There's something about the idea of a support group that can sound off-putting, particularly when it comes to a problem as personal as infertility. I know the first time I ever signed up to go along to a fertility support group, I got cold feet on the doorstep. We'd driven in rush hour traffic across town and it was only my husband's insistence that we weren't going to come all that way for nothing that finally propelled me through the door.
I didn't think I was the sort of person who went along to support groups, but the truth is that no one ever feels they are - and the moment I was there, I realised quite how beneficial it could be. For the first time, we were in a room full of people who all understood what we were experiencing, who had all felt that sinking feeling when yet another friend announced a pregnancy, who had all been through the endless clinic visits and who had come together to share tips and advice on getting through fertility tests and treatment.
Going along to a support group can seem a bit outdated when so much support is online, but there is still a place for the old-fashioned way of getting together. A survey released for National Fertility Awareness Week by Fertility Network UK and Middlesex University found that just 17% of respondents had attended a support group, but more than half (52%) would have liked to attend one if they'd had the opportunity.
People often imagine a support group is going to be terribly gloomy and depressing, but in fact most people who do attend groups find it very helpful. There's something very empowering about being with other people who understand what it's like to live with fertility problems, to share experiences and to learn from one another. People are often surprised at how upbeat and cheerful the groups can be. Of course, there is sadness sometimes, but there is also a lot of laughter and many friendships are forged.
Fertility Network UK runs groups across the UK in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and there are groups in the Channel Islands too. The groups are free of charge and mainly run by local volunteers or members of Fertility Network UK staff. They usually meet about once a month, often in the evenings or at weekends. Some groups meet in community centres or local halls, others get together at a local cafe or bar. The charity also lists groups run at fertility clinics and others organised by people who have businesses in the fertility field.
If you have a group near you, why not give it a try - and if you don't, maybe you could think about setting one up yourself? You don't need any special training as a group can be a simple matter of arranging a get-together at a local cafe. Those who have done this in the past have found it to be incredibly rewarding at many levels - you may be interested in this article by Fertility Network UK volunteer Ridhi Sahi about her experiences and you can find out more about volunteering as a support group organiser at the Fertility Network UK website.