The impact of coronavirus on fertility patients

In the west, during this unforeseen COVID19 pandemic, everything is on hold in terms of fertility treatments. In the US, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) recommends people undergoing fertility treatments postpone new, non-urgent treatments. This includes IUI, IVF and even egg freezing procedures.

The reason for this is clear, the guidelines are intended to spare medical resources. And to protect families from what remains unknown about how COVID-19 could affect pregnant women and their future children.

Utilising medical skills on the frontline

In the hospital setting, the guidelines are in place to free up frontline medical staff from usual duties. Hospitals can move staff around from one unit to another, such as from gynaecology to general medicine.

That’s all well and good and it sounds sensible.

But there is a problem.

It does not take into account the viewpoint of the fertility patients. These patients are now stranded as a result of the implementation of the guidelines.

Infertility patient fear of missing the boat

Some women and families fear postponing their procedures means missing their last chance of having children. And with that in mind, the guidelines might even be viewed by others as discriminatory.

How? Simply because the guidelines, de facto, discriminate against those people who can’t get pregnant without technical help. Infertility is, after all, classified as a disease. For many patients this is pretty galling, especially given all the nonsense in the media about the lockdown creating a baby boom!

One ob-gyn specialist said, “The lay public thinks fertility treatment is optional, and these patients are really passionate about building families. No one sees it as optional.”

There are some exceptions

The guidelines DO allow exceptions for people who are already undergoing fertility treatment or those who are deemed special cases. For example, women who are already in the middle of an egg retrieval and cancer patients who require their eggs to be preserved prior to chemotherapy treatment.

But the guidelines are tough on women who feel that this may be their last chance to conceive a child before they age out of the possibility. No one knows with any certainty how long the current lockdown for COVID19 is due to continue.

Petitioning

A Change.org petition is currently in place asking the ASRM to reconsider their guidelines. The introduction to one petition reads, “The human window of fertility is limited; if they wait until the outbreak is over to resume treatment, it will be too late for some patients to qualify for continued treatment.” This currently has around 13,000 signatures.

It goes without saying that recommendations to pause fertility treatments also impacts same-sex parents-to-be, who have no option but to use fertility treatments if they wish to have children.

One doctor who has had more than one patient have panic attacks in her clinic when she found out she had to postpone said, “It wasn’t intended to target vulnerable populations, but it does.”

For the moment the guidelines stand, and to reiterate they stand for good reasons. But is there any silver lining at all to this dark cloud?

Possibly.

What can you do to help your chance of successful treatment in the future?

Another doctor, at least, is using the hiatus to help patients reframe the moment and take it as an opportunity to get their bodies in tip-top shape to conceive. He suggests using healthy techniques to manage stress1 as well as switching to a Mediterranean style diet2, both of which are known to improve the chances of pregnancy success. He says, “The silver lining in this, is a pause and not a stop. Now you have the opportunity to get your body ready to run this marathon.”

Further information

  1. Eight Tips for Coping with the Stress of Trying to Conceive. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-practice/201508/8-tips-coping-the-stress-trying-conceive
  2. The Mediterranean Diet: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/mediterranean-diet-meal-plan#foods-to-avoid