For anyone with any experience at all of fertility problems, there’s a general understanding that probably the worst thing someone can say to you is “just relax…”, and yet this is the advice a TV doctor gave on ITV’s Lorraine programme. Dr Hilary Jones apparently said to a caller who was asking for advice after three unsuccessful rounds of IVF; “What I would say is, and this is probably the hardest thing to do, is just relax about it. There have been so many people that I’ve known who’ve gone through several rounds of IVF and nothing happens. And when they’ve given up, and gotten on with their lives, it miraculously happens naturally… Sometimes stress itself can have a very negative effect. So try living your life as normally as you can.”
I suppose this just shows why you should stick to asking fertility specialists for advice rather than a TV doctor, but there has been an understandable backlash from fertility patients and the charity Fertility Network UK. There is certainly a lesson to be learned for TV producers about the risks of getting a GP, who is by nature a generalist rather than a specialist, to offer advice to those who have already been treated by experts in any field of medicine. But should any doctor, even if they are a GP rather than a specialist, be telling people to “just relax” or suggesting that stress might be to blame for infertility? Apart from anything else, we all know that fertility problems cause huge amounts of stress – and that telling someone who is trying to conceive to “just relax” is about as helpful as telling them to get a dog, go on holiday or any of the other helpful advice that non-experts in the field like to pass on.
There is another problem here though, and that’s to do with blame. Suggesting that your stress levels might be responsible for your blocked fallopian tubes or endometriosis is nonsense, and yet many people do end up feeling that it’s their fault they can’t conceive in a culture which encourages you to believe that you can make the difference to outcomes by thinking positive, clean eating or complementary therapies. The truth is that none of these things are going to unblock your tubes or get rid of endometriosis, and for a medical professional to suggest that getting pregnant might miraculously happen naturally if you just relax is quite bizarre.
It was an honour to be at the House of Lords last night to help to celebrate 25 years of the Donor Conception Network – a fabulous organisation working to support would-be and current parents and their children. We heard about how the charity was started by a group of parents, and how the brilliant Olivia Montuschi and her husband Walter helped to steer it forwards. We heard from Professor Ken Daniels who had come all the way from New Zealand and who spoke about the worldwide reach and respect for the charity. We heard from Dr Marilyn Crawshaw from York about how vital the work of the Donor Conception Network is. There were moving talks from a parent about what the Network means to her and how vital it is, and from the wonderful Aled who talked about being donor-conceived. And finally we heard from Nina Barnsley, who runs the charity as Director and who takes it forward to another 25 years ahead.
If you are considering using donor eggs or sperm or a donated embryo, the Donor Conception Network should be your first port of call. They offer support on the phone and by email, and run workshops for people considering donor conception. They also arrange local meet ups and a range of events for would-be parents and for families. They also offer support for young people who are donor-conceived and have a range of story books and information about how to talk about donor conception. They are non-judgemental, supportive and a fantastic resource.
If you are interested in a role in the world of women’s health, there are some fabulous opportunities open at the moment. For anyone looking to volunteer, the Women’s Network which I chair at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has some spaces. It’s a fantastic group of dynamic women committed to improving women’s health experiences, and members must be able to commit at least two full days at the College (in central London) every three months when meetings take place. New members of the Network will be expected to become involved in the work of a committees relating to RCOG’s work too, and to have regular email contact. It is a big ask, but it’s an extremely rewarding and interesting role and a chance to make a real difference. There are more details here
There are also two jobs at the charity Fertility Network UK. One is a short-term cover role for a co-ordinator for the charity for the whole of England, which is an amazing job. The other is for a co-ordinator for More to Life, the part of the charity which works for people who are childless, after stopping treatment or deciding not to have it – a really important role.There are some fabulous people working for the charity and you will have great colleagues. If you are interested, you can find out more here.
One discussion theme which comes up now and again on fertility websites and forums is whether to put back one embryo or two when you are having IVF, and there are always people advising others to “go for two” because it will double the chances of getting pregnant if you “don’t mind” having twins. For anyone who is struggling to conceive, the idea of twins can seem hugely attractive – an instant family in one go – but it’s important to be clear that multiple pregnancy is the biggest risk from IVF treatment for you and for your baby.
The best advice to anyone who is thinking about this as a dilemma is that you should be guided by the embryologists at your clinic, assuming you are having treatment here in the UK where your health and that of your babies is always put first when it comes to numbers of embryos to transfer. Most women should have one embryo put back, and two are only considered if you have had repeated unsuccessful attempts at IVF in the past, if you are older or if your embryos look less likely to implant. Putting two embryos back will not double your chances of getting pregnant. In fact, when single embryo transfer is based on your embryologist’s advice, it should not reduce your chances of getting pregnant and if you would have got pregnant with twins, you will still get pregnant with one embryo. A multiple pregnancy is more likely to end in miscarriage but this is not always considered when people are making decisions about how many embryos to transfer.
Although we all know lots of twins who are flourishing and healthy, we don’t hear so much about those who aren’t. The increased risk of miscarriage, and of problems for the babies who are more likely to be born prematurely and may have disabilities or long term problems is very real. There are also risks for the mother such as high blood pressure and pre eclampsia and haemorrhage. You can read more about this here on the HFEA website.
This is why the best fertility clinics – those who really have your interests at heart – have a good success rate and a low multiple pregnancy rate.
