Assisted conception

An estimated one in seven couples have difficulty conceiving (see Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority 2017). We talked to several people who had found it difficult to conceive and had tried various means of assisted conception to help. These women very much needed information about the cause of their problems and the different treatment options they had, though in some cases the reasons for their infertility remained unclear.

Where ovulation is a problem, a fertility drugs such as clomifene (Clomid) may be enough to achieve pregnancy. One woman tried acupuncture as well and found it helpful. Clomifene made her feel unwell and she found it difficult to get clear information about this. She and her husband felt that they would not have wanted further intervention such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF), and were already considering adoption as their next choice.

One woman, however, who had IVF found the process less stressful than she had expected. She realised that the chances of success in each cycle were not that high. She did however say that IVF places a burden on the male partner and can create tension within the relationship.

Some women already knew they were likely to have problems conceiving, while others realised only gradually after months of trying that something might be wrong. For one woman this followed a miscarriage. Investigations showed problems with her fallopian tubes, but could not explain why she had three miscarriages. After taking clomifene, she joined an NHS waiting list for IVF, but decided to take part in an egg donation scheme so she could have free private treatment. She talked about having her eggs taken for donation and was keen that the possibility of egg donation should be better known. She felt very positive about IVF, after years of anxiety and uncertainty about whether she would ever be a parent.

One woman with a history of miscarriages and genetic problems in pregnancy eventually used IVF to help her avoid further pregnancies with the same genetic condition. Before the embryos were put back in her womb, they were checked for the genetic condition (pre-implantation diagnosis). However, she wished she had known about this option earlier, and was angry that her local genetic counsellor advised her to get pregnant again naturally and have a termination if the baby had the condition. After two terminations the couple were offered donated eggs, but her husband particularly did not feel this was right for them. They wanted to be referred to London for IVF with pre-implantation diagnosis. There they felt staff explained the whole process clearly and were much more sympathetic. The first cycle of IVF was unsuccessful, but she became pregnant the next time. She advises other parents to accept that for a while IVF will take over your life and just allow yourself to focus on it. (See also 'When something is wrong with the baby').

Another couple discovered the husband was a carrier for a very rare condition when the baby's 20-week scan showed a heart tumour. They reluctantly had a termination and after much discussion chose donor insemination to avoid another pregnancy with the same condition. The mother read a lot that helped her accept the idea of an anonymous sperm donor, and she tried to make her husband feel more positive about it. Nonetheless, they carefully considered how having an unknown genetic parent would affect them and their children.

The question of biological parentage also concerned many other couples. The woman who donated her eggs to someone else (Interview 16 above) was glad it was anonymous but still felt 'curious to know if my biological child is out there somewhere.' The couple who had pre-implantation diagnosis rejected the idea of donated eggs because they did not want a non-biological child, whereas another couple (Interview 27 and Interview 28 above) were more at ease with the idea when thinking about adoption, although concerned about how grandparents would feel about a non-biological child. Each couple needs to find a solution that works for them.

This study was about experiences of pregnancy therefore all the women we talked to had successfully conceived. However it should be noted that statistics show that the success rates for IVF are low and success rates for women over forty are even lower.  See the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority for statistics.

See our 'Infertility' section for more experiences of, and information and support on, infertility and assisted conception.

Last reviewed May 2017.
Last updated May 2017.


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