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Alex’s story – September 2019

I have always known that conceiving would be difficult. I have two hidden disabilities: a complex endocrine condition, which affects sex hormones (growth hormones as a child), cortisol (stress hormone), and salt retention; and Crohns disease, which is inflammation of the bowel. I take six medications every day including two steroids, and have had quite a bit of surgery over the years to manage both conditions.

My fertility journey started at the end of 2009 when my partner and I started trying to conceive. In 2012 I was put on the ovulation drug Clomid for 12 months, and when that didn’t work, we were referred to hospital for a series of tests at a reproductive clinic. The hospital checked his sperm and my fallopian tubes, and everything came back clear – a good result. Following several months of eager anticipation we were put on the waiting list for Intrauterine Insemination (IUI).

For me, IUI started with taking seven days of tablets and then inducing a medical menopause with a nasal spray (given to men with testicular cancer), taken five times a day. This was used to down regulate my hormones, so the ovulation drugs could be managed more effectively. Once the hospital was happy the nasal spray had done its job (after about two weeks), I started to inject myself in the upper thigh with gonadotropin (used to stimulate follicle growth) every evening, whilst continuing with the nasal spray. This was a lot to manage on top of all my normal medications and meant I ended up having eight alarms set on my phone as reminders to take everything I needed to!

The injections went on for over two weeks with early morning hospital appointments every other day. A nurse took blood and another did an internal examination of my follicles and endometrium (womb lining). The tests were okay, but waiting in a room full of pregnant women and their happy partners was not. After 19 days of injecting myself and sitting in various waiting rooms I was booked in for my first IUI procedure.

We were optimistic first time round – how could it not work? We’re putting both things in the same place; what could possibly go wrong? We were incredibly upbeat and excited about the whole thing; after all we had been waiting for treatment for over six months, and trying to conceive for nearly 4 years.

As I lay in a special chair in an undignified position, the nurse prepared to induce me with my partner’s sperm. It was over quickly and was relatively painless. We left feeling positive and convinced it had worked. Unfortunately we found out three weeks later that it hadn’t. We’ll never know whether it was a very early miscarriage because I didn’t have the heart to do a test. All I knew was that I was in a lot of pain, my bowel was upset, and my heart had been broken. It hurt like nothing else. My chance of being a mummy had been taken from me.

Not wanting to delay I called the hospital and started the whole process again, after a mandatory 21 day break. The second time was awful from the beginning; I was a wreck from the first cycle of treatment and hadn’t given myself the space to recover mentally or physically. But, being strong and having already dealt with a lot of medical problems in the past I wanted to persist, confident that my efforts would pay off and we’d have the family we deserve.

The process was the same, but I knew that it wasn’t going to work. We were rushed into the procedure because there was a bank holiday which messed up our timings. It was very painful and we sobbed as I was induced. We knew this wasn’t to be and we were right. The effect on my wellbeing was enormous; I hurt badly and was giving up on everything. What is the point I

kept asking myself? What did I do to deserve this on top of everything I’d already been through? I was unwell for about a year and problems relating to my existing health conditions were apparent. I was forced to take some time out to get better.

After a 12 month break I referred myself to see a top consultant endocrinologist who specialises in fertility. He put me on a high dose of different steroids in place of my usual steroids to try and induce ovulation. Unfortunately it made me very ill again and after 9 months of treatment I was struggling with depression, anxiety, and significant weight gain. I was a mess and on antidepressants to counteract what was happening to me. I was having breakdowns and crying all the time for no reason. The final straw was breaking down in floods of tears at the hospital pharmacy where I proceeded to collapse onto the floor. I knew in my heart that I had to stop.

It’s now 2019 and although we’ve been tempted to try again, life has conspired against us with my partner being seriously ill for several years; in and out of hospital. Sadly I have had to try and accept that I won’t be a biological parent. It’s not a decision that anyone wants to make, but I know I have to listen to my body, and try and find other things in life to give it meaning and purpose. It’s not easy, but I know I’m not alone.

If you need support for yourself or someone you know, please email the Fertility Support Group. It is a closed Yammer group for people experiencing the difficulties associated with infertility, fertility treatment and pregnancy loss. It provides a confidential and safe space to talk, and seek advice from peers. Women and men are welcome. The group is launching new guidance for managers to help them support their staff through fertility treatment, and pregnancy loss.

