When IVF doesn’t work…

It’s something no one wants to think about when they are just starting out on fertility tests and treatment, but we know that IVF doesn’t always work. Even in the best case scenario, an individual treatment cycle is more likely to end with a negative pregnancy test than a positive one, although cumulative success rates are much more heartening. Perhaps if we didn’t shy away from the statistics, it would make unsuccessful IVF easier to cope with.

At fertility information events, there is often a reluctance to include any mention of IVF not working, and that doesn’t help fertility patients. We wanted to include a session on this, and on living without children at the Fertility Forum in London on March 30. We wanted to give an opportunity to hear some of the strong and powerful voices of women who are living without children, and how they have found peace and happiness. This session isn’t exclusively for people who are approaching the end of their treatment – it’s just as important for those who are still going through tests and fertility treatments to allow them to see that treatment not working doesn’t have to be the end of happiness.

In a session chaired by Fertility Fest founder Jessica Hepburn, we have four inspiring women who are helping others change the way we think about living without children. There’s Jody Day, founder of Gateway Women, Yvonne John, author of Dreaming of a life unlived, Kelly Da Silva of the Dovecote and Lesley Pyne, author of Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness.

I’ve met all of them and they are a pretty fabulous bunch – don’t be afraid to come and hear what they have to say, no matter where you are on your fertility journey. Organised by patients and bodies representing all the professionals in the field, the Fertility Forum also includes talks on a huge range of other fertility-related topics with many of the UK’s leading experts. Come and join us in London on March 30 for a day of accurate, unbiased information in a non-commercial setting with no promotions or sales pitches. The Fertility Forum is all about evidence – and you can get tickets here.

Fertility Forum speakers

Next month’s Fertility Forum promises to be an informative event for anyone who wants to know more about their fertility, tests and treatment options. The wide range of speakers will be covering topics across the board to ensure there is something for everyone whether you are just starting to think about your future fertility or have already had treatment. The full list of topics and speakers is now finalised:

  • Fertility specialist Raj Mathur will look at what can affect your chances of conceiving naturally, when and how to seek advice and will run through the tests you should have.
  • Miscarriage expert Professor Lesley Regan will cover the causes of miscarriage and why do some women experience recurrent miscarriage. She will discuss investigations and what can be done to help.
  • Fertility specialist Ertan Saridogan will give the low down on endometriosis and how it can affect fertility. He will cover all the options for treatment and how to choose between them.
  • Leading male fertility specialist Professor Allan Pacey will explain male fertility and how sperm are made. He will talk about what affects the number and quality of sperm that a man make and the tests that are used to diagnose male fertility problems, as well as the solutions that can be offered.
  • Director of the Donor Conception Network Nina Barnsley will explain what you need to think about when considering donor treatment, how to decide whether it’s right for you and will discuss openness around donor treatment.
  • Chair of the Association of Clinical Embryologists Jason Kasraie will look at the latest new techniques and technologies in the fertility world and consider evidence is as to whether they work and discuss the factors that influence the chances of successful treatment.
  • Fertility counsellor and Chair of the British Infertility Counselling Association Angela Pericleous-Smith will discuss the pressures on yourself, your relationships and your friendships. She will explore coping strategies and explain how to manage anxieties.
  • Fertility specialist Ephia Yasmin will be explaining all you need to need to know about egg freezing including the chances of success, as well as looking forward to future developments in egg freezing.
  • Women’s Voices Lead at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Kate Brian explores why people chose to go overseas and looks at the risks and benefits. She will give some tips to consider when you are making a decision.
  • The HFEA’s Jo Triggs will explain what to look for when choosing a clinic, what statistics can and can’t tell you and will explore the other factors you should take into account.
  • Fertility Fest founder Jessica Hepburn will chair a session with Gateway Women’s Jody Day, authors Lesley Pyne and Yvonne John and the Dovecot’s Kelly Da Silva who have all helped to change the way we think about living without children. They will discuss how to find peace and happiness after unsuccessful treatment, and will talk about the societal attitudes to childlessness that need changing.
  • Professor Adam Balen is a leading specialist in PCOS and will discuss the causes of this common cause of fertility problems. He will discuss how PCOS should be investigated and treated and will also look at ways that you can help yourself.
  • If you want to know more about IVF, fertility specialist Jane Stewart will explain what assisted conception is and why it doesn’t always work. She will talk about the limitations of IVF and why it may not always be the right treatment.
  • One of the UK’s leading embryologists, Rachel Cutting will explain how embryos develop from fertilisation to blastocyst. She will look at how embryos are graded and selected, and will explore how time-lapse can help. She will also talk about embryo freezing.
  • Men often get overlooked when it comes to fertility support. Richard Clothier has been a leading voice for men’s experiences of fertility problems. He will focus on men and fertility, and the importance of talking as well as exploring tips for mitigating the grief.
  • Is your lifestyle having an impact on your fertility? Grace Dugdale is a reproductive biologist and nutrition scientist and will give evidence-based information about health, diet and lifestyle in relation to male and female fertility. She will talk about what can impact your fertility, and about preparing your body for pregnancy.
  • IVF treatment is usually more like a marathon than a sprint. Emotional and financial resilience are crucial to continuing the journey, and there can be pressure to pay for additional tests, drugs or interventions which may not increase the chances of success. Fertility specialist Professor Yacoub Khalaf will discuss what’s worth paying for and what isn’t.
  • Are you eligible for NHS funded fertility treatment? There are guidelines from the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) on who should qualify, but these are often ignored. Sarah Norcross from Fertility Fairness and Aileen Feeney from Fertility Network UK will explain the current funding situation and what you should be entitled to.
  • Psychology Professor Jacky Boivin explains stress, and what evidence there is about the impact it may have on fertility. She will also discuss strategies for coping with stress.
  • What is ovarian reserve testing and what does it mean? Fertility specialist Melanie Davies will look at ovarian testing and what it can and can’t tell you. She will explain the realities of having fertility treatment when you are older and what this means for the chances of success.
  • One of the UK’s leading fertility lawyers, Natalie Gamble,will discuss the legal situation regarding parenthood for sperm and egg donation. She will explain surrogacy law and practice, recent developments and law reform.

