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Fertility Network UK Patient Day Of Action Saturday 25th March - One in Five Couples Now Struggle to Conceive, But IVF Must Not Just Be For The Wealthy

17/03/2017 17:05

My husband and I met late, married soon after and began trying for a baby somewhere in between. We bought a house in leafy Chiswick, back when you could, settled in, and kept on trying. By the time I hit thirty-eight I was desperate for a child and it wasn't happening.

We began our quest with our local GP. She was sympathetic as she told us there was no chance for fertility treatment on the NHS. Our age worked against us. But then, I guess it counted in our favour when it came to the savings we had both managed to put aside over many years of well-paid employment. These we were to plunder over the course of a couple of years of back-to-back private IVF treatments.

Lately, IVF is much in the news again. Not least because celebrities are feting the fact that they have been able to get pregnant through IVF - and are happy to announce as much, whereas in years gone by some stigma may still have lingered. But also right across the nation, health authorities are clamping down on the right to IVF on the NHS.

England has always been a postcode lottery for IVF. While the NICE fertility guideline recommends access to three full cycles of NHS treatment, only four of England's 209 local clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) follow this guidance fully. The others have either slashed the number of cycles offered from three down to two, one or even zero. How cruel. First it was Croydon in the news, with its plans to fund IVF only in exceptional clinical circumstances (whatever they might be), then Richmond in Surrey, which has proposed to restrict IVF to those having been affected by cancer or chronic viruses.

Now the cuts seem to be contagious, with a raft of other CCGs latching on in a bid to save money. There are non-medical criteria at stake too. Are you a healthy weight? Do you smoke? Are you young enough? You might come a cropper if not. Would it be churlish of me to bet that none of those in charge of these new policies has ever spent years trying to conceive? Has ever cried themselves to sleep at night when it seems they will be forever childless?

Well I have been there. Cycle after cycle of IVF failed to leave us with the child we yearned for. Everyone who has battled through IVF will know that as soon as one awful cycle fails, you want only to drag yourself back in there for another go. The physical burden is gruelling. Recently a woman posted photos of the 452 needles she had injected herself with during her IVF journey. The horror of my own self-injections stays with me. What's more, at thirty-eight, I had never once been in hospital, by forty-two I was a pro at succumbing to the old general anaesthetic and had been under ten times.

The emotional toll of IVF is even worse. The weeks of hormonal surges, of waiting to see if it's worked, of feeling that every twinge is a miscarriage, that every buzz is a pregnancy. Of hoping. Then the tears when it doesn't work - even worse the tears when it does work but then a few weeks in there is no foetal heartbeat and you miscarry.

In that brutal world of fertility treatment we suffered both failure and miscarriage, but at least we were able to access that world. Everyone should have the right to try and I cannot imagine how punishing it must feel not to be allowed even one shot at it. I know I would have slid into depression. To not have known that intense love which kicks in the moment they're born. To never have held that small hand in mine. To not have felt that connection so tight that it's painful.

The wonderful Fertility Network UK, which is there for those struggling to conceive, with its support groups, helplines and counsellors, has launched a campaign to counter the harsh moves of the CCGs. It is urging all who have been affected by the unfair rationing of NHS fertility services to join its patient day of action in March. You can lobby your local MP, bid them to highlight the issue in Parliament, to ask why CCGs are being allowed to ignore national guidance and cut funding. And on Saturday 25th March, at 3pm precisely, you can tweet your support and help create a fertility funding Thunderclap https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/52716-the-right-to-try-campaign.

IVF bestows hope on so many couples in the UK - one in five now struggle to conceive. A privately funded IVF cycle now costs in excess of £5,000. Surely fertility treatment should not be limited to only those who can afford it? How warped is that? Warped enough to send a slight shudder, surely?

Last year the UK celebrated the anniversary of 250,000 babies being born through fertility treatment. And one of those babies is mine. I am one of the lucky ones, one of those who got there. She's a teenager now but still she might walk into a room with a smile and I will stare at her in wonder.

My second novel, Moondance, draws on my personal experience of IVF. Moondance is about a couple who are very much in love but unable to conceive naturally. Infertility is draining for both, not just for her. Sex becomes a technical necessity, blame is inevitable and trust crumbles, until ultimately their marriage is at stake. But then there is also hope in their story, there always has to be hope.

Hope is what we are all grasping onto in the fight underway to save NHS access to IVF. To secure the right to try for a baby. I will be taking part in the campaign to blast the world with Fertility Network UK's message. If the powers that be consider IVF access to be the soft underbelly of a body where easy savings can be gained, they may well be staggered by the potency of the conflict. I for one dearly hope so.

Diane Chandler is the author of two novels, Moondance, about a couple struggling to conceive, and The Road to Donetsk, about an idealistic overseas aid worker in Ukraine.

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