Just relax…

For anyone with any experience at all of fertility problems, there’s a general understanding that probably the worst thing someone can say to you is “just relax…”, and yet this is the advice a TV doctor gave on ITV’s Lorraine programme. Dr Hilary Jones apparently said to a caller who was asking for advice after three unsuccessful rounds of IVF;  “What I would say is, and this is probably the hardest thing to do, is just relax about it. There have been so many people that I’ve known who’ve gone through several rounds of IVF and nothing happens. And when they’ve given up, and gotten on with their lives, it miraculously happens naturally… Sometimes stress itself can have a very negative effect. So try living your life as normally as you can.”

I suppose this just shows why you should stick to asking fertility specialists for advice rather than a TV doctor, but there has been an understandable backlash from fertility patients and the charity Fertility Network UK. There is certainly a lesson to be learned for TV producers about the risks of getting a GP, who is by nature a generalist rather than a specialist, to offer advice to those who have already been treated by experts in any field of medicine. But should any doctor, even if they are a GP rather than a specialist, be telling people to “just relax” or suggesting that stress might be to blame for infertility? Apart from anything else, we all know that fertility problems cause huge amounts of stress – and that telling someone who is trying to conceive to “just relax” is about as helpful as telling them to get a dog, go on holiday or any of the other helpful advice that non-experts in the field like to pass on.

There is another problem here though, and that’s to do with blame. Suggesting that your stress levels might be responsible for your blocked fallopian tubes or endometriosis is nonsense, and yet many people do end up feeling that it’s their fault they can’t conceive in a culture which encourages you to believe that you can make the difference to outcomes by thinking positive, clean eating or complementary therapies. The truth is that none of these things are going to unblock your tubes or get rid of endometriosis, and for a medical professional to suggest that getting pregnant might miraculously happen naturally if you just relax is quite bizarre.

Even the response has been interesting, with Woman & Home covering the issue with a headline “Lorraine’s Dr Hilary faces backlash following ‘insensitive’ comments during IVF discussion’. They were not ‘insensitive’ comments but insensitive comments – and that’s the understanding that we still need to change!

Can you preserve your fertility?

images-7Is it really possible to preserve your fertility? I’ve read quite a lot of advice about this recently which suggests that taking action to preserve your fertility when you are young will ensure you’ll be able to have a baby in the future, but unfortunatly fertility is not really something that you can “preserve” in this way and no amount of healthy living or thinking can mend a damaged fallopian tube or prevent a premature menopause.

 

My issue with the idea of fertility preservation is the that it suggests that we have the power to control our fertility and that leads to the unhelpful assumption that we must be somehow to blame for our own infertility too. I’ve met so many people who believe that their infertility may have been caused by things they have or haven’t done and although it is true that unhealthy lifestyles can impact on fertility, it is also true that many obese smokers who don’t eat well still get pregnant without any difficulty.  Fertility problems are far more complex than we are led to believe by claims that eating more sprouts or drinking more pineapple juice will boost our chances of having a baby – they won’t if you have azoospermia or blocked fallopian tubes.

Of course, there are some things that can have a negative impact on fertility, and it is worth being aware of these if you want to have a baby in the future. Weight is often an issue as being very overweight or underweight can reduce your chances of getting pregnant – and so, maintaining a healthy weight will be beneficial.  Sexually transmitted infections can lead to fertility problems too, and making sure you don’t put yourself at risk can have an impact on your future fertility. Smoking and excessive drinking are also both linked to fertility problems, and are best avoided for your general health as well as your fertility.

Leading a healthy lifestyle will make you feel better and will ensure you aren’t reducing your chances of getting pregnant – but don’t forget that infertility is a medical problem and most of us are no more to blame for our difficulty in getting pregnant than we would be for any other medical condition.