In praise of fertility nurses

Today is International Nurses’ Day, so I thought I’d dedicate this post to fertility nurses. When people think about different fertility clinics, there’s always a focus on the consultants when in fact although they are in charge of a patient’s care, they may do very little of the day-to-day care during a cycle of treatment. It’s often the consultants who attract patients to one clinic or another, and yet it may be the nurses who can make a real difference to how you feel during your fertility treatment.

Different clinics have different ways of working, but nurses may carry out scans and check bloods as well as doing much of the more practical dealing with fertility patients. More often than not, a fertility nurse will teach you how to do your injections, will talk to you about how you are feeling, will be there at the end of the phone as a first port of call for your questions or queries. It’s also the fertility nurses who may notice when you are finding it hard to cope and who may suggest a session with the clinic counsellor.

So today, let’s say thank you to the fertility nurses who do so much to help fertility patients but take so little of the credit…

Conceiving Histories

If you’re in or near London, there’s an event later this month which may be of interest presenting the work to date of a project called Conceiving Histories, which looks at what the researchers call “the history of un-pregnancy” – so trying to conceive and the politics of childlessness in the past as well as the ambiguity of early pregnancy diagnosis.

It is funded by Birkbeck, University of London and the Wellcome Trust and aims to identify and research case studies from different historical moments. At this particular event they will be looking at pregnancy diagnosis today and in the past.

It will take place on Wednesday 17 May and it is free to attend but you need to book – further details here.

National Infertility Awareness Week

It’s the final day of National Infertility Awareness Week in the US and there are still lots of ways to get involved. Check out the website for events like the Walk of Hope if you live in the States, but those who don’t you can still support the week on social media using the hashtags #ListenUp #NIAW to help raise the profile of the week and the cause.

This year’s theme is “Listen Up!” and RESOLVE, the US support network, is hoping that anyone who cares about infertility can feel empowered to do something that makes a difference, either in your own family building journey or to help someone else. They are calling on everyone to “Listen Up!” and become part of the movement.

“Twins” born years apart…

Every so often there’s an article like this one in today’s Guardian, about “twins” born years apart… The writer of this piece has a son and daughter born as a result of one fresh IVF cycle and a further frozen embryo transfer from the same batch of embryos.

It is a fortunate, yet far from uncommon, experience after fertility treatment, but it doesn’t make the children “twins”. Twins are two babies who are carried together and born at the same time, which these children were not. They are siblings rather than twins.

The Guardian seem to specialise in this myth – here are some previous twins who were born five years apart, although at least that time they called them “twins” in the headline…  Those were also covered by the Telegraph. And unsurprisingly the Daily Mail likes them too – these brothers born two years apart are “technically” twins according to the Mail – in fact, they are technically not twins. It is always made to sound as if it is some extraordinary and highly unusual matter, yet there are hundreds of thousands of siblings around the world who will have been conceived in a similar way.

Maybe I’m getting pedantic in my old age…

Fertility trial open to people on 2nd and 3rd cycles

Often fertility trials are only open to those who are going through their first cycle of IVF treatment, but the E-Freeze trial is now also taking patients who are having their second or third treatment cycles.

E-Freeze is investigating the theory that using frozen thawed embryos may lead to improved pregnancy rates. When frozen embryos are used, there is a delay in embryo transfer of at least a month, and the theory is that allowing the hormones used in ovarian stimulation to wear off and giving the womb time to return to its natural state may increase the chances of success.

Without more research we cannot say if fresh or frozen thawed embryo transfer is better for the first cycle of fertility treatment. E-Freeze will compare these two types of embryo transfer in more than a thousand couples from IVF centres throughout the UK to find out which, if any, gives the best chance of having a healthy baby.

If you are interested in taking part, you can find lots of information about the trial on the E-Freeze website and a list of all the participating centres.

Low ovarian reserve

If you’re trying to conceive, you will be aware of your ovarian reserve but when you are starting out on your fertility journey, this isn’t something you will have come across before. Our potential to produce eggs declines as we get older, but the rate at which this happens is different for everyone – so some women may be diagnosed with a low ovarian reserve in their thirties or even twenties, which often comes as a real surprise as there may be no other signs of any decline in fertility at all.

If you want to know about your ovarian reserve, I was interviewed about the emotional impact by Allie Anderson for an article for NetDoctor the other day which you can read online here.  It is important that we talk about this issue more often and more openly. Fertility specialists may suggest using donor eggs if they feel the ovarian reserve is so low that IVF is unlikely to be successful, but for women this may seem a huge and unexpected step and is certainly one which needs thought and counselling.

Anyone who is using donor eggs or sperm will find it useful to contact the Donor Conception Network who can provide information, help and support.

Moondance by Diane Chandler

I owe Diane Chandler a huge apology as I’ve been meaning to review her book Moondance for months – and it’s a novel that will resonate with many fertility patients. We should always welcome novels about fertility problems and IVF because they really do help to normalise what can seem a very lonely experience, and also educate other people about the realities of what it’s like not to be able to get pregnant.

In Moondance we follow Cat and Dom through their attempts to conceive, fertility tests and the crashing ups and downs of treatment. There is much that will be familiar to anyone who has been through this themselves, especially in the way that treatment takes centre stage and comes to dominate everything else in life. Cat is not a sympathetic or likeable character – almost unbelievably self-centred, arrogant and selfish – which makes it hard to feel much in the way of empathy at the start of the novel. And yet seeing how someone so obsessed with controlling everything in their life is completely thwarted by their inability to conceive adds strength to the portrayal of the nature of infertility.

This is the sort of book that you sit down with and find yourself speeding through – despite being a thick book it’s a fairly quick read. There are a couple of niggling inaccuracies, for example, a type of post-coital sperm test which is medically impossible, but these don’t detract from what is otherwise a detailed account of the realities of treatment.

Moondance is published by Blackbird Digital Books and the paperback is priced at £8.99

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!

Do you want to run away from Mother’s Day?

It’s the run up which is just as bad as the event itself and it can seem as if there is no escape from Mother’s Day, but if you are anywhere near Liverpool on Sunday, there is something you may want to know about. It’s called the Mother’s Day Runaways service, will take place in the Lady Chapel at Liverpool Cathedral and it aims to offer a safe space for those who find Mothering Sunday difficult.

Whether you’re grieving the loss of a mother, the loss of a child, or a baby through miscarriage, whether you’re struggling with infertility or childlessness, singleness or a difficult relationship, whether you never even knew your mother or whether there is another reason why you might find Mothering Sunday painful, this quiet, reflective service has been designed with you in mind.

It will be an informal gathering, where you will be guided through an hour long service and you can find out more from Saltwater and Honey (and you can find out more about them here.

On egg freezing

There have been a couple of interesting items on egg freezing in the last few days. The first is a piece from the Telegraph, based around a BBC Radio 4 documentary about egg freezing presented by Fi Glover which looks at the reality of egg freezing. It’s definitely worth a read – and a listen – as it looks at why people consider egg freezing and asks whether the promises it offers are a reality.

At the same time, the Guardian’s Mariella Frostrup was answering a dilemma in a letter from someone who felt angry and let down by a friend who had suggested that she shouldn’t bother freezing her eggs at 35 as she was now 40, wanting a baby and had been told she had possibly left it too late. What was most interesting about this was the completely misplaced certainty that she would have been able to have children had she frozen her eggs, when in fact as Fi Glover’s programme and the Telegraph article explain, this may be very far from the case.

There is a huge media interest in egg freezing, and this is an interesting discussion whatever your point of view…