IVF: ‘It’s overwhelming and shocking at every single turn’

A great piece here from The Guardian about playwright Gareth Farr, author of the play The Quiet House, and his wife Gabby Vautier. They talk about their personal experiences of fertility problems and treatment – and explain how the play, and the accompanying festival, came about.  Do read it!

The Quiet House is at Birmingham Repertory theatre until 4 June, and then at the Park Theatre in London from 7 June to 9 July. Fertility Fest is in Birmingham this weekend, and in London on June 11 – see here for details.

Black market fertility drugs

images-2A very sad story from the US about couples who are buying fertility drugs from unlicensed suppliers online in order to be able to pay for their treatment. Journalists in the States found that a wide range of fertility drugs were being offered for sale at cheap prices though online message boards. Sometimes people who have had treatment find that they have drugs left over, and it seems that some are opting to sell them online.

Although it can be cheaper to buy drugs this way, it really isn’t worth it. You don’t know who you are buying them from, you don’t know whether they have been properly kept and stored and you don’t even know if they really are the drugs that they claim to be. It is quite possible that the drugs won’t do what they are meant to – and so saving money this way could render all the rest of the money you’re spending on your treatment useless. What’s more, the US report makes it clear that you could also cause yourself medical problems.

A previous report here in the UK found a similar picture with fertility drugs being sold online and made it clear that it is illegal to sell them in this way. The drugs should only be sold at a registered pharmacy or under the supervision of a pharmacist. Don’t try to save money this way – it really isn’t worth it. Far better to shop around for the best legal option to buy as explained in this post.

Doctor accused of stealing woman’s egg

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A very strange story in The Guardian about an Italian fertility specialist who has been accused of stealing the egg of a nurse who worked at one of this clinics.  Severino Antinori was arrested after the nurse told the police that she was meant to be treated for an ovarian cyst but that an egg was taken without her consent.

Antinori has been a controversial figure for decades. Back in the 90s, he hit the headlines when he treated a 63 year old woman from Romania, Rossana Della Corte, who became one of the oldest women to give birth. Then in 2006, Patricia Rashbrook, a 62 year old from the UK, got pregnant after treatment at his clinic. He is also renowned for his interest in human cloning.

When I still worked in television, I once went to film at Antinori’s clinic in Rome for a news item about Italy’s birth rate. It was an intriguing set-up as I remember there was no one there when we arrived and then all the patients turned up at the clinic at same time along with Antinori and his wife…

With the current controversy, Antinori denies the woman’s claims and is apparently suggesting the allegations were part of an extortion attempt and have made him very ill. Whatever the truth of the matter, it is clear that even now in his seventies, he is still no stranger to controversy.

Have you booked for Fertility Fest?

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It’s just a week away, but there are still some tickets left for Fertility Fest which opens in Birmingham next Saturday. If you don’t know about this unique event, linking art and science in a day of performances and discussions, you can find out more by visiting the Fertility Fest website.

The Festival takes place in London too, but opens in Birmingham next weekend with leading experts in the field including Allan Pacey, Sue Avery, Geeta Nargund, HFEA Chair Sally Cheshire, fertility counsellor Tracey Sainsbury, the NGDT’s Laura Witjens, Gillian Lockwood and Jacky Boivin. Artists featured include Jude Christian, Milli Bhatia, Ronke Adekoluejo, Satinder Chohan, Somalia Seaton, Katie Barlow, Tina Reid-Peršin, Jo Ind, Tabitha Moses,  Amy Rosenthal, Kazuko Hohki, Sarah Esdaile,  Jody Day, Louise Ann Wilson,  Aaron Deemer, Fergus Davidson and Amanda Gore.

The day will conclude with a performance of award-winning playwright Gareth Farr’s latest production, The Quiet House, which addresses IVF and fertility. Fertility Fest has been organised by Jessica Hepburn and Gaby Vautier. It promises to be a really fascinating event, so if you are anywhere near Birmingham – book your tickets now!

High levels of vitamin D supplements may reduce chances of conceiving

Schlitz_Sunshine_Vitamin_Beer_-_Wisconsin_Historical_Museum_-_DSC02832There’s often an assumption that vitamins can only ever be good for you, and more and more fertility patients are taking more and more supplements of all kinds of different vitamins. Now, a new study from Denmark suggests that taking high doses of vitamin D supplements may actually reduce the chances of getting pregnant.

This wasn’t a huge trial as fewer than 200 women took part, but they were all planning a pregnancy and all had low levels of vitamin D. They were given different doses of vitamin D supplement and some were given placebos. The researchers found that there was a significantly lower pregnancy rate among the women in the group given the higher vitamin D dose – for the lower dose, there wasn’t a marked difference. You can read more about the study here 

Want to know more about nutrition?

