With more than 3,600 visitors passing through the doors over the weekend, this year's Fertility Show at London's Olympia was a busy one. The annual show, now in its fourth year, is a unique event, where complementary therapists and crystal healers can be found rubbing shoulders with some of the country's leading fertility specialists. There are stands selling everything from nutritional supplements to relaxation CDs and a huge range of exhibitors covering every aspect of fertility.
As clinics from overseas continue to target UK patients, it's not surprising that the number of exhibitors from around the world at the Fertility Show has been growing every year. Clinics from Spain and the USA have been represented from the start, but this year they were joined by many others from across the globe and the exhibitors from overseas fertility clinics easily outnumbered their UK counterparts.
Decisions about where to go for treatment abroad are often based on hearsay, and it can be hard to make judgments about a clinic thousands of miles away when all you have to go on is what the website looks like and how good the staff are at responding in English to your email enquiries.
Here, representatives from clinics in more than a dozen countries were gathered under one roof, allowing patients to meet staff face-to-face and get a feel for what they might be able to offer. In the past, some of the overseas clinics at the show have been criticised for being pushy and for making extravagant claims about their success rates, but this year there seemed to be a calmer, more relaxed atmosphere with staff waiting for people to approach them rather than leaping on anyone who happened to walk past to thrust leaflets into their hands.
It is a shame that more UK clinics were not represented at the Fertility Show but many specialists were involved in the seminar programme. The seminars were spread across both days and covered specific fertility problems and treatments, complementary therapies, adoption, donor treatment and surrogacy as well as dealing with the emotional and practical aspects of infertility. There was even a fertility yoga session for those so inclined.
On average, visitors attended two of the talks each, and many more lurked at the back of the halls to listen in. It's this access to leading experts in the fertility field which is particularly popular, and many of the speakers were mobbed at the end of their talks by people keen to use the opportunity to get answers to their individual fertility queries.
The Fertility Show is put on in association with Infertility Network UK, and other patient support networks also had a presence, as did the Progress Educational Trust. As the show took place during national adoption week, it was heartening to see that a number of adoption agencies had chosen to exhibit to help raise awareness of this alternative route to parenthood.
The Fertility Show is a great place to learn more about infertility. Although fertility astrology and the plethora of exhibitors claiming to offer 'holistic' approaches may not be everyone's cup of tea, just being in one place with so many others who are going through the same thing and who understand how you are feeling can be empowering in itself.
Yes, the commercial side of the fertility business is clearly apparent, but it would be naive to expect anything else from what is now a global industry. It often seems that patients, who come face to face with this fact the moment they start having difficulty getting pregnant, are far less phased by the commercial aspect of the event than some clinicians. Most visitors conclude that any concerns about commerciality are far outweighed by the opportunities to learn more and the access to experts in the field that the weekend can provide.