The invaluable role of fertility counselling

Wendy Martin has been a specialist fertility therapist since 1996 and over the years has gained an enormous amount of experience and expertise in counselling people who are going through every kind of infertility issue and treatment

Wendy, one of two long-standing fertility counsellors working at the Bristol Centre for Reproductive Medicine (BCRM), said: “I feel deeply honoured to be trusted by those who are often vulnerable or in distress and who are seeking moral or emotional support at a very difficult time in their lives.

“The Patient Support Service offered at BCRM is both confidential and independent and is available to patients before, during and after treatment. It gives them the chance to talk through what’s happening to them and not only understand and process their emotions but also to think about ways to cope with any difficulties they or their partner may be experiencing due to fertility issues.

“Each of our patients is offered an initial Patient Support appointment free of charge prior to starting any treatment. Thereafter, if you’re an NHS patient you can have one complementary session for every cycle of treatment; and if you’re a self-funding patient, you can have three complementary sessions for every treatment cycle. Ongoing counselling is also available.

“On a typical day I normally have up to five appointments, frequently with people who have never sought counselling or emotional support before. For the first time in their lives perhaps, they find themselves in a situation when their normal sources of support are not quite enough. Often many of their good, close friends are having babies and it’s hard to turn to them to discuss their fertility problems. That’s where the Patient Support Service can come in.

“I know patients can experience some anxiety at having to reach out for help. However, even though what’s being discussed may be emotionally challenging and hard, and talking about your innermost feelings with a stranger may seem daunting, I do my best to create a comfortable and easy atmosphere, which allows people to talk freely.

“Patient Support is not all about managing grief and loss, rather about finding the best ways to go through what is, for many, the most challenging time of their lives. During counselling sessions, I try to help people find their inner strengths and rediscover the coping strategies they have used in the past to enable them to navigate difficult times. These can be drawn upon to assist them in finding their way through what can be a fairly stressful experience.

“I try to foster a sense of hope balanced with reality, so that people can develop an understanding of what they can control in their lives – and therefore what they can do to help themselves during the process. However, I also try and enable people to recognise those things they have little or no control over and to help them accept that they may not have as much control over making a baby as they had hoped. I recognise this is not easy for them.

“It’s normal to feel a little anxious or stressed when undergoing fertility treatment, and although it’s a very commonly held belief that stress directly impacts fertility, there is very clear scientific evidence to show that stress does not actually make any difference to IVF or ICSI treatment outcomes.

“Nonetheless, at BCRM we realise how important it is for patients to try and remain as calm as possible whilst going through their treatment, not only because it makes it more manageable for them, but also because for some, the journey may be longer than anticipated or hoped for. Also, if patients find it all too stressful, they may give up sooner than they would otherwise do – and consequently won’t have given themselves the best chance to succeed.”

Wendy Martin and her colleague Francine Blanchet understand that patients come to BCRM with only one aim in mind – to have a baby – and they are available to help patients as much as they need while they work towards their goal. Further sessions in addition to those provided free of charge as part of the treatment cycle package are available on a self-funding basis at £50 per session.

If you are a BCRM patient and would like to book an appointment with their Patient Support services call 0117 259 1159 or email contact@bcrm.clinic

Here are a few anonymised case studies of individuals and couples who have benefited from Wendy’s support:

• A 34-year-old woman who is at the start of her two-week wait

She’s had a good quality embryo transferred but is extremely anxious and unsure of how she’s going to cope over the next few days with the overwhelming feelings she’s experiencing.  She has gone back to work after taking a day off following her embryo transfer but is finding it hard to concentrate and focus. We discuss ways in which she might be able reduce the demands made on her over the next couple of weeks and she decides to speak to her manager who is supportive and understanding. I ask her what she normally does to reduce anxiety and if she has anything planned to help her get through this highly challenging time. She and her partner are taking a short walk together every evening after work and they have something nice planned for the weekend. I ask her if she’s ever done any meditation as many people say it benefits them a lot – even if it is only ten minutes a day. She says she hasn’t, so I mention the ‘Mindful IVF’ and ‘Headspace’ apps which people say help calm their racing thoughts. We agree that any form or distraction is good – be it watching box sets, listening to music or doing something creative. She also has one good friend who does not have children who she is going to speak to a bit more during this difficult time.

• A couple who are about to start IVF

They thought it would be helpful to get some support for themselves prior to embarking on the treatment. I explore with them their feelings and thoughts about the upcoming treatment and they express their hopes that this is going to finally work out for them after two years of trying unsuccessfully. I discuss with them their expectations and how they imagine the treatment will go. They also voice their concerns about doing the injections, the impact the hormones may have on her general wellbeing and whether it might affect her mood and, in turn, their relationship. We discuss this and find ways in which they can keep lines of communication open between them to maximise the support they give each other.

