Music to support fertility charities

If you are in London on September 29, why not take the opportunity to attend a concert to help raise funds for two fantastic charities, the Donor Conception Network and the Daisy Network.

Taking place in St Mary’s Church in Rotherhithe, the  concert is with Dunajska Kapelye, a trio who play beautiful gypsy and Eastern European music and are led by one of London’s most respected violinists, Polish Piotr Jordan. The concert will feature plaintive Gypsy ballads, tub-thumping Romanian wedding dances, elements of tango and klezmer. It promises to be a wonderful evening – and great to be able to be raising money to support such important charities with their work at the same time.

You can find more information on Facebook  and you can buy tickets here

Happy 25th birthday to the Donor Conception Network

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.

Thanks to everyone at the Donor Conception Network for all you do – and happy 25th birthday!

Low ovarian reserve

If you’re trying to conceive, you will be aware of your ovarian reserve but when you are starting out on your fertility journey, this isn’t something you will have come across before. Our potential to produce eggs declines as we get older, but the rate at which this happens is different for everyone – so some women may be diagnosed with a low ovarian reserve in their thirties or even twenties, which often comes as a real surprise as there may be no other signs of any decline in fertility at all.

If you want to know about your ovarian reserve, I was interviewed about the emotional impact by Allie Anderson for an article for NetDoctor the other day which you can read online here.  It is important that we talk about this issue more often and more openly. Fertility specialists may suggest using donor eggs if they feel the ovarian reserve is so low that IVF is unlikely to be successful, but for women this may seem a huge and unexpected step and is certainly one which needs thought and counselling.

Anyone who is using donor eggs or sperm will find it useful to contact the Donor Conception Network who can provide information, help and support.

Archie Nolan – talking to children about donor conception

Congratulations to all at the Donor Conception Network on the exciting new children’s book they’ve commissioned and had published about being donor conceived. ‘Archie Nolan: Family Detective’ aims to tackle the issues young people may face around this, and is targeted at eight to twelve year olds.

You can read more about the book in an article in The Guardian here and you can buy the book direct from the Donor Conception Network. This is an excellent resource for children, and can help parents to talk about donor conception with their children.


New films about donor conception

If you know you may need to use a donor if you’re going to conceive, you are bound to consider the impact this might have on your future family – and particularly how any child you may have will feel about being donor-conceived.  It can feel a daunting prospect, and it is fears about this which sometimes make parents worry about whether to tell their children.

Now, two new films from the Donor Conception Network give a really interesting insight into how it feels to be donor-conceived as they feature young people whose parents used donor gametes to have them talking about their thoughts and feelings. You can buy them on a DVD which has two films, one featuring young people who are growing up in families with heterosexual parents, and one featuring those who are growing up in lesbian families or with single mothers.

Having seen the films, I would highly recommend them to anyone who is considering donor conception. They are really moving, incredibly reassuring and show that what really matters to the young people is being in a loving family;  being donor-conceived is something that can be a totally normal and accepted part of life to young people who grow up knowing how they were conceived. You can find out more and buy the DVD at

This year’s Fertility Show

The programme is now published for this year’s Fertility Show, taking place at London’s Olympia on November 1 and 2. The range of seminars this year looks better than ever, with talks from many of the leading experts in the field; there’s Dr Allan Pacey from the University of Sheffield, chair of the British Fertility Society, on male problems, there’s Lord Robert Winston on unexplained infertility, Professor Lesley Regan on recurrent miscarriage, Zita West, Marilyn Glenville, Yacoub Khalaf and Tarek-El Toukhy from Guy’s, Sam Abdalla from the Lister, Dr Thomas Mathews from Bourn Hall, leading embryologist Rachel Cutting, Laura Witjens of the National Gamete Donation TrustGeetha Nargund from Create  and Olivia Montuschi of the Donor Conception Network and Geetha Nargund from Create  – oh, and me too!

The Fertility Show is run in association with Infertility Network UK. Seminars cost just one pound each once you’ve paid for entrance, and are an excellent opportunity to get a really good overview as well as a detailed understanding of specific fertility problems and treatments.  Tickets are now on sale here header_510_graphic

Why are we using Danish sperm donors?

p021bb47You 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.

“The New Viking Invasion” produced by Steve Urquhart will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Friday 27th June at 11am


Happy New Year

images-8Just to send you all my very best wishes for 2014 – and to remind you that if you’ve been having difficulty getting pregnant and are going into the new year hoping that this will be the year that things move on, you don’t need to feel lonely and isolated on your journey.  There are lots of organisations and charities offering support and advice which is honest, reliable and often completely free.