637px-Cornucopia_of_fruit_and_vegetables_wedding_banquet_(cropped)If you are interested in nutrition and making sure you have the best possible diet for your fertility, you may want to join the Infertility Network UK online chat via Skype which will take place on Thursday 26th May at 8pm. This month’s guest speaker is Hayley Taylor, a Senior Fertility Nurse and Nutrition specialist.

Hayley’s talk will focus on nutrition but she will also discuss other things related to fertility for example stress management and lifestyle factors – looking at this from a holistic approach. Hayley will talk for approximately 30 minutes and the talk will be followed by a 15 minute question and answer session. If you would like to join this chat, all you need to do is email your Skype Username to hannahtramaseur@infertilitynetworkuk.co

Treatment add-ons

ivf_science-300x168If you are currently having fertility treatment, you are likely to be aware of the many different additions that are offered on top of the standard IVF from immunology treatments to time-lapse imaging. Yesterday’s Independent contained three articles on the subject;  a news story, details of some of the treatments which may not be evidence-based and an editorial suggesting that clinics should not be offering unproven treatments. It is worth reading if you are thinking of having treatment.

It is to be welcomed that the Independent are exploring this issue – it is something which has been a concern to many of those supporting patients for some time as more and more additional treatments are offered in fertility clinics, just a few of which are listed in the paper. Patients are often worried that if they don’t pay for extras they will be reducing their chances of success, when there isn’t a strong evidence base to support this as the leading experts quoted in the articles explain.

I’m not entirely sure I agree with the editorial though, which seems to put some of the blame for this back at the door of fertility patients with the suggestion that  “We also live in an age in which people do not like to take no for an answer. Some couples may be reluctant to face the fact that there may be no simple answer to their fertility issues. If one treatment does not work, the temptation is to demand another.”.  Patients are not likely to demand different treatments if clinics don’t offer them, and it seems to me unfair to be blame patients for the fact that clinics are offering unproven treatments. In fact, the editorial does go on to say that “the onus lies on the clinics – not the patients – to be the voice of realism“. It also claims that only a quarter of women who have IVF conceive – this may be true of an individual cycle of treatment but cumulative outcomes are far higher – many of those who conceive after IVF treatment did not get pregnant in the first cycle.

If you are having fertility treatment and are being given the opportunity to pay for additional extras, it is really important to make sure that you are clear about the evidence. The best kind of evidence comes from a randomised controlled trial (an RCT) and it is always a good idea to ask whoever is treating you to point you in the direction of evidence in the form of an RCT to suggest that paying for an extra treatment is a good idea.

RCOG Women’s Voices

I’m really delighted to be able to let you know that I’ve been appointed as the first Women’s Voices Lead at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists – you can find out more about that here and about the Women’s Voices Involvement Panel itself here. I think it’s a really exciting time at the RCOG where there is a genuine commitment to listen to women’s voices – but do read more on the website and let me know what you think!

If you have been successful with IVF…

120px-Pregnancy_test_resultIf you are pregnant after fertility treatment and live in the South East, would you be willing to help with a research project?

Liz Gale, a Senior Lecturer in Midwifery at the University of Greenwich, is interested in the experiences of parents to be who are expecting their first child through IVF. This study is open to prospective parents who live in London or the South East and are expecting their first child, conceived using IVF or ICSI, genetically belonging to both parents. Full ethical approval for the study has been granted from the University of Greenwich research ethics committee.

Involvement in the study will entail 3 interviews, one antenatally at 34 weeks, the second when the baby is six weeks old and another 3 months following the birth. Interviews will take place in participant’s own home or somewhere convenient to you. You will also be asked to keep a diary to complete at your own convenience; this will not be onerous but will allow you to record your early experiences of parenthood; the diary will be reviewed by the researcher but will be yours to keep as a record of your early days with your baby. Anonymity is guaranteed and if you choose to participate you would have the right to withdraw at any point.

The study is undertaken as part of Liz’s PhD and once completed, the findings will be used to improve the care and support for parents with an IVF baby. If you are interested in taking part or wish to find out more information, please contact Liz at e.a.gale@greenwich.ac.uk

How volunteering can help

Please read this brilliant piece for the Guardian Voluntary Sector Network written by Ridhi, one of Infertility Network UK’s volunteers, about how running a support group has helped her cope with her own fertility problems. Ride is an absolute star, runs a hugely popular group and has written a really honest and open piece which I hope may inspire other people to get involved – see here and if you want to volunteer for Infertility Network UK, you can find more details here