Could you spare a few moments to help with a research project? I’ve just been asked to circulate details to people with experience of fertility problems about an important research project which is trying to establish core outcomes for clinical trials. If all trials into fertility reported on the same outcomes, it would be possible to combine studies to get really meaningful data to help fertility patients in the future. The research team would like your views as they want to involve lay people with lived experience in helping to shape what the main outcomes should be.
You can read more about the project here and if you decide you would like to take part by answering their questionnaires, you can do that here, apparently it should take no more than 15 minutes to complete. Thanks!
If you’re in South East London, tonight at 7pm at the Fertility Network UK office which is at 20 Egerton Drive Greenwich SE10 8JS, you can come along and meet Aileen Feeney, the Chief Exec of Fertility Network UK, who is going to talk briefly about what the charity does and the support it can offer. The office is near to Greenwich station and DLR. Hope to see you there! x
It’s one of those things people don’t even want to think about when they’re going through fertility treatment – what might happen if it didn’t work, ever? Could you really be happy if you didn’t end up with a baby? What would you do if all that time, effort, money and emotional investment led to nothing? Would your life ever feel fulfilled and enjoyable? Could the overwhelming sadness go away? I want to tell you about someone who is a brilliant example of the fact that life after IVF treatment can be both fulfilled and enjoyable. She’s called Lesley Pyne, and I first met her when I was a trustee for the charity which is now Fertility Network UK. Lesley was one of my fellow trustees, and had joined as she was involved with the section of the charity for people who were involuntarily childless known at the time as More to Life.
Today, I met Lesley for the first time for a while and it struck me that she looked about 10 years younger than she did when I last first knew her – which means she must look about 20 years younger than she really is! Her eyes were bright and shining, and her zest for life was almost palpable. Lesley, who always seemed to be making an effort not to stand out when we were fellow trustees, was dressed in bright colours with electric blue nails. She is happy, she is making the most of the good things in her life – and she has just written a book explaining how she went from feeling devastated by unsuccessful treatment to this confident, happy woman who gets the best out of her life – it’s due to be published in June and is called Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness.
It strikes me as we talk that Lesley has embraced something we could all learn from – living for the moment, focusing on the positives and making an effort to enjoy what we have. I haven’t read Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness yet – but she explained that it contains her story and those of a number of other women who have come out the other side of involuntary childlessness to find fulfilment. She says it is a journey, and it can be hard along the way, but that there is life beyond childlessness, there is more to life – and if you need help along that path, keep an eye out for Lesley’s book when it comes out in June.
If you’re looking for a book to support you through your fertility journey, then Making Friends with your Fertility written by specialist fertility counsellor Tracey Sainsbury along with co-author Sarah Rayner may be just what you’re looking for. It contains all the basics you need to know about fertility and treatment but what’s so good about this book is that it is written by someone who really knows how it feels and who understands the difficulties you are likely to face along the way.
I remember having lunch with Tracey some while back now when she told me she was thinking of writing a book. I knew right away that it would be the kind of book fertility patients would welcome, as Tracey is not just a fertility counsellor working in fertility clinics, she also has personal experience of fertility problems, and worked for the charity Fertility Network UK for years. She has known fertility patients as a peer, as a professional and as a support worker and she has a unique perspective on the journey.
So many books about fertility are packed with advice about how to improve your chances of successful treatment through positive thinking. At one level, it may seem helpful to talk about relaxation but what I love about Making Friends with your Fertility is that Tracey appreciates that experiencing fertility problems and going through treatment can be traumatic, and that feeling stressed is a perfectly normal reaction to this. Tracey’s book won’t tell you to “just relax” or to “think yourself pregnant”, but will rather support you to stop blaming yourself for how you feel.
I think Making Friends with your Fertility is a bit like having your own personal fertility counsellor at hand to turn to whenever you need support along the way. There’s a lot here about how you might feel emotionally and how to handle that – and it’s sensible advice. If you want a fertility book that is going to support you along the way, rather than set you impossible challenges, then Making Friends with your Fertility is one to recommend!
I’m going to be running a new fertility group for Fertility Network in Greenwich in South East London which you are welcome to join! We are having our first meeting on the evening of Tuesday March 27. It will be great to see you if you are able to come along!
I first went to a group when I was going through IVF myself and found it hugely helpful to meet other people who understood how we felt. I was a bit uncertain about going along – I didn’t think I was the sort of person who went to group meetings – but in fact it wasn’t gloomy or depressing or any of the other things I’d expected. If anything, it was actually quite uplifting to be in a room full of people who weren’t going to stat asking questions about when we were going to have a baby and why we were leaving it so late…
I’ve run a number of different fertility groups over the years since then and have seen at first hand the benefits they can bring. So why not come along and join us and find out for yourselves…
You can join our brand new Facebook page to find out more or you can get in touch via the contact page here – and hope to see you on the 27th.
It’s Endometriosis Awareness Week organised by the charity Endometriosis UK. They are aiming to increase understanding of endometriosis particularly among women who may not yet have a diagnosis. It takes a shocking average of seven and a half years in the UK to diagnose a woman with endometriosis.
The charity’s website is full of useful information about endometriosis and explains the symptoms which can include painful, heavy, or irregular periods, pain during or after sex infertility, painful bowel movements and fatigue. Around one and a half million women in the UK are currently living with endometriosis which can affect anyone of childbearing age.
There are lots of ways to get involved if you are interested, and you can organise or take part in Endo the Night which is a fundraising initiative aimed at helping to support the charity. Meanwhile, if If you want some quick information on endometriosis, you may also find this helpful – an article about endometriosis with tips leading fertility specialist Anthony Rutherford.