Travelling for treatment

There was an interesting piece in the Telegraph at the weekend about people travelling overseas for fertility treatment, but sadly it fell short on when it came to the suggestion that the number of egg donors in the UK has gone into decline since  the change to the law on anonymity.  In fact the number of new registered egg donors has risen steadily in recent years, but you’d never know this from reading most articles on the subject which accept the urban myth of the rapid decline in donors following the law change.

The article implies that new technologies used in Spain, such as time-lapse imaging, may not be available in the UK which is not the case. It also quotes a pregnancy rate of 90% after four embryo transfers for one Spanish clinic. Figures given here in the UK are not usually pregnancy rates but live birth rates, as we know that more than 50% of pregnancies will miscarry once a woman is in her forties and so the live birth rate is considered more meaningful. The 90% pregnancy rate can be compared with data released at the Fertility Fairness event last week from one UK clinic showing an 80% live birth rate rather than pregnancy rate after just three cycles of fully funded NHS treatment.

What I found most odd about the article was the claim that the desire for an anonymous donor is the key reason for couples to travel for treatment. In fact, when we did a survey at Infertility Network UK on why people choose to go abroad for treatment we discovered that this was not something that the vast majority wanted – some said that they’d accepted it because at the time it was the only way to get an egg donor. It was cost which was usually the main driving factor, along with donor availability.

Now, there are many clinics in the UK which don’t have long waiting lists for donors – and it is always worth looking at all your options before making a decision.

Not a book to read on the train…

ltmd-bookWhen I got my copy of Letters to my Donor from the National Gamete Donation Trust, I was about to leave the house to go to a meeting  – so I put it in my bag to read on the tube. It’s a compilation of letters from parents of donor-conceived children to the donors who helped them to have their children. Most have never met the people whose generosity enabled them to conceive, and I was only a couple of letters in when I found myself sitting in a crowded tube train with tears streaming down my cheeks and getting some slightly odd looks from other passengers.

It’s an incredibly moving book – for the parents, the opportunity to thank someone for a gift which has transformed their lives is overwhelming and many begin by noting that words can’t begin to explain how grateful they are for the chance to have a family. There are letters from people who’ve used egg donors, sperm donors and one from a couple who used a surrogate. The letters show the delight that the parents take in their children and the happiness that the donor has brought into their lives.

There are also a few letters from donors themselves, explaining why they donated which may be an inspiration to anyone considering donating.

Of course this book will be of great interest to anyone who has some experience of donor conception, but I think it’s something anyone can learn from and gives a unique insight into the immense joy that a donor can bring to someone else’s life.

You can buy Letters to my Donor via the Gamete Donation Trust website at where you will also find lots of useful information about gamete donation – but as I said, maybe not a book to read on the train…

Fifty-something mothers

There has been a lot of media excitement about newly-released statistics showing an increase in the number of women in their fifties giving birth – and the lack of understanding about the subject is summed up by this article in the Telegraph. 

According to the Telegraph, one of the reasons for the increase in the number of fifty-something mothers is “changing medical advice”.  I am fascinated by this, and would love to be enlightened as to the nature of this changing advice. Most fertility clinics stop treating women once they reach 50, obstetric advice is clearly not encouraging women to get pregnant when they are older and the Chief Medical Officer warned recently that women should not risk leaving it too late to get pregnant.  So, if anyone has any idea what “changing medical advice” the Telegraph is referring to, please let me know – let us all know…

The article also claims that IVF means that more women are willing to risk delaying having children – but fails to mention that IVF can offer nothing to women of 50+. IVF success rates are very low for women in their mid forties, and I have never met a fertility specialist who would offer standard IVF to a woman in her fifties as it would be a waste of time. Treating women with donor eggs is something else entirely, but even then, most fifty-somethings would need to travel overseas in order to find a clinic willing to treat them.

According to the Telegraph, “actress Tina Malone of Shameless gave birth to daughter Flame at the age of 50, after travelling to Cyprus for IVF treatment”.  Well, no actually she didn’t.  She had egg donation. It’s a very different thing and failing to clarify this is inaccurate and misleading.

The article also quotes a survey which it says found that “almost three-quarters of people do not think women should receive IVF to help them conceive beyond their natural childbearing years”.  As IVF really can’t help women conceive beyond their natural childbearing years, I am not sure why anyone even asked the question. IVF is a treatment for infertility, not for age.

If reporters for national broadsheets seem not to understand the facts, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that so many women are confused…

Post-Fertility Show and NIAW – infertility is not your fault…

header_510_graphicLast 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…