In Northern Ireland and thinking of donor treatment?

image001If you’re based in Northern Ireland, you may be interested in a one-day conference on donor treatment to be held in Belfast on 19 September at the Malone Lodge Hotel.

The conference is organised by Northern Ireland Fertility Counselling Service and it will be of interest to anyone considering donor treatment or those who are parents after donor treatment as well as anyone working in the field. A range of leading experts are speaking including Dr Marilyn Crawshaw from York University, Dr Petra Nordqvist from Manchester University, Rosetta Wotton from the HFEA,  Jane Ellis who is a trainer with the Donor Conception Network and the mother of donor-conceived adults, Danny Ruddock, another Donor Conception Network trainer and father of donor-conceived children and Kate Litwinczuk who is a Donor Conception Network member and was herself donor-conceived.

It promises to be a very interesting day – and you can find out more here 

Why a clinic is the best place to find a sperm donor…

If you need to use a sperm donor, and have ever thought that maybe it would be cheaper and easier to find one online than to use a registered clinic, you should listen to this Radio Four programme titled ‘Desperately Seeking Sperm’ and presented by Jolyon Jenkins.

It exposes a strange world where recipients seek out donors online, and where the donors compete with one another to try to produce the most children. These donors are unscreened for sexually transmitted infections or for hereditary conditions, and some insist on “natural insemination”. There was the donor who kept it a secret from his wife, the donor who claimed his sperm was so potent he could get women on the pill pregnant – despite their suggestions that their motives were altruistic, it certainly didn’t feel that way.

Of course, there are also longer term legal implications about using a donor you’ve found online men who donate through clinics are not legally or financially responsible for any child conceived through their donations. This doesn’t apply to men who donate through these online networks, and if a donor opts for natural insemination, he is always the legal father of the child concerned.

If you’ve ever had any doubts about using a donor from a fertility clinic, this programme may be enough to change your mind..

The latest fertility figures

The latest figures relating to fertility treatment in the UK have been released this morning by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and show a growing number of cycles of IVF with a total of more than 64,000 carried out in 2013.  The number of cycles of donor treatment have more than doubled in the last five years, and there has been an increase in the number of same-sex couples having treatment. Success rates have gone up very slightly, but the multiple birth rate from fertility treatment has fallen.

The majority of women having treatment are under 37, and the average age of fertility patients is 35.  The report shows that over a third of fertility treatment is carried out in London and the South East – and that in 2012, 2.2% of all babies born in the UK were conceived as a result of IVF.

You can see the full details at http://www.hfea.gov.uk/

The national sperm bank

So, we finally have a national sperm bank in the UK… Based at Birmingham Women’s Hospital, this will be the world’s first independent sperm bank and it aims to address the shortage of donor sperm in the UK.

Although there have been increases in the number of sperm donors in recent years, the demand has been outstripping the supply – and we’re importing more and more donated sperm from overseas, mainly Denmark and the USA.

The sperm bank is a collaboration between the National Gamete Donation Trust (NGDT) and Birmingham Women’s Hospital, and was set up with government funding. It is based within the NHS, and will eventually aim to deliver donor sperm to those who need it across the country.

Sue Avery, Director of Birmingham Women’s Fertility Centre, said: ‘There is currently a national shortage of sperm donors in the UK, especially in NHS clinics and particularly among some ethnic minorities. Patient numbers continue to rise and treating those who need donor sperm to build their families is a major problem. At present, some patients needing donor sperm are faced with few safe options and find themselves on waiting lists of up to five years or having to stop treatment altogether.’

Laura Witjens, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Gamete Donation Trust, says they want to change the way people think about sperm donation. ‘When people think of sperm donation they often only think about the physical act of producing sperm. Let’s face it that can be off-putting and detract from the real issues. We’re all set to change that outlook. Sperm donors are very special men who are doing something they and their families can be exceptionally proud of. These are men who are doing something life-changing for themselves and for others. It’s time to shout about how fantastic these guys are.’

If you are a man aged between 18 and 41 and you are interested in joining the ranks of these special men, you can text ‘Donor’ to 88802 for more information and visit www.veryspecialman.co.uk.

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Should companies be offering egg freezing?

images-10So, Apple and Facebook are to offer to pay for female staff to freeze their eggs as part of a concerted effort to expand the “benefits” they offer to women – but is egg freezing a benefit? Does it really “empower” women? Is offering them something that is so uncertain to enable them to keep working through their most fertile years really to be commended? Is it egg freezing that women want, or is it working environments which make it easier for them to consider starting families earlier in life?

I can’t help thinking that when big companies offer to fund egg freezing for staff, it gives the whole concept a credibility it may not deserve. No one can be certain that they have “preserved” their fertility by freezing eggs – it’s still a relatively new technique, and outcomes are far from certain – but women are being encouraged to believe that this can solve the problem of the female biological clock.

The other side of this, which didn’t get as much media coverage, is that Apple and Facebook also offer funding for fertility treatment and sperm donation – and that is something that I can see being far more helpful to far more women.

