Congratulations Jessica!

I went to watch the London Marathon yesterday which I do every year as it passes near where I live. It’s always inspiring to see so many people who are doing such a remarkable thing to raise money for charities, often those close to their own hearts. This year, I was particularly hoping to cheer on Jessica Hepburn who was running to raise funds for Fertility Network UK – although I missed her in the crowds, I was able to keep track of her amazing run on the Marathon app. Jessica, who does so much fantastic work in this field, did so well and if you haven’t already, there is still time to sponsor her. The website for donating has been very busy so if you don’t get through right away, do go back later!

Running a marathon really is a huge feat, and so I wanted to congratulate not just the brilliant Jessica, but also my other marathon-running friends – running inspiration Sarah from Greenwich Runners, Liz and Patrick who crossed the finishing line together and the incredibly super speedy Dr Kate – well done to you all!

Fertility trial open to people on 2nd and 3rd cycles

Often fertility trials are only open to those who are going through their first cycle of IVF treatment, but the E-Freeze trial is now also taking patients who are having their second or third treatment cycles.

E-Freeze is investigating the theory that using frozen thawed embryos may lead to improved pregnancy rates. When frozen embryos are used, there is a delay in embryo transfer of at least a month, and the theory is that allowing the hormones used in ovarian stimulation to wear off and giving the womb time to return to its natural state may increase the chances of success.

Without more research we cannot say if fresh or frozen thawed embryo transfer is better for the first cycle of fertility treatment. E-Freeze will compare these two types of embryo transfer in more than a thousand couples from IVF centres throughout the UK to find out which, if any, gives the best chance of having a healthy baby.

If you are interested in taking part, you can find lots of information about the trial on the E-Freeze website and a list of all the participating centres.

Low ovarian reserve

If you’re trying to conceive, you will be aware of your ovarian reserve but when you are starting out on your fertility journey, this isn’t something you will have come across before. Our potential to produce eggs declines as we get older, but the rate at which this happens is different for everyone – so some women may be diagnosed with a low ovarian reserve in their thirties or even twenties, which often comes as a real surprise as there may be no other signs of any decline in fertility at all.

If you want to know about your ovarian reserve, I was interviewed about the emotional impact by Allie Anderson for an article for NetDoctor the other day which you can read online here.  It is important that we talk about this issue more often and more openly. Fertility specialists may suggest using donor eggs if they feel the ovarian reserve is so low that IVF is unlikely to be successful, but for women this may seem a huge and unexpected step and is certainly one which needs thought and counselling.

Anyone who is using donor eggs or sperm will find it useful to contact the Donor Conception Network who can provide information, help and support.

Moondance by Diane Chandler

I owe Diane Chandler a huge apology as I’ve been meaning to review her book Moondance for months – and it’s a novel that will resonate with many fertility patients. We should always welcome novels about fertility problems and IVF because they really do help to normalise what can seem a very lonely experience, and also educate other people about the realities of what it’s like not to be able to get pregnant.

In Moondance we follow Cat and Dom through their attempts to conceive, fertility tests and the crashing ups and downs of treatment. There is much that will be familiar to anyone who has been through this themselves, especially in the way that treatment takes centre stage and comes to dominate everything else in life. Cat is not a sympathetic or likeable character – almost unbelievably self-centred, arrogant and selfish – which makes it hard to feel much in the way of empathy at the start of the novel. And yet seeing how someone so obsessed with controlling everything in their life is completely thwarted by their inability to conceive adds strength to the portrayal of the nature of infertility.

This is the sort of book that you sit down with and find yourself speeding through – despite being a thick book it’s a fairly quick read. There are a couple of niggling inaccuracies, for example, a type of post-coital sperm test which is medically impossible, but these don’t detract from what is otherwise a detailed account of the realities of treatment.

Moondance is published by Blackbird Digital Books and the paperback is priced at £8.99

Council acts after IVF cuts

Thanks to Carole Bonner, Chair of Croydon Council’s health and social care scrutiny sub-committee, and her fellow members who have called on the government to stop cuts to all funding for IVF in the area. They sent a letter to the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, asking him to look at the decision to cut all funding made by the local Clinical Commissioning Group.

It is the first time that a decision has been challenged in this way and the Committee was concerned that the impact of the decision to remove access to fertility treatment would mean that those in the most deprived, low-income areas will be unable to afford to have IVF. A consultation carried out locally by the Clinical Commissioning Group showed that 77% of almost 800 respondents thought the funding should be retained.

Councillor Carole Bonner said “We’re making this referral because of the potential long-term adverse health effects the removal of IVF will have on Croydon residents. Not only can infertility result in family breakdown and the ending of relationships, it often has an impact on the mental health of those affected. A comprehensive study was carried out by Middlesex University and the Fertility Network that showed a clear correlation between infertility and depression, with 90% experiencing depression. The committee is acutely aware of, and has sympathy for, the CCG’s underfunding and the inconsistencies of the funding formula when compared to similar authorities. However, we feel that the effects of the withdrawal of IVF funding in Croydon are not in the best interests of the borough’s residents.”

