The toll of infertility

Affecting 1 in 6 Canadians, infertility is emotionally, physically, and financially taxing

The last week of April marked the 12th annual Canadian Infertility Awareness Week (CIAW), which creates a conversation around and strives to find solutions for the one in six Canadians struggling with infertility.

This is the final article in a three-part series that began during CIAW examining infertility, how it affects our community, and what can be done to overcome its psychological and physical challenges.

Shandy & Mike Sherriff

Shandy and Mike Sherriff (Submitted)

Shandy Sherriff sits in a downtown coffee shop, her arms are crossed in her lap, her dark hair tied back and her slight frame is buried in an oversized hoodie. And at 40-years-old, she’s still looks youthful with a contagious laugh, and even though there’s a strength in her brown eyes, there’s also sadness.

After meeting and marrying the man Sherriff says is her soul mate, the two decided that having a baby together would be an incredible way to celebrate their love.

“Mike never had any kids,” said Sherriff. “I had my first baby at 17-years-old, second at 18, and third at 19. But then I had my tubes clamped.”

Becoming a mother so young was tough, says Sherriff, and she needed a permanent way to prevent another pregnancy. However, she eventually had the procedure reversed because she wanted more children.

“I really wanted to create a child out of love and appreciate motherhood,” explained Sherriff. “That was something I couldn’t do at such a young age and I just knew Mike would be such a great dad.”

But like one in six of their Canadian counterparts, the journey to conceiving a child would be a difficult one for the Sherriffs.

Beyond biology

Although the official definition of infertility is the inability of conceive a child after six to 12 months of unprotected intercourse, the struggle to conceive a child is often more complicated than getting the egg and sperm to meet up.

The Funk Family: Jonathan, Ashley, Jonas, and Michael. (Submitted)

“After having Jonas there were still lots of struggles,” said Ashley Funk, who struggled with her husband for years to conceive their son.

“It’s not like it is in Hollywood, and after experiencing another miscarriage when Jonas was two-and-a-half-years-old, we seriously considered being one and done,” Funk continued. However, the Funks miraculously conceived another child, and gave birth to their second, and final child, in August 2013.

“He was a big surprise, but after all our issues, he was our last,” exclaimed Funk, who’d once dreamed of raising lots of children with her husband, Jonathan.

“The level of stress infertile couples face equals a terminal cancer diagnoses,” said Dr. Lorne Brown, director of Acubalance Wellness Clinic, which specializes in fertility treatments. “There’s a hopelessness and (often a) feeling of losing control.”

Which is why there should be universal, federally-available access to all care. Without proper, affordable medical coverage, some “people think up nefarious ideas or are devious about trying to achieve their (fertility) goals,” added Olive Fertility Clinic’s Dr. Shaun Tregoning, who’s heard stories about women trying to obtain health cards from other provinces to secure access to covered fertility treatments.

“All reproductive rights should be returned to women,” Tregoning continued. “The ability to have (a child), the right to terminate (a pregnancy), the right on how to deliver your baby. This isn’t a philosophy you can qualify—certain rights can’t be more important than others. Either you believe in reproductive rights or you don’t.

“The liberal norms in B.C. allow for the belief that anyone can have a family, we just think you should fund it yourself. But we support smoking programs and alcoholic medical care options. We shouldn’t be selective like that.”

The cost of infertility

The Loeppky Family: Jacob, Heidi, Jenessa, and Meredith. (Submitted)

Although Canada sports a single-payer medical system envied across the world, there are still many aspects of that leave Canadians wanting when it comes to fertility treatments, reproductive care, and their physical, emotional, and financial toll.

“I ended up in the ER fearing a miscarriage when I was about 15- or 16-weeks pregnant (with Jenessa),” said Heidi Loeppky, who suffered four miscarriages before managing to successfully carry to term.

“I’d never felt like a second class citizen until that moment. I didn’t feel like the (emergency room) doctor cared at all—I was left feeling abandoned.”

And she’s not alone in her feelings: several studies indicate those dealing with infertility have high levels of depression, anxiety, and psychological distress, which can all be exacerbated the longer their struggles continue.

However, with more than 40 methods available to treat the range of known causes of infertility, many patients eventually find an affordable solution, yet there are still those who must spend tens of thousands of dollars to become parents.

Shandy & Mike Sherriff

After a period of trying with no success, the Sherriffs were referred to a fertility specialist who told them scarring in Shandy’s Fallopian tubes was preventing conception. Their best option moving forward, said the specialist, was in vitro fertilization (IVF).

“There was no thought of it not working—I’d already carried three babies—so we did it,” said Sherriff. “But it was like $15,000. We took out a line of credit to cover the (upfront costs).

“It’s just so much money. And it’s really invasive,” she added. “I remember lining up (at the clinic) with all the other women for blood work and having to inject medications at work. The whole thing was really hard on my body.”

When preparing for IVF, the medications a woman takes sends her on a hormonal roller-coaster ride to menopause and back again. And the procedures that follow are also difficult.

“The whole process drove me nuts and it was so painful,” said Sherriff, grabbing her stomach while recalling her egg retrieval and embryo transfers. “But it worked—we got eight eggs, and five fertilized.”

“We put in three (embryos) … but none of them survived,” Sherriff said as she teared up. “I lost all my babies … and I bawled.”

Infertility, the aftermath

Although infertility is a common problem faced by many, it affects everyone differently. Not only are the challenges faced often diverse, but so are the outcomes: some people are successful and some aren’t, but either way, they’re faced with a new set of obstacles they need to navigate.

“After fertility, you’re still there,” said Dr. Brown. “Self care is important, (so) finding a balance is important.”

“For me, I used my experiences in different ways,” said Loeppky, who eventually learned her losses were likely due to sleep apnea: after she began using a CPAP machine, she had two successful pregnancies.

“But after my miscarriages I needed to really dig deep and examine it all piece by piece, and I needed to be open about it.” And once she’d actually become a mother, she became passionate about the birthing community.

“My experience was rough, it was awful … but I believe it happened for a reason,” said Loeppky in the office of where she now works as a placenta encapsulater. “Now I just focus on cherishing my two beautiful girls.”

However, not everyone gets the happy ending they imagined for themselves.

Infertility is a difficult road to travel and it has all sorts of consequences beyond the obvious.

“IVF was the only time I saw my husband pray to God,” said Sherriff. “The whole thing was so devastating, I won’t go through that again. I can’t. No babies for us unless it’s a miracle from God.

And it affected their intimacy, added Sherriff, but they’re coming out on the other side, ready to return to living life to its fullest.

“I’ve been going to counselling for a year to deal with it, and now I’m bringing in Mike,” she continued. “I really struggled with hating people with babies and pregnant women, but I’m finding peace.

“Now I say we just didn’t meet early enough,” Sherriff said smiling. “I love baby snuggles, but that part of our life is over.

“We’re working on buying a house and then we’ll get a pug—that I can totally mother,” Sherriff added with a burst of laughter.


@SarahGawdin
Sarah.Gawdin@theprogress.com

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