busy working hard and playing even harder. After 7 years together, in 2008, we got married, I was 36 and Alick was 32. Our fast paced life in London was starting to take its toll and I, in particular, starting to show signs of stress related illnesses. We moved away, just far enough so Alick could still commute to work in London and so we weren’t completely out of touch. With the move came a bigger house in the country and the idea that I would start working from home, slow down and we could start trying for a family.

In the initial year of our move, I became very depressed and had to seek counseling. At the same time we tried for a baby but nothing happened. I put it down the fact I was suffering from stress so we tried not to worry about it and I concentrated on trying to get better. After 2 years we did start to worry and I went for some tests at my doctors and local hospital. Now at 38, I found out that I had Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). This diagnosis floored me and added pressure to my already stressed out brain. Why hadn’t we checked this out sooner? What if I couldn’t give Alick the baby he so desperately wanted and it was my entire fault. I started to read up about PCOS, a depressing read, although it did give me answers and suddenly my weight problems, facial hair issues and mood swings now had a name which made it slightly easier to deal with. I tried desperately to do everything all the books said, sticking to eating low GI foods and exercising but my depression always seem to win out along with my penchant for comfort eating and drinking.

Eventually, I managed to start to get a grip of my depression and in 2012 we decided to engage with a local specialist in infertility and I started taking ‘Clomid’. After 6 failed cycles of ‘Clomid’ we were advised to skip IUI and go straight for IVF – I was made to believe that my age was against me and we had very little time if we were to have any chance of success. The pressure I felt piled up high on my shoulders and when I think about it now, as we entered into the treatment I had very little hope or belief that it would work. We had to pay for our IVF cycle – at 40 I was too old for any NHS help under our postcode. (Although I did find out later that if I had registered at a different doctors in the next village we would have received 3 free cycles).

The first IVF cycle was hopeless; we had 10 eggs collected but only 3 embryos made it to day 3. We were advised to have 2 put back in at the embryo transfer and to freeze the 3rd survivor. The embryo transfer was stressful, with the consultant having messed up at one point, the embryos were sent back to the lab – it was upsetting and it took a lot longer than it was supposed to. Nothing about the experience left us feeling very confident or positive and I cried all the way home.

Unsurprisingly, that cycle failed and I really struggled with the whole IVF experience. I just wasn’t prepared for how hard it would be mentally and physically and deep down I just knew with the stress I was feeling and the pressure I was putting myself under I couldn’t cope with jumping straight into another round of IVF. I was also concerned about my egg quality as the IVF result wasn’t great. Wearing my heart on my sleeve and talking to other female family members who had gone through IVF helped me but I still felt like a failure and that it was all my fault. I became obsessed with researching all there is to know about infertility and one of my confidents offered me all her research having decided to adopt. One of the articles she sent me was about Dr Zhai. The more I read about Dr Zhai and her clinic the more I realized that this was exactly what I needed. I was very aware of my mental and physical instability and deep down I knew that this was playing a big part of the fact I wasn’t getting pregnant so specialist, holistic fertility treatment to get my body back in balance seemed like the right thing to do.

Alick was skeptical at first and thought it was another one of my expensive fads. But as ever he supported me and agreed to come along to the appointment with an open mind. Straight away I liked Dr Zhai, she has an air about her like she just knows – even before you have answered her questions. She was straight talking, but very caring too and unlike other practitioners I had come across in the industry she didn’t feed the panic. I remember quite vividly at that first appointment that she quite simply stated that the next 2 years were very important and that I needed to do as I was told. My husband almost laughed out loud and I know he was thinking ‘well good luck with that!’

On each visit to see Dr Zhai as you walk through her consultation room door you can see she is checking you out, she has this down to a fine art form and it doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable, she’s just building a holistic picture of you each time she sees you which she uses in her diagnosis. The fact that she is qualified in Western Medicine as well as Traditional Chinese Medicine is a powerful combination and her expertise transcends standard practices. You just know that she’s going to leave no stone unturned and do everything she can to help.

