The Long Road to Baby

Hearing other people’s stories can be so helpful – and heart-warming – when you are trying unsuccessfully to conceive, so thanks are due to the BBC’s Sophie Sulehria and her partner Johnny for charting their fertility story in a BBC Radio 4 podcast. Titled The Long Road to Baby, it bills itself as post-IVF exploration into the alternative ways to become parents. The ten episodes cover a range of topics including unsuccessful IVF, donor treatment, adoption, fostering and living without children.

Sophie has become a leading voice in the fertility world, and her willingness to speak openly about her own experiences has been hugely helpful to so many people struggling with their own fertility issues. Knowing that this can – and does – happen to anyone, including people in the public eye, makes all the difference to those who are feeling isolated and alone.

If you haven’t already, have a listen to the Long Road to Baby – it comes highly recommended!

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.

Seasonal sperm

New research from the United States has found that men produce better sperm in the spring and autumn, although the reasons for this remain unclear. A big study analysed sperm samples from more than 29,000 men over a period of 17 years, and found that there were more moving sperm in the spring and more normally-shaped sperm in the autumn.

The researchers, from Icahn School of Medicine in Mount Sinai in New York presented their research at the annual conference of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in Denver. They have suggested that the milder weather might have something to do with this as the sperm will stay cool but men are likely to be more physically active and that they may be less likely to be drinking too much alcohol than in the summer or at Christmas. As it takes three months to produce sperm, it is not entirely clear what the causes may be – but the researchers make it clear that more research is needed to be able to confirm that their findings would have an impact on the chances of a successful pregnancy at different times of year.

World Mental Health Day, and why it matters to fertility patients

Today is World Mental Health day, and a good time to think about the mental health impact on fertility problems, tests and treatment. All too often, there’s an attitude from those with no experience of infertility that it isn’t a really serious problem, and yet anyone who has been through this themselves will be only too aware of the way it can impact on your health.

A survey for the patient charity Fertility Network UK and Middlesex University found that respondents reported feeling sad, frustrated, fearful and worried, out of control and helpless most of the time. They often felt stressed, tearful, inadequate, angry, isolated, despairing, depressed, guilty or shamed and experienced low confidence and concentration and a loss of sex driven. They also felt unsupported. Even more alarmingly, 42% of respondents said that they had experienced suicidal feelings.

If you are going through treatment and are finding it tough, there is help and support out there. The patient charity Fertility Network UK offers free group meetings around the country where meeting with other people going through similar experiences can be hugely helpful, and have a support line and online forum too. The British Infertility Counselling Association has a host of specialist counsellors ready to help with emotional support, and you can also talk to your GP if you are feeling in need of counselling. Don’t suffer alone.

Scream4IVF

I am sure you will all be aware of Fertility Network UK’s Scream4IVF campaign, aimed at ending the postcode lottery for IVF treatment. If you haven’t signed the petition yet which calls for a parliamentary debate on the subject you can do so here. The charity has been asking people to donate their scream on social media to give a voice to people with fertility problems and allow their frustrations to be aired. The screams will be collated to form the world’s longest scream for IVF to be played at a rally outside Westminster. The charity is encouraging people to join them at at the rally which takes place at Richmond Terrace at Westminster on October 10th from 5pm to 7pm.

Music to support fertility charities

If you are in London on September 29, why not take the opportunity to attend a concert to help raise funds for two fantastic charities, the Donor Conception Network and the Daisy Network.

Taking place in St Mary’s Church in Rotherhithe, the  concert is with Dunajska Kapelye, a trio who play beautiful gypsy and Eastern European music and are led by one of London’s most respected violinists, Polish Piotr Jordan. The concert will feature plaintive Gypsy ballads, tub-thumping Romanian wedding dances, elements of tango and klezmer. It promises to be a wonderful evening – and great to be able to be raising money to support such important charities with their work at the same time.

You can find more information on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/events/710467139299822  and you can buy tickets here  http://tunedin.london/tunedin.php

Why exercise is good for you

A new study suggests that “vigorous” exercise may be linked to an improved chance of getting pregnant, but that more gentle exercise doesn’t seem to make the same difference. So, what counts as “vigorous”? Apparently that’s exercise like jogging, running, football or aerobics which leaves you out of breath, and you have to do more than four hours a week!

You can read more about it on the NHS Choices website – and the results are interesting. If you are obese, the vigorous exercise thing doesn’t work, but instead more moderate exercise such as walking does. As NHS Choices points out, assessing how likely it is that these results are actually widely applicable and correct can be difficult as the results were slightly odd. It isn’t clear why exercise only counts if you do more than four hours a week, or why walking makes a difference to obese or overweight women but not to any others. It is also not clear what they women ate, or whether their weight changed during the study as these factors could make a difference – as could any existing fertility problems so it may be that one of these other factors was in fact responsible.

It does, however, add to the growing body of evidence that keeping active is a good thing!

Thank you Fertility Fest!

I have spent the past few days at Fertility Fest at the Bush Theatre in London, and wanted to thank Jessica Hepburn and Gabby Vautier for organising such a wonderful and inspiring event. It was a unique opportunity for people affected by fertility problems and treatment, for those working in the fertility sector, for those who have families not created in the traditional way, for academics and for the general public to come together and to learn and be inspired. It was absolutely fabulous!

I met amazing artists and so many inspiring and interesting people doing all kinds of different work to help and support others in different ways. It was a real honour to be involved. A special thank you to the lovely Saskia Boujo and everyone I shared a panel with – artist Gina Glover, Dr Kay Elder, Sally Cheshire, Dr Roy FarquharsonMaria Da Luz Ghoumrassi, Dr Shantel Ehrenberg, Barbara Scott, Jane Denton, Anna Furse, Nina Klaff, Drunken Sailor Theatre Company, Victoria Macdonald, Foz Foster, Tabitha Moses, Professor Lesley Regan, Professor Simon Fishel, Yvonne John, Sue Macmillan, Carmel Dennehy, Tracey Sainsbury, Fiona Duffelen – to Paula Knight who was unable to be with us but sent a video – and of course, to those wonderful women Jessica and Gabby who have created something really very special!

Vacancies

If you are interested in a role in the world of women’s health, there are some fabulous opportunities open at the moment. For anyone looking to volunteer, the Women’s Network  which I chair at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has some spaces. It’s a fantastic group of dynamic women committed to improving women’s health experiences, and members must be able to commit at least two full days at the College (in central London) every three months when meetings take place. New members of the Network will be expected to become involved in the work of a committees relating to RCOG’s work too, and to have regular email contact. It is a big ask, but it’s an extremely rewarding and interesting role and a chance to make a real difference. There are more details here

There are also two jobs at the charity Fertility Network UK. One is a short-term cover role for a co-ordinator for the charity for the whole of England, which is an amazing job. The other is for a co-ordinator for More to Life, the part of the charity which works for people who are childless, after stopping treatment or deciding not to have it – a really important role.There are some fabulous people working for the charity and you will have great colleagues. If you are interested, you can find out more here. 

Could you fill in a survey to help with research?

Could you spare a few moments to help with a research project? I’ve just been asked to circulate details to people with experience of fertility problems about an important research project which is trying to establish core outcomes for clinical trials. If all trials into fertility reported on the same outcomes, it would be possible to combine studies to get really meaningful data to help fertility patients in the future. The research team would like your views as they want to involve lay people with lived experience in helping to shape what the main outcomes should be.

You can read more about the project here and if you decide you would like to take part by answering their questionnaires, you can do that here, apparently it should take no more than 15 minutes to complete. Thanks!