The politics of infertility

Fertility Network UK is inviting anyone facing fertility issues to an event at Westminster on 1 Nov from 4 – 6 pm to discuss fair funding for IVF.

Speakers include Peter Thompson from the HFEA, Paula Sherriff MP,  Rebecca Manson Jones (Candidate for Women’s Equality Party),  Geeta Nargund (Director of Create Fertility clinics) and patient campaigner Richard Clothier.

There are limited spaces for the event, and if you would like to attend you can find further details here 

The Fertility Show goes to Manchester

Did you know that the Fertility Show will be in Manchester next month? The event which has taken place at London’s Olympia for many years is spreading its wings and will be held at Manchester’s Central Convention Complex in Windmill St on March 25 and 26.

There will be a wide range of speakers including Allan Pacey,  Geeta Nargund, British Fertility Society Chair Adam BalenCharles KingslandSimon Fishel, John Parsons, Rachel Cutting, Jane Stewart, Raj Mathur, Tony Rutherford and Zita West. The HFEA’s Juliet Tizzard will also be speaking as well as specialist lawyer Natalie Gamble and Fertility Fest Director Jessica Hepburn. The sessions will cover a wide range of topics suitable to those just starting out and wanting to know more about their fertility through to more detailed sessions on specific fertility problems and treatment options. There will also be a separate platform for Q and A sessions and a wide range of exhibitors.

Tickets are now on sale here so do come along if you are nearby – I will be there too speaking about how to choose a fertility clinic and will be on the Fertility Network UK stand so come and say hello!

The Fertility Show London – 5 and 6 November

the-fertility-show-london-logoIt’s next weekend and if you haven’t booked your tickets yet, there is still time. It’s true that the Fertility Show can feel a bit like some kind of Ideal Home Exhibition for fertility problems, but it’s well worth visiting for the amazing seminar programme alone where you can catch many of the country’s leading experts and benefit from their wisdom and advice.

Talks on Saturday include:

