IVF: Seeing past the scare stories

This week there has been much in the news about the debate among doctors on the potentially harmful effects of being an IVF baby.

A biologist in California has said that children born following IVF are likely to die sooner and are at risk of chronic poor health later in life. British fertility experts have refuted the claims, saying there is insufficient evidence to support them. Still, it doesn’t make for happy reading if you are a parent to an IVF baby.

How can you read that and feel positive, if you are that parent? To be told that because of the nature of your child’s conception, their path in life is laid out and will potentially be more grizzly than children who had the good fortune to be conceived naturally.

I read the article and initially felt anxious in case the claims were true, but then I felt frustrated because I believe some things are best kept away from the mass public until they are proven or more is known. Stories like this often serve only to frighten people. In this case, they may frighten people away from IVF or frighten people who’ve done it, about the consequences.

So what purpose does this sort of story serve? I’m not sure that I can see a clear purpose at the moment and I feel that a lot of these stories forget that at the heart of it all are real people, children, humans.

Every child, however they were conceived, is human and it is easy for people to detach themselves by calling them ‘IVF babies’ or in the case of early successes, ‘Test Tube Babies’. But they are still real, feeling humans.

My IVF baby was born in 2012. She was born following our first round of IVF treatment and we were very fortunate the treatment worked, for the failure rate of IVF is much higher than its success rate. Before we reached IVF road, we had around three years of testing, drugs, disappointing medical appointments, and copious comfort purchases every time we heard new baby news from our more fertile friends (usually junk food takeaways or chocolates for instant feelbetterness or, on bad nights, a new TV).

Arriving at our treatment was bittersweet. We knew it wasn’t going to be a laugh a minute, but we knew as well we were in serious (and potentially successful) treatment territory.

We received our treatment at The Hewitt Centre in Liverpool and I can honestly say I have never had a greater respect or awe for the doctors and technicians we met there. They had a phenomenal amount of cleverness that together meant we were able to have our daughter.

Nearly four years on and she is thriving. And I see no ‘evidence’ that her life is in any way less than children who were conceived naturally. Nor do I want her to go through her life thinking about all of the potentially bad things the studies claim may befall her because we chose to pursue IVF treatment.

I support the need for research into any type of medical intervention into human life, I do. But I wish that the researchers would let more time pass, let lives be led, let more research take place, before they announce messages of doom and gloom to the public. I wish they would consider what purpose they serve by announcing to people who have already undergone this treatment that their children’s lives may be flawed.

Ultimately though, I look at my daughter and see an awesome little being. No amount of research can change that. The consultants in Liverpool gave us someone very special and that can’t be underestimated. And as for the claims about us not having seen the effects yet of IVF treatment into adulthood, we have one wonderful example of the first ‘Test Tube Baby’ in Louise Brown. So we know it works, it lasts, and it enables people to live.

Leaving Letters Behind

Do you remember what it was like to have a pen pal? I had  pen pal when I was thirteen years old. His name was Jason, he was from America and he was awesome. I ‘found’ Jason through a pen pal service called the International Youth Service (IYS). All I had to do was fill in a form telling them who I wanted to write to, from where, what sex (male of course – I was pretty desperate to have a boyfriend) and what age, and voila, they connected me with Jason.

Now bear in mind this was 1994, therefore we corresponded using actual letters. Written on lined paper, our messy handwriting complete with ink blotches, doodles and occasional kisses, we stuffed our letters into little envelopes and sent them to each other all the time. We talked about lots of things – family, friends, different things in our worlds, music we liked (the best ever letter contained a mix tape of his favourite songs and was my introduction to Snoop Dog), and even whether we might one day be boyfriend and girlfriend – I know, yuck, yawn, eww. But we were teenagers so we can be excused.

Having a pen pal was fantastic. I loved writing to Jason and I loved the anticipation of waiting to see when he was going to write again and what he would say.

The IYS closed down in 2008 because it could no longer compete with the internet. Isn’t that sad that we lost that? The internet is fab and all of the many ways we can communicate now with people instantly are fab too but I can’t help thinking we have lost that anticipation, intrigue, mystery, and longing for correspondence and messages that are not on our phones at the touch of a button. Wondering what people will say, how they are, what things have happened since they last wrote. I miss that.

Being able to catch up on people’s lives has changed from being a steady communication we offered to our acquaintances at regular intervals to being at best an instant message and at worst, found out by default through snooping on social media (and yes, I’m as guilty as anyone else of this).

In the end though, I suppose none of this will make our younger generation feel sad because they know no different. They are growing up in the digital age and letters to them will be to Santa once a year, or from their banks or colleges, and maybe one day only in museums.

And in the end, these are I suppose just the ramblings of a wistful woman in my mid-thirties trying to keep hold of elements of my childhood as I watch my own kids grow up in the new age that has all its social media, selfie sticks and hoverboards.

So maybe it is time to put this memory back in its box. Although I do occasionally look to see if I can find Jason online. So I can have a good snoop.

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