The US fertility lottery

A fertility clinic in the US has recently held a lottery offering a number of free cycles of IVF – which was a good PR exercise for the clinic itself. I’ve just been reading an article about this and was surprised to discover that the “free” cycle didn’t actually include the cost of any drugs (which, as anyone who has been through treatment will know, are extremely pricey). Nor did it include any additional treatments such as PGD or sperm freezing should they be needed. Entrants also had to be under the age of 43.

The lottery was drawn live on Facebook, 30 winners from the 500 or so entrants which seems a small number given what was on offer. But perhaps not, as they also had to agree to forfeit their right to anonymity as the names and locations of winners would be announced during the live draw.

This was carried out for the US National Infertility Awareness Week and whilst the sentiments may appear honourable, the idea of winners having to agree to let the world know about their fertility problems is something I struggle with – as is the concept of a prize which involves spending hundreds of pounds…

What should you do in the Two Week Wait?

For most people, it’s probably the worst part of an IVF cycle – the notorious 2ww when you get to spend a fortnight (which seems to last about ten years) on tenterhooks, worried about everything you do and don’t do in case it affects the chances of a positive outcome. One of the most frequently asked questions is what you should and shouldn’t do during this time.

You will find all kinds of advice from all kinds of experts about activities, diet and supplements during the two week wait. There are those who advise that you should take the time off work and do as little as possible, spending the first day or two lying on the sofa. Others may advise going back to work right away to try to keep your mind occupied and suggest that it’s best for your mind and body to keep active and busy. I’ve heard of people drinking pints of milk and others avoiding dairy products.  There are women who don’t take baths because they might overheat, and others who are lying around with hot water bottles on their stomachs.

If you visit any fertility forum, you will find it awash with questions and suggestions about the two week wait. Some are quite bizarre – a quick trawl produced all the usual stuff about eating pineapple core and brazil nuts, but the idea that you shouldn’t eat anything uncooked and that you need to wear socks 24 hours a day were both new ones to me!

I will always remember the nurse who cared for us during our first IVF cycle telling me that any rules about what not to do during the two week wait weren’t really set because they would cause an embryo not to implant or induce a miscarriage but rather because they were things that fertility patients often worried about. So, having a glass of wine during the two week wait is not going to stop you getting pregnant, but if your treatment doesn’t work and you’ve had a glass of wine, you are likely to question whether it was to blame.

I think the bottom line with all of this is that if you are sufficiently worried to be asking whether it is OK to do something, it’s probably a good idea not to do it. Two weeks seems a lifetime during the 2ww, but in reality it isn’t a long period to have to give anything up. There are no hard and fast rules, but following your own instincts and doing what feels right for you rather than allowing yourself to be driven to distraction by conflicting suggestions is probably the best advice anyone can give you about what to do and not to do.

Running for the right to try

If you read this blog at all regularly, it won’t have escaped you that I am a huge fan of the brilliant Jessica Hepburn, Director of Fertility Fest and author of The Pursuit of Motherhood. You may have followed her Channel Swim to raise funds for Fertility Network UK, and now she’s doing it again with the London Marathon.

Jessica has written a fantastic blog post about this and if you want to read more about what she’s doing and why, you can find it here. There’s also a link to her JustGiving page where you can make a donation to support her through her 26 miles. For me, 10k feels like a marathon, and I think it’s a wonderful thing that she is doing – so support her if you possibly can and help to make it even more worthwhile.

Clean eating and your fertility

I know from running support groups that there’s a lot of interest in the idea of ‘clean eating’ and fertility – and the recent Fertility Network UK patient survey showed that 75% of respondents had changed their diets because of their fertility problems.

Of course, it makes sense to eat healthily if you are having difficulty getting pregnant or going through treatment – it is good for you, it makes you feel better about yourself and you really wouldn’t want to be living on beer and chips. However, so many fertility patients I see are on diets that can start to feel incredibly restrictive, and that may not be a good thing.

I always remember interviewing someone who’d been following a strict diet for her fertility who said she suddenly realised it was making her really miserable and dominating her life. She concluded that actually being happy was probably more important than not ever eating a biscuit or drinking a cup of tea (builders as opposed to herbal of course).

I think she was absolutely right. There is nothing worse than feeling constantly guilty. I have seen people who end up blaming themselves for their fertility problems because they like ice cream or having a glass of wine when they are out with friends. These things in moderation are really not going to stop you getting pregnant. This article from The Spectator may be of interest!

Leap In by Alexandra Heminsley

This is a book about swimming, about how Alexandra Heminsley overcame her fear of water and learnt not only to swim, but to enjoy swimming outdoors in choppy seas, cold rivers and dark tarns. Heminsley’s earlier book, Running Like a Girl, is about running when you don’t think you’re a runner and Leap In is the swimming version. It’s her honesty, the detail and her beautiful writing which make this such an engaging book; I could completely envisage the sweaty attempts to squeeze her body into a wetsuit, the feelings of panic in deep water, the anxiety about her bare feet when she does her first river swim.

Leap In is about pushing yourself, about facing up to difficulties – and we learn more than half-way through the book that Heminsley is going through fertility problems and IVF as she continues her swimming journey.  At that point, her battles to overcome her fears have an undercurrent of a more fundamental challenge.

