IVF abroad in a bigger body

I was super excited to catch up with Emma from Your IVF abroad to chat about accessing fertility treatment abroad for Fat Folks.

What was your experience of having IVF abroad?

My husband, Adam and I had been trying for about a year and nothing was happening. We went to the GP havand had some baseline tests and they told us we had issues on both sides, with Adam’s sperm and my hormones which suggested that the body was struggling to ovulate every month. The doctor mentioned Clomid, but because of my BMI, I wasn’t allowed to be prescribed Clomid. They referred me through to gynaecology for further testing and I had a hysteroscopy that showed that I was in perimenopause at 33 and had low AMH and Adam had low sperm count and motility. So we were told that we had no chance of conceiving naturally ever. And that with IVF, we had about a 3-5% chance, really low odds, and that was meant to be the answer, but then came the weight bomb, which I was kind of expecting. They said, “look, you know, for us to refer you through for treatment, you need to get your BMI down to under 35.”

I was sent away with no help or support, feeling like I didn’t have any choice but to try and lose some weight. So over the course of a two year period, I did my best and went back two years later, feeling very strong, very fit and very healthy, only to be told that unfortunately, the guidelines for our area had since changed. And if I now wanted to have treatment on the NHS, I’d need to get my BMI down to under 30.

At that point, I felt like it had taken everything for me to lose the weight I had. And I don’t know how I could lose anymore weight without starving myself. I didn’t want to go down that route. So again, we were sent away. It felt counterintuitive to take more time when actually, age wasn’t on my side in terms of menopause.

So we decided we need to go privately. But at that point, we didn’t have any money to go privately. We didn’t know what BMI limits were at UK clinics, so we began to have a few consultations in the UK. And we spent quite a lot of money on consultations. They said they would treat us because my BMI was under 35. So that wasn’t a problem but throughout the process of trying to select a clinic I was emotionally eating in the background and gaining weight because I was struggling. We weren’t finding the UK clinic that we really felt was right for us. And we didn’t really have the money. So we’d looked on the website and thought, okay, if we move back in with my parents and really saved hard, maybe we could get enough together for one cycle. But then when we’d had our consultations and paid for them, and we’ve got the real price through, we’re like, we could never afford to go with them anyway. So we just never found a fit.

And so we did move back in with my parents and began saving. And it’s quite a challenge. Moving back with the parents in our 30s. At this point, we started to explore going abroad. And I think, by the time I had my treatment, my BMI was about 38. What felt very different with the clinics abroad is that rather than my weight being the first thing that anybody mentioned, they looked at things holistically.

There are still some limits in some countries, but they’re not as stringent as our limits. I just felt completely different, I didn’t feel like I was just being looked at as a fat person. They just instantly made us feel completely different. Like we were being treated as individuals and as people. So I felt like they took us seriously and just treated differently. And I think that got us off to a really, really good start with going abroad. We ended up having donor treatment, because the chances of it working, we decided we wanted to take a little bit of control back and knowing it’s a numbers game, that actually, you know, we’ve looked at other paths to parenthood, and we knew we were open to perhaps becoming parents in a more alternative way. And so for us, it was fine. It took four cycles, three transfers, one got cancelled due to an ovarian cyst. And I’ve since found out later, I’ve got immune issues, but didn’t know that at the time. So that was probably one of the reasons why it took so many donor cycles to work.

We had a brilliant experience, we have a little boy and just felt that actually, you know what the UK system is missing a trick here, this is how you should be treated, you’re paying so much money to these clinics. And I hear time and time again from our clients now that you know they’re spending 1000s and 1000s of pounds and they’re not getting a good service. And I think there’s no other industry where you would spend a fortune on something and not be treated properly. I don’t get it, I think there’s a lot of work to be done.

So after we’d had such a positive experience and saved loads of money, that’s when we decided that we wanted to set up our business and help other people to give them that support to make things accessible for people who can’t get treatment in this country because the partner has got a child, because they are single, because they are a same sex, because they’re in a larger body, to give them that choice about when they want to have their fertility treatment.

And to make it far more affordable as well, because if we, if we’d have saved up and spent our money on which would be covered one round in the UK, we wouldn’t have our little boy today. We just want people to know that there are options out there, whatever size you are. And that there isn’t going to be judgement from people.

