inviTRA Fertility Fair – Madrid, Spain

vectorial invitra logoIf you’re in the Madrid area and are thinking about or are embarking on fertility treatments, the inviTRA Fertility Fair might be for you. Open between 14 and 16 November at the Melia Hotel (avenida de América), you’ll find a wealth of information from many national and international providers. The perfect event for anyone considering treatment with all the objective information you need in one place, as well as access to stands and conferences in which specialists will illustrate the fertility treatments, and talk through all the options available for patients.

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Fertility Specialist Mr Paul Serhal on ITV’s This Morning

Here’s a link to an appearance by Mr Serhal of The Centre for Reproductive and Genetic Health (formerly the Assisted Conception Unit at University College Hospital) on ITV’s This Morning programme on Thursday 16th October 2014.

Mr Serhal and the team feature in my book – if it wasn’t for them it wouldn’t exist!


An A to Z of IVF, Part 6 (U to W)

U     Understanding
On your part, understanding the treatment cycle, what it involves and some of the technical and medical jargon and procedures behind it can help you to feel slightly more in control of your destiny than you would otherwise. On the part of your partner, family and friends, they need to understand that you’ll require as much support and consideration they can give, for as long as you need it. Don’t be afraid of telling them that – the onus is on them to be concerned about you, not the other way around.

V     Visualisation
As well as taking time to visualise yourself being pregnant, and ultimately holding and being with your baby, it also helps to envisage each step of the treatment cycle too. Think about what’s happening to your body when you take the hormonal suppression drugs, picture the follicles producing the eggs when you’re on the stimulation phase, and during the two week wait visualise the embryo implanting and growing inside your womb. There are special CDs that can facilitate this if you find it difficult to do. Try the cliché of visualising yourself on a desert island surrounded by gently lapping waves when you find yourself on the treatment table before egg collection and transfer. It’s cheesy, but it can work.

W     Waiting
You’ll feel as if your whole life has turned into one long wait. You seem to spend your time just waiting for this that or the other to happen, then when it does it’ll be replaced by another version of the same. Know and accept that it will be a part of your life for quite some time, especially the dreaded ‘two week wait’. Implement your plan for relaxation whenever you know there’s a defined period of waiting approaching – or make a point of keeping your mind occupied. It makes everything go by much, much quicker.

Last day tomorrow . . . X to Z

An A to Z of IVF, Part 5 (Q to T)

Q     Questions
There will be an awful lot of these, both of the medical profession, and of yourself. You can never have too many so don’t be put off by asking whatever you like. You may feel as though you’re being a burden, especially where your clinic or doctor is concerned. Don’t worry about that – it’s exactly what they’re there for. If you feel more comfortable log on to on of the fertility support forums – Fertility Friends is a good one. There’ll always be someone there to answer your queries, no matter how trivial you feel they may be.

R     Relaxation
I know, everyone tells you to ‘just relax’ when you’re going through IVF, as if that alone means the treatment will work. It is incredibly annoying at the very least being told that all the time, and I’m the last person to advocate such a simplistic solution. However, what it can do is aid the release of stress which not only gives your mind a break but your body too, so it’s worth keeping in mind. Try not to whizz about so much – if you work, when you come home just switch off and forget the chores for a while. It doesn’t matter if the house isn’t tidy all of the time. Read a book, go for a walk, meet your friends. Relaxation CDs can be useful too giving you a way to escape for a while. Do whatever works for you, and never feel guilty if that means just vegging out in front of the TV.

S     Support
From your partner, your family, your friends. Tell as many or as few people as you wish. If you can’t handle everyone knowing what you’re going through then tell only a select few who you know you can trust. On the other hand, if you cope better having a wide pool of friends you can call on in times of stress, go for it. Do ensure, however, that those you tell are accepting and supportive of you, your partner, and your decision to go through with IVF. The last thing you need is insensitive comments and probing questions.

T     Therapy
You may feel like talking or you may feel like you’re the only person who’s ever been where you are now and want to curl up and disappear for the duration. Professional, outside help can be a good idea – your clinic may be able to put you in touch with a counsellor to help you through it. I was given the chance and initially didn’t take it, but after some thought I realised that it could be of benefit so I took the offer. Offloading your emotions to someone neutral to your situation really can work – they aren’t going to judge you or make assumptions, and can offer a clear and rational opinion and suggest ways to cope. Therapy could also mean of the stress-reducing kind, so if you have time and the finances allow it why not try a gentle head massage, facial or acupuncture too?