You can choose which of these amazing sessions to attend – tickets for the day are now available at £25 which covers the costs of putting on the day. You can find out more and book your tickets here – https://bit.ly/FertilityForum

 

 

Are you coming to Fertility Fest?

Fertility Fest is the world’s first arts festival dedicated to fertility, infertility, modern families and the science of making babies – and you really ought to be there!  It promises 150 artists and fertility experts in a week-long programme of events, entertainment, discussion, debate, support and solidarity.

It runs from 8 – 13 May at the Bush Theatre in London, and has the most amazing array of sessions. You will find Izzy Judd – wife of McFly’s Harry Judd and author of the bestselling memoir Dare to Dream – talking about their experiences of fertility treatment and trying to conceive. There’s a session on the often overlooked male experience of infertility with a screening of a film about a man whose relationship breaks down as a result of infertility and a documentary film about men’s experiences of infertility. You could listen to poet Julia Copus performing her poetry cycle which was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award or  film-maker Katie Barlow sharing excerpts from her ongoing documentary film-project. In a session on pregnancy loss, award-winning visual artists Foz Foster and Tabitha Moses will explore their experiences with Professor Lesley Regan, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and one of the world’s leading voices on miscarriage. And on Wednesday 9th May, there’s a special event entitled ‘There’s More To Life Than Having Children’ hosted and chaired by Fertility Network UK’s Catherine Strawbridge.

One exciting series during the festival is the ‘Fertility Fight Club’ in which leading artists and fertility experts including Professor Geeta Nargund (from Create Fertility), Jody Day (Founder of Gateway Women the friendship and support network for childless women) and writer and theatre-maker Stella Duffy will give ten minute provocative talks about things they want to change about the world of fertility and infertility. These will be live streamed so that people can participate from their armchair at home and from anywhere around the world.

This is just a tiny taster of the huge range of different events during the week – have a look at the full programme on the Fertility Fest website www.fertilityfest.com and tickets (£10 – £35 plus a wide selection of FREE events) can be booked from the Bush’s box office https://www.bushtheatre.co.uk

World Childless Week

Thanks to Stephanie Phillips for starting the first World Childless Week which runs from 11-17 September and aims to raise awareness of the many millions of people around the world who are childless-not-by-choice.

When Stephanie realised that she was not going to be able to have children, she gradually started to link up with others in similar situations through an online group and gradually realised that the peer support she received was making a huge difference to how she felt about her life.

