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The Guilt Factor… Moving On From Infertility

You hold the white stick between your shaking fingers. There’s a knot of nervous tension in your chest and your heart is beating 10 to the dozen.

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Infertility Struggle

You hold the white stick between your shaking fingers.

There’s a knot of nervous tension in your chest and your heart is beating 10 to the dozen. Your eyes are focused on a small box which could either shatter your world or make you the happiest you’ve ever been in your life.

And then it happens. A rush of adrenaline goes through you and your mouth drops open as you see those elusive double lines. This is it. Your big fat positive. You are pregnant!

This scene is the Holy Grail for those who have struggled with infertility. It’s what everyone fights so hard for; the amazing and joyful first step on a much sought-after journey to parenthood. But sometimes the unadulterated happiness can give way to mixed feelings after finally getting pregnant. It may be more well-known in those who lived through 9/11 or for soldiers returning from war, but it seems survivor’s guilt can also be a factor for those who have fought infertility and won.

For Catherine and her husband Stephen, getting pregnant on their fourth cycle of IVF was a dream come true. But she says that while she was over the moon, the spectre of infertility took some time to disappear. “Of course, I couldn’t have been happier that we were finally going to have a baby,” says the 37-year-old, from Bournemouth. “We’d wanted it for so long and had been through so much to get there.

“But at the same time, I definitely felt a sense of guilt that we’d got lucky when so many people hadn’t, and never would. In a weird way, I felt like we didn’t deserve it – even though we’d certainly earned our stripes after everything we’d been through.”

She adds: “I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone seeing my bump and feeling upset that I was pregnant and they weren’t, as I had so many times myself. If I’d found a t-shirt with ‘IVF Baby on Board’ I would have worn it every day, to let people know I hadn’t conceived easily.”

Catherine explains that the modern method of announcing pregnancies on social media also left her in something of a quandary. She says: “I was really conscious that it can be heart- breaking to see someone else’s scan photo on Facebook if you’re having trouble conceiving. So when I told people I was pregnant at 12 weeks, I was careful to make it clear that it had taken us a long time and that we’d had to have help. Looking back, it was almost like I was apologising for being pregnant.

“Even now my daughter Ruby is almost a year old, I am very quick to tell people it took us six years to conceive her, because you never know what they may be going through.”

Amy from Shrewsbury says that when she got pregnant with twin boys on her second round of IVF, she felt uneasy about those friends with whom she’d formed a bond over infertility. “I almost felt embarrassed that I was now one of those ‘pregnant people’,” says the 32-year-old. “I was constantly worried about my IVF friends who weren’t pregnant and how they would feel about my growing bump. When I was six months pregnant, I was meeting one of these friends for lunch and asked my husband what I could wear which would stop me looking so big, in case it upset her!”

She adds: “Almost three years on, I’m still ferociously protective over fellow IVF-ers. I sit at my desk at work listening to colleagues discuss the pros and cons of having boys or girls and I want to punch them on the nose.

“Yes, I gave birth, have a super new gang of mum friends and an eclectic arrangement of nursery artwork on my fridge. So you could technically label me one of those hideous yummy mummy types. But I know deep down that my heart belongs to my old gang, and always will.”

Sarah, 35, from Leicester, who conceived her son Callum after a long struggle with male factor infertility, feels the same way: “The phrase ‘yummy mummies’ always got to me when my husband and I were trying for a baby. I felt like it was a club I would never get to join, and I was annoyed that I couldn’t escape that fact anywhere I went.

“When I finally got pregnant, I was looking for a nappy bag and came across one I liked. But when I saw it had the words ‘Yummy Mummy’ written on it, my survivor’s guilt wouldn’t let me buy it. Even though I had finally crossed the line into the land of the pregnant ladies, I couldn’t associate myself with that phrase. It just seemed so smug and exclusive – and so heart-wrenching for people who can’t have children.”

And it seems that survivor’s guilt can strike many years after a positive pregnancy test. Emily, 42, is mum to four-year-old Ethan, who was conceived via IVF after three years of treatment. Emily, from Norwich, says she now feels guilty for wanting more children. “I feel so blessed that I’ve got the child I always dreamed of,” she explains.

“But I do sometimes feel sad that I won’t ever be pregnant again and that Ethan will be an only child. I know that’s a natural feeling to have, but it makes me feel guilty – because I know there are still people struggling to conceive just one baby. I feel guilty for not being completely content with the wonderful family I’ve got.”

