Are you confused by fertility nutrition advice?

The chances are you won’t have been through fertility treatment without hearing some nutritional advice about what you should, and shouldn’t be eating. Some of it is very helpful, about following a balanced healthy eating plan, but some of it can start to become quite complicated – and potentially confusing. Should you be eating one piece of pineapple every day for three days after embryo transfer? Or should you be shaving the flesh off, slicing the core into five slices and eating one a day for five days? Should you be drinking one pint of  pure pineapple juice a day? Or are you meant to be avoiding the juice entirely and just consuming the core? And what about the Brazil nuts? Are you meant to eat seven a day? Or three? Or four? Or five? Should you be drinking half a litre of full-fat organic milk every day? Or should you be avoiding all dairy products especially milk and yoghurt as it builds up mucus which interferes with implantation? Then there’s the question of supplements? Should you be taking special fertility supplements, or a range of different individual supplements? Or should you not need any supplements at all if you’re following a healthy eating plan?

If you’ve ever felt confused by fertility eating and lifestyle advice, you may want to get some evidence-based information from an expert in the field. Reproductive biologist and nutrition scientist Grace Dugdale will be at the Fertility Forum in London on March 30, where she will give evidence-based information about health, diet and lifestyle in relation to male  and female fertility. She will talk about what can impact on your fertility, and about preparing your body for pregnancy.

The Fertility Forum is a non-commercial evidence-based day which has been organised by patients and all the professional bodies in the field working together, and aims to help those who have been trying to make sense of the overwhelming mass of information on offer. It takes place at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and is open to anyone who wants to know more about their fertility.

Tickets for the Fertility Forum are on sale here – and you can see more details of the day including a full programme here.

Emotional support

When you’re thinking about having fertility treatment, it’s probably the Injections, drugs and egg collection which sound challenging, but if you ask people who’ve had IVF what makes it so hard, most will say it’s dealing with your emotions which is the really tough part. It’s often described as an “emotional rollercoaster” and although that’s become rather a cliche, it’s true that it’s the ups and downs of treatment that are so hard to handle. IVF can feel like a series of hurdles and no sooner are do you get past one, than you find yourself facing the next along the way.

All fertility clinics offering IVF have to provide people with the opportunity to see a counsellor but it doesn’t have to be included in the cost of treatment. Some people are keen to have counselling support from the start, but others may feel they don’t want or need to see a counsellor, and it’s worth bearing in mind that it is fine to change your mind if you feel you want to access support further down the line.

It may be that part of your concern about counselling is that you aren’t quite sure what it might involve and you may have visions of yourself lying on a couch talking about childhood traumas. If you want to know more about fertility counselling and how it might help, Angela Pericleous-Smith, chair of the British Infertility Counselling Association (BICA) will be speaking on the subject at the Fertility Forum in London on March 30. BICA trains the counsellors who work in the UK’s fertility clinics and offers a “find a counsellor” service to help you to ensure that you can access specialist support no matter where you live. Angela will be talking about  the pressures on yourself, your relationships and your friendships. She will explore coping strategies and explain how to manage anxieties.

The Fertility Forum is a non-commercial evidence-based day which has been organised by patients and all the professional bodies in the field working together, and aims to help those who have been trying to make sense of the overwhelming mass of information on offer.

Tickets for the Fertility Forum are on sale here – and you can see more details of the day including a full programme here.

When IVF doesn’t work…

It’s something no one wants to think about when they are just starting out on fertility tests and treatment, but we know that IVF doesn’t always work. Even in the best case scenario, an individual treatment cycle is more likely to end with a negative pregnancy test than a positive one, although cumulative success rates are much more heartening. Perhaps if we didn’t shy away from the statistics, it would make unsuccessful IVF easier to cope with.

At fertility information events, there is often a reluctance to include any mention of IVF not working, and that doesn’t help fertility patients. We wanted to include a session on this, and on living without children at the Fertility Forum in London on March 30. We wanted to give an opportunity to hear some of the strong and powerful voices of women who are living without children, and how they have found peace and happiness. This session isn’t exclusively for people who are approaching the end of their treatment – it’s just as important for those who are still going through tests and fertility treatments to allow them to see that treatment not working doesn’t have to be the end of happiness.

In a session chaired by Fertility Fest founder Jessica Hepburn, we have four inspiring women who are helping others change the way we think about living without children. There’s Jody Day, founder of Gateway Women, Yvonne John, author of Dreaming of a life unlived, Kelly Da Silva of the Dovecote and Lesley Pyne, author of Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness.

