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!

World Mental Health Day, and why it matters to fertility patients

Today is World Mental Health day, and a good time to think about the mental health impact on fertility problems, tests and treatment. All too often, there’s an attitude from those with no experience of infertility that it isn’t a really serious problem, and yet anyone who has been through this themselves will be only too aware of the way it can impact on your health.

A survey for the patient charity Fertility Network UK and Middlesex University found that respondents reported feeling sad, frustrated, fearful and worried, out of control and helpless most of the time. They often felt stressed, tearful, inadequate, angry, isolated, despairing, depressed, guilty or shamed and experienced low confidence and concentration and a loss of sex driven. They also felt unsupported. Even more alarmingly, 42% of respondents said that they had experienced suicidal feelings.

If you are going through treatment and are finding it tough, there is help and support out there. The patient charity Fertility Network UK offers free group meetings around the country where meeting with other people going through similar experiences can be hugely helpful, and have a support line and online forum too. The British Infertility Counselling Association has a host of specialist counsellors ready to help with emotional support, and you can also talk to your GP if you are feeling in need of counselling. Don’t suffer alone.

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.

The Fertility Show London – 5 and 6 November

the-fertility-show-london-logoIt’s next weekend and if you haven’t booked your tickets yet, there is still time. It’s true that the Fertility Show can feel a bit like some kind of Ideal Home Exhibition for fertility problems, but it’s well worth visiting for the amazing seminar programme alone where you can catch many of the country’s leading experts and benefit from their wisdom and advice.

Talks on Saturday include:

