infertility bingo

Metro: The craziest things I did in the name of infertility


My fourth article for Metro’s Fertility Diaries series is about infertility madness - the debate over add-ons, and the crazy lengths that many infertility patients go to in pursuit of trying to have a baby.

It also features a rather fetching illustration whereby I’m immortalised in cartoon form alongside some viagra tablets and a tube of fertility lube (bet this article is going to do SEO for my name a world of good!!). I’ve only just managed to work out what the disembodied floating hand is - I think it’s someone with an acupuncture needle (although maybe I do have a massive third hand and have never noticed)

As you’ll know if you’ve ever experienced infertility or pregnancy loss, another infertility bingo classic is ‘have you tried….’ (usually followed by either ‘blatantly obvious suggestion’ or ‘miracle woo healing therapy that their sister’s neighbour tried’)

If a well-meaning-but-clueless friend/colleague starts the ‘have you tried…’ game with me, whilst very well intentioned, I inwardly take a deep breath, as I’m thinking ‘mate, I promise you I WILL win the ‘have you tried?’ game!

This article is a light-hearted look at some of the crazy lengths that I - and a number of other women (it’s not just me who’s lost the plot) - went to in the name of infertility. This is just a highlight of a long list of wacky infertility adventures - safe to say there’s a lot more where those came from!

Including such highlights as:

  • me pretending to be a middle-aged man with erectile dysfunction on the internet

  • my (short) career as an international drug trafficker

  • blessings by a Buddhist monk with a wooden phallus in the mountains of Bhutan 

  • a litany of fertility woo therapies

  • a whole host of other women's mad infertility adventures  


Are you fed up of being asked ‘have you tried’? What’s the craziest thing you’ve tried during your infertility journey?

I’m writing a book that challenges the fantasy infertility narrative of endless positivity and happy endings, by sharing real women’s (and men’s) stories about what it’s really like to struggle with infertility and pregnancy loss.

My goal is to represent as many different perspectives as possible: if you’ve experienced infertility or pregnancy loss — whether your journey is current or past, whether successful or not — I’d be honoured if you’d consider sharing your story anonymously.

Metro: It’s not just down to infertile couples to solve the adoption crisis

Why don’t you just adopt

My third article for Metro’s Fertility Month series examines how It’s not just down to infertile couples to solve the adoption crisis

Anthony Douglas, head of Cafcass (the public body representing children in care), said in a recent interview with the Daily Telegraph that the growing success of IVF has meant fewer people will consider adopting children:

IVF used to be around 7% successful and now it’s around 30%.

So as a choice, adoption is competing with lots of other ways of having children.

My biggest bugbear with the ‘it’s all the fault of selfish IVF couples’ argument (amongst many) is that it positions the adoption crisis as an issue that’s solely down to people with fertility problems to solve.

IVF isn’t a quick and easy fix either to conception, or to solving the adoption crisis - and it doesn’t help solve the latter to pretend it does.

Adoption is about finding homes for children, not children for infertile couples. And pretending that if selfish infertile couples stopped having IVF the problem would get sorted does a disservice to infertile couples, and to children in care.

This article is deliberately provocative, as I’ve tried to challenge the hypocrisies around this issue straight on - because I’m frankly fed up of the IVF bashing (and the perpetual double standards for infertile vs fertile couples.)

Infertile couples are asked ‘why don’t you just adopt?’

To which I would respond, ‘Why didn’t you just adopt?’

Have your say

Are you fed up of being told ‘why don’t you just adopt?’

I’m writing a book that challenges the fantasy infertility narrative of endless positivity and happy endings, by sharing real women’s (and men’s) stories about what it’s really like to struggle with infertility and pregnancy loss.

My goal is to represent as many different perspectives as possible: if you’ve experienced infertility or pregnancy loss — whether your journey is current or past, whether successful or not — I’d be honoured if you’d consider sharing your story anonymously.

Metro: How to support someone with fertility problems

I’m really excited to have the opportunity to write for Metro’s Fertility Month series: the first article is about how to support a friend or loved on struggling with infertility or pregnancy loss.

There's lots of articles about what not to say (aka infertility bingo), but Metro wanted something that offered guidance for what you should say or do instead. They commissioned me to write this piece based on the hundreds of responses to my anonymous questionnaire for women (and men) to share their stories, - specifically, to the question that asks respondents what advice you would give to anyone who's supporting a friend or loved one with fertility problems.

There's no universal right or wrong thing to say or do, but these suggestions are based on the answers of several hundred different women, so they're hopefully at least a pretty decent start.

