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Making the Decision to Move to IVF
a blog by Lindsay Thomason, WHNP, Piedmont Reproductive Endocrinology Group
What would you be willing to go through to have the family you’ve always dreamed of? Would you want to give yourself the best chance to have that family? Would you agree to take shots? Would you be willing to have surgery? Would you find the money to afford it someway, somehow?
Many women who struggle with infertility may find it easy to answer yes to these questions, but find it difficult to follow through by proceeding with in vitro fertilization (IVF). This is often the hardest decision patients face when deciding how to build their family. IVF seems so foreign, and even scary, that patients prefer to start with more conservative treatment, such as timed intercourse or intrauterine inseminations (IUI). While this is definitely a more comfortable bridge to take into the world of infertility, the reality is that many patients won’t have success with these treatments. Heather Blackmon, embryologist at Piedmont Reproductive Endocrinology Group (PREG) in Greenville, SC finds it best to look at the numbers: “IUI offers only a 16 percent pregnancy rate for the BEST prognosis patients, defined as those with young eggs (under 35) and a NORMAL semen analysis. IVF utilizing ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), or manual fertilization of eggs by sperm) provides a 60 percent pregnancy rate for the WORST prognosis patients.”
The problem many fertility patients face is spending too much time, money, and emotional energy on more conservative treatments, only to have them fail. IVF is often the best step you can take to fulfilling your dream of becoming a parent, and if that step is taken early enough, it can be a much easier journey.
One of the main reasons IVF is such a difficult decision is the cost. Patients have to consider not only the cost of the procedure and office visits, but also the expensive medicines needed for treatment. IVF is NOT cheap. Just like when buying a car or a house, the number on that price tag may seem very steep and unattainable. But people make it work every day. You can get a loan for IVF just like you would a house, and many patients do. Some practices offer refund or discount programs. There are even financial assistance programs for medications. Reproductive offices have financial counselors specially trained to help you find ways to afford the treatment you need. Timed intercourse or IUI cycles may seem significantly cheaper at first glance, but when you add up the costs of visits, medications and lab work, and consider that most patients have to do those treatments three to six times with or without success, IVF doesn’t seem like such a bad option financially. And with IVF, you will definitely be getting more “bang for your buck” with a much better success rate.
Another reason moving to IVF is such an overwhelming decision is the thought of daily injections and the egg retrieval. Most people only require about two weeks of injections before they are ready for egg retrieval, and nurses will be there every step of the way to teach you how to do your injections and make sure you feel comfortable. The egg retrieval is a very simple outpatient procedure, often taking place right in your regular fertility doctor’s office. Since it is performed vaginally, there are no scars or incisions to worry about. Usually, very light sedation is used for the procedure, which only takes about 10 to 20 minutes total. Most patients only experience menstrual-like cramps or spotting after the procedure, without any other complications or symptoms. When you take into consideration that if your fertility treatments work, you’ll be carrying a baby for nine months, two weeks of shots and an outpatient procedure don’t seem as daunting to achieve your end goal. Talk to someone you know who has been through IVF or the nurses at your office who see patients go through it every day. For those who become parents as a result of the IVF process, I’m sure many would tell you they would have done it 10 times over if they had to.
Fertility treatments are draining not only financially, but emotionally as well. They can take a toll on you personally, but also on your relationships with family, friends and your partner. And stress is proven to have a negative effect on fertility. Many patients have already had months or years of disappointment and concern as to why they haven’t gotten pregnant before they even go to their reproductive endocrinologist. Therefore, it is very important to your emotional health to seek treatment that is not only successful, but time-sensitive. While timed intercourse or IUIs may seem “easier,” in reality it is much easier to get pregnant from an IVF cycle. When deciding what treatment is best for you and your partner, you should not only consider the finances and logistics of the treatments, but also how much you can withstand emotionally before you have to throw in the towel. Facing IVF is much less stressful if you are not already drained from months of other failed treatments. Infertility is a devastating diagnosis, but the quicker you find the cure, the easier it is to face.
Simply put, IVF is the most successful treatment for infertility. When considering treatment options for any diagnosis, wouldn’t you want to pursue the option with the highest success rate? Pursuing IVF is a difficult decision, but it is even more difficult to go through the financial loss and emotional struggle of failed cycles. As a fertility nurse, I see a lot of heartache. What makes it all worth it, for me and my patients, is getting to make the phone call that a pregnancy test was positive, or getting to see a baby on ultrasound and hear a heartbeat. Instantly all of the heartache is replaced with pure joy. What started out as what, to many patients, seems like a death sentence, becomes a miracle. Working in reproductive endocrinology has helped me see that all fertility patients have hope if they are willing to take the right steps to fulfill their dream.