Have you tried a support group?

If you’re immediately thinking “I don’t need a support group” or “I don’t like the sound of support groups”, “Aren’t they full of needy people?”, “Wouldn’t it be a bit embarrassing?” or “I think it would make me feel worse” – think again…

“I don’t need a support group” – Does anyone absolutely need a support group? Not really – but for those who go along, it can be a welcome additional source of companionship and support. You may not need a group, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find it helpful.

“I don’t like the sound of a support group” – I often think that calling fertility networking groups “support” groups is one of the most off-putting things about them. The idea of a support group conjures up visions of having to start by saying “My name is x and I am infertile”. It’s not like that at all. Think of a support group as a way to meet up with others who are going through similar experiences and an opportunity to share and learn from one another.

“Aren’t they full of needy people?” – No, they are full of people like you and me. We all need help sometimes, but the groups are full of people who are actively doing something about this and have decided to help themselves. They’re the stronger ones who are finding ways to get the support we all need during fertility tests and treatment.

“Wouldn’t it be a bit embarrassing?” – People are often anxious about going along to their first support group. Fertility problems are so personal and so intense and it can feel frightening to think that you are going to open up a bit in front of others – but remember you don’t have to. What you say in a group is up to you. Some people talk a lot, others a less depending on how they feel and what they need. A group is a source of warmth and friendship rather than of embarrassment and most people overcome any shyness very quickly.

“I think it will make me feel worse” – You might think that an evening focusing on fertility would be a rather gloomy and miserable event – and that it would be full of tears and sadness. In fact, in every support group I’ve ever run, there has been far more laughter than tears – if you don’t believe me, why not try one and see…

You have everything to gain and nothing to lose by trying a support group. Fertility Network run them right across the UK, and groups are listed on the Fertility Matters events page so you can find your nearest group. Go along and see what you think – you may find you are pleasantly surprised…

Fertility problems affect men too

Earlier this week, I found myself talking to an audience of mainly middle-aged (and above) men about living with fertility problems and the fabulous work Infertility Network UK carries out to support people who are having trouble conceiving. I wasn’t sure how the talk would go down, but they seemed genuinely interested – although when it came to the questions afterwards they admitted it wasn’t a topic most of them had ever talked about or would know how to talk about.  There was a definite element of embarrassment at one point when I started to waffle on about sperm donation!

One of them asked about men and fertility problems and specifically whether I thought men found it difficult not to be able to have children.  They were quite surprised when I said I thought that men found it just as hard as women not to be able to have children, but that it was often more difficult for men to talk about it. For most women, talking to close and empathetic friends about fertility problems can be a real source of support but for men, discussing a fertility problem with their friends is just something most don’t do.

I’ve often wondered how best to offer more support to men as the existing support networks women use don’t seem to work for men. In all my years running support groups, I’ve seen dozens of women who’ve come along without their partners, but you don’t get men coming by themselves – although those who are there with their partners can find it really beneficial. Online forums for men don’t get used much either.

I’ve asked men what sort of support they’d like, and usually get a shrug of the shoulders – but I’ve come across a few men recently who are writing about the subject in books and blogs  – like Glenn Barden who wrote a guest blog for Fertility Matters a while back. I’ve just been in touch with another guy who has written a new book about fertility problems from the male perspective which I’ll review here once I’ve read it – but in the meantime if anyone has any other useful links or suggestions, do post them below!