Other emotional repercussions can also rear their head for women who have had a long struggle with infertility. Millie, 34, from west London, who fell pregnant naturally with her son Lucas after three failed cycles of IVF, explains: “For me, it’s like the aftershocks of an earthquake. Even though my baby is now six months old, I still feel like I’m getting over everything that my husband and I went through as a couple and separately.

“I suppose it makes sense, when you’ve been through something that’s so draining mentally and physically, something that takes over your entire life. I think to some extent it will always be with you.

“But on the positive side, I feel it has made us appreciate our son more than we might have done otherwise – we’re always talking about how lucky we are to have him. I also feel like it made me a better person; more grateful, thoughtful and considerate. It also brought my husband and me closer together and now the three of us are a really strong little unit.”

Norah Harding, a specialist infertility counsellor based in London, explains that mixed emotions are natural when a woman gets pregnant after years of trying to conceive.

She says: “There can be intense memories of how painful it used to be to chance upon a pregnant woman and feel that lightning mixture of envy, anger and hopelessness. Many women who’ve gone through their own suffering fear their pregnancy will cause unintentional pain to anyone else. Some will say they wish they could wear a badge with their full fertility history on it, so any envious onlookers could see they are ‘deserving’. And, of course, to offer hope to those still trying.

“If one’s own fertility struggle increases empathy and sensitivity to other women’s feelings around a pregnancy, that’s great. But feeling guilty a lot of the time, or being made anxious by one’s own luck in finally getting pregnant? That isn’t great. Fertility problems rob people of enough joy; don’t let them impact the miracle of a longed-for pregnancy too.”

Fellow fertility counsellor Norma Wilson says professional help and personal research can be useful when experiencing this kind of survivor’s guilt. The Bristol-based specialist says: “To normalise these feelings, it can help to seek out someone to talk to, like a fertility counsellor, or to read one of the many books that former patients have written. It is said that time is a healer, and this is true. As time goes on, people learn that it is normal to have a range of feelings resulting from fertility treatment, conception, birth and adapting to parenthood.”

If you would like to seek the help of a fertility counsellor – to deal with guilt or seek to alleviate any other emotional baggage – visit the British Infertility Counselling Association website at bica.net, where you will find details of therapists in your area.

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Detech your bedroom

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Detech Your Bedroom

Why charging your phone next to where you sleep could be harming your sperm.

“If you are trying for a baby and it doesn’t happen within a year you might want to think of whether it could be your mobile phone habit that is to blame,” says Professor Martha Dirnfeld, of the Technion University in Haifa which recently investigated whether mobile phone use can affect sperm quality. In the study, Israeli scientists monitored 106 men attending a fertility clinic for a year and results indicated that those who chatted on the phone for more than an hour daily were twice as likely to have low sperm quality as those who spoke for less than an hour.

The scientists’ findings were published in the journal Reproductive BioMedicine and found that 47% of men who kept their phones within 50cm of their groin had sperm levels that were seriously affected, compared with just 11% of the general population.

The benefits of leaving your laptop and smartphone outside the bedroom have long been known: blue light before sleep suppresses melatonin production leaving you feeling exhausted, and answering work emails whilst in between the sheets can build a virtual wall between you and your partner. But aside from being an obvious passion killer, this new study also found that a man’s sperm count can be reduced by talking on a phone that is charging, or even keeping it close by on a bedside table at night.

The science behind the findings is alarmingly simple: heat and electromagnetic activity which emanate from a mobile phone are thought to ‘cook’ sperm, causing them to die. Also, men who used their phone as it charged were almost twice as likely to suffer problems, suggesting that the so-called urban myth of charging devices giving off stronger rays may actually have some substance to it..

Professor Gedis Grudzinskas, a fertility consultant at St George’s Hospital, London, comments: “Men need to think about their wellbeing and try to stop being addicted to their phones. If you wear a suit to work put the mobile in your chest pocket instead of close to your testes. It will reduce the risk of your sperm count dropping or dropping so much.”

However, some medical professionals are keen to prevent studies like this causing a mass hysteria. Dr Fiona Mathews, a biologist from the University of Exeter, has conducted her own studies in this field and acknowledges that whilst these rays seem to have a detrimental effect on sperm, there is still not sufficient evidence to prove that mobile phone radiation can render men infertile. “We have previously found that there are consistent patterns of mobile phone exposure being linked to reduced sperm quality,” says Dr Mathews.

