Shalako and Luke Zuvich have been trying for their first child using IVF for five years. (Supplied)
Distressed women believe they have just lost their last chance at having children due to the cancellation of fertility services, as the coronavirus crisis continues in Australia.
- Many IVF treatments are being put on hold across Australia, causing distress for some women
- The industry says it hopes most women will be able to resume treatment within a few months
- Some women have told the ABC they can’t afford to wait because their fertility is declining
IVF clinics across the nation are postponing services due to social distancing rules, fears about clients contracting the virus and new restrictions by the Federal Government on elective surgery.
Perth couple Shalako and Luke Zuvich have been trying for their first child for five years using IVF.
“I’ve wanted to be a Mum since I was 10 and I’ve spent the last five years sinking everything into it. So my time, money, everything into trying IVF,” Ms Zuvich said.
She was just about to start the lengthy treatment process at Perth IVF clinic Adora of stimulating egg production and freezing any viable eggs.
But this week, she said her appointment was cancelled.
“I was heartbroken. Devastated,” Ms Zuvich said.
Ms Zuvich has the chromosomal condition Turner syndrome, which means she does not produce as many viable eggs as most other 31-year-old women, and faces potential early menopause.
She fears that by the time fertility services resume in Australia, she will have no viable eggs to harvest for IVF.
“Waiting for a few months isn’t an option for us,” she said.
Ms Zuvich said she asked Adora to go ahead with an IVF cycle but that she was told it was not possible.
“Really, this [postponement] means no biological children for us,” she said.
“This was our only chance and now we don’t have that option. We need to spend a bit of time to process and grieve.”
‘This situation has put me under additional stress’
Ms Zuvich is not alone in her distress.
The ABC has been inundated with stories from women who have had IVF appointments cancelled this week who feel they do not have enough time to wait.
Some have been taking fertility drugs with significant side effects, only to have their egg harvesting called off.
A client of Adora’s Brisbane clinic, Gloria Quiroga, said she had been battling nausea, headaches and bone pains for several months due to the fertility medication she was taking, and has now had her IVF treatment postponed until at least May.
“I’m in limbo,” Ms Quiroga said.
“I’m doing this treatment that is so hard for my body. It is a very strong drug with very strong side effects. I wonder if I continue? Do I not continue?
“It’s so stressful for me. And I’m 39-years-old and I just feel that this situation has put me under additional stress.
“As you get older, your chances of conceiving reduce. I’ve been trying for four years to have my second child.”
Adora’s medical director Dr Paul Atkinson said the company was finishing treatment for about 1,000 women who had already started, but it could not “ethically” start women like Ms Zuvich or Ms Quiroga on new cycles during the coronavirus epidemic.
“We made the difficult but ethically responsible decision to not start new cycles during this acute phase because the trajectory of this pandemic indicates that in two to four weeks’ time the risks to patients will be too high,” Dr Atkinson said.
“We are also protecting the health and well-being of our staff and their families, prioritising the resources for front-line health services and doing our part to help the wider community effort to get this pandemic back under control.”
Adora is following the lead of the IVF industry’s peak body, The Fertility Society of Australia (FSA).
Until recently, it was advising IVF clinics to continue business as usual despite the coronavirus outbreak, however on Wednesday as the situation escalated in Australia, the FSA issued new advice that IVF treatment should be postponed where possible.
The FSA’s president, Professor Luk Rombauts, said that advice was made with the overall needs of Australia’s healthcare sector in mind during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Each day that we operate as normal, we’re possibly having an impact on resources such as gown and masks. We’re potentially exposing healthcare staff and patients to the virus,” Professor Rombauts said.
“We’ve also obviously had the decision that elective surgery needs to be postponed.
“There may be emergencies where treatment may be justified. A good and probably the only example is when a patient is diagnosed with cancer and may need to undergo chemotherapy soon and needs her eggs harvested and stored for future fertility.”
Professor Rombauts, who is also the medical director at Melbourne’s Monash IVF Group, said he has had to have many difficult conversations with clients during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I know that a lot of patients are going to be disappointed and potentially even quite distressed by the decisions we’re all being asked to make,” he said.
“The whole of society is going through a very difficult time and we all have to make sacrifices to get through this.
“Hopefully this will only be for a couple of months. I think there will be very few situations where a postponement like that would have an adverse impact on a patient.”
‘A tough pill to swallow’
Melbourne couple Kate and Mitchell van Noordenne are one couple on IVF that is staying positive about their chances of having a second child, despite also having treatments postponed by Monash IVF Group
“We want to expand our family and basically we have to put that on hold,” Mr van Noordenne said.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow but at the end of the day, if our fertility specialist says it’s too risky or it’s not a good time, we have to put our trust in that advice.”
Ms van Noordenne is in her late 20s and said she felt positive about conceiving, but that her heart was hurting for women in different situations.
She said there needed to be more recognition by the Federal Government of the predicament families are in and more advice on what IVF services can go on as the pandemic continues.
“I feel like there’s almost very little clarity,” she said.
“There’s been a lot of confusion and a lot of stress.”
“We understand that COVID-19 is really hard for the general community and we feel the politicians are doing the best they can. But it’s so important for people to have correct and factual information, especially during such an emotional period.”
Professor Rombauts said the messaging around elective surgery by the Federal Government had been “conflicting” for the IVF industry.
A spokesperson for the Federal Department of Health said “IVF clinics offer many services, however any non-urgent surgeries that were scheduled to be performed will be delayed or cancelled, as outlined by the National Cabinet on March 25.”