Last week was incredibly busy with National Infertility Awareness Week and then The Fertility Show. It was great to see so much support from individuals and fertility clinics for NIAW with fundraising activities across the country, and lots of coverage in the media and social media. I really enjoyed meeting so many of you at The Fertility Show too where I was on the Infertility Network UK stand.
This year, I spoke in a seminar about the factors to take into consideration when choosing a clinic and chaired a Question Time session on treatment overseas with consultants from Las Vegas (The Fertility Center of Las Vegas) and Barcelona (Barcelona IVF) which made for an interesting discussion. Overseas treatment has become increasingly popular in recent years as it can be a more affordable option and it had also been the only way to access donor egg treatment without long waiting lists. Now there are many more clinics in the UK able to offer donor eggs without a wait, and with the added advantage of a donor who will be traceable in the future, so it will be interesting to see how this starts to impact on the numbers of people who travel overseas.
One thing which really struck me when talking to people at The Fertility Show this year though was how much people were blaming themselves for their fertility problems – for not eating well enough, for being too stressed, for not leading perfect lifestyles. Of course, this has always happened to a degree, but the more help there is available to encourage people to “boost” their natural fertility, the worse this seems to get.
These weren’t obese people who were living on chips and ice cream and not getting any exercise – by any normal standards they were people who were leading very healthy lifestyles, but they had started to believe that they needed to lead a perfect lifestyle every single moment of their lives if they were going to give themselves a proper chance of trying to conceive. We all want to do all that we can to help ourselves through our fertility problems, and so it’s inevitable that advice about things that we can do to make a difference are taken seriously – but I can’t help thinking that moderation is often a far better mantra for anyone trying to conceive.
It makes me really sad to talk to people who are being made to think that they’d get pregnant if they could just eat more lettuce or never go near chocolate. You don’t want to be very over or under weight if you are trying to conceive, you don’t want to smoke or drink too much alcohol, and you do want to lead a healthy lifestyle and to feel good about yourself, but succumbing to an occasional unhealthy snack or glass of wine or missing out on a session at the gym isn’t going to stop you getting pregnant. So my message to anyone trying to conceive is to be kind to yourself for a change – it’s really not your fault…
Today’s Woman’s Hour, on BBC Radio Four, featured the story mentioned here yesterday about home sperm tests in a discussion with Tim Child from Oxford Fertility Unit and journalist Victoria Lambert. As expected, the official line on home sperm testing is that you are far better off going to your GP and having it done properly, but the discussion also raised some wider issues.
Jenni Murray seemed quite genuinely surprised when Tim Child referred to infertility as a disease; it’s the idea that not being able to have children is somehow more about lifestyle that fuels the arguments about not funding treatment so it was good to hear Tim Child explain it so clearly.
The other big issue that came up during the discussion was the idea that infertility was somehow a woman’s problem – Victoria Lambert pointed out that although a number of female celebrities have now come out of the closet about their struggles to conceive, there aren’t similar numbers of male celebrities discussing their fertility problems – despite the fact that a fertility problem is just as likely to be down to the male partner as to the female.
I was particularly pleased to hear education being addressed – it’s so true that we focus all our attention on preventing pregnancy when we talk to teenagers about sex education, but in reality the odds show that they are far more likely to have a fertility problem in the future than to get pregnant at 15. Even now, some women are surprised to discover that fertility treatment can’t turn back the biological clock – and it’s a message we need to get across.
It was good to hear these issues aired during National Infertility Awareness Week – if you didn’t hear the programme, you can still catch it here – we must just hope that raising awareness will have a longer-term effect on attitudes and understanding.
So it’s Day Two of National Infertility Awareness Week, and on Twitter there’s been a lot of talk about the first baby born using “musical IVF”. This is a story which has been around for a while now, based apparently on some research (?) from a clinic in Spain where they have been experimenting with playing music in the laboratory which they suggest improves their success rates.
There have been some variations on this theme – the original story some months back claimed that embryos liked Metallica, now they apparently like anything from Nirvana, Michael Jackson and Madonna to Mozart. The story was described by one leading fertility specialist as “trivial, lazy and irresponsible journalism”, and elsewhere as one of the “silliest” fertility stories.
It’s hardly surprising that fertility patients are tempted to leap on the latest bandwagon whether it’s musical or mini IVF – but the reality is that many of these stories are more about marketing than science – but it can be hard to work out which is which. I feel there is a bit of a backlash against this kind of fertility headline hype at the moment, which can only be a good thing for anyone who needs help to conceive. If it’s something you’re interested in, Progress Educational Trust Director Sarah Norcross will be talking on this very subject at The Fertility Show on Saturday in a seminar titled ‘The science behind IVF – sorting the known knowns from the known unknowns’ – go along and hear what she has to say!
It’s finally here – National Infertility Awareness Week – and there has been lots of positive coverage in the media and social media today. It’s a shame though that one of the fertility stories hitting the headlines today is about a couple who are expecting four babies after they used two surrogates who are both now carrying twins. The couple – who travelled to India for treatment – apparently decided to increase their chances of success by having their fertilised eggs implanted into two surrogates at the same time.
This is just the sort of story that has people spouting off about the problems of fertility treatment when in fact it is light years away from the average experience of infertility and IVF – or even of surrogacy for that matter. The quotes from the couple concerned don’t help to give a positive picture of their attitude to parenthood – apparently they have no desire to meet their surrogates who they say are doing a job for them in the way that a builder or gardener might – and they’re not remotely daunted by the prospect of four babies as they are confident they can care for them financially. It’s a shame that cases like this can tarnish attitudes towards those of us who need help to conceive, and it’s important to remember that such an outcome wouldn’t be allowed to occur here in the UK where fertility treatment is tightly regulated.
This week is all about raising awareness in a positive way – and that includes explaining why cases like this are not typical and are not happening at a fertility clinic near you every day of the week.
This research shows that although fertility treatment may have improved in recent years, the way that people feel about it hasn’t – it’s still something that makes us anxious, lonely, isolated and upset, that makes us feel as if we have somehow failed and that cuts us off from our friends and families.
The London Fertility Centre will be launching their Fertility Circle on November 14 – a group which is open to everyone, not just those having treatment at the centre.
And finally, a new group will be starting on November 20 at St George’s Campden Hill in Kensington. The St George’s West London Group is based in the church, but is a secular group open to all with an optional meditation and prayer session before the group begins.
Great news – we are to have a National Infertility Awareness Week in the UK… I posted about this a while ago, as there was a lot of interest in the UK in the awareness week in the States, and so many people asked why we didn’t have a special week of our own here in the UK – well, now we do!
National Infertility Awareness Week will run from October 28 to November 3, and aims to:
Highlight the impact of infertility on people’s lives
Explain the options open to anyone struggling to conceive
Change the conversation about infertility
You can find out more at www.niaw.org.uk where there are details about how you can get involved. It’s a fantastic idea, and I hope that we can all pull together to really make a difference this autumn.