It’s Not Just Good To Talk, It’s Essential

By Sophie Sulehria, Peanut

I have always said it; my struggle with fertility is a mental health condition far more than a physical one.  Ok, so the injections and scans and blood tests and pain and all the rest of the stuff that comes with treatment is awful, of course it is… but it’s bearable, right?  What’s not so bearable is the circular thinking, the bad dreams, the feeling of isolation, the anxiety, depression, and the myriad of other feelings that come with it.  Sadly this part is harder to bear.

Hardly anyone knew we had started IVF.  At that time, seven years ago, IVF and fertility problems were rarely discussed in public.  After being diagnosed with severe endometriosis and told we’d find it hard to conceive naturally, my husband Jonny and I did what many other couples do; retreat and tell no-one.  We’d been married less than a year but already people were starting to ask when we were going to have children.  However instead of telling them the truth, we just made excuses and changed the subject.  Sometimes this worked, other times it would provoke further comment.  “You need to hurry you know, you’re not getting any younger” or “your career will be there after children”.  The brave face I’d plaster on for these moments would crumble as soon as I got home.

By our third year of trying, I was at rock bottom.  I struggled to leave the house in fear of bumping into a pregnant woman, spotting a pram, or seeing happy families.  I didn’t want to go shopping in case I took a wrong turn and ended up in the baby aisle.  I feared watching TV in case those adorable Pampers babies popped up in an ad break.  And all the while, hardly anyone knew what I was going through.  I had become withdrawn, depressed and half my former self, and Jonny was worried.

“I think we need to talk to someone, a professional,” he said one day. “I don’t know what to do.”

It was true, he didn’t know what to do.  His vibrant, chatty, often too loud wife had disappeared and nothing he could say would bring her back.  I had forgotten what life was like before we wanted children, when it was just us and we were happy.  All I could think about was being a mum, it had become all consuming.

Luckily our clinic, The Lister, offered free counselling as standard.  So few clinics do this and I am shocked – talking is key to surviving fertility treatment.  On Jonny’s recommendation I tentatively booked our first appointment with Tracey, our counsellor, and we both went to the appointment together.  I was convinced I wouldn’t know what to say, or where to start, but as soon as I started to share what was going on, I couldn’t stop.  Tracey listened and offered guidance and support like I’m sure she had to so many others in that exact same chair time and time before me.

That moment was a breakthrough for us.  We realised very quickly that to get through this time, we needed to share what was going on.  I started to tell my friends and colleagues what we had been experiencing, and looked for further support online.  Sadly there were very few people sharing their experiences and the peer to peer advice and support I was craving was very limited.  I decided I wanted to share my own story, to help others and turned to what I knew; radio.  I had worked as a journalist for years, so it felt natural to tell my story in a documentary style programme.  I pitched the idea to Radio 4’s PM programme and they asked me to create a ten part documentary series which I later turned into a podcast called ‘The Long Road to Baby’ This process was cathartic, and useful, but it didn’t totally give me the support I needed.  I craved community.

Cue Peanut.  Three years previously my friend Michelle Kennedy had launched an app for mothers to meet and connect with one another.  At the time I asked her to make it a success, then branch into the TTC community.  Last year Michelle showed me what she had created: Peanut TTC.  A place where women who are facing fertility issues would be able to build friendships, offer advice, and find support. And most importantly, somewhere for women to talk.  Talk about how they were feeling, and about treatment cycles, and failed rounds.  Talk about the pain of wanting the baby they so longed for, but also about the crazy times that no-one else would understand.  Like the fears that the injections hadn’t gone in properly, or how bizarre your first internal scan is.  Or do you really have to put progesterone tablets up your bum?  Or about the time you could not stop crying about the cutest puppy you saw in the street because you were on your final day of injections and – quite frankly – that level of hormones is enough to make anyone cry for days over a puppy face.  All the weird and crazy things that only someone going through fertility treatment would understand.

This.  This is what I needed for my mental health, I needed a community that understood what I was going through, and Peanut is just that.  It’s a way to stay connected with other women who are trying to conceive or going through fertility struggles. The app introduces you to other women nearby who are at a similar stage in life, giving you access to a community who is there to listen, share information, and offer valuable advice, day or night. And above all else, a place where you can find people to talk to when you really need to talk.

To join the Peanut community, click here.