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.

Fertility Fest 2018

It was great to be at the launch of Fertility Fest 2018 this morning, the fertility arts festival organised by Jessica Hepburn and Gabby Vautier-Farr. We were treated to inspiring words from Jessica and Gabby and an exciting extract of the sort of thing we can expect to enjoy during the festival. You can see the line-up for this year’s festival on the website – www.fertilityfest.com and you can buy tickets now too. I’m already really excited about this year’s festival – there are some amazing artists and expert and fascinating discussions. Make sure you get a ticket before they all sell out – and I hope to see you there!

Feeling fed up with January?

If you’re fed up with people DOING things for January – whether it’s Dry January, joining a spin class or taking up tap dancing – you may like to read Lesley Pyne’s latest blog post. I’ve known Lesley for a long time and have witnessed her building up her support network to help other people who are experiencing involuntary childlessness – she offers lots of support and inspiration for anyone living without children, and has helped many people through their own difficult times. You can sign up for regular emails from Lesley which offer tips and advice. What’s more, she’s right about January and people doing things – it can be exhausting to be faced with other people’s bouncy enthusiasm when you’re just trying to get through things yourself.

I didn’t make any new year’s resolutions this year – I’ve come to the conclusion that if you try to give things up, you just feel more focused on them and have a sense of being deprived when you can’t have them. And when you don’t feel you HAVE to go to the gym or go running, it can make exercise seem much more attractive.  I know it may be my strange logic, but it works for me…

Getting the balance right

Happy New Year everyone – and welcome to 2018. I hope it is a successful and happy year for you all, and that you can strike a balance between doing all you can to help yourself with your fertility problems and making life start to be difficult and miserable.

It may sound odd, but anyone trying to conceive is keen to do all that they can to make a difference to the outcome of treatment and there are many things you can do which are entirely sensible and likely to be beneficial – eating healthily, taking exercise, trying to take care of yourself as much as you can. What is not so likely to be beneficial is making strict rules for yourself which are incredibly difficult to follow and leaving yourself feeling constantly guilty if you don’t quite meet the mark – and then blaming yourself for your fertility problems. I’ve seen so many people recently who are following strict dietary rules and other guidance from therapists and complementary practitioners which can make life start to feel like a military exercise – and it really can start to become counterproductive if it is making you stressed. The truth is that being overweight, eating unhealthily and drinking too much alcohol can affect your fertility, but an occasional glass of wine or piece of chocolate is really not going to ruin your chances of fertility treatment working.

So for 2018, be kind to yourself – try to be as healthy as you can, but don’t forget to think about what makes you happy too!

Happy New Year

Thank you to everyone who has read the Fertility Matters blog over the past year – it has been great to have so much interest and I wanted to wish you all a very Happy New Year.

I know that when you are trying to conceive the start of a new year can feel tainted with the sadness of another year passing when you haven’t managed to conceive – and another year when the number of friends and family members who don’t have children seems to have dwindled even further after having to deal with endless pregnancy announcements and putting on a cheerful face.  It’s better – if not always easy – to try to put that behind you on Dec 31st and to look forward to the year ahead, to see it as a fresh start with new challenges but possibly new happinesses too.

If you are thinking of making new year’s resolutions, don’t set yourself difficult targets that you will struggle to reach – perhaps think more about being kinder to yourself, looking after yourself and focusing on doing more of the things in life which make you happy. They so often disappear when you’re trying to conceive and all you can focus on is that one seemingly unattainable thing – but try to think about the things that you enjoy and make sure you do more of them whatever they may be from walks in the country to going to the cinema. Set yourself some dates to look forward to in your diary – book something you know you’ll enjoy and you can give that some focus. Whatever it is you’re planning, take care of yourself and have fun!

Sophie’s story

If you listened to BBC reporter Sophie Sulehria’s first broadcast about her fertility journey on Radio Four, you can find all the episodes she’s put together so far here. 

There’s Sophie’s own story which she tells in two episodes with her husband Jonny, along with reports on adoption and egg donation where Sophie talks to people who have experience of these other routes to parenthood.  The series is due to run into the new year, so there’s more to come from Sophie and Jonny.

Do listen – it’s great to hear someone who actually understands what it’s like and who has personal experience talking about these subjects. And thanks to Sophie and Jonny for their courage in being so open about their own story – fertility is not an easy thing to talk about when you are still on the journey.

Fertility milestones

In support of National Fertility Awareness Week, the HFEA or Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority which regulates the fertility sector, has published data which reveals some new milestones for UK fertility treatment.

More than 300,000 children in total have now been born in the UK from licensed fertility treatment since 1991. Fertility treatment has grown markedly since 2010, with almost a third of all IVF and DI babies since 1991 arriving in the last six recorded years (2010 to 2015).

The total number of treatment cycles carried out in UK clinics also passed a significant milestone in 2015, breaking through the million barrier. The overall number of treatments carried out since 1991 is 1,034,601.

