The test results were conclusive. It was the news that Lizzie Steele had been
dreading – she was infertile. And she was just 18 years old.
Tests to find out the cause of her extreme stomach pains revealed Lizzie had
less than a one per cent chance of ever conceiving. Her specialist said this
could be traced back to a bout of chlamydia which had resulted in pelvic
“I was horrified,” says Lizzie, a psychology student. “I was being told my
chances of motherhood were practically nonexistent – and I was still in my
But far from being a rare occurrence, increasing numbers of young women are
suffering infertility problems. Although the average age of women seeking
fertility treatment is 36, research shows that in some cases this is being
caused by the lifestyle led in their teens and 20s.
Lizzie could have been paying the price for having a one-night stand on
holiday two years before. “I’d had sex with a guy I met in Ibiza, but the
condom split,” she says. “When I got back to Britain, five days later, I got
checked out at the sexual health clinic straight away. I was told I had
chlamydia and given a course of antibiotics.”
She later contracted chlamydia a second time, from another relationship. Again
she was treated with antibiotics, and like one in every 10 women who
contracts pelvic inflammatory disease, Lizzie has been left with fertility
problems. The STD had spread and caused irreversible damage to her
reproductive system. As a result it’s highly likely she’ll need fertility
treatment to achieve her dream of motherhood.
Cases of the disease have been increasing rapidly – there were 123,000
incidents last year, largely affecting under-25s.
“I had no idea that my fertility could be affected,” she says. “I imagined
that, because of my age, I’d get pregnant easily.”
When Lizzie, now 19, from Somerset, met her husband-to-be Oliver, 29, through
friends two years ago, they knew they wanted a family together. Within six
months, Oliver, a mechanical engineer, had already proposed.
Soon afterwards, Lizzie started to get excruciating stomach cramps. Her GP
referred her to hospital for tests.
There she had a laparoscopy – the surgeon inserted a narrow camera tube
through a tiny incision near her belly button. This showed scar tissue on
both her Fallopian tubes caused by pelvic inflammatory disease, triggered by
Fertility specialist Dr Geeta Nargund, head of reproductive medicine at St George’s
Hospital in London, says: “There is new evidence that shows there is a
decline in fertility not only in women in their 30s, but also in women in
their late 20s.
“This is largely down to lifestyle factors, such as smoking, being either
underweight or overweight, and, of course, unprotected sex which can lead to
Recent figures show that more women than ever before are having fertility
treatment in the UK. “There is no doubt that these lifestyle factors can
have a negative impact on fertility,” confirms gynaecologist and fertility
expert Michael Dooley.
In May last year, Lizzie had surgery to remove some of the scar tissue, in the
hope this would help improve her chances of conceiving. After her operation,
she busied herself with wedding plans – the couple got married in August
2008 and hoped for a honeymoon baby. But that didn’t happen.
“I was so upset,” Lizzie says. “Although I knew I’d have
difficulty getting pregnant, I still hoped it would happen.”
When she hadn’t conceived, Lizzie went back to see her consultant. In January
she had more tests which showed she’d stopped ovulating. Her specialist
prescribed the drug Clomid, to help stimulate her ovaries. But further tests
showed it hadn’t worked. Devastated she’d been left infertile, Lizzie told
her husband to leave her. But Oliver refused and vowed to stand by her.
And not only was Lizzie infertile, but she was too young to qualify for IVF on
the NHS. National guidelines state fertility treatment should be available
to women aged 23-39, although not all health authorities even provide this.
Their only chance is to fund a course of treatment privately. But with one
round of IVF costing upwards of £3,000, they can’t currently afford it.
“Oliver and I have already looked into adoption, but that can take years. All
we can do is start saving for IVF,” she says.
“To any young women reading this, please, please look after your sexual
health, because you just don’t know what could happen in the long-term if
STRUGGLING TO CONCEIVE?
The birth of the world’s first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, at Oldham General
Hospital on July 25, 1978 gave hope to infertile couples everywhere. Since
then, huge amounts of money have been spent on research to help those who
would otherwise be childless. Millions of babies have been born because of
IVF, and new breakthroughs are still being made.
If you’re experiencing fertility problems, there are options:
IVF (in vitro fertilisation): The most common method of treatment,
where eggs are removed from the ovaries and fertilised outside the body
before being re-transplanted in the uterus.
Array CGH (array comparative genomic hybridisation): A fast new type of
genetic egg screening for use in IVF, it can identify which of a woman’s
eggs are healthiest and therefore more likely to create a successful
IUI (intrauterine insemination): Sperm are artificially placed in the
uterus with a catheter to ensure more are available to access the egg.
Egg donation: Another woman’s egg can be donated and implanted if
the woman undergoing treatment has either had primary ovarian failure,
repeated unsuccessful IVF treatment or recurrent miscarriages.
Wellbeing of Women is funding research into illnesses which can affect
fertility. In the past, the charity has also funded research into IVF, and
its aim is to improve reproductive health in women.
PHOTOGRAPHY: SYRIOL JONES HAIR & MAKE-UP: KELLIE