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Book Review: 21 Miles – Swimming in search of the meaning of motherhood

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Jessica Hepburn 21 Miles

It was this year’s most keenly awaited fertility book, and Jessica Hepburn’s 21 Miles – swimming in search of the meaning of motherhood doesn’t disappoint. Jessica has become one of the country’s leading patient voices on the experience of fertility treatment after going through eleven unsuccessful cycles of IVF, and 21 Miles is her second book. It’s the story of her decision to try to swim the English Channel but it’s also about fertility, about relationships and about what motivates us to want to be mothers.

Jessica was Executive Director of the Lyric Theatre when she and her partner decided they would try to have a baby, and her first book, The Pursuit of Motherhood, tells her story of fertility tests and unsuccessful treatment. Most of us might have taken some time out to lick our wounds if we’d been through the ups and downs of eleven rounds of IVF, several miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy, but Jessica, who is not most of us, decided to take a more radical route out of the sadness, and ’21 Miles’ is about what happens next.

TV Presenter Janet Ellis interviews Jessica and some of the women from her book at the 21 Miles book launch.

TV Presenter Janet Ellis interviews Jessica and some of the women from her book at the 21 Miles book launch.

It was her New Year’s Resolution to “Give up IVF and do something big instead” which directly led to Jessica’s decision to attempt to swim the Channel. Despite having no experience of swimming beyond school lessons and occasional lengths of the pool, she sets herself the challenge of the 21 mile swim from the Kent Coast to France. She also decides to interview 20 women, inviting them to have a meal with her to help her to “get fat to swim the English Channel and answer the question: Does motherhood make you happy?”.

The book intersperses chapters about her preparations for the swim with her meetings with the women she has invited to to address her question, some of whom are familiar figures in the public eye. There is no particular theme to the interviewees, some have children and others don’t, and they come from very different walks of life, but they are all women whose stories around motherhood or living without children have sparked Jessica’s interest.

The meals she had envisaged often turn into cups of coffee, one a ten minute phone call and another an extremely brief email, but each of the women brings a different perspective to the question of motherhood and what it means. She also asks each of the women to give her a word to motivate her for the swim, a talisman for the challenge ahead.

The juxtaposition of these two very different parts of the book, the swimming and the interviews, is a structure that ought to feel disjointed, and yet Jessica makes it work effortlessly as we follow her through her training and her discussions about motherhood. Perhaps it works because these are in essence the two parts of her story and the interviews help to give context to the experience that has driven her to the swim.

Never being able to feel happy for someone when they announce they’re pregnant without feeling sad for yourself at the same time

Jessica calls that driver “the pain of never”, and if you have ever experienced fertility problems, her list of symptoms will be all too familiar (such as “Never being able to feel happy for someone when they announce they’re pregnant without feeling sad for yourself at the same time” followed by “Never being able to admit that you’ve been in the loo crying about it because you don’t want people to pity you”). She describes it as a hole in her life, the pain of losing something you never had, a pain no one can entirely understand unless they’ve been there themselves.

Meanwhile, we learn that swimming the Channel is a complex business; you don’t just get into the sea and set off. There are training camps, hours in the water that have to be ticked off, the strict regimes of the weekends swimming off Dover beach, the pilots and boats to be booked to accompany you, the tides and weather which dictate whether you can swim and the cold of the water and the jellyfish to contend with. It is a huge commitment and you need patience, grit and determination. Jessica had certainly found her “something big” to do instead.

The interspersed interviews raise all kinds of questions around motherhood and our attitudes towards having children. There’s Justine Roberts, the founder of the website Mumsnet, who despite her day job and four children, is adamant that you don’t need children to live a happy life there’s Jody Day, founder of Gateway Women, whose own experiences of coming to terms with childlessness led her to set up her support network, there’s politician Fiona Mactaggart who had six unsuccessful rounds of IVF before being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and former Chief Constable Julie Spence who illustrates how full life can be without children. These are just some of the women Jessica meets on her quest to discover more about women’s relationships to motherhood.

