Thanks to television news presenter Hannah Vaughan Jones for her brilliant article about her experiences of fertility problems and treatment. I’ve linked to Hannah’s tweet so that you can read the full article which is behind a paywall – and it is something we should all read as a reminder that things haven’t changed, that people are still feeling isolated, lonely and ashamed about their fertility problems, that people are still having to be brave, to pretend they are fine when inside it feels so bleak and desperate. It’s so wonderful when people in the public eye like Hannah and her husband, ITV news presenter Lewis Vaughan Jones, are able to be open about their fertility problems. It makes such a difference to those who are struggling with their own difficulties to know that it isn’t just them, that it can happen to anyone.
Also this week, BBC reporter Sophie Sulehria began a three-month series on PM on BBC Radio 4 charting her experiences of fertility and treatment. She and her husband Jonny have had a long journey involving endometriosis, premature ovarian insufficiency and unsuccessful IVF treatment. It’s really worth listening to Sophie’s story here – she is just so brave to do this in public and it will make such a difference, not just in terms of raising awareness of what it’s actually like to have fertility treatment but also in helping others who are going through fertility problems and treatment themselves. Sophie’s recording of her experiences of a cycle, of embryo transfer, of the two-week wait and a pregnancy test will resonate with anyone who has been there themselves.
Thank you Sophie, thank you Hannah – you are brave and brilliant and we thank you for being able to talk about this and wish you all the best for the future xx
There’s a programme you may be interested in at 11 am tomorrow morning on BBC Radio Four. It’s about what happens when IVF doesn’t work, and it features Lesley Pyne who has been a great source of support and inspiration for many people who’ve had unsuccessful treatment. Lesley, who now helps other women who are looking at living without children, went through unsuccessful IVF herself and was a leading member of the support network More to Life for many years.
How successful is IVF?
The truth is that fertility treatment isn’t always going to work for everyone. For every cycle of IVF, there is an average 25% chance of success. Which means there’s a 75% chance that it won’t work. Cumulative success rates are much better – figures from one clinic released at a Fertility Fairness event earlier this year showed cumulative success rates for women of 37 and under reached 80% over 3 cycles, which is why NICE recommends three cycles as being cost-effective and clinically effective. Age is key here though – if you are older, the chances of success are lower. For women who are 35 and under, the average IVF success rate is 32% but by the time you are in the 38-39 age bracket, that goes down to 20%. Once you reach 43-44, it’s right down to 5% – which means that 95% of cycles for women of that age will not succeed.
When to stop IVF
It can be difficult to know when to stop trying with IVF and there is no right or wrong time to do this, no magic number of cycles. I’ve found that on the whole when people haven’t been successful they do reach a point at which they know that stopping is the right thing to do – sometimes that’s because they’ve run out of money, or because they can’t cope emotionally any more or because their clinic has suggested they should think about stopping. Often it’s just because they’ve got to a point where it feels like the right thing to do.
I’m going to be joining Lesley on BBC Radio Four Woman’s Hour tomorrow morning to discuss IVF and stopping treatment and to look ahead to the documentary later in the morning.
One of the interesting reactions to this morning’s BBC Radio Four programme about Danish sperm donors for me has been that some UK clinics have been cheerily tweeting that they do have sperm from UK donors, that there is no shortage, that patients needing donor sperm can come to them.
It’s all very well, but why hasn’t this information been getting to patients? The couple we interviewed for the programme who’d been told that they’d face a wait of ten years had no idea that there were clinics in the UK with ready supplies of donors. Why have patients found it so difficult to get a clear view of the situation? And how ready are the ready supplies of sperm here in the UK? Patients want – and need – a choice of donors and having that choice needs to be an essential part of the provision.
I can’t help thinking that what clinics really need to be doing is working together as this could solve the problem in one fell swoop, although I’m not sure that’s a change we’re ever going see. Competition may be good for clinics, but it certainly isn’t good for patients.
You may be interested in a programme I’ve been working on for BBC Radio Four about our increasing use of Danish sperm donors which will be broadcast tomorrow morning at 11 am.
The New Viking Invasion considers the rapid increase in imports of donor sperm from Denmark in recent years, and looks at why this has happened. It’s partly down to the efficient system the Danes offer, but also due to our system in the UK where fertility clinics don’t always have the time or resources to recruit their own donors. Only one in every twenty men who turns up offering to donate will be suitable, and the process of screening donors can be lengthy and costly. In Denmark, they have dedicated sperm banks which don’t do anything else.
Of course, some UK clinics do have donors – but you may not discover that if you don’t happen to go to the right place. Clinics don’t necessarily to want to refer their patients to other clinics – suggesting using a Danish donor is often easier and it means they keep the patient. One couple who feature in the programme had been told they could face a ten year wait for a UK donor – in fact, they later found one without a wait at another UK clinic.
We visited European Sperm Bank in Copenhagen for the programme and spoke to staff and to donors to find out why their system works so well, and spoke to many leading experts in the UK to discuss their views and concerns about our increasing use of Danish donors. You can hear the thoughts of Dr Allan Pacey of the British Fertility Society, Laura Witjens of the National Gamete Donation Trust, Ruth Wilde of BICA, Olivia Montuschi of the Donor Conception Network and Juliet Tizzard of the HFEA along with consultants Jane Stewart from Newcastle and Mark Hamilton from Aberdeen in the programme – as well as Danish donors and UK recipients.