Heminsley doesn’t tell us much about her fertility problems or the experiences of tests and treatment, but what she does say is rich with meaning for anyone who has been there. “When I think about never having a child, a sort of breathlessness, almost a vertigo, comes over me,” she writes, explaining in just one sentence the overwhelming hollow bleakness of infertility. She has a positive pregnancy test after her second IVF cycle, but miscarries – something she deals with in two poignant paragraphs in which she describes the sense of crushing grief and how this transforms her relationship with her body which she feels has betrayed her and which she now rejects.

I really love this book – it manages to be funny, sad, inspiring and thought-provoking. The last chapter of the first part ends with Heminsley pondering what lessons swimming has taught her and where her future lies. She says she doesn’t know if she will ever have a child, or even the strength to try IVF again, but her attitude to life is that we must Leap In, living life as a participant rather than a spectator, that we must not give into our fear of the unknown and must be courageous when we need to adapt or amend our plans and discover our inner strength and resilience. These are certainly thoughts to ponder for anyone who is in the midst of fertility problems.

Leap In is published by Hutchinson.

 

 

How old is too old to be a parent?

Do you think there should be a cut-off age after which people shouldn’t have children? Or is it fine at any age at which it is remotely feasible? And is it right that we ponder this subject so much when it comes to women having children later in life, and yet barely raise an eyebrow when Mick Jagger has a baby at the ripe old age of 73?

The subject has been back in the news again after Dame Julia Peyton-Jones, former director of the Serpentine Galleries, became a mother at 64. It isn’t clear how she had her daughter, although we can be sure she didn’t use her eggs and that she may well have paid for a surrogate to carry the baby too.  I know we all feel and act younger than our grandparents may have done at the same age, but she will be 80 by the time her daughter is 16 – and I can’t help wondering what it would be like for a 16 year old to have an 80 year old mother? Or what it would be like to be responsible for a teenager when you were 80?

Of course, the other problem with news stories like this is that they muddy the waters when it comes to NHS funding for fertility treatment, as many people seem to assume that it is the NHS which is footing the bill for older women to try to have babies. In fact, in most areas there is limited funding for women up to the age of 39, and often nothing at all beyond that. At most women of 40-42 will get one cycle, but if you are older, there is no likelihood of funded treatment.

Can environment make a different to IVF outcomes?

When it comes to factors that could possibly have an impact on IVF success, the things that often spring to mind are often those we can influence ourselves – a healthy diet, not smoking or drinking too much – or the kind of add-ons that have become increasingly popular in many clinics such as embryo glue or time-lapse.

For most fertility patients, the type of liquid embryos are placed in at the clinic would not be the first thing to consider when it comes to treatment outcomes – in fact, it’s not something most of us think about at all. However, new research carried out at Boston Place Clinic by Dr Stuart Lavery of IVF Hammersmith, suggests that the culture medium used by the clinic can make a difference to the way that embryos grow. You can read more about the research here 

Other people’s fertility treatment

laptop-computers-1446068-mThe Internet can be a fantastic resource when it comes to finding out more about fertility and treatment, and many people gain important insights by reading other people’s fertility stories online. This can, however, have a less helpful side. Although it may be useful to get practical tips, to read about what happens during a cycle and to feel that you are more prepared for what is about to happen, it is also vital to remember that everyone’s treatment is different. The tests carried out, the protocols used, the drugs prescribed can all vary depending on your own individual situation.

Recently I’ve been contacted by a few people asking about their treatment who have become worried that something might not be right because they’ve come across other people who have had different tests or treatments – or who have been prescribed different drugs at different doses. Just because your treatment is not exactly the same as someone else’s, that doesn’t mean it is wrong or less likely to work. If you have concerns, you should never worry about asking at your clinic, but remember that fertility treatment is always tailored to an individual to some degree and that clinics may not all do everything exactly the same way.

Unregulated sperm donors

images-2You may have seen this very alarming article about unregulated sperm donors and the risks of using them. Whilst it is absolutely true that there are some very real risks from using unregulated donors – both in terms of your personal safety and of your health and any future child’s health as well as the legal status of the donor – it is not the case that there are no donors available through licensed fertility clinics in the UK. Nor is it correct that it has been impossible to recruit UK donors since the laws about anonymity changed in 2005.

It really is worth ringing around a number of clinics if you need a donor to find one that has donor sperm available. You can find a list of all licensed fertility clinics on the HFEA website and you will be able to check clinics in your area which offer sperm donation.

There are huge risks in using a donor like those whose adverts appear in the article – it may seem a quick route to parenthood, but it may well be one that you end up regretting.

Facts and headlines

120px-Sperm-eggSo another day, another “helpful” IVF headline. Today the Daily Mail tells us about the “£100 ‘condom’ that is £4,900 cheaper than IVF but just as effective”…

The only evidence to back up this suggestion are some figures which are apparently due to be released at the weekend claiming that 150  people have got pregnant who have used the device.

We learnt earlier this week that new figures from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority show the number of babies born after IVF treatment now stands at more than a quarter of a million. I am not quite sure how 150 pregnancies leads the Daily Mail to conclude that this device is equally effective to the 250,000 babies from IVF…

I won’t say any more but if you are thinking of spending £100 on this device, please discuss it with a fertility specialist first.