Fertility milestones

In support of National Fertility Awareness Week, the HFEA or Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority which regulates the fertility sector, has published data which reveals some new milestones for UK fertility treatment.

More than 300,000 children in total have now been born in the UK from licensed fertility treatment since 1991. Fertility treatment has grown markedly since 2010, with almost a third of all IVF and DI babies since 1991 arriving in the last six recorded years (2010 to 2015).

The total number of treatment cycles carried out in UK clinics also passed a significant milestone in 2015, breaking through the million barrier. The overall number of treatments carried out since 1991 is 1,034,601.

The new data – drawn from The HFEA Register, the oldest and largest fertility database in the world – also reveals that fertility services are used mainly by younger women. The average age of women having fertility treatment is 35 years, which has remained largely static over recent years.

Treatments involving women aged 18-34 remain the largest single group, accounting for 43% of all treatments, while treatments for women aged 40 and over account for just 20% of all treatments with very few treatments being provided to women over 45.

Looking at the different regions in the UK, the data shows that most treatments continue to take place in London and the South East of England, accounting for 42% of all cycles. However, there is a strong representation of large northern clinics in the figures, with the North West now providing more treatments per clinic than any other region, including London. Total clinic numbers vary according to region, ranging from three in Northern Ireland to 22 in London.

HFEA Chair Sally Cheshire CBE welcomed this new data as a sign of a thriving and successful fertility sector: “The figures we have released today show that the UK’s fertility sector continues to be one of the most vibrant and successful in the world. Families using assisted reproduction services across the UK are better served than ever before, and we will continue to encourage all who work in the sector to offer the highest quality support for patients who are both successful and unsuccessful.”

Susan Seenan, chief executive of patient charity Fertility Network UK said “We welcome the publication during National Fertility Awareness Week of the new IVF milestones from the HFEA. The extraordinary growth of IVF in the last six years shows the pressing need for practical and emotional support and advice for the many people facing fertility issues. It is also significant to note that this data underlines that fertility services are used mainly by younger women – aged under 35 – who will have been trying for a baby for at least two years and often more. National Fertility Awareness Week is about challenging perceptions and we hope this helps to dispel any misconceptions about IVF and female age.”

Infertility etiquette

We’ve all been there, the “helpful” comments and suggestions from friends and family – the detailed story about the friend of a friend of a friend who had five children after she forgot all about her fertility problems and decided to “just adopt” instead, or the information from a newspaper article they’ve half read about a new treatment, which when you dash off to read it yourself you find has actually only been tried out on mice in Brazil. You know the kind of thing…

They are trying to be kind and supportive, but knowing how best to help a friend or family member who is having fertility problems is hard unless you’ve been there yourself. It isn’t always easy to know what to say or how to say it. Sometimes people avoid the subject altogether because they are worried about getting it wrong, but others turn into fonts of wisdom offering advice and tips on every aspect of fertility which can be difficult to swallow  when you know they don’t really have a clue what they’re talking about. Pamela Tsigdinos, the author who has published widely on childlessness and infertility, has written this excellent blog post about infertility etiquette which you may want to pass on to your friends and family – she says exactly what you want to say, but may not always feel able to.

Why you might not want to bother with that fertility “MOT”…

eggFertility clinics have been promoting “fertility MOT” tests for some time as a way of checking your future fertility by testing the stock of potential eggs in your ovaries, known as your ovarian reserve, to see how “fertile” you are. New research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that these MOT tests may have no value in predicting how likely you are to get pregnant.

Ovarian reserve tests do have a use for people who are having fertility treatment as they can give some idea of how your ovaries might respond to the drugs used in the course of the treatment, but this study shows that the tests have no value in predicting your chances of getting pregnant naturally.

The researchers looked at a large group of women who had been trying to get pregnant for less than three months, and following them up for a year found that the results of the tests had no relation to the chances of the women getting pregnant.

The cost of these “fertility tests” can vary hugely. The articles covering the story suggested that they might cost around £100, but a quick google reveals that some clinics are charging more than £400 for MOT tests. The researchers were quite clear that their findings “do not support the use” of these tests to assess natural fertility – so be warned before you decide to part with any money. If you are concerned about your fertility, your first port of call should be your GP rather than a clinic charging for tests.

Thanks to The Eve Appeal

Last night I went to an amazing event organised by the Eve Appeal, a gynaecological cancer research charity, as part of their gynaecological cancer awareness month. The subject was Talking Taboos and the evening aimed to discuss the things we don’t usually discuss, which can be a barrier to seeking advice about symptoms which lead to gynaecological cancers.

There was a panel of speakers including Professor Lesley Regan, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Paula Sheriff MP, BBC Woman’s Hour presenter Jane Garvey, Dr Ellie Cannon, Dr Christian Jessen and FGM campaigner Nimco Ali. The panel took questions from the audience and covered a huge range of taboo subjects from pubic hair to menstrual bleeding and you can see the discussion on the Eve Appeal’s Facebook Page.

It made me think about how many taboos there are about fertility and treatment, and all the things we find difficult to discuss. It is so hard to break down those barriers when you are feeling sad and isolated, but you are really not alone. One in seven of the population experiences problems when they are trying to get pregnant and there are 3.5 million people in the UK who are currently trying unsuccessfully to conceive. Next time you feel alone, remember how many of us there are out there – and how much we can help one another.