Every visit included the checking of the pulse, the checking of the tongue, probing questions about bodily functions, a review of my basal body temperature chart, discussion about the bespoke TCM prescription and finished with a session of acupuncture. The acupuncture session is like being transported back in time to another century as you get hooked up to the electricity supply – a bit off-putting at first but you get used to it. It actually used to make me laugh as I lay there in the basement, thinking, ‘if only the people walking in the street above knew that below them were a bunch of desperate women with needles coming out of them attached to mini car jacks and plugged into the electricity supply’. Month in and month out I lay there buzzing away in a state of panic and wonder.

I jest because that is quite an English response to something that you don’t quite understand. I’m naturally very curious and I really have tried to understand the treatment at the Zhai Clinic and even though I was persistent in asking Dr Zhai millions of questions and even having read her book to try and understand it more, I never quite got it. So here’s the big thing – you have to have FAITH and you have to have a belief in Zhai team and their amazing deep knowledge about the way our bodies work – the Qi, (Blood) the Jing (Essence), the Shen (Mind), the Zang-Fu organs; and the meridians (jing-luo). Whether you understand what the treatment is about or not, one thing is for sure it is not a quick fix which can be frustrating. 15 years spent living in London left me with an innate need for things to be completed fast, I needed answers and I wanted things to get done quickly. Even moving to the countryside and trying to slow down didn’t curb this feeling and I think it is a common one – a tragic side effect of our western fast paced society.

A year went passed and admittedly I had ups and downs and my cycles didn’t seem to be regulating and my ovulation was erratic still but I was constantly told not to worry, to give it time and to have patience. There were some days that I went into the Zhai Clinic and cried my eyes out but admittedly in those times I had let my healthy lifestyle choices slip and depression get the better of me. After about 18 months finally we saw my body begin to respond to the treatment, my cycles were more stable and every meeting with Dr Zhai felt like I was getting a gold star. My faith in her had wavered but it was restored and the encouragement and support she gave me was uplifting. In response I started exercising more and being healthier came a bit more natural – I was feeling positive and I could literally feel myself in mind and body become more balanced. It was an amazing feeling, it just all of a sudden clicked into place.

We were now on track to start thinking of preparing for our next round of IVF treatment and as Alick had witnessed my success he agreed to 6 months of treatment too and much to his disgust, everyday he brewed up some pretty awful tasting tea. This really helped me as for the first time I really felt that we were in this together and secretly it was also quite enjoyable watching Alick’s face squirm as he drank the tea!

After continually asking Dr Zhai when she thought we would be ready to start the IVF treatment, she finally gave us the OK at the end of 2014 after 2 years of treatment. This time I really felt ready, I felt stronger and more prepared knowing that Dr Zhai had done everything she could to improve my egg quality and regulate and balance my body as well as prepare Alick. There was nothing more we could do. As it was November 2014 we decided to wait until after Christmas before we started any treatment so I completely cut out alcohol, went on a detox and engaged the services of a personal trainer which made for a pretty boring Christmas but I didn’t care. I felt so determined and very different to the last time I had considered the treatment. We decided to take a recommendation from Dr Zhai and try a new IVF Specialist Consultant – someone she could work with so I could continue my treatment with her. So everything was set and in February 2015 I started my second IVF cycle. I was warned by my new IVF Consultant that he would push me hard and that the treatment might be a bit tougher than last time – and he wasn’t wrong!

In March 2015 (at 42) I went in for my egg collection procedure and to everyone’s surprise (apart from Dr Zhai) I had 20 eggs collected of which 10 fertilized into grade A day 5 blastocysts! What a complete difference to the last result 2 years previous. We were over the moon and I know for a fact that this success was down to the treatment I received with the Zhai Clinic. I am so glad that I took her advice and didn’t jump the gun, get impatient and do IVF any earlier as we probably wouldn’t have got such a good result.

