With the coronavirus crisis creating a surreal new normal, everyone’s stress level is likely to be escalated. But anyone who is in the midst of fertility treatments during this pandemic is 100 times more stressed, explains Amy Klein, author of The Trying Game: Get Through Fertility Treatment and Get Pregnant Without Losing Your Mind (Penguin/Random House).
The inability to have a child affects 6.7M women in the U.S, according to a Centers for Disease Control study, or about 11% of the reproductive age population. One in eight couples in the United States report having trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy and nearly 12% of women have received infertility services in their lifetime, according to another Centers for Disease Control study. Given limited access to insurance coverage and the high cost of assisted reproductive technology (ART), many families incur substantial debt or are prevented from seeking treatment due to the financial burden.
Klein, speaking on March 25 to participants in an online Hadassah Magazine Discussion Group, said that, not only do women struggling with infertility feel out of sync with all those mothers complaining about how difficult it is to entertain their children at home, but they are also facing the problem of being unable to get their hormone injections and blood work that is integral to their treatments.
As one woman who just had a miscarriage told Klein, “I would give anything to be home with my kids.”
Compounding their frustrations, many women with fertility problems, especially those who are high risk, are being advised not to try to get pregnant now because this puts an extra burden on our hospitals. What if they end up miscarrying or needing to be hospitalized during a complicated pregnancy? They could be taking up a bed needed by someone ill with the coronavirus, they are told.
Even in normal times, the journey through the world of fertility treatments is difficult, Klein said. She, herself, struggled for three years to have a child and, finally, has a daughter thanks to countless medical interventions. Klein, a health journalist and essayist, documented her arduous journey in a New York Times column “Fertility Diary” during those three years.
Klein’s conversation with Lisa Hostein, Hadassah Magazine’s executive editor, was tied to the focus of the March/April issue of Hadassah Magazine. It also came in advance of National Infertility Awareness Week, April 19-25, when Hadassah launched “reConceiving Infertility,” an initiative aimed at bringing members, units, and communities together to raise awareness and confront taboos, while driving policy change and empowering patients to advocate for their health.
reConceiving Infertility features a series of videos narrated by Klein whose powerful story involved nine rounds of fertility treatment, 10 doctors and four miscarriages – in just three years. The first video is “How to Help People Struggling With Infertility During COVID-19.” “What Not To Say About Baby-Making” and “Infertility: Costs, Coverage, and Creativity” are next in the series.
In her own experience, Klein says, “I made mistakes. I wanted to try to have a child naturally. I didn’t want to take medication. I didn’t ask, ‘What is the fastest way to conceive?’” With the benefit of hindsight, Klein advises, “Don’t be married to one way to get pregnant.‘Time to conception’ (TTC) is important, because infertility take its toll on a couple’s relationship and finances.” As she says, “When a cycle of in vitro fertilization fails, and it’s $10,000 down the drain, it’s very stressful.”
In Israel, Klein notes, if you are under 45 years of age, the first two children you try to conceive through in vitro fertilization are paid for by the Israeli health system. Having Israeli citizenship, Klein was able to have IVF in Israel. “It took a weight off my heart,” she says.
Klein notes also, “it’s really hard to feel things are beyond your control.” She explains, you start off thinking that you’ll just fit fertility treatments into your regular life, and then you’ll conceive. But the reality is that it often takes longer than anticipated, and sometimes it just doesn’t prove successful. Sometimes, couples decide to give up and then circle back to try fertility treatments again at a later date.
Klein advises a woman who is undergoing fertility treatments to surround herself with people who can “ride the wave with you.” That way, she says, “you can keep your eye on the long view of having a child.”
What if you find out that the problem is not with your embryos, but rather with your ability to carry the baby to term? That’s when you, perhaps, look into finding a surrogate, also referred to as a gestational carrier, which was the topic of the cover story of Hadassah Magazine’s March issue.
The road to surrogacy is not often an easy one, however. In some states, surrogacy involving financial compensation is illegal. As Klein says, however, most surrogates are women who love being pregnant and love helping someone else to have a child. They don’t think of the baby they are carrying as ‘their baby.’”
Klein dispels the myth that only older women experience infertility. While one in eight women has trouble conceiving, some of them are younger women with, for example, endometriosis or other health issues.
When asked for some “final” words of wisdom, Klein offered two pieces of advice, one for those undergoing fertility treatments and one for all those on the outside, looking in at other people’s lives. For the woman hoping for a child, she emphasizes, “Keep in mind the picture of that family you want to have.” And to everyone: “Remember that you don’t know what people around you are going through; be sensitive as to what you may not know.”
Read more about surrogacy and the resources for those struggling with infertility in Klein’s article in the March/April issue of Hadassah Magazine, ”Are You My Surrogate?”