Male fertility evening

It is often noted that there’s a lack of support for men going through fertility problems and it is certainly true that much of the help on offer is aimed primarily at women. Now, for the first time, one London clinic is offering tailored support for men.

Andrology Solutions is running a male fertility evening on February 16th with a guest speaker, Gareth Down, and a team of andrologists at hand to answer any male fertility questions. You can find out more here.

Night shifts and your fertility

A really interesting new study has found that women who worked night shifts or who had jobs involving heavy lifting produced fewer eggs when having fertility treatment than those who worked normal day shifts. The research team from the United States investigated around 500 women who filled in detailed questionnaires about their work shift patterns and any heavy lifting involved in their jobs. The researchers found that there were clear differences in the number of eggs produced by women who worked at night and those who did heavy lifting at work.

I found this study particularly fascinating as I worked night shifts before I started trying to conceive, and was very aware of the negative impact it had on my overall health – but often wondered whether it could affect fertility too. This was an observational study – which means the researchers were not linking cause and effect but just seeing what happened with the different groups of women and fertility experts have urged caution in interpreting the results. However, if you are doing a job which involves working nights or a lot of heavy lifting and are having difficulty getting, the study would suggest it may be worth investigating if there is anything you can do to change your shift pattern or lifting at work.

You can read the full details of the research from the Journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine here along with reports from The Telegraph and the Evening Standard.

Women who are depressed are less likely to have fertility treatment

New research from the States suggests that women who are depressed are less likely to carry on with fertility treatment. The researchers from the University of North Carolina (UNC) screened 416 women with fertility problems, and 41% scored positive for depression although apparently more than half said that they felt depressed most or all of the time.

The research team found that the women whose screening test showed that they were depressed were less likely to carry on with treatment, and therefore less likely to end up with a pregnancy.  You can see more about the research, which was published in the journal Human Reproduction, here 

It isn’t really surprising that so many people who are having difficulty getting pregnant experience depression, but it is sad that some may end up avoiding or delaying accessing treatment that could help because of depression and anxiety.

Clean eating and your fertility

I know from running support groups that there’s a lot of interest in the idea of ‘clean eating’ and fertility – and the recent Fertility Network UK patient survey showed that 75% of respondents had changed their diets because of their fertility problems.

Of course, it makes sense to eat healthily if you are having difficulty getting pregnant or going through treatment – it is good for you, it makes you feel better about yourself and you really wouldn’t want to be living on beer and chips. However, so many fertility patients I see are on diets that can start to feel incredibly restrictive, and that may not be a good thing.

I always remember interviewing someone who’d been following a strict diet for her fertility who said she suddenly realised it was making her really miserable and dominating her life. She concluded that actually being happy was probably more important than not ever eating a biscuit or drinking a cup of tea (builders as opposed to herbal of course).

I think she was absolutely right. There is nothing worse than feeling constantly guilty. I have seen people who end up blaming themselves for their fertility problems because they like ice cream or having a glass of wine when they are out with friends. These things in moderation are really not going to stop you getting pregnant. This article from The Spectator may be of interest!

Leap In by Alexandra Heminsley

This is a book about swimming, about how Alexandra Heminsley overcame her fear of water and learnt not only to swim, but to enjoy swimming outdoors in choppy seas, cold rivers and dark tarns. Heminsley’s earlier book, Running Like a Girl, is about running when you don’t think you’re a runner and Leap In is the swimming version. It’s her honesty, the detail and her beautiful writing which make this such an engaging book; I could completely envisage the sweaty attempts to squeeze her body into a wetsuit, the feelings of panic in deep water, the anxiety about her bare feet when she does her first river swim.

Leap In is about pushing yourself, about facing up to difficulties – and we learn more than half-way through the book that Heminsley is going through fertility problems and IVF as she continues her swimming journey.  At that point, her battles to overcome her fears have an undercurrent of a more fundamental challenge.

Heminsley doesn’t tell us much about her fertility problems or the experiences of tests and treatment, but what she does say is rich with meaning for anyone who has been there. “When I think about never having a child, a sort of breathlessness, almost a vertigo, comes over me,” she writes, explaining in just one sentence the overwhelming hollow bleakness of infertility. She has a positive pregnancy test after her second IVF cycle, but miscarries – something she deals with in two poignant paragraphs in which she describes the sense of crushing grief and how this transforms her relationship with her body which she feels has betrayed her and which she now rejects.

