As the founder of Iris Fertility – an organisation offering bespoke practical and emotional support and companionship to individuals before, during and after fertility treatment – I am regularly asked what people can do to help manage the challenges that fertility treatment throws at them.
Together with Iris Fertility clients and colleagues, I’ve put together our top tips, insights and nuggets of information.
- Put Yourself First Throughout the Process
Go gently, treat yourself kindly and say ‘no’ to people who are going to sap your emotional energy especially when treatment’s underway or you’re in the 2 Week Wait (2WW) – finding interest in or compassion for anyone else while you’re in the throes of fertility treatment can be challenging. Put activities on hold that you’re not interested in or can’t face. If you feel like you ‘should’ be doing something with someone then probably best to avoid! Be aware that how you feel day to day (and even within the day) is likely to change.
Don’t put off taking that first step – that might be going to your GP or going directly to a clinic for a Fertility MOT.
Don’t do too much of your own research – it can be mind boggling, confusing and cause anxiety.
Seeking the support of an individual or organisation (like Iris Fertility) who knows the process really helped us with having a sounding board away from the clinic environment. We could ask the questions we didn’t necessarily want to ask our clinic and raise concerns we weren’t able to share with friends and family. Don’t leave a niggle or a doubt unsaid.’ Loretta, Somerset
2. Trust Your Gut Feeling
Follow your instincts. Those instincts or your gut feeling might not appear to be logical but if something doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t for you – even if you can’t pinpoint the reason.
3. Inform Yourself
Depending on your circumstances, appointments at fertility clinics can feel overwhelming. You might be presented with a lot of information and it can be difficult to take in exactly what’s being said and what that means for you – particularly if you’ve just received tests results that aren’t as you’d hoped. Also, a clinic may only give you information that’s specific to the services it offers rather than providing you with an overview of what might be available to you nationally and globally.
‘Don’t be afraid to ask questions – the doctors aren’t gods and they need to be challenged sometimes so that you know they’re doing the best for you as an individual.
Talk to people who have also been through this and don’t bottle things up especially through the 2 Week Wait.
Don’t be scared by the process. Embrace it but be careful as it can become addictive – trust your instincts when it comes to knowing whether you’re ready to say “enough is enough”.’ George, Ireland
Other sources to look into if you feel able are:
Progress Educational Trust (PET) – a UK-based charity which advances public understanding of science, law and ethics in the fields of human genetics, assisted reproduction, embryology and stem cell research: Progress Educational Trust
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority – the UK’s independent regulator of fertility treatment and research using human embryos. An expert organisation in the fertility sector and the first statutory body of its type in the world: www.hfea.gov.uk
‘Question, question, question your clinic about all the costs involved and its refund policy.
Ask your clinic about risks of failed fertilisation and unsuccessful thawing of frozen eggs and embryos.
If you opt to use a clinic abroad, check whether you can use a clinic of your choice in the UK alongside that overseas clinic or are you tied to one of their associated clinics?
If you go abroad, factor in how easy it is to arrange scans, blood tests, medication, intralipids, etc. Also work out whether you will easily be able to get flights and accommodation at short notice.
Is the clinic open at weekends and able to work around you?’ Sarah, West Yorkshire
4. Remind Yourself that it’s OK to be in a Different Emotional Place from Your Partner
Depending on your circumstances, it’s possible that you and your partner may want to choose different treatment options or you may find yourselves in a different emotional place from one another. That’s OK and totally understandable. Open and honest ongoing respectful communication with each other is important – and can also be exceptionally tricky especially when emotions and hormones are running high. If you feel that counselling would be beneficial then speak with your clinic about what they can offer you and when. Otherwise, you could locate a specialist infertility counsellor through BICA
Take the time you need.
Talk to your friends. If they are real friends they will want to lend an ear.
It’s OK to recalibrate your understanding of who you are if that’s necessary.’ James, Hertfordshire
5. It’s All About You: ‘Fertility Treatment’ is an Umbrella Term
Ensure that your clinic tailors all your treatment and medication to you and your needs.
6. Who’s Who? Clinic Staff
Make a friend among the clinic staff and ask them for their work contact details. It’s beneficial to have an ally or two on the ‘inside’.
If there’s a staff member who you have strong negative feelings towards for whatever reason and you would prefer them not to be involved in your care then let your clinic know. Most clinic staff work as part of a team and will try and accommodate patient requests of this nature.
