Sunday, February 25, 2018

A woman’s struggle

Baby at last after series of failed fertility treatments


Mark Fraser

For Lisa Browne (not her real name) conception has been an uphill battle.

Following a series of failed in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatments, her life’s savings almost completely depleted and the chance of bringing a new life into this world seemingly impossible, her story is a lesson in perseverance.

No doubt you’ve heard all sorts of statistics about fertility after 35. 

For women over 40, pregnancies can be a challenge and it’s not encouraging when studies show that fertility begins to decline at 30 and accelerates after 35. At 40, the chance of getting pregnant without assisted reproductive technology is around ten per cent—after 45, it drops to less than per cent. But there is hope as scientific advances have made it possible for more and more women to get pregnant later in life.

In 2010, Browne sought treatment after several medical issues, including diagnosis of severe endometriosis, PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) and low ovarian reserve which reduced her chances of a natural conception. Several series of invitro fertility procedures have cost Browne and her husband upwards of $120,000.

Dr Juliet Skinner, consultant gynaecologist, and head of the Barbados Fertility Centre, who was recently in Trinidad for a free annual conference titled ‘From Diagnoses to Conception”, said the single biggest factor for the worldwide rise in infertility was that women are delaying their childbearing; however, this could lead to them experiencing medical problems to conceive when they do decide to have children.

Browne’s experience is a reality faced by countless women in the Caribbean, and millions more worldwide. 

Many regard the high cost of fertility treatment, though, as beyond their means, and give up on their dream of becoming parents before they even try.  A round of IVF treatment in places like the US and UK can cost upwards of US$12,000. Even in the Caribbean, where these costs are typically halved, it can still be enough to discourage hopeful parents from exploring the possibilities. 

With her husband at her side, Browne made up her mind that she would exhaust every avenue available to her. Despite their determination, the couple planned for the possibility of needing at least three rounds of IVF treatment, and budgeted accordingly.

“If you have a chance to get something you wanted, that personal motivation comes in. Nothing is too much for that. Once we spoke to the bank and they were willing to lend us the money to do it, that was great,” Browne said

The first three outcomes at a local clinic were not what they had hoped for with three failed tries, and funds were quickly being depleted. Browne, who opted to do her fourth round of IVF at the Barbados Fertility Centre (BFC), which also has a team in Trinidad, described the process as “a breath of fresh air”.

“The first time I tried IVF it didn’t work out but I still wanted to give it another try. We took a loan and that’s what we’ve been doing ever since. We did four to five years of treatments and I finally got pregnant at the end of 2011. It was a an overwhelming experience I didn’t believe it because going through home pregnancy tests after pregnancy tests all the time and seeing the negative results took its toll emotionally. I got chemically pregnant once and it didn’t work out. So when I saw the positive results this time I held back my emotions. It was Christmas Eve and it was the perfect surprise but I delayed my excitement. Even though I was happy I was still holding back somewhat,” Browne said.

Browne spent months into her pregnancy with roller coaster emotions—she was hopeful yet wary. “The entire nine months I was cautious because I knew that so much could have happened; so much could change. I was hoping and praying that everything would turn out great,” Browne said.

Browne said her experience at the BFC was a great experience. “When I went there it was like a real vacation. After the successive failed IVF cycles, it was very welcoming for me. I didn’t feel the stress of being on treatment.” 

Browne’s persistence was rewarded when she gave birth to a healthy baby girl. “My daughter is 21 months. She is perfect for me. I definitely look forward to having another child I will have to repeat the treatments but it’s worth it. Motherhood has taught me a lot. Actually it has taught me about what really matters in life. You really don’t know true unconditional love,” Browne said. 

Browne urged other women to try treatment. “I urge you not to give up. Fulfil your desire to have a baby. Once it’s God’s plan for your life it will happen. Don’t give up and don’t look at any situation as hopeless. You have to try and keep trying,” Browne said. 

Financial planner Aliyah Jaggessar says couples seeking IVF treatment typically have three options for funding. These are savings—whether using existing savings or creating a longer-term savings plan or assets (such as an inheritance) securing a loan, or going the mortgage route.

“Yes, there is a cost to this, but we don’t want the cost to be a deterrent to you, especially when time is against you,” Jaggessar  said.

To help clients determine the possibilities for financing fertility care, Jaggessar said it is important to first assess their finances and then use a financial calculator to evaluate their options, and then discuss their options based on that information.

Dr Juliet Skinner, consultant gynaecologist, and head of the Barbados Fertility Centre, said they have seen 85 per cent of their patients coming from outside of Barbados due to the centre’s significantly lower costs and medical tourism thrust.