A new section of the award-winning experiential health website www.healthtalkonline.org has been launched this week on infertility, based on interview research carried out by the Health Experiences Research Group, University of Oxford.
Most people growing up assume that, if and when they want children, they will be able to have them. They don’t expect to have problems with fertility, and assume that, if they do, the wonders of modern fertility treatments, such as IVF and ICSI (intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection) will be able to solve them. However, in contrast to this, background figures point to 1 in 7 couples in the UK having fertility problems.
This new research, based on interviews with both women and men, suggests that people are often unprepared for infertility and uninformed about what it means, what treatment it entails and how likely it is to be successful or fail. With almost a quarter of cases being ‘unexplained infertility’, over 50 per cent due to multiple causes and 30 per cent of infertility cases in the UK attributable to men, there is a lot of guesswork for couples and infertility tests can be just the start of a long process of elimination. In fact, although treatment and procedures can be unpleasant, those interviewed suggested that it is the waiting and uncertainty that people often find the hardest to cope with.
Those interviewed talked about their experiences – their initial thoughts that there might be an issue and the slow dawning realisation that there was a more serious problem. Findings showed that UK couples wished they had known how hard infertility treatment was going to be, both physically and emotionally. For many, the initial awareness of the problem was only the start in a long series of tests that needed to be undergone to rule out different aspects of infertility and to pinpoint what fertility tests and treatments would work best for the couple.
The research highlighted the isolation that couples felt as they were going through treatment even if they chose to tell family and close friends. In many cases they felt unsure about doing this because of the stress that it can put on relationships, particularly with those friends who are having babies without issues.
People also described examples of good and bad practice when dealing with clinicians, from misinterpreting results to failing to do the referrals, but it was the emotional and psychological support either offered or not offered by GPs that stood out. Occasionally people said that their GP had been insensitive or did not seem to understand the impact of infertility. Men in particular felt they had a difficult role in fertility treatment and often felt sidelined by medical professionals, as their partners were going through treatment.
Dr Lisa Hinton, senior qualitative researcher at the University of Oxford, says:
“We spoke to a range of men and women between the ages of 25 and 40. The people we spoke to were very honest about their experiences and described in detail the physical and emotional toll that going through the ‘infertility process’ had on them. Not being able to conceive a child can be devastating and the start of a long, lonely journey of tests, treatments and uncertainty in a painful process of elimination, like a rollercoaster with more downs than ups.”
On the healthtalkonline website, information and video interviews are split into topics. These cover early concerns, treatments, after treatment, social life & work and coping with infertility. The new ‘Infertility’ section can be viewed at: www.healthtalkonline.org