Support at this difficult time

Many fertility patients are struggling at present with treatment and tests postponed and limited telephone appointments available with specialists. It is frustrating, especially if you have already been waiting a long time, but understandably doctors and nurses are needed for essential tasks in other areas during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Angela Pericleous-Smith is the Chair of the British Fertility Counselling Association and has produced this video for patients with some really helpful coping suggestions.

News from the British Fertility Society

The British Fertility Society represents the professional groups working in the field of fertility, and they’ve been joining forces to try to ensure everyone experiencing fertility problems is as well-informed as possible about the current situation regarding fertility clinics and treatment. It is going to be a difficult time for everyone, but the Chair of the British Fertility Society, Dr Jane Stewart, has made a short video explaining how the fertility sector is responding to the current Coronavirus Pandemic and what this might mean for you if you are a fertility patient.

Experiences of miscarriage

Earlier this week, I was honoured to chair a moving session at the arts festival Fertility Fest looking at miscarriage. The evening began with four artists with personal experience of miscarriage presenting their work. Julia Bueno, a psychotherapist, read a passage from her new book about miscarriage, The Brink of Being, which is published today. Visual artist Foz Foster talked about the wonderful 76 foot scroll he produced to celebrate the three children he lost through miscarriage. Finally, theatre company Open Sky, writer Lisle Turner and director Claire Coaché, showed a section of their powerful new show Cold about a couple who experience miscarriage.

After the artists had presented their work, we had a discussion session with the National Director of the Miscarriage Association, Ruth Bender Atik, and the Medical Director of Herts and Essex Fertility Clinic, David Ogutu. The discussion raised some fascinating issues, about the reality of experiencing a miscarriage which we so rarely acknowledge, about the taboos around pregnancy loss and the fact that we assume it is somehow a women’s issue. My only regret was that we ran out of time as there were so many more things we could have talked about, and we had a fabulous panel.

If you’ve been affected by miscarriage, I would recommend Julia’s new book – and if you are ever able to see Foz’s work or catch Claire and Lisle’s show, make sure you take the opportunity. Most importantly, do get in touch with the Miscarriage Association who offer both support and information. They have a factsheet written for anyone who has been through a miscarriage after fertility issues, which feel as if it is the cruellest blow. It is sometimes hard to reach out for support, but it really can make all the difference to talk to someone who understands the experience.

Fake posts

I’ve written before about the people who sometimes post on fertility chat rooms claiming to be patients who have wonderful success stories from particular clinics. Of course, many people do this genuinely but some are clearly not real patients. It is hugely disappointing that anyone working in this field and seeing the misery that fertility problems can cause would think it might be acceptable to promote their clinics by pretending to be patients, but apparently some do.

This morning I got up to find dozens of comments posted on Fertility Matters from people with a variety of names and with different email addresses, all claiming to have received the same treatment which had resulted in dozens of miracle births against the odds. They were incredibly detailed stories that someone must have spent a considerable amount of time concocting. I deleted the whole lot immediately, but it made me sad that anyone might feel this was a sales method they wanted to use to attract patients.

I hope the fake posts put people off the clinics and professionals who resort to it as it’s often pretty apparent what is going on. There was a fabulous spoof on one of the fertility websites a while ago from someone who had got thoroughly fed up with the endless fake people claiming to have visited a particular clinic – and it’s calling it out like this that helps everyone to see it for what it is.

Make sure you report any dodgy posts you come across online and let’s help to ensure anyone who uses this horrible kind of promotion finds it backfires.

Fertility Fest

It starts today at the Barbican Centre in London, and if you haven’t checked it out already, do have a look at what’s on offer. There’s a whole range of events spread over a couple of weeks covering all aspects of fertility starting with today’s session on The Queer Family. Many of the sessions are in the evening so if you’re in reach of London, you can choose to go along after work and then there’s an entire Festival Day on May 3.

I’m honoured to be chairing a few of the sessions and having done this at Fertility Fest in the past, I can guarantee that the sessions will be fabulous. It’s incredibly moving to explore the issues raised by fertility through art, and there are some amazing artists taking part this year, joined by experts in the field.

Come along if you can, you won’t regret it! Tickets can be booked through the Barbican here.

To The Moon and Back

At last year’s Fertility Fest I was lucky to be in a session with mother and daughter, Anna Furse and Nina Klaff, who gave an amazing performance about their experiences of IVF as a parent and as someone born through IVF. It was incredibly moving, and I was delighted to hear that Anna and Nina will be back performing at this year’s Fertility Fest at the Barbican where they will be joined in discussion afterwards with Channel Four News Health and Social Care Correspondent, Victoria MacDonald and Ann Daniels, a polar explorer and mother of IVF triplets.

