I knew choosing a fertility clinic this time round would be harder. And it was. Until I visited them, until WE visited them.
Deciding on the fertility clinic for our NHS cycles was easy. We didn’t really know a lot about the process. I was still a teacher at the time so it had to be nearby, within an hour of school. The list was short so I picked the one with the best success rates, luckily it also had a satellite clinic close to home. The right choice for me at the time? Yes. Retrospectively? No.
It says a lot that we have ever even considered going back to them. It didn’t even occur to us.
This time it’s costing us money. This time we are being picky. This time we know what we want. This time we are going to get it. We have 2 years of experience and failed cycles behind us. This time it has to work.
So, after much research online, blogs, forums and the HFEA website, I narrowed it down to the ARGC or the CRGH.
The reviews for both are mixed.
The ARGC has the highest success rates but there is speculation the results are manipulated. It is called IVF boot camp. It can be exceptionally expensive.
Success is important but how much is it worth?
The CRGH. Another good set of results. More relaxed but impersonal and cold.
Relaxing is important but how much is support and kindness worth?
Would the money matter? It always seems to be about the money. IVF is VERY expensive.
We needed to make an informed decision. We don’t get a refund.
We had to see them both for ourselves.
Open evenings were the first thing we considered but the ARGC don’t do them and the one at the CRGH on the evening I was free was full. We figured it was probably just a marketing pitch, being the cynics that we are and decided to move straight to consultations.
The ARGC charge for the first consultation and need your medical history and bloods before they will see you. But, they were more than happy for our Doctor to do the bloods, as long as they were stamped and signed, which is understandable. We are very lucky to have a Doctor who was happy to arrange these. I wondered if the effort and fee were a way of hooking us in.
The CRGH offer a free 15 min consultation for perspective ‘patients’. No brainer. No bloods or history needed. Again, free, a hook.
The wait for the ARGC was a couple of weeks but because of work commitments, and that I was getting Day 3 bloods in advance, I scheduled it for a month or so later so I would have our results.
The wait for the CRGH was the same but as there were no tests in advance so we ended up here first.
When we walked in the CRGH there was no atmosphere. It was clinical. The receptionist was a young gentleman who told us to take a seat. Whilst we were waiting a woman came to reception to book a day three scan and blood test. She asked now much it would be and the receptionist told her he didn’t know and she would have to speak to accounts. I wondered how he could not know. It’s good customer service to be informed, helpful and kind. The basics. She tried to book it and he told her she should have a consult first. She rightfully stated that would be a waste of time and money as she would then need a follow-up, costing more, and she wouldn’t have the results the consultant said he needed all of five minutes ago. The receptionist replied by saying that she was just saying that because she’d had her free consultation and the Dr had told her that, like she was taking advantage of the clinic. She said no, it was because it made sense, which is true, but the consultant had told her that and she should have stuck to her guns. They continued to discuss this and at one point he even rattled off the price he said he didn’t know! The receptionist basically made it a fifteen minute battle for her to book her appointment. I certainly wouldn’t have persisted. I know where I would have told him to stick it. Not a very good first impression at all!
Eventually my name was called and the receptionist told me where to go, three times, even repeating it when my partner was asking me a question, talking over him, despite the fact I had acknowledged what he had said.
No problem. It’s just a receptionist. It’s the Doctors that matter. That said, goodness knows how much business that guy is costing them!
Sitting in a corner of the waiting area, outside one of the consult rooms, we could hear the Doctor talking to someone… about the last patient he saw… and he wasn’t saying nice things either. Yes, let me be clear. We were sitting outside a Doctors office and could hear him on the phone saying unkind things about the patient who just left. Kind? No? Professional? No? Adhering to Doctor/Patient confidentiality? Erm, No.
Then he called us in. I don’t even recall how long we had waited listening to him on the phone but it was easily twenty minutes, twenty minutes of our time waiting when we should have been in and out. That’s disrespectful. His time is no more precious than ours, keeping us anxiously waiting.
