Fertility Fest – the heart of Infertility Wood

Mum100-blog-IVF-fertility-fest-london-reviewAmongst the tall trees of Infertility Wood, there is a house called Fertility Fest. I found it last Saturday. From the outside, the house looked inviting – I knew this would be a place of great heart – but still, I was nervous walking in alone.

I was greeted warmly as I stepped inside. “Come in, here’s what we’re doing today, make yourself at home, we understand.” These were the messages I picked up within minutes of arrival. How important the welcome is at events like these. I breathed out. I bought some tea.

As it turned out, there was nothing to fear. I arrived at Fertility Fest at 9.30am and stayed for thirteen hours. It was a sanctuary, the in-person equivalent of the love and support I have found online. The festival was designed to be inclusive. There were sessions covering assisted reproductive technologies (including donor conception), involuntary childlessness, adoption, surrogacy and the male experience. Artistic displays and performances weaved with scientific debate, which made for an energising day. Babies were welcome, because men and women who conceive after infertility still need people who understand.

In the opening session, The Director of Fertility Fest, Jessica Hepburn said, “there are two stories here today – it does work and it doesn’t work – I wanted to bring us all together.” For me, this is such a crucial part of ending the stigma around infertility. We’re all connected through the emotional experience of infertility. Everyone has a valuable story to tell. The idea that the only goal is a smiling baby, and that a smiling baby solves all heartache, is flawed and stigmatising. Neat bows may exist, but they aren’t the typical outcome.

The silence around infertility was addressed throughout the day. Kate Brian from Infertility Network UK asked, “why is infertility so difficult to talk about?” In response, Jessica Hepburn spoke about the unwritten societal rule of keeping quiet about trying to conceive. Generally, people announce pregnancies after the 12 week scan, due to the risk of complications or loss in the first trimester. There is also workplace secrecy around trying to conceive (especially for women who fear career implications), as well as British reserve about discussing sex. All these factors are multiplied when infertility is added to the mix – the silence becomes a wall that can be impossible to break down.

And yet infertility is the most universal and human of subjects. Infertility Network UK estimates over 3.5 million people in the UK are affected – that’s one in six couples. This figure does not include single women or same sex couples, so the true figure is probably higher. Playwright Gareth Farr’s view is that infertility affects people on every street. This belief, as well as his own experience with IVF, led to the creation of The Quiet House, produced by Gabby Vautier. Gareth writes about “normal people in extraordinary situations”. The Quiet House takes us inside the home and intimate desires of Jess and Dylan, a couple going through IVF. We witness their hope, despair, anger, sadness, excitement and courage. Ultimately, we see how the twists of infertility transform their relationship. I related viscerally to how Jess tries to cope with the unknowns of IVF. Jess talks to her future child, for example – something I have done, many times, as a declaration of readiness and love. When Jess implores her embryos to grow, I recalled vividly the hours and days following our egg and sperm collection – how we attempted to conjure sparks of life in our living room and whizz them towards the hospital lab. The Quiet House also depicts Dylan’s experience at work. He struggles to tell his boss the real reason he is unavailable for work commitments. This spoke so much of the emotional stutters in everyday conversations, which have the potential to relieve so much pressure, but often reinforce the silence. The scenes with Jess and neighbour Kim, who has a young baby, were also brilliantly performed – there is a clear connection between the two women, despite the dramatic conflict. I loved this play so much I’m going again – highly recommended.

In a session called The Infertility Experience chaired by Natalie Silverman of The Fertility Podcast, I appreciated the dose of reality about adoption from Anya Sizer. There are as many myths about the presumed ease of adoption as there are about conception. Anya explained that adoption does not solve the pain of infertility, answering eloquently the “just adopt” advice that is so often volunteered as a simple solution for infertility. Anya explained that after unsuccessful IVF, there is a mandatory grieving period of 6 to 12 months for people who wish to adopt. She also highlighted that the general public perception of adoption is a) of a baby and b) a relatively uncomplicated process – when in fact, the average age of an adopted child is four and the process can be very demanding.

In The Third Parent: Donation and Surrogacy, Sarah Esdaile and Kazuko Hohki presented their experience of donor conception, in their forties and fifties. In my IVF process, I have sometimes felt that my choices are narrowing. Until I experienced infertility, I loved getting older. I have resisted so many limiting messages in society towards women – around beauty, for example, and the ability to compete professionally. Since turning 39, however, there have been moments when I have struggled with messages about age-related fertility decline. The speakers’ experiences were refreshing and relaxing. On her pregnancy, Kazuko commented, “it was not an embarrassing panic but a healthy desire.”

In the same session, Fiona Duffelen spoke about becoming a mother through surrogacy. She talked about replacing fear of the unknown with curiosity. She said the three bones you need to survive infertility are a wish bone, a back bone and a funny bone. Fiona’s story will be covered on an ITV documentary later this year – one to watch, for sure.