  • How To Get Pregnant (and to have the best possible pregnancy) with Zita West
  • Innovations in embryo selection. Do they really make a difference? with Rachel Cutting MBE, Chair 2010-2014 of the Association of Clinical Embryologists and Principal Embryologist at Jessop Fertility in Sheffield
  • Stress and its impact on fertility with Jacky Boivin, Professor of Health Psychology at Cardiff University and Lead Researcher at Cardiff Fertility Studies
  • Surrogacy in the UK with Sarah Templeman, Nurse Manager at Herts & Essex Fertility Centre and Helen Prosser from Brilliant Beginnings
  • Natural Cycle and Mild IVF – fertility treatment without the drugs? with Professor Geeta Nargund, Medical Director of CREATE Fertility
  • The Basics. What you need to know to get pregnant and how to prepare for pregnancy with George Christopoulos, Subspecialty Registrar in Reproductive Medicine and Surgery at IVF Hammersmith
  • Next Generation IVF? with Professor Simon Fishel, CEO of CARE Fertility
  • Dealing with recurrent miscarriage with Dr Vidya Seshadri, Consultant Gynaecologist & Specialist in Reproductive Medicine at The Centre for Reproductive & Genetic Health
  • Reduced ovarian reserve: Is anyone too difficult to treat? with Sam Abdalla, Director of the Lister Fertility Clinic
  • Factors to consider when choosing a fertility clinic with me! (Kate Brian, journalist, broadcaster, author of bestselling The Complete Guide to IVF, mother of two IVF children, Lead of Women’s Voices at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and London Representative for Infertility Network UK)
  • Going abroad for treatment? Question time featuring 2 overseas clinics with Dr Bruce Shapiro of The Fertility Center of Las Vegas and Dr Natalia Szlarb from IVF Spain.
  • Counselling through infertility with Tracey Sainsbury, member of the British Infertility Counselling Association.
  • Boost fertility and prevent recurrent miscarriage with nutrition with Dr Marilyn Glenville
  • Immunology – potentially hazardous treatment or your best chance of success? with Mr Mohammed Mahmoud, Consultant in Reproductive Medicine of The Newlife Fertility Clinic and Siobhan Quenby, Professor of Obstetrics and Director of the Biomedical Research Unit in Reproductive Health at the University of Warwick.
  • Improving the odds of IVF working for you with Yacoub Khalaf, Consultant Gynaecologist and Medical Director of the Assisted Conception Unit at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS
  • Coping Strategies with Wendy Martin, specialist fertility counsellor with Bristol Centre for Reproductive Medicine NHS
  • Testing your fertility and the value of your ovarian reserve with James Nicopoullos, Consultant Gynaecologist at the Lister Fertility Clinic.
  • Freeing your mind to improve fertility with Russell Davis, Cognitive Hypnotherapist.
  • Dealing with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) with Adam Balen, Professor of Reproductive Medicine and Surgery at Leeds NHS Centre for Reproductive Medicine and Chairman of the British Fertility Society.
  • Issues for families created with donors with DC Network founding member Olivia Montuschi.
  • What men need to know about their fertility – testing it, boosting it, treating it with Allan Pacey, Professor of Andrology at the University of Sheffield and former Chairman of the British Fertility Society.
  • Complementary Therapies – can they boost your fertility? with Dr Gillian Lockwood, Medical Director of Midland Fertility Services and ethics spokesperson for the British Fertility Society, Andrew Loosely who practices herbal medicine and Barbara Scott, chair of the Association of Reproductive Reflexologists.
  • Fertility treatment for older women with Tarek El-Toukhy, Consultant in Reproductive Medicine and Surgery at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospital.
  • How to keep costs down – do you really need those add-ons? with  Dr, John Parsons, part of the team that established the first IVF pregnancy to deliver at the Hammersmith hospital.
  • Sperm and egg donors from the UK with Laura Witjens, egg donor and former CEO of the National Gamete Donation Trust, and Venessa Smith, Donor Services Co-ordinator from the London Women’s Clinic.
  • Can acupuncture improve fertility? with Michael Dooley, Medical Director of Poundbury Fertility and Emma Cannon, acupuncturist.
  • The arguments for travelling to the USA vs Portugal vs Norway with Dr Angeline Beltsos of Vios Fertility Institute, Dr Vladimiro of Ferticentro and Dr Jon Hausken from Norwegian Klinikk Hausken.
  • Steps to choosing the right adoption agency with First4Adoption’s Gemma Gordon-Johnson.
  • Travelling to the USA for egg donor treatment – the patient’s perspective and the clinic that treated them with Sarah Esdaile and her partner who had treatment in the USA and Dr Michael Levy, Director of the Donor egg programme at Shady Grove Clinic.
  • A patient’s experience of the fertility rollercoaster and what to expect with Jessica Hepburn, trustee at Infertility Network UK and author of  The Pursuit of Motherhood.
  • Why should I give it another go? with Tim Child, Associate Professor and Subspecialist in Reproductive Medicine, University of Oxford and Honorary Consultant Gynaecologist, John Radcliffe Hospital.
  • Planning Treatment abroad? The arguments for travelling to Greece vs Spain vs Russia with Dr. Dimitrios Dovas of The NewLife IVF Centre in Greece, Dr Ramon Aurell, IVF Unit Medical Director of Hospital Quirón Barcelona and Dr Yulia Gurtovaya, a consultant at West Middlesex University Hospital who speaks on behalf of Russian IVF clinic CRM MAMA.
  • Single women and lesbian couples – options for conceiving with Dr Raúl Olivares, Medical Director of Barcelona IVF.
  • An overview of the common causes of infertility and the main approaches to treatment with Kamal Ojha, Medical Director of Concept Fertility and Honorary Senior Lecturer at St George’s Hospital.
  • Fertility treatment for older women with Dimitrios Nikolaou, Consultant Gynaecologist, lead clinician at Chelsea and Westminster NHS Hospital’s Assisted Conception Unit and Medical Director of Fertility for Life.
  • Options for adoption with Jan Fishwick, CEO of PACT
  • Unknown donor vs known donor vs co-parenting with fertility lawyer Natalie Gamble and Erika Tranfield of Pride Angel.
  • What to think about before going abroad for treatment with Ben Saer, who with his wife Becky had successful fertility treatment in the Czech Republic, Dimitris Kavakas of Embryolab based in Thessaloniki and Dr Carlos Doscouto of Spanish IVF clinic Women’s Health Dexeus.
  • Dealing with and treating, endometriosis with Haitham Hamoda, Consultant Gynaecologist in reproductive medicine and surgery at King’s College Hospital.
  • Top Ten ways to cope with infertility with Anya Sizer, rregional organiser at Fertility Network UK.
  • Surrogacy arrangements with Helen Prosser from non-profit UK surrogacy agency Brilliant Beginnings and Natalie Gamble, campaigner and founder of leading fertility law firm Natalie Gamble Associates.
  • Single woman in your 30s or 40s? Thinking about having a baby on your own? with Caroline Spencer, trustee for the Donor Conception Network.
  • New technologies in IVF with Lucy Richardson, Senior Embryologist at the UK’s Herts & Essex Fertility Centre and Dr Elizabeth Barbieri from US-based Oregon Reproductive Medicine.
  • Getting your head around treatments, clinics and statistics with Juliet Tizzard, Director of Strategy and Corporate Affairs at the HFEA
  • .Men Matter Too with fertility Counsellor Anthony Ryb.
  • Fertility treatment on the NHS? with Anil Gudi and Amit Shah, Consultant Gynaecologists who run the NHS fertility service at the Homerton Fertility Centre in East London.
  • Nutrition to help with PCOS, endometriosis and fibroids with Dr Marilyn Glenville.
  • How to deal with the diagnosis of unexplained infertility with Dr Jane Stewart, Consultant in Reproductive Medicine at the Newcastle Fertility Centre.
  • How to keep costs down – do you really need those add-ons? with Yacoub Khalaf, Medical Director of the Assisted Conception Unit at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS.
  • Overseas egg donors. Who are they and how are they chosen? with Dr Israel Ortega of IVI Madrid in Spain and Nancy Block of Fertility Source Companies in the US explain.

