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The Dionne Quintuplets

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The Dionne Quintuplets

 

THE DIONNE QUINTUPLETS were five identical sisters born on May 28, 1934, in Ontario, Canada. Emilie and Marie shared an embryonic sac, as did Annette and Yvonne, while Cecile shared one with a sixth foetus, which died. Curiously, those paired together bonded closely post birth.

But the story of the sisters is a sad one. Cecile died after an epileptic seizure, aged 20, while 14 years later a blood clot accounted for Marie.

Long before, when the quintuplets were just four months old, the Canadian government, led by Mitchell Hepburn, took custody of the children under the premise that parents Oliva and Elzire were unfit to care for them. This created outcry, particularly when the five girls were courted for significant press interest, which in turn provoked a flood of tourist interest. Between 1936 and 1943, almost three million people walked through the observation gallery where the sisters were kept.

Custody was handed back to the parents in 1948, and exactly 50 years later, the government reached settlement with the three surviving sisters for what was deemed exploitation of minors. Yvonne died in 2001, leaving remaining sisters Annette and Cecile.

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Happy Birthday Louise Joy Brown

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Happy Birthday Louise Joy Brown

Louise Brown is an extraordinary woman.  Extraordinary by virtue of her conception – the first IVF baby. On 25 July 2018 Louise Brown and the world are celebrating her 40th Birthday.

You might think that there is nothing special about a 40th birthday but this is no ordinary birthday. In the last 10 years, finally, IVF has come of age as a scientific “discovery” and from it so many other areas of advancement have sprung; encompassing legal, ethical, medical and technological developments.

Although too late for Patrick Steptoe who died in 1988, Bob Edwards received a Nobel Prize in 2010 and was knighted in 2011, recognition coming just 2 years before his own death.  It was also too late for Jean Purdy, whose clinical and laboratory roles have been highlighted recently, bringing her to the attention of those of us who had been unaware of her huge contribution, which has been rightly and publicly celebrated.

Thanks to the public recognition of those pioneers, this decade birthday is being celebrated around the world. It is a commemoration of achievements that transformed the management of fertility problems.

IVF has enabled so many couples to build families that otherwise might never have been. These families aren’t simply a child or maybe two for a couple to bring up to adulthood but families in the truest sense of the word – grandchildren for grandparents, cousins and future parents, aunts and uncles.  Making a family is not just life changing for one or two people but has inter-generational impact.

Today, IVF has been assimilated into accepted practice. This by virtue of the HFEAct for which we are indebted to Mary Warnock and her great ethical insight. The Act underpins the regulation of current practice and ongoing research through license to the HFEA.

The news of Louise Brown’s conception, and her birth, drew huge public interest. The response was fascination and alarm in equal measure. Whilst there was rejection of the science and scientists by the public, press and peers, this did not mean that her existence was neglected.

Although that direct interest in Louise Brown has therefore waxed and waned there have been key milestones. Perhaps most significant was the interest when she herself (after her sister) became a mother naturally (what did we think was going to happen?), and we were again reminded that she is extraordinary.

Louise Brown’s very existence is extraordinary. However she is also extraordinary in her very ordinariness.  She is normal. There should be something ordinary about Louise Brown. She was a child born and brought up in the 70s and 80s; she is a wife and mother and works for her living.  It is right that she is ordinary – is that not the point?

Our patients, probably very much like her parents, don’t want to be extraordinary – they want to be ordinary people with ordinary lives who raise families in an ordinary way. Yet some of them have to go to extraordinary lengths to make that happen. Why? Because we have yet to acknowledge that the lack of this ordinary ability to found a family leads to extraordinary suffering.  We have yet to accept, despite the undoubted success and safety of IVF treatment, that it is an ordinary NHS treatment, for an ordinary medical problem, which ordinary couples and individuals face, day in and day out.

The idea of a postcode lottery for health service commissioning is not unique to infertility but it is certainly the most brazen and most generalized. This is not a drug that has been singled out to be too costly, this is wholesale neglect of a specialist area of medicine. This neglect is not confined to IVF itself, but in some areas has an impact on the ability even for patients to get a proper medical opinion, to be properly investigated or to have access to any other appropriate treatment.

