The Fertility Show’s Let’s All Talk: What I’ve learned about male and female fertility
By Sophie Sulehria
Hi! I’m back this month with another blog about The Fertility Show’s “Let’s All Talk” free weekly fertility webinar series. I’m Sophie, I run the social media and content for The Fertility Show. I’m also a journalist, fertility patient and Ambassador for Peanut, the social networking space for women to meet other women trying to conceive.
Each month we cover a new topic with experts who share their insight and knowledge, then answer audience questions. In February we covered Male Factor Fertility, and this is what I learned…
1) DO NOT SAY FACTOR
This was a phrase I used a lot when promoting the events, quickly corrected by Professor Sheena Lewis, who said it was a dismissive term created by gynaecologists who historically focussed on women, and grouped the ‘male side of things’ together under the sub heading ‘factor’. There is a whole myriad of issues that men can suffer with when it comes to fertility, and often their problems are just as detailed and complex as those of women.
2) ANDROLOGISTS FOR ALL
Something Prof Lewis wants to see are andrologists inserted into all fertility clinics across the UK. Side note: if you don’t know what an andrologist is, it’s a medical specialist that deals with problems of the male reproductive system. If you didn’t know this, this shows the extent of the problem! Women have access to a gynaecologist so easily during fertility treatment, but the idea that there is not the same equivalent for a man, is pretty appalling. And crazy, seeing as men are thought to be up to 50% of the problem.
Professor Henkel taught us that varicocele is a common condition, which can lead to testicular heat stress. To get technical, it’s an enlargement of the veins within the loose bag of skin that holds your testicles, similar to a varicose vein you might see in your leg. It can also be an issue when it comes to male fertility as it can cause low sperm production and decreased sperm quality. Luckily they can be treated / removed once you know they’re there.
4) QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS
I have heard time after time how men are ignored by the doctors in clinic. Even if the man is the reason you’re in the fertility clinic in the first place! Patient Richard Clothier told us to make yourself heard and be seen to be involved. Ask as many questions as your partner, plan these ahead of time if necessary. But make sure the doctor knows you are involved, that you’re there, and that you want to be heard and seen.
Richard also strongly advised male peer-to-peer support. He helps run a very successful men-only Facebook group where people can ask questions and be there for one another. He said that men rarely want to talk about these types of issues or their feelings surrounding infertility. Yet he said it’s important to find likeminded people who get you, and can be there for you when you get low, otherwise it can be a lonely situation.
6) RHOD GILBERT
I can’t talk about male fertility without also giving a huge nod to Rhod. On the same week we kicked off our male fertility focus webinars, Rhod’s wonderful documentary “Stand Up to Infertility” aired across the BBC. Rhod made the doc before lockdown, as he and his wife were about to start treatment. He visited The Fertility Show as part of his investigation and met lots of wonderful men, keen to raise awareness of male fertility. His campaign and men-only support group HIMfertility has been taken on by Fertility Network UK.
In March we turned to Female Fertility, and despite being a female fertility patient for almost ten years now, I still had a lot to learn!
7) KNOWLEDGE EARLY ON
There was one thing that every guest we had on in March told us – women need to know about their female fertility health as early as possible, as early as 18. They need to realise they have a biological clock, and from 30 it starts to tick the other way. By 35 our eggs really start to decrease, and in our 40s even more so. Our guests didn’t set out to scare with this information (although it is a scary truth) but their aim is to ensure that women understand they have a time limit to have children.
8) 1 IN 3
One in three people have Endometriosis and / or PCOS. It shocked me to realise just how many women suffer in silence. You don’t hear one in three women complaining or telling people how much pain they’re in, or how much they suffer. It’s still a silent struggle when it comes to female medical conditions, and something I feel needs to be more widely discussed, and more money and research time invested into the conditions.
9) RECURRENT MISCARRIAGE
At the time of writing, we haven’t yet discussed the topic of miscarriage, it’s coming up next. However, news out today show scientists have made strong leads into research. They have managed to create clumps of human tissue that behave like early-stage embryos, a feat that promises to transform research into the first steps of human development. The clumps of cells, named blastoids, resemble blastocysts, which form within a few days of an egg being fertilised. By studying blastoids, scientists hope to understand why so many miscarriages occur at this stage. I look forward to hearing more about this exciting research in the coming talk.
For those of you who missed these sessions, we have uploaded them all to The Fertility Show’s YouTube Channel for you to watch back. Meanwhile, soon we head into April, when the focus will be on “Patient Stories”. We have another great lineup, with some familiar faces and lots of helpful advice.
To book your free place, plus watch the rest of content from The Fertility Show so far, just follow this link: https://linktr.ee/TheFertilityShow
Sophie Sulehria hosts the Let’s All Talk series alongside Jessica Hepburn, who is an author, one of the founders of Fertility Fest, and the content creator at The Fertility Show.