Tomorrow . . . U to W

An A to Z of IVF, Part 4 (M to P)

M    Music
Uplifting or relaxing, music can play a large part in your IVF treatment cycle. If you’re feeling stressed the right music can take you away to a place where you can forget about everything going on around you, at least temporarily. Music therapy has been used for years to help improve mood and restore energy, and soothing rhythms can calm your mind, regulate your heart rate and help you to breathe easier. I found it an invaluable tool in coping with the stress of IVF.

N     Nutrition
Eating well is an absolute must. That’s not to say you can’t afford yourself the odd treat – we’re humans not saints after all! It’s important to remember though that what we put in our bodies really does affect us physically, mentally and even emotionally. It’s probably a good idea to avoid too much junk food in general, but a burger every now and then isn’t going to make any difference whatsoever, especially if you make one yourself at home using organic meat if possible. It goes without saying that the bulk of your diet should come from the usual suspects – vegetables, fruit and grains. Don’t forget a small amount of dairy too. It’s never a good idea to omit complete food groups – just go for moderation. If cooking isn’t usually your thing why not buy a cookbook with easy and quick to make recipes? You’ll have fun putting ingredients together and maybe learn a new skill too, and that’s always a good thing.

O     Optimism
In the beginning you’ll probably be full of positivity and optimism hoping that your very first cycle will be successful. Often it is, and the emotional risk of multiple treatments is minimised. If, however, your first cycle is negative you may find that optimism starts to wane, just a little. The longer it takes and the more treatment you have, the harder it can get to remain in a positive frame of mind. Whilst cautious optimism is recommended, try to also be a realist. Your chances do increase with each cycle i.e. the more you do, the greater the odds of success. Keep that in mind and it will help to balance your view when you’re feeling low.

P      Plan B
It’s a good idea to make alternative plans for if your treatment doesn’t work and you find yourself unable to carry on with further cycles for whatever reason. Hopefully you won’t need one, but having something else to focus on so that you know there is something new and exciting in your future regardless is a huge help. Try and make a plan that involves something you wouldn’t normally do otherwise, but that is still achievable. If your treatment is successful that’s fantastic, but if not having something alternative to work towards can be beneficial.

Tomorrow … Q to T

An A to Z of IVF, Part 3 (I to L)

I    Irrationality
IVF patients can develop a tendency to read anything into everything. What if this and what if that, your thoughts can be incredibly difficult to deal with and you may feel like you’re going crazy. When emotions are involved it’s always more of a struggle to try and look at things in a straightforward, logical fashion.  If you find yourself getting carried away in your thoughts try and distract yourself by doing something detailed that keeps your mind occupied.  Sleep is always good too – it gives your head time to dispel the cloudiness. Alternatively, write your fears or questions down then look at them again later and see how you answer your original thoughts. Sometimes all it needs is a little time to clear your head.

J    Journal
Keep one. It may seem unnecessary at the time but at the very least it will help you to get all your thoughts and feelings out of your head. Just the act of writing things down is therapeutic in itself and it may help later on if you find yourself struggling with negative cycles – it is a form of stress relief. It could also help others to understand what you’re going through, if you feel like sharing it.

K    Knowledge
Generally a good thing – the act of researching and finding out about your/your partner’s condition and the type of treatment you’re having can be a huge help. It’s also good to read about other people’s experiences as it can give you some comfort knowing that everything you’re feeling and going through is completely normal. It can also boost your mood reading about people who have had successful cycles, and give you reassurance that other people have gone on to fulfilling lives regardless of whether their cycles worked. It’s not easy to do that when you’re in the midst of things; just being mindful of it is enough at the time. You should also be sure to research anything of a medical nature carefully, and don’t draw conclusions in isolation – I didn’t always do that and found myself in a spiral of unnecessary panic on many occasions. Try and keep what you learn in perspective – at the end of the day your situation is totally unique and what is true of one person’s experience may not be entirely true of yours.

