We never thought it would happen to us. Infertility was “other couple’s problem”-not ours. John and I were in our early thirties, fit, active with absolutely no health problems. We were career driven and had spent the better part of our twenties working hard to achieve some kind of financial security in order to start a family. Yet, after nearly a year and a half of trying to conceive, we had nothing to show besides our sheer disappointment.
Dreams Of Starting A Family
Growing up in a family of five children, I had always pictured myself as the modern day mum with a gaggle of screaming child running around the house, food and paint splattered on the walls and ceiling. John (35) and I (34) met in law school and one of the things that helped solidify our relationship, and later our marriage, was the shared dream of having a big family. John, like myself, came from a large family (the oldest of four boys) and becoming a father had always felt like part of his destiny. We were used to working hard at school and in our firms, but starting a family had always seemed like something that would come easy, and naturally when the time was right. Neither of us could have imagined that infertility would soon become one of the most challenging, exhausting, yet rewarding journeys of our life.
Our infertility journey began in Cardiff, Wales, were John and I lived and worked at the time. We first visited our general practitioner and he recommended we visit a fertility specialist in town and begin discussing our options. John and I knew from the start that we might not be able to rely upon our national healthcare system, NHS, to help fund our treatment. One year prior, friends of ours (both 34 at the time) were approved for IVF treatment under NHS, but were only covered for two full cycles and placed on an 8 month waiting list due to a lack of approved Welsh clinics. Even for women under the age of 35, it may take up to 3-4, sometimes 5-6 full cycles of IVF until successful. After two unsuccessful cycles they ended up seeking treatment from a private clinic in London, where each round cost north of £6,000, and this did not include the initial consultation, necessary STD testing or hormone stimulation medication.The NHS state that around 32.2% of IVF treatments for women aged 35 or under result in live births, this percentage declines with the age of the woman being treated, by the time a woman is 44 there is just a 1.9% chance of success.
Eventually John and I were approved under NHS and put on a 6 month waiting list. In the meantime, I joined numerous online forums, investigated clinics, and read every infertility book I could get my hands on. It was amazing how quickly my life became consumed with the topic of infertility. John used to tease me about the ridiculous amount of knowledge I had about IVF, even before our first treatment, but I think we both knew my information obsession was a distraction from my fear of maybe never becoming a mother.
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We we finally began our first treatment cycle at a clinic in Wales where our physician explained that the case of our infertility was due to contributing factors- from both John and myself. For women, with each passing year of ovulation the number and quality of available eggs diminish. By age 30, the chances of having a baby begins to decrease by 3-5% each year. After age 40, fertility reduces to an even greater extent. After a semen analysis, it was also revealed that John had a below average sperm count- likely due to environmental factors such as “gender-bending” chemicals and or other lifestyle influences.
We proceeded with the first cycle, and our physician was able to extract several healthy embryo to be fertilized and transferred. At the time, and according to other IVF patients I’d spoken with, it’s common to go into your first cycle with an “all-or-nothing” mentality. Any fertility specialist worth their salt will tell you that 3 or more full IVF cycles may be required before becoming pregnant, but this is easy to forget when you’re in the physical, emotional midst of it all.
When the cycle was complete, John and I waited the necessary two weeks before taking an at home pregnancy test. The results? Negative.
If At First You Don’t Succeed
I was crushed, but John encouraged me to stay positive and that we’d keep trying. Typically after the first cycle it is possible to begin a second cycle after one or two complete menstrual cycles, however, with the long wait times we knew that time was not in our favor be staying in the UK. That is when I hopped back on the web and started to do some research. It was time for a new plan.
Within days I had posted on every IVF discussion board I could find, joined online support groups and exchanged dozens of emails with other patients in search of a better solution. To my surprise, an overwhelming majority recommended I look at clinics abroad. I was not convinced. Surely people were going abroad for lower prices, but didn’t this mean quality would suffer? Luckily many other former patients (many of which are now happy parents) had this same concern in the beginning. A woman named Ava from Germany, who became an IVF pen pal of sorts, wrote me the following:
“Don’t feel alone Marie, my husband and I had the same worries about quality and the state of the clinics abroad. We needed something affordable, but also with high standards and success rates. To help ensure that we find a trustworthy clinic we began working with a medical travel facilitator. This changed everything. We were able to compare quotes, explore each clinic and their accreditations, speak with our physician directly and in addition, all of our travel and accommodation was arranged for us. It helped eliminate a lot of stress during the process and we finally felt like we had someone on our side.”
Still hesitant, I didn’t see the harm in reaching out to a medical travel facilitator myself. It didn’t take long until I started to see why Ava was so keen on her discovery. I was immediately provided with quotes, clinic profiles, step-by-step treatment guides, booking dates and travel options. It was full-service, and exactly what any (already stressed and mentally drained) IVF couple could ask for. John was on board and in 3 weeks we were on our first trip to Prague, Czech Republic.
Setting Our Sights Abroad
As soon as we arrived we were greeted at the airport by our medical travel representative. After being escorted to our hotel to check in, John and I had our initial consultation at a state-of-the-art clinic, lasting about 90 minutes. Before leaving Wales, we’d been prepped on what medical documents to bring from our previous IVF treatment, so everything was prepared. Our physician discussed the treatment plan with us in detail, completed the standard testing and administered my hormone stimulating medication. At this time some couples chose to travel home and divide their treatment into two trips, but after the strain John and I’s relationship had been under the past few months, and with the help of our full-service facilitator, we decided to turn this IVF cycle into a mini-holiday.
For about 6 days we enjoyed Prague’s stunning views, cobblestone streets and old world charm, relaxing in our hotel and finally spending some quality time together that didn’t involve appointments and clinic waiting rooms. During this time one ultrasound was performed to monitor the stimulation and assess the outcome.
After 7 days John and I returned to the clinic for the second phase. Once again, this included an embryo retrieval, sperm collections, fertilization period and embryo transfer. Our physician and I agreed to transfer two embryo- a standard number to increase success rates. An hour after the procedure, John and I were free to go. In all, our full-cycle (testing and medication included) cost £1944. With flights and accommodation included our total trip came to about £2900, still £3100 less than our friends in the UK.
Two weeks after arriving home, John and I finally prepared ourselves for the second pregnancy test. The results: Positive! We were overwhelmed with joy. All the stress of the past two and a half years faded away in an instant and just three months ago we welcomed a beautiful baby girl into the world, Jenny.
Since IVF our lives have changed (for the better), and I’ve had a lot of people tell me how “brave” and “strong” John and I are for enduring the IVF process- but I think it’s more than that. IVF isn’t about bravery or strength, but instead at the core, about the unwavering desire to start a family, and the lengths you will go to make your dreams of parenthood a reality. It is a difficult process to undergo as a couple, both physically and emotionally, and we are eternally grateful for our families, the skills and knowledge of our talented physician, the clinic staff for making us comfortable. And above all, we are appreciative for the assistance and excellent service of our medical travel facilitator. Without their help and organization and we would have never connected the dots and made our trip, treatment, and new family possible.
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