In the plenary session, The Future of Fertility, the panel and audience debated the merits and pitfalls of egg freezing. There is a 1000% year on year increase in egg freezing. Amanda Gore of The Liminal Space presented her public engagement project, Timeless, which creatively packaged egg freezing as a beauty brand, then set up shop in Old Street tube station. Their aim was to raise awareness about fertility and stimulate public discussion around egg freezing. I enjoyed hearing from Professor Susan Bewley in this session. Susan’s view is that social egg freezing is tantamount to saying, “I’m planning to be infertile”. Susan said that younger women are given toxic messages about getting pregnant (“it will ruin your life” etc), when there is no evidence this is the case. I received exactly those messages as a young woman, raised and educated to believe that pregnancy before a certain age would be a failure, a life half lived. If I do have children, I know not to pass these messages on. 

A big thank you to the organisers of Fertility Fest 2016 and everyone who contributed to a brilliant day. You can listen here to Natalie Silverman’s Fertility Podcast from the festival. Roll on Fertility Fest 2017!

Advertisements

Happy holiday head

I woke up with a fuzzball head – that feeling you get if you’ve stayed up late watching crap TV, gobbling chocolate. There was a swirl in my stomach. I said to Dad 100, “I feel a bit pregnant”. He suggested a group hug.

This slightly pregnant feeling has come and gone today. In the last four weeks, I have learned that symptoms, or lack of them, do not necessarily mean what I think they mean. Tomorrow, our scan will clarify, we hope.

There is an aeroplane landing in Ibiza this evening with two empty seats. We have no regrets about cancelling. It would have been beyond daft to travel to a small island, a boat ride from Ibiza Town, with this question mark about the nature and location of our pregnancy. Formentera can wait.

Soon, I need to look for new work. The money I set aside for time out in IVF1 runs out in August. I’m not sure where the next project will come from but I know that confidence will come by taking even the smallest actions towards work – baby steps are the most creative, after all.

For now, it’s holiday time. So, I’m dedicating this week to happiness.

Reading

Over the weekend, I picked up a fine haul of books at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival. I was drawn to the heightened emotions of gothic tales – Sarah Perry’s After Me Comes the Flood and Eleanor Wasserberg’s debut Foxlowe. Eleanor gave a captivating reading by candlelight in the 16th century Old Church (the only surviving Elizabethan church in London). The setting was ideal for spook and intrigue.

Candelight-Old-Church-Stoke-Newington-Literary-FestivalThe authors also discussed Mary Shelley, including her experiences of loss as a mother – three of Shelley’s four children died in early childhood, from premature birth, dysentery and malaria. There was also Shelley’s own traumatic birth. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, died due to complications in childbirth, when her daughter was just eleven days old. From these beginnings, the birth of Frankenstein seems inevitable – Shelley’s classic gothic tale, conceived 200 years ago.

Sun

After-Me-Comes-The-Flood-Sarah-PerryLondon glowed gold today. I lay on the long grass on the common with the sun on my face and Sarah Perry’s After Me Comes the Flood. This book has incredible atmosphere, eerie and mesmerising. I disappeared into the tale of John Cole, the man who escapes London, only to break down on a country road. He makes his way through pine trees to a house, where to his surprise, he is expected.

Food

I was born a little pig and I shan’t change. Tonight, I’m dreaming of peanut butter, spread on crispy toast, with banana slices. This snack is both disgusting and delicious. It sticks to the roof of my mouth and clogs my teeth – but, my god, when this combo hits the bloodstream, my brain lights up like Blackpool tower.

Sea & travel

Dont-Need-The-Sunshine-John-OsborneThe next best thing to a spa in Formentera is a B&B in Southwold – oh yes it is! At Stokey Lit Fest, we went to an event with writer John Osborne. He read from Don’t Need The Sunshine, his book about the crumbling fascination of British seaside towns. John read a passage where he plays the coin-operated arcade machines on Southwold pier. They are ‘lovingly constructed’ games, with names such as The Chiropodist, The Zimmer Frame Simulator and Walking the Dog.

When we get home from hospital tomorrow, we’re booking an overnight stay. There will be battered cod and fat vinegary chips. We’ll share a side of mushy peas. I will crunch my gherkin alone, however, as Dad 100 thinks they are the preserve of monsters. There will be pier games and ice cream. After dark, we’ll sit on the beach and star gaze.

Who needs Formetera, eh?

Sisters

My IVF sisters are a constant source of happiness. These connections are vital to me. They allow me to find out what I’m really feeling and deal with it. I cannot navigate this strange journey alone. I have booked a ticket for Fertility Fest in London on Saturday 11th June – for some face-to-face time with people who understand.

And I must say thank you to my real sister, Georgie, who reaches out consistently with love and support.

