New IVF exhibition at London’s Science Museum

 

Gallery views of “IVF: 6 Million Babies Later”. An exhibition marking the 40th anniversary of the ‘miraculous’ birth of Louise Brown on 25 July 1978. The exhibition explores the ten years of testing, hundreds of failed attempts and many setbacks faced by Robert Edwards, Patrick Steptoe and Jean Purdy, in their quest to treat infertility and achieve the first successful IVF birth.


This morning I went to London’s Science Museum for the opening of a special IVF-themed exhibition to mark the 40th anniversary of the birth of Louise Brown, the first IVF baby,.

Speaking at the launch of the exhibition – IVF: 6 Million Babies Later – Sally Cheshire CBE, Chair of the HFEA, paid tribute to the work of Professor Sir Robert Edwards, Dr Patrick Steptoe and Jean Purdy.

Sally said: “It is to these three people that we owe the most, for inventing in vitro fertilisation or IVF, persisting until it succeeded and allowing millions of patients to create their much longed-for families. Louise Brown’s birth 40 years ago was a defining moment in medicine and one that went on to have a huge impact on both the lives of individuals and society.”

The exhibition explores the remarkable story of IVF, from the opposition, uncertainty and challenges faced by the early pioneers, to the latest research in reproductive science today. Visitors will be able to see one of the ‘Oldham notebooks’, as they are known, that record the scientific data collected by Purdy and Edwards between 1969 and 1978, as well as examples of the equipment they used. Over 10 years, the notebooks recorded data for 282 anonymous women but only five pregnancies and two successful births.

The rest of the exhibition shows the worldwide media attention Louise’s birth brought to her family and what the future holds for scientific development and the millions of patients who experience fertility problems.

Sally adds: “There have been huge advancements in scientific research and medicine over the past 40 years and the UK remains at the forefront of scientific and clinical development in IVF. The 40th anniversary of Louise’s birth is a milestone and we can look forward to an exciting and challenging future as medicine and science allow more people to have the families they want.”

IVF: 6 Million Babies Later is free to visit and open daily from today until November 2018.

Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness

Last week, I had the honour of interviewing Lesley Pyne about her new book, Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness, at her book launch. Lesley went through six rounds of IVF, and spent many years feeling defeated by the experience of living without children – but eventually realised that stuffing her grief into a box and trying to keep a stiff upper lip wasn’t working. Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness is Lesley’s guide for anyone experiencing involuntary childlessness as she takes you through the process that allowed her to discover the happiness on the other side. There’s no short cut to this, and you have to let yourself experience the grief and sadness to come out the other side, but Lesley is a living testament to the fact that this works – and that there is joy to be found,

It was great to see so many people there for the book launch, including the team from Fertility Network UK (Lesley is pictured here with Fertility Network UK Chief Executive Aileen Feeney) and fellow author Jessica Hepburn.The guests included many of Lesley’s friends from More to Life, the part of Fertility Network UK which works with those who are living without children. It was a testament to those lasting friendships that Lesley – and many others – found through the organisation to see so many of the group Lesley first met when she first joined Moe to Life still there and offering their support.

Lesley’s motif is a butterfly and the tables of books were also covered in piles of beautiful butterfly biscuits, carefully colour-coded to match Lesley’s book cover and website.

Lesley works as a coach, supporting others through childlessness, and you can find her guide to a more fulfilling life in the book Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness which is available in paperback and for Kindle, and you can buy it via Amazon.

Could scientists have found a cure for PCOS?

It’s incredibly common, but little has been known about what causes polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Now scientists in France think they may have found the solution. They believe PCOS may be triggered by exposure to high levels of Anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH) in the womb which may overstimulate brain cells and raise the level of testosterone in the body.

Experimenting on mice, the researchers were able to reverse the effect of the AMH by using a drug which can be used to control hormones and they are now planning to trial this in women. If it works, it could be a solution to restore ovulation in women with POCS.

PCOS is a very common condition, and women who experience it have a number of symptoms often may include irregular periods, excess body hair, weight gain, oily skin and cysts on the ovaries. Many, but not all, experience difficulties trying to conceive and PCOS is often a cause of fertility problems. You can read more about the new research in New Scientist here.

Why exercise is good for you

A new study suggests that “vigorous” exercise may be linked to an improved chance of getting pregnant, but that more gentle exercise doesn’t seem to make the same difference. So, what counts as “vigorous”? Apparently that’s exercise like jogging, running, football or aerobics which leaves you out of breath, and you have to do more than four hours a week!

You can read more about it on the NHS Choices website – and the results are interesting. If you are obese, the vigorous exercise thing doesn’t work, but instead more moderate exercise such as walking does. As NHS Choices points out, assessing how likely it is that these results are actually widely applicable and correct can be difficult as the results were slightly odd. It isn’t clear why exercise only counts if you do more than four hours a week, or why walking makes a difference to obese or overweight women but not to any others. It is also not clear what they women ate, or whether their weight changed during the study as these factors could make a difference – as could any existing fertility problems so it may be that one of these other factors was in fact responsible.

It does, however, add to the growing body of evidence that keeping active is a good thing!

Thank you Fertility Fest!

I have spent the past few days at Fertility Fest at the Bush Theatre in London, and wanted to thank Jessica Hepburn and Gabby Vautier for organising such a wonderful and inspiring event. It was a unique opportunity for people affected by fertility problems and treatment, for those working in the fertility sector, for those who have families not created in the traditional way, for academics and for the general public to come together and to learn and be inspired. It was absolutely fabulous!

