If you are considering going abroad for fertility treatment, you may be interested in this article I wrote for a supplement for The Times earlier this week.
For many people, going overseas can be a cheaper option, and many return with positive stories about their experiences, but you do need to be aware of the facts and understand the differences you may find if you choose to have treatment outside the UK.
There are some great clinics across the globe, but there are also some that are not quite so great and you don’t have the protection that you have here in the UK of knowing that all clinics offering IVF are licensed and regularly inspected by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. As you don’t have that luxury with clinics elsewhere, you do need to make sure you do your homework and research as much as you can about the clinic and the country to ensure that you are left feeling that you did the right thing in choosing to travel for treatment.
Fertility Fest is the world’s first arts festival dedicated to fertility, infertility, modern families and the science of making babies – and you really ought to be there! It promises 150 artists and fertility experts in a week-long programme of events, entertainment, discussion, debate, support and solidarity.
It runs from 8 – 13 May at the Bush Theatre in London, and has the most amazing array of sessions. You will find Izzy Judd – wife of McFly’s Harry Judd and author of the bestselling memoir Dare to Dream – talking about their experiences of fertility treatment and trying to conceive. There’s a session on the often overlooked male experience of infertility with a screening of a film about a man whose relationship breaks down as a result of infertility and a documentary film about men’s experiences of infertility. You could listen to poet Julia Copus performing her poetry cycle which was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award or film-maker Katie Barlow sharing excerpts from her ongoing documentary film-project. In a session on pregnancy loss, award-winning visual artists Foz Foster and Tabitha Moses will explore their experiences with Professor Lesley Regan, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and one of the world’s leading voices on miscarriage. And on Wednesday 9th May, there’s a special event entitled ‘There’s More To Life Than Having Children’ hosted and chaired by Fertility Network UK’s Catherine Strawbridge.
One exciting series during the festival is the ‘Fertility Fight Club’ in which leading artists and fertility experts including Professor Geeta Nargund (from Create Fertility), Jody Day (Founder of Gateway Women the friendship and support network for childless women) and writer and theatre-maker Stella Duffy will give ten minute provocative talks about things they want to change about the world of fertility and infertility. These will be live streamed so that people can participate from their armchair at home and from anywhere around the world.
This is just a tiny taster of the huge range of different events during the week – have a look at the full programme on the Fertility Fest website www.fertilityfest.com and tickets (£10 – £35 plus a wide selection of FREE events) can be booked from the Bush’s box office https://www.bushtheatre.co.uk
For anyone with any experience at all of fertility problems, there’s a general understanding that probably the worst thing someone can say to you is “just relax…”, and yet this is the advice a TV doctor gave on ITV’s Lorraine programme. Dr Hilary Jones apparently said to a caller who was asking for advice after three unsuccessful rounds of IVF; “What I would say is, and this is probably the hardest thing to do, is just relax about it. There have been so many people that I’ve known who’ve gone through several rounds of IVF and nothing happens. And when they’ve given up, and gotten on with their lives, it miraculously happens naturally… Sometimes stress itself can have a very negative effect. So try living your life as normally as you can.”
I suppose this just shows why you should stick to asking fertility specialists for advice rather than a TV doctor, but there has been an understandable backlash from fertility patients and the charity Fertility Network UK. There is certainly a lesson to be learned for TV producers about the risks of getting a GP, who is by nature a generalist rather than a specialist, to offer advice to those who have already been treated by experts in any field of medicine. But should any doctor, even if they are a GP rather than a specialist, be telling people to “just relax” or suggesting that stress might be to blame for infertility? Apart from anything else, we all know that fertility problems cause huge amounts of stress – and that telling someone who is trying to conceive to “just relax” is about as helpful as telling them to get a dog, go on holiday or any of the other helpful advice that non-experts in the field like to pass on.
There is another problem here though, and that’s to do with blame. Suggesting that your stress levels might be responsible for your blocked fallopian tubes or endometriosis is nonsense, and yet many people do end up feeling that it’s their fault they can’t conceive in a culture which encourages you to believe that you can make the difference to outcomes by thinking positive, clean eating or complementary therapies. The truth is that none of these things are going to unblock your tubes or get rid of endometriosis, and for a medical professional to suggest that getting pregnant might miraculously happen naturally if you just relax is quite bizarre.
