If you weren’t already aware, in ten day’s time, on 25th July 2018, Louise Brown, the first person to be born from IVF turns forty – so it’s IVF’s 40th birthday too. There’s going to be a big party at the Science Museum in London and the UK HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority), and other fertility organisations are in self congratulatory mood. This tweet says it all (thank you to my colleague Dr. Robin Hadley for this) and a sobering reminder of how often IVF fails – almost 80% of the time.
In response to this tweet, the HFEA had the decency to respond that “As we’re celebrating 40 years of IVF we wanted to concentrate on the positives but we do take your point about how we present these statistics”, but that feels pretty mealy-mouthed to me. Because ‘taking the point’ and actually DOING something about changing the way the media (and therefore the public) understand the shockingly poor success rates of IVF is quite another matter…
In the seven years that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve learned a lot about IVF and other fertility treatments from those women who’ve undergone them.
It wasn’t part of my story because I was so ignorant about my own fertility I didn’t even understand that I needed to be thinking about it until it was too late.
IVF existed as a ‘backstop’ in my mind, a silver bullet that was guaranteed to work if I turned forty and hadn’t been successful conceiving naturally. I had no idea that for me, my fertility was already expiring at thirty-eight (when I missed my first period), maybe even sooner. I didn’t know that my eggs had an expiry date. I didn’t know that thirty-five was the age I “should” have been worried about. And I didn’t know that IVF for women 40+ has dismal success rates of between 2% and 9%. Even for those under thirty-five, the mythical ‘fertility falling off a cliff’ age, there’s only a 29% success rate.
So how was I so ignorant about my fertility and about IVF? A smart woman like me? It took me a long time to work it out, but in the end I realised that it’s not that I was ignorant – if that’d been the case I would have sought out the answers. No, it was worse than that – I had the wrong information.
What I knew for sure from school and the media was this:
- Getting pregnant was shockingly easy, so much so that we were advised not to even sit on a warm chair that a boy had recently vacated (not so true, especially after our twenties);
- That having a baby ruined your life (although no doubt had I become a teenage mother, it would have massively curtailed my life choices, as it did for my own mother. However, in my forties it seemed that NOT having a baby had ruined my life);
- That forty was the age to worry about declining fertility (although I had no idea what made fertility decline, nor that men’s fertility aged too);
- And that IVF always worked.
- Oh, and later, that motherhood was the most meaningful and fulfilling thing a woman could do with her life, so if I wasn’t a mother, I was doomed to be a second class citizen for life, with only dying alone and being eaten by cats to look forward to… (Also not true, but it took grieving my childlessness and a determined effort to free myself from pronatalist conditioning to liberate myself from these thoughts).
What would have made a HUGE FUCKING DIFFERENCE is if I could have heard from women like me, women like us. Women who were childless and had come to terms with that – hell – who’d learned to celebrate that! Women who’d been through physically, emotionally and financially gruelling fertility treatments and knew first hand what they entailed and how often they failed. Women (and men) who could have put the record straight.
So here is the first in a series of those conversations. We’ve called it ‘Childless Voices’ and it’s a conversation between 6 women (and one man) about what it means to grow up in ‘Generation IVF’. Because whether you’ve had fertility treatments or not, Louise Brown’s way of being born, and the commercialisation of this frontier science, has created an entirely new context for our choices and options around parenthood. We are #GenerationIVF.
On this filmed and recorded call, you’ll hear from some names that you may already know from the world of childlessness – authors, bloggers and campaigners who, like myself, have turned their own grief into support and advocacy for others who find themselves childless not by choice. We each speak individually, and then at the end of the call as a group, when we voice our “Asks” for the next 40 years. What would yours be?
Meet IVF’s ‘Childless Voices’. Each of them will be sharing a blog about this topic, so do check out their websites over the coming days.
From top left to right:
- Loribeth – blogger @ The Road Less Travelled & her blog: “Happy Birthday, Louise Brown”
- Jody Day (me!), author, blogger, campaigner, speaker @ Gateway Women
- Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos – author, blogger, campaigner @ Silent Sorority and ReproTechTruths.
Here’s Pamela’s blog: “IVF is 40, Untold Stories Cast Milestone in New Light”
Middle row left to right:
- Civilla Morgan – podcaster @ Childless Not By Choice (you can listen to my recent interview with her here) and her blog Video conversations with trailblazers in the childless not by choice demographic
- Sarah Chamberlin, blogger @ Infertility Honesty & her blog: “Childless Voices Resound on IVF’s 40th Anniversary”
- Lesley Pyne, author, blogger @ Lesley Pyne & her blog: “IVF is 40, forgotten voices speaking out”
- Andrew & Nicci Fletcher, editors/publishers The Childless Not By Choice Magazine and We Are Worthy Summit and Nicci’s blog I was wrong to think about IVF with a 10 year old’s brain
Click the image above or this link to watch this vital, supportive, encouraging and informative discussion. You can also download an audio version of it here, if you prefer (please note that the first ‘sound’ on the video is 27 seconds in, so on the audio, you don’t hear anything until then). And please share this film – here’s the link: https://vimeo.com/279192072 – with your friends and family, and especially with younger women. One of things that so many of us on this call say is how important it is that the next generation of young women (and men) are better informed about their fertility, and also about the option to leave a meaningful and fulfilling life without parenthood – whether that’s by choice or not.
In addition – Berenice Smith, the Founder of Walk in Our Shoes and a big part of World Childless Week was meant to be on the call and a power-cut prevented her from joining us. She and her husband live 5 miles away from Bourn Hall, where Louise Brown became the first ‘Test Tube Baby’ and that’s where they attempted IVF themselves. Click here or below to watch or click here to read her blog which accompanies this video:
“Childless Voices” will be recorded each month now, featuring conversations with authors, bloggers, speakers, activists and campaigners from around the world who have dedicated themselves to making a difference in the lives of other childless people. I guess there goes another nail in the pronatalist coffin that says that we’re a selfish bunch of saddoes with too much time on our hands and nothing to offer to the world then!