The Fertility Show rolled into town on 5 November. Exhibitors from acupuncturists to fertility clinics pitched their tents at Olympia to promote their goods and services. Helping people with fertility problems is big business. We at the Progress Educational Trust (PET) packed our suitcase and joined them on a mini-break. We displayed our wares between Acumedic (who specialise in Chinese medicine, acupuncture and traditional herbal treatments) and Birmingham Women's Fertility Clinic.
You could easily have thought looking through the list of exhibitors that you had wandered into the luxury foreign holiday show in the exhibition hall next door, as clinics from Barbados, South Africa and Florida rolled out their towels. There were 25 overseas clinics exhibiting and just 15 British ones.
The show was dominated by overseas clinics last year too, which influenced the theme of our annual conference 'Passport to Parenthood: The Evidence and Ethics behind Cross-Border Reproductive Care'. This year Spanish and American clinics were well represented again. Why don't more British clinics exhibit? Is it because they don't need the business? Is it because they are unconvinced the Fertility Show will provide a return on their investment? As the traditional greeting on postcards says 'I wish you were here'!
Several professional visitors to the show voiced concern about some exhibitors - asking for evidence for some of the 'alternative' therapies and services. They seemed surprised some clinics were advertising treatments which, as far as they knew, they hadn't successfully carried out. Other clinics, they told me, offered tests that wouldn't change a patient's treatment. Visitors to our stall grumbled about the cost of treatment and nutritional supplements, and expressed confusion about widgets with questionable benefits.
The PET staff and volunteers formed their own opinions of the show. One was surprised by the young age of many show visitors. Another was angry people were being sold products or services with scant scientific evidence. The slick marketing pitches reminded some of holiday time share salesmen. The fertility astrologer evoked mixed feelings. Some thought it harmless fun - like a seaside fortune teller. Others had unrepeatable views.
PET is a cash-strapped charity: exhibiting at the show was a big outlay in money, staff and volunteer time. What did we want to achieve - what were we selling? We hoped people had forgotten to pack a good read for their fertility journey and were 'selling' BioNews as a Rough Guide.
People were suspicious because BioNews is free. They wanted to know the catch, as though they were booking a budget flight. We explained there was no small print, no 'baggage in the hold' supplements, and no paywall blocking our archive. Some visitors to our stall were incredulous and demanded to know our agenda. 'We want people to make informed choices', we replied. 'In a small way, we want to help those who may feel vulnerable and desperate'.
With more than 100 exhibitors, I felt totally overwhelmed at the end of the weekend. Many people looking for answers may have felt the same way as me and left more confused than ever.