FEATURE: Meet the woman bringing hope to infertile couples in 1066 Country
On first impression, walking up a lurid yellow fire escape into this characterless industrial unit, it doesn't look like you are entering a building where miracles happen.
But many women from across Hastings, Rother and beyond, have had their lives transformed after visiting this unassuming building on the Ivyhouse Industrial Estate.
Unit 6-8 at the Brookway Business Park is the home of the tranquil Elm Wood Massage Clinic, which specialises in fertility massage, providing help to enable women with endometriosis, low egg reserves or other fertility issues to achieve the family they desire.
The business was set up by former gym manager Kerry Barden seven years ago, initially focusing on sports massage.
But a call from a potential client enquiring about fertility massage piqued Kerry’s curiosity and she signed up for a training course - albeit with some reservations.
Kerry, 32, said: “I already offered pregnancy massage and someone asked me (about fertility massage), so I Googled it. Six weeks later there was a course in Deal, so I signed up but I was sceptical.”
Despite Kerry’s initial scepticism, she tried out what she had learned on her first fertility client - a woman who had undergone five failed rounds of In vitro fertilisation (IVF) and was preparing her body for one final try at the expensive fertility treatment.
She had experienced problems with ovarian cysts while her partner had low sperm quality, but thanks in part to Kerry’s intervention, when the time came for the woman’s egg collection, a good number were produced for treatment.
Kerry said: “They were able to get lots of great quality embryos and for the first time were able to get some frozen too. And it worked. That gave me confidence that a fertility massage can help people.”
From this initial success, Kerry’s reputation spread and now, three years later, most of Kerry’s clients are seeking help with fertility issues.
As well as her Hastings clinic, Kerry also runs sessions in Tenterden, and currently has 87 clients on the books from as far afield as Brighton, Tunbridge Wells, Gravesend, London and Dartford.
She also sees two clients from Essex, both coming to her as a result of the word-of-mouth recommendations, such is the strength of Kerry’s reputation.
Since switching her focus to fertility massage two-and-a-half years ago, Kerry has helped to create 112 babies - 54 of these in 2016. “It was a crazy year,” she laughs.
The faces of some of those 112 babies smile down at you from walls of Kerry’s Hastings’ clinic, alongside precious black and white images of pregnancy scans.
And 2017 looks likely to be an even greater success, with 21 couples conceiving between January and March.
Although abdominal massage is the cornerstone of Kerry’s treatments, she also provides clients with essential advice on nutrition and lifestyle.
She said: “I studied nutrition first of all 14 years ago at college and continued to do more and more courses. That for me is a huge part of the process. Improving on a client’s fertility is about nutrition, lifestyle choices and relaxation techniques.”
She added: “And stress is a huge factor. I have seen peoples’ cycles go completely off track, all because of stress.”
Kerry recommends her clients have five or six treatments with her, but some have managed to get lucky after just one. Kerry added: “Some people obviously are going to need more treatments, like my endometriosis clients, and some women come to me not having had a period for two years. So we have to get them a period and once we have got them a period we can start on their fertility journey.”
But of course infertility is not just a women’s issue, and Kerry is seeing an increasing number of male clients come through the door.
She said: “Male fertility is a bigger issue now because so many men have poor sperm counts. I now do lots of male treatments – nutrition, abdominal massage and holistic lifestyle changes.
“Lots of people struggle to have a balanced nutritious diet. It’s really important to address that and I think that’s one of the main things that has changed in terms of increased infertility.”
Kerry was born and bred in Tenterden, opening her first clinic there, shortly afterwards opening a second one in Hastings – her links to the town having been strengthened by karate training there culminating in her being part of the England squad for six years.
She moved her business to the unit on Ivyhouse Industrial Estate about a year ago, having previously operated in treatments rooms within gyms in Hastings. The move was prompted by the realisation she needed a more peaceful venue for achieving the best results for her clients.
Kerry said: “Last year is when I really switched to primarily helping fertility and women’s health.
“I needed somewhere quiet, more peaceful and tranquil.”
With an ever-expanding client base, Kerry is considering the next steps for Elm Wood, whether to expand her Hastings clinic or perhaps branching out into Eastbourne.
In the meantime more people than ever, from further afield, are seeking her help. She said: “I have had people contact me from Australia and Scotland who have seen me on Instagram and want to book appointments, but obviously they can’t visit me in person.
“So my other half and I are working on a programme to enable us to Skype them and take them on a journey that way.”
Kerry is also currently studying courses on Holistic Fertility Therapy Practice, Cupping to Aid Fertility and Advanced Fertility Nutrition in a bid to aid her clients further. She said: “Sometimes a client will come along whose infertility is caused by an unusual or complex combination of problems. This is why I spend my down time reading, researching and problem solving.”
And Kerry is also beginning to attract returning clients too. She said: “I helped a lady two years ago who had endometriosis and had been through six failed chances of IVF. Then she conceived naturally following treatments with me and then she came back to try for baby number two. She gave birth the other day to her second baby.”
Kerry added: “I still find it really unbelievable that I have helped over a hundred couples and gained so many friends through it. I’m very lucky and thankful that I have these opportunities to help.
“You’re dealing with something so sensitive and personal. Clients must feel that they can put their trust in you.
“That trust means that my clients and I become close during their fertility journey and every successful conception really makes my heart sing.”
To find out more about Kerry Barden, including testimonials or book an appointment, visit www.fertilitymassageclinic.com.