Zita, The Embryologist and Me

by | 25 May 2014

A couple of months ago I was involved in an event with Zita West, the UK’s baby-making guru. She said lots of interesting things but one in particular has stuck with me. Apparently whenever she meets a couple for the first time who are having difficulties conceiving she asks them what they think is the reason. The answer, she says, is always revealing. Right now, my answer would be: my age, my immune system and, occasionally, my mind. In that order.

Now park that thought for a moment because I want to tell you something lovely that happened to me about a week ago. Out of the blue I got an email from an embryologist from one of the first fertility clinics we attended. He makes a small cameo appearance in my book and although I don’t mention the name of the clinic itself (and had no idea he still worked there), a patient of his read my book, put two and two together and…he found me.

He asked me if I would send him a signed copy which I tentatively did hoping that he’d like it. Less than a week later, he wrote and said he’d read it cover to cover in a day. He commended my embryology descriptions which he said were pretty much textbook (I puffed with pride). He also said that the book depicted us exactly as he remembered.

As it was over five years since we’d seen him and most fertility clinics eat patients in the way that locusts eat crops, I was quite surprised (and flattered) he remembered us at all. When I wrote back and said so, he replied that there weren’t many couples who wanted to witness every aspect of their treatment (no?) and that he will always remember how calm and positive my partner was and how anxious I was by comparison (yup that would be us then, the same in reality as we are in the book).

So back to Zita – it made me think of her question again. Although I believe that infertility is a complex condition, instinct tells me that back then my anxious mind played a major part in sabotaging my chance to become a mother. Since then I’ve done a lot to shift that and it only occupies a measly third place. But I’m 43 and it may be too late. So don’t let it happen to you, if you think it could be one of the reasons, please do something about it!

So for this week’s question, ask yourself the question.



  1. kiftsgate

    It’s interesting that she always asks that question. Did she say how she uses that information?
    I would say our infertility comes mostly from my absence of cycles and completely messed up hormones. Then from my husband’s bad sperm quality. I was extremely anxious too at first. Less so now. But last time I did a transfer I had worked on it a lot and it still didn’t work… good question!

    • thepursuitofmotherhood

      She doesn’t say what she does with the answer but I think it’s so important that she asks the question and more doctors should. What I love about your answer though is that you’re so clear about the physiological reasons and I’m sure you’re right and working on those. I fundamentally feel that your ‘mind’ is rarely the only reason (and I’d never want anyone to think it was because I think infertility is way too complex for that) but I do think it has a part to play and that if we as individuals deal with it and we as a world end a lot of the secrecy and shame around it, treatment of infertility will move forward massively. Jessica x

  2. Laura

    Hi Jessica, The patient you refer to is me!! I read your book before I had a recent FET and, as you say, put two and two together! Loved the book and your weekly blog x

    • thepursuitofmotherhood

      Wow! Well there you go! Isn’t it wonderful how lives connect in weird and wonderful ways! Happy Bank Holiday weekend. You’ve just made me smile. A lot. Jessica x

  3. mumswrite

    Infertility specialists I have spoken to have tended to be skeptical that stress is a contributing factor — My understanding is that the research is very inconclusive, and the last thing you want is for women to start blaming themselves. That said, going through infertility treatment is vastly stressful, and whether or not easing the angst cures the infertility, looking after yourself is worthwhile as an end in itself.

    • thepursuitofmotherhood

      Such wise words as always Joanna. It is absolutely true that the jury is out on whether ‘stress’ is a real issue in infertility cases. I certainly don’t believe that it can ever be the only factor, especially when you think of how many stressful social and environmental conditions that many women get pregnant in. But I do think psychology has a part to play and that our mental health can impact on our physical health. We’re a long way of truly understanding the brain, but my bet is one day our children’s children’s children’s children’s might know more…

  4. Dee Armstrong, Natural Fertility Coaching and IVF Support

    Great post Jessica, thank you. I was telling a patient of mine about it this week and asked her what she thought the reasons for her difficulties were. She surprised me with a really lucid summary and I have resolved to ask every couple the same thing from now on. I think some people may have a real intuition as to what’s going on with their own infertility. I know I certainly use my intuition to a degree when I’m talking to a new patient for the first time (even though I’m also busy collecting evidence) and it would be very helpful to know whether mine and the patient’s intuitions overlap. I have a good friend who’s both a psychotherapist and a Buddhist and over the years I have taken advantage of her wisdom many many times when I have needed emotional support. On more than occasion she has said to me “what do YOU think the problem / solution is Dee?” and I have wailed “I don’t know!” She replies “well if you DID know, what would you say?” and I have always come up with something from deep down inside. Clever.

    • thepursuitofmotherhood

      Glad you liked it. Evidence is important too, of course, but there’s something in that instinct of ours (whatever it is, wherever it comes from). Sounds like a great and wise friend you have there too! Jessica x