  • How To Get Pregnant (and to have the best possible pregnancy) with Zita West
  • Innovations in embryo selection. Do they really make a difference? with Rachel Cutting MBE, Chair 2010-2014 of the Association of Clinical Embryologists and Principal Embryologist at Jessop Fertility in Sheffield
  • Stress and its impact on fertility with Jacky Boivin, Professor of Health Psychology at Cardiff University and Lead Researcher at Cardiff Fertility Studies
  • Surrogacy in the UK with Sarah Templeman, Nurse Manager at Herts & Essex Fertility Centre and Helen Prosser from Brilliant Beginnings
  • Natural Cycle and Mild IVF – fertility treatment without the drugs? with Professor Geeta Nargund, Medical Director of CREATE Fertility
  • The Basics. What you need to know to get pregnant and how to prepare for pregnancy with George Christopoulos, Subspecialty Registrar in Reproductive Medicine and Surgery at IVF Hammersmith
  • Next Generation IVF? with Professor Simon Fishel, CEO of CARE Fertility
  • Dealing with recurrent miscarriage with Dr Vidya Seshadri, Consultant Gynaecologist & Specialist in Reproductive Medicine at The Centre for Reproductive & Genetic Health
  • Reduced ovarian reserve: Is anyone too difficult to treat? with Sam Abdalla, Director of the Lister Fertility Clinic
  • Factors to consider when choosing a fertility clinic with me! (Kate Brian, journalist, broadcaster, author of bestselling The Complete Guide to IVF, mother of two IVF children, Lead of Women’s Voices at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and London Representative for Infertility Network UK)
  • Going abroad for treatment? Question time featuring 2 overseas clinics with Dr Bruce Shapiro of The Fertility Center of Las Vegas and Dr Natalia Szlarb from IVF Spain.
  • Counselling through infertility with Tracey Sainsbury, member of the British Infertility Counselling Association.
  • Boost fertility and prevent recurrent miscarriage with nutrition with Dr Marilyn Glenville
  • Immunology – potentially hazardous treatment or your best chance of success? with Mr Mohammed Mahmoud, Consultant in Reproductive Medicine of The Newlife Fertility Clinic and Siobhan Quenby, Professor of Obstetrics and Director of the Biomedical Research Unit in Reproductive Health at the University of Warwick.
  • Improving the odds of IVF working for you with Yacoub Khalaf, Consultant Gynaecologist and Medical Director of the Assisted Conception Unit at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS
  • Coping Strategies with Wendy Martin, specialist fertility counsellor with Bristol Centre for Reproductive Medicine NHS
  • Testing your fertility and the value of your ovarian reserve with James Nicopoullos, Consultant Gynaecologist at the Lister Fertility Clinic.
  • Freeing your mind to improve fertility with Russell Davis, Cognitive Hypnotherapist.
  • Dealing with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) with Adam Balen, Professor of Reproductive Medicine and Surgery at Leeds NHS Centre for Reproductive Medicine and Chairman of the British Fertility Society.
  • Issues for families created with donors with DC Network founding member Olivia Montuschi.
  • What men need to know about their fertility – testing it, boosting it, treating it with Allan Pacey, Professor of Andrology at the University of Sheffield and former Chairman of the British Fertility Society.
  • Complementary Therapies – can they boost your fertility? with Dr Gillian Lockwood, Medical Director of Midland Fertility Services and ethics spokesperson for the British Fertility Society, Andrew Loosely who practices herbal medicine and Barbara Scott, chair of the Association of Reproductive Reflexologists.
  • Fertility treatment for older women with Tarek El-Toukhy, Consultant in Reproductive Medicine and Surgery at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospital.
  • How to keep costs down – do you really need those add-ons? with  Dr, John Parsons, part of the team that established the first IVF pregnancy to deliver at the Hammersmith hospital.
  • Sperm and egg donors from the UK with Laura Witjens, egg donor and former CEO of the National Gamete Donation Trust, and Venessa Smith, Donor Services Co-ordinator from the London Women’s Clinic.
  • Can acupuncture improve fertility? with Michael Dooley, Medical Director of Poundbury Fertility and Emma Cannon, acupuncturist.
  • The arguments for travelling to the USA vs Portugal vs Norway with Dr Angeline Beltsos of Vios Fertility Institute, Dr Vladimiro of Ferticentro and Dr Jon Hausken from Norwegian Klinikk Hausken.
  • Steps to choosing the right adoption agency with First4Adoption’s Gemma Gordon-Johnson.
  • Travelling to the USA for egg donor treatment – the patient’s perspective and the clinic that treated them with Sarah Esdaile and her partner who had treatment in the USA and Dr Michael Levy, Director of the Donor egg programme at Shady Grove Clinic.
  • A patient’s experience of the fertility rollercoaster and what to expect with Jessica Hepburn, trustee at Infertility Network UK and author of  The Pursuit of Motherhood.
  • Why should I give it another go? with Tim Child, Associate Professor and Subspecialist in Reproductive Medicine, University of Oxford and Honorary Consultant Gynaecologist, John Radcliffe Hospital.
  • Planning Treatment abroad? The arguments for travelling to Greece vs Spain vs Russia with Dr. Dimitrios Dovas of The NewLife IVF Centre in Greece, Dr Ramon Aurell, IVF Unit Medical Director of Hospital Quirón Barcelona and Dr Yulia Gurtovaya, a consultant at West Middlesex University Hospital who speaks on behalf of Russian IVF clinic CRM MAMA.
  • Single women and lesbian couples – options for conceiving with Dr Raúl Olivares, Medical Director of Barcelona IVF.
  • An overview of the common causes of infertility and the main approaches to treatment with Kamal Ojha, Medical Director of Concept Fertility and Honorary Senior Lecturer at St George’s Hospital.
  • Fertility treatment for older women with Dimitrios Nikolaou, Consultant Gynaecologist, lead clinician at Chelsea and Westminster NHS Hospital’s Assisted Conception Unit and Medical Director of Fertility for Life.
  • Options for adoption with Jan Fishwick, CEO of PACT
  • Unknown donor vs known donor vs co-parenting with fertility lawyer Natalie Gamble and Erika Tranfield of Pride Angel.
  • What to think about before going abroad for treatment with Ben Saer, who with his wife Becky had successful fertility treatment in the Czech Republic, Dimitris Kavakas of Embryolab based in Thessaloniki and Dr Carlos Doscouto of Spanish IVF clinic Women’s Health Dexeus.
  • Dealing with and treating, endometriosis with Haitham Hamoda, Consultant Gynaecologist in reproductive medicine and surgery at King’s College Hospital.
  • Top Ten ways to cope with infertility with Anya Sizer, rregional organiser at Fertility Network UK.
  • Surrogacy arrangements with Helen Prosser from non-profit UK surrogacy agency Brilliant Beginnings and Natalie Gamble, campaigner and founder of leading fertility law firm Natalie Gamble Associates.
  • Single woman in your 30s or 40s? Thinking about having a baby on your own? with Caroline Spencer, trustee for the Donor Conception Network.
  • New technologies in IVF with Lucy Richardson, Senior Embryologist at the UK’s Herts & Essex Fertility Centre and Dr Elizabeth Barbieri from US-based Oregon Reproductive Medicine.
  • Getting your head around treatments, clinics and statistics with Juliet Tizzard, Director of Strategy and Corporate Affairs at the HFEA
  • .Men Matter Too with fertility Counsellor Anthony Ryb.
  • Fertility treatment on the NHS? with Anil Gudi and Amit Shah, Consultant Gynaecologists who run the NHS fertility service at the Homerton Fertility Centre in East London.
  • Nutrition to help with PCOS, endometriosis and fibroids with Dr Marilyn Glenville.
  • How to deal with the diagnosis of unexplained infertility with Dr Jane Stewart, Consultant in Reproductive Medicine at the Newcastle Fertility Centre.
  • How to keep costs down – do you really need those add-ons? with Yacoub Khalaf, Medical Director of the Assisted Conception Unit at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS.
  • Overseas egg donors. Who are they and how are they chosen? with Dr Israel Ortega of IVI Madrid in Spain and Nancy Block of Fertility Source Companies in the US explain.

As you can see, there is something here for everyone and having access to so many experts under one roof presents a unique opportunity to learn more about fertility and the treatments which may help. You can buy tickets from the website www.fertilityshow.co.uk

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.

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.