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MENTAL HEALTH

Top Ten Misconceptions About Secondary Infertility

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Top Ten Misconceptions About Secondary Infertility

One of the biggest misconceptions about Secondary Infertility is probably believing it actually exists! Too few people know of the condition, fewer use the term and due to its sensitivity, very few people ever talk about it. So is it any wonder that there was so much feedback when I asked members of the Secondary Infertility Matters Facebook group, what they thought were the biggest misconceptions about Secondary Infertility?

After whittling them down, lots of couples shared the same frustrations so here are the Top Ten Untruths:

Only affects couples with one child
Secondary Infertility, or the inability to conceive another child, can affect a couple whether they already have one, two or ten children. A large proportion of those affected do only have one child, but this may simply be down to chance. What is clear is that you can have conceived any number of children easily but suddenly and inexplicably be unable to get pregnant again.

“I am married with two beautiful children that I am very grateful for. We have had the dream of having four kids though, and we did plan to have them all two years apart, but it seems we’re experiencing some delay.” Melissa.

Couple must have had trouble conceiving the first time
How the first child or children were conceived has no bearing on whether a couple will conceive again. Many couples describe how they got pregnant without trying, or who got a positive result after just a couple of months tracking ovulation and most talk about how they would never have dreamt they would ever have difficulty getting pregnant again. Many onlookers often wrongly assume, and frequently comment, that the couple must have had IVF treatment for their first child too.

“My son took us a year to conceive. And it was hard, there were a lot of ups and downs but out of the blue we naturally conceived. So when he was two we thought we would ‘try’ for number two and I never imagined that two and a half years later we would still be trying.” Keren Mother to son aged 3.

“When people say, “was your first IVF too?” I feel so insulted on his behalf for some reason! It’s like me asking “what position did you conceive your son in?” As a matter of fact no actually, we weren’t even trying but it’s none of your business anyway!” Angela, Mother to sons aged 9 and 5.

Only affects women who are 40+
The stereotypical image of ‘woman having fertility trouble’ might be dried up, worked up, lonely, selfish, career queen who now wants to hang up her power stilettos and fill the void of board meetings with soft play and nappies. Not so. Secondary Infertility can strike at any age and whilst with any baby making attempt, age is never on a woman’s side, there are many women in their twenties and early thirties who are struggling to conceive a second or third child, for a variety of reasons.

“When I was 17 I found out I was pregnant, we weren’t trying, he wasn’t planned. We fell into the teen pregnancy statistic and I graduated from high school eight and a half months pregnant. My now husband and I went on to have another son. Many tell me to just be thankful for the two I have, they are healthy and happy but I always wanted a large family and my yearning for another child, a daughter, is not just because I want a baby girl, it’s because I never had a mother & daughter relationship with my own mother. I crave that bond, I want it with my own daughter.” Kirsten, 26, Mother to children 9 and 4.

Only affects heterosexual couples
The official definition for Secondary Infertility in my opinion is a little blurred because in today’s society, when you strip it back to the nuts and bolts of pound notes, if you already have a child, you are ineligible for fertility funding, whether that child is from your existing relationship or from a previous relationship. So, in my opinion, the definition should be clearer and most definitely including step children and same sex relationships.

“My two children are from my first marriage and myself and my ex husband had no problem conceiving. The marriage didn’t last and I’m now engaged to my partner Suzanne and we have been trying for three years to have a child together but after two IVF attempts with two sperm donors we are starting to struggle with the fact it might never happen. It’s really hard to find people to talk to who understand firstly our relationship and desire for a child as a same sex couple and then secondly, why I’m so upset when I already have two children who Suzanne also adores. It’s been really difficult.” Jane, Mother to two children aged 14 and 13.

There is funding available for secondary infertility treatment
Incorrect. If you have a child or children already, either in this current relationship or if either of you has a child from a previous relationship, you are not eligible for any funding for fertility treatment. This is extremely distressing for couples who simply don’t have thousands stashed away, or in particular for couples where one partner has had a child early in life with a former boy/girlfriend and have now married but are unable to have a family with their wife or husband.

“Our options to help us have another baby are basically zero. We have paid our taxes all our lives, we haven’t cheated any benefits but because my husband had a daughter with a girlfriend when they were in their teens, we are now unable to get any funding for fertility treatment to help us have a family. We have to support his former partner for his daughter and have just bought our first home after being together 6 years, so have literally no money of our own to pay for IVF. I feel heartbroken all over again.” Claudia.

Must be having IVF
When some people hear the word ‘infertility’ they automatically assume you are having IVF these days. Many couples are struggling with not getting pregnant a second time but one or both of them feels completely averse to ‘meddling with nature’ and therefore discounts intervention. These couples may however still be adjusting diets, taking supplements and any number of other methods to help them succeed still.

“My husband has told me he isn’t keen for IVF or anything of the likes, he wants another with me, but is content with two if it doesn’t happen naturally.” Melissa, Mother to two children.