• A 29-year-old woman whose husband has just been informed he has very low sperm parameters

She is shocked to hear that they’ll need ICSI treatment in order to conceive and is devastated that they’ll never be able to have a baby naturally.  Needing medical intervention to get pregnant seems so unnatural to her and it’s nothing like she’d ever imagined would happen. We spend some time looking at her sense of grief and loss – but also to see what resources she has (both within her and around her) to help her get through this difficult time.

• A couple, 35 and 37, who have recently discovered their first blastocyst transfer has not been successful and who find they are not dealing with it in the same way at all

As I help them talk it through, they come to understand that there are differences in the way they are each reacting to this event. I discuss with them how people respond in different ways. As they listen to their partner tell me what they’re going through and how they’re responding, they each become more able to accept their partner’s perspective and are better able to support each other.

• A 40-year-old single woman who has decided to try for a baby as a solo mum using donor sperm

I discuss with her the emotional and ethical implications of having a baby this way. We explore the resources and support she has as she embarks on this exciting but challenging journey. I mention ‘The Stork and I’ and “The Donor Conception Network”.

• A 22-year-old woman that has put herself forward to be an egg donor. I ask her why she has decided to donate her eggs and what she feels about any future children being able to contact her as adults

She is very clear she is not the mother of any child born but is very happy and open to communication with them in the future – should they ever want it.

• A 38-year-old woman who has had IVF with her husband owing to a diagnosis of a low egg reserve

The news had shocked her as she’d been confident that getting pregnant naturally in her later thirties would pose no problem.  The fact that the embryo transfer was then unsuccessful has exacerbated her disbelief and grief. She was convinced that she had done everything right – with improved diet, cutting out coffee and alcohol and taking supplements. They had both made considerable sacrifices and changes to their lifestyles and yet it still hadn’t worked.  I explore her sense of needing to be in control in a world where she feels at times quite out of control and we look at aspects of her life over which she which she can exert some control.

• A couple who are dismayed that their ICSI cycle has been unsuccessful

She is 32 and they’ve had ICSI because of a sperm issue. They’d had a negative test the day before and they’re shocked. They tell me that everything had gone so well during the treatment and everyone had been so positive. The embryo was top quality and they’d assumed it would definitely work. There was no reason why it shouldn’t. He had been so positive and optimistic and had been absolutely sure she was pregnant. He is now quite angry that nobody prepared them for the fact that, even if everything goes really well during the treatment and a high-quality embryo is transferred, this is still no guarantee of pregnancy. He is afraid that none of the other three frozen blastocysts will work as the first was the best one they had. I listen to their shock, concerns and distress and their fears for the future. 

On discussing this with them it appears they hadn’t grasped that, on average, someone of her age has a 50% chance of success in any given embryo transfer – even if it is of high quality. We also look at how the result of one embryo transfer has no bearing on the outcome of the next, and that even a low-quality embryo can result in pregnancy. We also talk about how they may better manage their hopes and expectations for their next embryo transfer whilst still keeping positive and hopeful that it could happen next time.  I then sensitively explore with him how he feels about the fact that the reason for the treatment is because of his sperm motility and morphology. 

I tentatively wonder if his anger may have something to do with this. He agrees and says he feel terrible that his young wife has to go through all the injections and the effects of the hormones and then the egg collection – and there’s nothing wrong with her at all. He just couldn’t bear the thought of her having to do it all again.

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The foundations of TwoDads UK were firmly created by us speaking out, and campaigning for change for not only us, when we were on our quest to become Daddies, but for all those that follow us on their own route to parenthood or fertility journey. We also believe that through our work on social media – we can use those platforms to raise awareness of particular causes, charities or interests – which later become our missions.

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For individuals and couples who are pregnant following a difficult fertility journey, with experiences of loss or ready to take a healing journey to parenthood, emotional wellbeing support offers a safe, growth filled space through to the fourth trimester.

I offer a blend of coaching, counselling and therapeutic support with embodied and expressive approaches for those who wish to explore this way. My training and background is in Psychology, Counselling/ Psychotherapy and Coaching working in the UK and overseas for over 15 years. Experiencing my own fertility challenges, IVF and pregnancy loss led me on my own healing and therapeutic process.

