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.

Moondance by Diane Chandler

I owe Diane Chandler a huge apology as I’ve been meaning to review her book Moondance for months – and it’s a novel that will resonate with many fertility patients. We should always welcome novels about fertility problems and IVF because they really do help to normalise what can seem a very lonely experience, and also educate other people about the realities of what it’s like not to be able to get pregnant.

In Moondance we follow Cat and Dom through their attempts to conceive, fertility tests and the crashing ups and downs of treatment. There is much that will be familiar to anyone who has been through this themselves, especially in the way that treatment takes centre stage and comes to dominate everything else in life. Cat is not a sympathetic or likeable character – almost unbelievably self-centred, arrogant and selfish – which makes it hard to feel much in the way of empathy at the start of the novel. And yet seeing how someone so obsessed with controlling everything in their life is completely thwarted by their inability to conceive adds strength to the portrayal of the nature of infertility.

This is the sort of book that you sit down with and find yourself speeding through – despite being a thick book it’s a fairly quick read. There are a couple of niggling inaccuracies, for example, a type of post-coital sperm test which is medically impossible, but these don’t detract from what is otherwise a detailed account of the realities of treatment.

Moondance is published by Blackbird Digital Books and the paperback is priced at £8.99

Council acts after IVF cuts

Thanks to Carole Bonner, Chair of Croydon Council’s health and social care scrutiny sub-committee, and her fellow members who have called on the government to stop cuts to all funding for IVF in the area. They sent a letter to the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, asking him to look at the decision to cut all funding made by the local Clinical Commissioning Group.

It is the first time that a decision has been challenged in this way and the Committee was concerned that the impact of the decision to remove access to fertility treatment would mean that those in the most deprived, low-income areas will be unable to afford to have IVF. A consultation carried out locally by the Clinical Commissioning Group showed that 77% of almost 800 respondents thought the funding should be retained.

Councillor Carole Bonner said “We’re making this referral because of the potential long-term adverse health effects the removal of IVF will have on Croydon residents. Not only can infertility result in family breakdown and the ending of relationships, it often has an impact on the mental health of those affected. A comprehensive study was carried out by Middlesex University and the Fertility Network that showed a clear correlation between infertility and depression, with 90% experiencing depression. The committee is acutely aware of, and has sympathy for, the CCG’s underfunding and the inconsistencies of the funding formula when compared to similar authorities. However, we feel that the effects of the withdrawal of IVF funding in Croydon are not in the best interests of the borough’s residents.”

Whatever the outcome, it is heartening to see a local Council appreciating the huge impact that cutting fertility services can have for a relatively small saving – so thanks to Croydon and let’s hope that others are inspired to follow their example.

New fertility support groups

The patient support charity Fertility Network UK has announced two new support groups which have been set up recently in Lancashire/Cumbria and in Hull.

I know many people don’t like to think that they might need a “support group” but what is so invaluable about the groups is being able to meet up with other people who are going through similar things and to share experiences. It really can be such a huge relief just to know that there are other people out there finding it hard to be happy when a close friend announces a pregnancy, or who take long detours to avoid the local nursery at pick up and drop off times. Going along to a group is a sign of strength rather than suggesting that you need more support than other people and if you see it that way, it can be a useful – and free – way of helping yourself through treatment.

For more information about the Lancashire/Cumbria group, please email lancashirecumbriagroup314@gmail.com and for the Hull group, you can email fertilitygrouphull@gmail.com.

You can find a list of all the other Fertility Network UK groups on their website here. There really is nothing to lose by going along once and seeing what you think – you may find it helps far more than you expected!

Do you want to run away from Mother’s Day?

It’s the run up which is just as bad as the event itself and it can seem as if there is no escape from Mother’s Day, but if you are anywhere near Liverpool on Sunday, there is something you may want to know about. It’s called the Mother’s Day Runaways service, will take place in the Lady Chapel at Liverpool Cathedral and it aims to offer a safe space for those who find Mothering Sunday difficult.

Whether you’re grieving the loss of a mother, the loss of a child, or a baby through miscarriage, whether you’re struggling with infertility or childlessness, singleness or a difficult relationship, whether you never even knew your mother or whether there is another reason why you might find Mothering Sunday painful, this quiet, reflective service has been designed with you in mind.

It will be an informal gathering, where you will be guided through an hour long service and you can find out more from Saltwater and Honey (and you can find out more about them here.

On egg freezing

There have been a couple of interesting items on egg freezing in the last few days. The first is a piece from the Telegraph, based around a BBC Radio 4 documentary about egg freezing presented by Fi Glover which looks at the reality of egg freezing. It’s definitely worth a read – and a listen – as it looks at why people consider egg freezing and asks whether the promises it offers are a reality.

At the same time, the Guardian’s Mariella Frostrup was answering a dilemma in a letter from someone who felt angry and let down by a friend who had suggested that she shouldn’t bother freezing her eggs at 35 as she was now 40, wanting a baby and had been told she had possibly left it too late. What was most interesting about this was the completely misplaced certainty that she would have been able to have children had she frozen her eggs, when in fact as Fi Glover’s programme and the Telegraph article explain, this may be very far from the case.

There is a huge media interest in egg freezing, and this is an interesting discussion whatever your point of view…

It’s this weekend…

Just a quick reminder for anyone living in or near Manchester that the Fertility Show will be held there this weekend. It’s the first Fertility Show outside London and you can find full details and buy tickets here. You will find a great range of seminars covering a range of fertility-related topics, and a Q and A stage too where you can ask your own questions.

I’ll be speaking about how to choose a fertility clinic and will be at the Fertility Network UK stand for most of the day on Saturday – so do come and say hello!

Celebrating International Women’s Day

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!

What should you do in the Two Week Wait?

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.

It’s March, so make time for tea!

It’s the first day of March today, which means it’s time to Make Time for Tea for the Eve Appeal. The Eve Appeal is the only UK national charity raising awareness and funding research in the five gynaecological cancers. It was set up to save women’s lives by promoting research looking at effective methods of risk prediction, earlier detection and developing screening for these women-only cancers.

The Make Time for Tea initiative is part of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and is aimed at encouraging women (and men) to open up about ovarian cancer and understand the vital signs and symptoms as early detection is key. A tea party is the perfect opportunity to do just this and also raise funds for and awareness of ovarian cancer.

You could host your own event as a tea party to raise funds by asking for donations, or run a bake sale. The Eve Appeal have free fundraising packs, and the first 500 people to sign up will receive a free fabulous Vintage Apron Pattern from Vogue Patterns!

Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer amongst women in the UK and very little has changed for ovarian cancer survival, where so much progress has been made for other health conditions. Over 7,300 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year and sadly 11 women die every day – the team at the Eve Appeal are determined to change these statistics, but they need your help…