Can you be happy if IVF doesn’t work?

It’s one of those things people don’t even want to think about when they’re going through fertility treatment – what might happen if it didn’t work, ever? Could you really be happy if you didn’t end up with a baby? What would you do if all that time, effort, money and emotional investment led to nothing? Would your life ever feel fulfilled and enjoyable? Could the overwhelming sadness go away? I want to tell you about someone who is a brilliant example of the fact that life after IVF treatment can be both fulfilled and enjoyable. She’s called Lesley Pyne, and I first met her when I was a trustee for the charity which is now Fertility Network UK. Lesley was one of my fellow trustees, and had joined as she was involved with the section of the charity for people who were involuntarily childless known at the time as More to Life.

Today, I met Lesley for the first time for a while and it struck me that she looked about 10 years younger than she did when I last first knew her – which means she must look about 20 years younger than she really is! Her eyes were bright and shining, and her zest for life was almost palpable. Lesley, who always seemed to be making an effort not to stand out when we were fellow trustees, was dressed in bright colours with electric blue nails.  She is happy, she is making the most of the good things in her life – and she has just written a book explaining how she went from feeling devastated by unsuccessful treatment to this confident, happy woman who gets the best out of her life – it’s due to be published in June and is called Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness.

It strikes me as we talk that Lesley has embraced something we could all learn from – living for the moment, focusing on the positives and making an effort to enjoy what we have. I haven’t read Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness yet – but she explained that it contains her story and those of a number of other women who have come out the other side of involuntary childlessness to find fulfilment. She says it is a journey,  and it can be hard along the way, but that there is life beyond childlessness, there is more to life – and if you need help along that path, keep an eye out for Lesley’s book when it comes out in June.

When IVF doesn’t work

ivf_science-300x168It’s something no one wants to think about when they are starting out on a fertility journey, but the truth is that IVF doesn’t always work. We know that average success rates in the UK for an individual cycle are around 26%, which means a 74% chance of it not working. In reality, as recent research has shown, cumulative success rates are far better and over a course of treatment, the majority are likely to have a child – but even so, IVF is not going to work for everyone, something this article from Australia illustrates.

It may seem as if treatment not working would be the most unbearable outcome possible, but I have been really struck by pioneering childless women like Jody Day of Gateway Women and Lesley Pyne who show that this doesn’t have to mean the end of your hope for a happy future. Jody’s Gateway Women offers a chance to get together with other women in similar situations and she runs workshops and events, Lesley offers support through her blog, newsletter and one-to-one sessions, and there’s also help to be found from More to Life which offers support and regional contacts for anyone who is involuntarily childless. It may be useful to see a counsellor, and BICA – the British Infertility Counselling Association – can provide a list of specialist qualified counsellors across the UK, some of whom offer Skype or telephone counselling too.

An amazing fundraiser…

There are always all kinds of people raising money for all kinds of things in all kinds of ways, but I wanted to tell you about this – a supporter of Infertility Network UK who is walking the whole of the South West Coast Path to raise funds for the charity.

It’s her story which I think is so moving – if you’d like to know more about why she’s doing it and perhaps think about sponsoring her, this is the link to her JustGiving page.

BBC radio programme on what happens when IVF doesn’t work

ivf_science-300x168There’s a programme you may be interested in at 11 am tomorrow morning on BBC Radio Four. It’s about what happens when IVF doesn’t work, and it features Lesley Pyne who has been a great source of support and inspiration for many people who’ve had unsuccessful treatment. Lesley, who now helps other women who are looking at living without children, went through unsuccessful IVF herself and was a leading member of the support network More to Life for many years.

How successful is IVF?

The truth is that fertility treatment isn’t always going to work for everyone. For every cycle of IVF, there is an average 25% chance of success. Which means there’s a 75% chance that it won’t work. Cumulative success rates are much better – figures from one clinic released at a Fertility Fairness event earlier this year showed cumulative success rates for women of 37 and under reached 80% over 3 cycles, which is why NICE recommends three cycles as being cost-effective and clinically effective. Age is key here though – if you are older, the chances of success are lower. For women who are 35 and under, the average IVF success rate is 32% but by the time you are in the 38-39 age bracket, that goes down to 20%. Once you reach 43-44, it’s right down to 5% – which means that 95% of cycles for women of that age will not succeed.

When to stop IVF

It can be difficult to know when to stop trying with IVF and there is no right or wrong time to do this, no magic number of cycles. I’ve found that on the whole when people haven’t been successful they do reach a point at which they know that stopping is the right thing to do – sometimes that’s because they’ve run out of money, or because they can’t cope emotionally any more or because their clinic has suggested they should think about stopping. Often it’s just because they’ve got to a point where it feels like the right thing to do.

I’m going to be joining Lesley on BBC Radio Four Woman’s Hour tomorrow morning to discuss IVF and  stopping treatment and to look ahead to the documentary later in the morning.

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.