I met amazing artists and so many inspiring and interesting people doing all kinds of different work to help and support others in different ways. It was a real honour to be involved. A special thank you to the lovely Saskia Boujo and everyone I shared a panel with – artist Gina Glover, Dr Kay Elder, Sally Cheshire, Dr Roy FarquharsonMaria Da Luz Ghoumrassi, Dr Shantel Ehrenberg, Barbara Scott, Jane Denton, Anna Furse, Nina Klaff, Drunken Sailor Theatre Company, Victoria Macdonald, Foz Foster, Tabitha Moses, Professor Lesley Regan, Professor Simon Fishel, Yvonne John, Sue Macmillan, Carmel Dennehy, Tracey Sainsbury, Fiona Duffelen – to Paula Knight who was unable to be with us but sent a video – and of course, to those wonderful women Jessica and Gabby who have created something really very special!

If you’ve had successful IVF treatment…

If you are based in or near London, you may be interested to know about a very special parents and babies group taking place on Wednesday lunchtime at the Bush Theatre as part of the amazing Fertility Fest. The Life and Lunch meeting is just for IVF parents and babies and is an opportunity to discuss candidly and confidentially, how it feels to become a parent after you’ve struggled to conceive. It is being facilitated by Saskia Boujo, Founder of My Beehive and creator of the ‘IVF and Proud’ merchandise brand; Helen Daviesauthor of More Love To Give about her story of secondary infertility; and Gabby Vautier, Co-Director of Fertility Fest and mum of IVF toddler twins.

I will also be there with five free copies of my book “Precious Babies – Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting after Infertility” to give away! Come and join us – it promises to be a fabulous session.

For anyone pregnant after fertility treatment

I’ve heard from so many people recently who are pregnant after fertility problems who are full of anxiety and feel their pregnancies, which ought to be joyful, are being tainted by the worries from the time spent trying to conceive. Women then blame themselves once again for not being “normal”, but this is a perfectly understandable response to finally finding yourself pregnant after fertility problems. You may find it hard to have faith that things are going to be all right when you have become so accustomed to them not being all right.

It may be helpful to know that there is a closed Facebook group which I look after for the patient charity Fertility Network UK which is just for people who are pregnant after fertility problems which you can find at https://www.facebook.com/groups/Pregnancyafterinfertility/

The other resource which may be helpful is a book I wrote because I felt so strongly about the lack of understanding for people who are pregnant after fertility problems. It’s called Precious Babies – Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting after Infertility and you can buy it from Amazon. It goes from the positive pregnancy test right through birth and early parenthood to interviews with adults conceived by IVF and I hope it helps you realise that you are not alone and that others feel the same way after fertility problems.

 

Join the Women’s Network

If you haven’t yet put in your application, you have until Monday 7 May to apply to join the brilliant Women’s Network at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. The RCOG Women’s Network is a dynamic committee which lies at the heart of the College’s work to improve the health of people who use obstetric and gynaecological services. The lay women on the Network ensure the views of the public impact meaningfully on women’s  experience of healthcare services and their treatment outcomes.

As a member of the Network you will work collaboratively with other Network members, doctors and RCOG staff to inform the College’s activities from the public perspective. Membership is a voluntary opportunity which requires significant time and commitment, however brings rewarding benefits and the chance to influence care and services in the areas of fertility, pregnancy and birth, menopause and gynaecological conditions.

You can find out more about the role here, but if you’re enthusiastic with a keen interest in women’s health and if you are dedicated to making a difference, come and join us!

Get Lippy

It may feel slightly off-topic, but actually it isn’t… Today I want to talk about gynaecological cancers as I spent this morning at the launch of a fantastic new campaign by the brilliant charity The Eve Appeal aimed at encouraging everyone to speak out about the signs and symptoms of gynaecological cancers without embarrassment.

Called Get Lippy, the campaigners are working with a number of key beauty brands who will give a donation to the appeal for one of their featured lipsticks, lip balms or lip glosses during the month of May. The money raised will be spent on vital research into early diagnosis and treatment.

So where does fertility come into this? For many women affected, it is one of the key issues as even when the treatment offered is successful at treating their cancer, it can leave them unable to conceive. The Get Lippy campaign calls on everyone to speak out loudly about the signs and symptoms so that more women can be diagnosed as early as possible and more of them will have a positive outcome.

The retailers supporting the Get Lippy campaign are Tesco, Harvey Nichols, Space NK and Oliver Bonas and the brands include Vaseline, Hourglass, Bali Balm, EOS, Elemis, Lipstick Queen and Smashbox.

Athena Lamnisos, Chief Executive of the Eve Appeal said, “We are thrilled to be working alongside such a breadth of powerful brand partners and beauty names for Get Lippy and their support is so important in making these health issues easier to talk about. Challenging taboos and raising awareness, the Get Lippy campaign will be a huge boost towards funding for The Eve Appeal\s pioneering research to save women’s lives through early detection and prevention of all five gynaecological cancers. We all need to Get Lippy this May, and every May from now on.”

Every day in the UK 58 women are diagnosed with one of the five forms of gynaecological cancer – womb, ovarian, vertical, vulval and vaginal – affecting more than 21,000 women and their families every year. You can find out much more about the signs and symptoms of each of these cancers on The Eve Appeal website so that you can Get Lippy and join the campaign!

Thinking of having treatment overseas?

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.

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