Adia Health: Fertility MOT

I was invited by Adia Health to share my experience of getting a Fertility MOT for their blog - what they can do, what they can’t do, and what I think mine did for me. My top tip would be to consider coming off hormonal contraception to learn to understand your natural cycles before you’re ready to start TTC, because it can mask a lot of issues and it's so important to understand your own body and track your fertile signs.

Thanks to Adia for inviting me to share my experience on their blog - do check it out here

Defining Abuse in Assisted Reproductive Technology

What are the untold harms of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART)?

Where does good clinical practice tip over into bad?

Where and how are patients exploited by clinicians and the commercial fertility industry?

These were some of the issues explored at a fascinating workshop about 'Defining abuse in ART', held on 3rd June 2019 , that I was honoured to have been invited to speak at.

The organisers of this event, Dr Nathan Hodson and Prof Susan Bewley, recently published a systematic review of abuse in ART that proposes a typology of the different ways patients may experience mistreatment during fertility treatment - including the exploitation of women (& how this intersects with other disadvantages), unnecessary or ineffective intervention, and avoidable harms to both patient and child.

Bringing together clinicians, bioethicists, social scientists, historians, human rights lawyers and patient advocates (alongside the fantastic Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos: author of Silent Sorority and founder of ReproTechTruths), the goal of the workshop was to examine how professionals and the public can use this idea of ‘abuse in ART’ to question, critique and understand the worst excesses of the IVF industry.


Patients are often depleted or consumed.

Treatment can use up patients because they buy into the stories sold by company websites.

These websites are glossy and bright and optimistic and often do not fully or faithfully represent patient experiences. I feel this is dishonest and disrespectful to patients.

But is it abuse? ... All I know is I felt deceived, used up, and outraged by supposedly great men.
— BMJ - Sexuality, Reproduction, and The Etymology of Abuse

My talk shared insights from the infertility community to explore the patient perspective: because whilst medicine is about evidence and data, the experience of going through fertility treatment is one of hope and heartache - and in order to develop effective safeguards against abuse, clinicians have to better understand the patient mindset, and better empathise with our experience.

It was a really engaging day with so many incredibly smart people, chewing over some really tricky questions - to which are no easy answers, but I'm really looking forward to seeing how this initiative progresses.


For more on this initiative check out

BBC 5Live: The Emma Barnett Show - IVF Special

I was thrilled to appear on an IVF special of The Emma Barnett Show on 23rd April 2019, joining a group of 19 women - with over 100 cycles of IVF between us (costing over £500,000) - to share stories of heartache, hope, disappointment, strength and resilience, and give a raw and honest picture of the reality of IVF. It was a really emotional morning - but a whole lotta love in the room.

It was an honour to be able to take part in such an important discussion, with such a brilliant group of IVF warriors (my segment starts ~11 mins)

Observer Book Review: The Brink of Being

I was honoured to be asked to review Julia Bueno’s fantastic new book about miscarriage 'The Brink of Being’ for the Observer.

It’s estimated that one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, and yet it’s an experience that remains largely ignored  –  a grief that the world seemingly doesn’t know how to talk about. In The Brink of Being, psychotherapist Julia Bueno draws on her own personal experience, stories from her consulting room, and interactions with experts, to examine miscarriage within its broader cultural, medical and historical context  – encouraging us to think more, and think differently, about pregnancy loss.

It’s incredibly moving, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s been affected by miscarriage, or who would like to better support someone else who has.

You can read the full review here.


Fertility Fest 2019: The Invisible Man

My latest blog post for Fertility Fest is about the male experience of infertility and why men's voices are so often missing from the narrative.

Is infertility seen as the woman’s problem? Are men’s emotional needs seen as less important? Are men uncomfortable talking about this issue? Are we uncomfortable (or disinterested) in listening to men talking about this issue? .

More and more men are starting to break cover, and step out of the shadows to talk more openly about male infertility — to make the invisible man visible. At Fertility Fest 2019, ‘The Invisible Man’ will feature artists and experts to explore all these issues: including performances from film-maker Tom Webb, theatre-maker Toby Peach, singer songwriter Bob Strawbridge and rapping reverend Elis Matthews, followed by a Q&A with Sheryl Homa, Director of Andrology Solutions and Michael Close, Director of LogixX Pharma, chaired by writer and journalist Sarfraz Manzoor.

The Invisible Man

Please do read the full post on the Fertility Fest blog, share, and let us know what you think

Related posts

For more on male factor infertility, check out some of my previous writing:

The WRISK Project: Does oral sex prevent miscarriage?