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Read Tori’s Blog

Trying to conceive can be a lonely and isolating place

As is the way for many, my fertility struggles crept up on me. I slid into being 1 in 8 when I wasn’t looking. I’d never had any reason to think there’d be a problem, my periods had always been regular and I was fit and healthy. I have curvy hips which once prompted a friend to say ‘You look like you’d get pregnant easily’. This made me smile at the time, as we’d only just embarked on our trying to conceive journey and I believed it’d be true. Each month we’d eagerly await the time we could reliably test, analyzing every possible early pregnancy symptom, which cruelly are very similar to symptoms of your period arriving. Each month we felt just a little crushed at the sight of that one line. Were we doing it right? Why wasn’t it working?

As the months passed by, hopefulness and excitement slowly morphed into frustration, fear, and eventually, obsession. I would dream of seeing two lines on a white stick and of having a lovely round belly, full of a baby. Then I’d wake and feel grief wash over me. Then guilt. I hadn’t lost anything; I didn’t have any right to feel grief. I needed to get a grip. I could do better than that. And anyway, it was probably just a matter of time. Sadly, I’m sure this cycle of thinking will be familiar to many. It’s not helpful that we beat ourselves up for feeling sad about something that is sad.

I spent two and a half years struggling to manage my obsession with getting pregnant. It affected my whole life in ways I would never have anticipated. Trying to conceive, for good or bad, became my sole purpose. When I was standing in the queue in a coffee shop, my mind would be going over dates and calculations, working out the optimum time to have sex. When I was in a meeting at work, I would be arguing with myself about whether to take a pregnancy test a day earlier than I’d decided to allow myself to. On the train home, I was wondering whether I should have done that shoulder stand for an extra two minutes, as that could have been the one thing that made the difference between my dreams coming true and trudging on in this state of semi-existence.

The trying / struggling to conceive journey can be a lonely and isolating place. It’s not easy to talk about; people don’t know what to say. If you’re a stressed-out parent with a toddler who’s causing havoc in a supermarket, you can exchange wry smiles with other parents, the older generation who’ve been there, or basically anybody else who happens to be around.

Being a parent is hard work but feeling frustrated because your child won’t put down the bag of sweets and move on to the shampoo aisle or being exasperated because your child has thrown their food all over the floor (again), are actually Good Problems to Have. I say this because they’re relatable. You can use them to bond with others, they make good anecdotes and you know that however annoying these things are at the time, you’re blessed to be experiencing them.

Infertility is a Bad Problem to Have. When you’re self-consciously brushing tears from your cheeks, overcome with emotion in the nappy aisle, there’s nobody there rolling their eyes with you or offering an understanding smile. When you have to leave the room because someone has announced their pregnancy and they’ve only been trying a couple of months, you’re pulling yourself together alone in the toilets. This doesn’t make an amusing anecdote over dinner with friends, later. It makes people uncomfortable. I want to change that. I want it to be okay to say ‘hey, I’m struggling to get pregnant and it’s tough’ and for people to know what to say back.

In the end it was a matter of time for us. And also a matter of medical intervention. God bless IVF for giving us our beautiful daughter. We’re blessed to have our happy ending, but the struggle to get there changed me and I found I had an overwhelming urge to write it all down, to share my story with the many, many others for whom the struggle is still real.

In April this year, I published my book Warrior. My warts and all account of my journey to conceive. My hope is that it may make some fellow sufferers feel a bit less alone, a bit less like they’re going insane and maybe raise a few smiles and laughs along the way. My little contribution to the struggling to conceive community.

Love Tori x

Purchase a copy of Warrior here
Check out Tori’s blog
Instagram – ToriDayWarrior
Twitter – @ToriDayWrites


Simply Fertility’s Embryologist and Laboratory Director Andy Glew looks back at four decades of fertility treatment

As National Fertility Week gets ready to celebrate 40 years since the birth of the first IVF baby, Simply Fertility’s Embryologist and Laboratory Director Andy Glew looks back at four decades of fertility treatment:

“My career started in 1984 when I was given the opportunity to work in a government funded institute specialising in animal reproduction and genetic research.  My position was funded by Professor Iain Craft, a pioneer in IVF treatment, and I soon found myself working in some of the most prestigious private hospitals across London.

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Lorraine Smullen talks about 40 years of IVF

The Times of an Embryologist

Lorraine Smullen, expert in Embryology at The Hewitt Fertility Centre, who has been involved in the treatment of patients born in the 1950’s right through to the 1990’s, tells us about the changes she has seen in Embryology over the years.

When did your Embryology career begin?

In 1989, at the Royal Liverpool Hospital ACU, where the workforce was just 5, a much smaller team than the 130 we have today. I moved with the team from the ACU across to the Liverpool Women’s Hospital when the centre became the RMU in 1995, later to be renamed The Hewitt Fertility Centre. ‘Embryologist’ wasn’t a job title back then so we took on university posts initially.