I’ve met all of them and they are a pretty fabulous bunch – don’t be afraid to come and hear what they have to say, no matter where you are on your fertility journey. Organised by patients and bodies representing all the professionals in the field, the Fertility Forum also includes talks on a huge range of other fertility-related topics with many of the UK’s leading experts. Come and join us in London on March 30 for a day of accurate, unbiased information in a non-commercial setting with no promotions or sales pitches. The Fertility Forum is all about evidence – and you can get tickets here.

Fertility in the workplace

Patient support charity Fertility Network UK have launched a new initiative this week called Fertility in the Workplace to try to raise awareness of how difficult it can be for people going through treatment to deal with work.

FNUK chief executive Aileen Feeney said: ‘Fertility treatment is on the increase with approaching 68,000 treatment cycles carried out every year in the UK and 1 in 6 couples (3.5 million people) affected, yet the majority of employers do not have a workplace policy providing the vital support employees going through fertility treatment need. Research shows having a supportive fertility in the workplace policy is good for business and employees – levels of distress associated with fertility treatment are reduced and employees are more likely to be productive and remain in work – that’s why Fertility Network is launching Fertility in the Workplace – an initiative designed to help employers support employees facing fertility challenges.‘Careers need not be damaged or jobs lost if there is an appropriate fertility in the workplace policy identifying the specific support available for couples or individuals having IVF. Introducing Fertility Network’s Fertility in the Workplace initiative ensures employees are treated fairly and empathetically and feel fully supported. The initiative provides a framework for employers to implement a fertility in the workplace policy and, crucially, provides guidance for both employees and for employers, who may have limited understanding of the impact of infertility and what fertility treatment is really like.’

Fertility Network’s research highlights just 26 per cent of people having IVF reported their workplace had some policy relating to treatment (58 per cent said their employer did not, and 19 per cent were not sure). The lack of a fertility workplace policy was associated with even higher levels of distress.

‘Companies are failing already distressed employees if they do not provide a supportive fertility in the workplace policy,’ said Ms Feeney. ‘Fertility Network’s survey underlines just how much the lack of workplace support affects people undergoing IVF. 50 per cent of respondents worried treatment would affect their career prospects; 35 per cent felt their career was damaged.’

Fertility Forum – bringing professionals and the public together

If you’ve ever wanted access to clear, reliable information about fertility problems and treatment, the Fertility Forum on 30 March is for you. Set up by patients working with all the professional bodies in the field, the Fertility Forum aims to be a day of pure evidence about fertility with no promotion for particular clinics or treatments, and no one selling anything. It’s all about evidence.

The Fertility Forum will take place at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) in London, and many of the UK’s leading fertility specialists will be speaking at the day, and there will be three strands of talks. They will cover everything from nutrition and lifestyle advice to the latest developments in fertility treatment. There will be talks on specific fertility issues such as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), on donor treatments and surrogacy, on recurrent miscarriage, on stress and fertility support, on male fertility problems and how men deal with infertility. The HFEA will give advice on how to choose a fertility clinic and there will be a talk on deciding whether to opt for treatment abroad. How embryos develop and why IVF does and doesn’t work will also be discussed along with an assessment of the evidence on additional treatments like endometrial scratch or embryo glue, and there will be a session on accessing NHS funding. You will be able to choose which talks you attend when you get your tickets. There is a charge for the tickets (£25) to cover the cost of putting on the day, but there are no additional charges.

The day has been organised by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and the British Fertility Society working in partnership with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and Fertility Network UK alongside the Association of British Andrologists, British Andrology Society, Association of Clinical Embryologists, British Infertility Counselling Association, Royal College of Nursing and the Senior Infertility Nurses Group. The Donor Conception Network will be taking part in the event along with other patient groups including the Miscarriage Association. The day will be opened by the RCOG President, Professor Lesley Regan, and the Chair of the HFEA, Sally Cheshire CBE.

To find out more and to buy your tickets go to http://bit.ly/FertilityForum

Fertility Fest 2019

Earlier this week, I went to the launch of Fertility Fest 2019 at London’s Barbican where the plans for this year’s event taking place in April and May were revealed. It promises to be another fantastic experience, bringing together a wide range of artists and fertility experts to discuss topics ranging from miscarriage to race and reproduction. There will also be a production based on Julia Leigh’s fantastic book, Avalanche – you can see our interview with Julia about her book here

Have a look at the website, see what’s on and what might interest you and make sure you book your tickets well in advance – this year’s Fertility Fest is sure to sell out sooner rather than later!

That time of year again…

It’s December and it ought to be a lovely time of year, but if you’re trying to conceive, it can be incredibly painful to find yourself faced with constant reminders of what you don’t have as you have to contend with the endless images of happy smiling families wherever you go. It can make you feel very lonely and isolated, as if you’re the only person who isn’t part of the cheery celebrations, so it’s worth bearing in mind that there are 3.5 million other people in the UK at the moment who are experiencing difficulties getting pregnant and who are probably feeling very much like you are about it all.

