For anyone with any experience at all of fertility problems, there’s a general understanding that probably the worst thing someone can say to you is “just relax…”, and yet this is the advice a TV doctor gave on ITV’s Lorraine programme. Dr Hilary Jones apparently said to a caller who was asking for advice after three unsuccessful rounds of IVF; “What I would say is, and this is probably the hardest thing to do, is just relax about it. There have been so many people that I’ve known who’ve gone through several rounds of IVF and nothing happens. And when they’ve given up, and gotten on with their lives, it miraculously happens naturally… Sometimes stress itself can have a very negative effect. So try living your life as normally as you can.”
I suppose this just shows why you should stick to asking fertility specialists for advice rather than a TV doctor, but there has been an understandable backlash from fertility patients and the charity Fertility Network UK. There is certainly a lesson to be learned for TV producers about the risks of getting a GP, who is by nature a generalist rather than a specialist, to offer advice to those who have already been treated by experts in any field of medicine. But should any doctor, even if they are a GP rather than a specialist, be telling people to “just relax” or suggesting that stress might be to blame for infertility? Apart from anything else, we all know that fertility problems cause huge amounts of stress – and that telling someone who is trying to conceive to “just relax” is about as helpful as telling them to get a dog, go on holiday or any of the other helpful advice that non-experts in the field like to pass on.
There is another problem here though, and that’s to do with blame. Suggesting that your stress levels might be responsible for your blocked fallopian tubes or endometriosis is nonsense, and yet many people do end up feeling that it’s their fault they can’t conceive in a culture which encourages you to believe that you can make the difference to outcomes by thinking positive, clean eating or complementary therapies. The truth is that none of these things are going to unblock your tubes or get rid of endometriosis, and for a medical professional to suggest that getting pregnant might miraculously happen naturally if you just relax is quite bizarre.
Pineapples are much-discussed by those trying to conceive as their cores contain the enzyme bromelain, which is a natural anti-inflammatory which some believe could help implantation.
Now, the online fertility magazine ivfbabble is using pineapples as part of a campaign of solidarity for those experiencing fertility problems. Their “stronger together” campaign is a brilliant idea which aims to bring people together and to make us all realise quite how common fertility problems and that we are not alone.
Do you live in Dorset, Hampshire, West Sussex, Berkshire or Oxfordshire? Would you be happy to talk on camera about your personal experience of fertility problems? You could help raise awareness by being part of a series of short films to coincide with National Fertility Awareness Week.
The producers would like to hear from: couples who struggled to conceive naturally; couples who struggled to conceive via IVF and couples who have adopted or fostered. Filming will take place mid/late September. Please email Russell Sheath at firstname.lastname@example.org and cc Catherine Hill at email@example.com
The report is based on research from Copenhagen University published in the American Journal of Epidemiology which found that healthy young men who had a “couch potato lifestyle” and watched more than 5 hours of TV a day had lower sperm counts than those who were more active.
It isn’t the first time that research has concluded that too much TV is bad for your fertility (see this report here with some common sense advice from Professor Allan Pacey) but this research discovered that sitting at a computer screen for the same amount of time didn’t have the same impact – it was thought that the men who watched TV were also likely to eat less healthily and take less exercise – which brings us back to the root of the problem with the point about watching the Olympics being bad for your sperm count.
The reality is that it’s a healthy lifestyle which makes a difference to your sperm – and to your general health and well-being. You don’t really need academic researchers to tell you that a man who spends entire days in front of the TV eating chips and drinking beer is less likely to be fertile than a man who watches masses of Olympics on TV but also eats healthily and enjoys getting out and about taking moderate exercise.
It is well-known that being very overweight can have an impact on your fertility, and so obese women are often told that they need to lose weight in order to have fertility treatment.
Now, new analysis of research from the Netherlands suggests that losing weight if you are obese might not have an immediate impact on your chances of getting pregnant with fertility treatment but what it does make a difference to is your chances of getting pregnant naturally.
The researchers found weight loss had a significant impact on the chances of getting pregnant naturally, particularly for women who were not ovulating. There was a marked increase in the chances of getting pregnant naturally for this group when they lost weight. The research team suggest that this shows that healthy lifestyle changes could be a first port of call for obese women, especially those who aren’t ovulating.
You can read more about this research presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology annual meeting here.
New research published this week shows that more more than a third of those who became mothers aged 35 or older had experienced a period of infertility and that nearly a fifth of all women aged 35 to 44 have struggled to conceive. The research project included more than 15,000 people and their results showed that 18% of 35-44 year old women had tried to get pregnant for a year or more. Overall, the figure was 13% of women of all ages who had experienced fertility problems.
The research team found that fertility problems were more likely in couples who moved in with their partner later, who were older when they started trying to conceive and who were from a higher socio-economic group. The research also found that many people didn’t seek any medical help for their fertility problems – only just over half reported getting help.
It won’t surprise anyone with experience of infertility to learn that the team found higher rates of depression associated with fertility problems and the research team called for an acknowledgement of the impact of infertility and the availability of appropriate support. The research was led by Jessica Datta from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and was published in the Journal Human Reproduction – you can find the full text here
Did you know that you can get support and advice completely free of charge from Infertility Network UK’s Supportline service?
Run by a wonderful nurse, the Supportline offers a confidential source of help to anyone experiencing fertility problems.
The Supportline is open on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10am until 4pm and you can find more details about how to access this invaluable source of information and support on the Infertility Network UK website.
Did you know that as many as one in five women has polycystic ovaries, and between five to ten per cent have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) which occurs when women who have polycystic ovaries also have additional symptoms – including difficult conceiving. It is one of the main causes of fertility problems for women, but many people are unaware of the syndrome unless they have some personal experience of PCOS.
The symptoms can include irregular periods and ovulation, unwanted facial or body hair, oily skin, acne, thinning hair or hair loss and weight problems which may mean being overweight and having difficulty losing weight. It can also cause depression and mood changes. If you’ve been diagnosed with PCOS and want more information, the charity Verity can offer lots of support and advice – check them out at www.verity-pcos.org.uk
You may have heard that there are proposed cuts to fertility services in North East Essex – that’s the area that goes from Colchester right across to Clacton and Harwich – see here for details. The recommended fertility treatment provision for the NHS is three full cycles of IVF to those of 39 and under who have fertility problems, but North East Essex wants to cut provision which will mean people who need IVF have to pay privately for any treatment they need.
If you have fertility problems and need IVF treatment, we’d really like to hear from you – you can email firstname.lastname@example.org. This can be in confidence.
I heard a man talking about his wife’s fertility problems on the radio the other day. He said he didn’t think men felt the same way about having children as women did – and made it sound as if not being able to start a family would not be any kind of issue for a man. It made me rather sad as he said it with such confidence – and yet that’s so far from the experience of most men I talk to who are going through fertility tests and treatments.
Fertility problems are women’s issues
All too often, fertility is seen as a woman’s problem, and we’ve seen that a lot recently with all the debate about women “leaving it too late” and needing to have children earlier – but it’s important to remember, especially today on Father’s Day, that men suffer just as much as women do when they can’t have children. In fact, there’s some research from Keele University’s Robin Hadley which suggests that men are just as broody as women, and that involuntary childlessness is more likely to make men feel depressed and angry than women.
Sometimes men do feel the need to disguise their feelings, especially if they think they need to be strong for their partner, but unlike the man I was listening to, I think most men do find fertility problems difficult – and today would be a good day to do something nice for your partner if you’re trying to conceive.