'Worried My Time's Up': IVF Treatments On Hold Because Of Coronavirus
For most couples, the decision to turn to IVF comes at the end of many frustrating months or even years. Now the coronavirus is making that emotionally, physically and financially grueling journey even tougher.
The federal government's elective surgery ban has forced IVF clinics to postpone many of their services, distressing women like Adelaide-mum Karen Butler.
It took three years of failed IVF attempts before her daughter Willow was born 14 months ago.
"Willow was a miracle. So we're very lucky to have her and I'm worried that we're not going to be able to give her a sibling," she told 10 daily.
She and her husband, whose infertility is 'unexplained', have just one embryo left.
"If that doesn't work, which we believe is unlikely, then unfortunately we have to turn to full rounds of IVF again, which means at the moment with the ban, that's not going to be possible."
"I'm worried that we don't know how long this will go on for, so we don't know how long it is until IVF surgeries are reinstated and I'm worried that it's going to be 12 months, 18 months down the track and my time's up."
No Time To Waste
IVF specialist Dr Michelle Wellman, from Fertility SA, empathises with Karen and the thousands of women like her.
It's not simply a question of impatience, many women with fertility issues just don't have time on their side.
"We do recognise that it may have a devastating impact on those people who have a reduced window of time to conceive, such as those who are older or have fewer eggs," Dr Wellman told 10 daily.
"For a lot of women, that window, particularly by the time they get to the point of requiring treatment, has shortened quite considerably and for them it's going to be very very difficult.
"If it's one or two months perhaps not so much, but the problem is in this situation is the uncertainty, and it may go on for many more months."
Many clinics advise that while they can't start new treatment cycles, they intend to continue to care for women midway through egg collection, which requires weeks of injecting strong hormonal drugs beforehand.
Melbourne IVF advises that there will be some exemptions, "for example, fertility preservation patients, who urgently need to freeze eggs and sperm before cancer treatment, their fast-tracked care will understandably continue."
IVF is usually the only way same-sex couples can start a family too.
The Fertility Society of Australia writes on its website that while its mission is to help create families, "the urgency of controlling the COVID-19 outbreak however now requires extraordinary measures from every individual in order to save families."
Shannon Calabro started an IVF support group on Facebook seven years ago, after finding her infertility journey a lonely one.
She's been inundated in recent days with stories of women who understand why their treatment has to stop, but are no less devastated.
"Seek the counseling that the clinics offer you... you need that. Because if this doesn't get changed, and IVF can't go ahead, it affects people mentally as well, not being able to go ahead with your families.
"It's just so important that you do get that support."
Professor Kelton Tremellen, the medical director of Repromed, agrees that women need to speak to their GP or IVF clinic during this time of uncertainty.
"We all understand feeling a significant amount of anxiety and, believe me, we will do our utmost to get going with a full service of treatment as soon as we can, as soon as the government allows us to."
For more information please contact your GP, IVF clinic or visit www.fertilitysociety.com.au.