The new data – drawn from The HFEA Register, the oldest and largest fertility database in the world – also reveals that fertility services are used mainly by younger women. The average age of women having fertility treatment is 35 years, which has remained largely static over recent years.

Treatments involving women aged 18-34 remain the largest single group, accounting for 43% of all treatments, while treatments for women aged 40 and over account for just 20% of all treatments with very few treatments being provided to women over 45.

Looking at the different regions in the UK, the data shows that most treatments continue to take place in London and the South East of England, accounting for 42% of all cycles. However, there is a strong representation of large northern clinics in the figures, with the North West now providing more treatments per clinic than any other region, including London. Total clinic numbers vary according to region, ranging from three in Northern Ireland to 22 in London.

HFEA Chair Sally Cheshire CBE welcomed this new data as a sign of a thriving and successful fertility sector: “The figures we have released today show that the UK’s fertility sector continues to be one of the most vibrant and successful in the world. Families using assisted reproduction services across the UK are better served than ever before, and we will continue to encourage all who work in the sector to offer the highest quality support for patients who are both successful and unsuccessful.”

Susan Seenan, chief executive of patient charity Fertility Network UK said “We welcome the publication during National Fertility Awareness Week of the new IVF milestones from the HFEA. The extraordinary growth of IVF in the last six years shows the pressing need for practical and emotional support and advice for the many people facing fertility issues. It is also significant to note that this data underlines that fertility services are used mainly by younger women – aged under 35 – who will have been trying for a baby for at least two years and often more. National Fertility Awareness Week is about challenging perceptions and we hope this helps to dispel any misconceptions about IVF and female age.”

Infertility etiquette

We’ve all been there, the “helpful” comments and suggestions from friends and family – the detailed story about the friend of a friend of a friend who had five children after she forgot all about her fertility problems and decided to “just adopt” instead, or the information from a newspaper article they’ve half read about a new treatment, which when you dash off to read it yourself you find has actually only been tried out on mice in Brazil. You know the kind of thing…

They are trying to be kind and supportive, but knowing how best to help a friend or family member who is having fertility problems is hard unless you’ve been there yourself. It isn’t always easy to know what to say or how to say it. Sometimes people avoid the subject altogether because they are worried about getting it wrong, but others turn into fonts of wisdom offering advice and tips on every aspect of fertility which can be difficult to swallow  when you know they don’t really have a clue what they’re talking about. Pamela Tsigdinos, the author who has published widely on childlessness and infertility, has written this excellent blog post about infertility etiquette which you may want to pass on to your friends and family – she says exactly what you want to say, but may not always feel able to.

Why you might not want to bother with that fertility “MOT”…

eggFertility clinics have been promoting “fertility MOT” tests for some time as a way of checking your future fertility by testing the stock of potential eggs in your ovaries, known as your ovarian reserve, to see how “fertile” you are. New research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that these MOT tests may have no value in predicting how likely you are to get pregnant.

Ovarian reserve tests do have a use for people who are having fertility treatment as they can give some idea of how your ovaries might respond to the drugs used in the course of the treatment, but this study shows that the tests have no value in predicting your chances of getting pregnant naturally.

The researchers looked at a large group of women who had been trying to get pregnant for less than three months, and following them up for a year found that the results of the tests had no relation to the chances of the women getting pregnant.

The cost of these “fertility tests” can vary hugely. The articles covering the story suggested that they might cost around £100, but a quick google reveals that some clinics are charging more than £400 for MOT tests. The researchers were quite clear that their findings “do not support the use” of these tests to assess natural fertility – so be warned before you decide to part with any money. If you are concerned about your fertility, your first port of call should be your GP rather than a clinic charging for tests.

Thanks to The Eve Appeal

Last night I went to an amazing event organised by the Eve Appeal, a gynaecological cancer research charity, as part of their gynaecological cancer awareness month. The subject was Talking Taboos and the evening aimed to discuss the things we don’t usually discuss, which can be a barrier to seeking advice about symptoms which lead to gynaecological cancers.

There was a panel of speakers including Professor Lesley Regan, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Paula Sheriff MP, BBC Woman’s Hour presenter Jane Garvey, Dr Ellie Cannon, Dr Christian Jessen and FGM campaigner Nimco Ali. The panel took questions from the audience and covered a huge range of taboo subjects from pubic hair to menstrual bleeding and you can see the discussion on the Eve Appeal’s Facebook Page.

It made me think about how many taboos there are about fertility and treatment, and all the things we find difficult to discuss. It is so hard to break down those barriers when you are feeling sad and isolated, but you are really not alone. One in seven of the population experiences problems when they are trying to get pregnant and there are 3.5 million people in the UK who are currently trying unsuccessfully to conceive. Next time you feel alone, remember how many of us there are out there – and how much we can help one another.