It’s International Women’s Day and a good opportunity to celebrate some of the things that women do for one another in fertility. I was thinking of some of the women who have done and continue to do so much to change things in this field, and wanted to thank a few of them.
The first is Clare Lewis-Jones, the former Chief Executive of the charity Fertility Network UK. Clare led the charity as it grew in size and influence and was a presence at every fertility conference and event, reminding professionals of the need to think about the patient perspective. She championed the cause and helped to change the way people think about fertility, removing some of the stigma and encouraging us to talk, in part by being open about her own fertility story. Clare was awarded a much-deserved MBE for her work and was a real inspiration to me.
The second is Jessica Hepburn, who wrote a book about her own experiences of fertility problems and treatment and who went on to set up Fertility Fest. Jessica is an amazingly inspiring person who has swum the Channel and is now running the marathon to raise funds to help to support other people going through fertility problems. She has spoken widely and openly about how it feels to have unsuccessful treatment and has enabled many other people to talk about this.
My third is someone you may not know. She is called Diane and she runs the support line at Fertility Network UK. Diane is a nurse and has been answering calls and responding to emails from fertility patients for as long as I can remember. Every time I’ve suggested that anyone might benefit from giving her a call, they’ve been really touched by her kindness and helped so much by the support and advice she has offered. Diane has been at hand for hundreds of fertility patients on their journeys and is a real inspiration with her positivity and generosity of spirit.
These are just three women – there are so many more I can think of out there who are doing remarkable work to support and encourage, to inspire and inform. There are also all those women who support one another every day just by being there for each other, by showing their understanding and offering words of encouragement to their fellow fertility patients. The importance of that support should never be underestimated. Happy International Women’s Day to you all!
For most people, it’s probably the worst part of an IVF cycle – the notorious 2ww when you get to spend a fortnight (which seems to last about ten years) on tenterhooks, worried about everything you do and don’t do in case it affects the chances of a positive outcome. One of the most frequently asked questions is what you should and shouldn’t do during this time.
You will find all kinds of advice from all kinds of experts about activities, diet and supplements during the two week wait. There are those who advise that you should take the time off work and do as little as possible, spending the first day or two lying on the sofa. Others may advise going back to work right away to try to keep your mind occupied and suggest that it’s best for your mind and body to keep active and busy. I’ve heard of people drinking pints of milk and others avoiding dairy products. There are women who don’t take baths because they might overheat, and others who are lying around with hot water bottles on their stomachs.
If you visit any fertility forum, you will find it awash with questions and suggestions about the two week wait. Some are quite bizarre – a quick trawl produced all the usual stuff about eating pineapple core and brazil nuts, but the idea that you shouldn’t eat anything uncooked and that you need to wear socks 24 hours a day were both new ones to me!
I will always remember the nurse who cared for us during our first IVF cycle telling me that any rules about what not to do during the two week wait weren’t really set because they would cause an embryo not to implant or induce a miscarriage but rather because they were things that fertility patients often worried about. So, having a glass of wine during the two week wait is not going to stop you getting pregnant, but if your treatment doesn’t work and you’ve had a glass of wine, you are likely to question whether it was to blame.
I think the bottom line with all of this is that if you are sufficiently worried to be asking whether it is OK to do something, it’s probably a good idea not to do it. Two weeks seems a lifetime during the 2ww, but in reality it isn’t a long period to have to give anything up. There are no hard and fast rules, but following your own instincts and doing what feels right for you rather than allowing yourself to be driven to distraction by conflicting suggestions is probably the best advice anyone can give you about what to do and not to do.
Did you know that the Fertility Show will be in Manchester next month? The event which has taken place at London’s Olympia for many years is spreading its wings and will be held at Manchester’s Central Convention Complex in Windmill St on March 25 and 26.
Tickets are now on sale here so do come along if you are nearby – I will be there too speaking about how to choose a fertility clinic and will be on the Fertility Network UK stand so come and say hello!
If you have had unsuccessful fertility treatment and are in the process of moving on after this, you might be interested in a discussion group being organised by Louise Hesselvik who is training to be a Clinical Psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire.
Louise is researching how women who have had fertility treatment are able to move on when treatment has not been successful. If you have tried fertility treatment in the past but have decided to stop treatment, and if you do not have any biological children, Louise would be very interested to speak with about participating in this group.
She will be holding a small focus group to present my research so far, and to get your thoughts and perspective on this at Conway Hall, London on February 2nd at 6:45pm- 8:15pm. By participating in this study you will contribute to a better understanding of the factors which help women coping with unsuccessful fertility treatments and those who are involuntarily childless. Her aim is to use this research to help to guide health professional in how best to support women in this situation.
If you might be interested in participating, you can email Louise at firstname.lastname@example.org and she can give you more details and answer any questions.
Congratulations to the counselling team at Hewitt Fertility Centre in Liverpool who are running a free mindfulness group for their fertility patients. They say research has shown that mindfulness can be helpful for anxiety and depressive symptoms, and knowing that fertility problems and treatment has a significant impact on our emotional and psychological well-being, they are offering the mindfulness group to try to help with this.
The group is free of charge for their patient and each week will cover different short mindfulness practices – what a great idea. You can find out more here
I know people – especially women – sometimes find it hard to see themselves as “inspiring”, but if you have a story to tell about living without children and learning to come to terms with this, then why not get in touch with Lesley? She can send you a list of the questions she would like to ask, and will need submissions by the end of February. You can get in touch with her if you would like to know more at email@example.com
Writing can be a therapeutic response to fertility problems, and fertility counsellor Deborah Sloan is facilitating a new creative writing workshop group in Brighton for men and women who are thinking about their future without much-wanted children.
Using a combination of peer support and creative exercises, each two hour workshop will help you to explore and express the things you may find difficult to share in other areas of your life. The aim of the workshops is to allow you to connect, to support and feel supported and potentially to discover new ways of thinking and being.
You do not need to have any previous experience in writing or creative techniques, and the emphasis is on the process rather than the ‘end product’. The workshops take place in Brighton on Saturday mornings and you can find more details on Deborah’s website.
The Internet can be a fantastic resource when it comes to finding out more about fertility and treatment, and many people gain important insights by reading other people’s fertility stories online. This can, however, have a less helpful side. Although it may be useful to get practical tips, to read about what happens during a cycle and to feel that you are more prepared for what is about to happen, it is also vital to remember that everyone’s treatment is different. The tests carried out, the protocols used, the drugs prescribed can all vary depending on your own individual situation.
Recently I’ve been contacted by a few people asking about their treatment who have become worried that something might not be right because they’ve come across other people who have had different tests or treatments – or who have been prescribed different drugs at different doses. Just because your treatment is not exactly the same as someone else’s, that doesn’t mean it is wrong or less likely to work. If you have concerns, you should never worry about asking at your clinic, but remember that fertility treatment is always tailored to an individual to some degree and that clinics may not all do everything exactly the same way.