These are just a couple of highlights:

Say ‘I’m sorry’ Give us a hug and say ‘I’m so sorry’
Do not try to solve the problem There’s nothing you can say or do to fix this, so stop trying to do so.
Just listen & acknowledge our distress.

Don’t feel you have to do anything other than listen.
Don’t tell us what to do or what to think or what to feel.

Just listen to us, and allow us to be sad and angry at how unfair life is. Be there, let us know you care, that you’re there, and that you want to understand our feelings and needs. Acknowledge that it’s an unimaginably cruel situation and let us offload


My goal for this book project is to represent as many different perspectives as possible .

If as a couple you’ve experienced infertility or pregnancy loss (regardless of which partner has received the infertility diagnosis, if any)— whether your journey is current or past, whether successful or not — I’d be honoured if you’d consider sharing your story anonymously.

If any of these ‘infertility bingo’ comments strike a chord and you’d like to get something off your chest, or suggest some advice of your own, I’d love to hear from you!

The Daily Mail Guide to Infertility


Why your lifestyle almost certainly isn’t to blame for your infertility (despite what the Daily Mail headlines say)

[ Originally posted on Medium ]

If you’re struggling to have a baby, it can feel overwhelming to know what you should and shouldn’t do, to give yourself the best chance of success.

Well fear not! Having conducted a full meta-analysis of one leading UK tabloid newspaper (Jan 17-Aug 18), here is a summary of its bulletproof guidance and absolutely rock solid health advice, guaranteed to give you the miracle baby of your dreams.*

*disclaimer: may not be bulletproof guidance, rock solid health advice, or guaranteed to give you the miracle baby of your dreams.

Clear and simple, right? When you’re not throwing out your tupperware; getting rid of all your cleaning products; replacing all your toiletries; going cold turkey on your mobile phone; buying your partner new boxers; strutting around with a cushion up your top pretending you’re pregnant; rethinking your career goals to make sure they’re not too ‘masculine’; trying to get just the right amount of exercise (not too little, not too much); making sure you’re getting just the right amount of sleep (not too little, not too much); cutting back on alcohol (whilst still drinking 5 glasses of red wine a month); guzzling fertility supplements; charging up all your various fertility devices (one on your wrist, one up your vagina); moving out of the city to the countryside (but not taking any anti-histamines when your allergies play up); avoiding sofas, car seats, laptops, water bottles and receipts; trying to precisely measure out the exact recommended quantity of walnuts; planning your trip to China to sit on cock-shaped rocks; working out your top 5 friends; and running back from yoga and acupuncture just in time to have sex at precisely the right time of day, in precisely the right month, in precisely the right position, and for precisely the right duration — just remember that the Daily Mail has also told you that stress can double the risk of infertility.


Ignore these at your peril — because why wouldn’t you want to be rewarded for your hard work with surprise twins or triplets, like the couples featured in these stories, with their miracle babies, all thanks to these miracle cures?

And does any of this really matter anyway - because if you’re infertile you’ll probably die early regardless?

An alternative to the Daily Mail infertility regime

Maybe it’s not your fault if you’re struggling to get, or stay, pregnant.

Maybe your infertility issues aren’t caused by anything you did or didn’t do.

Maybe you didn’t do anything to deserve this.

Maybe it’s just shitty, shitty luck of the draw.

Maybe trying to be generally healthy, taking a prenatal vitamin and following any specific guidance from your Dr is enough for you to have ‘done your bit’.

Maybe it’s more important to look after your body and mind for your own general wellbeing and sanity, than in pursuit of a miracle infertility cure.

Maybe you don’t need to beat yourself up for ‘not trying hard enough’.

Maybe you’re trying your best, and it’s now down to science and luck.

Maybe the Daily Mail doesn’t have all the answers.

“You never know true love until you have a child”

[ Originally posted on Medium ]

“You never know true love until you have a child”

This quote is definitely a podium winner when it comes to ‘hurtful comments people say when you’re childless not by choice’

Let’s dissect this sentence, shall we?

1. ‘You never know true love until you have a child’

Which ‘you’ is that? You, the person saying this out loud, may have felt this about your own experience — that you were wandering in a world bereft of genuine love until YOU had a child. In which case, dear person making this comment, it would be more accurate to say, ‘I myself didn’t know true love until had a child’. A statement which is all sorts of problematic in so many other ways, but let’s get the pedantry out of the way first.

‘You’ doesn’t mean ‘me’. It means ‘the person or people that the speaker is addressing’, or may also be used ‘to refer to any person in general’

If you’re addressing me personally, then I have two words for you. One begins with ‘F’, and the other is ‘off’.