Drawing

Today’s doodle reminded me to focus on what makes me happy.

Mum100-blog-IVF-journey-do-what-makes-you-happy

Music & dancing

This Paolo Nutini song helped to shake off the fuzz this morning. I love the teenage simplicity of the idea that new shoes can fix a rubbish mood – and it’s always good to move my bod to music.

Comedy

I want to laugh until my cheeks hurt this week. Daft cat or monkey videos will probably do the trick tonight. I will also surprise tickle Dad 100 and he will attempt to get me back. Later this week, we’ll find some laughs on Southwold pier.

Sleep

My lifelong love, sleep! I’m an eight hour girl. Life is baffling enough without sleep deprivation – I’ll willingly do my stint at broken nights when my babies arrive, but tonight, I will sleep very well after the fresh air and sunshine.

Hugs

When Dad 100 wraps his arms around me and squeezes tight, the tension flows out of my body. Virtual hugs from friends online relieve mental stress.

Each hug is a jab to infertility’s jaw – BAM!! Sending a big hug to everyone out there who is suffering. Let’s stick together – because as a team, we can knock infertility out.

2 little changes I’ve made after reading “It Starts with the Egg”

Mum100_blog_It_Starts_With_The_Egg_Rebecca_Fett_vitamin_D_plastic_BPA_IVF_fertilityI’ve had a few days now, to absorb all the information in Rebecca Fett’s book – “It Starts with the Egg”. I devoured this book in one sitting because the evidence base was so compelling. I rely far too much on Dr Google, so it was fantastic to read such clear guidance and see how much research Rebecca had studied to draw her conclusions (on the Kindle version of her book, p245 to p303 are the list of references she cites!).

To be honest, the book sent me into a bit of a spin for 24 hours. I thought, right, I have to implement every single one of Rebecca Fett’s recommendations today – ha! Thankfully, common sense has returned and now I have taken a couple of actions, which feel most relevant for me.

Vitamin D spray

I’ve topped up my vitamin supply with some Zita West Vitamin D spray. Here are three quotes from “It Starts with the Egg”, which convinced me this was a good idea – it’s possibly worth getting a test for vitamin D deficiency first, for those with time to play with, but my embryo transfer is just weeks away:

  • “In one of the most compelling studies, which was published in 2012, researchers at Columbia University and the University of Southern California measured vitamin D levels in nearly 200 women undergoing IVF. Of the Caucasian women in the group, the odds of pregnancy were four times higher for women with high vitamin D levels compared to those with a vitamin D deficiency. This trend was not seen in women of Asian ethnicity, but for Caucasian women there was such a powerful difference in the chance of becoming pregnant that it should make anyone about to go through IVF think twice about their own vitamin D levels.”
  • “It is not yet known how vitamin D is involved in fertility, but researchers suspect that one of the ways it may improve fertility is by making the uterine lining more receptive to pregnancy. Specifically, some scientists think that vitamin D deficiency may contribute to infertility by interrupting the estrogen system and also reducing production of antimullerian hormone which is involved in the growth of ovarian follicles. Another enticing clue about the role of vitamin D in fertility is the discovery that there are specific receptors for vitamin D in cells in the ovaries and the uterus.”
  • “It is likely that vitamin D supplements can only improve fertility if you are currently deficient, but a deficiency is surprisingly common, particularly in cooler climates. By some estimates, as much as 36% of the U.S. population is deficient, and the rate nearly doubled from 1994 to 2004. Researchers believe this is largely due to reduced time outdoors and greater use of sunscreen because even though we obtain small amounts from food, the vast majority of vitamin D in the body is made after skin is exposed to sunlight.”

Given the facts that I live in England, I work indoors and it’s been a long cold winter, I’m going for it.

Glass food storage containers

Secondly, I’ve chucked out my tatty plastic storage containers and I’ve bought a glass food storage set. They still have plastic lids, but they are BPA-free (which is the worst offender, according to Fett) and the food will only be in contact with glass. Rebecca writes that as long as you don’t damage the plastic by heating it up or washing with harsh detergents in hot water, then the nasty BPA is less likely to leach out. She suggests washing all plastics in cold water to minimise this.

Other information in “It Starts with the Egg”

There’s so much more good information in “It Starts with the Egg” about phthalates and other toxins, thyroid problems, vitamins, coenzyme Q10, Mediterranean diet, PCOS, DHEA for dimished ovarian reserve, blood sugar and insulin, antioxidants, sperm quality and much more – with basic, intermediate and advanced action plans to follow, if you want to implement suggestions she makes.

Finally, I love the quote Rebecca Fett puts at the start of her action plan chapter:

  • “Forget past mistakes. Forget failures. Forget everything except what you are going to do now and do it” – William Durant

That sums it up for me because according to her book, I have made quite a few mistakes. But that’s alright, because I didn’t know any different!