IVF unpacked: from making the decision to giving birth

3 min read

One in seven Australian couples faces fertility* issues at some point. Here’s what you need to know before deciding whether IVF fertility treatment is right for you. 

The world’s first IVF baby, Louise Brown, was born in the UK in 1978. Since then, more than five million infants have been born via IVF. For women going through the process, however, such dizzying statistics are not always comforting. The endless appointments, injections, the waiting, the hormonal rollercoaster – and sometimes the crushing disappointment – can make the road to motherhood a long and painful one, albeit with the ultimate reward at the end if things work out. Here are some questions to ask yourself before you decide.

Do I need IVF?

Been trying for months? Don’t panic. “The first step is an assessment, to work out why someone and her partner are unable to conceive,” says Associate Professor Peter Illingworth, fertility specialist at IVF Australia. “Expect ultrasounds and blood tests, checking out all possible issues – from pelvic and uterine health to fallopian tubes to egg and sperm counts,” he adds.

What are the alternatives?

It depends on the cause of the problem. “If a woman is not ovulating correctly, fertility drugs might help. If she has endometriosis, surgery might help. If the man’s sperm count is low, vitamins can help,” Associate Professor Illingworth says.

“Most couples only go to IVF when everything else has failed or because of a medical problem that can’t be solved, such as blocked fallopian tubes.”

What does IVF involve?

Associate Professor Illingworth says step one is egg collection. “In a standard menstrual cycle, just one egg grows in the ovary, inside a tiny sac. But, with IVF, the patient undergoes follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) injections over two weeks, which produces multiple eggs,” he explains.

“Then there’s a hospital procedure, monitored by ultrasound, during which the eggs are sucked out of the ovaries,” Associate Professor Illingworth says. “Usually around nine or 10 eggs are collected, taken into an IVF lab and joined with the partner (or donor’s) sperm. The egg and sperm are placed in a dish for fertilisation to take place. If it doesn’t happen, a single sperm is injected into each egg in process called Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI).”

“The eggs are grown for a few days and the best resulting embryo is placed in the uterus, while any spare embryos are frozen for later use,” Associate Professor Illingworth says. “From there it’s a waiting game. It takes up to 10 days for the embryo to turn into a pregnancy – or not.”

What does IVF cost?

Costs vary from clinic to clinic and Associate Professor Illingworth advises that at a premium clinic you can expect to pay around $9,000 per cycle, of which $5,000 will be refunded by Medicare.

What’s it like to go through IVF?

Meet Bianca from Ipswich. “I’ve had severe health issues over the years,” she says. “Ten years ago, I had surgery and was told that, if I didn’t fall pregnant within six months, I’d have to go through IVF.”

However, after seeing a naturopath for 10 months, Bianca fell pregnant with her daughter, who is now nine.

Having a second child wasn’t so easy. “My health declined. I just got sicker and sicker. I had more surgery, saw more doctors and had more tests. I tried to duplicate what happened with my first pregnancy, but it didn’t work. Then we found out there was a ‘male factor’ as well.”

So, at age 40, Bianca bit the bullet. When the first IVF cycle failed, she was devastated. “It was like my husband and I were in an earthquake. Our heads were spinning. It was incredibly sad. There was only one embryo and it was my body, my immune system, which killed it.”

However, the couple bravely endured a second cycle, which had a happier ending. “Even though it worked, we felt very cautious because of what had happened before. We were guarded, rather than elated. It was hard to believe it was real.” she recalls.

But, real it very much was, and nine months later, along came a healthy baby boy. “He’s such a happy boy, such a joy!” Bianca says.

Bianca’s tips for people facing IVF?

“It’s important to find people to support you. That might not necessarily be your good friends, who can sometimes have preconceptions about what should happen, but haven’t been through it themselves.”

Bianca suggests getting in touch with counsellors and/or psychologists. And don’t underestimate the power of 21st century support in the form of social networks, she adds. “I found joining a Facebook group really helpful. Many members were going through it at the same time and others had been there before. Whenever I had a check-up or scan, I could chat to 20 people who knew exactly how I was feeling at that moment. And I made some lovely friendships that continue to this day.”

Disclaimer: Bianca is not a qualified medical practitioner. This information is based on her own personal experience and may not be suitable for everyone.  

*Professor Robert McLachlan, 'The Truth About Male Infertility', monashivf.com, accessed 20 July 2016.

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This information is current as at 16/12/2016.

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