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!

Get Lippy

It may feel slightly off-topic, but actually it isn’t… Today I want to talk about gynaecological cancers as I spent this morning at the launch of a fantastic new campaign by the brilliant charity The Eve Appeal aimed at encouraging everyone to speak out about the signs and symptoms of gynaecological cancers without embarrassment.

Called Get Lippy, the campaigners are working with a number of key beauty brands who will give a donation to the appeal for one of their featured lipsticks, lip balms or lip glosses during the month of May. The money raised will be spent on vital research into early diagnosis and treatment.

So where does fertility come into this? For many women affected, it is one of the key issues as even when the treatment offered is successful at treating their cancer, it can leave them unable to conceive. The Get Lippy campaign calls on everyone to speak out loudly about the signs and symptoms so that more women can be diagnosed as early as possible and more of them will have a positive outcome.

The retailers supporting the Get Lippy campaign are Tesco, Harvey Nichols, Space NK and Oliver Bonas and the brands include Vaseline, Hourglass, Bali Balm, EOS, Elemis, Lipstick Queen and Smashbox.

Athena Lamnisos, Chief Executive of the Eve Appeal said, “We are thrilled to be working alongside such a breadth of powerful brand partners and beauty names for Get Lippy and their support is so important in making these health issues easier to talk about. Challenging taboos and raising awareness, the Get Lippy campaign will be a huge boost towards funding for The Eve Appeal\s pioneering research to save women’s lives through early detection and prevention of all five gynaecological cancers. We all need to Get Lippy this May, and every May from now on.”

Every day in the UK 58 women are diagnosed with one of the five forms of gynaecological cancer – womb, ovarian, vertical, vulval and vaginal – affecting more than 21,000 women and their families every year. You can find out much more about the signs and symptoms of each of these cancers on The Eve Appeal website so that you can Get Lippy and join the campaign!

Are you coming to Fertility Fest?

Fertility Fest is the world’s first arts festival dedicated to fertility, infertility, modern families and the science of making babies – and you really ought to be there!  It promises 150 artists and fertility experts in a week-long programme of events, entertainment, discussion, debate, support and solidarity.

It runs from 8 – 13 May at the Bush Theatre in London, and has the most amazing array of sessions. You will find Izzy Judd – wife of McFly’s Harry Judd and author of the bestselling memoir Dare to Dream – talking about their experiences of fertility treatment and trying to conceive. There’s a session on the often overlooked male experience of infertility with a screening of a film about a man whose relationship breaks down as a result of infertility and a documentary film about men’s experiences of infertility. You could listen to poet Julia Copus performing her poetry cycle which was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award or  film-maker Katie Barlow sharing excerpts from her ongoing documentary film-project. In a session on pregnancy loss, award-winning visual artists Foz Foster and Tabitha Moses will explore their experiences with Professor Lesley Regan, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and one of the world’s leading voices on miscarriage. And on Wednesday 9th May, there’s a special event entitled ‘There’s More To Life Than Having Children’ hosted and chaired by Fertility Network UK’s Catherine Strawbridge.

One exciting series during the festival is the ‘Fertility Fight Club’ in which leading artists and fertility experts including Professor Geeta Nargund (from Create Fertility), Jody Day (Founder of Gateway Women the friendship and support network for childless women) and writer and theatre-maker Stella Duffy will give ten minute provocative talks about things they want to change about the world of fertility and infertility. These will be live streamed so that people can participate from their armchair at home and from anywhere around the world.

This is just a tiny taster of the huge range of different events during the week – have a look at the full programme on the Fertility Fest website www.fertilityfest.com and tickets (£10 – £35 plus a wide selection of FREE events) can be booked from the Bush’s box office https://www.bushtheatre.co.uk