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An "Octomom" On Every Block: Evaluating Your Local Fertility Clinic, Part Two

An "Octomom" On Every Block: Evaluating Your Local Fertility Clinic, Part Two

Picture of William Heisel

I wrote a few weeks ago about the coverage of Nadya Suleman, the unemployed woman with six kids who, with the help of a fertility doctor, ended up with eight more.

I talked about how you can use CDC data as a jumping-off point for stories about fertility practices in your area.

Blythe Bernhard at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch used the CDC data to provide good context for a story about Missouri lawmakers attempting to legally limit the number of embryos a woman could have implanted.

I wrote last time about getting started with the CDC statistics on fertility practices. (You can either look them up one by one here or download them all in a spreadsheet here.)

Here are a few more things you can do with the numbers.

1. How many women are getting pregnant? This is a little tricky to answer because the data doesn't break down that way. But it does show you how many treatment cycles result in births. So if a clinic reports that 30% of its cycles result in pregnancies that means that 30% of the attempts made by women with some sort of fertility treatment actually work. The percentages nationally range from about 18% for women over 40 to 45% for women under 35.

2. But how many of those pregnancies actually produce a child? This number will be smaller, but it should not be dramatically smaller. If most of these pregnancies fail, that could show a lack of technique, improper diagnosis or, in fairness, an unusually high number of women with severe infertility problems, some of which are the result of fertility problems on the part of their partner or donor. Nationally, about 11% of all cycles in women older than 40 resulted in live births. The number was 39% for women under 35. Also, the trend is upward, especially for younger women, so if your clinic is seeing a downward trend year after year, that's worth noting.

3. And how many of these fertility centers are producing "octomoms?" Fertility treatments are so notorious for producing twins, triplets and more that fertility doctors have started to pay close attention to how many eggs and embryos they are implanting in a woman and what type of fertility medication they are giving her. All fertility experts seem to agree that Suleman was implanted with too many fertilized eggs. The CDC data breaks out percentages for multiple and single births. Nationally, the range for multiple births is 14% to 35% of all births, depending on the age bracket, and the trend is downward over time. My colleagues at the Los Angeles Times did a great story shortly after the octuplets' birth showing how Suleman was almost single-handedly boosting the statistics of her fertility clinic, West Coast IVF Clinic in Beverly Hills. The clinic had just two pregnancies with births, and one of them resulted in multiple babies. If you see other clinics with those kinds of stats, it's worth digging further. The doctor at the center of the Suleman case is the subject of a California Medical Board investigation.

I'll write more about ways to evaluate a fertility center in future posts.

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