“Enough With The COVID-19 Baby Boom Jokes!” Why Infertility Is Harder Than Ever

When you are dealing with infertility, you get used to the hurtful comments. Not that anyone is trying to be insensitive, but it’s the friend complaining about the decor at her baby shower or all of the cracks about how childless people have it so good because we get to sleep in. It’s always tough, but during the COVID-19 pandemic it has gotten tougher. People love to joke about the baby boom nine months from now — as if everyone stuck at home can just choose to get pregnant. The other day, a friend of mine posted a meme that shows parents lined up bumper-to-bumper to put their kids back in school when the lockdown is over. There’s another one that compares isolation for people with kids to isolation for people without them.

I don’t want to seem unsympathetic to what parents are dealing with right now: parenting full-time while trying to work and manage homeschooling. But trust me when I say that my husband and I are not at home gardening, doing couples yoga, and having sophisticated wine nights like the meme suggests. Like the thousands of Canadians who’ve had their IVF treatments postponed or canceled as a result of COVID-19 we are living in limbo, we are losing precious time, and we would kill to have your problems.

My fertility story is like a lot of other fertility stories. We had put off having kids for a few years —  I wanted to wait until we moved closer to my family, which we did in 2016. That same year, we stopped using protection. I knew the statistics about women over 35 getting pregnant (I was 36), but I wasn’t worried. We are both healthy and fit. My aunt had her kids at 36 and 41. I figured it would just happen. We had been “trying” for a few months when a close friend of mine got pregnant right away — and she’s older than I am! That hit hard. I started tracking my ovulation, buying those ridiculously expensive pee sticks. In April 2017, my family physician referred us to HART Fertility Clinic in Hamilton. I had no idea what lay ahead.

People hear IVF and think, you get a few needles, you get a baby. I guess there are some candidates who get lucky, but a lot of us struggle for years. Since that first visit to a specialist I have been through more tests and workups and assessments than I ever could have imagined. The hormones, the bloating, the injections, the probing. Between the blood samples and the intervaginal ultrasounds I have spent the last half decade getting poked. At one point my entire arm was a giant bruise. We started with four rounds of IUI (interuterine insemination, where sperm is injected into your uterus). When that didn’t work, we moved onto IVF, which is a lot more invasive (surgery to extract eggs from the body so that they can be fertilized in a lab and then re-implanted) — and more expensive.

Ontario is one of the few provinces that covers one round for women under 43, but the wait can be over two years. We wanted to get started, so we paid for the first round ourselves. And the second one. Both well over $15,000 when you include surgery and medication. After the second round, I did a pregnancy test at home and it came up positive. It was Christmas morning — I know — like something out of a Hallmark movie. We were so excited. We called our parents. Over FaceTime, I showed my sister the stick I had peed on. Six weeks later, we had a routine check-up. We saw the heartbeat, everything was coming along great. The same day, I started cramping and bleeding and eventually miscarried. To go from being so excited to so devastated in one afternoon — I wouldn’t wish that experience on my worst enemy.

Last year we finally came up for government funding, so we did a third round, which was a total bust. After we decided to start with a new doctor who was supposed to be a miracle worker. We ended up with one viable embryo. That’s not great in terms of numbers (in our first two rounds we had more), but the doctor told us that it was a really high quality, meaning the chances of a successful pregnancy were good. That was late January. You have to wait a full menstrual cycle before implantation, so that’s what I was doing when COVID-19 became an issue.

My implantation was just a few days away when I got the call telling me that it was canceled, one of the elective surgeries put on the back burner during the pandemic. I was expecting it, but it was still like, Are you kidding me? A major pandemic hasn’t happened since the Spanish Flu and now it comes five days before my implantation. Part of me is so frustrated that we couldn’t have been just a couple of weeks earlier or COVID-19 couldn’t have been a couple of weeks later. In some ways it would be amazing to be pregnant right now — to have a purpose while we’re all stuck at home. The other part of me feels lucky that we aren’t in the early stages of a pregnancy, having to go to the hospital and grappling with the uncertainty of any effects COVID-19 could have on pregnant women and their babies.

Our embryo can last 100 years, so that part isn’t a problem. But that doesn’t mean time isn’t important. If this implantation doesn’t work, my age will impact our chances for the next time. I turned 40 in isolation. I know it’s just a number, but it’s a milestone. I don’t think I ever would have imagined being 40 and not having kids.

It’s looking like clinics will reopen in mid-May, so we’re hoping that happens and we can move forward. Waiting and uncertainty is a big part of what makes infertility so hard, so just knowing that there is an end in sight is encouraging. Until then, I’ve been doing my best to stay positive, stay connected. Infertility is an isolating experience: Most of the people in my life have families and it can feel really lonely not to be part of “the club” as I call it. I am obsessed with my nieces and nephews. We’ve been FaceTiming a lot these days and it’s great. But seeing everyone at home with their families… it’s not easy. I’m mostly okay — I feel like I cried so much last year that I’m kind of passed that point — but it will creep up every now and then. On some days I’m able to be calm and think about things in really clinical, practical terms. And other days it’s like, MY BABY IS FROZEN IN A LAB AND THERE’S NOTHING I CAN DO!

My husband, Chris, has been amazing. Of course he deals with his own disappointments, but he is always pointing out the bright side. There are people who had to stop their IVF treatment before their eggs were harvested, so that means all of those hormones and money for nothing. At least we have something to be hopeful about. We have our embryo.

Mother’s Day is this weekend and of course that’s a little emotional, but I’ll get through it. Maybe by this time next year we’ll finally be parents. I have this strong feeling that it’s a girl. This is going to sound crazy, but the other day I bought a book and I put it in the room that will be, that we hope will be, the baby’s room. It’s called I Love You To The Moon And Back. It's kinda perfect for us; Chris and I joke that we have already been to the moon and back trying to become parents.

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