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Dublin: 9 °C Sunday 17 February, 2019

'Women all around the country started sending me letters': How sharing my fertility struggle gave strength to others

Two women share the extraordinary impact of opening up about their experiences.

thomas-griesbeck-139117 Stock image Source: Unsplash

Let’s Talk About Fertility is a series sponsored by Vhi Healthcare that deconstructs the stigma around infertility, inspired by the stories of couples who have experienced it and the doctors and counsellors who help them every day.

“IF YOU’RE DIAGNOSED with depression, you get the number for Aware but with this, there was just nothing.”

These are the words of Alison Reede, who says she encountered a serious lack of emotional support during her time in treatment.

This made an open conversation about her struggles difficult:

We weren’t getting anywhere. I remember leaving in shock and dismay at the lack of support. Even the day we found out, there wasn’t a leaflet or a phone number for a counsellor.

After five unsuccessful rounds of IVF (the first ending in a miscarriage), the sixth attempt at treatment resulted in twins, a discovery Reede will never forget:

I had nearly convinced myself that nothing was happening. We went into the hospital and I said ‘I really don’t think this has worked’ and she told me there’s not just one heartbeat, there’s two. I cried like a baby with sheer disbelief. I was desperate to hear any sign of life.

Reede went on to dedicate her career to supporting other people who unfortunately found themselves in the same position, and providing opportunities for them to open up about it. As a fertility coach, part of her job is that she now educates managers on how best to deal with employees facing into fertility treatment.

Ireland, she says, is way behind the curve. It is one of the last three countries in Europe that currently doesn’t offer state-funded fertility treatment. In some countries like the UK some employers have fertility treatment packages, offering support to employees and time off for treatments.

Work was a huge stressor for me in terms of the hours I worked. It was hard because I wanted to keep my career intact. I think people should tell their managers but I do think managers need to be educated on it.

Managers, Reede says, don’t know what to do or what to say when an employee explains that they are in the midst of difficult fertility treatment. “I spend a lot of time in my job teaching people how to deal with that.”

However Reede cites other positive changes where employers are becoming more open to addressing infertility with their staff. Recently, Reede worked with one employer who emailed their employees to offer them her help. This service was offered anonymously, an aspect that is often central to the support sought by those with fertility issues.

Jennifer Ryan Moran is another woman who shared her fertility story last year, opening the conversation. She wrote an article on TheJournal.ie, which launched her into providing private support among other couples who had struggled to conceive.

Moran remembers how opening up about her own experience had an immediate impact on others:

Last year when I wrote the piece, I got a call from a radio station and then I started to get letters from women all around the country. They would tell me all about their experiences, so I set up a support group on Facebook for all those people.

The group remains a source of support to this day. “That was over a year ago and I still get emails, sometimes I invite them to the Facebook group.” The group’s privacy settings mean that you can only see who is a member if you are also a member – “people are conscious of their privacy”, says Moran.

Groups like these can be particularly helpful during the process of fertility treatment, says Moran:

It just completely consumes your life. It takes over everything, you can’t plan a holiday. All you think is, ‘where can I take my injections?’ The whole time you’re constantly waiting, waiting for appointments, waiting treatments to start.

To tackle some of the emotional impact of fertility issues, Moran started a blog when her and her husband found out, and it wasn’t long before people started to contact her:

I found it so therapeutic for myself but the amount of people who email and say, ‘I’m so glad I can tell you this’ is startling. The number of people who go through it and don’t tell a soul is incredible.

Though she’s now the mother of two boys (who as embryos were fertilised during the same round of treatment “like twins that were born two years apart”), it was by no means an easy road to parenthood. Moran admits: “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through from that perspective. It was a horrible, dark time.”

However, Moran remembers “the four most amazing moments of my life were the two positive pregnancy tests I thought I’d never see and the day I got to hold each of my two sons in my arms”:

You see this little flickering thing on the screen and it’s just the best thing, it’s amazing. Feeling the little kicks once you’re in the pregnancy made all those years of shit worth it.

Let’s talk about fertility and plan ahead with Vhi Healthcare’s new range of fertility benefits. Vhi Healthcare’s fertility benefits are designed to help you at every stage of your journey, from initial investigations and advice, to counselling and fertility treatment including IVF. For more information, visit vhi.ie/fertility

Read the rest of our Let’s Talk About Fertility series here>

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