What are the biggest differences you have seen in the lab?

The most significant change that has occurred in embryology was the introduction of double witnessing, in the beginning you were your only witness, whereas now every stage is verified by either a second embryologist or a radio frequency identity tag.

Media was made by us in the lab, we purified our own water and used plasma from each female patient’s blood collected two days prior to her egg collection, worlds away from now ordering in CE marked media from manufacturers. We also pulled our own pipettes over bunsen burners and used our mouths to pipette before tools called Bibijets were introduced.

We were limited to culturing embryos to day 2, and on this day we would ordinarily transfer 4 embryos. Multiple pregnancy rates were high at this time so we reduced this to 3 embryos, then to 2 when culture media was developed to culture embryos to day 3. Now culture media has allowed for culture to day 6 and following the HFEA ‘One at a time’ initiative to reduce multiple pregnancy rates, single embryo transfer is the most common practice.

What could you not be without now in the modern day lab?

ICSI (Intracytoplasmic sperm injection). Before this was introduced, IVF was the only option for all patients, all sperm samples were prepared by layering the sample underneath media, allowing the good sperm to swim up, we would then take the ‘hazy layer’ from the tube and mix this directly with the eggs. This was extremely frustrating when sperm quality was poor and therefore fertilisation rates were low.

Our lead consultant returned from an overseas conference telling us about an exciting new technique he had learned of, we jumped on board and ordered in an ICSI rig. Although again, we had to make our own needles for this in the beginning, I specifically remember one occasion spending so much time and care making a perfect holding pipette, then just as I had my eureka moment, I dropped it on the floor! Once manufactured pipettes were introduced we began to see fertilisation from ICSI and now this is routinely used for patients with poorer sperm samples.

What other revolutionary changes you have seen?

When freezing and thawing came in, this meant we could store surplus embryos of good quality and offer patients the option of frozen cycles. Most recently timelapse has been introduced where we can monitor embryo development via cameras within the incubators, not only meaning that the embryos are undisturbed until they are removed from the incubator for transfer or freezing, but also we have a wealth of information on each embryo and can use this as a selection tool for which embryo is best.

Finally, could you tell us one thing you miss from the old days?

Due to small patient numbers we would know every patient by name and enjoyed afternoon tea with them on the day’s in-between their appointments!

Many thanks to Lorraine for sharing her IVF memories with us for National Fertility Awareness Week 2017.

21 km walk along the Cotswold Way

On Saturday 11 November Antonia Rodriguez, Rachel Watson, Johanne Young & Kath Lambert set out to walk a section of the Cotswold Way. Despite the cold and wet weather they continued on in the mud and rain for over 21kms, rising both funds and awareness for National Fertility Awareness Week.

Released: 12 November 2017

2017: 40th anniversary of IVF success

#IVFis40 #TalkFertility #NFAWUK

Local Antonia Rodriguez and Kath Lambert plus a couple of friends took on the Cotswolds Way on Saturday 11th November to join forces with leading national patient charity Fertility Network UK to raise funds and awareness for the charity which has recently had its National Fertility Awareness Week (30 Oct – 5 Nov 2017) which this year is celebrating 40 years since IVF’s first success and getting people talking about the real facts about fertility.

Antonia and Kath walked a section of the Cotswolds Way starting at Chipping Campden taking on its hilly terrain with thick mist and wet and muddy conditions.

Aileen Feeney, chief executive of Fertility Network UK said: ‘On 10 November 1977, IVF worked: nine months later on 25 July 1978, the world’s first IVF baby, Louise Brown was born. Since then a quarter of a million UK babies have been born by IVF.  We are encouraging everyone touched by IVF to share their #IVFis40 memories – patients, IVF children and professionals.’

‘At the heart of the week was #TalkFertility – getting people talking about the real facts about fertility. Share our fertility myths and help shatter some common misconceptions about fertility and age, men and whether you can expect to pay for IVF, and download our fertility etiquette guide looking at what to say, what not to say and how best to provide support for loved ones facing fertility issues.’

‘The results of our #FertilityFellas survey will be revealing the truth about men and fertility, our funding campaign #IVFGoldStandard is demanding change to make access to NHS IVF services fair for all, and our fantastic fundraisers are joining the #FertilityCycle 5K challenge.’

‘In the UK, 1 in 6 couples experience the pain of infertility. Even if you don’t have direct experience, you probably know someone who does – a family member, friend or work colleague. We hope people will join us during National Fertility Awareness Week and after raising funds, improving awareness, providing support and changing perceptions about fertility issues.’

National Fertility Awareness Week: providing support, improving awareness, raising funds and changing perceptions