There are some interesting insights in these vignettes about being a mother or living without children and what that means to different women, but it’s Jessica’s own story that is at the heart of the narrative as she recognises that she is “swimming my way out of grief”. She has moments of enlightenment along the way as she questions her own desire to be a mother, and there’s also a subtext in the shadows of the story which is Jessica’s own relationship with her partner, and the toll that the infertility and the treatment seem to have taken there.

If you’ve had personal experience of fertility problems, there is a lot that will resonate, but this is not just a book about in fertility, or about swimming the Channel.

‘21 Miles – swimming in search of the meaning of motherhood’ is a thought provoking read. If you’ve had personal experience of fertility problems, there is a lot that will resonate, but this is not just a book about infertility, or about swimming the Channel. It’s a book which aims to make us think about motherhood and society’s attitudes to mothers, about our own thoughts on the subject and about what lies behind them. Jessica has an engaging style and a light touch, making  ’21 Miles’ an enjoyable read. Of course, the question you really want answered is whether Jessica ever completed her swim across the Channel, and finding out is just one of the many reasons you should go and buy this highly recommended book right away!

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NEWS: Get access to adult photos of the Cryos sperm donors

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Adult Cryos Sperm Donors Photos

Viewing adult photos of Cryos sperm donors is now a reality. Visit dk.cryosinternational.com today and get access to the new feature.

At Cryos it is now possible to access adult photos of sperm donors on our website, thus adding another dimension to your search for the perfect donor.

The unique chance to see both childhood and adult photos of your sperm donor, provides you with a more comprehensive idea of who your sperm donor is and moreover of the features of your future child. We hope that this extra dimension will upgrade your experience making your decision of a sperm donor easier.

The 5-6 adult photos are taken by a professional photographer and are a part of the donors extended profile where you also have access to childhood photos, an audio recording of the donor’s voice, a handwritten message, an emotional intelligence profile, and finally our staff impressions of the donor, amongst other exclusive features.

The adult photos require special access on our website. Visit our website and find out more and get access to this new feature now.

Please note that the person in the photos is a model and not a Cryos donor.
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Fertility 360

Fertility And Sex: Why Her Orgasm Matters

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Why her orgasm matters

For many couples, trying to conceive can make sex feel less fun and more pressured. Instead of being an intimate and enjoyable experience, baby-making sex can start to seem like a finely choreographed routine. Often, the female orgasm is one of the first things to go, but the maleorgasm is not the only orgasm that matters when it comes to fertility.

Before I dive into discussing the potential benefits of the female orgasm for fertility, it’s important to note that reaching climax is not technically essential for conception. If you never, or rarely, achieve orgasm, don’t worry, you can still get pregnant! Around 1 in 10 women don’t experience orgasm, ever. What’s more, the exact nature of the female orgasm remains somewhat elusive. Some experience orgasm through clitoral stimulation, some through vaginal intercourse, some through both, and others through something else entirely, or not at all.

Even without reaching orgasm, sexual arousal is itself beneficial to fertility. Like an orgasm, arousal is, first and foremost, a good indication that sex is enjoyable. Sexual arousal and climax causes significant changes in your levels of neurotransmitters including noradrenaline, oxytocin, prolactin, dopamine, and serotonin. These ‘reward’ neurohormones help you bond to a sexual partner and make it more likely that you’ll have sex more often, thereby increasing your chances of conception.

Second, orgasm and arousal have a range of physiological effects that might aid conception, which I’ll discuss in a moment. And, third, sexual arousal and orgasms for everyone can help sperm-producing partners avoid feeling like they’re being used just for their sperm. In fact, some studies show that male partners who engage in cunnilingus prior to vaginal intercourse have greater sexual arousal and produce more semen!

HOW ORGASMS ENHANCE FERTILITY

The female orgasm can help relieve stress, and promote healthy circulation and balance in the body. Stress is a key cause of diminished libido and may also reduce the chances of conception by raising levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Conversely, good sex can help raise levels of oxytocin and the other neurohormones mentioned above. These help you to relax and bond to your partner.

Published in 1967, the author even went as far as suggesting that the increase in these hormones after orgasm help support conception by temporarily incapacitating you. Put simply, this ‘poleax’ effect means you’ll feel so relaxed that you’ll stay lying down, which may increase your chance of conceiving. Whether staying supine does make conception more likely is still under debate, but I’m all for promoting relaxation, so if this theory provides added motivation, go for it!

