Dr Gill Lockwood is celebrating ten years of joy and tears as medical director of a high-profile fertility clinic. Diane Parkes shares the highs and the lows of life in the baby business.
With her curly locks and disarming manner, Dr Gill Lockwood does not instantly strike you as a saviour.
And yet for thousands of couples desperate for a child she, and her team at Midland Fertility Services, are often their last chance at parenthood.
And while some will still leave disappointed, there are many families for whom that chance has worked.
The wall behind Gill, bearing a montage of photographs of beaming parents and cute babies, is testament to that success.
Almost 3,000 babies have come into the world in her ten years at the helm of the Aldridge-based centre.
“When we had our 21st birthday party in 2008, we had newborn babies next to young people who were ready to go to university,” she said.
“You think of all those Christmases, Easters and birthday parties the families have shared together.
“I had a lovely conversation with a grandfather who was saying his grandson had brought him so much pleasure.”
Gill, who did research work in fertility at Oxford before moving to the West Midlands, has seen massive strides in treatments over the past decade.
“Numbers matter because the rates are always improving and that means couples referred here can be given a realistic chance of success,” she said.
“And it means we can be realistic when we know we cannot help them. We would not want families going through years of disappointment trying to have a genetic baby.
“Couples seem very wedded to the idea of having their own genetic child and we have to be careful not to underestimate the psychological aspects when that does not happen.
“Research shows 93 per cent of young people assume they will be parents and, when a couple reach a point where a child is not happening, that can be a deep challenge to their relationship.”
Gill said she believed one of the most important fertility breakthroughs of recent years had been the ability to freeze eggs, meaning treatment for illnesses like cancer need not signal the end of a woman’s hopes of becoming a mum.
The first ‘frozen egg baby’ in the UK was born in 2002 with the assistance of MFS.
And the process has now taken another step forward with the development of vitrification – or ‘flash freezing’ – of eggs.
“This process takes just a second to freeze the egg into a glassy substance and the recovery rate is much higher than with conventional freezing,” said Gill.
“Work being done in Italy, Spain and Japan has shown a pregnancy success rate which is comparable with fresh eggs.”
MFS introduced the process ten months ago and the centre is expecting the birth of the first UK baby from a vitrified egg in December.
With the average age of giving birth to a first baby rising from 24 to 29 over the last decade, the ability to delay having babies could make all the difference to thousands of women.
“There is a more controversial area of this where women find their biological time for having a baby is running out and they are keen to have a family but are not able to for some reason and opt for egg freezing,” admitted Gill.
“This ‘elective’ or ‘social’ egg freezing will come to be seen as being as important as the contraceptive pill.
“It empowers women to take control of their fertility and defer or delay having a child.
“In doing so it allows them to have the same opportunities as men.
“Some people may see this as ‘women wanting to have it all’ but it is also women not having to choose between career and motherhood.”
Such developments in fertility treatments have massively improved success rates over recent years, said Gill.
“Twenty years ago the success rate for IVF for an ideal patient was 15 per cent and we are now looking at roughly 50 per cent per cycle for an ideal patient,” she said.
“But many people do not fit the ‘ideal’ criteria and there is still no guarantee. People are more open about IVF now than even ten years ago.
“One per cent of babies born in the UK are IVF babies and one in six couples seeks medical help for fertility problems.
“There will always be people who, for ethical or religious reasons, are opposed to it as they see it as tinkering with human life outside the human body but for most people IVF is now a part of life.”
The joint Midland Fertility Services and Birmingham Post-funded Fertility Treatment for All campaign five years ago helped greatly in raising awareness of the issues surrounding IVF.
The campaign aimed to highlight the so-called “postcode lottery” which saw some families offered funding for treatments while others were refused simply because of where they lived.
Together the Post and MFS offered treatment to four families who had been unable to receive NHS funding. Five babies were born to three couples, with one baby beingconceived naturally after IVF treatment.
The Post recently reported on how one couple, Claire and Tony Dunn of Rowley Regis, waved their four-year-old twins Rosanne and Kenzie off to school for the first time.
“It was also good the campaign had such a success rate. It sent the message that people shouldn’t despair if they need IVF these days,” said Gill.
“It was also very effective in encouraging people to talk about fertility and funding and the unfairness of the postcode lottery.
“We are fortunate in this area that there is reasonable support for fertility treatments from our primary care trusts, although they are still a long way from the National Institute of Clinical Excellence’s recommendation of three full cycles for those eligible.
“If some of the families who came forward for the Post campaign had lived just a few miles further down the road, they would have been eligible for funding.”