Moreover, even when a diagnosis and opinion are available and there is a good chance of successful treatment, social limitations may be applied by commissioners, which override any clinical decision making. This is unique to fertility patients. And we find ourselves failing to treat a significant fertility issue for one partner because the other has been judged to be undeserving. Making such judgments within our National Health Service the norm may lead to compromise in our own social right to other areas of health care.

It is of course necessary to consider cost-effectiveness and not provide treatment where there is little chance of success. But guidance for IVF has rightly been given by NICE (the National Institute for health and Care Excellence); it is largely ignored.

Some people say that fertility treatment is a luxury, that the desire to have children is a lifestyle choice.  I would argue that that drive is as innate as the need for shelter and sustenance. Whilst as humans we can make a rational decision or choice not to have children (not always without regret) it remains for many a deep and fundamental need.

We also live in a world where second families and alternative family building is common. Traditionalists may not like the change in social patterns but that does not make those families or indeed those parenting models less valid nor indeed inferior. As physicians we consider the welfare of the child but our job is to treat the medical problem. As a society we must be careful not to make prejudiced judgments, which may infringe basic human rights and needs.

Driving healthcare into the private sector may seem a natural step for some, but the commercial sector has been criticized roundly in recent years for potentially exploitative practices in reproductive medicine. Centres must work with integrity around treatments where evidence is poor or lacking. That includes those treatments which remain experimental or still require proper validation. These simply must not be promoted for commercial gain. Thankfully, it does not appear to be a sector-wide issue but one that must be taken extremely seriously.

Louise Brown came from extraordinary parents who along with many others aided the research that brought about her birth. They were able, ultimately, to build the ordinary family they so desperately wanted and went to such lengths to bring about.

That is not the end of the story however. Having had the spotlight of public interest swing her way over her 40 years of existence, Louise Brown was not satisfied with ordinary. Harnessing her celebrity, she has not balked at shouldering a responsibility for promoting the very technology that gave her her being.  She has become an ambassador for IVF and technologies following. More importantly she has become an advocate for patients and patient rights speaking out on the inequities prevalent in our NHS fertility provision and for the promotion of reproductive health provision worldwide.

On the occasion of her 40th birthday, Louise Brown has picked up the public interest that has once again swung her way and used it for the good of those yet to come.

Louise Brown you are an extraordinary woman and I and the British Fertility Society salute you for it. Happy Birthday!

Originally published https://britishfertilitysociety.org.uk/2018/07/25/happy-birthday-to-louise-brown-bfs-chair-dr-jane-stewart-reflects-on-40-years-of-ivf/

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A Woman From Canberra Who Conceived Naturally After Nearly 10 Years Struggling With Infertility Is Now Helping Other Women To Get Pregnant

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Liz Walton With Husband

Liz Walton, now 48, had tried six rounds of In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) and spent around £30,000 trying to conceive.

But today she is the proud mother of two-year-old Willow after getting pregnant naturally- despite doctors saying the couple not have children without medical intervention.

Liz, from Savery Street, Garren, said: “I thought I was going through the menopause and was shocked to learn I was in fact pregnant.

“I’d let go of our dream of having children. I think because we were relaxed and finally accepting of the situation, we were, in fact, ready to have them.”

Liz, who got pregnant at the age of 45, has gone on to work with 14 women across 3 continents – and they have all since had children.

Liz, an international leader and coach, said: “I now focus on helping women who are having difficulties getting pregnant for various reasons, as well as unexplained fertility.

“It is because of my own experience and learning that I can support and help women so they receive the best help to get their desired outcome.”

Liz techniques such as hypnotherapy and a healing process called The Journey to help women tackle stress, which is often an underlying factor in being unable to conceive.

Liz, who has over 20 years’ experience in the therapeutic industry, said: “Constant stress shuts down all our reproductive systems and sometimes what we want most can be pushed further away.

