In praise of fertility nurses

Today is International Nurses’ Day, so I thought I’d dedicate this post to fertility nurses. When people think about different fertility clinics, there’s always a focus on the consultants when in fact although they are in charge of a patient’s care, they may do very little of the day-to-day care during a cycle of treatment. It’s often the consultants who attract patients to one clinic or another, and yet it may be the nurses who can make a real difference to how you feel during your fertility treatment.

Different clinics have different ways of working, but nurses may carry out scans and check bloods as well as doing much of the more practical dealing with fertility patients. More often than not, a fertility nurse will teach you how to do your injections, will talk to you about how you are feeling, will be there at the end of the phone as a first port of call for your questions or queries. It’s also the fertility nurses who may notice when you are finding it hard to cope and who may suggest a session with the clinic counsellor.

So today, let’s say thank you to the fertility nurses who do so much to help fertility patients but take so little of the credit…

Conceiving Histories

If you’re in or near London, there’s an event later this month which may be of interest presenting the work to date of a project called Conceiving Histories, which looks at what the researchers call “the history of un-pregnancy” – so trying to conceive and the politics of childlessness in the past as well as the ambiguity of early pregnancy diagnosis.

It is funded by Birkbeck, University of London and the Wellcome Trust and aims to identify and research case studies from different historical moments. At this particular event they will be looking at pregnancy diagnosis today and in the past.

It will take place on Wednesday 17 May and it is free to attend but you need to book – further details here.

Fertility buddies

What a brilliant idea from the Jewish Fertility Foundation reported in the Atlanta Jewish Times in the US to sponsor a training scheme for “fertility buddies”.  People who have been through fertility problems will be trained to provide support and guidance to others who are just starting out on their fertility journeys. The support system will include regular contact between the two to discuss feelings and problems that can arise.

The Jewish Fertility Foundation will carefully match the buddies, almost like a dating service match, to try to help ensure that the system works well. It’s such a brilliant idea – you can read more about it here. The Foundation also organises “infertility sensitivity training” for those working within the faith who may encounter people with fertility problems. Congratulations on two great initiatives which will make such a difference to those experiencing fertility problems.

Scottish Fertility Options Day

If you live in Scotland, have you registered to attend the Scottish Fertility Options Day on 6 May in Glasgow? It promises to be a really interesting day – with lots of useful information whatever stage of your fertility journey you are at.

There are talks on health and wellness, including the odds of IVF working for you, the psychological impact of infertility and innovations in embryo research. Speakers include Dr Sarah Martins da Silva, fertility counsellor Alison Elliot, Consultant Clinical Embryologist Dr Rachel Gregoire and a representative of The Natural Fertility Centre.

The day is organised by Fertility Network Scotland and it is free to attend – you can book online and it is well worth going along if you can.

Have you tried a support group?

If you’re immediately thinking “I don’t need a support group” or “I don’t like the sound of support groups”, “Aren’t they full of needy people?”, “Wouldn’t it be a bit embarrassing?” or “I think it would make me feel worse” – think again…

“I don’t need a support group” – Does anyone absolutely need a support group? Not really – but for those who go along, it can be a welcome additional source of companionship and support. You may not need a group, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find it helpful.

“I don’t like the sound of a support group” – I often think that calling fertility networking groups “support” groups is one of the most off-putting things about them. The idea of a support group conjures up visions of having to start by saying “My name is x and I am infertile”. It’s not like that at all. Think of a support group as a way to meet up with others who are going through similar experiences and an opportunity to share and learn from one another.

“Aren’t they full of needy people?” – No, they are full of people like you and me. We all need help sometimes, but the groups are full of people who are actively doing something about this and have decided to help themselves. They’re the stronger ones who are finding ways to get the support we all need during fertility tests and treatment.

“Wouldn’t it be a bit embarrassing?” – People are often anxious about going along to their first support group. Fertility problems are so personal and so intense and it can feel frightening to think that you are going to open up a bit in front of others – but remember you don’t have to. What you say in a group is up to you. Some people talk a lot, others a less depending on how they feel and what they need. A group is a source of warmth and friendship rather than of embarrassment and most people overcome any shyness very quickly.