Firstly, that’s a massive assumption: you know absolutely nothing about my life. You know nothing about the love I share with my beloved husband & soulmate; the loving relationships I have with friends and family; the love I have for the things in my life that fulfil and enrich me; and the love I have for the amazing women I have never met — but who have been my lifeline throughout my experience of infertility, pregnancy loss, and involuntary childlessness.

And secondly, even if you did know my innermost thoughts (which you don’t), you cannot speak for anyone else but yourself. Your narrow-minded feelings are your own, you don’t and can’t speak for me and mine. And certainly not for ‘any person in general’ who doesn’t have a child.

2. You never know true love until you have a child’

Another semi-linguistic point. ‘Until’ is another insensitive and hurtful part of that sentence. ‘Until you have a child’ suggests that having a child is an inevitability, that it’s something ‘you just do’, that it’s a universal experience. Newsflash: it isn’t. Many, many people will never have a child. Many of those people are childless not by choice. We desperately wanted to have a child. We wanted it to be part of our own lived experience. But life didn’t turn out that way. There simply is no ‘until’ for us.

3. You never know true love until you have a child’

Why and how do you get to define true love? How can you compare different experiences of love? What does ’true love’ even mean? That every other kind of love is invalid compared to love for your child?

It also makes no sense from a basic logic POV: if the only true love is a parent’s love for their child, then by that definition all love is unrequited! A parent’s true love for their child isn’t truly reciprocated, because their child can only know true love until they have a child. And so on, and so on. Which is a pretty f***ed up way of looking at the world!

In my world, my love for my spouse, family, friends and community is enormous, real and true. I don’t know what my experience of loving a child would be like, but I would hope that it would be a joy that didn’t automatically negate every other experience of love in my life.

There is no higher or lesser form of love, every form of love is unique — regardless of whether you have a child or not.

Love is love.

This was originally published on the World Childless Week website, about Comments that Hurt, as part of #worldchildlessweek

Infertility and the tyranny of positivity


Why you don’t have to join the cult of positive thinking when you’re struggling to have a baby

[ Originally posted on Medium ]

Infertility is shit.

It’s really, really shit.

(Spoiler alert: this isn’t going to be crammed with motivational affirmations about infertility. There also will be swearing. Lots. Though you’ve probably already guessed that bit.)

Infertility can be traumatic, heartbreaking, brutal, and utterly unrelenting.

An oft-cited study exploring the psychological impact of infertility found that depression levels in infertility patients were comparable with patients who had been diagnosed with cancer.

Another study found that 4 in 10 women experienced symptoms of PTSD following a miscarriage.

(Anyone who says ‘ The baby making phase was fun!’ clearly never experienced the joys of infertility.)


The cult of positive thinking

Yet whenever people talk about infertility, any meaningful acknowledgement of the deep emotional distress it causes seems utterly conspicuous by its absence.

The only acceptable narrative is one of positivity. Entertaining any negative thoughts is a cardinal sin. Under no circumstances should you allow yourself to get stressed, sad or anxious. You must remain hopeful and optimistic at all times.

Why telling an infertile person that relaxing will help them get pregnant is a monumentally unhelpful thing to say

Mention that you’re suffering from infertility, and you can pretty much guarantee that someone will mention that fabled medical cure of RELAXING.

(If you’re playing infertility bingo, ‘just relax’ is up there as a high scorer, but has just been edged out of the top spot by everyone’s favourite ‘why don’t you just adopt?’)

If you’ve ever experienced infertility, comments like these will be all too familiar:


Just relax and it’ll happen.

What we hear:

I’m treating your bona fide medical problem with contempt — and yes I know I wouldn’t dare tell a diabetic/cancer sufferer/person with one arm to just relax, but for some reason I think that will fix YOUR medical problem quite easily.


My cousin’s secretary’s sister’s boyfriend’s neighbour and his wife had been trying for 17 years, and had 300 rounds of IVF, and she had blocked tubes, and he had one bollock and a low sperm count, and they were told she’d never get pregnant — so they gave up trying, and went on the adoption list, and went on holiday, and relaxed, and got drunk, and OMG she got pregnant naturally with quadruplets. Never give up!

What we hear:

I have no idea what I’m talking about medically, but I’ll advise you anyway, and spout spurious examples of unrelated cases just because it’s the only story I know. I also think your decision not to continue with ridiculous heart-wrenching and expensive treatments means you obviously don’t want it/aren’t trying hard enough. Shame on you.


