We are very pro Robert Winston here at the Natural Fertility Centre. Even though he reserves judgment on 'complementary techniques', we still get the feeling that he puts the welfare of couples above everything else. Like us, he is pushing against the medicalisation of fertility and the encouraging of some couples into unnecessary IVF.
In his latest comments he is questioning the use of techniques such as PGD (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis) and the exploitation of infertile women by IVF clinics.
At the NFC, we question the way in which IVF is held out as a panacea for all fertility issues. Many couples come to us believing that IVF is the solution to all their problems and are not dissuaded from this belief by their consultants. Although, during a consultation, success rates may be mentioned, the couple are often made to feel that there is no choice and that IVF is the only solution. This takes the idea that a couple is able to conceive naturally away from them and so dis-empowers the couple involved. Of course, for some couples, iVF is the only way - in cases of blocked fallopian tubes or very low sperm counts or motility - and it represents amazing progress in the field of infertility.
A successful round of IVF relies on the best informed decisions by experienced consultants, expert embryologists, healthy egg and sperm, some guess work and a big pinch of good luck. Often everything can be in place except the mos elusive - the good luck - because whether or not the embyro implants is still beyond anyone's control.
What the IVF clinics don't take into consideration is that no-one would choose IVF over conceiving naturally. In all our years with the NFC we have never had a couple who have said they want to have IVF. All the couples who have been through it, are going through it, or are waiting to go through it are desperately hoping that they'll still conceive naturally.
We support all couples, and single, women who come to us whether they are looking to conceive naturally or through Assisted Reproductive Techniques and we enjoy very positive relations with the IVF clinics in Scotland, but we sometimes pale at the stories we are told by our patients.
Women with gynaecological issues, men with low sperm counts or just so-called 'unexplained infertility' are told they need IVF when, in many cases, changes to diet, lifestyle, fertility awareness and addressing background health issues should be the first step in the process.
We understand that, for younger women, if there genuinely does seem to be a problem, then IVF is better done sooner rather than later as the likelihood of success is so much greater the younger you are.
But in many cases, IVF is not the solution. People who drink too much coffee, alcohol or smoke are not going to produce good quality eggs or sperm, so these things need to be addressed. Women who have light or irregular periods may have problems with implantation or thickening of the womb lining. Women with painful periods may have un-diagnosed endometriosis and those with spotting pre-period may have low progesterone or an under-active thyroid.. Men with low sperm counts may have blockages or be using saunas or having hot baths .... all these issues should be uncovered and remedied before moving towards expensive and invasive IVF treatment.