Facing fertility problems can be one of the most deeply isolating experiences imaginable. Everywhere you look others are pregnant or enjoying their children: on television, in advertisements, on your street, in front of you at the supermarket, on social media, at work, at play, within your family – your siblings and your best friend too.
Some days it can be so hard to find the strength to continue to face the world and function within it when any moment can bring a cruel reminder of what you do not have and want so badly.
If this is how you are feeling, please know that you are not alone; free and impartial help, advice, support, information and understanding is available from Fertility Network UK – the nation’s leading patient-focused fertility charity.
We are here to help everyone affected by fertility issues. That’s anyone trying to become parents; anyone facing the challenges of childlessness; anyone considering their future fertility; anyone needing help to access NHS-funded fertility treatment; anyone affected by secondary infertility and anyone successful after fertility treatment.
The idea that a problem shared is a problem halved may be an old one but it contains a deep truth. We understand the widespread impact of fertility issues and, whatever your situation, we have a range of free support services available for you to access.
One of the most immediate ways you can get help – whether it’s emotional or practical support you need – is by calling Fertility Network UK’s SupportLine and speaking with Diane (0121-323-5025 between 10am-4pm on Monday, Wednesday and Friday).
‘A call to the SupportLine in complete confidence could be the support or answer someone is looking for,’ says Diane, who has many years of nursing experience in the fertility sector. ‘I am not here to diagnose, but however simple or complicated your question, I will try to answer you and support you through your queries and worries. The emotional response to fertility problems is complicated and at times is so strong it can seem overwhelming. A medical diagnosis of infertility is, for most people a life crisis, which threatens their hopes and dreams of achieving a family.’
Diane, who has worked for Fertility Network UK for over 20 years, stresses: ‘No question is too trivial to ask – if it is bothering you, then ask away. How many times do we see our GP/specialist, come out of the consultation and then realise that we have forgotten to ask something that was troubling us, because of the limited time we had. Some people who use the service need to talk over a diagnosis/treatment and how to cope with it all. Some need to understand their treatment protocol, the side effects of drugs used, or their joy or despair at becoming successful or not. In some cases, parents of infertility sufferers want to know more about what their child is going through and how they can best support them.’
Finding that safe place, where you can open up about how fertility problems really, truly make you feel can be difficult. The pain and heartbreak of fertility problems can feel impossible to express to those who do not share your experiences, even if those people are close friends, family and even partners (perhaps your partner already has a child, so cannot quite ‘get’ your experience of infertility).
Peer support – connecting with others who are going through or have been through similar fertility struggles – can offer the opportunity to be real about how you feel, in a safe place, with supportive and experienced arms around you. If you are struggling in silence but would like that to change, why not give it a go?
How you connect can be up to you: if you prefer an online approach, the charity holds regular online support groups, plus there is the opportunity to connect with our online fertility community Health Unlocked. If meeting face-to face is your choice, Fertility Network UK’s regional offices coordinate a community of local groups in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Peer support local groups welcome individuals and couples, offering a relaxed environment for both men and women to talk to others who understand what they are going through, to get things off their chest and to know that they are not alone in experiencing fertility problems and having to face some very difficult challenges. The sessions offer a chance to share pent up and sometimes dark thoughts or can be about discussing new research or important information. At some meetings, expert guest speakers address current and common fertility issues, and offer the chance for you to have your questions answered.
Hilary Knight is a support coordinator for Fertility Network UK in Northern Ireland. Like many of the staff at the charity, she has personal experience of fertility issues and understands intimately the emotional roller coaster and devastation that being unable to build a family has on your mental health and on relationships.
For anyone thinking about joining a local peer support group, she says: ‘The groups are very friendly and supportive and no one is asked to share their personal story or be put on the spot. Why not come along for the first time and enjoy a cuppa and a chat. We know that coming through the door for the first time can be a scary step to take, but most of those who come once find the evening a great chance to talk to those who really understand the issues they are going through.’
Fertility Network UK research shows that 9 out of 10 people going through fertility treatment suffer with anxiety and depression, and the pain of not being able to have children can be so intense that it can lead to suicidal thoughts. With this in mind, the upcoming Five Ways to
Wellbeing workshops in Northern Ireland aims to reduce the negative impact fertility journeys have on mental health. Each of the five free workshops addresses an area that is the most asked about among service users.
Fertility Network UK also works to support couples struggling to access NHS For more information on all of Fertility Network UK’s support services visit our website at fertilitynetworkuk.org funding for fertility treatment and is a lead campaigner in the fight to end the inequitable provision of NHS fertility services in England. If you are affected by cuts to NHS fertility services in your area, please let us know. Let your local MP know too – details of how to do this and a template letter are available on the our website (details below).
Although fertility struggles can be deeply socially isolating, the month of November is the time for the fertility community to come together, help each other and show we are stronger together. During National Fertility Awareness Week 31 October – 6 November, and in the weeks leading up to it, is your chance to join with us and others and help raise public awareness of fertility’s #HiddenFaces.
Our #HiddenFaces campaign seeks to reveal the true picture of fertility struggles – fertility’s #HiddenFaces. Look out for and share our #HiddenFaces campaign posters, video diaries, infographics and fertility facts highlighting the unseen, intimate and day-to-day reality of fertility issues.
We want to shine a spotlight on untold fertility stories and overturn commonly held misconceptions about fertility. Our fertility myths infographic aims to shatter some common fertility fictions; the five ages of female fertility infographic is vital information every woman and man should know.
Join us in our social media campaign to show the reality of what it’s like to live with fertility problems – what you are feeling and what your day-to-day experience of struggling to conceive and carry a baby is like, or how your ongoing experience of childlessness affects you. Tweet with the hashtag #fertilityin5 words and say whatever you want.
They could be 5 words about how you feel: lonely, stressed, heartbroken, on hold. Or they could simply be that day’s reality; my worst five ever were: I’m sorry there’s no heartbeat.
We will also be launching five Fertility Fridays: starting in the month before National Fertility Awareness Week and culminating on Friday 4 November. Celebrating Fertility Fridays with work colleagues, friends, family or members of support groups is a great way to highlight fertility issues and hopefully raise some money (we are a small charity that relies on donations to continue our work).
Why not hold a cake bake, coffee morning, tea party, sponsored walk of hope, or a dress down at work day. What would work best for you and your organisation? Whatever you do, let’s put fertility issues in the spotlight; you are not alone and together we are stronger.
For more information on all of Fertility Network UK’s support services visit our website at fertilitynetworkuk.org