In a few weeks' time it's the annual Fertility Show at London's Kensington Olympia. I have to admit, the first time I went I was impressed and appalled in equal measure. You arrive on a Saturday morning at the slightly surreal, end of the tracks Kensington Olympia Station. It's packed almost exclusively with other women. Just across the road and three quarters of them peel off and head into the Spirit of Christmas exhibition, the home of 'extraordinary gifts of style, design and elegance'. The rest of us are looking for what we hope will be a slightly more discreet entrance round the corner to The Fertility Show. At that first visit 4 years ago I gave my ticket to the nice lady, was given a two page map of the stands and was almost immediately pounced on by a young attractive couple in smart monochrome conference wear, bearing glossy brochures and asking if I was interested in going to Greece for IVF. Blimey! I think it's calmed down a bit since then and last time I went my experience was that most exhibitors waited for visitors to approach them. Maybe someone had had a word.
It's set up exactly like a wedding show - stands all laid out on the enormous floorspace, offering you a shopping experience quite unlike any other, on everything fertility related. There are many IVF clinics from both the UK and overseas, various fertility charities, companies offering ways to help you finance your fertility treatment, a host of complementary therapies and a few more flaky sounding enterprises - fertility astrology - who knew? At first it all seems very weird and slightly unsavoury. There is the distinct whiff of profit making companies trying to land a sale. And that's sad when you know that many of the couples there are feeling pretty desperate and willing to try anything, which must leave them vulnerable.
But the upside to all this is that the show also hosts two days of seminars costing only £1 each, a gathering of some of the very best minds in fertility in the UK, who are there to speak about the latest research and developments and, in some cases, argue the toss about what works and what doesn't. The audience is full of expert patients who have challenging questions to ask and this is an opportunity for them to get some answers from fertility specialists it would otherwise be almost impossible for them to meet. On many occasions I have seen a queue of people 20 deep, waiting after each seminar to ask their chosen expert a detailed question about their own situation and I have been impressed with how much time they have been given. (Doctors are given much more of a run for their money these days and quite right too, but I do genuinely believe that the vast majority of them care passionately about helping people have babies.)
There has also been healthy debate between speakers with diametrically opposed views and it's good to see issues being given an open airing, because couples need to know there isn't always one neat answer, that fertility medicine is a fast changing arena and that specialists disagree with one another. This year there are some big hitters going along and with Lord Robert Winston in attendance you can be sure there will be controversy - he has been particularly critical of the IVF industry of late. As well as him, there's Prof Lesley Regan talking about recurrent miscarriage, Allan Pacey talking about male factor infertility and Jessica Hepburn author of the bestselling book, The Pursuit of Motherhood, talking from a user's perspective about how to choose a clinic. So - if you're within striking distance of London on 1st / 2nd November, I'd say access to all that expertise is well worth the £16 entrance fee. I will be there making sure I get up to date with all the latest news to bring back to our patients in Scotland and of course to share here.