“Meeting others who empathise and can understand what it’s like, no matter the different stage or type of fertility treatment, has brought mutual support and comfort to many,” explains Sharon Harper, who together with fertility counsellor Jackie Stewart (on right), has run a Fertility Support Group at Bourn Hall Cambridge for over 8 years. During lockdown the group went online and it is now a virtual group and has included guest speakers sharing their experiences.
“Gaining access to guest speakers has enabled members to feel more confident, supported and reassured going through their treatment,” says Sharon.
Now that the Fertility Support Group is online, more people are able to join the discussion and gain benefit from being part of the group.
Feel less alone
“People benefit from the group by feeling less alone with the overall impact infertility is having on their lives,” explains Jackie Stewart.
“Several WhatsApp group chats have been formed along the way and patients have stayed in touch outside of the group.
“For Sharon and I one of the biggest rewards has been to see the number of sustained friendships that have come from it.”
Increased anxiety with lockdown
Jackie thinks that, with the uncertainty during the lockdown and the temporary suspension of fertility treatment, there has been increased appetite for a virtual meeting.
“People have felt more isolated during lockdown. Treatments being cancelled and put on hold have increased anxiety levels, and not being able to be around family and friends has added to the stress.
“Lack of control and uncertainty is hard enough for those with infertility, but the added challenges of the coronavirus pandemic can cause significant stress.
“There have been concerns too about waiting for treatment to re-start when clinics reopened and now there is anxiety around attending appointments without the partner being present for certain procedures, due to the new regulations.”
There are some reoccurring themes that Jackie has noticed, including:
- I don’t feel in control of my life any more, like everything is on hold.
- How do I deal with the anxiety and sadness I am feeling?
- I feel stressed and I worry the stress will have a negative impact on my treatment.
- Are there any coping strategies to help me through treatment?
- It feels like infertility and treatment is taking over our lives.
Format of the virtual fertility support group meeting
The virtual group uses Zoom, so people need to register their interest ahead of the meeting; they are then emailed an invitation to attend, with some helpful information attached. This includes a request to reply confirming they have read and received the information. The link to the meeting itself follows once these details have been confirmed.
The meetings often have a guest speaker and and a facilitated group discussion. This could be in the form of written questions submitted using chat, or if participants are happy to ask questions themselves they could indicate they want to comment and be given space to do so. There is some organisation behind the scenes to make it flow and let people contribute in the way they wish.
Jackie continues: “The meeting is open to patients and non-patients and lasts no more than 1.5 hours and runs from 6.30 to 8pm once a month.
If you would like to participate in the virtual group meeting please register here.