If you’ve ever had questions about your fertility or your treatment options, you’ll know how difficult it can be to get definite answers about what makes a difference.
Is freezing your eggs a good idea if you’re worried about leaving it too late to try to get pregnant? How much difference could changing your diet make to your chances of having a baby? And if you’re going to change what you eat, whose advice should you be following? If you’re having IVF or ICSI, is it worth paying for additional treatments such as embryo glue or an endometrial scratch? How much would they really add to the chances of success? The list could go on.
Fertility treatment is expensive, and with cuts to NHS funding, more and more people are having to foot the bill for IVF themselves. Of course, everyone wants to do everything they can to improve the likelihood of a positive outcome, but it can be a challenge to work out what would be a good use of your money and what will add to your costs but may not give any other benefits. There is no shortage of information online and chat rooms are full of people giving one another advice about all kinds of things which will apparently boost your fertility. But when it comes to scientific evidence, the mass of accessible information doesn’t always make it easier to get answers.
It was this lack of clear evidence, and the increasingly commercial nature of the fertility industry, that led one group of women to question whether there was something they could do to help people experiencing fertility problems. The Women’s Network and Voices Panel at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) is a large group of women who are passionate about health, and they decided it was time to try to redress the balance and offer evidence rather than opinions. They wanted to set up an information day for anyone interested in their fertility which was focused entirely on giving people the information they needed without any hype or sales pitches. They also wanted to create a lasting resource, a reliable place to find information based on the latest evidence given from an impartial point of view.
“We think the day will provide something for everyone who wants to know more about their fertility,” Professor Adam Balen
Working with Professor Adam Balen, a leading fertility specialist and member of the RCOG’S Council, they put together a plan for an information day and approached other groups working in the field to see whether they were interested in getting involved. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Professional groups representing fertility doctors, nurses, embryologists, andrologists and counsellors quickly came on board, along with the fertility regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). The group are also working with the patient support charity, Fertility Network UK. The professionals joined together with a small group of women with personal experience of fertility issues to work on a plan for a day based on accurate and impartial information to help people to make informed choices about their fertility and treatment.
They wanted to ensure that people could hear from the leading experts who really know what makes a difference to outcomes based on the latest scientific evidence. They recognised that emotional support for fertility problems was often overlooked, and wanted to provide a place to find out about what help is available, with representatives of relevant patient groups at hand to assist people on their way. More than anything, they wanted to offer a safe space where people knew that anything they were told was accurate, instead of leaving them to try to pick their own way through conflicting views and arguments.
This new event, called Fertility Forum – Bringing professionals and public together, will take place at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) in London on Saturday, March 30. Open to anyone with an interest in fertility, it provides an exciting and busy programme with three separate strands throughout the day to choose from. The day provides something for everyone, whether you’re just starting out and wanting to know more about fertility, or have already had some treatment and are considering your options.
There will be talks from many of the country’s leading fertility specialists, with Professor Allan Pacey giving advice on male fertility problems, British Fertility Society Chair Jane Stewart explaining how IVF and ICSI work and tips from the HFEA on choosing a fertility clinic. Professor Lesley Regan, President of the RCOG, will be discussing recurrent miscarriage and Professor Yacoub Khalaf will examine the latest evidence on additional treatments and whether they make a difference to your chances of success with IVF.
There will be talks on the emotional aspects of fertility, such as getting the right support, and a special session looking at helping men deal with fertility issues. Lifestyle advice, diet and supplements and the role of stress will also be covered. Expert specialists will be talking about particular fertility problems such as endometriosis and PCOS, and the Donor Conception Network will be there explaining what to consider when thinking about using donor eggs and sperm. Other talks will tackle egg freezing, ovarian reserve, embryo development, the pros and cons of treatment abroad, legal issues around surrogacy and donation and access to NHS funding for fertility treatment. There will also be a panel discussion on living without children with a group of inspiring women who have personal experience of this. It will be chaired by Fertility Fest founder Jessica Hepburn who will be joined by the Dovecot’s Kelly da Silva, Gateway Women’s Jody Day and Lesley Pyne, author of “Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness”.
“We think the day will provide something for everyone who wants to know more about their fertility,” says
Professor Adam Balen. “It is the first time professionals working in the field have joined forces with fertility patients in this way to put together an event. No one will be trying to promote their clinic or any particular treatment. This is all about evidence and we are aiming to offer clear advice to anyone who has felt confused or uncertain about their fertility or their treatment options.”
For anyone wanting to ask additional questions, the professional societies involved in the event will be running a stand where visitors will be able to seek their advice, and the day will end with a Q and A panel where a range of professionals will be answering queries from the audience. There will also be a special stand for fertility support organisations, and their representatives will be able to talk about the services they can offer to anyone experiencing fertility problems. There will be no commercial exhibitors promoting their services or products.
Living with fertility problems is challenging, and the organisers recognised that people attending an information day may feel the need for support and quiet time, so the British Infertility Counselling Association will be running a special Time Out Space throughout the day. It will provide a peaceful place where professional counsellors who have training in dealing with fertility issues will be at hand ready to offer support if needed.
The organisers realise that not everyone will be able to attend the Fertility Forum in March, as places are limited and London may be too far to travel. They felt it was important for everyone to be able to benefit from the kind of impartial advice the day will provide, so they are currently working on an online fertility information hub which will give links to information which professionals have selected as being reliable and accurate on many aspects of fertility. This will be available at the time of the Fertility Forum in March through the RCOG website.
“We wanted to leave some lasting legacy from the Forum and an information hub seemed an ideal way to do this,” explains Professor Adam Balen. “We have gathered together accurate and reliable information from a variety of sources and hope this will prove helpful to anyone who wants to know more about fertility and treatment.”
The Fertility Forum is a non-profit making day, and tickets cost £25 each which will generate funds to help cover the costs of putting on the event. If you’re interested in attending the Fertility Forum, the full programme listing all the speakers is now available on the RCOG website, and this includes links to buy tickets. There are a limited number of tickets and they are expected to sell well in advance of the day, so do book early if you would like to come along.
The organisers hope this unique event, put together for the first time by patients and a wide-ranging group of professionals working in fertility, will fill a much-needed gap and will leave those who attend feeling empowered and knowing the right questions to ask as they explore their future options.
Fertility Forum – Bringing professionals and public together https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/departmental-catalog/Departments/other-events/2111—fertility-forum2019/
Kate Brian is author of The Complete Guide to IVF and Precious Babies – Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting after Infertility. She is Women’s Voices Lead at the RCOG