What an exciting time you and your partner have decided to start a family together and like so many before you, you automatically think clinic is the best option to achieve this outcome. You sign up and you’re initially told there is 6 to 9 months wait ok no worries that will give you time to eat healthy and take vitamins to prepare your body you get closer to that time and the clinic subtly tells you have wait another 6 months due to the lack of available donors. Sometimes often reaching 18 months before the trying begins, the day finally comes you’re both full of optimism and excitement, you have totally got this you have been preparing for this day for what has felt like forever and it’s finally here. You have had friends that have done the process and achieved first time success, you see no reason why this can’t be you and your partner 9 months from this day you will be holding your baby in your arms.
While remaining positive is meant to be good for fertility and increase chances the fact remains that between 30 and 40% of couples that enter through the clinic doors will remain childless after they have finished with the process. We all think that we’re going to get pregnant through the clinics assistance so we’re happy to fork out the cash, those figures suggest over 1 in 3 couples will walk out of the clinic empty handed. There is a combination of reasons why couples don’t achieve their little bundle of joy, financial pressures, stress, relationship break downs and of course fertility issues.
After a couple of failed attempts of IVF the mental health issues can start to creep in. The intended carrier is feeling the pressure and often feelings of letting their partner down by not being able to conceive they’re starting to feel worthless. With IVF drugs it’s quite common for patients to experience migraines, levels of restlessness hot flushes and depression in which many patients have confirmed leading to suicidal thoughts. The recipients also face proneness to Ovarian hyper-stimulation (OHSS) due to the intake of fertility drugs used to stimulate egg production which could contribute to cysts on the ovaries as well as the following symptoms stomach pains, swollen stomach, nausea and vomiting all these symptoms are not going to do your long-term relationship any favours.
The thing with the clinics they’re happy to put you through you counselling prior to commencing yet they don’t really put it into their clinic process system during commencement (even if it’s at 3-month intervals could be beneficial in saving and repairing relationships). Once you’re trying its simply money extraction until you’re either pregnant, out of money, give up until you can’t mentally put up with it any longer or even relationship break down. Many patients describe the IVF experience as stressful and comparable to any major life event such as a horrific accident or death of a family member, going through a divorce or a terminal illness. Even after halting the process of trying for a child the affects are quite often felt 3 years onwards.
IVF is designed to be just a continuing on process if it doesn’t work you’re back 2 weeks later trying again, there essentially no time for grieving and feelings are just bottling up, the expenses are continuing to rise. Communication with your partner is breaking down, or your double guessing what they’re really thinking. Then you have the ongoing stresses of work place environment you feel your boss is becoming more and more impatient with each passing cycle because of all the time off work you’re having each month. When trying at a clinic there is much flexibility and even social activities may have to be cancelled affecting your lifestyle.
There has been a couple of research studies that have explored relationship strains and divorce rates of couples that have gone through the IVF rollercoaster ride. OnePlusOne a charity based in the United Kingdom that specifies in helping couples through relationship issues released a study in 2011 that backs these claims and added that many relationships are finished due to failure to seeing the problems until it was too late. In 2012 Danish researchers Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica released their findings from a pool of over 47,000 women at the average of age of 32 years old and spanned from 1990 to 2006. Out of that figure they found 43% never conceived a child through their fertility treatment and they were 3 times likely to be separated with their partner who was with them during their IVF journey than those who became parents.
With every study that says it’s day time there is a study that says it is night time. You can make an argument over anything and studies can be biased on who is supplying the funding for them, for instances clinics pay for researchers to do a study they will paint them in a positive light. The researchers find any positive information they can from that study and sweep the mess under the rug. Why would a clinic contribute money towards a study just for the study to run them down?