A brief introduction and he was quickly taking our information and medical history. Identifying what he thought was the problem and telling us what we needed. Exactly the same as the lady before. Day 3 bloods, an AMH test and scan. We’d were to then book a consult with him once these had been done.
He asked if we had any questions and when my partner asked about finding the problem and treating it and trying naturally for a few months he was dismissed and told there was no point and we should just do IVF again as soon as possible. Thanks very much, see you later. In and out.
Cold? Yes. Rushed? Yes. Informative? No. Helpful? Very. Did I book that appointment? Hell no.
Cold and impersonal was an understatement.
Would it matter if they got me pregnant? Would it matter if they were cheaper than the ARGC?
We honestly didn’t know. We knew our friends had succeeded with them so why not us.
Was money that important?
Next was our appointment at the ARGC. We had our test results. The clinic was happy to work around these, rescheduling our consult to suit. They gave us everything we needed to get the tests done and replied to emails quickly. They called a few days to confirm. Nothing was too much to ask. We said we didn’t want a sperm test the day of our consult as it wasn’t good timing. Abstinence was not an option. Every month counts. They totally understood and made it clear this meant it would cost a bit more down the line. That was fine. It was bad timing and we didn’t want to commit before checking them out. I appreciated the transparency.
I dropped our medical records off a week or so before our appointment. I found the building (Victorian) with its high ceilings, beautiful, but you knew it was a medical facility. Still, it felt welcoming. The receptionists were as kind in person; checking my information was correct on their system they proceeded to label my documents thoroughly.
A week later I had our results scanned by the lovely receptionist at our doctors (who went out of her way to do it) and sent to me so I could forward them on to the ARGC as I didn’t have time to drop them off. Of course I was worried, but again, not a problem, as long as I bought the hard copies to our appointment.
Even though they seemed nice I was in doubt as to if this consult was going to be a waste of money if the treatments were going to be so much more expensive than the CRGH. At one point my partner and I talked ourselves out of going at all. We couldn’t afford it if it was as much as some forums led us to believe.
Let’s not bother and just go to the CRGH. Let’s not bother doing either. Let’s adopt.
Doubt, bad experiences and fear screaming in our heads at the same time, neither one of us in the right frame of mind to pick the other up. But we stuck to the plan. We’d paid our deposit. We’d committed. We weren’t going to tap out, we’re stubborn. We fight.
The question was the same regardless. Hedge our bets and go for the cheaper, relaxed, option or give it everything, once, no matter the cost?
On the morning of the appointment we have an appointment with a mortgage broker, exploring ways to fund this potential adventure. It finishes two hours before our appointment at the ARGC. Plenty of time to get to London and grab a quick lunch… unless of course, you get to the train station, park up and pay only to find out your trains are subject to cancellations and delays of up to 60mins because of a person under a train! We run back to the car and drive 30mins to another station on another line, closer to London, only to find the station car park full! Thank goodness I know my way around the area and am able to find a space in a nearby street quickly. We just miss a train. We are going to be late.
Maybe we should just not go? Maybe the world is trying to tell us something?
But still we go.
Grabbing crisps from the station shop we head to the underground and walked to the clinic on Devonshire Close. There’s no-one there. And breathe. Maybe they’re on lunch? And breathe. I call the main reception to be told all appointments have been moved to the Wimpole Street building.
A short walk and we arrive. I can breathe. We make ourselves known, take a seat and complete our paperwork. We quickly relax. Again we wait but it’s not a problem. We aren’t the only ones and there are magazines aplenty and a tv to distract us, although our phones do a pretty good job of that anyway.
Soon we were greeted by a female consultant dressed in scrubs who took us to a cozy but spacious room a few floors up.
