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Million-dollar babies

Cheryl Browne

By Cheryl Browne, Barrie Examiner

Dr. Andrew Browning a gynecologist and medical director of the Barrie Fertility Clinic, says the chances of a woman over the age of 40 having a natural conception drops to about three percent. Mark Wanzel/Barrie Examiner/Postmedia Network

Dr. Andrew Browning a gynecologist and medical director of the Barrie Fertility Clinic, says the chances of a woman over the age of 40 having a natural conception drops to about three percent. Mark Wanzel/Barrie Examiner/Postmedia Network

She can’t stand the smell of fabric softener sheets and yesterday, she scarfed down a Big Mac.

But other than that, first-time pregnant mother of twins, Marilyn (no last name used) is having the time of her life.

“I have a whole new appreciation for women being pregnant,” said the Midland woman, who works in Barrie.

“I haven’t been able to eat meat for months, so the Big Mac was amazing,” she said.

While most women would gripe about the last three months of morning, day and night sickness, at age 42, Marilyn isn’t complaining about any aspect of being pregnant.

Marilyn is one of 6,500 people who received in vitro fertilization (IVF) and fertility services funding through the provincial government's Ontario Fertility Program last year.

After spending $5,000 of their own money on medications and failed intrauterine insemination (IUI), the final IVF procedure allowed the Midland couple the chance to have a family after it seemed that ship had sailed.

“Emotionally, it takes a lot of you,” she said.

While 20% of women can conceive naturally or spontaneously per cycle, Dr. Andrew Browning, gynecologist and medical director of the Barrie Fertility Clinic, said the chances of a woman over the age of 40 having a natural conception drops to about 3%.

“They are a big player in what we see at the clinic in this day and age. A lot of women are waiting longer to conceive,” Browning said.

Most struggling couples attempt conception using a variety of medications and procedures before they’re given their one chance at IVF – at $10,000 per procedure – that the government now pays for.

Couples usually start with medications and intrauterine insemination, where the husband’s sperm is artificially injected into the woman’s uterus when the egg is deemed ready.

Browning said that can work, provided the man doesn’t have a low sperm count, the woman doesn’t suffer from a fallopian tube disease or if she’s not too old to ensure the egg is fertile.

With IVF, both the egg and sperm are removed, joined in a petri dish and replaced back in the woman’s body.

It’s more effective, but more expensive and only 18 fertility clinics in Ontario perform the procedure.

Since the Ontario Fertility Program started last year, almost 4,800 patients have had egg retrieval, embryology and fresh embryo transfer services performed and paid for by the government.

More than 1,700 people had IVF paid for.

With polycystic ovaries – and only two periods each year – Sarah (no last name used) said she and her husband knew it was going to be difficult to conceive.

Sarah miscarried several times, but through IUI, the couple was able to conceive their son, who is just over two years old.

She’s now pregnant with a girl and the couple knows it’s their last chance at another baby.

“When you’re going down this road, you just keep going,” she said.

But to date, the couple figures they spent about $6,000 to have their son and another $2,000 – with the IUI paid for – to have their daughter.

“It’s nice the government pays for the procedure, but it’s the cost of the medications that does it. Even the way they word it is kind of sneaky. If you want (IUI) but don’t have the $2,000 for medications, you’re out of luck,” she said.

“We wanted to go through it. But all the heartbreak and mental stress you go through is awful. You put yourself into debt because you want to be a mom. But now we’re mentally and emotionally done,” she said.

About one in six women have fertility concerns, said Donna Plue, a registered nurse who runs the Orillia Fertility Clinic, where both Marilyn and Sarah are patients.

The Orillia clinic sees patients from as far away as Kapuskasing, Timmins and Sudbury, because they’re the closest clinic for northern couples to access, she said.

Because the province’s program is relatively new, Plue said when she initially gave the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care the clinic’s projected patient list, she might have aimed a little too low.

Now they have patients on a waiting list because they’ve run out of their allotment, she said.

“Now they have to pay or wait until April,” Plue said.

It’s not just heterosexual couples on the list either: they have same-sex couples who are waiting for procedures as well.

Prior to the launch of the new Ontario fertility program, the ministry spent approximately $20 million per year under OHIP coverage on providing insured artificial insemination (AI or IUI) and IVF services, said spokesman David Jensen.

“The new program expanded access to AI and IVF by funding them as uninsured services outside of OHIP for more patients, including for patients with both medical and non-medical infertility (such as single people or same sex couples). The total budget for the program is $70 million per year,” Jensen said.

For information on fertility coverage, visit http://health.gov.on.ca/en/public/programs/ivf/

CBrowne@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/cherylbrowne1

 

 



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