There hasn’t been any local official Australian studies conducted into separation rates, however it is still very common across the world it appears I came across writing this chapter based on all the encounters with members within my group Sperm Donation Australia many women over the years have thanked me for setting up such a cost saving group where the feeling of financial stress and pressure to conceive is dramatically reduced, many of them shared previous failed IVF stories with me that they went through with ex-partners. I had several instances where women have commented they may have still been together now had they known about my group prior to starting IVF having never gone through IVF myself I don’t think I would truly be able to comprehend. For many IVF failure is a taboo subject we don’t speak to our friends and family about what we’re truly feeling, we only ever hear about the success stories while many of close friends are suffering in silence.
I had the experience of hearing Zara’s story. Zara is a lady from Inner Sydney and in a same-sex relationship with her partner Nicola they were ready to start their family journey via the clinic route. Zara was diagnosed with endometriosis, so it was decided that she would be the first to try and carry as they were both expecting the real reality that they could encounter some struggles ahead.
Zara achieved a positive pregnancy that sticked after the 2nd round and successfully carried the families first child. It was now Nicola’s turn next, Nicola had no known fertility issues, so the ladies were pumped if Zara who was fertility challenged could achieve early success Nicola was a sure thing. However failed cycle after failed cycle passed by, Zara’s positive pregnancy prior had turned into a burden on their relationship. Nicola was experiencing extreme depression that she was letting the team down especially as she was meant to be the fertile one of the duo. It also didn’t help at the time that everyone the knew was making pregnancy announcements it was really taking its toll on Nicola, while Zara said she felt so helpless and describe the experience as horrible and emotionally gut wrenching.
All up Zara recalls going through 10 cycles all up with Nicola they experienced several miscarriages along the way which further added to their emotional toll tearing them apart more and more. Zara then decided to get some eggs extracted enough for 2 cycles worth for Nicola to carry as they thought her eggs might have been the cause for the miscarriages. When those cycles failed to provide a successful pregnancy.
Zara had to finally put her foot down they were becoming financially crippled while Nicola still had dreams of carrying their 2nd child her attempts alone had cost them $60,000 after rebates. She had to break the news to her that it was time to stop and that she would be the one to try again. Her words “I felt like a total asshole, IVF is one of that hardest things we’ve ever done”. Zara claims they were very lucky that they set ground rules from the very start and set a limit on each person for the amount of times they were allowed to try each without blowing themselves out financially. She bent the rules a little allowing Nicola a couple more tries which she felt softened the blow and potentially saved their relationship for the time being.
The next time Zara and Nicola returned to the clinic it was Zara’s turn to make amends for Nicola’s misfortune to finally give their family their 2nd child and possibly complete their family unit. You could only sense the resentment Nicola had when Zara pulled off a 1st cycle success although it didn’t further dent their bank balance the emotional strain was at boiling point.
Nicola had to get her head around how come she couldn’t successfully carry with no known fertility issues still to this day identified. Throughout the whole 2nd pregnancy it was a battle Nicola was very bitter and really struggling once the child was born on going bonding issues were present. Zara was determined not to lose her partner as they had already had their first child together and were previously a very happy family. They spent several months counselling to help Nicola overcome her mental demons. Fortunately for the couple through a lot of hard work and rehabilitation they were able get through the emotional journey of IVF. Nicola has learnt to come to terms she cannot carry and never wants to open that can of worms again.
The children have taken more of a liking to Nicola and both parents acknowledge that she is the favourite parent which has helped prove to her that biology doesn’t really matter and that love is unconditional. The family are quite content with their family unit and there are no future plans or talks of anymore children. However, Zara has said if it is ever revisited she will be the one to carry again.
Zara and Nicola’s story can be very educational, a lot of lessons can be taken from it for those still willing to run the IVF gauntlet. It might be the difference of becoming another failed relationship statistic. I’ll recap some key points in point form.
- Having a child already may have held their relationship together.
- They set ground rules and discussed multiple scenarios before the commencement of starting e.g. How many cycles each could try. (Budget)
- Counselling played a significant role in overcoming mental scars and repairing the relationship.
- Remember you’re a team (even when it doesn’t feel like it)
- Communication is vital in talking through issues.