’Cruel joke’ Aussie couples are facing
When the Federal Government announced in April that non-essential medical procedures such as IVF could resume after the Anzac Day weekend, women like Marina Allen were ecstatic. She and her husband had been planning to implant their final embryo grown from her eggs just before the COVID-19 shutdowns began in March, and at the time they had no idea when they might be able to resume treatment in their desperate hope to grow their family. "I bawled my eyes out. It felt like a cruel joke," Marina said.
But now the 35-year-old Hobart mum-of-one is ready go get back to treatment, with the news that most clinics around the country have reopened their doors to patients, albeit with restrictions in place around social distancing and hygiene.
She's one of the lucky ones. In Victoria, IVF patients haven't been so fortunate. In a statement on April 22, Premier Dan Andrews said he expected that only 25 per cent of elective surgeries in Victoria would recommence at this time - which includes IVF. The restrictions were reviewed on May 11 and remained unchanged. This has led to reports that some clinics have had to tell patients that only urgent cases - ie older women or women with health conditions that mean they have limited time for treatment - can go ahead with an IVF cycle under the current conditions.
Melbourne couple Jessie Aganetti and Nathan Bingham, both 28, consider themselves lucky that they managed to squeeze in an embryo transfer - their third - with their clinic, Adora Fertility in Greensborough. just before the March shutdown happened.
"With us, it's not a case of, 'Oh we can just wait til next month or next year," Jessie said. "In my case it's now or never." Although she's only 28, she has been diagnosed with low ovarian reserve, which means her chances of producing a viable egg diminish as every month passes. "I am going infertile and I cannot wait."
Unfortunately her transfer, which took place in mid-March with days to spare before elective surgery was called off, was unsuccessful. "It was so stressful because we didn't know when things would open back up so we could try again."
This month luck was on their side yet again, and they managed to have another egg pick-up in May, despite their state's restrictions.
"We are in the urgent category," she said, but added that many women she knows are not so lucky. "It seems that the stress is not yet over for those currently seeking to use IVF services," Jessie said. "There is a lot of tension on the IVF support pages with some women already missing out on their current cycles, being told that they are unable to start their injections as (their clini)] will have too many women for their cycle."
Cal Volks is an Infertility and Assisted Reproductive Counsellor at Adora Fertility. She said that one of the most stressful events for IVF patients trying to manage their expectations during this time was when the Prime Minister announced that treatment could be delayed for as long as six months.
"While the medical advice from fertility specialists was that a three month delay in IVF shouldn't make a difference to the chances of falling pregnant, the opinion was that some cases a six month delay could make a difference, depending on the circumstances," she said.
The limbo was very difficult for many people - and is still extremely difficult for many women in Victoria. "Often grief works in a way that with each fresh loss, the psyche consolidates the multiple losses and people can feel bereft," she said. "Several patients sought support during the time IVF was paused."
IVF Australia's Peter Illingworth said patients should be reassured that he doesn't believe there will be significant delays.
"We don't anticipate a backlog but patients will notice some changes," he said. "We have implemented physical social distancing protocols and we will continue to offer fertility consultations via telehealth appointments."
"We have also heightened our already strict physical distancing protocols, temperature checking everyone entering our premises. Patients will be COVID-19 tested where appropriate, as advised by their fertility specialist."
For both Jessie and Marina, their sense of despair and desperation during this long battle has been compounded by what they see as a lack of sympathy towards their predicament.
"To be told that IVF is 'non-essential' - that was a real kick in the face," Marina said of the original ban. "We're just trying to have a baby, to do what everyone else can do naturally and you're telling us it's 'non-essential'. It's super insensitive."
Jessie said she had to force herself to stop reading cruel Facebook comments from people criticising the focus on infertility when so much was going on in the world at the peak of the pandemic.
"They were horrific. 'Why can't you wait til next year?' 'You're so selfish!' I wrote back a hundred times, 'Not all of us can wait.' They have obviously never known anyone who has had to go through this and they don't understand."
Marina said: "People who don't have an idea about IVF should just shut their mouths."
Now that the ban has been lifted, both Marina and Jessie have started new IVF cycles, and are hopeful that these transfers will bring the babies they've both dreamt of for so long. Marina's clinic, TasIVF, has reduced the number of scans she has to have before her egg retrieval from her usual three or four to just one, but she says that doesn't concern her.
"It's actually less stressful because I usually get very upset at that early scan when I find out I have so few eggs and it shatters my hopes," she said.
Jessie is starting her fourth cycle and is cautiously optimistic that things will go to plan.
"It does worry me that we might come out of lockdown and then have to go back in again," she said. "It would terrify me to go through all the needles and everything else and then have to stop again."
But she said that many women around the world, such as many parts of the US that still have IVF bans in place, are in much worse predicaments.
"We're very lucky that we're able to try again," she said.
Originally published as 'Cruel joke' Aussie couples are facing