Until I started to read about IVF (which I did as soon as we learned it was a possibility,) I hadn’t realised quite how stark the odds of success are.
Success rates nationally in the UK hover around 20-30%, decreasing as the age of the woman increases (see below.) I was shocked when I learned this. Despite all our modern advances the bottom line is that IVF is a medical procedure which still mostly fails. That’s why, when a doctor tells you that IVF is your ‘best chance’ of having your own biological child, part of you mourns. When we heard that one earth-shattering sentence it hit us hard, because knowing so meant acknowledging those success rates in all their nakedness and somehow coming to terms with fact that you might never have your own biological child.
Then there is that lovely phrase the professionals use when talking about success rates: ‘live birth’, as if to remind you that even if you are lucky enough to make it all the way through IVF to pregnancy, there’s still no guarantee. The NHS website reports that:
“In 2010, the percentage of IVF treatments that resulted in a live birth was:
Rates can vary vastly from clinic to clinic. I was actually pleasantly surprised at our first appointment when I learned that the hospital we were at had an almost 50% success rate for women under 35 (I was 32 at the time) – if you made it all the way to embryo transfer. Getting to that point is no easy feat however, and you’re made very aware that every stage of the treatment could fail and the road you thought you were on abruptly become a cul de sac.
IVF felt at times like holding ones breath indefinitely. You allow yourself a moments release to breathe out each time you make it through to the next stage of treatment, overcoming the odds, but are quickly in a state of anxious suspense again. Will you qualify for funding? Will your body respond to the drugs? Will they collect enough eggs? Will those eggs be mature? Will any of them fertilize? Will those that fertilize continue to grow? Will the embryo implant if you do get all the way to actually having one put back in? Will it continue to a normal, healthy pregnancy if it does? The odds, those indelible statistics, loom in your mind every single step of the way. It’s hard to fully appreciate the weight of those numbers until you’ve been there.
But what can you do except choose to focus on the possibility of success and not the possibility of failure? That’s why for us we tried so hard to just concentrate on one step at a time and not let our minds go racing ahead of us. This is, of course, much easier said than done, but we helped each other, each drawing the other back to the present when we needed to.
The odds are why I now feel so unbelievably lucky. It worked for us, first time; it doesn’t for everyone – something I feel keenly aware of.
The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) regulate fertility treatment in the UK and record outcomes. Find out more on their website.