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Infertility

Making lifestyle changes and using complementary approaches

Several people described changes that they made to their lifestyles in the hope that this would improve their chances of conceiving. Some took more exercise, changed their diet, or lost weight on the advice of their doctors. Others took up yoga or explored complementary approaches like acupuncture.
 

Sandra has been doing yoga for years and eats well. She feels that it is important to do...

Sandra has been doing yoga for years and eats well. She feels that it is important to do...

Age at interview: 42
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 33
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Because you mentioned earlier about the sort of proactive phase of the treatment?
 
I think so, oh, I think so, yes. I took up yoga. Although I’ve been doing that for years. But that obviously hasn’t made any difference. But I just think in the back of my mind I know that I’m exercising well, I’m eating well, then I’m doing what I can. I can’t look back and say, “Well, I didn’t do anything to make myself feel better.” So I just think, yes, I feel proactive now I’m doing something.
 
Sometimes people made several changes at once – Mary, for example, had her hair analysed, tried cranial osteopathy and excluded various foods and caffeine. Lulu improved her diet, cut back on alcohol, and used homeopathy and reflexology. Her husband James gave up smoking, having read about infertility and realising that this was something he could do to improve their chances.
 

Lulu made several changes and used complementary treatments as she started out on fertility...

Lulu made several changes and used complementary treatments as she started out on fertility...

Age at interview: 40
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 31
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And then I went back to the GP’s here and they referred me again. We went through all the tests again. And again, nothing. Everything seemed absolutely fine. There was nothing, you know.
 
And I was also at this point trying to do things to improve my overall health, like cut back on the drinking, you know. Usual things. People say oh take a holiday, you know, which you didn’t want to listen to and so we kept on trying and then eventually we thought well may be we would give fertility drugs a try and so I think it was at the end of 1999 I gave fertility drugs a go and took Clomid and the first month nothing happened, the second month nothing happen and then the third month I took two or three out of the pills or something like that and I just chucked the rest in the bin. 
 
Well that is probably what of I worried about with the IVF and you know I kind of think you know, but actually for me the two worked hand in hand. The one thing I was in really quite good health by the time, you know, I had my daughter. I had done so much and so had my husband. He had given up smoking, you know, I’d… I didn’t really drink only on special occasions. I drank if I wanted to, but I didn’t you know, didn’t make an everyday habit. So it really helped me get myself in shape, which I am sure helped the IVF. And then I think it helped from an emotional aspect. You know. I did a bit of homeopathy, nutrition. I did a bit of reflexology for kind of relaxation and things. And so I think the two worked really well hand in hand. So I was trying to eat well and that must help. That must help with it when you are coming to… being in good health, both of you. So I found that a tremendous help actually in having that knowledge. So .. and I had to, and that was the other thing I took. I saw a homeopath in London who had done loads of infertility and she gave me all sorts of… I started seeing her about six, nine months before I did the IVF and she had quite a specific programme to put, you know, to put people through and then very specific homeopathic remedies that she would give during the IVF process. So may be that helped, I don’t know. We will never know. But it certainly helped me. I felt like I was trying to do the best for it. And I had done everything that I could so…
 
 

James gave up smoking when he and his wife started fertility treatment.

James gave up smoking when he and his wife started fertility treatment.

Age at interview: 47
Sex: Male
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There were a number of things. I couldn’t, I felt there wasn’t a lot I could do apart from support her. And in that sense I felt to a certain degree helpless. I, she was giving up a lot, she was looking at her diet and things like that. One thing I hadn’t been able to do at that point in time, I hadn’t been able to give up smoking, so… that was what I felt was one of the key things that I could do. So obviously smoking, drinking, do affect fertility as far as I know. There was a lot of research on that. So finally, just before my fortieth birthday, 10th June I gave up and there were many, many things that helped me do that, but one of the key things was wanting to be able to help or do something towards the situation that we were in. 

 

Clara and her husband made a positive attempt to get as healthy as possible, including doing a...

Clara and her husband made a positive attempt to get as healthy as possible, including doing a...

Age at interview: 32
Sex: Female
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That was just year 2000 and when we decided to try and didn’t work, and didn’t work and that went on for quite a while, maybe two years. Probably a year and a half until I started researching more sort of alternative ways, and we did a lovely programme called ‘Nutritional’ a nutritional programme that really helped with the nutritional balance and minerals in your body. It was absolutely fantastic, really lovely and made you feel really good. And it works for a lot of people. But for some reason it didn’t work for us and after agonising two and a half years I think eventually we went to the medics, and I am not very medically… I mean I don’t tend to like them that much. But we did do it and did a few tests. We knew…[partner] had done his sperm test a few… and they were fine, nothing the matter at all. And so the medics did check my tubes, everything was fine, check my hormones, everything was fine. So there was this agonising, so why isn’t it happening? Part of you wants something to be wrong so you can sort of deal with it. And sort of in a medical way fix it [laughs]. 
 
But nothing was wrong and there was a quite annoying, so we continued you know, wanting to do it as natural as possible. And, you know, put a lot of effort in our health and lifestyle and nothing happened. 
 
If a woman is very overweight her doctors may advise weight loss before starting on fertility drugs.
 

Clare was concerned about her weight. Doctors advised her to lose five stone and suspected she...

Clare was concerned about her weight. Doctors advised her to lose five stone and suspected she...

Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 31
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By the time we got to see the, got to the clinic, it was about four or five months’ wait to actually get there. So by that stage we had actually been trying for over a year and still nothing had happened. At the time I was quite overweight, I was 5 or 6 stone overweight and I was concerned that that, perhaps, was causing the problem with my ovulation. We went to see the clinic, we saw one of the registrars at the clinic, and she said that she wasn’t sure whether it was polycystic ovaries, but she would test to see whether it was polycystic ovaries to start with, because that’s normally, being overweight and also having ovulation problem can be an indicator of that. So I was sent for blood tests and I was sent for a scan to see whether my ovaries looked polycystic at all. Those tests happened in April 2004 and went and had all the tests done, then went away to wait for our appointment to come back to be told what the results were. Then we got a letter through to say that our appointment would be November 2004 to actually be told what the results of those tests were. We were absolutely horrified. We couldn’t believe they were going to make us wait that length of time to find out whether I even had a problem in that respect. I did actually manage to go back to my GP, and my GP managed to get hold of the doctor at the hospital, or the records at the hospital and she was told over the phone that they’d, all the test results had come back clear and there was no problem. Which we were very relieved about. We were, you know, obviously it still didn’t mean that I was pregnant, but it meant that one aspect of the problem had been supposedly solved. So we had to wait for our appointment in November. We carried on trying. We didn’t do anything else. Still nothing had happened. We went to see the doctor in November. This time we saw the consultant rather than the registrar, and he told us at that appointment that I did have polycystic ovaries. So we were now utterly confused because we’d been told on the one hand that we didn’t and on the one hand that we did. And I was quite distressed because I felt they’d told us back in the summer that I didn’t have it, and I could have been doing something about it in that time. We’d wasted even more time. We talked about what to do. I was still considerably overweight at the time, and we talked about the fact that I could go on Clomid and see whether that would sort out my ovulation, but that really I needed to go away and lose the weight. Which was quite daunting. As I say I was 5 or 6 stone overweight. It was quite a scary prospect to have to lose all that weight, and be losing more time as well. You know, we’d been trying for nearly two years by that stage. But we decided in conversation with each other, and also in conversation with family and friends, that it was probably for my health, the baby’s health and everything else, it would have, make more sense for me to actually try to lose the weight first. So I started a diet, a very strict diet in the March of 2005. So this is now two years since we’ve been trying. And I lost the weight pretty rapidly. And we went back to the clinic in September 2005 and said, “Okay, we’ve done it. We’ve lost the weight. You know, what’s, what’s next?” And my consultant said, “Well, that’s brilliant, you know, you’re halfway there basically.

 

Carol had polycystic ovarian syndrome that meant she was prone to gain weight. She struggled to...

Carol had polycystic ovarian syndrome that meant she was prone to gain weight. She struggled to...

Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 27
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In terms of weight gain, that has been very difficult. My weight I have to say, it has been up and down. I have ballooned sometimes and I have tried very hard to lose weight again. But the comforting thing is that doctors have actually said to me, providing that I am not more than 10% overweight, then it shouldn’t impact on the success of fertility treatment. In fact the jury is out on that. I think it is if you have a BMI of more than 28 then there would be a problem there, but I haven’t, so I am learning to manage it, albeit I am at a fat phase at the moment. It is just one of those things and the fertility drugs haven’t helped as well. In the last two years I did manage to get down to about BMI of about 23 and I still didn’t conceive. So I am not too worried at this stage. 

Complementary Therapies
Several people described the various complementary therapies that they had tried. 
Michelle was aware that there was a certain amount of magical thinking in her behaviour, which included sponsored swimming for charity as if, “Someone would look down on me, not a big religious person, and say what a nice girl, we’ll help her out. So I did a mile and a half swimathon for a children’s charity. And I’m not pregnant. So next year I did three miles swimathon for a children’s charity”.
 

Belinda talks about trying acupuncture and hypnosis, which had not helped yet.

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Belinda talks about trying acupuncture and hypnosis, which had not helped yet.

Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 34
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We have tried acupuncture and tried hypnosis as well to see if that helps. So far it hasn’t done. But I don’t know. I just think if you know there is a reason then, even though sometimes it might make it harder to conceive because you are totally reliant on treatment, whereas like I know that at least I have got a challenge each month that I might get pregnant. But it is just like… goes further down the line and you think oh there is less chance of it happening naturally. I do sort of like now feel dependent on treatment.

While some felt that it was important to make these changes and feel as though they were doing something proactive to help their fertility, others were not so sure how much difference these changes were actually making. Carol, for example, said she had little faith that they would work, but felt it was important to be doing something rather than nothing.
 

Carol has had osteopathy and used Chinese medicine. It is important to her to feel that she is...

Carol has had osteopathy and used Chinese medicine. It is important to her to feel that she is...

Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 27
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[Laughs] yes. I have seen a Chinese doctor and a Chinese herbalist and I have been dreadfully sick after having the herbs which I don’t think are designed for a western palate. I have also tried acupuncture. It is a well known person who is supposed to be very, very good in terms of getting people pregnant. That hasn’t worked I have also seen an osteopath in terms of getting things in alignment. Experiencing organs and making sure that they are not sticking together and all sorts. Yes reflexology. I have had Indian head massage. You name it. I have tried it. So I think that is one of the problems. Everyone seems to have a tip about a couple that they have read about or their mother knows about, or they swear that this works for them and so I have tried all sorts of different herbal medications and supplements and none of them have worked. I actually think that people are clutching at straws. 
 
Has it been quite important to feel as though you are doing something?
 
Yes. Yes. I would never say sit back and don’t listen. Do something that makes you feel good for the moment, whether that be reflexology, whether it is go for a walk, go for a swim. Go to the top of the hill and scream your head off if it that actually releases tension. It is better then not doing anything. And infertility is the one thing that you can’t control in your life, so any little aspect of something that you can control does empower you a little to feel a bit better. 
 

Last reviewed July 2017.
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