Maybe you should take a break — I bet if you just relax, it’s bound to happen. It happened to me. We’d been trying to conceive for 6 months with no luck — then we went on holiday and forgot all about it — and BAM, I fell pregnant. It’ll happen for you when the time is right, I know it will.

What we hear:

My 6 months of not-getting-pregnant-from-some-sex is exactly the same as your years of infertility and multiple rounds of physically, emotionally and financially harrowing fertility treatment. I think that you’re trying too hard, and that all this stress is what’s preventing you from getting pregnant. Surely if it’s not happened by now, even with all this intervention, you must be doing something wrong.

Public Service Announcement: Infertility is classified by the WHO as a ‘disease of the reproductive organs’.

Causes for which include issues like PCOS, endometriosis or fibroids, polyps, blocked fallopian tubes, congenital uterine malformations, pelvic adhesions, high levels of uterine natural killer cells, various autoimmune issues, sperm defects (incl. count, motility, morphology or DNA fragmentation), and chromosomal problems such as balanced translocations (amongst numerous others).

Which, apparently, can all be addressed by the incredible power of positive thinking.

(Curiously, you don’t tend to hear relaxation suggested as a miracle cure for diseases like cystic fibrosis, motor neurone disease, or cancer.)

In my own case, given we’ve tried 4 IVF cycles (& 7 cancelled cycles); pre-implantation genetic screening; a wealth of weird, wonderful, painful (and expensive) investigations; thousands and thousands of £££ on medications via every conceivable route of administration (pills, patches, pessaries, suppositories, subcutaneous injections, intramuscular injections, intravenous drips and intrauterine infusions, to be precise); 2 hysteroscopies, plus the opinions of the best fertility specialists on both sides of the Atlantic (and still no baby)…

…at a guess, I suspect your expert fertility treatment plan of ‘going on holiday & getting pissed’ (whilst no doubt enjoyable) PROBABLY ISN’T GOING TO FIX MY BROKEN WOMB LINING, AND OVERCOME THE FACT I WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO CARRY A CHILD.

(Also, I’ve already tried holidays and getting rat-arsed drunk. Oddly enough, I’m still barren.)

Why it’s even more insidious when clinicians tell you to relax

It’s one thing when ‘well-intentioned-but-desperately-unhelpful’ friends — who don’t know any better — tell you that the reason you’re not getting pregnant is because you’re stressed. But it’s downright cruel when fertility clinics promote the notion that ‘if you’re not thinking positively then you’re decreasing your chances of success’ (the implication being that if treatment fails, you’ve only got yourself to blame).

One leading London fertility clinic states on their website:

There’s no question about it: Your emotional health may on some level affect your ability to conceive. Our thoughts and the way we think determine our emotional and physical state. I feel that negativity and negative thoughts can, at some level, act as a block when trying for a baby.

Another UK clinic advises that:

Positive thinking can be a very powerful tool when it comes to improving your chances of the IVF process resulting in conception.

Stress and anger however, can have a counterproductive effect on IVF treatment, so it’s in your best interests to relieve yourself of these emotions.

Stress has a direct relationship with a woman’s menstrual cycle and the fertility process and may affect your chances of a successful IVF treatment.

A clinic in the Middle East (on a page ambitiously titled “The Power Of Positivity: Believe You Can And You Will!”) counsels against even talking about your fears & doubts:

Surround yourself with people who can listen to you and your journey that have more of a positive approach and avoid discussing the subject with those who make you feel negative.

So, if you’re not already feeling utterly distraught about the entire, soul-destroying process and the relentless failure, now you can beat yourself up about the fact that even the Drs reckon it might be your fault that you’re not getting pregnant — because you’re not being sufficiently cheery and optimistic.

Fertility clinics are a part of a multi-million pound industry, profiting from the delivery of medical treatments to treat physical conditions — treatments which are anything but relaxing. If clinics genuinely believed that stress had a meaningful effect on success rates, they’d be flogging relaxation therapies as a core part of treatment protocols. They’d be prioritising fertility counselling as a critical stage of any IVF cycle — instead of a token afterthought, paying lip service to the HFEA code of practice requiring all UK clinics to provide patients with (optional) access to counselling.

Much better instead to push the positivity agenda (and the blame) back onto the patient. A buy-one-get-one-free special bonus offer on guilt — giving you the chance to feel like a double failure! You thought a problem with your body was the reason you couldn’t have a baby? Well now it turns out the problem’s also with your mind! When you’re picking yourself up off the floor after another failed cycle, desperately looking for answers — perhaps instead of questioning whether the clinic could have done anything differently, maybe you’re to blame? Maybe you sabotaged your chances of success, because you were so fearful and anxious of yet more failure?