Must be the man’s/woman’s fault
In many cases the ‘cause’ of Secondary Infertility is no ‘cause’ at all, indeed unexplained. Despite 1001 tests, there is inconclusive evidence that either partner has a condition or symptoms that are preventing conception or successful pregnancy. This can be hugely frustrating for couples, but not nearly as frustrating as when onlookers ask or suggest that it might be down the shortcoming of either one of them!

“We are dealing with unexplained secondary infertility – no reason, nothing! I don’t know if it is worse than having a diagnosis but if there was a reason there would be purpose to rectify it. ‘It’s because of this… so we are going to do that’. It made me feel angry that I went through all those invasive tests for nothing but at the same time having to find the positive that hopefully it means it’s just a matter of time and timing for us.” Keren Mum to a son 4.

They should stop trying, have a holiday and relax
Many couples struggling with SI could afford a round of IVF if they had a pound for every time they had been told to “just relax”. For sure, excessive stress can be a factor in any infertility but certainly going on a holiday or stopping trying is no sure solution to getting pregnant. Just ask the thousands of couples who’ve tried!

“When you’re facing complex issues like major male factors and/or female factors plus repeated miscarriages, it takes a lot of willpower to not punch them in the face but smile sweetly and say “yeah I hear you”.” Jade Mother to children aged 21, 9 and 7.

“It’s not like buying that pair of shoes you know you can’t afford – you can do everything right, eat right, sleep right, take vitamins, exercise, have all the tests, analyse every part of your sex life and still here you are with no baby – no control!” Keren.

“People see my two children and think, it must be an easy fix. It wouldn’t be infertility if it was just an ‘easy fix’!” Suzi, Mother to children 5 and 3.

They should be happy with the child/children they are lucky to have
I bet my own kids that there is not a couple on this earth who is struggling with Secondary Infertility that isn’t happy with the child or children they already have and that they would be the first to say they are already blessed. One of the most important and worrying things for me was that my son should never feel he was never enough for me, when he is old enough to read my book. He was, is, the world to me, indeed I wanted another child as a gift of sibling for him.

“Definitely the “they should be happy with the child they have” comment is upsetting. It’s like we’re bad parents just for wanting a sibling.” Suzanne.

Couple already have a child so not conceiving doesn’t hurt
Secondary Infertility is still infertility, and it hurts. It really, really hurts. One contributor to the Real Stories page on my website wrote “I’m writing my story with tears flowing down my cheeks, my eyes so full I can hardly see to type, but it feels good to let it all out. My fingers are doing the talking my mouth couldn’t ever do.” The fear or hurting those who are yet to have one child, means those with SI bottle up their emotion and upset, which only adds to the grief and isolation.

“You should be happy that you have one child! There are women out there that cannot have children at all, you at least have one.” I mean, really? People just don’t get it! I’ve suffered with primary and secondary infertility and they both hurt the same way, there’s no difference whatsoever no matter how many children you might have. Judy Mother to son aged 3

“These feelings are real and valid. I think to be honest there isn’t anything that can help, just time”. Catherine, 40, mother to 3 year old.

Helen Davies is the author of ‘More Love To Give’ available from Amazon £9.99.

If you are struggling with Secondary Infertility you can visit Helen’s website secondaryinfertilitymatters.com and closed confidential Facebook Support Group Secondary Infertility Matters.

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MENTAL HEALTH

The Invisible Wall

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The Invisible Wall

“Most relationships fail because we spend too much time pointing out each other’s mistakes and not enough time enjoy each other’s company.” – Unknown

Struggles through infertility can tend to take over your life. The constant stress of the treatments and the repeated disappointments can definitely strain the relationship between partners. Women may feel more irritable & emotional and her partner may feel helpless and worried. This makes for a difficult combination for any conversation to occur! Slowly there is an invisible wall starting to appear between the couple, emotions take over and make it even more difficult to talk.

With infertility, making a baby isn’t sexy. It isn’t fun. It’s stressful. It’s hard. It’s hormonal. It’s just miserable. The process truly is a make or break on relationships. Women can especially feel volatile just like a volcano about to blast at anytime with no warning. One minute you are positive, the next negative, becoming miserable, seemingly out of the blue. It can become exhausting for the partner quickly. The invisible wall gets thicker and taller… Sound and feel familiar?

Infertility can be an awful journey if the partners are not truly supporting and caring for each other. I have heard so many stories where partners are separating temporarily or permanently due to the stress and struggles with infertility. It doesn’t have to be that way!

Here are some tips to break the invisible wall…

1. To the woman who is in the thick of infertility, pay some attention to your partner. Ask them how they are doing. One of my clients asked her husband that very question on Father’s Day, and he broke down. Men also feel it, they just feel it differently.

2. To the woman struggling through this process, allow your man to be vulnerable. As a man, vulnerability with your partner doesn’t make you weak, it makes you even stronger. I have seen many relationships become very successful amidst the pain and struggles, when there is vulnerability between the couple. It strengthens your bond and makes you closer.