CERVICAL TENTING

There is some suggestion that orgasm affects the shape and function of the cervix. These effects, which may include cervical ‘tenting could enhance the likelihood of conception by promoting the movement of sperm into the uterus and beyond. If you are curious as to what your cervix looks like during different stages of your cycle, check out these photos.

THE ‘UP-SUCK’ THEORY

One of the main ways in which female orgasm has been linked to fertility is something called the ‘upsuck’ theory (or, sometimes, the ‘insuck’ theory). This theory proposes that the female orgasm causes uterine and vaginal contractions that actively draw semen up into the uterus and towards the fallopian tubes, thereby increasing the chances of an egg being fertilized.

Scientific evidence to support this theory is rather inconsistent, but there’s certainly no harm in trying! One proposed underlying mechanism of this theory is oxytocin-mediated uterine peristalsis, i.e. the same mechanism that causes uterine contractions during labour could be partially responsible for increasing the likelihood of conception. Indeed, some research has found higher pregnancy rates in women shown to experience this ‘insuck’ phenomenon.

SPERM RETENTION AND FERTILITY

More recently, one small study found that orgasm may increase sperm retention. This study involved women using a syringe to insert a sperm simulant (lube) prior to external stimulation to orgasm. As such, the study’s findings may be especially applicable to anyone undergoing artificial insemination (IUI).

The take-away: Chances are that if you orgasm 1 minute before or up to 45 minutes after insemination (whether artificial or otherwise), you will probably retain more sperm, which may increase your chance of conceiving.

IN CONCLUSION

To sum up, the female orgasm might enhance fertility in a variety of ways, but it isn’t essential to conception.

The take home message is that orgasm and sexual arousal itself have many benefits to fertility, partner relationships and stress relief. Don’t worry though, if you have a low libido, conception can still happen even in the absence of arousal and orgasm!

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What Is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?

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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or PCOS is a hormonal imbalance that affects 5 to 10 percent of women of reproductive age across the world, and results in irregular or absent periods, acne, excess body hair and weight gain. It is also a major cause of infertility and yet is frequently misdiagnosed and often missed completely.

PCOS gets its name because under an ultrasound scan, the ovaries can look like a bunch of grapes, each one covered in what look like multiple cysts. In fact, these aren’t cysts at all, but are small, undeveloped follicles.

Symptoms

Not every woman with PCOS will get the same symptoms, but common signs to look out for include:

  • Few or no periods
  • Excess hair on the face or breasts or inside of the legs or around the nipples
  • Acne
  • Oily skin
  • Scalp hair thinning or loss (male pattern baldness)
  • Skin tags (known as acrochordons)
  • Skin discolouration (known as acanthosis nigricans) where the skin looks ‘dirty’ on the arms, around the neck and under the breasts
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Lack of sex drive
  • Weight gain especially around the middle of the body
  • Difficulty in losing weight
  • Cravings and binges
  • Irregular or no ovulation
  • Difficulty in becoming pregnant
  • Recurrent miscarriages

PCOS creates a vicious cycle of hormone imbalances, which has huge knock-on effects throughout the rest of your body. With PCOS, the problem often starts with the ovaries, which are unable to produce the hormones they should, and in the correct proportions. But linked to this is the very common problem of insulin resistance. Women with PCOS very often have difficulties with blood sugar levels which can cause weight gain and the excess insulin can stimulate your ovaries to produce yet more testosterone. Half of all women with PCOS do not have any problems with their weight, yet they can still have higher insulin levels than normal.

How is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome diagnosed?

The most widely accepted criteria for the diagnosis of PCOS says that you should have two out of these three problems:

  • Infrequent or no ovulation
  • Signs (either physical appearance – hirsutism or acne – or blood tests) of high levels of male hormones
  • Polycystic ovaries as seen on an ultrasound scan

The Seven Nutritional Steps to beat Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Good nutrition is the foundation of your health and you should never underestimate how powerful it can be. It is the fuel that provides you with the energy to live your life and it gives your body the nutrients it needs to produce your hormones in the correct balance. The better the supply of those nutrients, the more healthily your body will function.