Our Consultant advised that we should freeze the embryos and have a month off to let my body get back to normal. We now had time on our side, with 10 embryos in the freezer the pressure was off slightly. However, I didn’t want to loose the momentum and so after a month break, having flushed the IVF drugs out of my system, I cracked on with stage 2 – the frozen embryo transfer cycle. Continuing to see Dr Zhai every 2 weeks, the IVF injections started and I was plunged into menopause and dragged back out again as they prepared my body for the embryo transfer. I was dreading this bit because of my previous experience and so the build up to the embryo transfer date was tense. My Consultant was brilliant and even though we had a little struggle on the day I was confident that all went well with the 2 embryos we’d had put back in.

The 2 week wait was harder than I remembered and even though everything was so positive we sadly got the dreaded negative result. We were heartbroken, maybe this wasn’t meant to be – all that hard work over 2 years for nothing. But after a chat with Dr Zhai and also my IVF Consultant we were soon convinced again that it would be OK. The thing to remember was we still had 8 embryos left and all good quality – we were now up against nature and it was a numbers game. I had to believe in my body to do it’s job and to remember how hard I had worked at getting myself so balanced and prepared. So with faith restored we booked in for another round. At this point, in my mind I had decided that I could manage to go through all of our frozen embryos if I had to but then after that, that would be it and we’d have to go to plan B – whatever that was.

As it was summer we decided to go on holiday and come back refreshed before starting the treatment. We had lots on in the weeks I did the treatment and we decided to try and carry on as normal (well as normal as you can be on IVF drugs). Alick had cut down on his drinking too so we were both having fun, but still being healthy. This time just before the embryo transfer I had my acupuncture treatment with one of Dr Zhai’s team as usual, but this time I fell into a pretty deep sleep which hadn’t happened before. The embryo transfer was text book, my Consultant had obviously learnt a few things about me from the last time and I was in and out before I knew it. The dreaded 2 week wait ensued and again we agreed to try and keep ourselves as busy as we could and so accepted our friends wedding invitation and just got on with things. This time something felt different but I didn’t want to believe it so tried to ignore how I felt to avoid disappointment. The night before we were due to do the pregnancy test we were at our friends wedding. I stayed up as long as I could but eventually I gave in even though I knew sleep wouldn’t come easy. Weirdly that night I had a very vivid dream that the pregnancy test was positive and that I was telling all my friends the good news, I even woke up with a big smile on my face, which was weird. By 6.30am we were both wide awake and so I just did the test to get it over with – 3 minutes felt like a lifetime and the nerves got the better of me and I just cried, preparing myself for the worst. Alick plucked up the courage to go and look at the pregnancy test result and to our complete astonishment we got a positive result! I don’t know what the fellow hotel guests thought but we were both jumping around the hotel room, screaming, laughing, crying, completely ecstatic! Finally our arduous infertility journey had come to an end and the relief sent us a bit crazy!

I’m now still only 6 weeks pregnant and not out of the danger zone yet but I feel strong. Dr Zhai is still supporting me and will continue to do so until week 12. But I am listening to my body and I am certain it’s going to be OK.

Spending 2 years of my infertility journey with Dr Zhai and her team, I have learnt that you have to have patience, you have to listen to your body and that it’s OK to completely put your faith in something that you don’t quite understand. Just trust everything that you are told and stick to the treatment even if you have a wobble – just persevere. Also try and let go of your western preconceived ideas and appreciate that you are getting the best of both worlds – a potent mix of Western and Eastern medicine.

I know that my fast paced life meant I neglected my body and my mind and caused me to develop PCOS and infertility issues. Dr Zhai helped me restore my body to its optimum, most fertile and healthy state. In the end it was natures choice whether I got pregnant or not but I am 100% positive that without the treatment, advice and support of Dr Zhai and her team that we would never have got even near the result we were so desperate for and for that I am eternally grateful and humble.

Thank you Dr Zhai and Dr Wang and to the whole team at the Zhai Clinic.

You are all very brilliant human beings!