L    Loneliness
If you tend to internalise your emotions, loneliness is a real risk. If you’ve chosen to tell friends and family what you’re going through then you may be able to avoid it. There will always be an element of loneliness though, due to the nature of IVF and the fact that it’s your body it’s happening to. If you find it getting out of hand try and talk to someone. Use the infertility/fertility forums online – they can be very effective in providing an outlet and making you feel less alone.

Tomorrow … M to P

An A to Z of IVF, Part 2 (E to H)

E   Exercise
Not only will exercise release those feel-good endorphins, it will also force you to concentrate on something else for a while. If you’re really active it might be wise to take it down a notch though – moderate exercise is probably best i.e. avoid that trampoline in the garden for the time being. Walking is a great exercise and if you can do it for an hour or so every day that’s great. Do, however, make sure your body has time to rest – IVF is physically very demanding.

F   Faith (in the process)
When you’re in the driving seat of the IVF process you really are in ‘last chance saloon’. It is usually the last resort in a bid to become a biological parent, and whilst it is easy to have unrealistic expectations it is equally as easy to get lost in the very real possibility of having to remain childless. What you really must have though is faith in the process itself. Look at the statistics for your age range and circumstances, weigh up your odds based on how many cycles you think you may be able to go through. Visit as many clinics as you can and base your decision on which to choose on the environment and how comfortable you feel, as well as their success rates. When you’ve made that decision, put your trust in the doctors – they will do everything they can to help you achieve a positive outcome. Probably most of all have faith in you.

G   God
If religion plays a large part in a person’s life they may struggle with the decision of IVF in the first place, never mind the worry of how they may be judged by others. If the moral and ethical questions have been considered and still the path has been chosen, then for some, their beliefs keep them strong during the process.  For others, they may choose to find their strength in alternative ways. It doesn’t matter what you do – the important thing is that you’re comfortable with your decision.  No-one will be judging or deciding whether treatment is to be successful or not; the outcome is purely down to science.

H   Hope – and its opposite, hopelessness
You will, I guarantee, find yourself flitting between the two extremes of hope and hopelessness more times than you ever thought possible. You will be full of excitement and positivity one minute then come crashing down with sheer desperation the next. This is completely normal, and it will pass. Hope will not guarantee anything but it will keep you going when you thought all was lost. Don’t lose sight of that, and never give up.

An A to Z of IVF, Part 1 (A to D)

To coincide with National Infertility Awareness Week I thought it might be useful to post a daily update with some nuggets of advice about how to cope if you find yourself on the IVF path. Based on an article I wrote for the Irish Daily Star newspaper, today’s post covers A to D:

A   Acceptance
When you’re first told that you need medical help to have a family one of your first reactions could be that of disbelief. It will take some time to sink in, but the sooner you can come to terms with accepting that ‘it is what it is’, the sooner you can start to think ahead and be proactive and positive about what you need to do next. It is hard as all you can see initially is the huge mountain you need to climb, but that feeling will pass when you’re ready for it to. Don’t rush it. Let each stage take its course and you’ll find that you’ll know when you’re ready for the next step in the process.

B   Blame
To be avoided at all costs as the only thing it does is waste emotional energy.  You’ll more than likely want something or someone to blame for the situation you find yourself in, whether that’s discovering you need treatment, or getting a negative pregnancy test afterwards – it’s human nature to want to find a reason. By all means allow yourself the indulgence of thinking about the unfairness of it all – I spent many days doing exactly that – but recognise that ultimately it is no-one’s fault; least of all yours.

C   Crying
If, like me, you’re quite an emotional person, crying will be par for the course. It’s important not to try and suppress it whenever it hits, even if you’re in the middle of the fruit and veg aisle at Sainsbury’s! There could be any number of triggers that set you off, most of which will be completely out of your control, so when it happens just go with it. You’ll feel a whole lot better afterwards.

D   Doubt
You may have lots of doubts when you learn that you need fertility treatment – the emotional, mental and physical impact, the worry of whether it will work or not, the concerns about having to take so much strong medication; the list is endless. It may be difficult to recognise your real feelings about treatment as your head can very quickly get overloaded with information and questions that it leaves you no space to think. Give it a little time though and you will know whether the IVF route is the one for you. You will probably always have doubts of some description throughout the process, but your heart will guide you through, whichever path you’ve chosen.

Tune in tomorrow for E to H …