Iris Fertility: A Practical and Emotional Infertility Sherpa Service on your Path to Parenthood

. 6 min read

In 2014, after a soul destroying decade of trying – and mostly failing – to get pregnant with and without fertility treatment, Iris Fertility was born.

Through Iris Fertility, I provide independent practical and emotional support and companionship to individuals before, during and after fertility treatment – whatever its outcome. I work alongside people by carrying the emotional and practical load associated with fertility treatment: an Infertility Sherpa.

The idea for Iris Fertility grew inadvertently and organically from my husband’s and my own experiences of fertility investigations and treatment.

I vividly remember the day we received our initial results: a surprisingly dirty and ripped sofa in an unusually empty waiting room. Just one other couple looking sad, apprehensive and slightly numb. I’d somehow managed to convince myself that we weren’t going to be looking sad at all because everything was going to be OK. We’d only ended up here in the first place because I’d been over-exercising and had sent my body into shock. Being here was all just an aside. Plus, I had my ‘lucky’ scarf with me. It was all going to be just fine. So, when we were greeted by the Registrar who looked significantly less upbeat than the first time we’d met him, I had an inkling that life was about to change. What I hadn’t expected was to be asked to take a seat while we watched him divide an A4 sheet of paper in half and proceed to make what looked like two shopping lists. As it transpired, it was his ‘aide memoire’ for telling us all the ‘his and her’ reasons why we weren’t getting pregnant.

I was still determined that everything was going to be OK. That I was going to ‘do’ infertility differently. I wasn’t going to get caught up in it the way that others did. It wasn’t going to define me. And I was totally and utterly wrong. I couldn’t see out. It was all I could think about. I now know I would have done anything to have a baby. I also know now having bumped into the Registrar (turned Consultant) a few years later that he didn’t need that ‘aide memoire’ after all. He told me that day is going to stay with him for the rest of his career.

Life certainly did change for us that day. Significantly. And over several gruelling years and 11 rounds of fertility treatment we experienced: extensive male and female investigations and surgeries cycles of IVF + ICSI frozen embryo transfers stimulated and unstimulated IUIs treatment with and without the help of a known and unknown donor pregnancy losses the pregnancy and birth of our first son subsequent failed cycles of IVF + ICSI – this time with fertility treatment ‘add ons’ a pregnancy involving multiples with first trimester complications the arrival of boy/girl twins on the day of the Junior Doctors strike (and, perhaps unsurprisingly, after all of that) some complex emotional health issues.

The crashing waves of hope, loss and despair commonly associated with fertility investigations and assisted reproduction treatment became the dominant feature of my life. During the time we were locked into fertility treatment I felt sucked in, spun round and spat out. I was lonely, vulnerable and isolated. Friends were either pregnant or announcing the arrival of their first, second and third child. Things got so bad that even the new friends we’d met through fertility groups and forums were onto their first and second children through IVF. In fact, it seemed like the whole world was getting pregnant with and without help. It felt like everyone I knew was embroiled in their new lives with little ones. People disappeared. Caught up in their worlds of nappies and late nights. A world I didn’t understand. A world I felt completely separated from and desperately wanted for myself.

Looking back, I think it’s fair to say that infertility totally took over my life. And that hideous land of limbo felt never ending. I became an expert in my own body and amassed a wealth of fertility-related friends, professionals, resources and information. I also found myself being the ‘go to’ person for others who needed support.

It became apparent to me very quickly that whether we were using an NHS or private clinic the information we received at our appointments often didn’t give us the full picture in terms of what treatments, services and medications were available to us for the issues affecting us. Quite often we were given information that was specific to the particular clinic rather than what was available throughout the country (or, indeed, abroad). I also remember one clinic recommending we sought out the treatment and services of a particular overseas clinic (with which it had a strong connection) when, in fact, I discovered the same treatment and services were actually available in a clinic in a neighbouring city not far from our home. The implications of using an overseas clinic and its services were not explained. I felt trapped in a system and I felt trapped in a hugely commercial and competitive industry which appeared to me to be lacking transparency and independence. I didn’t know where to turn. I didn’t know who I could really trust. All I wanted was to be fully informed of all the options and if I wasn’t being fully informed to at least be told that was the case rather than being presented with information as if it were complete.

