I need to start this article by admitting I’m not politically minded. My passions in life are food, shopping and talking about trash TV. I voraciously consume reality shows and cookbooks as if they were ice-cream and I rarely switch on the news. I vote when I have to and usually need to be prompted. I did possess a few opinions that drove my vote in the EU Referendum and was marginally disappointed at the result. However, I confess I’m not sure I really understood the economical impact of Brexit (other than my holiday spending money didn’t stretch as far!). I have a dreadfully apathetic approach to it all and I’m ashamed to say that if it doesn’t affect me or spoil my fun, I do not get involved. This is why I amazed myself when today, I angrily tweeted Eric Pickles (MP for Brentwood) to ask him for his assistance.
So what exactly prompted my rage? Yesterday, via the wonders of social media, I read that Basildon and Brentwood Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) are looking to cut IVF treatment to tackle a deficit. I live in Brentwood. With all this in mind, and with my confession that I only care if political edicts affect me, you might assume that I am now being deprived of treatment. But no, the truth is, I’ve already been through my own personal struggle. I was considered to be too old for NHS funding when we started treatment therefore we accepted that we would have to pay for our three cycles at a private clinic. This issue doesn’t affect me now and never will. So why have I suddenly become so altruistic that I care about the women who will be impacted by this decision? Because I understand how important it is for every woman to feel like they’ve tried. Not just tried a little – but tried EVERYTHING. Covered every option. Failed to listen when those around them flippantly say “it must be time to stop trying”. Accepted that the only people in charge of allowing that closure are themselves. The decision by the CCG will prevent women from having this option. They will always wonder “what if?” It will turn having a child into an elitist option for anyone struggling to conceive.
My partner and I are lucky. We have both worked for many years in a succession of well-paid roles and managed to live well. When we were told that the only option was IVF, and that we would have to pay, I was in the fortunate position that I had just received a bonus from work and my partner had a little saved. We embarked on our journey thinking we would have one cycle, get pregnant and never need to think of the costs again. However, my Disney fantasy did not play out and we ended up trying again…and again. At the end of cycle three, after the final consultation, we decided to stop. I am utterly transparent so I will happily tell you that our IVF experience cost us around £17,000. We had a decent doctor who fastidiously checked how far I wanted to go in terms of medication and treatment. At first I was wary of the stimulation drugs so opted for “mild” treatment. This cost slightly less thanks to using fewer drugs. We knew that it would be lucky to get pregnant on the first cycle but we were hugely optimistic. As each cycle failed, our optimism decreased and we increased the dose and, subsequently, the cost. We did not succumb to the “advanced” treatments or operations that are touted at various clinics as my Consultant wisely told me that essentially, we just needed one decent embryo to implant into my uterus. For our particular issues, it really wasn’t any more complex than that.
I guess you could say our overall cost was purely “standard entry level”. I know many other couples that have paid way over what we have spent. Some haven’t stopped spending yet. Others probably won’t stop until either a baby or an alternate conclusion arrives. All these people are paying because they aren’t eligible for NHS funding under current criteria. But what happens when this option is totally removed and everyone has to self-fund? I imagine they haven’t even considered how this might affect a relationship. Money is so often the cause of discontent. I’m fortunate. My partner has never once commented on the money we spent. He has never questioned the fact that we literally have nothing to show for it – unless you count the box of discarded needles that I still haven’t managed to take back to my GP! But how much is too much?
In the same way that I’m ignorant around politics, I’m also a terrible economist therefore I have no way of predicting how this decision will impact costs from clinics. Will clinics feel sympathetic to their additional clientele and reduce costs based on the new levels of demand? Or will they see pound signs and continue to profit from infertility?
So now my struggle to conceive is over, why should I care if other couples get NHS funding or not? It’s simple. Thanks to infertility, I live every day in a slight fog. I have become the consummate actress. I put on a “happy face” every day and attend functions when I’m required. I have even perfected the art of resembling someone having a great night out, when really I want to curl up on the sofa and cry. I sob at department store Christmas adverts because they depict families – or happy children – or happy siblings – or a life I will not have by natural means. However, my IVF journey only ended in July. Time is a healer and I know the pain will ease, eventually. One day, I will look back and (hopefully) confidently say, “We tried everything we could”. We had the recommended three cycles of IVF and the Consultant decreed that any more would unlikely herald a result. The pain will be there but it will dull. I will know that even science could not mend me and that we gave it our best shot.
If we remove funding from the NHS for these treatments, what happens to those who cannot afford to self-fund? Will they have to feel like I do now, for every day, for the rest of their lives with no closure? Just because they did not have financial privilege?
I am poorer for my IVF experience, but richer for having tried.