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What is fertility treatment?

To most people, fertility treatment means one thing: IVF (in vitro fertilisation). But it actually encompasses a wide range of procedures to do with having a child. This could be treatment for couples who haven’t been able to conceive; treatment to prevent the transmission of genetic conditions; or treatment to preserve the fertility of someone who is transgender.

They might have been trying to become parents without success for a long time. So, when it works, fertility treatment can often feel like a miracle.

Right now, many people around the world have had to put their plans on hold due to government guidelines on social distancing. Fertility treatments require frequent visits to your specialist - things like ultrasounds and monitoring - so the risk of exposure to other people is much higher.

This can be tough to accept, given the overall unpredictability of infertility treatment at the best of times, especially if you have already been on a long and difficult journey.

In vitro fertilisation (IVF)

The most well-known type of fertility treatment is IVF. This process involves fertilising an egg outside of the body, to be implanted into the womb. The first IVF baby was born in 1978. Since then, more than 8 million babies have been born as a result of this treatment [1].

IVF can be carried out with a woman’s own egg or a donated egg. In some cases, women have frozen their own eggs and go on to use them later through IVF. For same sex female couples, they will also need a sperm donor.

The success of IVF varies from person to person, and is impacted by their individual situation and age. Generally, the older you are, the harder it gets. For women under 35 using their own egg, there’s a 3 in 10 chance that it will lead to a baby, whereas for women over 44, it’s 1 in 50[2].

These odds can be frustrating. One woman shared her journey going through four FET (Frozen Embryo Transfer) cycles. “It took nearly 18 months of experiencing one failiure after another to actually receive a real infertility diagnosis: unexplained fertility.”

Because the chances of having a baby through IVF are relatively slim, women often end up going through many rounds of expensive, physically-demanding treatment. This makes it an incredibly stressful process, for them and their partner.

IVF can be an isolating experience, too. In the words of Michelle Obama on her own struggle to conceive, “We sit in our own pain, thinking that somehow we’re broken. That’s one of the reasons why I think it’s important to talk. I think it’s the worst thing we do to each other as women, not share the truth about our bodies and how they work, and how they don’t work.” [3]

Stop the stigma around fertility treatment

Even though fertility treatment has helped millions of babies to be born, there is still stigma out there. Women can feel like they’re being blamed for being unable to get pregnant naturally. Or that getting pregnant with fertility treatment isn’t as good because it’s not natural.

It makes me feel weak - this idea that somehow my body is betraying me.

As a result of these untrue (and unkind) beliefs, some women are made to feel that they are a failure. They feel like they haven’t been able to fulfil their most basic biological function. Then, if they go on to get treatment, they feel that they’ve gone against what’s natural.

Becoming a parent should be open to everyone. Despite social distancing measures putting many women’s fertility treatments on hold, we are still lucky to live in a world where medical advances give women the chance to have children. That should be celebrated, not stigmatised.

Going through fertility treatment can feel isolating, but there’s lots of support available. The NHS has information on infertility as well as advice on increasing your chances of getting pregnant. There’s also a wealth of information provided by Fertility Network UK on navigating funding as well as trying to conceive.

Do you have personal experience with fertility treatment? We believe that our #wombstories need to be heard. Watch our video, share your story and post on social using #wombstories.

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