Fertility 101: overseas fertility treatment – is it right for you?

By Emma and Adam Haslam, founders of Your IVF abroad which facilitates safe and affordable assisted fertility treatment in a range of European clinics for patients who can’t or don’t want to have treatment within the UK system. Here Emma and Adam share their views on seeking IVF abroad based on their personal experiences and […]

By Emma and Adam Haslam, founders of Your IVF abroad which facilitates safe and affordable assisted fertility treatment in a range of European clinics for patients who can’t or don’t want to have treatment within the UK system. Here Emma and Adam share their views on seeking IVF abroad based on their personal experiences and what led them to set up Your IVF Abroad.

“It just sounds like even more hassle…”

“Surely the language barrier will make things more complicated?”

“I can’t have that much time off work.”

“British fertility treatment is the best in the world…isn’t it?”

These are the concerns we hear day in, day out from prospective patients and believe it or not, until about five years ago myself and my husband Adam had the same worries and misconceptions about what fertility treatment outside of the UK would be like.

Let us start by saying that we are not here to badmouth or criticise the service provided by British clinics – to the contrary, we have lots of friends who have been lucky enough to have had successful treatment with both the NHS and private fertility centres.

But, if we give you a little detail into how we ended up having (successful!) IVF in the Czech Republic, it may shed some light as to why we feel SO passionately that there are real and tangible advantages to having treatment abroad.

Like many of you, I was 33 when I heard the words no newly married woman desperate to start a family with her husband, ever wants to hear: “We’re sorry Mrs Haslam but you’re perimenopausal with an inadequate (never good!) ovarian reserve and your BMI is too high for NHS treatment. Oh, and your husband’s sperm count is extremely low and has very poor motility.”

Not so much a double blow, more of a triple sucker punch.

Our limited funds meant we couldn’t afford the £6,500 to £10,000 plus that we were being quoted by some of the private clinics at home in the UK, particularly when we knew our odds were so poor and that multiple rounds could be on the cards. We were desolate.

Desperate Google hunts for alternatives led us to investigate a few clinics in the Czech Republic. Suddenly there was a chink of light – we quickly realised that even with flights, accommodation and medication, any potential treatment would be around 40% to 50% cheaper than those UK clinics. That slashed treatment costs by thousands of pounds.

You can read more about how our story ended here (clue – he’s about 2 ft tall with a penchant for Peppa Pig) but we want to address some of the most commonly asked issues that might help you decide whether you should dust off your passport in your quest to have a family.

1 – It is cheaper (and offers extremely impressive success rates and the very highest standards of care)

The old adage that you get what you pay for does absolutely not ring true in this case.

Assisted reproduction in the UK, without help from the NHS can be expensive. And when you’re already living through the purgatory hell that is infertility, the possibility of additional significant financial strain can cause extra stress for some people.

On average, and for clinics within the Your IVF abroad portfolio, we know that treatment INCLUDING flights, accommodation and medication, will be around 40% to 50% cheaper, on average, than in the UK.

In fact, our three rounds of IVF, cost the same as ONE in the UK, ‌thanks‌ ‌to‌ ‌low‌ ‌cost‌ ‌treatment‌ ‌and‌ ‌our‌ ‌clinic’s‌ ‌guarantee‌ ‌programme ‌that‌ ‌gave‌ ‌us‌ ‌our‌ ‌final‌ ‌cycle‌ ‌for‌ ‌free‌. That’s two extra rounds, and the last magic one, that gave us the most precious gift we could ever hope for. 

As with any clinic, of course you need to do your homework. But the good news is, that the EU has done some very solid legal work in regulating European clinics. And bodies such as the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, like the HFEA in the UK, regularly publish guidelines on industry best practice. It also acts as a legal arbitrator of practices across the EU and clarifies the differing laws on IVF in each member state. So, you’re in safe hands.

Many European countries provide IVF and have excellent success rates.There are major players, like Spain, Greece and the Czech Republic. I can tell you that our clinic was uber modern, uber clean and a little like visiting a space-age hotel. Everyone spoke fluent English and the level of clinical and pastoral care was simply outstanding.

And bear in mind that compared to the rest of the world, Europe leads the way in assisted reproduction services. Figures from the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology show how flourishing European IVF is. Not including Asia, 71 per cent of worldwide fertility cycles were carried out in mainland Europe in 2009 – the last time the research was done.

In setting up Your IVF abroad we conducted three years of intense research to establish a bank of world-class clinics that each have their particular speciality – be it treating a woman with low ovarian reserve or with immune issues, or ICSI specialists for a man who has sperm quality issues. Because we are completely independent (in fact we are the only independent IVF ‘arranger’ in the UK that isn’t affiliated to a group of clinics) we can genuinely match clients to the right clinics – offering up to three after our initial free consultation.

