The postcode lottery of IVF treatment has been highlighted this week. Catherine Scott meets one test tube baby who is now helping other people become parents.
When Megan Lockwood’s parents struggled to conceive they spent thousands of pounds on what was still fairly revolutionary IVF.
It took four cycles of treatment, which they paid through savings and selling shares, for Ann to fall pregnant with twins, Megan and Nathan. Now one of those test tube babies is dedicating her life to helping people like her mum and dad become parents.
“We are so proud of her,” says Ann. “Our IVF journey was very long and at times dark and lonely and to know that Megan now wants to help other people to become parents is amazing and feels a bit like payback.”
“I was always interested in science,” says Megan, 22, who is currently working in the labs at the CARE fertility clinic in Sheffield. “We were 17 when our parents sat us both down and told us that we were very special and that we had been made possible due to IVF.
“As I was into science it didn’t come as a huge shock to me and I understood the process. I think it was a bit harder for my brother.”
Ann struggled to conceive after suffering an ectopic pregnancy in her early 20s which she thinks may have affected her fertility.
“Both Allan and I had careers, but we really wanted a family,” says Ann, from Huddersfield. “But we soon realised it wasn’t happening. We went for some tests and discovered that my tubes were blocked and it was highly unlikely that I would ever be able to have children naturally. I said to Allan if he wanted to find someone else so that he could have children he had my blessing. He said he married me for me, not for my ability to have children.”
And so the couple decided to embark on the long and often lonely journey of fertility treatment.
“We were referred to the CARE clinic in Nottingham and although we could have applied for NHS funding they said it would take a long time and by then I was in my late 30s and so we decided to sell some shares I’d received as an employee of Pickford travel.
“We were very naive – we even paid cash.”
Although the treatment was traumatic and emotional Ann says the staff at the CARE clinic really supported them throughout.
“They became like extended members of our family.”
But when the first and second cycles of IVF failed they were worried they may never become parents.
“They did suggest that we might have to look at other options such as adoption, but if you go through adoption you cannot be going through IVF and we were getting on a bit and so we decided to stick with IVF. We had been married for 18 years and both had good jobs and so we decided it was worth spending the money on.”
Even though there were dark times, Ann and Allan managed to find some good old Yorkshire humour to help them through.
“We put the rest of the treatments on our Barclaycard who were giving out points and so the second time we got a food mixer, the third time an ice cream maker and then on the fourth attempt we got a deep fat fryer – and twins.”
Ann and Allan had always planned to tell their children that they were born via IVF but the time never seemed right.
“We always told them they were extra special but it was on the eve of their 18th birthday that we eventually sat them down and told them. Megan, who was already into science, took it well. Nathan took it a bit harder and was worried that it might mean he wouldn’t be able to have children.”
Megan did a degree in molecular and cellular biology at the University of Leeds and it was during a placement as part of her degree that she realised that she wanted to work in fertility and train to become and embryologist.
“I did a work placement as part of my degree which involved research into IVF and early development. I loved it and it was there that I decided I wanted to become an embryologist.”
Megan went back to university to finish her degree while looking into the qualifications needed to work in IVF. It will involve being accepted onto a three-year NHS Scientific Training Programme. In the meantime she decided to get some valuable work experience in the field.
“My mum is still in touch with IVF nurse Judith Smith, who looked after her when she was trying to conceive me and Nathan at the CARE clinic in Nottingham. She suggested that I do some work experience at the CARE clinic in Sheffield.”
Initially Megan started a three-month work placement in the laboratory in Sheffield but that has now been extended until Christmas.
“To become an embryologist will take me another three years and it is incredibly competitive,” says Megan.
“But I am determined to do it. I loved working on the research side, but I also loved working with people and helping them to become parents – seeing the end result of the science.
“I am only here thanks to IVF which really only came into being fairly recently. Louise Brown, the first test tube baby was born in 1978 and we were born in 1995. Since then there have been so many advances in fertility treatment and I would love to be a part of that.”
This week the extent of postcode lottery for people wanting IVF was revealed.
“I really feel for people who are trying for a family and yet can’t get the cycles of IVF they need, It is a shame that everyone doesn’t get the same opportunity,” says Megan.
Ann adds: “I understand more than most the pain of not being able to have a baby.”