Emotional support

When you’re thinking about having fertility treatment, it’s probably the Injections, drugs and egg collection which sound challenging, but if you ask people who’ve had IVF what makes it so hard, most will say it’s dealing with your emotions which is the really tough part. It’s often described as an “emotional rollercoaster” and although that’s become rather a cliche, it’s true that it’s the ups and downs of treatment that are so hard to handle. IVF can feel like a series of hurdles and no sooner are do you get past one, than you find yourself facing the next along the way.

All fertility clinics offering IVF have to provide people with the opportunity to see a counsellor but it doesn’t have to be included in the cost of treatment. Some people are keen to have counselling support from the start, but others may feel they don’t want or need to see a counsellor, and it’s worth bearing in mind that it is fine to change your mind if you feel you want to access support further down the line.

It may be that part of your concern about counselling is that you aren’t quite sure what it might involve and you may have visions of yourself lying on a couch talking about childhood traumas. If you want to know more about fertility counselling and how it might help, Angela Pericleous-Smith, chair of the British Infertility Counselling Association (BICA) will be speaking on the subject at the Fertility Forum in London on March 30. BICA trains the counsellors who work in the UK’s fertility clinics and offers a “find a counsellor” service to help you to ensure that you can access specialist support no matter where you live. Angela will be talking about  the pressures on yourself, your relationships and your friendships. She will explore coping strategies and explain how to manage anxieties.

The Fertility Forum is a non-commercial evidence-based day which has been organised by patients and all the professional bodies in the field working together, and aims to help those who have been trying to make sense of the overwhelming mass of information on offer.

Tickets for the Fertility Forum are on sale here – and you can see more details of the day including a full programme here.

That time of year again…

It’s December and it ought to be a lovely time of year, but if you’re trying to conceive, it can be incredibly painful to find yourself faced with constant reminders of what you don’t have as you have to contend with the endless images of happy smiling families wherever you go. It can make you feel very lonely and isolated, as if you’re the only person who isn’t part of the cheery celebrations, so it’s worth bearing in mind that there are 3.5 million other people in the UK at the moment who are experiencing difficulties getting pregnant and who are probably feeling very much like you are about it all.

You will find lots of advice on how to cope at Christmas, but I think perhaps the most important thing to do is to accept that it’s a difficult time of year – and to do all that you can to look after yourself. Just because it’s Christmas, that doesn’t mean you have an obligation to do things that you know will be difficult or upsetting. Don’t feel guilty about making an excuse if you know you will find your niece’s nursery nativity play or the family Christmas party with your three pregnant cousins a challenge. At this time of year, it’s easy to be double-booked and making an excuse is acceptable. If you want, you can be honest and just say that actually you would find it too upsetting, but other people don’t always understand.

If you have friends who are going through fertility problems, it can be a good time to make arrangements to spend time together and do something different. You may even want to get away completely if you are able to and celebrate in your own way whether that’s a Christmas holiday in the Caribbean (yes, I wish too…), a day out in the countryside, pizza for two at home for Christmas lunch or an all-day long scrabble contest. If you want to do something in the spirit of Christmas, you could consider volunteering for a charity like Crisis which provides Christmas for homeless people or Community Christmas which offers companionship to older people who might otherwise be alone.

If you are struggling to deal with this season, it may be helpful to talk to a fertility counsellor who has the specialist skills and knowledge to understand how you are feeling. Some counsellors offer Skype or telephone counselling services and you can find a list of specialist counsellors on the British Infertility Counselling Association website.

Remember, this is your Christmas too and it’s entirely up to you what you want to do. You don’t need anyone’s blessing to decide that you’re going to branch out on your own and do something completely different, something that will make you happy and that you will enjoy. Think carefully about what might make you feel better and have fun whatever you decide!

Finding a counsellor

GeneticcounselingIf you are finding that your fertility problems feel as if they are dominating everything in your life, it may be really beneficial to see a counsellor. BICA, the British Infertility Counselling Association, have a list of their members on their website, and you can find the nearest person to you. It’s a really good idea to see a counsellor who specialises in dealing with fertility problems because they will genuinely understand what you are going through – and will be aware of the issues that arise. The BICA list includes counsellors who will offer phone or Skype sessions so if you can’t find anyone near where you live, that doesn’t have to be a problem.

Counselling may not be for everyone, but it is definitely worth a try as some people find it incredibly helpful. It is a matter of finding the right counsellor for you and so there is nothing wrong with ringing a couple to see who feels a good match for you.

Support from Lesley Pyne

UnknownOne of the things I do in my role as London Representative for Infertility Network UK is to organise get-togethers for patients at our London support group. Last night, we invited Lesley Pyne to come along to talk about coping strategies which was one of our most popular evenings to date.

Lesley taught us some techniques to help deal with difficult situations and there was a lively discussion with members of the group who had lots of questions about coping. Lesley explained how she had got through her own decision to give up fertility treatment and talked about the need to look after yourself, to allow yourself time to grieve and to seek help when you are finding things difficult.

You can find Lesley’s website, full of helpful advice, here and if you would like professional help from a counsellor, you can find a list of specialist fertility counsellors on the British Infertility Counselling Association website here.

When IVF doesn’t work

ivf_science-300x168It’s something no one wants to think about when they are starting out on a fertility journey, but the truth is that IVF doesn’t always work. We know that average success rates in the UK for an individual cycle are around 26%, which means a 74% chance of it not working. In reality, as recent research has shown, cumulative success rates are far better and over a course of treatment, the majority are likely to have a child – but even so, IVF is not going to work for everyone, something this article from Australia illustrates.

