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.
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 was great to be at the launch of Fertility Fest 2018 this morning, the fertility arts festival organised by Jessica Hepburn and Gabby Vautier-Farr. We were treated to inspiring words from Jessica and Gabby and an exciting extract of the sort of thing we can expect to enjoy during the festival. You can see the line-up for this year’s festival on the website – www.fertilityfest.com and you can buy tickets now too. I’m already really excited about this year’s festival – there are some amazing artists and expert and fascinating discussions. Make sure you get a ticket before they all sell out – and I hope to see you there!
It’s Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, and if you’re due a smear test, make sure you make an appointment now! Women who are trying to get pregnant still need to have regular smear tests, and if you’re worried about it clashing with treatment, discuss this with a healthcare professional. Screening is so important because it can help to protect you from cervical cancer, as can making sure you know about the symptoms and by seeking medical help if you experience these. The symptoms of cervical cancer may include abnormal bleeding between periods or after intercourse, unusual vaginal discharge, discomfort or pain during intercourse and lower back pain.
Around 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year in the UK, and it’s the most common cancer in women who are under 36. The vast majority of cervical cancers are caused by infections with a virus called high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is an extremely common virus and it is passed from one person to another through skin to skin contact in the genital area. About 80% of sexually active adults are infected with some type of HPV at some time in their lives but for most of them this won’t lead to cancer.
If you haven’t seen the final episode of Hannah and Lewis Vaughan-Jones’ video diary of their IVF journey, you can find it here on YouTube. It made me cry, and I think Hannah and Lewis are incredibly brave to have been so open about their experiences – not only is it heartening to anyone going through fertility problems themselves, it’s also hugely helpful to friends, families and colleagues to give them an insight into the reality of treatment. All too often people dismiss infertility as some kind of selfish 21st century indulgence – mostly, of course, those who’ve managed to conceive without any trouble themselves. By being so honest, Hannah and Lewis have given a vivid illustration of the very real pain and suffering that is all too familiar to the one in seven of us who have personal experience of fertility problems.
So thank you to Hannah and Lewis for doing this and for telling your story on behalf of us all. It is not an easy path to take, but perhaps there is some solace in knowing how much you have helped so many other people – and very best wishes for the future.
If you’re fed up with people DOING things for January – whether it’s Dry January, joining a spin class or taking up tap dancing – you may like to read Lesley Pyne’s latest blog post. I’ve known Lesley for a long time and have witnessed her building up her support network to help other people who are experiencing involuntary childlessness – she offers lots of support and inspiration for anyone living without children, and has helped many people through their own difficult times. You can sign up for regular emails from Lesley which offer tips and advice. What’s more, she’s right about January and people doing things – it can be exhausting to be faced with other people’s bouncy enthusiasm when you’re just trying to get through things yourself.
I didn’t make any new year’s resolutions this year – I’ve come to the conclusion that if you try to give things up, you just feel more focused on them and have a sense of being deprived when you can’t have them. And when you don’t feel you HAVE to go to the gym or go running, it can make exercise seem much more attractive. I know it may be my strange logic, but it works for me…