Why you don’t need to stress about being stressed

The BMJ (one of the world’s oldest and most well respected medical journals) conducted a broad meta-analysis of the extant research into the thorny question of whether poor psychological wellbeing impacts on fertility outcomes. The paper’s authors concluded that the evidence demonstrated that this theory is — to use the appropriate technical lingo — UTTER BOLLOCKS.

Yep. The snappily-named “Emotional distress in infertile women and failure of assisted reproductive technologies: meta-analysis of prospective psychosocial studies” gathered data from 14 separate studies, which followed over 3,500 women undergoing fertility treatment. It concluded that:

The findings of this meta-analysis should reassure women and doctors that emotional distress caused by fertility problems or other life events co-occurring with treatment will not compromise the chance of becoming pregnant.

See that? Emotional distress will not compromise the chance of becoming pregnant.

Suck on that, positivity vultures!

No doubt the Daily Mail will continue to gleefully run stories like ‘Stress can double the risk of infertility for women’ (unsurprisingly opting for a sensational headline that contradicts the study’s actual findings— helpfully summarised by the NHS here: Study fails to prove effects of stress on fertility)

Perhaps in the future more conclusive evidence will determine that there is in fact a clear causal link between anxiety and infertility outcomes. Maybe we doall need to jump on the positivity bandwagon to have any chance of having a baby.

But for now, Dr Jacky Boivin — who authored the BMJ paper above — advises:

If people are thinking of using some kind of intervention [to treat stress] — and you can go on the Internet and find a million things claiming they’ll get you pregnant — they should be motivated to use them to improve their quality of life rather than to increase their pregnancy rates.

Why it’s OK to reject the cult of positivity

Stress may not cause infertility, but infertility definitely causes stress.

And for many of us, rather than alleviating this anxiety, the tyranny of positivity can make it much, much worse.

I did a shedload of mind-body therapies, all recommended by the top fertility gurus as vital stress-busting techniques to improve one’s chances of success.

These included: fertility acupuncture, positive affirmations, hypnofertility, fertility reflexology, visualisation and guided imagery, specialist meditation for infertility, Mayan abdominal massage, mindfulness colouring books and gratitude lists (amongst others).

  • Did I find them enjoyable and relaxing? No.

  • Did I get frustrated that I was supposed to be feeling relaxed, but didn’t? Yes.

  • Did I feel anxious that I wasn’t ‘doing them right’, because apparently they worked for everyone else? Yes.

  • Did I feel anxious about feeling anxious, because that negated the whole point of doing all this in the first place? Yes.

  • Did I resent them as a colossal waste of money? Yes.

  • Did I ever at any point honestly believe that they would have any impact whatsoever on the outcome of my treatment? No.

I’m a massive cynic. I consider myself a (broadly) rational person. I don’t give much credence to ‘alternative’ medicine. I’m the sort of person who rails against homeopathy, and urges people to read books like Bad Science to understand the importance of evidence-based medicine.

But despite all of this, against my better nature, I did ALL THIS FERTILITY WOO ANYWAY. Because I felt guilty that if I didn’t try hard enough to become a super-chilled, mega-Zen, über-positive, gold star ‘ray of sunshine’ infertile, that it would be my fault if (when) the treatment failed.

The cult of positivity became a stick with which to beat myself.

A positive outlook can be really, really valuable for your overall mental wellbeing. But it’s not a miracle panacea for getting (& staying) pregnant.

Personally, I wish I’d focused more on radical self-care, and less on worshipping at the altar of positivity.

What actually helped me most of all was finding my tribe. Women who were going through the same experience, who understood exactly how I felt. Who shared my exasperation with the whole Pollyanna masquerade. Who acknowledged how unbelievably shit it was, and didn’t offer sentimental platitudes. Who listened without judgement .Who offered empathy, sardonic laughter, sisterhood and support. Who made me feel less alone.

There is no right or wrong way to ‘do’ infertility. Just do whatever you need to do to survive.

If you liked this, then you might also like…

This fantastic episode of the Fertility Podcast about #relaxgate — the backlash against British TV Dr Hilary Jones for his spectacularly uninformed and insensitive comments to a caller who was asking for advice after 5 unsuccessful rounds of IVF: suggesting that (yes, you’ve guessed it) she should ‘just relax’ — and that if she stops thinking about it, a miracle surprise pregnancy might happen naturally. Which, as you can imagine, didn’t go down too well amongst the infertility community.

Well worth a listen:

The Fertility Podcast: Episode 131 — Just relax. What not to say to someone on their TTC journey