Counselling for Infertility and Miscarriage
I have been practising as a Specialist Fertility Counsellor since 1996 and work privately from my practice room in Bristol. I also offer counselling by Skype or phone.
Whilst working for twelve years at the Centre for Reproductive Medicine, a private clinic in Bristol, I gained a wealth of experience in the field of fertility counselling. In 2008 I continued to practice in this area at BCRM, a state of the art specialist fertility unit based at Southmead Hospital, Bristol.
I also see patients privately who are attending the Bristol Fertility Clinic - a new private fertility unit based at The Spire Hospital.
Experiences associated with being unable to have the baby you desire
Undergoing fertility investigations and treatment or experiencing the loss of a much wanted pregnancy can engender powerful and sometimes overwhelming feelings and affects so many aspects of your life. If you recognise any of the feelings or experiences listed below, you might find it helps to talk it through with someone who is impartial and understands:
Tearfulness, unable to control emotions
Overwhelming feelings of sadness and loss
Distress and jealousy when friends and relatives become pregnant
A sense of failure and inadequacy, loss of confidence
Feeling left out, left behind, isolated, not part of the mainstream of life
Anger, bitterness and frustration at a situation you cannot control
Sex is no longer fun — it’s a baby-making process
Feeling out of control of events and emotions
Loss of identity, purpose, meaning
Stress and strain within your relationship and communication difficulties
A sense of being punished, singled out
Not able to decide when to stop treatment
Being in limbo, life on hold
Earlier feelings of disappointment or loss resurfacing
Family pressure to have children and/or produce a grandchild
~ HOW I MAY BE ABLE TO HELP YOU ~
Talking things through with an impartial third party who has expertise in this specialist field can help you to find ways of coping emotionally; explore the way forward when you don’t know what to do; make difficult decisions; and gain understanding and insight into yourself, your relationship and your situation.
The experience and empathy I have developed from my work over many years may be of help to you by providing the kind of support that enables you to face and manage the worry, disappointment, stress and grief that is associated with trying to have a baby – or having to move on if the longed-for baby does not arrive.
I have listed below the range of situations you may be finding yourselves in and for which you may be considering getting emotional support.
Fertility tests, investigations and treatments
Having counselled people who are undergoing investigations or who are going through various fertility or assisted conception treatments I have developed a considerable understanding of the emotional difficulties that such treatments engender and the way in which it can affect so many aspects of your life.
If you are in a relationship and you are feeling the strain, I can help you understand yourself and your partner better - and explore how the different ways in which you may be coping with what you are facing is affecting you both.
Miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy or recurrent pregnancy loss
I also support women and their partners who have had a miscarriage or who are suffering multiple miscarriages. People’s feelings vary after a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy, so what the loss of your baby means to you will be very personal to you. It can be extremely sad and can also be traumatic and frightening, and for some the grief is very hard to bear. So I offer you the opportunity to talk freely and openly about the loss of your longed-for baby or babies, and to mourn that loss in your own way.
Trying for a baby as a solo mum
I support women who have chosen to try for a baby without a partner, using donor sperm . Often the decision to go it alone comes about from them having delayed parenthood for various reasons until their mid to late thirties and early forties, finding themselves without a partner when the desire for a child is growing by the day and will not go away. For older women this may also involve the need for double donation (donor eggs as well as donor sperm) if her own fertility is now waning.
Deciding on single motherhood can be a difficult and sad decision for some, and emotional support may be helpful to work through the various ethical, emotional, financial and practial issues associated with such a major life decision. I can offer support whilst women think about what to do, what clinic to use, and help them explores their feelings about being a single mum using a donor. This can include how she plans to balance her family life with her career, what support she has, and her hopes that, despite having no partner at this time, a relationship can and will still happen in the future.
Grieving and relinquishing a genetic baby of your own
It is extremely shocking and distressing to discover that you will never be able to have a baby using your own genetic DNA .
This can come after a diagnosis of Premature Ovarian Insufficiency (POI) whereby a woman's ovaries are no longer able to produce eggs of good enough quality to conceive a healthy pregnancy; or after a diagnosis of Azoospermia whereby a man discovers he is not producing sperm at all. Or you may be infomed that it is extremely unlikely pregnancy will ever happen naturally or even though assisted conception.
Having to relinquish something as fundamental as having a baby that is genetically yours and to consider using the genes of another man or woman (sperm or egg donors) can be extremely difficult and involves a sometimes lengthy period of grieving and adjustment.
I can support you through that mourning process and help you explore any fears, concerns or worries you may have about embarking on such a path.
Undergoing assisted conception or donor conception treatment outside the UK
Often clinics abroad do not offer counselling. There are some important issues and implications that need to be considered if you are having or considering having treatment outside of the UK.
