Four Ways Men Can Support Their Spouses During In Vitro Fertilization


Intracytoplasmic sperm injection
Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is a medical procedure where a woman’s eggs are removed from her ovaries and fertilized in a lab with sperm from her husband, partner or a selected donor.  The embryos created from the fertilization are returned to her uterus, or the uterus of a surrogate mother, in hopes of creating a pregnancy.  The success rate for this procedure for a woman of 35-years-old is between 30-35% assuming that the eggs are fertilized.  If the sperm provider suffers from infertility issues such as low sperm motility or movement, then intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) may be necessary.  ICSI is a delicate procedure requiring the lab technician to inject a single sperm into the egg, and is performed at an additional cost.

The cost of IVF varies across Canada, but in Ontario a couple can expect to pay;

Between $4,500 – $7,000 per cycle, $6,000 – $8,150 if ICSI is required and between $2,000 – $7,000 for medication.  Additional costs may include fees for initial consultations and/or registration with the fertility clinic, other recommended services and procedures such as assisted embryo hatching, legal fees for egg, sperm or embryo donor contracts and surrogacy contacts, and other miscellaneous expenses such as travel costs and lodging as needed.

As the model currently exists, IVF is not affordable for everyone.

My good friend Moses and his wife have two wonderful children conceived through IVF.  He described the journey towards becoming a family as stressful, confusing and frustrating at times.  Throughout the process, Moses became a cofacilitator at an infertility support group and he helped encourage men to take an active role in the support group.  He says it’s very important that both members of an infertile couple understand it’s okay to be unsure of what will happen down the road.

Moses also explained that when facing infertility and uncertainty it is very common that both husband and wife feel puzzled.  Getting past the misconception that infertility is primarily a female problem and that separate or together, there should not be any embarrassment that they are unable to conceive.  There is a ton of information available on websites, but the most meaningful information comes through discussions with couples who have experienced, or are experiencing the same issues.

In a previous post, I highlighted how many couples who are unable to conceive first begin to investigate the issue with their doctors and with specialists well before sharing the results with family and friends.  As a result, they endure the frustration of having to answer as to why there do not have children yet, or when they do inform family of their fertility issues, they have to sit through uninformed, yet supportive, comments such as; “it’s going to be all right”, or “relax, and it will all work out”.  Without having time to learn about infertility and IVF those are the most supportive comments many parents and close friends can come up with.

In Moses’ case, he realized there was a plethora of information available online, but having to sort through and decide what was reputable, and applicable to their specific situation was difficult and more specifically, he found that there was very little information available to assist men in dealing with infertility and even less geared towards men surrounding IVF.

Once Moses and his wife found a support group through their hospital, Moses noted what that some couples were very open and engaging, while others preferred to just sit back and listen.  He noted that the men, unless directly engaged, tended to observe more than participate and being the kind of person he is, Moses spoke up during these sessions – asking questions, stating facts and citing sources – which provided a forum for other men in the group to participate more actively.

As a result, Moses was asked to co-facilitate some of these support groups and provide the male perspective in order to assist men in the group to understand what they were feeling and that it was okay to be unsure of what would happen down the road or that their spouses were also puzzled, confused, frustrated, angry, and sad and it was okay if they were too.  I learned that the average number of years that couples are full of stress, blame, resentment and self-doubt is 2.4.

I also learned from Moses that during this period of time in which the woman has to come to grips with the fact that she may not be able to conceive a baby.  The father needs to play a huge part in this life-altering realization beginning with listening and ending with supporting.

Here are the 4 key pillars of support men need to offer during infertility, according to Moses:

1.  Listen – with your eyes and ears.  Don’t wait for your wife to come to you to talk.  Sense when she needs your support, whether it’s just to have you listen or for her to vent at.  You know she’s have a really tough time and it’s the time you need to be hyper aware of her needs.  By failing to step up at this point could cause irreparable damage to the relationship which she may never get over.