It may seem as if treatment not working would be the most unbearable outcome possible, but I have been really struck by pioneering childless women like Jody Day of Gateway Women and Lesley Pyne who show that this doesn’t have to mean the end of your hope for a happy future. Jody’s Gateway Women offers a chance to get together with other women in similar situations and she runs workshops and events, Lesley offers support through her blog, newsletter and one-to-one sessions, and there’s also help to be found from More to Life which offers support and regional contacts for anyone who is involuntarily childless. It may be useful to see a counsellor, and BICA – the British Infertility Counselling Association – can provide a list of specialist qualified counsellors across the UK, some of whom offer Skype or telephone counselling too.

Launch of support service for fertility patients in Wales

CVOjtHGWoAAYj4YGreat news for anyone who is having difficulty conceiving and lives in Wales. Infertility Network UK launched its first dedicated patient information, advice and support service in Wales in a ceremony at the Welsh Assembly today led by Darren Millar, Shadow Minister for Health and Older People in Wales.

Susan Seenan, chief executive of Infertility Network UK said: ‘We are delighted to be launching a patient support service in Wales. For the first time in many years, all those who struggle to become parents will have a local patient support service that understands their particular problems, addresses regional issues and challenges and is locally managed.’

The new service, which was made possible by a major award from the Big Lottery Fund, will enable the charity to set up face-to-face and online support groups, a Wales-specific information service, employ a Welsh co-ordinator to manage the service and hold annual patient information events.

The launch was hosted by Darren Millar and attended by fellow Welsh Assembly members Julie Morgan and Kirsty Williams along with Peter Bowen-Simpkins and Dr Thackare from London Women’s Clinic Wales, BICA fertility counsellor Lynda Mizen and Dr Sofia Gameiro from Cardiff University among others.

Could counselling help?

120px-GeneticcounselingIf you could do with some extra help and support during your fertility tests and treatment, you may want to think about going to talk to a fertility counsellor. If you’re having IVF, your clinic should have told you how to book a session if you’d like one – but otherwise you an always turn to the British Infertility Counselling Association (BICA) website and look at the Find a counsellor page.  You’ll find listings for qualified fertility counsellors across the UK, and details of whether they offer telephone or Skype sessions too.

Remember, going to see a counsellor isn’t a sign of not being able to cope, but shows that you are actively doing something to support yourself through your treatment. It’s important to find a counsellor you feel you can relate to, so you may want to get in touch with more than one person and to try an initial session to see how you feel about it.

Whatever you think about counselling, there’s nothing to be lost by trying a session – and you may find that it really can help with the ups and downs of tests and treatment.

Review recognises importance of fertility counselling

120px-GeneticcounselingIf you’ve been through fertility treatment, you’ll know only too well how important it is to get  emotional support – and this has now been recognised in a review published by The Obstetrician and Gynaecologist (the Journal of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists which is the professional body for fertility specialists).

The review says that clinic staff should think about patients’ emotional needs as well as focusing on treatment options, and tresses that they should view infertility solely in biological or medical terms, overlooking the vital role that fertility counselling has to play.

We know that at present fertility patients don’t always find it easy to access counselling services when they are having treatment – there are sometimes long waits to see a counsellor and not all clinics promote counselling very well to patients. It is important that this changes in the future – and that there is more recognition of the emotional stress caused by fertility problems and treatment.

You can read more about the review here. If you are finding it difficult to access counselling through your clinic, you may want to contact a fertility counsellor through the British Infertility Counselling Association (BICA). They have a list of accredited fertility counsellors here on their website.

Where to get advice and support

There may be 3.5 million people in the UK at any given time experiencing difficulty getting pregnant, but when it happens to you it often feels a very lonely and isolating business. There’s still a stigma attached to fertility problems, and we don’t always feel able to be open about them – which means that we don’t necessarily know when colleagues, friends or even family members are going through similar difficulties.

When you want advice or support, there are a growing number of support services that you can pay for but it can be difficult to know which are reliable and trustworthy. If you’re looking for counselling support for fertility, it’s essential to see someone who specialises in fertility problems and the best place to track them down is via the British Fertility Counselling Association website. If you’re looking for more general support and advice, there’s no need to pay at all as Infertility Network UK offers a huge range of different support services all completely free of charge.

spacer-4 images-11I was talking to a fertility nurse earlier this week who said she’d always known about Infertility Network UK, but was amazed when she’d seen quite how much the charity had to offer from helplines to factsheets, support groups to NHS-funding advice. It’s fantastic, it’s free – and it’s there just for you.

Finding a fertility counsellor

DownloadedFile-16I’ve been speaking to a few people about counselling recently, and a few things came up which I think it may be useful for anyone having fertility treatment to know.

The first is that all licensed fertility clinics offering iVF should give you access to a counsellor – you may have to pay, and it may not be someone based in the clinic, but they should tell you where to seek counselling support if you need it.

The next is that you don’t need to use the clinic counsellor. Counselling is often a matter of finding the right counsellor for you, and even counsellors based in clinics often do some private work too – so you can choose a qualified fertility counsellor that you get on with.

The next important point is that it really does make a difference seeing a counsellor who specialises in dealing with fertility problems – they understand where you are coming from and are aware of the issues, and this will really help. BICA, the British Infertility Counselling Association, have a list of qualified fertility counsellors on their website.  Many do Skype of telephone counselling so you don’t necessarily need to find someone near to your home.

And finally, seeing a counsellor is not a sign of weakness or of being unable to cope – it’s a sign of strength – that you are recognising how difficult fertility treatment can be and taking positive action to help yourself through it.