You may feel you do not need to speak to a counsellor about your decision, but there may be things you have not considered - or feel you can face later if ever the need arises. However, it never hurts to have a counselling session just to ensure you have explored everything thoroughly before going ahead with such an important step.
Having to make the difficult decision to terminate a much wanted pregnancy
Each year 1,800 pregnancies are terminated due to foetal abnormalities but those who have faced such an agonising decision find it is it is rarely discussed. And yet couples do want to talk about it and so find themselves feeling lonely and isolated in this tragic experience.
No couple wants to make such a decision and the depth of pain and guilt can be indescribable – and even more so if the couple had finally conceived after a number of unsuccessful IVF treatments.
Antenatal Results and Choices (ARC) offer specialist support in this field (click here for the ARC website for specialist support) but I will be very happy to offer counselling if it can be helpful to you.
I offer counselling to women and their partners who have one child but for whom a longed-for second child is eluding them. This is a difficult position to be in in society because a woman will often feel guilty that she already has one child and feels she should be grateful for that (after all, some people are struggling to even have one baby).
And yet, I know that the desire for a second baby and a sibling for your child is the most natural thing in the world – and the feelings of grief can be almost as powerful and palpable as they are for someone trying unsuccessfully for their first baby.
Women with a toddler or young child cannot avoid witnessing all around them the joy as the mother’s of their child’s friends get pregnant with their second and sometimes third babies.
There is little recognition for women and couples who find themselves in this situation and so I can offer a chance for you to express your sorrow and guilt – or whatever feelings you may be having - about not being able to have another baby.
Ending or not starting fertility treatment
It can be very difficult if you find you are unable to conceive a child either because you have decided not to have treatment at all, or because you need to decide to stop having any more fertility treatment, or because you may be finding that you are unable to have fertility treatment at all for some reason. All of these possibilities can be hugely challenging emotionally and so you may find it helpful to talk everything through with someone who can support you through such a difficult time while you grieve and then find a way to move on.
Considering adoption or deciding not to adopt
I have a great deal of experience working with couples around the emotional difficulties facing them if the wanted baby never came, and exploring with them the grief they experience for the lost family of their own.
Although well-meaning people may assume that if you can’t have a baby the natural solution will be simply to adopt, this does not acknowledge what it means to have to let go of ever having a child or family that is genetically yours, or for a woman to accept that she will never experience pregnancy or giving birth and that she will never be able to share the joy of that life-event with all the friends and family around her.
Nor does this simple piece of advice recognise that creating a family by adoption is not necessarily an easy decision to make or simple step to take – or even that both of you want the same thing in terms of adoption. If you and your partner find yourselves in this position I can support you as you work your way through the emotional issues associated with this difficult decision and process.
Some couples may decide in the end that adoption is not for them, or may sadly not be accepted as adoptive parents. And so, after many years of trying for a baby, they find themselves having to face the fact that they will never have the family they wanted or be the parents they always imagined and hoped they would be.
The grief of finding yourself in this position whilst all around you are are giving birth to their first, second and sometimes third children, cannot be underestimated. And if I can offer emotional support at such an incredibly difficult time I would be very glad to do so.
Facing childlessness and experiencing the grief of having no children in the later stages of life
If you never had a child and you are finding it hard at a particular stage of your life, then please don’t hesitate to contact me to make an appointment to talk through what it means to you not to have had a family.
Fertility and Miscarriage Support
Many couples feel the pressure and stress when trying to conceive or when suffering ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage.
I can explore with you a range of tools and coping strategies to help you help yourself during what can sometimes be very emotionally challenging times.
These can be tailored to suit your own situation and needs and include: -
Exploring and improving your own natural coping mechanisms
Developing strategies to deal with particularly challenging aspects of fertility treatment or pregnancy loss
Looking at ways to cope with other problems in your life, work, family etc that are impinging on or affecting your fertility treatment or your ability to have a baby
Mindfulness breathing for stress reduction
Self-hypnosis to help with sleep, anxiety and low self-esteem (see below for more
If you are in a relationship, exploring the differences in the way you and your
partner cope in order to understand yourselves and each other better
Communication techniques to help improve communication between you as a couple so as to help reduce any stresses and strains in the relationship
You can come for a session or two of stress support as and when you need to or I can provide a specifically designed programme tailored to addresses the aspects in your life you are finding difficult.
I use hypnosis both to heighten the therapeutic benefit of counselling and also as a stress management self-help tool.
In particular hypnosis can help:
Alleviate the stress, distress and worry that can accompany fertility treatment or fears that a baby will never come after a miscarriage or miscarriages
Improve difficulties with sleeping due to worry and anxiety; and can also be used to help with fears of needles and anxiety around medical procedures.
