After four miscarriages and six failed IVF treatments, Mandy Parry was no stranger to studying charts in her quest to be a mum.
She knew precisely where she was in her menstrual cycle as readily as she knew the day of the week.
In the five years she and her husband Mark had been trying to conceive, Mandy tried spiritual healing, feng shui, acupuncture, organic diets and a host of herbal remedies.
Then, in a last attempt, Mandy consulted a fertility astrologer to help her get pregnant.
‘Mark and I had spent more than £50,000 on treatments and we’d both taken second jobs to pay for them,’ Mandy says.
‘All the heartbreak had made me profoundly depressed - at times I wanted to die. The odds were so stacked against us.’
But now the couple are the proud parents of eight-month-old Violet. And Mandy has no doubt it was astro-fertility that has helped to fulfil her dream of becoming a mother.
‘Though I was sceptical, I was also desperate,’ says Mandy. ‘I don’t even read my horoscope and Mark thought it was a complete waste of money. But when you want a baby as badly as I did, you will consider anything.
'Since Violet was born I feel intoxicated with happiness. I still can’t quite believe she’s here. All of my scepticism has melted away.’
But can credit for this miracle conception really be given to star-gazing - and is there a shred of evidence to support it?
Astro-fertility works on the assumption that there are only two or three times a year when a woman can become pregnant and go on to successfully give birth.
Those windows are particular to each woman based on her and her partner’s time and place of birth and the alignment of planets at those moments.
It is only when the position of those planets is replicated that a woman can conceive.
‘It sounds like nonsense,’ says Mandy, a secondary school teacher. ‘But we’d exhausted all other options so I thought: “Why not?”'
She and Mark, a community safety worker, met in May 2004 when Mandy was 39 and eager to have a family.
But, just as their relationship got serious, Mark, 47, made a confession - he’d had a vasectomy a few years back, following the birth of his three sons from his first marriage.
After speaking to their doctor, Mandy and Mark were told that rather than try to reverse the vasectomy, they could retrieve sperm from Mark and use it to fertilise one of Mandy’s eggs via IVF.
But despite six attempts over four years - at a cost of up to £8,000 a time - the procedures were unsuccessful. ‘Each failure and miscarriage left me in pieces,’
‘We would spend months organising it, have the treatment, lose the baby, spend several months working to pay off the debt we’d accrued and then start again.
Eventually, at the end of 2008, I promised Mark I wouldn’t put us through it again.’
Then Mandy read on a website about fertility astrologer Nicola Smuts, who, it was claimed, had predicted times when couples would conceive. Nicola had a clinic in Bath, just a few miles from the Parrys’ home in Bristol, so Mandy decided it was worth a visit - though Mark was highly sceptical.
‘When I went for my appointment I had to take along details of mine and Mark’s births, which seemed bizarre. Mark said I was crazy for going along with it,’ she says.
He was even more doubtful when Nicola told Mandy her next fertile window was in August - in just six weeks.
‘She told us we should move heaven and earth to have an IVF transfer (when embryos are implanted into the womb) then.
‘I couldn’t believe Nicola was telling me to do it within six weeks, but she was adamant that I must pull out all the stops. Thankfully the clinic was very accommodating and we were all set to go ahead just before the end of August.
‘Mark was fuming that I was following Nicola’s advice. And, to be honest, as a rational person, I didn’t believe what she’d told me either, but I was so desperate I was willing to try anything.’
One week later, Mandy got the call she’d been longing for. She was pregnant. ‘It wasn’t until after our daughter’s birth, when I was lying in the bath and Violet was asleep in her cot, that I really let myself experience the joy,’ she says.
The question, of course, is whether it was good luck - or astrological influences - that helped Mandy conceive.
Nicola Smuts has no doubt it was the latter. The 45-year-old fertility astrologer had herself tried for eight years to conceive a child with her second husband, having had two grown-up children from her first marriage.
Nicola says: ‘I started out as a regular astrologer then decided to look at my chart to see if there were any clues as to why I wasn’t getting pregnant. I saw the planetary odds were stacked against me.’
Though she had no joy with her own chart, she soon found herself advising other women on the most fortuitous months to conceive.
She says: ‘Before long I was predicting pregnancies for other women. Word spread, and this became the bulk of my work.’
Nicola charges a one-off £150 fee for an ‘astrological fertility consultation’ - in which she studies the couple’s birth charts.
‘Jupiter and its mathematical relationship to a woman’s birth chart is key to working out when she will have a baby,’ she says.
It may sound unscientific, but the results of Nicola’s work have generated enough interest for her to have been approached by a U.S. IVF clinic, Shady Grove Fertility, which will put her claims to the test.
The clinic has provided Nicola with birth details of hundreds of its clients in the hope she can predict the best times for them to conceive.
However, fertility experts this side of the pond are more sceptical. Pioneering Professor of Fertility Robert Winston described the suggestion that astrology can predict fertility as ‘utter rubbish’.
‘There is not the slightest evidence that star signs make the slightest difference to fertility,’ says Prof Winston. ‘It’s shocking to me that anyone would make that claim based on anecdotal events. What worries me is that infertility is the cause of desperate sadness and couples will grasp any kind of straw such as this.’
Yet the words of eminent scientists will do nothing to dissuade the truly desperate — even highly educated women such as science author Catherine Blackledge. The 42-year-old, from Preston, Lancashire, has a chemistry PhD, but credits astro-fertility for the birth of her baby, Willow Rose, in May.
Like Mandy, Catherine and her husband Steve Hill, 46, endured four IVF attempts and two miscarriages before turning to astrology. She was introduced to the idea by a lecturer in astrology whom she met when researching a book. ‘I’m a scientist and we’re told that we should laugh at astrology in our culture,’ she says. ‘But I’ve approached this with an open mind.’
Catherine had her consultation with Nicola Smuts in August 2008, just a month after her second miscarriage. Nicola pinpointed two fertile times for the couple to try another cycle of IVF. The next was in February 2009, when sadly their frozen embryos failed to survive, and then again in August 2009.
‘I knew we would be laughed at for putting credence in astrology,’ says Catherine. ‘But I just kept telling the clinic: “It has to be then.” The way I saw it, we were using a mix of cutting-edge science and a dose of magic.’
Nicola’s predications came true, and Willow was born in May. ‘I know many people will say we were successful because we used this new type of IVF, but I also like to think we chose a propitious time. I would say to any woman, try astro-fertility, because I believe it works,’ she says
Her view is shared by health psychologist Dr Pat Harris, who researched the link between a woman’s fertility and horoscope for her PhD.
She says: ‘I found that women who knew their exact time of birth who then used an astrological chart to predict their best time to conceive could increase their chances of conception by 23 per cent.’
She adds: ‘We have more to learn, but astrology seems to be an effective way of identifying fertility windows that other systems do not.’
Despite happy endings such as Mandy’s and Catherine’s, IVF support groups such as Infertility Network UK are still very cautious. A spokesman for the group said: ‘Although some couples may have been successful using fertility astrology, there will be many more for whom this has not worked.
‘They need to think carefully before spending lots of money on treatments because an astrologer says it’s their most fertile time. Some couples eventually have to face up to the fact they are unlikely to have a child.’
Ironically, Mandy Parry would once have stated the case even more strongly. ‘I’m no hippy and used to rail against the exploitation of desperate women by anyone giving false hope,’ she says.
‘And until I got pregnant I thought Nicola was a crank. But when I look at our perfect baby I’m so happy that I ignored my rational self.’
Article: 20th January 2011 www.dailymail.co.uk
Read more tips on boosting fertility and using home insemination to increase your chances of getting pregnant at www.prideangel.com