I also often wished that someone could do it all for me. Not the treatment itself as such but all the peripheral ‘other stuff’. All the many seemingly ‘little’ yet time-consuming tasks that ate into every area of my life and all those precious moments when I could have been doing something nice for me but instead was glued to my iPad or had my head in a specialist book or was on the phone to a clinic trying to find answers and to sort out logistics for the next appointments and procedures.

And then there were all those other times when there was nothing left to do other than to sit down and cry. And scream. And shout. Or even celebrate. Those were the times when I needed someone who just ‘got it’. Someone who had experienced fertility treatment but who was no longer caught up in it. Someone who didn’t need me to explain. There are some amazing fertility counsellors out there to whom Iris Fertility regularly signposts clients but I also wanted someone to be there for me outside of the dedicated counselling appointment times. Someone to be there for the updates. For those ‘Argh. Can you believe they said that to me or x has happened?’ Or ‘Great news. Eggs have fertilised. Phew. One hurdle out of the way’ Or ‘I’m not sure I can do this anymore.’ A befriending service as it were.

I wanted someone to help me with the practicalities and someone to soften my pain. But that person was not there. Although I’d initially found fertility groups and forums friendly, welcoming, informative and supportive (tinged with a little bit of competition and jealousy), they were transient as people’s situations changed. I always felt like I was the one waving goodbye as they ventured into the online gateway of the next forum group.

And that, really, is how Iris Fertility was born. By identifying something that I desperately needed and wanted but couldn’t find in one person.

So, when I’d come up for air long enough to take some breaths and talk to many other men and women, I discovered that I wasn’t alone and that’s what they wanted too: one to one practical and emotional support tailored specifically to their needs. Someone to take the load before, during and after treatment, whatever its outcome; an Infertility Sherpa.

Sherpa, advocate, mentor, supporter, coach, personal assistant, buddy, champion, cheerleader, voice, shoulder to cry on, listening ear, companion, guide, researcher, ally, confidant, PA, righthand person, mouthpiece, pathfinder…

Every person I work with calls me something different mainly because I can be whatever that person needs or wants me to be when they need me.

Here’s a snippet of some of the ways I offer practical and emotional support…

Practical Support

  • Helping you choose a clinic based on your specific circumstances
  • Liaising with clinics on your behalf – phone calls, emails, letters, in person
  • Identifying and arranging appointments with complementary health practitioners and other healthcare professionals
  • Signposting you to other organisations and professionals
  • Accompanying you to consultations and appointments
  • Research
  • Travelling for treatment abroad with you
  • Communicating with your employer
  • Raising complaints and concerns (I’ll leave the compliments to you!)
  • Facilitating animal-care, childcare and other logistical matters like hotel and travel bookings
  • Doing your shopping for you
  • Driving you to and from egg collection and other medical procedures or investigations
  • Shopping for cards and gifts to mark other people’s baby-related ‘occasions’
  • Talking to your friends and family on your behalf
  • Giving you access to resources such as books through the Iris Fertility Library.

Emotional Support

Daytime, evening and weekend in-person support when and where you actually need it – at home, in a café, at the clinic, walking the dog, in the car, at the beach, etc.

Online, telephone and text contact whenever you want and need it.

I used to think to myself if someone could just tell me what the outcome was going to be – children or no children – then it would all be OK. If I knew the end result was definitely children then I would keep on going but if it definitely wasn’t going to be then I would stop. I found the constant living in limbo and uncertainty while everyone else appeared to move on with their lives so hard. The inability to plan for the future, having to change things or cancel at the last minute was infuriating.

While I can’t tell you how long or bumpy your path to parenthood is going to be, I can be there with you. I will walk alongside you every step of the way carrying whatever it is you need to be carried to lighten your practical and emotional load.