3. To both partners, when emotions are running high, remove yourself from the situation, take some time to collect yourself. Don’t talk or act when emotions are running high. The invisible wall gets higher when emotions are high.

4. Remind yourself and your partner frequently that “Together, we will make it thru this too”. Saying it out loud makes a world of difference and gives a great comfort to the other partner.

5. Get professional help, specifically someone who truly been there and understands the infertility struggle. They can help with tools and techniques to slowly eliminate relationship struggles, help identify the relationship goals and help you move forward positively in your life with or without successful fertility treatments.

Don’t let the invisible wall keep growing stronger and taller. Find ways to break the wall down slowly. Infertility shouldn’t be the reason for a relationship to break! Take small steps forward.

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MENTAL HEALTH

20 Things You Should Never Say To Someone Struggling With Infertility!

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“You may never know what someone is going through, but if you notice any signs of pain—hostility, negativity, or over-sensitivity—then odds are, you know how they feel. Respond to the pain instead of judging the signs.” Lori Deschene

I have unexplained infertility and my fertility journey was very long and painful with almost 8 years of failed treatments. I had 3 miscarriages, 3 IUI failures and 8 back to back IVF failures. It was an emotional roller coaster. I struggled in silence for the major part of my journey. I avoided talking to people with the fear that they will ask me about having kids. I avoided going to India (where all my family is) for 4 years in a row giving all sorts of bullshit (pardon my language here) reasons on why I can’t go. I wore a mask at work and never talked about anything personal. Talking to friends and family members was a nightmare especially who recently became pregnant or had a child!

I always avoid telling others about my infertility journey to avoid the comments that can really sting, let my blood pressure rise and bite my tongue, to put it mildly. There are sometimes where I wanted to react in a more animated fashion to those somewhat insensitive and ignorant comments.

This doesn’t just happen to me. It happens to many of us who are struggling with pregnancy loss, primary or secondary infertility. I recently put a question (What is that one thing that people say annoys you most about infertility?) to an online FB support group and its members had overwhelming response talking about their personal experience with these insensitive comments.

This list is based on my personal experiences and the collective experiences from many amazing souls going through fertility challenges including my wonderful fertility clients.

I am writing this to create awareness to those people who haven’t experienced infertility, who typically say things like this (many times with good intentions) to others going through infertility.

Here are 20 things NOT to ask/say people going through infertility:

  1. When are you going to have a baby? You are running out of time.
  2. Just relax, it will happen
  3. Drink a glass of Wine, it will happen
  4. Go on vacation, it will happen
  5. Stop trying, it will happen
  6. Lose weight
  7. You are young, you have plenty of time
  8. Do this, try this, it worked for, it will happen (Varies all the way from eating McDonald’s fries to using essential oils)
  9. For people with secondary infertility or have experienced losses before- You at least know you can get pregnant
  10. I know a bunch of ladies who’ve had babies in their 40’s! Don’t worry, it will happen
  11. To people with secondary infertility- At least you’ve got one, you’re so lucky, you might just have to be happy with one
  12. You are lucky you don’t have kids yet! (or) It’s so hard having so many kids
  13. You can have one of mine
  14. My husband looks at me and I get pregnant (or) I sneeze near my husband and I get pregnant
  15. Comments by a younger couple – We tried for a really long time( 2-3 months) to get pregnant, I understand your frustration
  16. Don’t worry, the technology is so good these days!
  17. Have you thought about adopting? it will kick-start your hormones and you’ll get pregnant. It happened to my (insert random relative)
  18. If God thought you were ready, you’d be pregnant.
  19. Maybe it’s just not meant to be (or) whatever is going to happen will happen.
  20. It’s not just the words, it’s the body language too- When people ask if I have children and I say, I do not, their reply almost always is, you never wanted kids?! With a surprised look on their face.

Even today at my nail salon, my manicurist asked me, how many kids, I said one(adopted). How old, 5 years. The next question immediately, you don’t want to have more???? You should have more..

This article is not intended to judge or blame those folks who say these comments. Many of you say these things out of good heart and well intentions. You all want to support and care for your loved one dearly.

Just keep in mind, these words can and will create a deeper wound to people going through fertility struggles. Because many of us are desperately seeking and doing whatever it takes to get and stay pregnant and yet it’s just not happening.

Unless you have experienced infertility, it’s hard to understand and relate to the pains and struggles all around. Infertility affects ones overall being- physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Here is one suggestion I will offer to people who are supporting a friend or a loved one.

Tell them, I may not truly understand what you are going through, but remember, I am here for you. And give them a big hug. Sometimes that’s all we need to feel better even a teeny tiny bit!

“Sometimes, what a person needs is not a brilliant mind that speaks, but a patient heart that listens.” Anonymous

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MENTAL HEALTH

Fertility Treatment Survival Skills

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Fertility Treatment Survival Skills

Practical and Emotional Top Tips from Iris Fertility Sherpa Natasha Canfer, Clients and Colleagues.

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.

  1. 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.

14. Escape!

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.

15. Funding

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.

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