She realised that there was no focus for people who were childless in the Fertility Awareness Weeks in the UK and USA, and needed something that didn’t focus on happy endings after fertility problems but on life without children. That’s why she decided to start World Childless Week. Her aim may have been to help a few people know that they are not alone, but it has done far more than that already and has really helped to raise awareness over the last few days. You can find her website at http://www.worldchildlessweek.com

You may have already seen quite a bit about the week on social media, but I hope that Stephanie’s brilliant awareness-raising idea continues to be a huge success and starts to increase understanding and empathy for those who are childless-not-by-choice. Thank you Stephanie!

Other sources of support for those who are childless-not-by-choice include Jody Day’s Gateway Women and Kelly Da Silva’s the Dovecot

Managing Mother’s Day

Carl_Strathmann_-_Bunch_of_Wild_Flowers_(13354976844)It’s one of the most difficult times of the year for anyone trying to conceive, and it’s here again. A day focused on celebrating motherhood is bound to be challenging for anyone who is longing for a family, but the time leading up to it can be the hardest part to deal with. It’s virtually impossible to escape Mother’s Day when every local shop has jumped on the commercial bandwagon and even the local supermarket seems to have decided to label anything you might possibly give to anyone else as a “Mother’s Day Gift”.

Mother’s Day can act as a horrible reinforcement of the sense of isolation and loneliness that you may feel as more and more of those around you seem to be pregnant or new parents. It can make you feel like an outsider whose life has become completely cut off form those around you.

 

If you know anyone else who is experiencing difficulties getting pregnant or who doesn’t have children, this can be the ideal time for meeting up with them. Getting together for a day out, a trip to the cinema or theatre or sharing a meal can be a good way of reminding yourself that you are not alone. This Thursday evening, March 3, there’s a get together for anyone experiencing fertility problems in Central London and if you’d like to come along and join us you’d be very welcome (for details, email katebrian@infertilitynetworkuk.com).  On Sunday March 6 itself, you may be interested to know that Gateway Women’s Jody Day will be giving a live talk on BBC Radio’s Mother’s Day Service – you can find details here 

 

However you decide to spend Sunday, remember that you are not alone. There are around 3.5 million people in the UK alone who are going through difficulties at any given time, and every one of them will be experiencing very similar feelings about Mother’s Day.

 

Role models – thanks to Gateway Women

One of the depressing things about trying unsuccessfully to conceive is that there are often some rather outdated cliched ideas about what women who don’t have children are like – career-obsessed, selfish, hard – whilst mothers tend to be seen as good, kind, selfless, caring…

Of course, it’s nonsense; having children doesn’t define your personality or who you are, but the stereotypes can be hard to break and all the more difficult to deal with when you are feeling sensitive about childlessness.

Role Models

Jody Day, who runs the Gateway Women support network for women who are childless by circumstance, has come up with a fantastic pinboard of role models of women who don’t have children (she calls them NoMos) which deftly illustrates quite how untrue the cliches are. Jody says that NoMos are often invisible in popular culture and her pinboard aims to show that women without children have more sisters than they realised…

When IVF doesn’t work

ivf_science-300x168It’s something no one wants to think about when they are starting out on a fertility journey, but the truth is that IVF doesn’t always work. We know that average success rates in the UK for an individual cycle are around 26%, which means a 74% chance of it not working. In reality, as recent research has shown, cumulative success rates are far better and over a course of treatment, the majority are likely to have a child – but even so, IVF is not going to work for everyone, something this article from Australia illustrates.

It may seem as if treatment not working would be the most unbearable outcome possible, but I have been really struck by pioneering childless women like Jody Day of Gateway Women and Lesley Pyne who show that this doesn’t have to mean the end of your hope for a happy future. Jody’s Gateway Women offers a chance to get together with other women in similar situations and she runs workshops and events, Lesley offers support through her blog, newsletter and one-to-one sessions, and there’s also help to be found from More to Life which offers support and regional contacts for anyone who is involuntarily childless. It may be useful to see a counsellor, and BICA – the British Infertility Counselling Association – can provide a list of specialist qualified counsellors across the UK, some of whom offer Skype or telephone counselling too.

WoW 2015

I’m really excited to be chairing a session at this year’s Women of the World Festival at the Festival Hall on London’s Southbank.  WoW is an amazing event, and this coming weekend you will find a huge range of talks, workshops and performances covering everything from immigration to the use of sexist language.