The charity Infertility Network UK is one of the best sources of general advice and support for anyone trying unsuccessfully to conceive – yes, I’m biased as I’m the charity’s regional organiser for London and the South East but I do the job because I think the charity has so much to offer to anyone experiencing fertility problems. There is online support, but also regional meetings and support groups, telephone support from peers and medical professionals and the charity also plays a key role in raising awareness of infertility and in campaigning for better NHS funding and for fair access to fertility treatment.

If you are thinking of using donor sperm and/or eggs, the Donor Conception Network should be your first port of call – a fantastic charity that offers so much help and support at every stage.  There are meetings, workshops, books and advice for all those who may consider using donor gametes for whatever reason, and the charity works with families who have used donor conception and adults who were donor conceived.

For those who have polycystic ovary syndrome, Verity-PCOS is fantastic source of information and advice – run by the dedication of a small band of volunteers it offers a highly professional service covering all aspects of PCOS.  The Daisy Network is another excellent organisation, offering help to those who have experienced an early menopause.

If you’re thinking of a future without children, there are two fabulous organisations that can offer help.  More to Life is for those who are involuntarily childless and offers a support network across the country with regional groups, meetings and a support line. Gateway Women is run by the dynamic Jody Day who runs a range of workshops, local groups and offers online support for those who are childless by circumstance.  For emotional support, you may also want to consider Lesley Pyne who offers support to childless women.

So don’t let yourself feel isolated – there are 3.5 million people out there who are having difficulty conceiving in the UK right now, and being in touch with others who understand just how you feel can make all the difference.  I hope that 2014 will bring happiness to you all.


Be careful what you pay for….

Many years ago I worked on a breakfast television news programme on Channel Four, and every morning we would have a succession of guest arriving at the studios to talk about the news stories of the day. As being a guest on our programme meant getting up very early in the morning for a fairly small audience, we didn’t always attract the big names and we had a running joke in the newsroom that you qualified as an “expert” if you’d appeared on three breakfast TV shows.

I was reminded of this recently when I was talking to some specialists in the fertility field about the number of people who are now setting themselves up as fertility coaches, consultants or holistic therapists. Some of these people may have a wealth of experience and lots to offer.  There are others, however, who know no more about fertility than anyone who has been through a treatment cycle  – but have realised that there is a market for “advice” which they are happy to exploit.

If you are going to pay anyone to give you advice, please think carefullly about what it is that they are going to be offering you that you can’t get elsewhere without paying anything at all.  Infertility Network UK offers excellent support and information which is all completely free, and the charities working in more specific areas of fertility such as the Donor Conception Network or Verity for PCOS can offer tailored information for your situation. Your local fertility unit, the HFEA, the BFS and the RCOG are all sources of accurate medical information, and BICA has qualified fertility counsellors who can offer specialist support.  These are all people with expertise in fertility who provide information you can trust.

Do be careful before parting with money to pay for fertility “support services” or consultations.  Check exactly what qualifications the “consultant” or “coach” has, and make sure that you aren’t paying for services that are offered free of charge and more  accurately, efficiently and honestly elsewhere.

Happy 20th anniversary to the Donor Conception Network

The Donor Conception Network is twenty years old, and I was delighted to be invited to join members and friends last night to celebrate.  I’m a huge fan of the DC Network which does so much to help anyone considering using donor eggs, sperm or embryos and their families.  The network produces some fantastic information, but more than anything provides support for parents and their offspring – the film they showed about their work last night left a tear in many eyes as it was clear how they have helped people to feel proud and confident about donor conception.

The anniversary was also the opportunity to launch two new booklets produced by the Network and written by founder Olivia Montuschi.  The first deals with telling friends and family for people who are considering using donor gametes, and the second is written for the family and friends of anyone using donor gametes.  They are part of a series of books the network has produced called Talking and Telling which come highly recommended.

It is amazing how much things have changed since the DC Network was set up twenty years ago.  At the time, using donor sperm tended to be something families kept a secret, and the decision to end donor anonymity was also very controversial when it was made.  The members of the Donor Conception Network have played a key role in changing the way we view donor treatment as a society, and Olivia and Walter who have worked so tirelessly to help others deserve a huge thank you.  It’s also the dedicated volunteers, and all the members who speak out about having donor treatment who are continuing to make such a difference.  Well done to you all – and happy 20th birthday!