“I can’t guarantee the support will result in a couple getting pregnant, though there have been many cases.

“But what I can enable is a shift, which allows people to find peace and see beyond just having children.”

Liz, who previously ran a complementary health practice in Canberra called Body and Mind, has returned from seven years in the UK, where she cared for ailing mother, who has sadly since died.

She has set up Liz Walton Therapies and Coaching to help people deal with a range of conditions, including anxiety, depression, grief and infertility.

For more information about Liz’s work, visit lizwalton.org or call +61 0432 427 464.

 

Liz’s story:

Liz and her husband, Greg, 43, married in 2005 and tried to have children soon after.

But they later learned Greg had anti-sperm antibodies, which can cause sperm to stick together and reduce movement – preventing them from fertilising the egg.

They had IVF for over eight years and were told their chances of conceiving with treatment were still less than five percent.

Liz was devastated each time it was unsuccessful and the stress put a strain on the couple.

Liz said: “We got married and thought ‘OK, let’s get pregnant. But a couple of years later it still hadn’t happened.

“We grow up believing we are put on this earth to have children and when I couldn’t, I ended up attacking myself. I asked myself why I couldn’t and what had I done wrong.

“I was devastated each time the treatment failed. It tore me apart and I felt annihilated. I kept thinking ‘how can I fix this?’ It became an obsession and drove me crazy.”

Liz piled on weight because of the stress – gaining nearly two kilos after each course of treatment, going from 67kilos to 75 kilos.

Liz said: “Being told ‘no, it hasn’t happened,’ would be stressful and I’d often go into a bad mood. The stress was overwhelming and I turned to food for comfort.”
Rather than save for a home, they used all the money they had to pay for treatment.

But when Liz’s sister-in-law fell pregnant it was a turning point for Liz, who now past 40 was told her chances of conceiving through IVF was now unlikely.

Liz, who used to run her own holistic complementary health practice, turned to coaching.

She said: “I took part in an emotional healing workshop and it brought our relationship to a whole new level. It also helped me to cope much better with the situation.

“I didn’t want to be a person full of bitterness and I realised I needed to let go. It had got to the point I wasn’t living my life, but holding out for something I couldn’t have.

“I cried for weeks, but it was something I had to do. It’s better than shutting down and turning to eating or drinking – which is something I would have done in the past.”

Liz worked with therapists to come to terms with infertility and now offers counselling and coaching to other women in a similar situation.

She said: “I think there were many reasons I got pregnant when I did. Partly, Greg turned 40 and he started to review his life – realising he wanted children in it.

“I believe our mindset can influence our bodies and I learned tools to become mentally and emotionally healthier. Something must have changed for both of us and we were finally ready for this.”

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The Fertility Show Manchester 2018

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Fertility Show Manchester Q&A Stage

After a successful first year in the North, The Fertility Show is returning to Manchester for the second time on 24th and 25th March.

The Fertility Show Manchester, held in association with Fertility Network UK, is a follow up to the renowned London Show, which celebrated its ninth year in November last year and welcomed almost 3,000 visitors.

Manchester’s Central Convention Complex will play host to exhibitors including doctors, clinicians and fertility experts all offering help, support and guidance for patients on their fertility journeys. The Show will also feature a diverse seminar programme, with 30 topical sessions across the two days delivered by experts in the field.

Key issues and hot topics that will be discussed in Manchester include:

  • Secondary infertility – Trying for another baby
  • Natural cycle and mild IVF – fertility treatment without the drugs?
  • Options for adoption
  • Improving the odds of IVF working for you
  • Dealing with and treating endometriosis
  • What men need to know about fertility
  • Infertility management and the rule of 3

Visitors to the Show will also have the opportunity to be involved in the unique Q&A stage, running throughout the two days in association with Fertility Network UK and hosted by Jessica Hepburn, one of the UK’s leading patient voices on infertility. The stage gives visitors an opportunity to put forward their questions, either openly or anonymously, to a panel of experts.

For more information or to buy tickets please visit www.fertilityshow.co.uk/manchester

We look forward to seeing you there!

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