It was an honour to be at the House of Lords last night to help to celebrate 25 years of the Donor Conception Network – a fabulous organisation working to support would-be and current parents and their children. We heard about how the charity was started by a group of parents, and how the brilliant Olivia Montuschi and her husband Walter helped to steer it forwards. We heard from Professor Ken Daniels who had come all the way from New Zealand and who spoke about the worldwide reach and respect for the charity. We heard from Dr Marilyn Crawshaw from York about how vital the work of the Donor Conception Network is. There were moving talks from a parent about what the Network means to her and how vital it is, and from the wonderful Aled who talked about being donor-conceived. And finally we heard from Nina Barnsley, who runs the charity as Director and who takes it forward to another 25 years ahead.
If you are considering using donor eggs or sperm or a donated embryo, the Donor Conception Network should be your first port of call. They offer support on the phone and by email, and run workshops for people considering donor conception. They also arrange local meet ups and a range of events for would-be parents and for families. They also offer support for young people who are donor-conceived and have a range of story books and information about how to talk about donor conception. They are non-judgemental, supportive and a fantastic resource.
If you are interested in a role in the world of women’s health, there are some fabulous opportunities open at the moment. For anyone looking to volunteer, the Women’s Network which I chair at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has some spaces. It’s a fantastic group of dynamic women committed to improving women’s health experiences, and members must be able to commit at least two full days at the College (in central London) every three months when meetings take place. New members of the Network will be expected to become involved in the work of a committees relating to RCOG’s work too, and to have regular email contact. It is a big ask, but it’s an extremely rewarding and interesting role and a chance to make a real difference. There are more details here
There are also two jobs at the charity Fertility Network UK. One is a short-term cover role for a co-ordinator for the charity for the whole of England, which is an amazing job. The other is for a co-ordinator for More to Life, the part of the charity which works for people who are childless, after stopping treatment or deciding not to have it – a really important role.There are some fabulous people working for the charity and you will have great colleagues. If you are interested, you can find out more here.
One discussion theme which comes up now and again on fertility websites and forums is whether to put back one embryo or two when you are having IVF, and there are always people advising others to “go for two” because it will double the chances of getting pregnant if you “don’t mind” having twins. For anyone who is struggling to conceive, the idea of twins can seem hugely attractive – an instant family in one go – but it’s important to be clear that multiple pregnancy is the biggest risk from IVF treatment for you and for your baby.
The best advice to anyone who is thinking about this as a dilemma is that you should be guided by the embryologists at your clinic, assuming you are having treatment here in the UK where your health and that of your babies is always put first when it comes to numbers of embryos to transfer. Most women should have one embryo put back, and two are only considered if you have had repeated unsuccessful attempts at IVF in the past, if you are older or if your embryos look less likely to implant. Putting two embryos back will not double your chances of getting pregnant. In fact, when single embryo transfer is based on your embryologist’s advice, it should not reduce your chances of getting pregnant and if you would have got pregnant with twins, you will still get pregnant with one embryo. A multiple pregnancy is more likely to end in miscarriage but this is not always considered when people are making decisions about how many embryos to transfer.
Although we all know lots of twins who are flourishing and healthy, we don’t hear so much about those who aren’t. The increased risk of miscarriage, and of problems for the babies who are more likely to be born prematurely and may have disabilities or long term problems is very real. There are also risks for the mother such as high blood pressure and pre eclampsia and haemorrhage. You can read more about this here on the HFEA website.
This is why the best fertility clinics – those who really have your interests at heart – have a good success rate and a low multiple pregnancy rate.
Could you spare a few moments to help with a research project? I’ve just been asked to circulate details to people with experience of fertility problems about an important research project which is trying to establish core outcomes for clinical trials. If all trials into fertility reported on the same outcomes, it would be possible to combine studies to get really meaningful data to help fertility patients in the future. The research team would like your views as they want to involve lay people with lived experience in helping to shape what the main outcomes should be.
You can read more about the project here and if you decide you would like to take part by answering their questionnaires, you can do that here, apparently it should take no more than 15 minutes to complete. Thanks!