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.

Women need more support for fertility problems

DownloadedFile-16There’s some interesting new research from the University of Iowa which shows that women with fertility problems aren’t getting enough of the right support.  The researchers carried out a survey, talking to more than 300 women with fertility problems. They found that women wanted more support than they were getting, and became depressed and unable to deal with stress when they weren’t getting the help they needed.

The research team also looked into the sort of support from family and friends that women welcomed, and found that they were often given too much advice but too little practical help or emotional help. I’m sure it sounds familiar – we’ve all heard advice about the way a a friend or relative overcame a fertility problem, or about some amazing new development people have just read about in the paper, we’ve all been told that we might get pregnant if we’d stop being so stressed, go on holiday, buy a dog or think about adoption…

The researchers found that women were often overwhelmed by all this advice, and pinpointed mothers, other female relatives and women with children as the most likely to want to share their opinions!

Apparently husbands are the main source of support for most women, but the fact that men don’t always feel able to talk about infertility could cause problems within the marriage – the research team suggested men should try to be more actively involved in treatment.

One other interesting area covered by the survey was the support offered by clinicians, and the researchers concluded that doctors and nurses seemed to feel they were there as sources of information rather than to give emotional support – and suggested that they could be more empathetic, spending more time with patients and making sure they directed them to the help they needed.

This new research is particularly pertinent as it follows on the heels of the BICA and Infertility Network UK survey here in the UK (details here), which found that 1/3 of patients were not offered counselling.

Let’s hope that this helps to raise awareness of the fact that good emotional support is vital for anyone experiencing fertility problems and going through treatment.

Where to find a fertility counsellor?

DownloadedFile-16Getting the right support can make all the difference to your experience of fertility problems and treatment, and many people find that seeing a fertility counsellor can be really useful. I know not everyone feels comfortable with the idea of counselling initially – but it shouldn’t be seen as a sign of not coping or of not being able to manage alone, but rather as a sign of strength that you are actively doing something to help yourself.

If you are having IVF, ICSI or donor treatment at a clinic in the UK, your clinic should let you know about the counselling services that they provide, Sometimes this will be free counselling at the clinic, but it may involve an extra cost and you may have to see the counsellor elsewhere. Sometimes there may be a wait to see the clinic counsellor.

If you are looking for a qualified specialist fertility counsellor – and it is worth seeing a specialist as they understand the issues relevant to your situation – the best place to go is the British Infertility Counselling Association (BICA) website at, where you will find a list of the specialist counsellors in your area.  The BICA website also has a very helpful checklist of tips for anyone looking for a counsellor.

BICA is working with the charity Infertility Network UK to try to find out more about people’s experiences of fertility counselling and the two charities are currently running a survey which anyone who has attended a UK fertility clinic can answer, whether or not you’ve had counselling. It would really help to get a clearer picture of how clinics are currently offering counselling in order to improve services for the future, so please if you have a spare five minutes do complete the survey which will help others in the future.