Work on your self esteem that may have been damaged by the inability to become a parent in the way that seems so effortless for others
Build self-confidence in anxiety-provoking situations
Reduce and even eliminate self-limiting fears in a simple, natural and effortless way.
Feel free to enquire for more information or make an appointment:
Telephone or text: 07847 263 794
Email: [email protected]
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MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT STRESS AND PREGNANCY
We all know that stress affects the ability to get pregnant and remain pregnant, right?
“But surely,” I hear you say, “everyone knows that you need to be stress-free in order to conceive or maintain a pregnancy?” Why else would everyone you know tell you to relax and reduce your stress levels when you explain to them you’re struggling to conceive, or finding it difficult to stay pregnant?
Many women who are experiencing fertility issues or multiple miscarriages believe that emotional stress and distress, or the tensions arising from difficult life-events, are factors in them not getting pregnant naturally, or succeeding with fertility treatment, or maintaining a pregnancy.
This view is largely based on anecdotal evidence and fertility myths such as 'don't think about it and you'll get pregnant', or “you just need to take a holiday/work less/relax more” etc. Plus there’s loads of information on the internet that supports these widely-held beliefs.
Nonetheless there is little scientific evidence to support such notions.
Misconceptions about stress and natural conception
NHS Choices website analysed a scientific study which claimed that the levels of two stress hormones – cortisol and an enzyme produced in response to adrenaline levels (alpha amylase) – affected the likelihood of getting pregnant.
The researchers did find that women with higher salivary alpha-amylase levels were less likely to fall pregnant, compared with women with lower levels, but this was only of borderline statistical significance and they concluded that the study failed to prove the effects of stress on natural conception and fertility.
I once asked a PhD student who was doing research into stress and infertility if she believed stress affected a woman's chances of conceiving. She said "It is well known that stress does not affect IVF treatment outcome but it can affect natural conception." When I pressed her further she said this was because when a couple are very stressed in their lives, perhaps due to financial difficulties, serious problems at work or difficulties in their personal and family lives they may be emotionally and physically exhausted, they may argue a lot and fall out more, and generally be more unhappy. She said that the direct consequence of this is that couples don't have sex as much as they need to in order to conceive - so in this way stress can affect their chances of pregnancy. I realised then why everyone says 'Just relax! You're too stressed" and that when a couple go on holiday and get on better and have the odd glass of wine, they may be more likely to get pregnant.
Misconceptions about stress and miscarriage
The NHS Choices website outlines some misconceptions about miscarriage and concluded that “increased risk of miscarriage is not linked to a mother's emotional state during pregnancy, such as being stressed or depressed”.
Misconceptions about on fertility treatment
Likewise, the notions about stress affecting the outcome of fertility treatment also do not stand up to scientific scrutiny.
In 2011 Professor Jacky Boivin from the Cardiff Fertility Studies Research Group, investigated links between stress the success of fertility treatment. She undertook a large-scale review (known as a ‘meta-analysis) of all the studies that had been done on the impact of stress and distress on fertility treatment outcome. *
Fourteen studies with a total of 3,583 infertile women were included in the review. The women were assessed before fertility treatment for anxiety and stress. The authors then compared data for women who achieved pregnancy and those who did not.
The results show that emotional distress was not associated with whether or not a woman became pregnant.
Professor Boivin therefore argues that "these findings should reassure women that emotional distress caused by fertility problems or other life events co-occurring with treatment will not compromise their chance of becoming pregnant."
Boivin's conclusion was supported the following year in another study into the relationship between psychological distress and IVF treatment outcome found that pre-IVF psychological distress does not predict IVF failure .**
It is an understatement to say that it’s stressful trying for a baby when all around you seem to do it so quickly and effortlessly, but stressing yourself about getting stressed and fearing your stress levels are the cause of your difficulties is soul-destroying and only serves to make women feel responsible and to blame for their lack of a family.
It is of course a good idea to reduce stress in your life if you can – through mindfulness, yoga, relaxation, gentle exercise, counselling or whatever helps you cope with the difficulties you are experiencing – but only because it makes a sometimes long and emotionally difficult journey more bearable. And the better you cope with this challenging and testing life-event the more likely you are to keep going until you succeed in the end.
So the one thing you can do is stop stressing about the stress your difficulties are causing you and tell anyone who says otherwise where to get off!
*J. Boivin, E. Griffiths, C. A. Venetis. Emotional distress in infertile women and failure of assisted reproductive technologies: meta-analysis of prospective psychosocial studies. BMJ, 2011
** L. A. Pasch, S. E. Gregorich, P. K. Katz, S. G. Millstein, R. D. Nachtigall, M. E. Bleil, and N.E. Adler. Psychological distress and in vitro fertilisation outcome. Fertil Steril, 2012