THE coronavirus pandemic has caused the postponement of fertility treatments, leaving many couples with an even more anxious wait to become parents. Suzanne McGonagle talks to one woman from Newry, whose dream of becoming a mother has been put on hold.
IT is almost a year since the first coronavirus lockdown led to the suspension of fertility services as clinics were forced to close their doors.
The disruption and delay in fertility treatment left couples in limbo, with appointments postponed from March until May last year and a reduced process from June onwards.
But months later and many are still anxiously waiting for their chance to join the fertility treatment ladder with new research revealing the worrying impact that the Covid-19 crisis has had on those hoping to start a family.
A survey of women who have had fertility treatment delayed or cancelled found almost half (47 per cent) said they worried it could spell the end to parenthood for them.
The research, carried out by the community and support group Fertility Help Hub (FHH), also reveals all women surveyed felt mentally traumatised by the set-backs.
The survey also found more than half (55 per cent) believe they have received no clear guidance or support from their clinics.
Two-thirds of those surveyed said they will risk putting themselves under financial pressure to go private, fearing delays will decrease their chances of conception, as the NHS struggles to cope with demand.
Jessica Guiney and her husband Daniel, both aged 34, have had their IVF treatment paused due to Covid-19.
The couple were married in April 2018 after moving to Newry from England where they met. But shortly after they wed they were left heartbroken when Jessica lost her father.
“I was devastated, but it also made us realise that life is too short to wait and we decided we wanted to start a family,” she said.
Daniel had underwent varicocele surgery in 2017 – a procedure to remove enlarged veins to restore proper blood flow to the reproductive organs – and in Spring 2019 was referred for semen analysis at Craigavon Hospital.
His results came back suggesting low morphology, so the couple were referred to the Regional Fertility Clinic (RFC) in Belfast.
An appointment in August 2019, which was cut short as their medical records could not be accessed by clinic staff, saw the couple begin an anxious wait.
An appointment was finally scheduled for March last year, but the start of their treatment was put on hold.
In June during a telephone consultation with the clinic, they were told they needed IVF with Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI), but the general waiting list of 12 months would be longer due to the Covid-19 crisis.
“I was upset we had had to wait so long just to find this out, 10 months just to be told this and from then, we were having to join a massive waiting list.
“But we talked it through and we knew what the end goal was,” Jessica said.
But on December 23, the couple received a letter from the clinic informing them of a 19-month waiting list. Just weeks later, this time-scale was pushed back further due due to further NHS pressures.
“It’s been such a hard time, mentally I have really suffered,” she said.
“All this and being made redundant last year, it’s been really difficult.”
The fear of how long they may have to wait for NHS treatment has led to the couple to consider going private.
“We first contacted the private clinic in Northern Ireland, Belfast Fertility, and were told they had a wait-list of at least six months.
“But it’s around £5,000 for one round of treatment and it takes on average three rounds, then there’s the medication which costs about £1,000 to £1,500 and all the tests and add-ons.
“We then started looking at clinics in Dublin and fortunately their wait-lists weren’t as long, but the costs are expected to be €8,000 to €9,000 just for one round of IVF with ICSI.
“But we don’t have this sort of money.”
Jessica, who is originally from Canada and due to celebrate her 35th birthday in May, said she feels her age will soon become another barrier she has to face.
“Everything you read, age drastically changes the situation – it’s a big worry,” she said.
“Yet I feel almost selfish for wanting this when there are people who are faced with delays in their cancer treatment or operations who are in a much worse situation that I am.
“But at the same time, my mental health is deteriorating… I have been offered no mental support for what we are going through.
“I have experienced suicidal thoughts and been extremely depressed watching everyone around me get pregnant so easily.
“We have had two nieces and two nephews born in the span of 13 months. We so long to have a baby that is able to play with all of its beautiful cousins…I had to go to my GP multiple times asking for help to finally see their in-house counselling. And while she was so amazing and helpful it was only for a limited time.
“It’s so disheartening.”
In a bid to seek help, Jessica got in touch with the Fertility Help Hub, which reaches thousands of people around the world at different stages of their fertility journeys.
“They are the community no-one wants to be a part of, but they are the most understanding and supportive people no matter where you are in your ‘trying to conceive journey’,” said Jessica.
“Finding a resource like the FHH had helped me feel less crazy, it’s raising awareness of the hardship people experiencing infertility go through.”
Founder Eloise Edington launched the site following her own fertility struggle after her husband was diagnosed with Klinefelter Syndrome, which made him infertile.
She said the impact coronavirus has had on couples has been significant both emotionally and financially if they choose to go private.
In a bid to help others, the site has launched an initiative to provide eight couples or solo parents (up to five in the UK), the opportunity to receive fertility treatment at no cost.
With no story more deserving than another, recipients will be selected at random.
During the initiative, Eloise is running a series of live online interviews covering a range of fertility issues, including the impact of coronavirus.
“We know from our community that Covid has taken away from many the hope of becoming parents,” said Eloise.
“At Fertility Help Hub, we are making it our mission to give that hope back.
“The ‘Fertility Clinics Vs Covid’ initiative is about going one step further and providing a bridge during a very difficult time.”
Fertility expert Caroline Tanner also said she had witnessed “an exacerbated level of worry, stress and anxiety” among her patients.
“The impact of Covid-19 only deepens this sense of helplessness. Fertility struggles feel deeply and personally unfair,” she said.
For Jessica and Daniel, it’s an anxious waiting game.
“Some days I don’t want to get out of bed, it’s frustrating and mentally draining,” said Jessica.
“We know we have to wait, but for how long?”
— to www.irishnews.com