The truth about “clean” eating

When you are trying to conceive, it’s inevitable that you want to do all you possibly can to maximise your chances of success and changing your diet seems a fairly easy way of doing something to help. More and more fertility patients are giving up all kinds of foods and focussing on “clean” eating in an attempt to improve outcomes of treatment or to boost their fertility. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is never going to be a bad thing and will, without any doubt, help your overall well-being and make you feel more positive. Giving up whole food groups in the pursuit of clean eating, however, may not have any merit.

This fascinating article by Bee Wilson in The Guardian picks apart the clean eating phenomenon and raises lots of interesting issues about why clean eating has become so popular – and why that probably isn’t such a good thing.

It seems that the answer is moderation and common sense – the story of the wellness blogger who began to lose her hair and whose periods stopped at the start of this piece is a clear enough message about the impact very restrictive diets can have on fertility.

I’ve met so many fertility patients who are on hugely restricted diets – and who are actually made quite miserable by their constant battles to keep on the straight and narrow with their eating plans. Fertility treatment is tough enough without making things even harder for yourself. You may end up feeling guilty if you break your own strict rules when in fact it really isn’t going to stop you getting pregnant if you eat something which doesn’t tick all your healthy eating boxes from time to time.

The most important thing is to be kind to yourself during fertility tests and treatment – that doesn’t mean living on a diet of chocolate and red wine, but it does mean remembering what a balanced diet means and following a sensible eating plan rather than something which is going to make you feel unhappy and which may not be providing you with all the nutrients you need.

 

Focus group for research

We’ve just had a request for people who might be interested in taking part in a focus group to talk about their experiences of fertility problems from Dr Shantel Ehrenberg, a Lecturer in Dance and Theatre, who is leading a research study to investigate and increase awareness of women’s often silent emotional and physical experiences of getting a diagnosis of fertility problems.

She is not a clinician, so there will be no medical information and this isn’t a clinical study, but Shantel is interested in understanding women’s experiences of infertility and sharing her findings with medical professionals and the society-at-large. She wants to use your experiences to help to inform a performance lecture as part of this research. A performance lecture is a thirty-minute presentation that includes text, movement, and visual imagery, presented at conferences and workshops, to help raise awareness about women’s experiences of fertility problems.

The current research project is funded by a University of Surrey Pump Priming Award and approved by the University’s Institutional Ethics Committee.  Compensation is offered for taking part (£25).

​The focus group would be about 90 minutes and include a brief introduction of the project.  The meeting will take place in central London. If you want to know more or are interested in taking part you can contact Shantel by email s.ehrenberg@gsa.surrey.ac.uk or phone  01483683137

New online group for people who are pregnant after fertility treatment

At Fertility Network UK, we have set up a new online group for people who are pregnant after fertility treatment.

Whether you’ve just had a positive pregnancy test or are further down the line, you may be interested in joining our new group which will get together online. If you would like to join the group or to find out more about it, please contact kate@fertilitynetworkuk.org

Breaking bad news

Do you think clinic staff get it right when it comes to breaking bad news to fertility patients? And how do you think that could be improved? Are staff too blunt? Or not blunt enough?

I’ve met so many patients who have felt that things weren’t always handled in the best way, and I’d be keen to find out more about where you think things may go wrong – and what you think might work better.

I’d be really interested to know what you think – you can leave a comment below or use the contact form if you would like to send a private response – http://fertilitymatters.org.uk/contact/

The Daisy Network Conference

The Daisy Network, the support group for women with premature ovarian insufficiency, is holding a conference on Saturday 10th June at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. They have speakers covering a wide range of topics including HRT, fertility, sexual health and nutrition. There will also be an Ask the Experts session and plenty of opportunity to meet other members.

It promises to be an interesting day, and tickets cost £15 for members and £20 for non-members. including lunch and break-time refreshments. You can buy tickets here 

Could you help shape training for doctors of the future?

There’s a very exciting opportunity to help inform the new curriculum for specialist doctors who are training in gynaecology and obstetrics. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is looking for a range of people to join a new public insight group to help identify the communication skills and clinical knowledge that doctors need to give the best possible care.

The curriculum is updated every so often to ensure that new evidence or technology is taken into account, and the RCOG is committed to involving people who use services in all aspects of their work. Although the expertise of experienced doctors is vital, it is just as important to involve service users to hear what knowledge and skills they feel specialists of tomorrow should have.

The Public Insight Group will aim to include people from across the UK with a variety of needs and experiences. It may also include representation from individuals who have particular understanding of the needs of specific communities and can represent the experiences and needs of those groups effectively. There will be a core group of around 20 people who will meet face-to-face for an initial workshop session. After this, the group will be coordinated mainly by email as the new curriculum develops.

A wider consultation group will bring a broader pool of views into the project. This group will only be involved by email. Both the core and the wider group will play a crucial role in informing the new curriculum over the next year. Both groups will be communicated with regularly to gain insight and feedback will be given to members about how the new curriculum is progressing.

For more details about what is involved and to see whether this is something you may be interested in, see here