“I think it will make me feel worse” – You might think that an evening focusing on fertility would be a rather gloomy and miserable event – and that it would be full of tears and sadness. In fact, in every support group I’ve ever run, there has been far more laughter than tears – if you don’t believe me, why not try one and see…

You have everything to gain and nothing to lose by trying a support group. Fertility Network run them right across the UK, and groups are listed on the Fertility Matters events page so you can find your nearest group. Go along and see what you think – you may find you are pleasantly surprised…

National Infertility Awareness Week

It’s the final day of National Infertility Awareness Week in the US and there are still lots of ways to get involved. Check out the website for events like the Walk of Hope if you live in the States, but those who don’t you can still support the week on social media using the hashtags #ListenUp #NIAW to help raise the profile of the week and the cause.

This year’s theme is “Listen Up!” and RESOLVE, the US support network, is hoping that anyone who cares about infertility can feel empowered to do something that makes a difference, either in your own family building journey or to help someone else. They are calling on everyone to “Listen Up!” and become part of the movement.

“Twins” born years apart…

Every so often there’s an article like this one in today’s Guardian, about “twins” born years apart… The writer of this piece has a son and daughter born as a result of one fresh IVF cycle and a further frozen embryo transfer from the same batch of embryos.

It is a fortunate, yet far from uncommon, experience after fertility treatment, but it doesn’t make the children “twins”. Twins are two babies who are carried together and born at the same time, which these children were not. They are siblings rather than twins.

The Guardian seem to specialise in this myth – here are some previous twins who were born five years apart, although at least that time they called them “twins” in the headline…  Those were also covered by the Telegraph. And unsurprisingly the Daily Mail likes them too – these brothers born two years apart are “technically” twins according to the Mail – in fact, they are technically not twins. It is always made to sound as if it is some extraordinary and highly unusual matter, yet there are hundreds of thousands of siblings around the world who will have been conceived in a similar way.

Maybe I’m getting pedantic in my old age…

Congratulations Jessica!

I went to watch the London Marathon yesterday which I do every year as it passes near where I live. It’s always inspiring to see so many people who are doing such a remarkable thing to raise money for charities, often those close to their own hearts. This year, I was particularly hoping to cheer on Jessica Hepburn who was running to raise funds for Fertility Network UK – although I missed her in the crowds, I was able to keep track of her amazing run on the Marathon app. Jessica, who does so much fantastic work in this field, did so well and if you haven’t already, there is still time to sponsor her. The website for donating has been very busy so if you don’t get through right away, do go back later!

Running a marathon really is a huge feat, and so I wanted to congratulate not just the brilliant Jessica, but also my other marathon-running friends – running inspiration Sarah from Greenwich Runners, Liz and Patrick who crossed the finishing line together and the incredibly super speedy Dr Kate – well done to you all!

Fertility trial open to people on 2nd and 3rd cycles

Often fertility trials are only open to those who are going through their first cycle of IVF treatment, but the E-Freeze trial is now also taking patients who are having their second or third treatment cycles.

E-Freeze is investigating the theory that using frozen thawed embryos may lead to improved pregnancy rates. When frozen embryos are used, there is a delay in embryo transfer of at least a month, and the theory is that allowing the hormones used in ovarian stimulation to wear off and giving the womb time to return to its natural state may increase the chances of success.

Without more research we cannot say if fresh or frozen thawed embryo transfer is better for the first cycle of fertility treatment. E-Freeze will compare these two types of embryo transfer in more than a thousand couples from IVF centres throughout the UK to find out which, if any, gives the best chance of having a healthy baby.

If you are interested in taking part, you can find lots of information about the trial on the E-Freeze website and a list of all the participating centres.

Low ovarian reserve

If you’re trying to conceive, you will be aware of your ovarian reserve but when you are starting out on your fertility journey, this isn’t something you will have come across before. Our potential to produce eggs declines as we get older, but the rate at which this happens is different for everyone – so some women may be diagnosed with a low ovarian reserve in their thirties or even twenties, which often comes as a real surprise as there may be no other signs of any decline in fertility at all.

If you want to know about your ovarian reserve, I was interviewed about the emotional impact by Allie Anderson for an article for NetDoctor the other day which you can read online here.  It is important that we talk about this issue more often and more openly. Fertility specialists may suggest using donor eggs if they feel the ovarian reserve is so low that IVF is unlikely to be successful, but for women this may seem a huge and unexpected step and is certainly one which needs thought and counselling.

Anyone who is using donor eggs or sperm will find it useful to contact the Donor Conception Network who can provide information, help and support.