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Fertility - we need to reclaim that word.

Fertility. What does that word conjour up for you?

The word ‘Fertility’ has become synonymous with IVF to the detriment of the masses of people looking for ways to solve subfertility.

  • If you mention to someone that you have fertility issues, they will often assume that you will need IVF.

  • If you talk to your GP about fertility issues, they will suggest you just keep trying, or that you need IVF.

  • If you go for a ‘Fertility Assessment’ at an IVF clinic, it is unusual not to be told you need IVF.

  • If you enter the word ‘fertility’ into a search engine, the results will be overflowing with links to IVF clinics.

  • If you went to the Fertility Show, you may have been inundated with IVF clinic representatives telling you that you cannot improve your egg quality, you cannot improve your sperm quality and that repeated IVF cycles were the only way.

  • The media tells you that if IVF fails, your other options are an egg donor cycle, surrogacy, adoption or childlessness.

In my clinical experience, the idea that infertility can only be resolved with IVF is a highly biased, narrow minded view of fertility. There are so many aspects of health that impact fertility – diet, lifestyle, chemical exposure, microbiome issues, sleep etc. But these are largely ignored in medical conversations about fertility – Time or IVF seem to be the only things that come up in conversation.

The commandeering of the word 'Fertility'.

The commandeering of a word to exclude holistic health practitioners has been going on for centuries. The word ‘Fertility’ has been hijacked by the IVF industry in the way that ‘Medicine’ has been hijacked.

And that makes me incredibly frustrated.

I have had numerous conversations with someone very dear to me who gets irritated by what she sees as misappropriation of the word ‘medicine’ in terms such as Chinese Herbal Medicine or Functional Medicine Nutrition. And yet the word ‘medicine’ is an ancient word. It was in use extensively before the pharmaceutical industry and the modern medical profession commandeered it.

In addition to commandeering the words, there is an undercurrent of dismissive mocking about anything non-medical, terms like pseudo-science are used, people are warned not to ‘waste their money’ on holistic support prior to IVF (even though in my experience, good holistic support in some cases can render IVF unnecessary, and there is nothing more wasteful than spending thousands on IVF when some basic testing has been overlooked).

There is another way.

My clinic is full of people who have struggled with long term unexplained infertility, many of whom have tried IVF and found it didn’t work for them. In the majority of cases, we are able to help our clients to achieve natural pregnancy. In some cases, we really do need IVF to get things to work, but we need to go into it fully prepared, with all the other lynchpins of fertility firmly in place.

The most significant things we do are:

  • We use our expert knowledge of how to support a menstrual cycle holistically through acupuncture and visceral osteopathy (if your cycle isn’t 28-32 days long with a normal flow and minimal pain symptoms, we need to talk).

  • We recognise when the digestive system needs expert support and know which nutritionists work really well in this space.

  • We have an excellent understanding of the implications of microbiome issues, how to test them, how to respond appropriately to the test results.

  • We understand when urology is a better route than IVF for male infertility.

Teamwork makes the dreamwork.

I am perfectly comfortable with referring out to medical specialists when appropriate to do so, but it is unusual to find a doctor willing to recommend someone spend a few months working with holistic fertility support to improve their menstrual cycle or underlying health issues BEFORE thinking about whether they need IVF.

Like many of my peers, if I feel a client needs to be working with a medical team, I will find them an expert - whether that is a fertility focused urologist, an endocrinologist with expertise in working with fertility clients, a gynaecologist who specialises in working with endometriosis, a reproductive immunologist with years of experience in this highly specialised field. If they need that expertise, I will help them to get it.

If you speak to the medics involved in IVF, you find some are reluctant to accept holistic fertility support a useful adjunct to IVF and many more are dismissive to the point of mocking, when it comes to the idea that holistic fertility support can be a viable alternative to IVF. I so regularly have clients come to us after unsuccessful IVF cycles who have horrific menstrual cycles that are crying out for holistic support - and at no point on their journey has a medic suggested they tackle that holistically.

Fertility support should encompass both 'holistic' and 'medical' expertise.

Holistic fertility support is such a powerful tool in the fight against infertility or subfertility. In some cases holistic expertise is all that is needed, in other cases it can make the difference between a successful IVF cycle or an unsuccessful IVF cycle. And yet the powerful impact of holistic fertility support is largely ignored or belittled by doctors.

A chasm has opened up between the mainstream medical IVF industry and the holistic fertility support practitioners – and this doesn’t benefit anyone who is struggling with infertility. With the advent of more accessible testing, advanced scanning, microbiome testing, semen analysis and easily available blood testing a sector of the holistic fertility support practitioners have evolved to work in a more integrated way. As a holistic fertility support practitioner I have found this shift to be incredible, it has allowed me to help more and more clients to stay away from IVF if it isn’t necessary, and given me so much more confidence when it comes to recommending that IVF would be a good move.

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