The MyJourney app, developed by Dr Sofia Gameiro and her team at Cardiff University, together with Portuguese and UK fertility charities, is designed to support people who, for any reason, do not have the children that they had hoped for.
As a barren woman myself, the opportunity to review a new app that was designed to aid coping with the long term impacts of involuntary childlessness was timely; the pronatalist society we live in has ensured a large number of pregnancies have been spotlighted as good news during difficult times, and a correlating large number of friends are sharing news of imminently arriving grandchildren. My hopes were that the app would be useful for me personally, yet also, as a fertility counsellor, to gain a useful resource to share with clients.
The app was easy to download; but step one found me frustrated, I'd made the classic app mistake and jumped straight in without reading the 'About' information. Being a ten-step programme, having found the first step uncomfortable, acknowledging and validating the grief associated with the loss of the fantasy family, I'd hoped to skip through to step ten, be reassured I'd have a happy ending and then pick up where I'd left off. But no, it was not possible, and after my initial desire to uninstall, and having gone back to the start to read appropriately, I was able to acknowledge this really is an app that promotes a journey, not an easy one, but hopefully one to be embraced and valued.
Each person engaging with the app will move at their own pace, the ability to set a reminder if you're not yet ready to begin your journey felt very therapeutically helpful, as is the suggestion of taking one step each week.
The app's creators have very obviously listened to what was missing from the marketplace in terms of appropriate support, recognising many people now want to access therapeutic interventions in different ways; one study has reported that there was a 24.2 percent increase in English-language mental wellness apps downloaded in April compared to the pre-COVID-19 levels in January.
But there's more to this app than it being free to access, portable, and ready when you are: it's brilliant! The depth and breadth of understanding the emotional impact of childlessness was apparent from the beginning. Each step adds resources to your backpack, to carry forwards and dip back into if it feels helpful. The steps challenge, promoting awareness of the mental and physical aspects of grief and how you manage them; prompting for thoughts that are shared in later steps, to promote times for reflection, checking if you're on track with your goals, or indeed if the goalposts have moved.
The ability to go back and retake a step, enables you to move forwards again, possibly with enhanced resilience and robustness having ventured there before. At the end of the journey, you are reminded that it never ends; and so back to admitting that my own childlessness, though overcome through adoption, remains an ever-changing integral part of my being and continues to be carried forward in my own journey – but now as a lighter load.
For clinics the app will provide a way to show support for those patients who leave without a positive outcome, one that will be there as and when they need it for years to come. I have tried to find room for improvement with the MyJourney app, but all I could suggest was that it becomes available sooner!
MyJourney is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). The intellectual property for MyJourney belongs to Cardiff University and the Portuguese Fertility Association - APFertilidade. MyJourney is currently being evaluated in a pre-registered randomised controlled trial. The trial will finish in July 2021, and from August 2021 MyJourney will be accessible for free to everyone who wants to use it.
If fertility clinics or other for-profit organisations want to offer MyJourney to their clients they will need to establish a license agreement with Cardiff University and APFertilitidade, which is subjected to an annual fee. Organisations can contact here for more information.