I’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.
I’ve just updated the list of clinic open evenings, support groups and events on Fertility Matters, so if you’re trying to decide where to have treatment or want to find out more about what might be on offer at different clinics, do take a look.
It’s really worth going to open evenings at a few clinics if you have a choice locally, as it not only gives you insights into whether a particular clinic might be right for you but can also be a great source of information about fertility problems and treatments. There will usually be staff on hand who you can talk to and who will be able to answer any questions you have. I think you can get quite a good feel for a clinic at an open evening – and that does help if you’re trying to decide which clinic you want to attend.
I know not everyone likes the idea of a support group. I was talking to Natalie at The Fertlity Podcast about this recently as sometimes there is an idea that support groups might be depressing – and having a fertility problem is depressing enough without making things worse – but actually I think they can be surprisingly uplifting. When you get together with others who are going through similar experiences it can be empowering in a way that talking online will never be. The groups I’ve been to have beeb positive and supportive, and often end up in laughter – which isn’t what you might expect. So I’d say, why not give one a try? It might not be what you expect – you can find the list of groups on the Events page!
I’ve visited a lot of clinics in the last few months and am always interested in the different ideas they have about waiting rooms and what patients want. Some are quite cold and clinical with stiff-backed chairs and nothing to look at, others are full of low sofas and potted plants, some offer magazines to read, others focus on fertility-related literature and some have a selection of fertility books. Some have soft music playing, others have a TV on all the time in the corner. It’s interesting to see how different the thoughts are about what patients want and what might be helpful.
One of my favourite waiting rooms is light and airy with an interesting view and lots of brightly coloured low sofas. It has a machine for hot drinks and a selection of fertility books to read. To me, it always feels instantly relaxing, but it benefits from being spacious and there’s a limit to what you can do when you have a very cramped space for the waiting room which a number of clinics do. Of course, in the scheme of things waiting rooms are not important when it comes to choosing somewhere to go for your fertility treatment, but I think they do say something about how much thought and effort the clinic has put into trying to create a pleasant space for you – and that thought and effort may be reflected in other areas too.
The one thing which I think is really very difficult is a clinic waiting room which shares space with an antenatal unit as there is nothing worse than having to sit opposite a woman who is pregnant when you’re waiting for a fertility appointment. Even sharing the same entrance and some facilities can be awkward.
I think my priorities would be comfortable seats, some books to look at and a space that made me feel secure and confident about confidentiality, but I’d be interested to know what you think… What makes a good fertility clinic waiting room? Are there things you’d really like that no one has thought of?
According to a depressing story in the Mirror, more and more women are agreeing to have sex with men who advertise themselves on unregulated websites as “sperm donors” in order to get pregnant quickly and cheaply. It seems that they are taking things into their own hands as using a clinic can be very expensive – and donor insemination is not as successful as intercourse if there are no fertility problems.
It may sound a good idea – cheaper, easier, natural – but it’s fraught with problems which may only emerge in the longer term. When you use a sperm donor at a clinic, they have been thoroughly vetted. Their sperm is tested to make sure that they are fertile, they are screened for genetically inherited illnesses and they are also tested for sexually transmitted infections. In order to make absolutely sure there is no risk of HIV transmission, donor sperm is frozen and the donor re-tested later before it is used. Of course, this costs money – but it also keeps you and your baby safe.
Not only that, there is also a limit on the number of children conceived using any one donor’s sperm in order to prevent too many donor siblings being born. All donors in the UK are now identifiable once a child reaches the age of 18, so that in the future they will be able to find out all that they want to about their genetic father.
Could you bear to sleep with a stranger just to get pregnant? And who are the men who are so eager to donate their sperm this way? The Mirror report addressed this final issue; one man’s ad stating that he would prefer to donate to a woman with a DD bust size said it all really. Another suggested that his sperm count would be increased if the undercover reporter wore a dress and nice underwear when they met for insemination. Of course, some may be acting from a genuine desire to help women who want to have children – but they would do far more good by donating through regulated clinics.
Fertility treatment is often criticised for being hugely over-priced, and I can fully understand how difficult it is when paying seems beyond your means – and the offer of free donation may seem a good option. However, when it’s your future child’s origins that you have in your hands, you need to think carefully about whether this would really be the best way to start a new life.
My thought for today is about being confident! All too often fertility patients feel anxious about asking too many questions at fertility clinics, or about pushing for what they want or need. If you were spending thousands of pounds on pretty much anything else, you’d never feel you couldn’t make sure you were getting the service you felt you’d paid for – but with fertility treatment, all too often we feel we shouldn’t be making demands.
When I did the interviews for The Complete Guide to IVF and The Complete Guide to Female Fertility, it was something I came across time and time again. Feisty, confident women who admitted that they felt they’d been reduced to timid mice when they were in the consulting room and who didn’t feel able to argue their corner if things didn’t go according to plan. I know I used to worry that if I annoyed the staff at the clinic by being pushy or asking too many annoying questions, that might affect the outcome of my treatment – and having talked to other people about this,it’s not unusual.
So my message for today is be confident and don’t ever be afraid to ask questions or to query things that don’t seem right to you. Each cycle of fertility treatment is precious and carries so many hopes and dreams that you don’t want to get it right. Most often, the things that people worry about asking are issues that can easily be sorted out.
You are investing a huge amount emotionally in your treatment – and all too often financially too – and understanding what’s happening will help you feel in control. Unanswered questions or niggling worries will only make your treatment more difficult emotionally – so never be afraid to ask!