As you can see, there is something here for everyone and having access to so many experts under one roof presents a unique opportunity to learn more about fertility and the treatments which may help. You can buy tickets from the website www.fertilityshow.co.uk

The Fantastic Fertility Fest

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I was in Birmingham yesterday for the first ever Fertility Fest which was a truly amazing day. Jessica Hepburn and Gabby Vautier put together the festival and had worked tirelessly to create something which managed to be moving, interesting, emotional, inspiring, uplifting, thought-provoking and exciting all in one day.

It was wonderful to have so many artists who have produced such different work about their experience of fertility problems gathered together under one roof – visual artists, playwrights, photographers, musicians and writers. To have them joined by leading fertility specialists added another context to the discussion and proved to be a fascinating mix.

I chaired the opening session where Jessica was joined by playwright Gareth Farr, whose play The Quiet House, which is about a couple going through IVF, forms a central part of the festival. They spoke about why they’d both wanted to write about their experiences of fertility problems, and about the stigma and taboo which still surrounds infertility and treatment. They set the tone for the day, explaining how the idea for Fertility Fest came about and what they hoped the day would achieve.

I went on to the session about IVF with writer Jo Ind and visual artist Tabitha Moses, where we were joined by Anya Sizer from the London Women’s Clinic. Jo read some passages and a poem she’d written at the time of her fertility problems and treatment, and then Tabitha presented some of her work about fertility – her beautiful embroidered hospital gowns featuring women’s fertility stories and the light-box embryos, pinpricked out using the syringes she used for her IVF. We had a fascinating discussion afterwards about their work, about infertility and treatment, about IVF pregnancy and parenthood and about the compulsion to explore fertility problems through art and writing.

In the afternoon, I was in the session on male fertility with photographer Aaron Deemer, musician and composer Fergus Davidson and fertility expert Professor Allan Pacey. Aaron began by talking about his extraordinary photos of the men’s rooms at fertility clinics, and about his visits to clinics in China and the UK – and explained how the photos have become a way into talking about men and fertility. Fergus gave an incredibly moving talk about his fertility problems and experience of miscarriage, and then played some music he had composed accompanied by pictures. I think most of the audience in the room were in tears by the time he had finished his courageous and honest account, and it made me realise how rare it is to hear a man speaking so openly about the pain of fertility problems and of miscarriage. Aaron and Fergus were joined by Professor Allan Pacey for the discussion afterwards who added a professional view to the debate which gave a forum for a subject so often overlooked. It was great that Dr Robin Hadley, an academic who has researched men’s responses to childlessness, joined us in the audience for the debate.

The final session of the day on the Future of Fertility was started by Amanda Gore from Liminal Space who talked about their most recent project involving the creation of a fictional beauty brand and pop-up shop designed to unlock the facts around egg freezing. Chair Peter Guttridge skilfully led the panel of experts – Professor Geeta Nargund, Professor Jacky Boivin, Dr Gillian Lockwood and Professor Allan Pacey – as they discussed what they felt lay ahead. Egg freezing, synthetic sperm and eggs, a dwindling population and the future of NHS-funded fertility treatment were up for discussion!

The day ended with a production of Gareth Farr’s play The Quiet House. I couldn’t stay for that but am really looking forward to seeing the play in London. There were so many amazing artists and experts, and I just wish I could have attended all the sessions. If you are anywhere near London and haven’t got tickets for Fertility Fest on June 11 – book one right now here before they sell out. It promises to be another truly fascinating day.

Have you booked for Fertility Fest?

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It’s just a week away, but there are still some tickets left for Fertility Fest which opens in Birmingham next Saturday. If you don’t know about this unique event, linking art and science in a day of performances and discussions, you can find out more by visiting the Fertility Fest website.