What do you think? Would you welcome a company funding egg freezing? Would you like your employer to pay for fertility treatment? Or is it all just one intrusion too many into your private life?

Do genes matter?

Nature or nurture? It’s one of those eternal questions – but one which has particular importance to anyone considering donor conception. The idea of passing on our genetic heritage is part of our expectations when it comes to parenthood, and finding out that you will only be able to get pregnant if you use donor eggs or sperm involves thinking again about some of those preconceptions.  But should it? Are genes really as important as we imagine?

I went to an event last week organised by Progress Educational Trust titled Do Genes Matter? There were presentations from leading fertility lawyer Natalie Gamble, from Pride Angel’s Erika Tranfield and Professor Carol Smart, a sociologist from Manchester University who has studied donor families. For me, some of the most thought-provoking ideas came from the geneticist on the panel, Professor Anneke Lucassen, who explained just how little of who we are comes from our genes. She showed that contrary to our beliefs, the variation in our genetic make-up is miniscule and that most of what we are is down to our environment rather than our genetic heritage – so choosing an Oxbridge-educated donor won’t impact on your child’s intelligence, but the environment in which he or she grows up will do.

Could it be that the way we think about genes is actually more folk culture than scientific reality? Are we all far too worried about the importance of genetic heritage when in fact it is largely irrelevant? What do you think? Do genes matter?

Using a sperm donor in Spain

If you’re considering treatment in Spain and need to use donated sperm, you may assume that you need to use an anonymous donor as the rules are strict on donation in Spain itself being anonymous. I was interested to learn recently that apparently if you are an overseas patient using sperm from Denmark which you’ve ordered yourself from a sperm bank and are having sent to your clinic in Spain, it is OK to have chosen an open donor – someone whose details your child will be able to find out about when they reach 18. Worth knowing if you are going to Spain but would really prefer to use a known donor.

Could you your views help other patients?

If you’ve had, or are having, fertility treatment, would you be willing to help the HFEA to find out more about patient experiences of assisted reproduction?  The HFEA  has decided to make it a priority to put patients at the heart of what it does, and is carrying out a review carried out by Opinion Leader getting views from former and current patients.

There will be focus group discussions with patients in London and Manchester, and they are hoping to recruit a mix of single people, heterosexual and same sex couples, from the NHS and private section.  The groups will be held on

27th March (Live birth group, London 6.30pm)

1st April (unsuccessful as yet, London 6.30pm)

31st March (live birth group, Manchester 6.30pm)

1st April (unsuccessful as yet, Manchester 6pm)

There will also be in-depth face-to-face interviews with donors, donor-conceived people and those seeking fertility treatment in London, and an online patient survey which will be available soon.

There will be a small payment available to those who take part (£60 for those taking part in group discussions and £45 for the face to face interviews which will be held in your own home)

If you would like more information please contact Rebecca Paton – RPaton@opinionleader.co.uk or on 07831 702 513

Have you had or are you considering donor treatment?

Another day, another survey…  This one is being carried out by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and is aimed at anyone who has had donor treatment or is considering having donor treatment in the future. The HFEA wants to find out more about the sort of information you would like, were given, or would like to have been given, about donors.

Sometimes information can be limited, but you may get what is known as a pen portrait which is a description the donor has written about him or herself.  You may also get a message from the donor to any children who are born, which is called a goodwill message.

The HFEA is keen to find out why not all clinics are currently making this sort of information available to people who have donor treatment and so this patient survey aims to get an idea of your experiences and views.  Please do help with this if you have a spare five minutes as it will help others – you can find the survey here 

Where to find a fertility counsellor?

DownloadedFile-16Getting the right support can make all the difference to your experience of fertility problems and treatment, and many people find that seeing a fertility counsellor can be really useful. I know not everyone feels comfortable with the idea of counselling initially – but it shouldn’t be seen as a sign of not coping or of not being able to manage alone, but rather as a sign of strength that you are actively doing something to help yourself.

If you are having IVF, ICSI or donor treatment at a clinic in the UK, your clinic should let you know about the counselling services that they provide, Sometimes this will be free counselling at the clinic, but it may involve an extra cost and you may have to see the counsellor elsewhere. Sometimes there may be a wait to see the clinic counsellor.

If you are looking for a qualified specialist fertility counsellor – and it is worth seeing a specialist as they understand the issues relevant to your situation – the best place to go is the British Infertility Counselling Association (BICA) website at www.bica.net, where you will find a list of the specialist counsellors in your area.  The BICA website also has a very helpful checklist of tips for anyone looking for a counsellor.

BICA is working with the charity Infertility Network UK to try to find out more about people’s experiences of fertility counselling and the two charities are currently running a survey which anyone who has attended a UK fertility clinic can answer, whether or not you’ve had counselling. It would really help to get a clearer picture of how clinics are currently offering counselling in order to improve services for the future, so please if you have a spare five minutes do complete the survey which will help others in the future.