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Wednesday 30 September 2020

Big egg

Money diaries: Ruth

We can be squeamish about the cash involved in fertility treatments. So in this series, we’re lifting the lid on costs – financial and emotional. In part three, Ruth’s not-so-free NHS treatment

The week we found out we needed IVF was the same week we moved from Manchester city centre to the suburbs. The number of free NHS cycles you get can depend on where you live and we were so unsure about what to do – should we tell our GP we moved? The information isn’t really out there about what each council offers. Eventually we found out that our new council would give us two NHS cycles instead of one, and so we registered there.

I always say we paid nothing for IVF because it was on the NHS, but actually we spent thousands. Ours is male factor infertility – my husband’s vas deferens are missing (the tubes which carry the sperm from the testicles to the penis). We’d been trying for a baby with no success for about eight months when a doctor friend suggested we look into it. My husband’s got a mystery lung condition and it’s quicker to test the man, so he bought a sperm testing kit from Boots.

At first he didn’t tell me that he’d taken it and had a negative result. Since then we’ve found out he has genetic markers for cystic fibrosis, and lots of men with that have their tubes missing. People always assume the fertility issue is with me and say I’ll be “lucky” next time.

He had to be operated on to see if he had any sperm at all, but the NHS referral and waiting list would have taken over a year. We couldn’t wait any longer and decided to pay £1,800 for him to have the operation done the following week. In fertility, time is money: you need to get on with things. It needs to be fast and it isn’t fast. My in-laws helped us afford it.

The surgeons found sperm, which meant we could have a biological child. As NHS patients we were able to choose to have our treatment in a private clinic in Manchester, and I’m glad we did because at our local NHS hospital your planned cycle can be cancelled at really late notice. It’s a horrendous system.

And IVF is a horrible process. You have to inject yourself every evening for up to two weeks and then have an operation to remove the eggs. After the operation I had a really horrible complication called ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome: my ovaries filled with fluid every day for three months. I was quite ill. But the physical demands are nothing compared to the mental anguish.

You can read a lot of things about hormone disrupting chemicals, and I thought I’d do anything that could make a slight difference. I went organic and was eating 10 or 11 vegetables a day. I was spending 30 per cent extra a week at the supermarket. There are groups online telling women what supermarket has the best deals on specific foods and vitamins each week. I changed all my cosmetics and cleaning products. I even did acupuncture weekly or fortnightly.

We paid another £800 out of our savings for time-lapse imaging, an IVF “add-on” treatment. It’s when cameras look at your embryos as they grow instead of taking them out to look at them every day under the microscope. They tell you that it’s not a good idea to disrupt embryos, and you think… well, I don’t want my embryos being disrupted! You’re grasping at straws – you’ll do anything, won’t you?

It’s supposed to help choose the best embryo but we only got one, so it was a complete waste of money. But that embryo became our son. We were successful the first time: I think we’re a bit of an urban legend, really. It doesn’t normally happen like that.

Every child is special but after IVF you do really appreciate it. And it makes things easier, because being a parent is hard. I cry for all the people who can’t afford this. It shouldn’t be that only people who can afford it can do it. It really upsets me that people will be limited by this. We’re really lucky, but it’s a very unfair system.

Names have been changed. As told to Claudia Williams.

Read our first Money Diary: Adam

Read our second Money Diary: Leyla

Read our fourth Money Diary: Anya


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