The fundamental aim of my nutritional approach to PCOS is to target a number of areas simultaneously so that you get the maximum effect in the minimum amount of time.

Here’s how:

  1. Switch to unrefined carbohydrates (eaten with protein) and never go more than 3 hours without food to keep your blood sugar levels balanced
  2. Eat oily fish and foods rich in Omega 3s to help your body to become more sensitive to insulin so it can overcome insulin resistance
  3. Cut out all dairy products for 3 months to bring levels of male hormones under control
  4. Eat more vegetables and pulses to which helps control male hormones
  5. Cut right back on or cut out alcohol for 12 weeks to allow your liver function to improve
  6. Cut down on caffeine to give your adrenal glands a rest
  7. Cut down on saturated fats and eliminate trans fats to help control the potentially damaging inflammatory processes PCOS causes in the body

PCOS Symptons

Best Supplements for PCOS

The use of certain vitamins and minerals can be extremely useful in helping to correct Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, along with a good diet.

Chromium

Chromium helps to encourage the formation of glucose tolerance factor (GTF), which is required to make insulin more efficient. A deficiency of chromium can lead to insulin resistance.  It also helps to control cravings and reduces hunger. Can help to reduce insulin resistance associated with PCOS

B vitamins

The B vitamins are very important in helping to control the symptoms of PCOS. Vitamin B2 helps to burn fat, sugar and protein into energy. B3 is a component of GTF which is released every time blood sugar rises, and vitamin B3 helps to keep the levels in balance. Vitamin B5 has been shown to help with weight loss and B6 is also important for maintaining hormone balance and, together with B2 and B3, is necessary for normal thyroid function.

Zinc

Zinc helps with PCOS as it plays a crucial role in the production of your reproductive hormones and also regulates your blood sugar.

Magnesium

Magnesium is an important mineral for dealing with PCOS because there is a strong link between magnesium levels and insulin resistance – the higher your magnesium levels the more sensitive you are likely to be to insulin.

Co-Enzyme Q10

Co-Q10 is a substance that your body produces in nearly every cell.  It helps to balance your blood sugar and lowering both glucose and insulin.

Alpha lipoic acid

This powerful antioxidant helps to regulate your blood sugar levels because it releases energy by burning glucose and it also helps to make you more insulin sensitive. It also has an effect on weight loss because if the glucose is being used for energy, your body releases less insulin and you then store less fat.

Omega 3 fatty acids

Omega 3 fatty acids taken in supplement form have been found to reduce testosterone levels in women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.

Amino Acids

Certain amino acids can be very helpful for PCOS as they can improve your insulin sensitivity and also can have an effect on weight loss.

N-Acetyl cysteine

In women with PCOS this amino acid helps reduce insulin levels and makes your body more sensitive to insulin. Study using NAC in women who were clomiphene resistant and had ovarian drilling.  After ovarian drilling, the women given NAC compared to a placebo showed a significantly higher increase in both ovulation and pregnancy rates and lower incidence of miscarriage.

Arginine

Arginine can be helpful in reversing insulin resistance. In one study, a combination of both arginine and N-acetyl cysteine were given to women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.  The two amino acids help to improve blood sugar and insulin control and also increased the number of menstrual cycles and ovulation with one women becoming pregnant on the second month.

Carnitine

Carnitine helps your body break down fat to release energy and can help improve insulin sensitivity.

Tyrosine

Tyrosine is helpful for women with PCOS who are overweight as it helps to suppress the appetite and burn off fat.

Glutamine

This amino acid is useful for helping with sugar cravings as it can be converted to sugar for energy and so takes away the need to eat something sweet.  It also helps to build and maintain muscle which is important for fat burning.

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

BCAAs include three amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine. They are important in PCOS because they help to balance blood sugar and having good levels of these BCAAs can have a beneficial effect on your body weight

Inositol

A study used inositol (2,000mg) in combination with NAC (600mg), a significant increase in ovulation rates.

Having a good diet, regular exercise, controlling stress and taking key nutrients will help in getting your hormones back in balance and reducing the negative symptoms associated with PCOS.

More information can be found on www.naturalhealthpractice.com

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