Whatever the outcome, it is heartening to see a local Council appreciating the huge impact that cutting fertility services can have for a relatively small saving – so thanks to Croydon and let’s hope that others are inspired to follow their example.

New fertility support groups

The patient support charity Fertility Network UK has announced two new support groups which have been set up recently in Lancashire/Cumbria and in Hull.

I know many people don’t like to think that they might need a “support group” but what is so invaluable about the groups is being able to meet up with other people who are going through similar things and to share experiences. It really can be such a huge relief just to know that there are other people out there finding it hard to be happy when a close friend announces a pregnancy, or who take long detours to avoid the local nursery at pick up and drop off times. Going along to a group is a sign of strength rather than suggesting that you need more support than other people and if you see it that way, it can be a useful – and free – way of helping yourself through treatment.

For more information about the Lancashire/Cumbria group, please email lancashirecumbriagroup314@gmail.com and for the Hull group, you can email fertilitygrouphull@gmail.com.

You can find a list of all the other Fertility Network UK groups on their website here. There really is nothing to lose by going along once and seeing what you think – you may find it helps far more than you expected!

Do you want to run away from Mother’s Day?

It’s the run up which is just as bad as the event itself and it can seem as if there is no escape from Mother’s Day, but if you are anywhere near Liverpool on Sunday, there is something you may want to know about. It’s called the Mother’s Day Runaways service, will take place in the Lady Chapel at Liverpool Cathedral and it aims to offer a safe space for those who find Mothering Sunday difficult.

Whether you’re grieving the loss of a mother, the loss of a child, or a baby through miscarriage, whether you’re struggling with infertility or childlessness, singleness or a difficult relationship, whether you never even knew your mother or whether there is another reason why you might find Mothering Sunday painful, this quiet, reflective service has been designed with you in mind.

It will be an informal gathering, where you will be guided through an hour long service and you can find out more from Saltwater and Honey (and you can find out more about them here.

On egg freezing

There have been a couple of interesting items on egg freezing in the last few days. The first is a piece from the Telegraph, based around a BBC Radio 4 documentary about egg freezing presented by Fi Glover which looks at the reality of egg freezing. It’s definitely worth a read – and a listen – as it looks at why people consider egg freezing and asks whether the promises it offers are a reality.

At the same time, the Guardian’s Mariella Frostrup was answering a dilemma in a letter from someone who felt angry and let down by a friend who had suggested that she shouldn’t bother freezing her eggs at 35 as she was now 40, wanting a baby and had been told she had possibly left it too late. What was most interesting about this was the completely misplaced certainty that she would have been able to have children had she frozen her eggs, when in fact as Fi Glover’s programme and the Telegraph article explain, this may be very far from the case.

There is a huge media interest in egg freezing, and this is an interesting discussion whatever your point of view…

It’s this weekend…

Just a quick reminder for anyone living in or near Manchester that the Fertility Show will be held there this weekend. It’s the first Fertility Show outside London and you can find full details and buy tickets here. You will find a great range of seminars covering a range of fertility-related topics, and a Q and A stage too where you can ask your own questions.

I’ll be speaking about how to choose a fertility clinic and will be at the Fertility Network UK stand for most of the day on Saturday – so do come and say hello!

Celebrating International Women’s Day

It’s International Women’s Day and a good opportunity to celebrate some of the things that women do for one another in fertility. I was thinking of some of the women who have done and continue to do so much to change things in this field, and wanted to thank a few of them.

The first is Clare Lewis-Jones, the former Chief Executive of the charity Fertility Network UK. Clare led the charity as it grew in size and influence and was a presence at every fertility conference and event, reminding professionals of the need to think about the patient perspective. She championed the cause and helped to change the way people think about fertility, removing some of the stigma and encouraging us to talk, in part by being open about her own fertility story. Clare was awarded a much-deserved MBE for her work and was a real inspiration to me.

The second is Jessica Hepburn, who wrote a book about her own experiences of fertility problems and treatment and who went on to set up Fertility Fest. Jessica is an amazingly inspiring person who has swum the Channel and is now running the marathon to raise funds to help to support other people going through fertility problems. She has spoken widely and openly about how it feels to have unsuccessful treatment and has enabled many other people to talk about this.

My third is someone you may not know. She is called Diane and she runs the support line at Fertility Network UK. Diane is a nurse and has been answering calls and responding to emails from fertility patients for as long as I can remember. Every time I’ve suggested that anyone might benefit from giving her a call, they’ve been really touched by her kindness and helped so much by the support and advice she has offered. Diane has been at hand for hundreds of fertility patients on their journeys and is a real inspiration with her positivity and generosity of spirit.

These are just three women – there are so many more I can think of out there who are doing remarkable work to support and encourage, to inspire and inform. There are also all those women who support one another every day just by being there for each other, by showing their understanding and offering words of encouragement to their fellow fertility patients. The importance of that support should never be underestimated. Happy International Women’s Day to you all!