“Unfortunately, there is not yet any direct evidence available to link mobile phone use with complete infertility. All we can say at the moment is that mobile phone exposure reduces sperm quality and it would therefore be reasonable to infer that, for men who are already on the borderline of infertility, phone exposure could further reduce the chances of pregnancy.”

So why not follow the lead of James Bond actor Daniel Craig, who though known for his high-tech gadgets on screen, once suggested that the secret to his happy marriage with Rachel Weisz is their bedroom ban on technology. He told The New York Times: “There’s nothing technological allowed in the bedroom. If the iPad goes to bed, it’s a killer. We have a ban on it.”

Of course this doesn’t mean we need to ditch mobile phones all together, but it is important to be aware of our addiction to tech. So what else can we do to minimise mobile disruption? When at work or home it’s worth making sure men take their phones out of their pockets and keep them on the desk or table. Before bed consider a device curfew; not only will this have a positive effect on your mental health but will encourage intimacy between you and your partner. Lastly, buy an old-fashioned alarm clock and keep your charging smartphone away from the bed. All these are small lifestyle changes, but ones that could have a profound effect on both your relationship and your fertility journey.

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Fertility 360

Do This ONE Thing to Improve Your Fertility Immediately

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Do This ONE Thing to Improve Your Fertility Immediately

Why is Earth the only planet in our solar system that supports life forms?

Quite simply…water.  No other planet has it.

Drinking water is essential for optimal health.  And you probably think you get plenty of fluids every day.

Yet, up to 75 percent of Americans may be in a chronic state of dehydration, according to research.

Many people understand the importance of drinking enough water but they don’t overcome the perceived inconvenience to make it part of their routine.

The problem is that allowing yourself to become dehydrated causes more inconvenience because it can be a significant contributing factor to your fertility issues.  Something as simple as drinking enough water can be the turning point for you.

Staying hydrated is critical when trying to get pregnant.  You can survive weeks without food. But as little as a few hours without water.  For example, a child left in a hot car or an athlete exercising hard in hot weather can dehydrate, overheat and die in a period of a few hours.

50-70% of your body weight is water.  Your blood is 85% water, your muscles 80%, your brain 75% and even your bones are 25% water, which indicates how important water is for your health.

Water keeps all of your organs and cells functioning properly including the reproductive cells (egg, sperm) and reproductive organs (brain, ovaries, uterus, testes, thyroid).  It also naturally flushes out toxins in the body.

For men, semen production and semen volume can be reduced by not drinking enough water.   If semen is thicker due to dehydration, sperm may have trouble swimming.

For the fetus, staying hydrated is critical for fetal development.  Water helps carry nutrients to the placenta and is an important part of all aspects of development from the time of fertilization. Without water, a developing baby cannot survive, increasing the risk of miscarriage.

For women, dehydration can affect…

  • …which leads to dehydration interfering with or preventing ovulation
  • The cervical mucus, which is important in transporting the sperm to the fallopian tubes for egg fertilization.  Having little to no cervical mucus can be an indication that you’re dehydrated. You should see 2-3 days of egg white, stretchy cervical mucus around ovulation.  Without enough water, the cervical mucus that balances vaginal pH also becomes too acidic, harming the sperm.
  • Implantation –  Water is necessary for cell division and metabolism. The cells of the uterine wall must be healthy for the embryo to implant.

 

How much water to drink?

Because people are busy throughout the day, using thirst as a guide is unreliable.

A general rule of thumb is to drink half your weight in ounces of water.

But more accurately, use your urine as a guide.

The color should be pale yellow like lemonade.  If it is a deep, dark yellow then you are probably not drinking enough water.  If it is colorless, you are drinking too much water which can cause salts & other electrolytes in your body to become too diluted.

A healthy person urinates on average about 7-8 times a day.  If you haven’t urinated in many hours, that’s an indication that you’re not drinking enough.  Time your water intake so that needing to go to the bathroom doesn’t cause you to wake up at night.

Make sure you start your day with a large glass of water to rehydrate.  You breathe out a small amount of water every time you exhale as you’re sleeping.  If you sweat at night, you’re also losing water.