2.  Acknowledge that you are not able to sort through this by yourself.  As men, we have this tendency to try to solve problems regardless of whether there is a solution available or if our opinions are needed at that moment.  But there is not a solution available and with infertility being the serious problem that it is – tensions are already high – and our offer of a solution is not helpful.  Instead, we need to seek the help of professionals who deal with infertility and who have first-hand experience with the next steps and we need to speak with them, with others in the same situations and with organizations who are there to assist, in order to make sure that we can learn, educate ourselves and support our wives.

3.  Seek out opportunities to speak with like-minded people.  Briefly touched on in the previous point, you cannot underestimate the importance of speaking with like-minded people who have either gone through this with success or who have not had success as it provides a window into where your mindset could be in six-months, a year, or two-years.  In addition, these couples may have tried something different or picked up a trick or technique which might be beneficial down the road or at the very worst case, these couples may be able to offer up support or hope which can help you down the road as the going gets tough.

4.  Educate yourself – this is huge – give yourself power.  As in every situation, motivated people do their homework and continue to keep up the pace on the current goings-on in every facet of their lives.  In the workplace, they continue to educate themselves because they want to learn more, know more and get a higher degree which can help them get a better position and in life, people who want to stay healthy stay up-to-date on the latest trends and reports.  Researching and learning about infertility, treatments, IVF, risks and rewards helps prepare couples for the decisions they have to make and what their future will look like.

It makes sense that couples who want families so bad that they are willing to give up their bodies and their life savings remain on top of the latest trends in treatment of infertility, drugs, and the side-effects on the woman and the potential babies and on IVF and risks, rewards and expected length of time.

When asked whether or not he felt that each province should cover the cost of IVF treatments in order to reduce the cost to taxpayers of multiple births, Moses adamantly responded that “YES!”  Not only does the funding of IVF reduce the costs to taxpayers but it also helps couples who want children more than anything else in the world not have to lose everything in order to have them.  Having to pay for multiple treatments, without any government intervention, made it perfectly clear to Moses that IVF is not available to everyone and it should be.

In this day and age where society worries about the breakdown in the family unit, it is refreshing to see couples who are trying their hardest to become families knowing the importance of this family unit to them and that their child(ren) would be supported and nurtured through thick and thin.

It makes sense to fund IVF in order to keep premature babies and mommies out of the hospital and keep that costs off the taxpayer.  It also makes sense to help couples who want children more than anything else in the world, try to realize that dream.

Please follow @OHIP4IVF on Twitter or the hashtag #OHIP4IVF to support government funding for IVF.  Help other couples become parents, without the financial burden that comes with infertility.

*I am sharing my story as a member of the Conceivable Dreams blog team, and have been compensated for this post.  Opinions and the words which I have written are all my own.
 
You can find more information here;
 
http://www.twitter.com/ohip4ivf
http://www.facebook.com/conceivabledreams
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IVF Part 2. Provincial Funding of IVF and Infertility are needed. Addressing Reader Emails.


English: Causes of infertility, data compiled ...
English: Causes of infertility, data compiled in the United Kingdom 2009. Reference: Regulated fertility services: a commissioning aid – June 2009, from the Department of Health UK (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a follow-up to my earlier piece on IVF, and the need for provincial governments in Canada to fund it for humanistic and financial reasons, I wanted to address some of the comments I received via email.  I found it odd that no one had posted comments on my blog, but when I logged into my email, I saw that people felt more comfortable emailing me from a fake email address and under the name “anonymous”.

The tone of the emails centred around a belief – by many – that the reasons for infertility and the recent focus around IVF treatment – and request to have taxpayers fund it, comes from a belief infertility issues are created by woman who are choosingtheir careers over their responsibility to bear children.  This waiting is causing less fertile eggs and hence problems conceiving and thus, it has been pointed out to me, the obvious solution is to not play G-d, but for woman to start having babies earlier in life.  Problem solved.

WOW.

Wrong.

So to be clear and to address that belief, I scoured the Internet for hours, days, weeks and months in order to find some supporting data on which to make this assertion.