That’s why we decided to set up Your IVF abroad and continue to look at different clinics in different countries because I do not believe there is a one size fits all for clinics and people. It’s about finding that right fit, which we really believe is so, so important in getting the right partner in a fertility clinic. We narrow it down for people, give them that security, knowing that they’re a good safe clinic that specialises in whatever they need.

They’ve then got to choose because ultimately, they know themselves more than anybody else. And I think sometimes doctors can make us feel because they’re the doctor, they’re in that position of power and authority, that we also don’t know ourselves. We empower our clients to be asking questions, questioning things, and looking at the evidence.

I think sometimes we presume that fertility treatment in the UK is the best in the world. But countries like Spain and the Czech Republic are leading the way in terms of infertility treatment. Sometimes there’s a fear of going abroad, because people think, is it going to be like a dodgy clinic down a back street alley? And are they going to be offering boob jobs and bad nose jobs and all that kind of stuff. And of course, there will be places like that. That’s why it’s important to find the right place. And then if they want the support through the treatment, as well, we can be there for them, helping them communicate with the clinic, answering questions, getting the medication at the best prices, all that kind of thing.

We also get discounts with a lot of the clinics we work with, too. So instead of taking a commission from the clinics we charge a very transparent fee, because we believe in being transparent and authentic. I’m really obviously passionate about supporting people, particularly where they might be larger, because I’ve been in that situation, and I know how you can be made to feel when you’re already struggling. You don’t need that extra pressure, it just makes you feel bad about themselves. 

When you’re looking at clinics, what are the top two or three things you look for, for the clinics that you recommend?

First of all, we get to really understand the couple. We have a questionnaire that we’ve developed that makes people think about what they’re looking for in terms of a destination, a clinic, what their likes and dislikes are, what their diagnosis is. Using that information, and the budget, we look at our pool of clinics that we know, across each of the countries we can recommend. We think about which clinic is going to be the best fit. You may be there on average of 10 days so you’ve got to be where you feel comfortable travelling, it’s got to be somewhere that you can get to and it’s got to be somewhere that fits within your budget.

It’s got to feel right for you. And that’s different for everybody. But the things that we do in terms of general checks is:

  • are they regulated in the country that they’re in?

     

  • Do they offer cosmetic surgery? Because if they do, we don’t, we don’t deal with them we want somebody who just specialises in fertility.

     

  • Do they get their results independently verified?
    In the UK, if you use a clinic, and they say we’ve got a X percent success rate, you know that that is correct, because they report their results to the HFEA. Now in Europe, if you’re part of the EU, then those countries those clinics should be doing the same through ESHRE. And that’s the question to be asking them. And what I will just say as a caveat on success rates is that while they are a really good indicator, if it’s been independently validated, you’ve got to remember that unless you had all clinics standing side by side doing exactly the same test exactly the same sample. It’s a little bit like comparing apples and bananas that are still fruit, but the different it’s got to be just one part. What’s more important is your own personal projection of success from the doctor based on your circumstances. I get loads people say to us, we just want to go with a clinic with the best rates. Actually, when we start to ask people questions about it, it turns out that it’s not just that. It’s about feeling relaxed and supported, whatever that support looks like. Different people need different levels of support. It’s about getting that really personalised approach from the clinic.

     

One of the things I love about clinics in Europe is that they don’t make money on add-ons. I always say to people, if they’re gonna have treatment in the UK, just be a little bit careful. Ask about evidence and check on the HFEA website. They have a traffic light system where you can look at if there’s any evidence for these procedures. When you go abroad, they only cover the cost, and put the money back into the labs. I like that, because it means that if a doctor recommends that for you, it means that in his or her experience of treating people similar to you, they have seen a benefit in results.

I think we give people that sort of empowerment, a hope, because we’re not afraid to ask those questions. And that’s what we’ve already done with a lot of these clinics before we even consider working with them. Because we don’t take commission, we’re never tied to anybody and we are always looking at new clinics. There was a clinic opened, not that long ago with some really good doctors from another clinic. Nobody will have heard of this clinic, but we know that it’s been set up by some really good doctors. So we’re going to start looking at partnering with them.

It’s about doing your research and not being afraid to ask questions. For our clients in their consultations, we give them a list of suggested questions, because I want them to feel really confident. Not just because we recommend them, I want you to come out thinking, they are the ones for us, because they’ve asked the questions, and they’ve not flinched about answering them.