The WRISK project is a fantastic initiative from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) - in collaboration with Heather Trickey at the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University & the Wellcome Trust - that's aiming to improve communication of risk messages relating to pregnancy:

Women who are planning a pregnancy or who are pregnant receive many public health messages that are intended to guide their decision making.

For example, they receive advice about what to eat, drink, how much they should weigh, and what medications they should or shouldn’t take. These messages are intended to improve outcomes for babies and mothers.

However, there is growing concern that messages do not always fully reflect or explain the evidence base underpinning them, and that negotiating the risk landscape can sometimes feel confusing, overwhelming, and disempowering.

This may negatively affect women’s experiences of pregnancy and motherhood, and be exacerbated by a wider culture of parenting that tends to blame mothers for all less-than-ideal outcomes in their children.
 

#blowjobgate

And this set of crazy headlines - reporting the findings of a recently-published study that suggested that ‘Regularly swallowing your partner's semen could protect against miscarriage’ - couldn’t be more confusing, overwhelming, and disempowering.

Because what discussion of an incredibly painful topic such as pregnancy loss needs, is jokes about giving head…

And creating even more guilt and shame for women who are already likely to be blaming themselves for their losses, with manipulative pressure to perform sex acts.

Initially I assumed this was ‘just’ lazy, clickbait journalism, or an April fool - but it turned out to be a genuine study from researchers at the University of Leiden, published in the Journal of Reproductive Immunology.

I took to Twitter and posted some incisive commentary on this story…

(Nah, of course I didn’t - I took to Twitter and posted a massive rant about what a load of emotionally manipulative bullshit it was)

…and asked fertility experts weigh in with their thoughts on the (in)validity of this study.

The team at the WRISK Project saw my thread (<cough> rant), and got in touch with me to ask me if I’d be up for writing a guest post about this tabloid frenzy - which I jokingly started referring to as #blowjobgate - for their blog.

Which I did.

And you can read the full piece here: The WRISK Project: Does oral sex prevent miscarriage?

 

The TL;DR version

If you can't be bothered to read the article, here's the TL;DR:

  • No, blowjobs do not prevent miscarriages

  • Swallowing semen is not a cure for pregnancy loss

  • This study is misogynistic garbage

Thank you for coming to my TED Talk

 

The response

The experts who weighed into the discussion on Twitter were universally critical of the study, and expressed serious concerns about the review process that led to this being published by a supposedly reputable journal (which you can read about in the full piece) .

I was absolutely terrified that as a non-scientist I was going to get something really, badly wrong - so the positive response to the article from the likes of BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health was incredibly gratifying:

I’m so angry that such bad science, causing so much pain and distress, was published in the first place - here’s hoping that they don’t get funding for a follow up study…

The Fertility Forum @ RCOG

On 30th March I was delighted to attend the Fertility Forum, an event hosted by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) in collaboration with the British Fertility Society and the HFEA, to bring the public and fertility professions together for a day of talks, seminars and discussions for anyone affected by fertility issues. The sessions covered a broad range of topics in a non-commercial setting - the focus was on providing accurate, evidence-based and unbiased information, where no one was trying to sell you anything.

You can watch videos of the presentations from the day here on the new RCOG Fertility Hub

 

Confusing fertility advice

I was delighted to work with the RCOG press office to support the release of their latest research, which highlights the extent to which confusing and contradictory fertility advice is sparking unnecessary worry among UK women - and was picked up by media outlets including Huffington Post:

 

The Fertility Podcast

On the day itself I took up the mic as a roving reporter for The Fertility Podcast, to ask some of the speakers to bust some fertility myths.

You can listen to the podcast here, or find it on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher or Acast

And there are full details of the show notes here: The Fertility Podcast: Myth Busting at the RCOG Fertility Forum

Tommys: #WeAreAllMums

I was honoured to contribute to Tommy’s Mother’s Day campaign ‘We Are All Mums’: Tommy’s recognise that Mother's Day can have very different meanings to each person, so they asked women who’ve all had very different experiences of motherhood to answer one question:

What does Mother's Day mean to you?

‘Mother’s Day is a grief landmine of epic proportions for those of us who’ve suffered infertility and pregnancy loss. It’s a day you so desperately want to be able to celebrate, but fear you never will.

’A day that reminds you of what you’re missing out on — if that cycle had worked, or you hadn’t miscarried, you’d have a something-year-old child by now, and Mother’s Day would be a day of celebration, not mourning. And if like me you’ve lost your own mother, it’s a day you dread more than any other.

