Written by Rosie Bray

Lifestyle

Clinical trials

After three IVF rounds, plenty of mishaps and a ton of hindsight, nobody knows better than Rosie Bray how to choose a fertility clinic.

parachuting onto the 'right track'

Illustration by Claire Jones.

If you’re reading this and thinking about where to have fertility treatment, two words: well done! Because this means you know you have a problem in the baby-making department and you’ve decided to do something about it. Trust me, it’s a huge step just to get this far.

It all starts with the issue of ‘funding’.

If you’re lucky (and you satisfy the long list of criteria detailed here) you might qualify for NHS funding and your choice of clinic will be pretty much made for you. If you don’t and are self-funding then you need to beg, borrow or steal between £5,000–£7,000 to pay for a private clinic. But choosing where to conceive your precious longed-for child is a big deal and you want to give yourself the best possible chance for success.

1. Location

The nearer to you the better. You’ll have to go to your clinic A LOT. You’ll have consultations, numerous scans, blood tests and then the two main procedures (egg collection and embryo transfer). Weigh up the quality of clinic with its distance from your home. You will not want a long drive or train journey when your aching ovaries are about to pop with maturing eggs.

2. Cost

Check clinics’ brochures or websites and ask questions about what is included. Some clinics may have a cheaper base price for IVF but expect you to pay each time for compulsory scans and blood tests, meaning it doesn’t work out that cheap after all. Scrutinise the price menu as you would a budget airline flight booking – don’t ignore the unexpected extras. With a final bill of £5,000–£7,000, even small savings can make a difference.

3. Drugs 

Do you have to buy them from the clinic or are they flexible about you getting them elsewhere? Believe it or not, Asda do fertility drugs (as do some other companies who home deliver) and they can work out substantially cheaper than your clinic’s pharmacy. Yes, it may sound odd to ring up pharmacies and ask the going rate for human chorionic gonadotropin, but with IVF it really does pay to shop around.

4. Stats/success rates

Here it’s easy to get sidetracked. Most clinics provide them so you can look them up on the HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) website. Look at ‘live birth’ rates (a lovely phrase) for your age group as well as pregnancy rates, to account for miscarriages. Also check their policy on multiple births if it’s something that concerns you. Most clinics aim for single births and limit the amount of embryos they put back unless you have exceptional circumstances.

“Some clinics have state-of-the-art TVs loaded with porn options, whereas others rely on their trusty, crusty, jazz mags.”

5. Word of mouth

Go on any of the fertility forums and you’ll find people discussing their experiences so you can gauge which consultants have a reasonable bedside manner – believe me, there are plenty that don’t. Better still, ask friends who’ve done IVF for their recommendations. It’s important you find a consultant that you like. You’re putting all your hopes in their hands and you need to trust them implicitly.

6. Open evenings

Most clinics have these and they’re a good chance to meet the consultants and find out their approach. I visited four clinics in total and they all had very different vibes. Some feel like hospitals, and are even situated in hospitals, whereas others feel more like your granny’s living room or a sixth-form common room. It really depends what environment you think you’ll feel most relaxed in.

7. Flexibility

What is their procedure policy? Do they work bank holidays and weekends? Some clinics lump their procedures together to make it more convenient for the consultants, so for example they do all egg collections on a Monday or Wednesday and all embryo transfers on a Tuesday or Friday. But your body is growing eggs at its own pace (albeit spurred on by the nightly hormone injections) and may not fit in with your clinic’s fixed dates, so you want to know how flexible they are.

8. Staff/nurses

Do you like their general attitude? You’ll be dealing with them the most: you may only see the consultant a couple of times (and for one of those you’ll be whacked out on general anaesthetic), whereas the nurses will become quite familiar faces. You’ll want to get a good feeling all round, from the reception staff booking in your scans to the nurses wielding their ultrasound probes up your skirt. You may prefer a cosy approach or an efficient air of medical professionalism. Speak to a few members of staff and see if they meet your expectations.

9. Semen samples

All clinics have private rooms for men to do their business but some are better than others. Some have hatches where they can discreetly deposit (so to speak) their sample bottle whereas others involve walking it through a crowded room to the lab technician behind reception. Some have state-of-the-art TVs loaded with porn options, whereas others rely on their trusty, crusty, jazz mags.

“Yes, it may sound odd to ring up pharmacies and ask the going rate for human chorionic gonadotropin, but with IVF it really does pay to shop around.”

During our first attempt at IVF, my husband experienced the unique hell of, er, not being able to deliver on the key egg collection day. That meant we needed him to be able to produce his sample at home and bring it in, which meant distance was a factor (they like to receive a sample within an hour). Some clinics might not let you produce at home at all, so it’s best to check that out if you think your partner might have a problem producing under pressure (according to the consultants we spoke to, much more common than you think).

10. Instinct

In the end, IVF is not an exact science (as all consultants admit) and until they know the magical contributing factor that leads to success or failure, it pays to be as comfortable as you possibly can. Listen to your gut and go with what feels good to you, even if that’s not the clinic with the highest outcomes. We’re living proof that even going with what appeared to be an excellent clinic does not guarantee you’ll be taking home a ‘live baby’ at the end of it.

@rosiebray

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Written by Rosie Bray

Rosie Bray is a TV producer and co-author of Get A Life: His & Hers Survival Guide To IVF. She is mum to Molly and Jeremy (the dog) and can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @rosiebray.