After my sister and I had the pleasure of being treated to a lovely dinner by Professor Lord Robert Winston last week, I was inspired to blog about In Vitro Fertilisation and the background behind how I came to be through IVF!
Monday 2nd November, Professor Winston took Fay and I to dinner at the House of Lords. He also took us on a fantastic and interesting tour of the Houses, where we also had a chance to listen to a discussion on the EU referendum in the Chamber. As someone who is very interested in politics, I was obviously loving every second. The amount of history in that one building, tells such a detailed story of a huge chunk of British history; it is truly astounding. So too was Prof Winston’s knowledge of many of the artworks and statues within the Palace of Westminster!
It was brilliant to spend the whole evening with Prof Winston, catching up on what both Fay and I have been up to, as well as our future plans. We also spoke about his research, life in the medical world and his future endeavours. I can honestly say that Prof Winston is a truly remarkable man – the kind of person you feel you have known for years, someone who is brimming with warmth and wisdom. The most humbling thing was knowing that without him, Fay and I wouldn’t be here today…!
Rewind ~32 years ago; my parent’s IVF journey would soon begin. It all stemmed from an unfortunate medical complication of an ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilised egg implants itself outside of the womb, in my Mum’s case in one of the fallopian tubes. In rare cases, initial stages of development can be asymptomatic. If left to develop and grow there is a risk of the fallopian tube rupturing, which can cause life-threatening internal bleeding. This is what happened to my Mum, leading to surgery on the fallopian tubes and an investigative laparoscopy.
In March 1984, my parents were referred to Prof Winston who performed micro-surgery on Mum’s left fallopian tube. Unfortunately, due to the extensive damage of the tubes, my parents were unable to conceive naturally so started IVF treatment 3 years later in 1987. The first IVF baby was born 37 years ago in 1978; with only 9 years between then and my parents IVF attempts, this was still a very new medical concept. Mum has since described the extensive hospital visits they had to go through, including hormonal drugs, egg collection and embryo transfer. My parents were told at the beginning of the cycle that their chances of becoming pregnant were 10%, which increased to ~25% if you had good embryos replaced. Alongside this low success rate, getting through the whole cycle was very difficult as any day you could be pulled off if things weren’t going according plan. If you would like to read more about the process you can do so on the NHS website, by clicking here (bear in mind this is advanced practice in 2015 compared to 28 years ago!).
The first IVF attempt was unsuccessful, followed by a further two unsuccessful attempts in 1988 and 1989. But, the fourth attempt was a success! In 1991, my older sister, Fay was born. Two and a half years later I was born, in 1994; their fifth (and final) attempt.
My parents were under Prof Winston’s ‘wing’ for 10 years and in that time he granted them their biggest wish; to have children. Knowing what my parents went through to have their own children is incredible; a true reminder that there isn’t anything much more precious than the gift of life.
I’ve always partially attributed IVF to my love for science – as without science I wouldn’t be here (and how many people can say they have a picture of themselves as a 4 cell embryo?)! IVF is constantly developing and with medical and scientific research, will hopefully continue to do so.
My parents have always said, if someone had told them when they were starting out on their IVF journey, that one of their daughters would someday study at the institution that put her on this earth, they wouldn’t have believed them! For that reason too, I am so proud to be a part of the Imperial community and the part it has to play in groundbreaking research in this field – with thanks to Prof Winston too (who has over 300 scientific publications about human reproduction and the early stages of pregnancy to his name). Just recently, Imperial researchers have developed a new drug making IVF safer. You can read the news article on the research here.
To find out all about Robert Winston, you can visit his website at http://www.robertwinston.org.uk
If you’re also interested in reading more about IVF, an interesting article was published 2 years ago; entitled “The amazing story of IVF: 35 years and five million babies later”. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/jul/12/story-ivf-five-million-babies