Receiving fertility treatment during the early part of the pandemic created unique challenges. It’s hard enough to handle the ups and downs of trying to get pregnant, but COVID also impacted fertility treatments for thousands of people in the past year. How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted fertility treatments? We have answers.
What is the Status of Your Fertility Treatment During COVID-19?
IVF is one of the types of complex fertility treatments that are typically completed in a clinical setting. Mark P. Trolice, M.D., FACOG, FACS, FACE, a board-certified reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist at Fertility CARE: The IVF Center calls IVF, “The most advanced reproductive technology that’s available today.”
One in six reproductive-aged couples experience infertility in the United States. Fertility treatments like IVF can bring hope to families in the form of pregnancy and childbirth. No one anticipated the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, though. Dr. Trolice says, “Could we all have ever imagined an unprecedented year like we’ve just had?”
The pandemic created unique concerns and risks for pregnant women and families considering conceiving. Thankfully, to date, no COVID-19 specific maternal or fetal risks have been confirmed by public health officials. Since the outbreak began, fertility facilities like Fertility CARE: The IVF Center adopted new clinical protocols to thoroughly adapt patient visits to fit within CDC guidelines for cleanliness and social distancing.
While infertility is a disease, it is categorized as a “non-urgent” service. Consequently, during the early time of the pandemic, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) offered the guidance to halt infertility diagnostic and treatment services to avoid consumption of limited personal protective equipment (PPE) and mitigate the spread of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus responsible for COVID-19).
The age of the patient is the number one factor in determining the success of these treatments. Given the highly emotional nature of fertility and ART treatments, it’s no wonder that one study showed 85% of patients affected by this ruling found it moderately to extremely upsetting. Science Daily pointed out, “how enormously challenging the COVID-19 pandemic has been for women whose fertility treatments have been suspended.”
The good news is that IVF and other types of ART procedures are back to being offered by fertility clinics in the United States. However, typically only the partner receiving medical treatment is allowed into the doctor’s office during the visit, to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections. (Many practices allow the second partner to dial-in to the visit with video conferencing.)
How are families coping during the pandemic? It turns out some turned to at-home do-it-yourself (DIY) fertility treatments.
What Other Fertility Treatments Have Been Impacted by COVID?
For a time, some elective healthcare treatments were affected by COVID-19. This included fertility treatments. One doctor reported, “Most infertility patients can handle infertility. But they can’t handle infertility plus COVID.”
In December 2020, Good Morning America (GMA) reported the increasing use of a new trend during COVID of women who have turned to egg freezing as the pandemic negatively affected their financial status. GMA says, “With many losing their jobs during this time, the idea of having a baby or starting a family can seem undoable.”
For the couples that remained employed during the pandemic, many were able to save on commuter costs as they worked remotely. For some, GMA reported, that allowed them to spend the extra income on the egg freezing procedure.
The egg freezing procedure involves the woman receiving daily injectable hormones to stimulate the growth of ovarian cysts that contain eggs. Following typically 10 days of stimulation which includes ultrasound monitoring and hormone blood testing every several days, the egg retrieval is performed under intravenous sedation as an office based procedure.
The benefits of egg freezing are that it allows women to preserve the option of having genetically-related, healthy children later on. Dr. Trolice says, “The earlier a woman freezes her eggs, the higher the chance that she’s going to have success when she wants to use them.”
For women conducting egg freezing, the time spent at home is actually helping them find the time to pursue this option. Some of the clinical visits necessary for this procedure can be conducted via telemedicine. Working remotely allows these patients to better handle the physical and emotional demands of the hormones they take during this process.
Should You Do Insemination at Home?
Another type of ART procedure is artificial insemination or intrauterine insemination (IUI). Parents magazine reports that there are now DIY kits with an insemination syringe. One doctor was reported as saying these kits are helpful when sex is painful but the woman still wants to become pregnant. The problem is the potential for misinformation to occur. Couples struggling with fertility should work with a trained, licensed clinician who can provide the comprehensive testing and consultation necessary to diagnose the cause of the fertility issue.
Can I Still Pursue Fertility Treatments During COVID?
Fertility CARE: The IVF Center is open and seeing our patients today in a completely safe clinical environment. We remain committed to providing quality care and caring to patients. The ASRM has confirmed that “infertility is a disease and its treatment should not be considered ‘elective.’” Dr. Trolice says, “IVF is not necessarily a last resort,” and these treatments are becoming very common.
At Fertility CARE: The IVF Center we understand how important our treatments are to the couples and families we serve. Talk with our team about how we can keep you safe during the pandemic while helping you on your journey toward parenthood.