DIY fer­til­ity treat­ment

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

A new de­vice of­fers cou­ples strug­gling with in­fer­til­ity an as­sisted method of con­cep­tion at home, but, Clair Weaver asks, can The Stork re­ally de­liver? “Some­times, the bar­rier for peo­ple is the stress of con­cep­tion.”

IT SOUNDS LIKE the ideal mid­dle op­tion for cou­ples who are strug­gling to con­ceive a baby nat­u­rally, but aren’t ready to com­mit to IVF: a DIY in­sem­i­na­tion de­vice. The prod­uct, called The Stork, com­prises a cer­vi­cal cap in­side a con­dom to catch se­men and a long plas­tic ap­pli­ca­tor to place the cap at the en­trance of the woman’s cervix.

The bonus is you don’t need a pre­scrip­tion for the $130 sin­gle-use de­vice, which is sold on­line and can be used pri­vately at home, rather than sur­ren­der­ing your mod­esty to doc­tors at a clinic.

How­ever, the big ques­tion is: does it work or is it a quick-fix gim­mick?

The Stork’s mak­ers claim it can be an ef­fec­tive tool for cou­ples with is­sues such as low sperm count or motil­ity, erec­tile dys­func­tion and an un­favourable vagi­nal en­vi­ron­ment, and that it has an up to 20 per cent suc­cess rate.

How­ever, fer­til­ity spe­cial­ist Dr Clare Boothroyd, of the Royal Aus­tralian and New Zealand Col­lege of Ob­ste­tri­cians and Gy­nae­col­o­gists, says she would not rec­om­mend the de­vice and says cou­ples who are strug­gling to con­ceive should get checked by a doc­tor or a spe­cial­ist such as Fer­til­ity As­so­ciates.

“There’s no ev­i­dence that such a de­vice would im­prove fer­til­ity in cou­ples who have got in­fer­til­ity,” she says. “I think it has a very lim­ited place and that would be for peo­ple who are un­able to com­plete [sex­ual] in­ter­course. Those cases are quite rare.”

She com­pares The Stork to “tur­key bast­ing”, a col­lo­quial term for the un­su­per­vised DIY in­sem­i­na­tion of a woman with donor sperm in a bid to get preg­nant.

Yet Natalie Kringoudis, a nat­u­ral fer­til­ity spe­cial­ist and Chi­nese medicine prac­ti­tioner who pro­motes The Stork, in­sists it fills a gap for peo­ple look­ing for op­tions to as­sist in con­cep­tion aside from IVF.

“It’s a vi­able op­tion with a high suc­cess rate,” she says. “It’s 20 per cent, I’m led to be­lieve, which is up there with nat­u­ral con­cep­tion [per ovu­la­tion cy­cle on av­er­age].

“Some­times, the bar­rier for peo­ple is the stress of con­cep­tion. This is tak­ing a lit­tle bit of the guess­work out of it.”

The prob­lem is this 20 per cent suc­cess fig­ure is ex­trap­o­lated from two small, generic cer­vi­cal cap in­sem­i­na­tion stud­ies which were car­ried out 24 and 30 years ago, so they carry lit­tle weight as ev­i­dence.

“To re­ally show some­thing works, you need to test it against a placebo or at least a con­trol [group] and see if there’s a dif­fer­ence in preg­nancy rates across the pop­u­la­tion,” says Dr Boothroyd.

She points out that ab­so­lute in­fer­til­ity is quite rare, so some

cou­ples who strug­gle to con­ceive may, over time, fall preg­nant with­out med­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion or with a placebo (a treat­ment with per­ceived rather than ac­tual ben­e­fit).

Nev­er­the­less, Dr Boothroyd says cou­ples should see a doc­tor to find out what may be caus­ing their in­fer­til­ity, rather than wast­ing time and money on some­thing that might not work for them.

“[The Stork] is mim­ick­ing what you achieve nat­u­rally,” she says. “Peo­ple in this sit­u­a­tion are vul­ner­a­ble. They be­lieve prod­ucts like this are go­ing to work. Treat­ments that are not ef­fec­tive do cause harm and dis­ap­point­ment.”

A study in 2015, spon­sored by Ri­novum, the com­pany that brought The Stork to the mar­ket, found a higher con­cen­tra­tion of sperm in the cer­vi­cal mu­cus when The Stork was used by 15 cou­ples, com­pared to nat­u­ral in­ter­course. Although this of­fers sup­port for the con­cept in peo­ple with func­tion­ing re­pro­duc­tive sys­tems, it doesn’t ac­count for in­fer­til­ity com­pli­ca­tions and vari­ables.

Natalie says other ben­e­fits in­clude The Stork’s price and the fact that it can be used pri­vately by cou­ples with­out the need for in­volve­ment of med­i­cal staff.

“That’s [part of] what makes it so ap­peal­ing,” she says. “It’s cost­ef­fec­tive for peo­ple who have known chal­lenges and for peo­ple who want to try an­other op­tion.”

Be­cause The Stork is a sin­gle-use de­vice, each at­tempt costs $130, bring­ing three rec­om­mended at­tempts per monthly ovu­la­tion cy­cle up to

$350 for a bun­dle three-pack. While that’s cheaper than IVF, it will only be of value if the ac­tual ob­sta­cles to con­cep­tion in­volve get­ting se­men to the cervix.

The clos­est med­i­cal pro­ce­dure to

The Stork is ar­ti­fi­cial in­sem­i­na­tion, or in­trauter­ine in­sem­i­na­tion (IUI), which in­volves plac­ing con­cen­trated “washed” sperm di­rectly into the uterus cav­ity via a small dis­pos­able catheter.

“IUI is done a lot less than it used to be,” says Dr Boothroyd. “There is some ev­i­dence of mar­ginal ben­e­fits in se­lected pa­tients with [par­tic­u­lar] in­fer­til­ity is­sues.”

The Stork is reg­is­tered with the Ther­a­peu­tic Goods Ad­min­is­tra­tion (TGA), the Aus­tralian fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s medicines reg­u­la­tor. “Low- to medium-risk med­i­cal de­vices can be in­cluded in the Aus­tralian Reg­is­ter of Ther­a­peu­tic Goods if ap­pro­pri­ate con­form­ity as­sess­ment cer­ti­fi­ca­tion has been is­sued for the de­vice by an ac­cred­ited Euro­pean No­ti­fied Body,” a TGA spokesper­son said.

“TGA ac­cepts such cer­ti­fi­ca­tion as ev­i­dence that the de­vice is safe and per­forms as in­tended.”

Last month, The Stork’s pro­mot­ers an­nounced the first birth of a baby attributed to con­cep­tion through the de­vice in Aus­tralia.

Par­ents Shel­ley and Scott Has­son, from Perth, said they’d been try­ing to con­ceive un­suc­cess­fully for five years and were pre­par­ing to try

IUI when they de­cided to give The Stork a go.

The cou­ple, who had nat­u­rally con­ceived their first child, were over­whelmed with “joy and re­lief” when they got a pos­i­tive preg­nancy test re­sult.

Maybe it was a placebo ef­fect: the psy­cho­log­i­cal ben­e­fit of tak­ing a proac­tive step in a quest for con­cep­tion. Maybe this preg­nancy would have hap­pened any­way. Or maybe, as the tra­di­tional folk story goes, it re­ally was The Stork that brought this baby into the world.

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