You are not alone

One of the most difficult things about living with fertility problems is the loneliness and isolation you can feel as everyone around you seems to be getting pregnant effortlessly. If you don’t tell other people what you are going through, you get questions about when you are going to have children and warnings that you don’t want to leave it too late. If you do tell people, you can end up with lots of advice you could do without (“why don’t you just relax/get a dog/go on holiday…”).

Last night, I facilitated a fertility group for the charity Fertility Network UK in South East London and it really struck me, as it does every time we meet, how beneficial it can be to spend some time with other people who really understand how you are feeling and who know what it is like. Fertility Network has groups meeting across the UK, mainly run by volunteers like me, which offer a haven for anyone experiencing fertility problems. It’s a unique opportunity to be with people who share similar experiences and to be able to talk openly and honestly about how you are feeling.

It’s National Fertility Week and there’s lots of work going on to raise awareness about many important fertility-related issues, but one of the most important messages for me is that you don’t need to go through this alone. There are opportunities to meet other people who can offer support, and the groups aren’t miserable or depressing, but rather an opportunity to help yourself to feel less lonely. There are 3.5 million people living with fertility problems in the UK and meeting some of the others may be just what you need.

Royal pregnancy announcement

Pregnancy announcements are never easy when you’re trying to conceive, but one which has swamped the media and is this morning taking up endless pages of many newspapers is particularly difficult to avoid. What makes this announcement even more challenging is that the Royal couple were only married a matter of months ago, and seem to have conceived with effortless ease.

It was unfortunate that the announcement came during Baby Loss Awareness Week, on a day when many people were preparing to light candles for the Wave of Light in memory of their own losses. Although the couple have been criticised online for this, the most likely reason is that they simply didn’t know the significance of the day.

The endless discussions about the Royal pregnancy are going to go on – and on, and on – during the next few months. One of the best ways of dealing with that is to spend time with other people who understand how you feel about this because they share similar experiences. Why not try one of Fertility Network UK’s fertility groups which run across the UK? They’re an ideal opportunity to meet others and can be really empowering. I admit I am biased about this as I run the group in South East London, but that’s because I know how much it can help. Being with other people who understand, and who share your conflicted feelings about pregnancy announcements can make all the difference. It can help you to realise that you are not having a personality change and becoming an unkind person, but are reacting in a perfectly normal way to an emotional challenge. You can find details of all FNUK’s groups here, and it there isn’t a group near you, they can offer other support too – have a look at their website

New fertility group for South East London

I’m going to be running a new fertility group for Fertility Network in Greenwich in South East London which you are welcome to join! We are having our first meeting on the evening of Tuesday March 27. It will be great to see you if you are able to come along!

I first went to a group when I was going through IVF myself and found it hugely helpful to meet other people who understood how we felt. I was a bit uncertain about going along – I didn’t think I was the sort of person who went to group meetings – but in fact it wasn’t gloomy or depressing or any of the other things I’d expected. If anything, it was actually quite uplifting to be in a room full of people who weren’t going to stat asking questions about when we were going to have a baby and why we were leaving it so late…

I’ve run a number of different fertility groups over the years since then and have seen at first hand the benefits they can bring. So why not come along and join us and find out for yourselves…

You can join our brand new Facebook page to find out more or you can get in touch via the contact page here – and hope to see you on the 27th.

Want to know more about long-term fostering?

The patient support charity Fertility Network UK runs regular online groups which you can join via Skype. The next one will take place on Thursday 18th May at 6 pm and the month’s guest speaker is Amel Bouaraba from 24 Seven Fostering. Amel will discuss long-term fostering’. Anyone is welcome to join in – for more information or to find out how to join the call, you can email Hannah – hannah@fertilitynetworkuk.org

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…

New fertility support groups

The patient support charity Fertility Network UK has announced two new support groups which have been set up recently in Lancashire/Cumbria and in Hull.

I know many people don’t like to think that they might need a “support group” but what is so invaluable about the groups is being able to meet up with other people who are going through similar things and to share experiences. It really can be such a huge relief just to know that there are other people out there finding it hard to be happy when a close friend announces a pregnancy, or who take long detours to avoid the local nursery at pick up and drop off times. Going along to a group is a sign of strength rather than suggesting that you need more support than other people and if you see it that way, it can be a useful – and free – way of helping yourself through treatment.

For more information about the Lancashire/Cumbria group, please email lancashirecumbriagroup314@gmail.com and for the Hull group, you can email fertilitygrouphull@gmail.com.

You can find a list of all the other Fertility Network UK groups on their website here. There really is nothing to lose by going along once and seeing what you think – you may find it helps far more than you expected!

It’s this weekend…

Just a quick reminder for anyone living in or near Manchester that the Fertility Show will be held there this weekend. It’s the first Fertility Show outside London and you can find full details and buy tickets here. You will find a great range of seminars covering a range of fertility-related topics, and a Q and A stage too where you can ask your own questions.

I’ll be speaking about how to choose a fertility clinic and will be at the Fertility Network UK stand for most of the day on Saturday – so do come and say hello!

Celebrating International Women’s Day

It’s International Women’s Day and a good opportunity to celebrate some of the things that women do for one another in fertility. I was thinking of some of the women who have done and continue to do so much to change things in this field, and wanted to thank a few of them.

The first is Clare Lewis-Jones, the former Chief Executive of the charity Fertility Network UK. Clare led the charity as it grew in size and influence and was a presence at every fertility conference and event, reminding professionals of the need to think about the patient perspective. She championed the cause and helped to change the way people think about fertility, removing some of the stigma and encouraging us to talk, in part by being open about her own fertility story. Clare was awarded a much-deserved MBE for her work and was a real inspiration to me.

The second is Jessica Hepburn, who wrote a book about her own experiences of fertility problems and treatment and who went on to set up Fertility Fest. Jessica is an amazingly inspiring person who has swum the Channel and is now running the marathon to raise funds to help to support other people going through fertility problems. She has spoken widely and openly about how it feels to have unsuccessful treatment and has enabled many other people to talk about this.

My third is someone you may not know. She is called Diane and she runs the support line at Fertility Network UK. Diane is a nurse and has been answering calls and responding to emails from fertility patients for as long as I can remember. Every time I’ve suggested that anyone might benefit from giving her a call, they’ve been really touched by her kindness and helped so much by the support and advice she has offered. Diane has been at hand for hundreds of fertility patients on their journeys and is a real inspiration with her positivity and generosity of spirit.

These are just three women – there are so many more I can think of out there who are doing remarkable work to support and encourage, to inspire and inform. There are also all those women who support one another every day just by being there for each other, by showing their understanding and offering words of encouragement to their fellow fertility patients. The importance of that support should never be underestimated. Happy International Women’s Day to you all!

Running for the right to try

If you read this blog at all regularly, it won’t have escaped you that I am a huge fan of the brilliant Jessica Hepburn, Director of Fertility Fest and author of The Pursuit of Motherhood. You may have followed her Channel Swim to raise funds for Fertility Network UK, and now she’s doing it again with the London Marathon.

Jessica has written a fantastic blog post about this and if you want to read more about what she’s doing and why, you can find it here. There’s also a link to her JustGiving page where you can make a donation to support her through her 26 miles. For me, 10k feels like a marathon, and I think it’s a wonderful thing that she is doing – so support her if you possibly can and help to make it even more worthwhile.

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.