2 – Having a change of scene or soaking up the sun during active treatment could be just what you need  

Many of my friends who had UK treatment said they had to skirt around the issue with their boss and feign multiple doctor’s appointments whilst nipping out for scans and the like. On the whole, they found it very stressful trying to maintain some semblance of normality.  

Personally, I found it hugely beneficial to my mental health to be out of the country, in a completely new place (Prague is SO beautiful!) and essentially ‘on holiday’ whilst being prodded and poked around with.

I felt I could switch off 100% safe in the knowledge that to everyone back home, my husband and I were just ‘on holiday’. There were no questions, no quizzical looks and we could relax (relatively speaking!) with our little secret. And we all know how important it is not to get overly stressed during stims/retrieval/implantation.  

In total we were away, each time, for three days each cycle (we had to have three) and we got to know our favourite places to eat, to walk to and to just generally chill out. It was also great to spend real quality time together, supporting each other one hundred percent rather than dealing with the mundanities of life at home. NEVER underestimate how something as simple as feeling the sun on your skin can really improve your wellbeing during times of great anxiety. 

As with UK treatment there are things that need to be organised before your European treatment can begin – such as blood work, tests, flights and accommodation – but therein is the reason we set up Your IVF abroad – to help get all the fiddly bits done so clients can focus on the important baby making part!

3 – Anonymity laws around treatment involving donors. 

Due to us both having health issues that would make using my own eggs and Adam’s sperm almost impossible, we ended up opting for treatment involving a donor embryo. 

In most (not all) European countries, there are strict anonymity laws around donor eggs, sperm and embryos, unlike here in the UK where donor-conceived children can, if they wish, find out identifying information and attempt to make contact with their donor once they reach 18.

Decisions around the anonymity of donors are extremely personal and people feel very differently about the best way to approach this. Anonymity was key for us in ensuring we could all move forward as a family. 

4 – It’s a whole lot quicker

Another crucial factor was speed – treatment‌ ‌with ‌donor‌ ‌embryo’s‌ ‌in‌ ‌the‌ ‌UK‌ ‌is‌ ‌even more expensive‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌waiting‌ ‌lists‌ ‌can be lonnnnng….

So for those of you who might be looking at fertility treatment such as IVF with own egg and sperm, or donor egg and sperm or embryo adoption, it’s worth knowing that European clinics do not have the frustrating and unbearably long waiting lists that you’ll find in the UK and you can usually start treatment as quickly as your next cycle. 

Take Spain for example, which is now widely recognised as Europe’s egg donation epicentre accounting for around a third of all IVF cycles performed and around 50% of all European donation activity.

The reasons behind this lie in the fact that donors are paid and there is an active donor recruitment programme. Women aged between 18 – 25 years old are targeted by refer-a-friend schemes and stand to earn around €1,000 per donor cycle which takes around two to three weeks. Egg donation has therefore become an attractive and acceptable means of complementing your income and means that the donor supply/demand ratio is pretty balanced. ‌‌Donor’s‌ ‌are‌ ‌screened‌ ‌as‌ ‌are‌ ‌the‌ ‌embryo’s‌ ‌created‌ ‌and‌ ‌you‌ ‌can‌ ‌match‌ ‌your‌ ‌ethnicity,‌ ‌hair,‌ ‌eye‌ ‌colour,‌ ‌height‌ ‌and‌ ‌blood‌ ‌type.‌ ‌You‌ ‌even‌ ‌get‌ ‌to‌ ‌find‌ ‌out‌ ‌about‌ ‌the‌ ‌donor’s‌ ‌level‌ ‌of‌ ‌education‌ ‌and‌ ‌profession should you wish.‌ ‌

All of this can be a huge plus if you are a same-sex couple, single, over 40 or have a BMI over 35 (and are therefore turned down for NHS treatment like I was) and know that a donor, in some way, shape or form, is going to be a part of your story.  

So, there you have it – our reasons as to why stepping on a plane for your fertility treatment does not need to be as daunting as you think.

As in life, cost seems to be the overarching factor, which is why we are just so passionate (I want to shout it from the ROOFTOPS!) about telling people that European treatment can be MUCH cheaper and the standards are TREMENDOUS.

It’s impossible for us to talk about our IVF experience without becoming a little emotional.

We’ve been there, we understand how torturous it can feel and we wish you all so much luck.

Keep going. One day it will all be worth it.

Find out more information about Your IVF Abroad here.