Have you tried a support group?

If you’re immediately thinking “I don’t need a support group” or “I don’t like the sound of support groups”, “Aren’t they full of needy people?”, “Wouldn’t it be a bit embarrassing?” or “I think it would make me feel worse” – think again…

“I don’t need a support group” – Does anyone absolutely need a support group? Not really – but for those who go along, it can be a welcome additional source of companionship and support. You may not need a group, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find it helpful.

“I don’t like the sound of a support group” – I often think that calling fertility networking groups “support” groups is one of the most off-putting things about them. The idea of a support group conjures up visions of having to start by saying “My name is x and I am infertile”. It’s not like that at all. Think of a support group as a way to meet up with others who are going through similar experiences and an opportunity to share and learn from one another.

“Aren’t they full of needy people?” – No, they are full of people like you and me. We all need help sometimes, but the groups are full of people who are actively doing something about this and have decided to help themselves. They’re the stronger ones who are finding ways to get the support we all need during fertility tests and treatment.

“Wouldn’t it be a bit embarrassing?” – People are often anxious about going along to their first support group. Fertility problems are so personal and so intense and it can feel frightening to think that you are going to open up a bit in front of others – but remember you don’t have to. What you say in a group is up to you. Some people talk a lot, others a less depending on how they feel and what they need. A group is a source of warmth and friendship rather than of embarrassment and most people overcome any shyness very quickly.

“I think it will make me feel worse” – You might think that an evening focusing on fertility would be a rather gloomy and miserable event – and that it would be full of tears and sadness. In fact, in every support group I’ve ever run, there has been far more laughter than tears – if you don’t believe me, why not try one and see…

You have everything to gain and nothing to lose by trying a support group. Fertility Network run them right across the UK, and groups are listed on the Fertility Matters events page so you can find your nearest group. Go along and see what you think – you may find you are pleasantly surprised…

National Infertility Awareness Week

It’s the final day of National Infertility Awareness Week in the US and there are still lots of ways to get involved. Check out the website for events like the Walk of Hope if you live in the States, but those who don’t you can still support the week on social media using the hashtags #ListenUp #NIAW to help raise the profile of the week and the cause.

This year’s theme is “Listen Up!” and RESOLVE, the US support network, is hoping that anyone who cares about infertility can feel empowered to do something that makes a difference, either in your own family building journey or to help someone else. They are calling on everyone to “Listen Up!” and become part of the movement.

“Twins” born years apart…

Every so often there’s an article like this one in today’s Guardian, about “twins” born years apart… The writer of this piece has a son and daughter born as a result of one fresh IVF cycle and a further frozen embryo transfer from the same batch of embryos.

It is a fortunate, yet far from uncommon, experience after fertility treatment, but it doesn’t make the children “twins”. Twins are two babies who are carried together and born at the same time, which these children were not. They are siblings rather than twins.

The Guardian seem to specialise in this myth – here are some previous twins who were born five years apart, although at least that time they called them “twins” in the headline…  Those were also covered by the Telegraph. And unsurprisingly the Daily Mail likes them too – these brothers born two years apart are “technically” twins according to the Mail – in fact, they are technically not twins. It is always made to sound as if it is some extraordinary and highly unusual matter, yet there are hundreds of thousands of siblings around the world who will have been conceived in a similar way.

Maybe I’m getting pedantic in my old age…

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.