I would’ve liked to have treated myself almost as if I was recovering from an illness – very gently. So do what makes you happy or at least calm. Go to places that make your heart sing and your fear retreat. See only those people who make you feel positive and with whom you can be completely yourself.’ Caitlin Allen Acupuncture, West Yorkshire
7. Statistics and Other Numbers are Only Part of the Picture
Perhaps easier said than done but try not to get too hung up on statistics and numbers. No one can say for definite how things are going to work out for you. Ultimately you need one egg, one sperm and one womb to get along with each other. If you’re comparing clinics then make sure you’re comparing like for like statistics. The figure you’ll probably be most interested in is the live birth rate for the female age group relevant to your situation.
8. Check Out Donor Conception Network
If you’re considering using donated eggs, sperm or embryos then check out Donor Conception Network (DCN) as soon as you can but preferably before you even start any treatment or become pregnant. Donor Conception Network is a charity and supportive network of more than 2,000 mainly UK-based families with children conceived with donated sperm, eggs or embryos; those considering or undergoing donor conception procedures; and donor conceived people. Staff, volunteers and network members have a wealth of knowledge, information and expertise about all things past and present in the world of donation including the possible impact of telling or not telling donor-conceived children about their genetic heritage: www.dcnetwork.org
‘If you wish to find the best possible fit with a surrogate mum, then Surrogacy UK is a great association to join. With their ‘friendship first’ ethos, get togethers are organised so that friendships can be formed before Teams are created.
Speaking as a two-time surrogate mother, I felt that finding the couple to team-up with was all about friendship chemistry. Being open, honest and approachable is a good way to connect with a potential surrogate. It may feel scary at first and you may feel exposed and vulnerable, but it works both ways. Imagine a year down the line when your surrogate/friend is about to birth your baby, she will be trusting you to hold that space for her, as the baby is delivered at long last in your arms.’ Jay Kelly, Surrogate, Baby Alchemy
9. Going Abroad – Is the Grass as Green as You Think?
If you’re thinking about going abroad for treatment, investigate what the implications of doing so could be for you and any future children. Here are just a handful of things to consider:
- If your UK clinic is encouraging you to go to a particular overseas clinic then is it affiliated in some way to that clinic? If so, how and what does that mean for you and those clinics?
- How is the overseas clinic regulated?
- What’s the legal situation regarding types of fertility treatment in the country (or state) of your choosing?
- Which screening tests are performed on patients and partners?
- How much is it going to cost you financially, physically and emotionally especially by the time you’ve factored in flights and accommodation?
- If you’re using a donor abroad then how are they screened and selected?
- What are the anonymity rules in relation to donors and how would this impact on any child(ren) born from treatment?
- How many families can a donor donate to and what could this mean in terms of the number of half siblings for your potential child?
10. DIY Donor Sperm – Future Proof Yourself
If you’re using donor sperm outside of a clinic environment then before you even start preparing for pregnancy ensure that your personal safety is paramount. Also, get legal advice regarding your specific situation and make sure you have legal agreements in place in relation to your particular circumstances.
11. Remember the Adult Child
While your focus may initially be on you becoming pregnant, your goal is to have a baby. That baby will hopefully grow to become an adult so when making decisions around the types of treatment you are willing to undertake, consider how your future (adult) child at different life stages could feel about any decisions you make and the impact of your choices on them.
12. Include Your Partner
It might feel that the spotlight is on the individual physically undergoing the fertility treatment so actively include (and encourage your clinic to include) your partner if you have one.
13. Changing Times
The nature of fertility treatment changes all the time so if it’s been taking you a while to get that baby into your arms you might begin to wonder if a particular treatment had been available to you earlier then whether life would have worked out differently. Be kind to yourself and remember that on your quest to become a parent you can only make your best decision with all the information you have available to you at the time the decision needs to be made.
Develop a new hobby or skill in which you can immerse yourself and that can be done at any time regardless of the stage of treatment you’re at. Current favourites to distract clients are escape rooms, singing and learning a new language.
If you’re eligible to receive NHS funding but you’re not sure you want to have treatment in your allocated NHS fertility clinic then you could investigate the possibility of transferring your funding for use in a private fertility clinic.
If you’re not eligible to receive NHS funding or it’s not available in your area then speak to your clinic about any payment plans it might offer. You could also look into specialist fertility funding organisations which provide IVF refund schemes and multi-cycle programmes.