The session I’m chairing is on Fertility Myths, and there’s a really interesting panel including Gateway Women founder Jody Day, fertility lawyer Harjit Sarang, psychotherapist Carmel Dennehy, Consultant Gynaecologist Dr Ephia Yasmin and fertility author Jessica Hepburn.

If last year is anything to go by, this will be a fascinating hour or so – hope to see you there!

The WoW debate

For those who weren’t able to be there, Saturday’s discussion on Fertility Myths at the Women of the World festival at the Southbank Centre for International Women’s Day proved to be a fascinating debate.  I was chairing a panel with obstetrician Dr Susan Bewley who is known for her concerns about women leaving it later to conceive, Zita West who runs a very popular and successful fertility clinic in Central London, Jody Day founder of Gateway Women which supports those who are childless by circumstance and Jessica Hepburn who wrote a powerful memoir about her experiences of fertility treatment.

Each of the speakers began by giving their own brief introduction, and we then launched into a discussion about fertility myths. The key theme which we returned to time and time again during the discussion was age, and how so many women are still under the misapprehension that IVF offers a solution to age-related infertility. Susan Bewley spelled out some key facts about women’s fertility which many of the audience weren’t aware of – the alarming increase in the miscarriage rate once women are in their forties, and the fact that we stop being fertile up to ten years before the menopause itself.  She explained that although the age at which women’s periods start has got younger as we are stronger and healthier, the average age at menopause has remained firmly stuck at 51.

There were some really interesting questions and comments from the audience, and a lively discussion about why women were leaving it later to have children and how to address this.  As a generation encouraged to delay motherhood, to work hard and have careers, many women who are now in their late 30s and early 40s are finding that following a male career pattern of establishing your position before thinking about starting a family doesn’t fit with a female reproductive pattern – but how we begin to change this is a real challenge.  Why do so many women find it hard to meet the right partner to have children with? Do we think too much about potential obstacles before we have children? Are men enjoying the chance to delay fatherhood at the expense of women’s fertility? Is teenage pregnancy really such a bad thing? Are we guilty of glorifying motherhood?

Thanks to the brilliant panel and the audience too.  In conclusion, it’s clear we can’t change the female biological clock, and perhaps we need to start thinking about how we change society and our own attitudes – your thoughts or suggestions are welcome!

Happy New Year

images-8Just to send you all my very best wishes for 2014 – and to remind you that if you’ve been having difficulty getting pregnant and are going into the new year hoping that this will be the year that things move on, you don’t need to feel lonely and isolated on your journey.  There are lots of organisations and charities offering support and advice which is honest, reliable and often completely free.

The charity Infertility Network UK is one of the best sources of general advice and support for anyone trying unsuccessfully to conceive – yes, I’m biased as I’m the charity’s regional organiser for London and the South East but I do the job because I think the charity has so much to offer to anyone experiencing fertility problems. There is online support, but also regional meetings and support groups, telephone support from peers and medical professionals and the charity also plays a key role in raising awareness of infertility and in campaigning for better NHS funding and for fair access to fertility treatment.

If you are thinking of using donor sperm and/or eggs, the Donor Conception Network should be your first port of call – a fantastic charity that offers so much help and support at every stage.  There are meetings, workshops, books and advice for all those who may consider using donor gametes for whatever reason, and the charity works with families who have used donor conception and adults who were donor conceived.

For those who have polycystic ovary syndrome, Verity-PCOS is fantastic source of information and advice – run by the dedication of a small band of volunteers it offers a highly professional service covering all aspects of PCOS.  The Daisy Network is another excellent organisation, offering help to those who have experienced an early menopause.

If you’re thinking of a future without children, there are two fabulous organisations that can offer help.  More to Life is for those who are involuntarily childless and offers a support network across the country with regional groups, meetings and a support line. Gateway Women is run by the dynamic Jody Day who runs a range of workshops, local groups and offers online support for those who are childless by circumstance.  For emotional support, you may also want to consider Lesley Pyne who offers support to childless women.

So don’t let yourself feel isolated – there are 3.5 million people out there who are having difficulty conceiving in the UK right now, and being in touch with others who understand just how you feel can make all the difference.  I hope that 2014 will bring happiness to you all.