What it’s like to go through IVF
For would-be parents trying to get pregnant, the expense and stress of IVF can be emotional and overwhelming.
Health Agenda magazine
HCF member Kate* started her IVF journey in 2015 at age 38. She’d done prior research and watched a friend go through multiple difficult attempts before eventual success, so she had some idea of what the experience would be like. Kate’s own doctor reinforced the need for her to have realistic expectations.
“He was very upfront. He said, ‘You can’t put it off any longer. If you’re going to do it, do it now,’ but he also said the likelihood of it working was at the lower end of the scale.”
Even so, it was a constant struggle not to daydream about holding a baby in her arms: “It’s very hard, because you want to focus on that end result, but you can’t or you’d go mad.”
What is infertility?
The primary marker of infertility is 12 months of regular, unprotected sex without pregnancy, or 6 months if you’ve had a previous pregnancy, regardless of its outcome.
That said, in some cases IVF is appropriate immediately. Dr Greening gives some examples: “Blocked fallopian tubes; where one partner is about to start cancer treatment; or for people with a genetic disorder they don’t want to pass on.”
Lifestyle factors also contribute to infertility. Smoking in both men and women is so harmful to conception that “you can double your fertility rate by stopping”, Dr Greening says.
Weight is another factor, he adds. “A little adjustment can make a significant difference when a woman isn’t ovulating well.” ‘Good’ ovulation means a woman’s ovaries are releasing a healthy egg every month.
Then there’s the elephant in the room: male infertility. “The vast majority of couples assume the problem lies with the woman, whereas men account for 20 to 30% of overall infertility,” says Dr Greening. “The fact that a man ejaculates doesn’t mean his sperm count is good” – healthy sperm have good motility (movement) and structure.
The right IVF option
If you decide on IVF, the next step is finding the right provider. Clinics may use a wide range of facts and figures when it comes to reporting their success rates, making direct comparisons difficult. In Australia and New Zealand, the success rates range between 4.4 and 31% per fresh embryo transfer cycle.
A 2014 CHOICE report looked at out-of-pocket IVF costs and found a range from $1,870 to almost $9,000 for 3 cycles. Meanwhile other data suggests egg freezing can cost $5,000 to $10,000, with medications thousands more. Even with private health insurance that covers IVF, it’s a significant cost because insurance doesn’t cover outpatient services such as blood tests and ultrasounds.
A successful outcome
Although Kate felt well cared for at the clinic she attended, it was still tough. Her first attempt was a cancelled cycle, which is when a woman’s eggs aren’t healthy enough to complete the procedure.
“The second appeared to be successful but was ‘a chemical pregnancy’ (a very early miscarriage), so hadn’t worked. That left me gutted for a bit. I had to have a break before I started again. You feel like you’re a failure.”
Work was both a useful distraction and, because Kate is a primary-school teacher, a sharp reminder of what was at stake.
About 9 months after starting the process, Kate fell pregnant with daughter Elise, born in August 2016. “It’s like winning the lottery,” she says. “You go through the sleepless nights and you don’t really care because you’ve got this beautiful little girl who smiles at you.”
She’s intensely aware others she knows haven’t been so fortunate. “I’m very respectful of the fact that they have gone through it and it hasn’t been successful for them.”
Look after yourself
To those contemplating IVF, Kate says, “Listen to the counsellors. You don’t know what capacity you have to pick yourself up, so you need to listen to their advice about assessing your own strength as you’re going through it.”
“Also, be aware of your partner’s needs. It's different for them, but they’re on the journey as well. And don’t go into it with a fixed view that it’s going to work. You have to be realistic and think about how you’ll cope if it doesn’t.”
Dr Greening agrees. “It’s very nice to see people who have struggled, sometimes for years, get there in the end. But I think the people who don’t succeed in having a baby are the ones we need to look after the most.”
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Your doctor may ask you to do a number of tests before proceeding with IVF, if you haven’t already had them.
Hearing about other people's experiences can help you mentally prepare for your treatment and understand what to expect.
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