I really love this book – it manages to be funny, sad, inspiring and thought-provoking. The last chapter of the first part ends with Heminsley pondering what lessons swimming has taught her and where her future lies. She says she doesn’t know if she will ever have a child, or even the strength to try IVF again, but her attitude to life is that we must Leap In, living life as a participant rather than a spectator, that we must not give into our fear of the unknown and must be courageous when we need to adapt or amend our plans and discover our inner strength and resilience. These are certainly thoughts to ponder for anyone who is in the midst of fertility problems.

Leap In is published by Hutchinson.

 

 

Could you be an inspiration?

You may have come across Lesley Pyne, who offers support to women who are childless. Lesley writes a blog and publishes stories of women who have not been able to have children but who now lead a fulfilling life. She is hoping to publish a book based on the stories in 2017, and so is looking for more women who have inspiring stories to tell. Many of them use their real names, but you can choose to remain anonymous and Lesley is happy to link to blogs and websites.

I know people – especially women – sometimes find it hard to see themselves as “inspiring”, but if you have a story to tell about living without children and learning to come to terms with this, then why not get in touch with Lesley? She can send you a list of the questions she would like to ask, and will need submissions by the end of February. You can get in touch with her if you would like to know more at info@lesleypyne.co.uk

Finding clinic success rates

New research suggests that if you want to find out about outcomes from fertility treatment at a particular clinic, the best place to go is not the clinic’s own website. Researchers from Manchester University discovered that fertility clinics use a variety of different ways to present their data which makes it very difficult for anyone trying to compare one clinic with another.  They found that clinic websites often use league tables which they construct themselves using their own parameters to compare clinics in their area and that these are “invariably constructed so that the comparison was favourable to the reporting clinic.”

If you do want to look at outcomes, it is worth bearing in mind that most clinics have broadly similar success rates and that relatively small percentage differences can be pretty meaningless and may have more to do with the patients being treated at any given time than anything else. The HFEA publishes outcomes broken down by age and this is by far the best place to go for information if you want to look at treatment outcomes as the figures are collected and collated the same way for all clinics across the UK

You can find the full report from Manchester University which was published in the British Medical Journal here.

 

Writing workshops

Writing can be a therapeutic response to fertility problems, and fertility counsellor Deborah Sloan is facilitating a new creative writing workshop group in Brighton for men and women who are thinking about their future without much-wanted children.

Using a combination of peer support and creative exercises, each two hour workshop will help you to explore and express the things you may find difficult to share in other areas of your life. The aim of the workshops is to allow you to connect, to support and feel supported and potentially to discover new ways of thinking and being.

You do not need to have any previous experience in writing or creative techniques, and the emphasis is on the process rather than the ‘end product’. The workshops take place in Brighton on Saturday mornings and you can find more details on Deborah’s website.

 

E-cigarettes and your fertility

They are often thought to be the safer version of smoking – but new research has found that the flavourings used in e-cigarettes may contain toxic chemicals which can damage men’s sperm.

A team from University College London found that two of the most popular flavours put into e-cigarettes were particularly damaging to sperm – bubblegum and cinnamon were both found to affect male fertility.  You can read more details about their research, which was presented at the Fertility 2017 Conference earlier this month, here 

Leap In

If you haven’t already seen this fabulous article from The Guardian by Alexandra Heminsley, it is worth a read.

You may have come across Alexandra Heminsley before as she wrote a previous book, Running Like a Girl,, about her experiences of running (which I found really inspiring as someone who is not remotely sporty but who has discovered an unexpected love of running – albeit very slowly…).

This article is about her new book Leap In, which deals with swimming and fertility treatment. We learn that she has been through two rounds of treatment, one of which resulted in a positive pregnancy test followed by a miscarriage. There is always a feeling of connection when you read about someone going through fertility treatment – we all understand something that others never really can – and I found her article incredibly moving. She talks about her changing feelings as she goes through the unsuccessful treatment and miscarriage, about how she feels betrayed by her body and rejects it. Describing all this through a focus on swimming somehow makes it an even more powerful read. When she talks about the “sort of breathlessness, almost a vertigo” that comes over her when she thinks about never having a child, she captures in just a few words the vast hollow emptiness and fear which are so familiar to many of us.

I’ll be posting a book review soon, but in the meantime, do read the article.