‘I’ll never forget the fear when we found out we would need IVF’

Government funding for fertility treatment will change lives and reduce stress

Jennifer Ryan with her husband Gavin Moran,  Rian (three) and one-year-old Alex: “Infertility is a medical condition.   There should be no shame attached to it, none at all,” says Ryan

Jennifer Ryan with her husband Gavin Moran, Rian (three) and one-year-old Alex: “Infertility is a medical condition. There should be no shame attached to it, none at all,” says Ryan

 

Recently the Government announced it will provide funding assistance to couples seeking in vitro fertilisation (IVF) from 2019. At first glance, this is very welcome news to many would-be parents. It is very likely that someone in your family and/or circle of friends might need to avail of this assistance in the future, or are paying for IVF privately already.

How I wished it existed when my husband and I found out we needed IVF in 2013. It is a stressful experience, and a large portion of that is down to worry about how you are going to afford it, and how you’ll afford more if the first, second and third attempts don’t work.

I’ll never forget the knot that formed in the pit of my stomach when we found out we would need IVF. Like a big ball of cold fear lodging itself deep in the pit of my stomach – ironic perhaps when you consider the whole point of it was because things weren’t lodging in that area and growing into our much longed-for baby.

Very shortly after that knot formed, the second one lodged when I remembered we were not actually growing money on a tree in the garden of our modest, semi-detached townhouse.

That added a whole extra layer of fear.

The fear is the worst part obviously. Fear of failure, but before you can even get that far, fear of how much money you have or don’t have, and how many tries that might buy you in the endeavour to become parents. To know that having a family could be out of your reach because you just don’t have thousands of euro to throw at the problem is very, very scary.

At the time, I didn’t know much about IVF so I googled – “How much is IVF in Ireland?” I was presented with a handful of clinics, all promising (or strongly indicating – clinics never make promises) to make our dreams come true.

They all had pricelists, so I picked one and had a look. A sea of acronyms were waiting for me. I didn’t know what any of them were so I just looked for your basic IVF – €4,500.

Okay, I thought, so if we can gather €10,000 that should get us two rolls of the dice.

Thankfully, we gathered the €10,000, relieved that if our first attempt failed, we had a safety net. As it turned out, we didn’t come out with much change after just one full cycle of IVF. As it turned out, those mysterious acronyms were almost all relevant.

It deserves assistance just as someone with a heart condition deserves assistance from the State we all pay our taxes to

Nevertheless, we truly are among a small group of people who are unbelievably lucky. From that initial (slightly bumpy) round of IVF, we now have our two precious sons Rian (three) and Alex (one).

I regularly look at them and wonder in amazement just how it is they came to be.

Rian and Alex.
Rian and Alex.

Frozen twins I like to call them – conceived on the same day at the same hour, just born two years apart. It’s amazing when you think about it.

I started a blog and a closed private Facebook group page, so people could talk away in confidence and their own friends cannot see what is written or even that they are a member.

So for the Government to take the funding aspect of the stress away is definitely a good thing as it will give people who might not have had access to that kind of money a chance to become parents, something we all assume is a right.

I just hope the funding is done carefully and with consideration, it certainly will be interesting to find out just what those plans involve.

Public funding and public opinion

When the Government announced its plans to fund IVF, naturally, it made headlines. The topic is of huge interest to me, but as I read my heart absolutely sank and simultaneously broke at the general opinion of the comments under the stories online. Examples included:

“Why would you have children if you are unable to provide for them financially?”

“Existing children should be prioritised.”

“Just add it to my tax bill.”

“Why should the rest of us pay?”

Of course this is just some of the comments, others were very positive. But the fact that these opinions exist – especially the first one, which I saw in various forms under a number of articles – is probably a lot to do with why people feel they can’t talk about IVF and fertility openly. Why would I have children if I can’t provide for them financially? How dare you. I can feel my blood beginning to boil.

There are no black and white cases with IVF – rarely would two couples have exactly the same criteria

Infertility is a medical condition. That’s what it is. There should be no shame attached to it, none at all. It deserves assistance just as someone with a heart condition deserves assistance from the State we all pay our taxes to.

How many attempts will they fund, and will it be means tested?

There are no black and white cases with IVF – rarely would two couples have exactly the same criteria, or exactly the same issues. There are so many varieties and aspects of infertility that can determine how your treatment will go.

It is hard to categorise everyone and say how many tries someone will need, but let’s assume they go with the UK format of giving everyone three attempts because that is on average how often people need for a baby. I really don’t believe it should be means tested based on how varied each couple’s experience and therefore costs will be.

Jennifer, Rian and Alex.
Jennifer, Rian and Alex.

To means test it seems very unfair to me given the range of different processes that might be needed in certain cases. Additionally, a couple might find they need a different course of treatment halfway through one round. For example, one round of IVF might lead them to discover intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) as a better option for them to achieve success.

Will private clinics stay private?

It’s not that I think they should. But, if the Government is going to fund this treatment, where will they base the treatment from? Will they direct people to one or two hospital-based clinics, and if so, how will this affect the waiting times that are already quite long to even get a first appointment?

At the moment, or at least when we started our treatment in 2013, there was around a six-week waiting time to get our first consultation. We started the process in April and started the treatment around August of that year. We then had to pause treatment (not by choice) and freeze our embryos. It was the following February by the time we were ready to transfer one embryo. That’s almost a whole year before you get to actually being pregnant or not – not counting the four previous years when we were trying on our own and undergoing tests to determine what might be wrong.

Maybe having this insight and knowing what that fear of never having my own child feels like, puts me in a better position to judge it

So my worry is, if it is funded and treatment is channelled to one or two clinics, how will this affect success rates? A year is a very long time in fertility – much can change, with success rates getting lower for women over 40.

Ethics

Minister for Health Simon Harris has also announced that as part of the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill, he intends to outlaw and/or regulate reproduction assistance given by surrogates and egg or sperm donors. Without knowing more details of what exactly this will include, I imagine this would restrict a lot of people from trying to become parents if surrogacy or donation is their only hope.

I’m biased in my opinion of this obviously, because my two children were conceived in a lab, along with five other embryos, four of which are still frozen now. But maybe having this insight and knowing what that fear of never having my own child feels like, puts me in a better position to judge it. But so many things need to be considered. Where do we draw the line? Should religion play a part? If so, whose religion? Perhaps a discussion for another day.

But ultimately I think it would be a very negative policy to stop surrogacy and donor eggs and sperm as an option for people.

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