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.

Choosing a fertility clinic

800px-Woman-typing-on-laptopThose of you who came to my talk at the Fertility Show will know that I promised to put up some notes from my talk on the blog this week – here they are at last!

The HFEA website

We begin with the HFEA website which is the best place to start. You can search for your local clinic using the Choose a Clinic tool – just type in your postcode or local region and you will get a shortlist of local clinics.

You can see more about the treatments they are licensed to carry out, services, facilities and staff. It will tell you whether they take NHS patients, the opening hours, whether there is a female doctor and links to a map.

Of course, the one thing you really want to know is how likely am I to get pregnant there? Which is the one thing no one can honestly tell you. The HFEA publishes success rates for all licensed clinics, but they may not be as clear cut as you imagine. Most clinics have broadly similar success rates and the majority of clinics in UK have success rates which are consistent with national average. Don’t forget, the patients treated affect the success rates.

You may want to look at the success rate for someone of your age, and make sure you are comparing like with like. The HFEA also gives the multiple birth rate, but a high rate doesn’t suggest a good clinic which has your best interests at heart. Naturally multiple births occur in 1 in 80 of all pregnancies, it’s around one in six after IVF. That may sound positive, but in fact multiple birth is the single biggest risk after fertility treatment. 1 in 12 multiple pregnancies ends in death or disability for one or more babies, and it is also more risky for mothers. Good clinics should not have very high twin rates. A really good clinic will have good success rates and low multiple rates.

When it comes to success rates, don’t get bogged down in fairly small percentage differences – in general they’re probably not that meaningful.

NHS Funding 

You will also want to know if you qualify for NHS funding. The guideline from NICE recommends 3 full cycles (fresh and transfer of any frozen embryos) for women of 39 and under and one full cycle for women of 40-42 who have had no previous treatment, who have a good ovarian reserve and who have spent 2 years trying)

In England funding comes from your local CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) not your clinic so you need to find out their rules – and unfortunately they all make their own up as the NICE guideline is only a guideline. You can find out what your CCG is offering by visiting the Fertility Fairness website. The CCG will also set eligibility criteria – and each will have their own

Location 

Think about how close the clinic is to your home or workplace. Be realistic as a long journey is fine as a one-off, but think about doing it three or four times a week. Ask the clinic how often you will have to visit as some will want you in every day of the cycle, but others just a few times a week.

Think about how you will get there and how long the journey will take? Are you going to use public transport or drive? Will you be travelling in the rush hour? Can the clinic offer early morning appointments or will you need to take time off work? Will it fit around your job?

Cost 

Fertility treatment prices are not regulated and can vary hugely. Clinics that charge more are not necessarily better so do look into prices. The headline figure on clinic websites is rarely the total cost of treatment  – ask instead what the average person actually pays

The HFEA does require clinics to offer you a personalised costed treatment plan, but check what is included – drugs, counselling, scans and bloods, freezing and storing spare embryos, follow-up consultations etc.

Unproven treatments 

Many clinics offer unproven additional treatments. Many are not scientifically proven. The HFEA has advice on some of these . Additional treatments can be very expensive, and you may risk paying a lot for something that may not make a difference – and may even bring additional risks.

Support

Will there be someone you can call with any problems/concerns? You should be given a contact to call if you are concerned about anything at any time. And is counselling included in the cost of treatment? You may think you don’t want or need it, you may may find it helpful once you have started treatment. So check if you are going to have to pay for counselling, and if it is included, ask how many sessions.

Is there a counsellor based at the clinic? Some counsellors also offer telephone counselling and you can find a list of fertility counsellors on the British Infertility Counselling Association website. Is there a patient support group?

Waiting 

How soon could you get an appointment and when could you start treatment if it is recommended ? How long are waiting times for donor eggs or sperm? At some clinics,
there are still waiting lists for donor eggs and sperm but others have plenty of donors, so do check.k

Do you like the clinic?

I think this is far more important than you might initially think.

Talk to anyone else you know who has been there, look online for views – but remember that everyone is different. Go to any open days or meetings for prospective patients and think if the clinic feels right for you. It may sound ridiculous, but it matters.

Trust your instincts, and don’t hink they don’t matter. Make sure that you have chosen a clinic that you will be happy with.

Treatment isn’t always easy, but it is certainly much easier if you are being looked after by people you like and trust.

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.

Happy New Year

120px-HNY-funkyThe start of a new year can be difficult when you’re trying to get pregnant as it can feel like a reminder of another year when you haven’t achieved your goal, but it’s important to try to look ahead to the future rather than dwelling on the past.

This is a good time to think of the positives – you may be having trouble getting pregnant, but you may want a baby because you are in a happy relationship, have a successful career, a beautiful home, a loving family and good friends.

Why not look to the year ahead as an opportunity for a fresh start, whether that’s aiming for a healthier lifestyle, taking regular exercise, getting enough sleep and eating well. This can help you to feel better and may also have a positive impact on your fertility. And remember, it’s not just your physical health that matters, but also your emotional health. Fertility problems are rough, and you will need help along the way. You might want to help your emotional wellbeing by resolving to see a counsellor in the new year or to join a support network or local fertility support group so that you can share experiences with others who really understand.

It isn’t easy to be positive in the face of fertility problems, but why not resolve to be kinder to yourself in 2016 – and make it a year when you take care of yourself emotionally and physically and try to find time for the things you enjoy in life.

 

It’s not too late to help with the counselling survey

If you are currently having or have you had IVF, ICSI or donor treatment at a UK clinic, it’s not too late for you to help Infertility Network UK by completing the quick survey about counselling support.

The survey is looking into the level of emotional support people receive from clinics and what they are told about the counselling service. it is completely anonymous and will hopefully provide a better picture of the provision across the UK and ultimately help support couples in the future going through the emotional roller coaster of IVF.

You can find the survey here –
https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/?sm=mAiXT45VRqykjNauO%2fYgNA%3d%3d

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.