Sian Elizabeth

Sian is the founder of Renew Holistic Health and takes a keen interest in helping women restore their metabolism and support hormonal health. This can mean finding relief from issues such as PCOS symptoms, Endometriosis symptoms, addressing digestive issues, supporting clients to sleep better, have more energy that’s sustained throughout the day, create better habits, mitigate stress as much as possible and learn to manage it, improve mindset to reach goals, help clients show up better for themselves and their loved ones and achieve overall vitality in a non-restrictive way. Supporting our hormone health, breaking through these barriers, preparing our bodies for pregnancy, birthing a nourished baby; everything from conscious pre-conception to birth and the years after, requires this whole-body health approach. As a qualified Health Coach Sian’s role is to motivate, empower, and educate along the way, so clients feel empowered to improve their reproductive and overall health.

Sarah Byrne

I am a Menstrual Cycle Coach who teaches women business owners how to harness the power of their natural energy cycles to avoid overwhelm and burnout and create more success in their lives and businesses.

Joanna Sinclair, FF UK Founder and CEO

I am a lecturer, fertility coach and practitioner that helps support and educate both men and women on a journey to create a family. Helping to optimise your physical and emotional health and wellbeing, enhancing your fertility to give you the best chances of conception and a healthy pregnancy. I have lived and experienced a long fertility journey, I remember only too well the emotional impact and the pain. I help reduce the stress and anxiety, maximise the benefit of nurturing the physical and emotional health together, share tools and techniques for this journey, and beyond to reach the goal of a family. 

Jo Dalziel

I am a fertility coach and hypnobirthing specialist. After facing my own uphill struggle to conceive, many aspects of my life were affected and during this time no emotional support was available. I believe the mind body connection and your emotions play a crucial role in your fertility success, be that naturally or through assisted conception. When I heard about the Freedom Fertility Formula I wanted to train so others could feel less anxiety on their own fertility journey.

Jodie Hughes

I’m Jodie and I am a Health Sciences Research PhD student that is focussed on Health-Related Quality of Life in people with Endometriosis (crazy I know right) and founder of the charity Endometriosis South Coast.

In 2014 at the ripe old age of 30 after spending the entirety of my adulthood as a chef, I drunkenly applied for university because Endometriosis changed my life. I couldn’t work, I was a single mum. And quite honestly, I was at the lowest I had ever been with depression eating at my very core.

I am researching how Health Related Quality of Life differs in a range of sample groups of Endometriosis patients.

Nadine Baynes

As Director and Head Psychotherapist of not-for-profit organisation, Lighthouses Therapy Services, I have met with and supported hundreds of bereaved parents of baby and infant loss. Grieving the loss of a pregnancy or a baby can be very complicated – parents can feel confused, angry, isolated, mis-understood and overwhelmed. I can relate to this having been through a miscarriage many years ago.

With therapy you will realise you don’t have to suffer or feel alone with your pain.
Whether you are grieving an early pregnancy loss, still-birth, failed fertility treatment, ectopic pregnancy or compassionate induction, we can help and are here with open arms and big hearts.

Member of National Council of Psychotherapists (Accredited)

Steven Britton

Steven Britton

Fertility intelligence coaching can directly impact egg health, improve sperm mobility, boost fertility, healthy pregnancy and much more.

How does this work?
The process starts by firstly assessing you and your partner mental & physical wellbeing.
This is then followed by eliminating any misconceptions of actions and influences that hinder your fertility, thereby also revealing the genetic setpoint to influence/control positive outcomes.

At this point the foundations are set, we then focus on optimising relationships with yourself and others (romantic or otherwise) emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically.

Finally diet and nutrition can play a very important role in the quest to getting pregnant so I will make sure that even this area you will feel confident and more in control of your body.

Salma Khanom - Counsellor and Psychotherapist (BACP)

Life events, experiences and relationships can have an impact on how we feel within ourselves making it difficult to cope day to day. Therapy can help us understand these experiences, helping one gain insight and perspective. Finding understanding can be powerful in prompting change. I work with my client to identify issues within their life that may contribute to distress or problems.

I am BACP accredited Counsellor and Clinical supervisor. My core training is in the Integrative model, since qualifying I have completed further training in CBT, CfD, EMDR (all nhs approved) models. I take a flexible approach when working with clients adjusting my approach according to my clients needs. I aim to work in a collaborative way with clients as I believe this can help my clients feel safe and held.

Aisha Balesaria - mindbodyrevival_coach

Aisha is a Certified Transformational Coach and the founder of mindbodyrevival_coach Aisha spent ten years trying to conceive – she underwent surgery for endometriosis, had over 11 failed rounds of IVF and multiple miscarriages. Eventually, she left the process without a baby. “Involuntary childlessness is very misunderstood and most individuals don’t receive the support, empathy and acknowledgement they deserve”. Moving forward, Aisha wanted to use her experience to empower others on a similar journey to her own. Aisha is a writer and Co-author of the book entitled, ‘We Are One in Eight’ she has written numerous blogs and articles about her personal healthy journey and experience with infertility. She has spoken on global platforms and several podcasts to raise awareness about childlessness.

