‘Six years of IVF showed me fertility support in the UK is broken’

Fertility and IVF treatment were never something I considered when I was in my twenties and early thirties. However, society is quick to remind people of the “womanhood penalty” – the dilemma so many women face when they begin to contemplate whether they want to start a family: a career or a baby?

As it stands, not enough support is offered to those struggling to start a family or who have faced early miscarriage. This is something I didn’t fully realise until I had to go through the IVF process.

I married my husband, Adam, in 2017, when I was 42 years old – an age where falling pregnant naturally can be accompanied by further challenges compared to when you are in your twenties or thirties.

My fertility journey began in the UK before we got married and involved six rounds of IVF over six years, in both the UK and the US. Throughout my treatment time in London, I went through two rounds of egg retrieval, both of which didn’t result in a pregnancy. Throughout this time, it became clear how impersonal and tricky it was to navigate the fertility process, and I soon moved to a larger London-based hospital which I felt was a much better match for my needs.

I always knew the IVF process would be tough, and there wasn’t going to be any guarantee of success, but nothing prepared me for the struggles I would have to face after miscarrying two of my pregnancies early on after conception.

After my miscarriages, there were many moments where I could have given up, however I continued to pursue my fertility treatment with the same mentality that had made me successful in business: anything is possible if you put your mind to it. I travelled to the US with my husband and after a series of consultations to identify the right clinic for us, we decided on a clinic which ultimately led to the birth of my son, Archie.

Across the UK, there seems to be a postcode lottery, where the level of fertility support you receive entirely depends on where you live. For example, there are fewer than one in five Clinical Commissioning Groups in England that offer the full three IVF cycles recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). This highlights the lack of emphasis on fertility care and support that is currently offered in the UK.

“Evidence that the fertility sector is broken can be seen throughout society.”

(DrAfter123/iStock)

Evidence that the fertility sector is broken can be seen throughout society. Women are often hard on themselves and tend to feel like they need to “pick themselves up” only a week after their loss. When going through the fertility process, a lot of the emphasis is placed on falling pregnant, however, for the fertility system to be effective, we also need to concentrate on women staying pregnant and their babies staying healthy until birth.

Sadly, investigations into fertility often happen too late on the NHS, as women need to have suffered three miscarriages until they are able to access further help. The way early miscarriage is treated is reflective on the wider fertility industry as a whole – individuals, whether single or going through the process with a partner, need to have their concerns listened to. People wanting to have children shouldn’t be expected to wait until they have lost three babies before receiving support.

Many individuals are changing their lifestyles and deciding to have children later in life. This means that the fertility sector will continue to play an important part in the healthcare industry in the future. Yet, as well as the lack of opinions, stigma, and access issues surrounding fertility treatments, the steep fees are also preventing many families from being able to keep trying to conceive.

IVF is very expensive, and many private clinics try to sell “add-ons” to people longing for a child. It’s worth noting though that there is the odd unicorn in the sector, one of which I was really lucky to find, who did make me feel supported and cared for, even though my pregnancies still didn’t result in a live birth.

My challenge to obtain diversity of opinion was what spurred me on to create a special social community that would support anyone undergoing fertility treatment and their partners.

The IVF Network will launch this month and will be the UK’s first membership community providing access to live studio broadcast events, with key specialists who can answer patient questions around key topics. Alongside this professional support, there will be a social community element where couples and single parents-to-be can connect with similar families during the IVF process, to make sure they feel loved and supported on what is an emotional and challenging journey.

Charlotte Gentry is the founder of The IVF Network. To find out more about The IVF Network, visit theivfnetwork.com

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