Water bottles

Storing your water in the appropriate water containers is important.  Glass and stainless steel water containers are best.

DO NOT USE plastic bottles!  Even if they’re BPA-free.

BPA (bisphenol-A) mimics estrogen, and therefore can have estrogenic effects in the body causing infertility including low sperm quality.  BPA increases aneuploidy, a defect consisting of abnormal loss or gain of chromosomes, which could lead to miscarriages or disorders such as Down Syndrome.

Plastics, including BPA-free materials, leach chemicals that act like estrogen in our bodies.  Conditions that are known to release these harmful chemicals are heat, putting them in a microwave or dishwasher, or leaving a plastic water bottle in a hot car.  Microwaving the containers or placing hot liquids or food into them releases BPA 55 times more rapidly! But even normal contact with food or water was enough for these chemicals to leach into the food and the water because they are unstable.  Some of the chemicals that are in the BPA-free plastics actually have been found to have greater estrogenic activity than BPA itself.

Water quality

Many people rely on drinking bottled water regularly.  The problem is that you don’t know how long they’ve been in the plastic bottle and what conditions they have been stored in.

Instead, purify your tap water using the best water filtration system you can afford, preferably one with reverse osmosis (RO).

Unfortunately, an effective water filtration system also removes beneficial minerals (magnesium, calcium, iron, manganese).  Because RO water doesn’t have enough minerals, when it is consumed, it also leaches minerals from the body and your food if you cook with RO water. It’s because water wants to bind to everything, and it will take the minerals where it can — like from your body or your food.  This means that the minerals in food and vitamins are being urinated away.

Less minerals consumed plus more minerals being excreted equals serious negative side effects and big health problems, including fertility issues.

A simple solution is to add trace minerals to filtered water.

Here are some easy tips to ensure you’re drinking enough water

  • Have a bottle with you constantly and make it a habit to take a sip whenever you have down time.
  • Use an app to track your water intake.>
  • Set recurring water break reminders on your phone.
  • Buy a bottle with pre-marked timed intervals. You can also make your own stickers to add to your favorite clear bottle.  All you have to do is come up with your own timed drinking goals and write the times on the bottle.

Optimal fertility starts with the basics – water being the most critical ingredient to life.  Make it a daily habit to drink enough for your reproductive needs.

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Fertility 360

Study Points To Fertility As A Leading Economic Indicator

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Study Points To Fertility As A Leading Economic Indicator

Many research studies have shown that when the economy does well, people have more babies, and when the economy does poorly, they give birth less.

New research from the University of Notre Dame, however, discovers something unique — people appear to stop conceiving babies several months before recessions begin.

The study, “Is Fertility a Leading Economic Indicator?” was published Feb. 26 in the National Bureau of Economic Research’s working paper series. It is coauthored by Notre Dame economics professors Kasey Buckles and Daniel Hungerman, and Steven Lugauer from the University of Kentucky.

The team compared conceptions to other well-known economic indicators — such as consumer confidence and durables purchases — over the past 30 years and found that conceptions fall at the same time or even before other indicators whenever a recession is about to start.

“We show that for the last three recessions, conceptions predicted the downturn just as well as traditional economic indicators did,” Buckles says.

The team examined data on more than 100 million births spanning decades in the United States. Unlike most studies that use data aggregated up to the year level, the NBER paper focuses on the timing of births within the year using monthly or quarterly data, which allowed the researchers to study changes occurring months before a recession — changes that papers using annual data would miss.

“Once you examine monthly or quarterly data, the pattern becomes obvious,” Hungerman says. “We show the existence and magnitude of this pattern before the Great Recession, and it’s striking since that recession was famously hard to predict. None of the experts saw it coming, and in its first few months, many business leaders were convinced the economy was doing OK — even as the number of conceptions plummeted and had been falling for a while.

“While the cyclicality of fertility has been studied before, the possibility that conceptions change months before recessions begin has not been shown before,” he says. “In fact, some well-known studies have even declared that the pattern we find shouldn’t exist.”

“One way to think about this,” Buckles says, “is that the decision to have a child often reflects one’s level of optimism about the future.”

The study also shows conceptions are slow to rebound when recessions end. The Great Recession famously had a “jobless recovery.” This study finds it also had a “babyless recovery.”

The paper is available online at http://www.nber.org/papers/w24355.


Also published on Medium.

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