Golfer Sinéad McGrath talks IVF and endometriosis

Golfer Sinéad McGrath talks IVF and endometriosis
HerSport Editor
HerSport Editor

By Daragh Small

Last Friday she completed her third round of IVF, despite losing half of her left ovary when she was just 14 and going through years of emotional and physical turmoil because of her endometriosis, Sinéad McGrath has successfully frozen 20 eggs.

She now dreams of a future where she can have children and they can play golf too, although she knows the odds were always likely to be stacked against her on the back of seven surgeries.

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However, she continues her battle with chronic pain and hopes to be an inspiration for all those who suffer in silence.

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“I hope that I can carry on working in sport, I am absolutely loving my time at the Legends Tour,” said McGrath.

“I am hoping that I can continue to advocate in this space, talking about fertility treatment and endometriosis. Particularly when you think golf used to be so male dominated and it’s growing for women now.

“It’s important to have these conversations for everybody in the game. And hopefully somewhere down the line I will have a lovely little family and I will be able to get my children to play golf too.”

McGrath’s family hail from Virginia in Cavan, where all her relations live too, but she has settled in Manchester.

She was 12 when her mother and father, Kathy and Gerry, were determined to get her the right care – it was obvious something was not right.

Endometriosis is a chronic disease associated with severe, life-impacting pain which can occur during periods, sexual intercourse, bowel movements and urination and result in chronic pelvic pain, abdominal bloating, nausea, fatigue, and sometimes depression, anxiety and infertility.

One in ten women live with endometriosis but it remains difficult to diagnose, with some women waiting years for the correct outcome, and in the early 2000s there was no peer group for McGrath to confide in.

“It wasn’t talked about, it was really unknown,” said McGrath.

“I remember my consultant saying I was one of the youngest people she had seen with that issue. No one really spoke about it when I was younger and that was difficult as well because growing up when you are a teenager it is really awkward, people didn’t understand what it was and it was hard to try have those conversations.”

Unfortunately, her endometriosis remained untreated, she had to go under the knife for cysts on her ovaries instead.
McGrath was just starting High School and going through puberty and there were invasive surgeries, including a C-section cut across her stomach.

The symptoms seemed to regulate when she was 18 and it gave her the time and space she needed to focus on her career, with Law the chosen route.

She eventually became a paralegal before she began to experience the dreaded fatigue again in 2017. Her endometriosis had returned.

“I actually live with a chronic pain from one of my surgeries,” said McGrath.

“The tiredness is really difficult to deal with, the chronic pain was different to the endometriosis pain as well because it was constant. I used to have pain but it was once or twice or a month when it flared up but in last five or six years it became an all-day everyday thing, I was living in pain.

“So from that point it was more that I had to learn what made my pain worse. I was a lawyer then so it was quite a stressful job. Being stressed and tired really caused the pain to get worse. Then you end up in a vicious cycle, you couldn’t sleep because of the pain and being tired made the pain worse.

“That is the side that I really struggle with, the tiredness and trying to manage that.”

McGrath decided to pick up golf in 2019 and that has helped to ease the burden slightly, when she does feel she can manage a few holes on the golf course it is a massive stress reliever.

And following a couple of years as a golf influencer, she decided to try and put it into practise in the working world too. Last year an opportunity opened up at the Legends Tour and she jumped at the chance to join up as an Operations Executive.

 

She spends her time dealing with staff logistics, travel and accommodation at events, to assisting the tournament office manager, helping to run the player lounges and player communications. It is a busy and diverse role but working in sport has helped to find more satisfaction in her career, helping reduce stress levels

Nevertheless, she still suffers from chronic pain and knows that she will fatigue from time to time.

“As I have got older I have got better at managing the mental and emotional side effects,” said McGrath.

“I remember being referred to a pain consultant and he asked me how I handled having a bad day. If I have a bad day I let myself have a bad day now. I will sit, I will watch Netflix. I will chill, I will have a little cry if I need to get it out of my system.

“That is all a process that helps me realise that you have the bad day, let’s see how we can adapt and move forward with it.”
And moving forward, the 31-year-old knows how important it is to safeguard her chances of having children.

"That is why she went with IVF and after finishing her third round last Friday, she is much more confident that can be a possibility in the future.

“When I worked in legal I was always at home because you need to be home and around for the clinic to do scans. You don’t want to travel too far in case anything is wrong with your medication,” said McGrath.

“This year I worked at The Open and I actually did one of my cycles while I was there. That was really difficult for me because I had to bring my medication in every day but the staff at The R&A and the medical staff onsite were brilliant.

“They always gave me somewhere safe to leave the medication because they obviously didn’t want anyone to take it out of my bag. They gave me a clean private space to lay everything out and do my injections. I felt really supported which was brilliant.

“It has been a bit more of a learning curve this year about trying to fit it in around my schedule of travel and going to events, versus being at home and being near the clinic.”

McGrath believes the fertility treatment is more mentally draining than her endometriosis but she has come out the other end.

She knows even with her wonderful support network and the help she received from the fertility clinic, Endometriosis UK and Fertility Network UK, there is still a lot more ground to make up in the UK and here in Ireland.

“I don’t think it is talked about enough, maybe the endometriosis a bit more than the fertility treatment,” said McGrath.

“I would love to see more conversations around fertility in more businesses especially. This is something that doesn’t just affect one gender. Family these days come to life in so many different ways, fertility treatment, science, adoption, everything. It’s important to have those conversations so people can feel supported in their journey.

“At the moment, sadly even though I have had endometriosis since I was 12, I have had to pay for this privately because I am not trying to have children. In the UK if you are trying to conceive you can get NHS funded treatment but you have to have been trying for a few years with your partner.

“We are getting better and there has also been changes for same sex couples in recent years but that has only been in recent years.

“So I think there is always ways, whether it is the UK or Ireland, that you can look to improve.”

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