The Festival takes place in London too, but opens in Birmingham next weekend with leading experts in the field including Allan Pacey, Sue Avery, Geeta Nargund, HFEA Chair Sally Cheshire, fertility counsellor Tracey Sainsbury, the NGDT’s Laura Witjens, Gillian Lockwood and Jacky Boivin. Artists featured include Jude Christian, Milli Bhatia, Ronke Adekoluejo, Satinder Chohan, Somalia Seaton, Katie Barlow, Tina Reid-Peršin, Jo Ind, Tabitha Moses,  Amy Rosenthal, Kazuko Hohki, Sarah Esdaile,  Jody Day, Louise Ann Wilson,  Aaron Deemer, Fergus Davidson and Amanda Gore.

The day will conclude with a performance of award-winning playwright Gareth Farr’s latest production, The Quiet House, which addresses IVF and fertility. Fertility Fest has been organised by Jessica Hepburn and Gaby Vautier. It promises to be a really fascinating event, so if you are anywhere near Birmingham – book your tickets now!

How late you can leave it – again…

So, the debate about when women should get pregnant goes on… When fertility specialist Geeta Nargund called for fertility education, it soon turned into a heated discussion about whether doctors should be telling people when to get pregnant (which, if you read what she actually said, Geeta Nargund hadn’t).

Not long afterwards, Lord Winston, still one of the country’s best-known fertility experts, said that he thought that delaying motherhood was a good thing, and that there were many advantages to waiting to start a family. Now the Chair of the British Fertility Society, Adam Balen, has added his voice to the debate, pointing out that it is important that women are aware of the risks of trying to get pregnant later – you can read his remarks, and a reply from Lord Winston here. The “row” may be largely manufactured by the Daily Mail, but it continues to raise important points about the biological clock and women’s awareness of their fertility.

Whatever your views on the subject, it doesn’t alter the fact that proper fertility education can only ever be a good thing. There are all kinds of reasons why women delay having children – often more to do with circumstance than choice – but being well-informed about the lifestyle factors that can influence your fertility can be hugely beneficial whatever age you may be,

Should women be encouraged to get pregnant earlier?

images-1There has been a lot of misunderstanding and misinterpretation in the current debate about fertility education and whether women should be having children younger which hasn’t been very helpful. Fertility consultant Geeta Nargund’s letter to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan about fertility education has sparked a fierce debate.

We’ve had angry replies from those who say that women already know all about the biological clock, that pushing them to have children earlier is adding too much pressure to already pressured lives and that schoolgirls should not be encouraged to be defining themselves in terms of their reproductive capacities.

Fertility education is not just about age

As someone who is very much in favour of fertility education, I think we need to be clear about what it actually means. It doesn’t mean telling girls that they need to have babies by 30. It’s about allowing them to make informed choices. It’s about teaching girls and boys that sexually-transmitted infections, eating disorders, smoking, weight, excessive drinking and recreational drugs, including bodybuilding steroids, can all have an impact on your future fertility. It’s about making girls and boys aware that fertility does have time limits and that treatments such as IVF can’t do anything to turn back the biological clock.

Do women really understand the biological clock?

Despite the protestations that women know all they need to about their fertility, most specialists in the field see people every day who don’t really understand how age impacts on their chances of success and who expect IVF to be able to offer solutions when they are older. In fact, IVF is far less successful for older women – it’s a treatment for fertility problems not for age. Fertility specialists are sometimes reluctant to spell out to women whose treatment hasn’t worked that this is most likely to be down to age, and success rates for IVF sink to single figures for women over the age of 42.

There has been a lot of focus from those who think women already know about their fertility on the fact that women can still successfully get pregnant in their late thirties and their forties. Of course they can – but not everyone will be able to – and this debate is about preventing heartache for the group who feel they didn’t know the facts.

The other thing that has been entirely ignored in the discussion is the miscarriage rate which goes up as your fertility declines. Women of forty and over are more likely to miscarry than to have a baby if they get pregnant. It’s a horrible fact and not one that most of us like to think about, but it’s true. It’s all very well to keep insisting that women can still get pregnant at this age, but pregnancy is not the aim – it’s a baby.

Fertility education isn’t about telling girls what to do – it’s about educating people, that’s boys and girls, about the choices they make that can have an impact in the future.

 

Should children be taught about fertility problems at school?

120px-Classe-merikanjakaDo you think children should learn about infertility as part of sex education classes at school? It’s an issue which has been raised again recently, and one which I wrote about a few years ago for The Guardian.

Now Geeta Nargund, who runs the CREATE clinics, has been working to bring the question of fertility education onto the agenda with articles in The Guardian and The Telegraph on the subject.

What do you think? Do you wish you’d known more at an earlier age? Might it have made a difference, or would it have felt too far away to be relevant? Is there a risk that telling teenagers they might not be able to get pregnant could increase the rates of teenage pregnancy? Or is it just part of what ought to be a thorough understanding of human reproduction and fertility?