Anya Sizer has a background in coaching and is the Patient Co-Ordinator for the London Women's Clinic and the Bridge Clinic in London. You can visit her website here.
She has worked with hundreds of women, and couples, over the past decade who have struggled to conceive, and is a passionate advocate for fertility patients. She runs a weekly support group in Central London and speaks at conferences and workshops around fertility issues. She is also the mother of two IVF children and one adopted child, and happens to be a friend too. I chatted with her recently about her tireless work in the fertility field.
Is it possible to sum up what your work is about?
I hope to help equip people to better cope with the trials of infertility, and the journey through assisted conception with 'here and now' tools. I describe my coaching as 'holistic' as it takes in all aspects of an individual's wellbeing – whatever that my mean for them.
I imagine you see common themes emerge in the work you do?
Absolutely. I work largely with women, and there's often a feeling of isolation. While the head knows that you aren't the only one struggling to conceive, very often the emotional response can be a very different one - such as 'every other person has a child and I don't'. People can feel very alone with their feelings. Also, infertility often involves the loss of a big dream. Women may well have assumed that creating a family would be easy, and hitting real problems doing so can feel like a major U-turn. It's not just a small issue, it can change the focus to life. It can even feel like a core identity change. Women can also feel jealous and envious. Again, the head and heart may be split – while your head may be delighted for another's pregnancy, emotionally it may feel very differently. It's normal to feel, 'I want what she has'. While this can be a shameful feeling in itself, there may be another shame to contend with – that of not feeling 'productive' or finding yourself questioning 'what's wrong with me'? A journey through assisted conception means life goes on standby too – social life and holidays can't be planned in the same way as before, and that can create it's own stress.
What about men? Do you work with them?
I've run a big support group for six years now and it has never been all female, although the big majority are women. I do think things are changing though and it has become more ok for men to come forward for support and to describe their hurt. When I work with couples, I notice much cross over of feeling states, although they are often feeling them at different stages. And where a man is infertile, it often hits him really hard - there can be a tremendous sense of failure. There's a sense that 'there's only one thing I should be able to do here, and I can't'.
What tips would you offer anyone going through the journey to conceive?
- Don't underplay your stress. Research has shown how long-term infertility can be as stressful as experiencing cancer or a bereavement. Don't berate yourself for 'not coping better'. In my experience, long-term infertility can be even harder than suffering a bereavement as it involves a series of repeated bereavements in quick succession.
- Be proactive about getting help. Think about who or what will relieve your stress – a relaxation response can be learned, and can act as a powerful antidote to the stress response. But it has to be tailored accordingly – yoga may work for one person but not for another.
- Be honest to those around you about how you are feeling, but don't expect any one person to deliver all your needs – even your partner who you rely the most on. Think about the people you can lean on, rather than one person.
- If in a partnership, try to keep the 'old couple' you both had before trying to conceive alive.
- Seek out support groups – online or offline. Although remember that the internet is a double-edged sword. While it may help to build great supportive relationships and offer useful information, in a world where you may feel helpless and a loss of control, it can also offer false information and breed anxiety. So use it wisely.
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