First off, this is not just a “Western” issue with woman wanting careers first, then babies, and when they cannot conceive they know they have this expensive not-guaranteed treatment in their back pocket.  In fact, the rate of infertile couples is on the rise both in developed and developing countries.  Infertility is a cause of great suffering for those involved and their legitimate desire to have a child / children, requires the attention of society.  With that, it must be stated that modern lifestyle patterns do play an important role in the problem of infertility.

But infertility needs to be addressed – IVF aside as it is one possible treatment for the greater problem.  Infertility is caused by multiple factors and, consequently, necessitates a broader response from prospective parents, doctors, scientists and government than just looking to find a possible solution after infertility has been diagnosed, by turning to research in artificial reproductive treatment.

I think those people who sent me the anonymous messages are familiar with the work of a scholar named Hans Rudolf Tinneberg, who teaches at the Justus-Liebig University in Germany because he feels that “the true challenge is that of changing the mental attitude of people so that they procreate when it is biologically the optimal age to do that, between 21 and 23 years old”.

Hmmmm.

This changes everything, right?  To suggest that woman place procreation at the top of their list at such a young age, when they are still in University / College, just getting started in the work force and find their way would appear to be a backward statement on a forward thinking society.  Yes, it makes sense to bring attention to being healthy from that age forward, but to do anything else would be met with great resistance and so it should.

This is, after all an “expert” speaking from a scientific perspective on what the most effective solution to infertility would be!  Surely, this statement should not be taken completely out of context, right?  When referring to lifestyle playing an important part in infertility, it’s not just couples waiting to have children, but also it depends on social and economic structures that lead people to marry and decide to have children at an older age.  Not everyone wants to wait until they are in their late 30’s to have children and not every family can afford to have children in their early 20’s.

So now we find that there is a role which must be filled by government in order to combat infertility and that is through education.  Eating disorders like anorexia, obesity, excessive body exercise and stress, need to be mentioned at an early age and the acknowledgement that there is a negative impact of environmental pollution on fertility and the harmful consequences of active and passive smoking to female and male infertility.  Not that a 15-year-old is going to understand that when trying to fit into a size zero prom dress like her friends can and like they do on TV.

There also needs to be some discussion around infertility beyond just the science of it, to include spirituality, psychology and environmental impacts because the problem of infertility is not just a medical issue.

Until the government comes up with a plan to combat rising infertility for all people, then it should provide assistance for those wanting to have children by funding IVF.  The savings on the healthcare system have already been clearly documented – the aftercare for multiple births is very expensive and paid for by taxpayers and multiple births are caused by the fact that IVF is expensive and couples (and doctors) are attempting to fertilize multiple eggs at once hoping one birth will stick.  This process is clearly broken.

What we can find comfort in, is that all experts concurred on the fact that IVF is not the only solution to infertility and should not be presented as such when infertile couples call upon family doctors, gynaecologists and fertility specialists for help.  Moreover, it is evident from empirical research that IVF does not address the causes of infertility and it is statistically proven that, since its outcome, it didn’t solve the problem of infertility. The problem is still there.

I could not find Canadian-specific numbers but studies conducted in the US, showed that  99.5% of couple with infertility issues were not able to conceive through IVF, in the US, and in addition often IVF is presented as the sole solution.  Without diagnostic investigation patients are left  unaware about the true cause of their infertility and with a lot less money as a result of the cost of this procedure.  I’m not even sure the year from which this data came, but you get the point.  This process is broken and available to those who have money or who wish to risk everything for the chance to bear their own children.

Everyone who emailed me agrees that it would be questionable to fully fund IVF without spending the time and money to research the problems of infertility and make progress to tackle its roots at the same time.  This would also be a perfect time to study whether infertile couples were being correctly diagnosed, keeping in mind the multi factors of infertility, and eventually have access, if it is the case, to easier and cheaper treatments other than IVF, but this is still very much down the road.

Until provincial governments like Ontario and Alberta are able to address infertility growth, then they should do the right things and help these families, help all families, get equal access to IVF treatment, save taxpayers dollars, then research infertility on a bigger scale and let’s get this broken process fixed.

Infertility is a serious problem and needs to be tackled accordingly.  NOW.

UK’s IVF funding effort ‘feeble’ (bbc.co.uk)