You will find lots of advice on how to cope at Christmas, but I think perhaps the most important thing to do is to accept that it’s a difficult time of year – and to do all that you can to look after yourself. Just because it’s Christmas, that doesn’t mean you have an obligation to do things that you know will be difficult or upsetting. Don’t feel guilty about making an excuse if you know you will find your niece’s nursery nativity play or the family Christmas party with your three pregnant cousins a challenge. At this time of year, it’s easy to be double-booked and making an excuse is acceptable. If you want, you can be honest and just say that actually you would find it too upsetting, but other people don’t always understand.

If you have friends who are going through fertility problems, it can be a good time to make arrangements to spend time together and do something different. You may even want to get away completely if you are able to and celebrate in your own way whether that’s a Christmas holiday in the Caribbean (yes, I wish too…), a day out in the countryside, pizza for two at home for Christmas lunch or an all-day long scrabble contest. If you want to do something in the spirit of Christmas, you could consider volunteering for a charity like Crisis which provides Christmas for homeless people or Community Christmas which offers companionship to older people who might otherwise be alone.

If you are struggling to deal with this season, it may be helpful to talk to a fertility counsellor who has the specialist skills and knowledge to understand how you are feeling. Some counsellors offer Skype or telephone counselling services and you can find a list of specialist counsellors on the British Infertility Counselling Association website.

Remember, this is your Christmas too and it’s entirely up to you what you want to do. You don’t need anyone’s blessing to decide that you’re going to branch out on your own and do something completely different, something that will make you happy and that you will enjoy. Think carefully about what might make you feel better and have fun whatever you decide!

The Long Road to Baby

Hearing other people’s stories can be so helpful – and heart-warming – when you are trying unsuccessfully to conceive, so thanks are due to the BBC’s Sophie Sulehria and her partner Johnny for charting their fertility story in a BBC Radio 4 podcast. Titled The Long Road to Baby, it bills itself as post-IVF exploration into the alternative ways to become parents. The ten episodes cover a range of topics including unsuccessful IVF, donor treatment, adoption, fostering and living without children.

Sophie has become a leading voice in the fertility world, and her willingness to speak openly about her own experiences has been hugely helpful to so many people struggling with their own fertility issues. Knowing that this can – and does – happen to anyone, including people in the public eye, makes all the difference to those who are feeling isolated and alone.

If you haven’t already, have a listen to the Long Road to Baby – it comes highly recommended!

You are not alone

One of the most difficult things about living with fertility problems is the loneliness and isolation you can feel as everyone around you seems to be getting pregnant effortlessly. If you don’t tell other people what you are going through, you get questions about when you are going to have children and warnings that you don’t want to leave it too late. If you do tell people, you can end up with lots of advice you could do without (“why don’t you just relax/get a dog/go on holiday…”).

Last night, I facilitated a fertility group for the charity Fertility Network UK in South East London and it really struck me, as it does every time we meet, how beneficial it can be to spend some time with other people who really understand how you are feeling and who know what it is like. Fertility Network has groups meeting across the UK, mainly run by volunteers like me, which offer a haven for anyone experiencing fertility problems. It’s a unique opportunity to be with people who share similar experiences and to be able to talk openly and honestly about how you are feeling.

It’s National Fertility Week and there’s lots of work going on to raise awareness about many important fertility-related issues, but one of the most important messages for me is that you don’t need to go through this alone. There are opportunities to meet other people who can offer support, and the groups aren’t miserable or depressing, but rather an opportunity to help yourself to feel less lonely. There are 3.5 million people living with fertility problems in the UK and meeting some of the others may be just what you need.

World Mental Health Day, and why it matters to fertility patients

Today is World Mental Health day, and a good time to think about the mental health impact on fertility problems, tests and treatment. All too often, there’s an attitude from those with no experience of infertility that it isn’t a really serious problem, and yet anyone who has been through this themselves will be only too aware of the way it can impact on your health.

A survey for the patient charity Fertility Network UK and Middlesex University found that respondents reported feeling sad, frustrated, fearful and worried, out of control and helpless most of the time. They often felt stressed, tearful, inadequate, angry, isolated, despairing, depressed, guilty or shamed and experienced low confidence and concentration and a loss of sex driven. They also felt unsupported. Even more alarmingly, 42% of respondents said that they had experienced suicidal feelings.

If you are going through treatment and are finding it tough, there is help and support out there. The patient charity Fertility Network UK offers free group meetings around the country where meeting with other people going through similar experiences can be hugely helpful, and have a support line and online forum too. The British Infertility Counselling Association has a host of specialist counsellors ready to help with emotional support, and you can also talk to your GP if you are feeling in need of counselling. Don’t suffer alone.