The consultant had clearly taken the time to read our notes. She double checked our medical records and talked through our notes. She addressed my concerns about my blood tests and was very happy with them. We talked about our previous cycles and my endometriosis. She explained why the decisions which were made were probably made, and agreed these should have been talked through with me at the time rather than just ‘happening’ to me. Examining our previous treatment and outcomes she explained where it was likely the problem would be; egg or sperm quality or, given our good quality embies in previous rounds, implantation. She talked about our options, what tests she thought were necessary, what was unnecessary and was very clear about the controversy surrounding Immune issues and NK Cells and asked us to read up on it so we could make an informed decision, their paperwork providing links to reading resources.
I asked why we were going straight to IVF again and why I had never been given Clomid. She explained that it would be of no benefit as I have a regular cycle. Elaborating on this, she explained another option for me to consider would be metformin as it can help with insulin resistance, heavily linked to PCOS and that it may also be of benefit given diabetes runs in my family. In addition, there is evidence it can improve egg quality and couples have conceived naturally on this whilst going through the IVF process. She warned me it can have bad side effects and if I decided to give it a try I would need to up my dose very slowly to avoid these. Again, I was told do some research on it and let them know if it was something I wanted to pursue.
My partner then asked the same question before about the chances of us conceiving naturally. The consultant explained there was always a chance and whilst we were preparing for IVF, things like the Metformin or Immune treatments (if we chose it) would be treating the problems as soon as we started them so the chances would increase as these issues were eliminated.
After checking we were happy she talked to us about the monitoring cycle and how to go about getting the tests we needed in order to start our journey if we decided we were going to move forward with IVF. Again we were told which we could go to our Dr for and which we needed to have done at the clinic.
We explained that we would be away during the ovulatory period in my next cycle so if we went ahead our monitoring cycle would have to be in October. The consultant said we should do it when we were ready.
She went through the vitamins and supplements we were taking and gave us a few more to take to improve egg and sperm quality. The comprehensive list is:
Me: Pregnacare for women, Omega 3 (DHA&EPA), CoQ10 (I take Ubiquinol which is more effective), vitamin D and B12
Man: Pregnacare for men, Omega 3, CoQ10, additional vitamin C 1000ui & additional vitamin E 800ui
There was never any assumption we would proceed with our treatment at the ARGC. There was no pressure to get our tests done there or have unscientifically proven treatments.
Cold? No, Rushed? No. Informative? Yes. Helpful? Very.
I had my preference but what did my partner think? I didn’t say anything to give him time to process but he brought it up sooner than I thought he would. On the walk back to the tube in fact. Asking me what I thought, I didn’t say, I didn’t want to influence him. I wanted to know what he thought. So I asked him back.
He found it more relaxed and informative. He liked the consultant and that we could get most of our tests done at the doctors. We were both still worried about money, and still are, but the contrast between the clinics was clear, our choice was clear, certainly for my partner who made up his mind about the clinics quicker than he makes up his mind about what to have for dinner!
We had both decided. The ARGC was the choice for us.
Of course, this is just our experience of these clinics and I know other people have very different impressions to share about these clinics, both good and bad.
If you are looking to this blog for guidance you are already heading in the right direction by doing your research.
My advice is to go visit the clinics you are considering yourself, even if it costs a bit of money. A few hundred pounds at the beginning of your journey to find the clinic for you is still cheaper than ending up at the wrong clinic later down the road when it’s too late to turn back.
Everyone is looking for something different from a clinic and only you will know what that is, even if it’s not until you find it.
Everyone talks about getting a ‘gut feeling’. I don’t know if that’s a thing but I did know which clinic to go to as soon as I had been there. I knew which one we were going to choose before that but I can’t say how I knew. Perhaps my subconscious had already worked out what we wanted and which would offer what we needed.
What I do know is that I feel more comfortable with the ARGC than I ever felt with my NHS choice. I also know I never do things by halves. I’m all in. So it makes sense I would choose a clinic with the same approach to IVF as I take with life.
So indecisive Jo, off you go, we know where we’re heading now.