The performance takes place on Friday 26 April at 7pm and you can book tickets here

Dealing with today

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, and it’s virtually impossible to escape when every local shop seems to have jumped on the commercial bandwagon. 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 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 sharing a meal can be a good way of reminding yourself 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.

It’s important to be kind to yourself today. Why not buy yourself some flowers? Or even better, if there’s something slightly indulgent you’ve been thinking you’d rather like for some time then today is the day to treat yourself for a change.

Don’t forget it’s a challenging day for other reasons too. For anyone who no longer has their own mother around, or those who may be estranged for some reason, Mother’s Day is also a reminder of what you don’t have. If you are fortunate enough to have your own mother around, try to enjoy being a daughter this Mother’s Day too.

The patient support charity Fertility Network UK has been gathering some useful and supportive advice from others, and here are a couple of the brilliant and really helpful posts they gathered – here from Deborah Sloan and here from Katy Lindemann. And there’s a great post here from Gateway Women’s Jody Day.

Whatever you do today, remember you are not alone – and take care x

Are you confused by fertility nutrition advice?

The chances are you won’t have been through fertility treatment without hearing some nutritional advice about what you should, and shouldn’t be eating. Some of it is very helpful, about following a balanced healthy eating plan, but some of it can start to become quite complicated – and potentially confusing. Should you be eating one piece of pineapple every day for three days after embryo transfer? Or should you be shaving the flesh off, slicing the core into five slices and eating one a day for five days? Should you be drinking one pint of  pure pineapple juice a day? Or are you meant to be avoiding the juice entirely and just consuming the core? And what about the Brazil nuts? Are you meant to eat seven a day? Or three? Or four? Or five? Should you be drinking half a litre of full-fat organic milk every day? Or should you be avoiding all dairy products especially milk and yoghurt as it builds up mucus which interferes with implantation? Then there’s the question of supplements? Should you be taking special fertility supplements, or a range of different individual supplements? Or should you not need any supplements at all if you’re following a healthy eating plan?

If you’ve ever felt confused by fertility eating and lifestyle advice, you may want to get some evidence-based information from an expert in the field. Reproductive biologist and nutrition scientist Grace Dugdale will be at the Fertility Forum in London on March 30, where she will give evidence-based information about health, diet and lifestyle in relation to male  and female fertility. She will talk about what can impact on your fertility, and about preparing your body for pregnancy.

The Fertility Forum is a non-commercial evidence-based day which has been organised by patients and all the professional bodies in the field working together, and aims to help those who have been trying to make sense of the overwhelming mass of information on offer. It takes place at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and is open to anyone who wants to know more about their fertility.

Tickets for the Fertility Forum are on sale here – and you can see more details of the day including a full programme here.

Emotional support

When you’re thinking about having fertility treatment, it’s probably the Injections, drugs and egg collection which sound challenging, but if you ask people who’ve had IVF what makes it so hard, most will say it’s dealing with your emotions which is the really tough part. It’s often described as an “emotional rollercoaster” and although that’s become rather a cliche, it’s true that it’s the ups and downs of treatment that are so hard to handle. IVF can feel like a series of hurdles and no sooner are do you get past one, than you find yourself facing the next along the way.

All fertility clinics offering IVF have to provide people with the opportunity to see a counsellor but it doesn’t have to be included in the cost of treatment. Some people are keen to have counselling support from the start, but others may feel they don’t want or need to see a counsellor, and it’s worth bearing in mind that it is fine to change your mind if you feel you want to access support further down the line.

It may be that part of your concern about counselling is that you aren’t quite sure what it might involve and you may have visions of yourself lying on a couch talking about childhood traumas. If you want to know more about fertility counselling and how it might help, Angela Pericleous-Smith, chair of the British Infertility Counselling Association (BICA) will be speaking on the subject at the Fertility Forum in London on March 30. BICA trains the counsellors who work in the UK’s fertility clinics and offers a “find a counsellor” service to help you to ensure that you can access specialist support no matter where you live. Angela will be talking about  the pressures on yourself, your relationships and your friendships. She will explore coping strategies and explain how to manage anxieties.

The Fertility Forum is a non-commercial evidence-based day which has been organised by patients and all the professional bodies in the field working together, and aims to help those who have been trying to make sense of the overwhelming mass of information on offer.

Tickets for the Fertility Forum are on sale here – and you can see more details of the day including a full programme here.

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.