Any good clinic anywhere, should be able to answer your questions, you are the customer. We want to support clients with that. And we help people because we do the liaison between clinic and client. We’re not afraid to ask those difficult questions, because this is what we do. We want people to have babies, we want people to be successful. I still feel it every time somebody that’s going through it, because it doesn’t ever fully leave you, even though I got my little boy.

It’s a really tough time. And just having having somebody by your side can be really helpful. Even just the right friends or the right family can be helpful.

Use these clinics for their free consultations or their low cost consultations, because it gives you the opportunity to do that. Whereas in the UK, we’d had three and it cost us a fortune, we couldn’t afford any more. But yet we haven’t found the right clinic. That’s an awful position to be in because then you have to pick one of them because you spend money with them. I want to see clinics that don’t churn out the same protocols for everybody and that people are looked at holistically.

What is the difference in terms of cost for accessing treatment abroad when compared with the UK?

It depends on where you go. The cheapest countries abroad are the Czech Republic, Poland and Bulgaria. But just because they are cheaper, that doesn’t mean they are substandard. You could have IVF with ISCI for about £2200 with your own eggs and sperm. These places often have low cost flights running to them, you could get your accommodation for £500 for 10 days. It could end up being about 40 to 50% cheaper than the UK.

We’ve had a client this week, who’s very openly shared on Instagram about using our services. She’s been out to Greece this week to meet the clinic, and to give her husband’s sperm sample and to do a 3d scan. She described it like a massive breath of fresh air. She couldn’t believe the difference. And that’s what we hear from people all the time. But sometimes it’s just taking that leap.

When we told my mum what we were doing, she was really concerned about the safety. I think people’s immediate concerns. And I mean, in Coronavirus times, there is an added layer of complexity because you need to think about testing but we support people with all of that kind of stuff and it’s still possible.

We’ve got clients who are wanting to find clinics now, but they’re just going to hold back and get all the ducks in a row so they are ready. And then when things calm down a little bit then they’re ready to go.

I just want people to know that they’ve got options. We would have liked someone by our side to answer all the questions that we didn’t yet know. A lot of the communication is via email with the clinics and it can be so helpful to have someone help you communicate with the clinic. Going abroad is a really positive choice. And there are amazing clinics out there.

For folks who’ve got higher BMI guys who, have been denied access in the UK, what countries are supportive with their BMI limits?

We would mainly use clinics in Greece as it has been one of the most liberal. You will find there are places like North Cyprus and Turkey. We don’t work with clinics in those countries because they’re not part of the EU. That means that they don’t have to conform to the same regulations and checks that EU clinics do. So when making a recommendation, I cannot say to somebody confidently that this is a really good clinic or that their success rates are accurate. They also do some controversial treatments that are against the law in this country. So in those countries, you could absolutely get treated at any BMI, but you could also get treated in Greece, where there are regulations, Czech Republic and Spain both have pretty high BMI limits, but Greece is the most liberal in terms of what I would consider to be the safer countries.

If people want to find more information about seeking IVF in Europe, how can folks contact you?

We offer a free consultation because we know it’s not a quick decision and we know people have questions that we’re always happy to answer. Get in contact with us via our website, and I can organise a free consultation where we can just talk through the process, you can ask questions, and just see if it’s right for you, I’m not going to hard sell yet, I’m not going to try and persuade you, it’s right for you. If it’s not, it’s just about seeing if we’re a good match. I can talk you through the services that we offer.

I’ve also got a free peer support group on Facebook, too. We answer lots of questions and offer live videos for people to learn more. And we know how hard it is to save for fertility treatment so we have produced a free mini ebook to help people who need to self fund like we did.

The biggest thing to take away from this, is that there are options. There may be limited clinics in the UK but there are affordable alternatives in Europe.

Just because you’ve got higher BMI does not mean you cannot conceive and does not mean that you can’t have treatment and be treated fairly and as an individual.

To find out more about Emma’s work checkout the below links:

www.facebook.com/groups/infertilitywarriorswithemmahaslam

https://www.subscribepage.com/go-to-ideas-to-save-money

www.yourivfabroad.co.uk

www.instagram.com/Yourivfabroad

Written By Nicola

Nicola is a fat-positive fertility coach and author of “Fat and Fertile”. She helps fat folks navigate getting pregnant in a weight-obsessed world and advocates for change in how fat people are treated whilst accessing help with their fertility. Nicola uses her unique fat positive framework to support people in finding their own version of health without diets, advocate for their bodies, relearn how to trust their body and believe in their ability to get pregnant.

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