National Fertility Awareness Week #NFAWUK is once again upon us. Forty years ago this month, the world's first so-called test tube baby, Louise Brown, was conceived through IVF. Since then a quarter of a million babies have been born in the UK alone with this technology, my daughter among them. She is now 14. In the past year, since I first wrote about my personal IVF experience in these pages, I've found myself re-immersed in the emotional world of fertility. And I've discovered that some striking changes have taken place since my time.
Such an eye-opener for me was the existence of Natural and Mild IVF, as practised by the impressive Geeta Nargund at her Create Fertility clinics across the UK. The process involves the nurturing of just one or very few eggs during each cycle, rather than blasting the ovaries with drugs to stimulate many. Over the course of my seven cycles, I must have injected myself with nigh on a hundred needles, each time blind to the drug pumped inside, desperate only for a good number of eggs from which to create embryos. Only later, once I was out the other side, did I look back and contemplate the potency of those drugs. One particular IVF image, which went viral, will never leave me. Hundreds of used needles laid out in the shape of a heart, a baby lying within.
Another intriguing polemic for me has been the rise of the so-called 'add-ons' and the need for these extra services. I don't recall any such treatments as 'time-lapse imaging', 'endometrial scratching' or 'embryo glue', but I did count myself blessed when our pioneering consultant mooted that my miscarriages may have been caused by killer cells. I wouldn't quite call it a hunch, but his approach was certainly experimental. We were ready to try anything. So for several weeks after my pregnancy was confirmed we added daily heparin injections to our tally. And it was this cycle which produced our daughter. I guess that heparin treatment would now be called an add-on - and of course the fact that we were 'ready to try anything' is no doubt central to today's concerns.
Next on my list would be male infertility, rarely discussed back then, but of late receiving due attention. According to the patient-focused charity, Fertility Network UK, a third of all infertility cases are caused by male problems, a third by female, and a third by both or unexplained. Many men are now talking openly about the facts - and also about their anguish. My novel, Moondance, which explores the impact of IVF on a marriage, has at its heart, not only male infertility, but the emotional toll of fertility struggles on the man - the self-blame, the guilt, the helplessness, and often feelings of being shut out by the (understandable) obsession of a woman consumed by her treatment.
Finally, I too have been shocked by the chilling new NHS approach to fertility funding. The NICE guidelines recommend three cycles of IVF for women under 40. Surely everyone should be given a chance to try IVF, not just those who can afford it? I watched one recent TV interview aghast as a young female journalist claimed that having a baby was a lifestyle choice. How about rather, a fundamental need for many couples? How about, a primal sense of 'life's longing for itself'?
The compassionate Fertility Network UK, is again behind this year's Awareness Week. I will be supporting fundraising efforts for valuable services, such as their support line and peer groups offering kinship and succour. The sumptuous online fertility magazine ivfbabble will also be supporting, through an inspired and heart-warming campaign called #ivfstrongertogether. This venture aims to bring awareness to a subject which is still to this day spoken about in whispers. By wearing their specially created pineapple pins, we can all help to show just how widespread infertility is. The badge is to be a symbol of solidarity for everyone who has experienced infertility, whether at first hand or by supporting someone else.
This year I have been invited to tell my personal journey at Olympia's Fertility Show (4th and 5th November). I will not only be wearing my pineapple pin but also supporting Fertility Network UK with a one-pound donation from each sale of Moondance during the weekend.
Diane Chandler is the author of Moondance, a novel about a couple's struggle to conceive.