How do you sum up the price of trying to combat infertility through IVF, and its impact on my life as a 39-year-old woman? Note, not 40, but running out of time…
Women have different reasons for undergoing in-vitro fertilisation. Some are young, yet have been unsuccessful in falling pregnant. Women have endometriosis or low ovarian reserve; many have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Quite a few try timed cycles using Clomid medication first, infinitely cheaper and a lot less invasive. IVF is often the next step. Most women plan on a couple of cycles, then end up trying a few more times.
The path to pregnancy can be hard work
To clarify, Iâ??ve never been a biological clock watcher. I married late, didnâ??t have maternal pangs and wasnâ??t sure if I would cope with the responsibility of children.
When I went off the pill to give it a shot, a gynaecologist informed me that â??regular sex means three times a weekâ?. Good grief! We stepped it up for three months, but as a working couple fitting in sex around grocery shopping, gym and social commitments, it was tricky to schedule, never mind get passionate about!
To ease the pressure, we aimed for mid-cycle ovulation times. I even kept my legs in the air after sex in the hope that those little sperms would be encouraged to seep into the right crevices. Nothing worked. Zilch.
There are important routine tests that women over 35 should consider
When my period stopped altogether, my gynaecologist ran a set of infertility blood tests to check various hormone levels. I canâ??t understand why all childless women over 35 arenâ??t encouraged to have this routine test – the peace of mind is worth the cash. Sky-high levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) meant my next step was an infertility specialist.
Semi-government hospitals also do IVF treatments
Anxious about consultation prices of private clinics, I found a qualified specialist at a semi-government hospital. When another procedure revealed that my fallopian tubes were probably blocked, getting sperm and eggs to meet in a lab via IVF seemed my only alternative.
Womenâ??s FSH levels fluctuate from month to month, but unless mine routinely dropped to under 10, I wouldnâ??t be a candidate. My partner had his sperm tested at a blood lab, a little mortified at the lack of naughty girlie magazines for encouragement. Only a sterile cup and gesture towards a public toilet down the passage, expected to hand over his sample in the crowded room afterwards.
We gave IVF a shot
With healthy sperm confirmed, we gave IVF a shot. Iâ??m terrified of needles, so an embryologist showed us how. My husband administered daily injections at the same time for nine days, to stimulate my ovaries to produce egg-containing follicles. What relief they werenâ??t as painful as routine doctorsâ?? jabs.
Ultrasound scans monitored our progress. IVF dosage fluctuates according to how you respond to medication, the costliest part of the process. As an indication, one Gonal-F injection pen costs minimum R2500 for a few doses.
Egg retrieval and egg transfer procedures have to be factored in after that, and specialistsâ?? fees vary. So itâ??s hard to generalise about costs, but any woman considering IVF is looking at R10,000 to R35,000 for a complete cycle, depending on where in South Africa they go.
Private infertility clincs claim a better success rate but IVF is still a gamble
My government hospital fees were at the bottom end of that spectrum. Private infertility clinics are pricier, and private gynaecologists tend to refer to private specialists, so cheaper infertility centres require good sleuthing skills to ferret out.
Private clinics claim to have a better success rate but frankly, IVF for any women over 35 is about playing roulette, your medical history being a far greater indicator of potential success. The first IVF often allows the specialist to track your response, to tweak medication to land on the right number next round.
IVF costs are not covered by medical aid
With the exception of blood tests and some investigative procedures, IVF costs are not covered by medical aid. To get into better condition, I also had weekly sessions of infertility acupuncture at R300 a pop.
Yet we still spent significantly less on each IVF cycle than women at private clinics, so that we would have savings for another one. The mental and emotional aspects put enough strain on a relationship, why invest unnecessarily on the financial side?
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