This virus is shit. Nope… wait… it’s the shittiest of shit. Thousands are dying, hundreds of thousands are sick and hospitalized, and millions are without jobs. Parents are also learning how to homeschool their kids whom they never intended to homeschool #workingmomforlife. People who were “just getting by” now have no idea how they’re going to put food on the table. Women, men, and children in abusive households are having to hunker down with their most feared relatives. Mental health is in crisis-mode. Honestly, we won’t even know the extent of the damage from this virus until well after all is said and done. Cue anxiety attack…
The victims of COVID-19 go well beyond the ones who are sick and dying. They include doctors and nurses who will inherently get burnt out from their jobs. They include those who cannot be at a funeral of their loved ones because of social distancing measures. They include people who can’t find homes because they were in the middle of a move, mid-pandemic. The list goes on. One particular subset of victims that are close to my heart are those who are currently undergoing infertility testing and treatments.
As more and more non-essential procedures are being cancelled due to COVID-19 (rightly so, don’t get me wrong), that means more and more couples are putting off their plans to start or add to their family. I struggled with fertility, myself, for four years and, honestly, still have PTSD from it. Ultimately, my husband and I welcomed a son via IVF (in-vitro fertilization) in 2017 and we have completed our family (we donated our embryos last year for research purposes). Only now, I’m realizing we are one of the lucky ones.
A friend of mine recently reached out to me with some frustrations she knew I would understand. She has struggled with infertility for quite some time and already has children via IVF as well. She has been wanting a third child and just started her last round of IVF this past February in the hopes of officially being pregnant come March.
Then COVID-19 happened and everything stalled.
So let’s take a quick step back for those of you who might not know what it’s like to get pregnant via IVF.
Here are the basic steps (and when I say basic, I mean BASIC):
- Try to get pregnant for at least a year if you’re under 35 (6 months if you’re over 35)
- Get diagnosed with infertility
- Start testing for causes of infertility (think lots of blood draws, internal ultrasounds, laparoscopies, hysteroscopies, the list goes on)
- If you’re “lucky”, you get diagnosed with a particular type of infertility: male infertility (low sperm count, etc.), endometriosis, PCOS, or combinations of everything
- Treat your infertility through procedures if you can: laparoscopies to clear out endometrial tissue, get polyps removed, change your diet, etc.
- Try to get pregnant naturally after said treatments
- If you can’t treat your infertility or if you’re like me and have unexplained infertility, you go straight to ART (artificial reproductive technology) or maybe adoption. If ART, usually you start with an IUI (intrauterine insemination) and end at IVF if everything else fails
- Repeat until pregnant (or burnt out, tired, broke, frustrated, depressed, or until your body just can’t take it anymore)
Meanwhile, infertility testing and treatment aren’t always covered by insurance. So for one round of IVF, you’re looking anywhere from $20,000-$35,000 (when all was said and done, my son cost $29,000) out of pocket. And IVF doesn’t just drain your bank account, it drains your physical and mental health.
Side Effects of Infertility Treatments
Side effects of the hormones range from bloating, to bruising, to irritability, to severe cramping. Think PMS but times a thousand. Mentally, you’re put through the ringer. Constantly waiting for results from the doctor or from that stick you just peed on. Almost all those struggling with infertility also suffer from some form of depression during the process. Therapy isn’t always covered by insurance either. So then people suffer from anxiety because they’re stressed that they won’t be able to afford enough treatments to get pregnant (many times, it takes multiple rounds of IVF to get pregnant). And then they’re told by loving but naive friends and family that “if you just relax, it’ll happen”. Ugh…
So back to my friend I told you about. She had just finished her base testing (pretty standard if it’s been awhile since you’ve been to a reproductive endocrinologist) and ordered all her fertility drugs to begin the process of her embryo transfer (she already had three embryos still frozen from her previous egg retrieval). She was on her third day of hormone injections when the stay-at-home order in her state was issued. All non-essential businesses and medical procedures were put on hold. She was utterly devastated.
Many of the fertility drugs have a short shelf life. Once their expiration hits, that’s it, they have to be thrown out. And it’s not like she can just return them and get her money back. So that’s thousands of dollars worth of fertility drugs down the drain. So, where is she supposed to go from here? I mean, just imagine you’ve been desperately trying to get pregnant for five years. You’ve done all the tests, the injections, been through therapy, and all of that led to a canceled embryo transfer. You’ve stopped hormones because who knows when your embryo transfer will occur now. That’s $7,000 just gone. And then, what if… just WHAT IF you only had enough money for one try. Your hopes of becoming a parent have literally dried up.
Just think about that statement.
Because of one virus, many are left with no options to start or expand their family. The life they had imagined is no longer. I get it, you can’t die from infertility like you can from COVID-19, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t grief over a loss, over a human you almost had.
I’m lucky enough to not know anybody dying from this virus, but I do many who will no longer be parents – something they had so desperately yearned for, for years. And there’s huge mourning in that. So, to all of you struggling with this, I get it. I understand the yearning and the heartache and the heartbreak.
There’s one thing I know for sure, you’ll get through this. The women I’ve known who have struggled with infertility are the strongest fucking women I have ever encountered. So you’ll get through this, I swear. And I’ll be here through it all so reach out if you need anything.