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.

Beyond the Myths of Childlessness

I’ve just finished reading an interesting book by Vivienne Edgecombe called Already Complete – Beyond the Myths of Childlessness which is about finding peace about a future without children. I first met Vivienne when I worked for the charity Fertility Network UK, and asked her to be one of the speakers at a day-long conference I organised for More to Life, the part of the charity which supports those who are living without children. Vivienne gave an amazing and truly inspiring talk about how she had found happiness despite living with involuntary childlessness, so I was excited to read her book.

Vivienne believes that our feelings are governed by our thought processes. Relating this to involuntary childlessness, she explores the idea that how we feel about this is entirely down to our thoughts and that once we see this, we can free ourselves from our thoughts and stop their impact on our feelings. It’s an interesting theory and she puts forward a number of key myths about childlessness which she aims to show are no more than myths. She takes these apart, explaining that they are far from inevitable truths but that the pain we may feel is more to do with the way we believe our thoughts about them. By deconstructing our thoughts, she believes we can free ourself from them. I would be really interested to know how this resonates with those who may have recently stopped treatment or who are in the early days of exploring life without children when they have wanted them. The central theme of Vivienne’s book is that no one needs children in order to be complete as we are already complete, whatever our situation.

Already Complete – Beyond the Myths of Childlessness is available on Amazon at £9.95 and you can also get it as an audiobook. You can find Vivienne’s website at InsideOutChange 

Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness

Last week, I had the honour of interviewing Lesley Pyne about her new book, Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness, at her book launch. Lesley went through six rounds of IVF, and spent many years feeling defeated by the experience of living without children – but eventually realised that stuffing her grief into a box and trying to keep a stiff upper lip wasn’t working. Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness is Lesley’s guide for anyone experiencing involuntary childlessness as she takes you through the process that allowed her to discover the happiness on the other side. There’s no short cut to this, and you have to let yourself experience the grief and sadness to come out the other side, but Lesley is a living testament to the fact that this works – and that there is joy to be found,

It was great to see so many people there for the book launch, including the team from Fertility Network UK (Lesley is pictured here with Fertility Network UK Chief Executive Aileen Feeney) and fellow author Jessica Hepburn.The guests included many of Lesley’s friends from More to Life, the part of Fertility Network UK which works with those who are living without children. It was a testament to those lasting friendships that Lesley – and many others – found through the organisation to see so many of the group Lesley first met when she first joined Moe to Life still there and offering their support.

Lesley’s motif is a butterfly and the tables of books were also covered in piles of beautiful butterfly biscuits, carefully colour-coded to match Lesley’s book cover and website.

Lesley works as a coach, supporting others through childlessness, and you can find her guide to a more fulfilling life in the book Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness which is available in paperback and for Kindle, and you can buy it via Amazon.

Thank you Fertility Fest!

I have spent the past few days at Fertility Fest at the Bush Theatre in London, and wanted to thank Jessica Hepburn and Gabby Vautier for organising such a wonderful and inspiring event. It was a unique opportunity for people affected by fertility problems and treatment, for those working in the fertility sector, for those who have families not created in the traditional way, for academics and for the general public to come together and to learn and be inspired. It was absolutely fabulous!

I met amazing artists and so many inspiring and interesting people doing all kinds of different work to help and support others in different ways. It was a real honour to be involved. A special thank you to the lovely Saskia Boujo and everyone I shared a panel with – artist Gina Glover, Dr Kay Elder, Sally Cheshire, Dr Roy FarquharsonMaria Da Luz Ghoumrassi, Dr Shantel Ehrenberg, Barbara Scott, Jane Denton, Anna Furse, Nina Klaff, Drunken Sailor Theatre Company, Victoria Macdonald, Foz Foster, Tabitha Moses, Professor Lesley Regan, Professor Simon Fishel, Yvonne John, Sue Macmillan, Carmel Dennehy, Tracey Sainsbury, Fiona Duffelen – to Paula Knight who was unable to be with us but sent a video – and of course, to those wonderful women Jessica and Gabby who have created something really very special!

For anyone pregnant after fertility treatment

I’ve heard from so many people recently who are pregnant after fertility problems who are full of anxiety and feel their pregnancies, which ought to be joyful, are being tainted by the worries from the time spent trying to conceive. Women then blame themselves once again for not being “normal”, but this is a perfectly understandable response to finally finding yourself pregnant after fertility problems. You may find it hard to have faith that things are going to be all right when you have become so accustomed to them not being all right.

It may be helpful to know that there is a closed Facebook group which I look after for the patient charity Fertility Network UK which is just for people who are pregnant after fertility problems which you can find at https://www.facebook.com/groups/Pregnancyafterinfertility/

The other resource which may be helpful is a book I wrote because I felt so strongly about the lack of understanding for people who are pregnant after fertility problems. It’s called Precious Babies – Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting after Infertility and you can buy it from Amazon. It goes from the positive pregnancy test right through birth and early parenthood to interviews with adults conceived by IVF and I hope it helps you realise that you are not alone and that others feel the same way after fertility problems.

 

Join the Women’s Network

If you haven’t yet put in your application, you have until Monday 7 May to apply to join the brilliant Women’s Network at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. The RCOG Women’s Network is a dynamic committee which lies at the heart of the College’s work to improve the health of people who use obstetric and gynaecological services. The lay women on the Network ensure the views of the public impact meaningfully on women’s  experience of healthcare services and their treatment outcomes.

As a member of the Network you will work collaboratively with other Network members, doctors and RCOG staff to inform the College’s activities from the public perspective. Membership is a voluntary opportunity which requires significant time and commitment, however brings rewarding benefits and the chance to influence care and services in the areas of fertility, pregnancy and birth, menopause and gynaecological conditions.

You can find out more about the role here, but if you’re enthusiastic with a keen interest in women’s health and if you are dedicated to making a difference, come and join us!