Theresa Davies

Theresa is a fully qualified Counsellor and is registered with both the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists (BACP) and the British Infertility Counselling Association (BICA). Each fertility journey is unique and different people respond to fertility issues in different ways. In fact, the way you feel may change over time – sometimes even hour by hour – which is why the fertility journey is often described as an emotional rollercoaster. Our counselling sessions will help you to understand these feelings and gain a sense of acceptance of your feelings whatever they may be.

Paula Lavandeira

Paula is an International Fertility Coach and Hypnobirthing Teacher, and a Diabetes Specialist Midwife. She has been a passionate midwife for over 11 years now and with another 10 years as a nurse previously. Her passion is to help mums to overcome their fears and preconceptions about childbirth and motherhood so that they can have the best experience. Hence, she founded the Nurtured Munchkin, to provide full antenatal and postnatal courses for parents. Paula worked as a Senior Research Midwife at UCLH for 5 years, participating in multiple studies, including a pilot study NIPT which was later introduced to the NHS. She also offers baby massage and yoga. Paula recently received an award for Best Antenatal and Hypnobirthing Courses Provider 2020.

Manali Hirani

Manali Hirani - Fertility Coach and Podcaster

Helping women and couples get pregnant naturally, in a healthy way and with minimal medications to enhance their fertility.

“Women accessing a supported mind-body program were over twice as likely to conceive as those who didn’t. Of those women that got pregnant, 76% did so naturally (without medical intervention) within 12 months despite their age, the number of years of trying and diagnoses” – As per the study conducted by Harvard University.

Manali is also the head of IVF Babble in India.

Lighthouses Therapy Services

We are here to offer support to those who have been through miscarriage, still-birth, neonatal death, SIDS, ectopic and molar pregnancy and for those who need support, post-termination.

For women, men, couples and grandparents just like you who are hurting and feel that no one understands the deep psychological pain you are experiencing, we are here.

Theresa Davies Counselling

Sometimes life can feel overwhelming and often, when we speak with our friends and family, we worry about how being honest about our worries, thoughts and feelings may effect them.

​I understand that for many people, seeking out a counsellor can feel very daunting. Maybe you feel that you should be able to cope on our own, or that other people have worse problems that are more worthy of counselling. However, sometimes we all need some extra help, and I am here for you during those times.

Belle Birth & Fertility

Fertility coaching – Your Fertility Journey Is Unique.
Leave anxiety behind & hold on to your dream.

Hypnobirthing – Calm & Relaxed Antenatal Education.
Embrace the beauty of birth with confidence & composure

The Embryologist Nutritionist

Harness the power of nutrition and lifestyle to regain control of your fertility.
Stop feeling exhausted, alone, and frustrated with your body. Are you embarking on IVF / IUI and desperate to maximise your chances of it being successful, but feeling overwhelmed about how to do so?

​We hear you!

​After seeing many individuals go through assisted conception treatments, as an embryologist, we can empathise with what you’re feeling. We are here to share with you the transformational impact that nutritional and lifestyle changes can have, so that you can maximise your chances of achieving a healthy pregnancy, naturally or through assisted conception, even if you feel like you’ve already tried everything.

Nua Fertility

Deborah Brock the founder of Nua Fertility states her mission is “To provide education and innovative products with a microbiome focus which will support people on their fertility journey. We focused on our nutrition, lifestyle, fitness, emotional and overall, well being. This combined with the help of science (and some amazing doctors), culminated in the arrival of our beautiful daughter.

My experience gave me an insight into the reality of fertility problems that many of us face. My search for solutions grounded in science led to the importance of nutrition for fertility and the amazing world of the microbiome and microbes and how they are a key determinant of our fertility health.”

Endometriosis South Coast

The charity Endometriosis South Coast was born out of a need for support on a grass roots level. We have online support groups and now the world is opening up again we are going to train support group leaders to provide in person groups.
We regularly hold educational webinars, and make sure we are at all of the conferences to ensure we have the most up to date information about endo.
We are developing educational resources for businesses, schools, and GP’s.
But our ultimate goal is to ensure all people with Endometriosis and Adenomyosis are receiving the best holistic care and support for their conditions, and know that there is more than just surgery needed to help.

Dr. Amina Hersi

Dr. Amina Hersi - General Practitioner and Expert on PCOS

“When I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) over 10 years ago I remember it being such a confusing time. Through my years as a doctor, I came to understand the importance of diet and lifestyle in managing such a complex condition.”