’To my sisters in loss - my heart goes out to you. I wish I had words of comfort, but all I can say is to remember that you are not alone . Be kind to yourself, and do whatever you need to do to get through the day. This too shall pass.’

Read other women’s stories at the Tommy’s #WeAreAllMums page

Surviving Mother's Day

Anyone who’s experienced fertility problems will be only too aware of the many grief landmines scattered throughout the year.

There’s the sporadic ones — such as christenings, baby showers, family get togethers. Then there’s the seasonal ones — such as Christmas, or even back to school day or world book day (when social media becomes wall-to-wall proud parents sharing photos of their gorgeous children). Then there’s the big one. The whopper. THE DAY.

I’m talking, of course, about Mother’s Day.

A day you so desperately want to be able to celebrate, but fear you never will.

A day that reminds you that you’re excluded from the parents’ club, pressed up against the window peering in from the outside, longing to join in.

A day that reminds you of what you’re missing out on — if that cycle had worked, or you hadn’t miscarried, you’d have a something-year-old child by now, and Mother’s Day would be a day of celebration, not mourning

A day that can be a double whammy for some people — if, like me, you’ve lost your mother, it can feel like the cruellest day of the year, with grief seemingly coming at you from all angles.

3 years ago I was pregnant when Mother’s Day rolled around, and I remember hoping with every fibre of my being that the following year I’d be a card-carrying member of the mummy club.

Sadly, that wasn’t to be — as we found out the following day that our baby had died. I’m still waiting for that membership card to arrive.

#SurvivingMothersDay

It’s really, really shit.

There’s no magic solution for how utterly, horribly shitty it feels.

But for what it’s worth, here’s a few tips that I hope may help to navigate this shittiest of shitty days.

 

Feel all the feels

It’s OK to feel angry. It’s OK to feel jealous of others. It’s OK to feel sorry for yourself. You are not a bad person if you feel like this. You’re human. It’s hard enough already without beating yourself up as well.


Do whatever you need to do

Do whatever you need to do to get through the day. Be kind to yourself.

Indulge in some radical self care.
 
Treat yourself to something self-indulgent. Get a massage, go for a really boozy lunch (preferably somewhere likely to be child free), go away for the weekend.

Or if you want to hide away, and sit in your tracksuit bottoms on the sofa with chocolate and Netflix, that’s totally OK too.


Arm the defences

Short of not leaving the house (tempting), it’s impossible to avoid seeing & hearing about Mother’s Day seemingly every -bloody-where But there are a few tactics that can help to turn down the volume:


Digital detox
Social media. Just don’t go there. Nothing good will come of going on social media on The Day.

Reading joyful #feelingblessed posts of seemingly idyllic Mother’s Day homemade cards & breakfast in bed will not help

Reading posts from mums recounting how they’ve had a crap Mother’s Day & feel unappreciated will not help.

Just switch off & unplug until the coast is clear.


Emails
When it comes to the flurry of Mother’s Day emails (from mailing lists that despite endless GDPR emails you somehow still seem to be subscribed to) promoting gift ideas & discounts, some brands have recognised that this can be a really difficult time of year for many, and given subscribers the chance to opt out of any Mothers Day specific communications

Big shout out to brands like Bloom & Wild and Superdrug

 

(And check out #notomothersdaypr for a great initiative from Berenice @ Walk In Our Shoes to encourage more brands to do the same!)

In the mean time, setting up an email filter to send any message with the word ‘Mother’s Day’ in the subject to Spam can be highly effective!


#YouAreNotAlone

I wish I had words of comfort, but all I can say is to remember that you are not alone — and this too shall pass. If nothing else, once it’s over, you don’t have to worry about it for another 12 months…

Fertility Fest 2019: Avalanche

My latest blog post for Fertility Fest is about the super exciting news that THE Maxine Peake will be starring in the stage dramatisation of Julia Leigh’s powerful IVF memoir Avalanche: A Love Story - the centrepiece of Fertility Fest 2019

When I first read Avalanche, I remember being blown away, not just because it's a brilliant read, but because it offered a genuinely different (and very, very much needed) take on infertility - telling the warts-and-all truth about a lengthy - and unsuccessful - fertility journey. Which is exactly the mission I have for my Uber Barrens Club book project

And it's MAXINE BLOODY PEAKE. Absolute goddess of stage and screen - so, yeah, I'm pretty excited (no pretence of playing it cool here).

Check out the post and please do consider buying a ticket to come and see the play for yourself

Avalanche will be running from Sat 27 Apr to Sun 12 May 2019 

For more information, performance schedule and to book tickets, visit the Barbican website