The role of IVF

imageLast weekend was The Fertility Show at London Olympia. Host to a whole range of companies and organisations aiming to improve your chances of conception. Looking around was an overwhelming sea of black suits, paperwork and clinical looking stands offering Advanced Reproductive Technology (ART) options, from many different countries. I think ART is wonderful, clever and fascinating and have seen countless clients for whom this has resulted in the success they dreamed of. However, is it the only answer?

Also at the show were gadgets and gizmos to assist in making a baby and lots of support for same-sex couples, single parents and those seeking donor treatment. Excitingly were the number of Complementary Therapy stands spread through the aisles, including acupuncture, herbal medicine, yoga, mindfulness, nutrition and of course reflexology and Fertility Massage. Each time I walked past, these stands were brimming with people and I have heard great feedback about the positive interest from ladies keen to find out more and to gain some nurturing and TLC alongside their ART treatment. Equally, the seminar on the benefits of Complementary Therapies was packed full.

Most of my time at the show was spent attending seminars, including those by Dr Marilyn Glenville, Dr Michael Dooley and my favourite, Lord Robert Winston. He talked about the impact of an ‘unexplained infertility’ diagnosis and interestingly shared my view that IVF in particular is used too often, sometimes needlessly and to detrimental effect. As an IVF pioneer who has been working in the field since the start (him, not me!), I found this interesting and reassuring to hear. He reiterated the role of IVF – being an option to those for whom all tests have proven the cause of infertility to be inconclusive or for e.g. structural issues that prevent conception taking place. He told of his severe concern for those being rushed straight to IVF, often without a full prior investigation and in my opinion, without looking into other factors that may be affecting the outcome – such as hormonal imbalance, luteal phase defect, high stress, nutritional deficiencies etc. We were shown images of wombs covered in scar tissue, distorted by fibroids and in one case divided by a septum. In all of these cases, an embryo had been replaced following IVF treatment, which understandably did not successfully implant.

On the other side of the coin was an example of a lady with high BMI who had been refused IVF treatment until she lost weight. She was frustrated with this decision but as Lord Winston rightly pointed out – by losing excess weight and getting healthier, you’ll greatly enhance your chances of conception anyway.

This shows me that ART has frequently become a backup option for anyone to use if things aren’t going to plan for them. This is not how it was intended and I feel that this is a scary situation, especially given that many clinics charge huge sums of money, not to mention the emotional and physical impact on both partners.

I am certainly not against ART. I believe in the huge benefits of these treatments for those who need it and we are fortunate to live in such a time where we have access to this amazing technology. I work with many women during ART treatment but the difference is that they are also working on other areas to increase their chances of success.

My advice would be to spend time preparing mentally, physically, emotionally and nutritionally and change lifestyle habits before pursuing ART, for 3-4 months at the very least. This time will not be wasted, as if you do end up having ART, you will know that you are in the best possible state to optimise your chances. Remember that ART does not address any underlying issues so if nutrition or stress is a factor for you, no amount of medical treatment will rectify that (and can actually make both of these worse).

IVF and other ART are not quick fixes and should not be viewed as such. The physical, emotional and financial investment can be huge.