In vitro fertilization treatments are an expensive and emotionally exhausting option for those struggling with infertility
Many couples cope with the heartbreak and stress of infertility.
For those living in rural areas, where access to specialists is limited, treatment options can often be less accessible and more costly than they are for urban residents.
On top of the actual treatments, some of which are not covered by provincial health-care plans, rural couples also face the added expenses of travelling long distances, sometimes several times a month, overnight accommodations and loss of income. As well, there is the emotional impact that comes with not being able to bear children.
Leah Bridgeman of Binscarth, Man., can relate to those issues. For more than four and half years, she and her husband, Justin, struggled with infertility before trying to conceive through in vitro fertilization (IVF).
“As a woman, I felt like a failure,” said Bridgeman. “I felt broken, like I was a disappointment. I couldn’t do the one thing that society and history leads women to believe they are on this Earth to do.
“Not only was I disappointed in myself, but I felt like I was letting down my husband if I couldn’t give him the family that we had dreamt of.”
When Bridgeman met and married her ranching husband, they had ambitious dreams of raising a big family in the traditional cowboy lifestyle. But after trying to get pregnant for an extended period of time with no results, those big dreams were soon dashed and they began to search for why they couldn’t conceive.
For Bridgeman, the problem was a condition known as amenorrhea, a phenomenon not clearly defined by medical professionals.
“I went off birth control at age 24 and my body stopped cycling,” explained Bridgeman, who, because of her education and training as a registered nurse, understands the situation better than many people.
“The details of the female reproductive cycle are tricky business; fluctuations in hormone levels occur all the time. One tiny change or stressor and the whole cycle can be disturbed. To this day, I still don’t know what caused my amenorrhea, but I do know that countless years of infertility pills and treatments didn’t restart my cycle.”
For the Bridgemans, like others in their position, the winding road of infertility was difficult and painful. Fortunately, theirs has a happy ending. They now have two beautiful, healthy children — Adalie, born through IVF in 2018, and Kolt, conceived naturally. Ultimately, they chose to explore IVF after seeing a birth announcement on Instagram from a former co-worker of Leah’s who had also struggled with infertility.
“To this day, I still can’t thank her enough for being so open, for sharing her story and experiences,” said Bridgeman. “It is rare to find someone so willing to speak out. It is because of her that we chose Victoria Fertility Centre and realized that I have the ability to help so many other people on the same or similar road as us.”
Bridgeman hopes to be that voice for others. She hopes that by sharing their story, that it will encourage couples struggling with infertility to reach out for help.
While there are infertility clinics in Winnipeg, Calgary and Saskatoon, to name a few, they found success with the Victoria clinic. They explored this particular clinic based on recommendations from her friend and were met with positivity and hope, something they hadn’t experienced in some time.
It also came in handy that Leah was a nurse and Justin was an equine rancher in a rural setting. Their combined knowledge, skills and background served them well as they were able to administer the prescribed injections necessary to get her body ready and producing eggs.
“I gave him a quick lesson in giving a needle to a human rather than livestock and we were off to the races,” said Bridgeman.
About a month and half later, they flew to Victoria to begin the egg retrieval process and spent several weeks there before the eggs could be harvested and frozen, at which time they returned home. About four months later, they returned to Victoria to have an embryo transfer. Nine months later, little Adalie was born.
But for many other couples, the physical, emotional and financial stress of infertility can take its toll and leave them feeling empty and alone.
The best piece of advice Bridgeman offers to others going through similar issues is to be open with those closest to them.
“Reach out to your friends and family for support. You are going to need it. Let them know what you are going through so that they understand when you just need to take a minute to regroup and compose. Be kind to yourself and know that you don’t have to carry it all alone.”
She also stresses that it is OK to feel angry, sad, pain, hurt, devastated, hope — all of it is normal. They were faced with conflicting emotions each time one of their friends announced they were expecting.
“Of course, we were beyond happy for them,” said Bridgeman, “but with growing baby bumps and glowing women, you see your own hopes projected and it is devastating for your own dreams. On top of being stressed and emotional and feeling broken and hopeless, you are on crazy doses of drugs that are manipulating your hormones and making you quite crazy at times.”
She cautions people to be more mindful of a couple’s possible infertility challenges. Sometimes well-meaning people compound the pain with their comments and questions around starting a family.
“I wouldn’t wish this journey on anyone, but you will be stronger, more compassionate, educated and grateful on the other side.”
One potential roadblock for many couples suffering with infertility is the financial aspect, which may be especially acute for rural couples.
IVF, as a last resort, is extremely expensive with little or no costs covered by provincial health-care plans.
“I do feel that after a certain trial period of diagnosed infertility and associated oral medications, that a person should be able to go through IVF without financial burden,” said Bridgeman. “Knowing there is another option out there but you don’t have $20,000 or so to invest into the process with no guarantee that it will work, becomes a major risk.
“If you think you are emotionally broken prior to IVF, how are you to cope after making the kind of sacrifices one has to in order to pay that price and then be told it was unsuccessful? For some people this is a reality multiple times over.
“People should not be denied a family for reasons such as this. One cycle of IVF is in fact free in Quebec and I believe that this should be a Canada-wide policy.”
The Bridgemans plan to share their story with their daughter about how she was so loved long before she was ever conceived.
“We already have a few good running jokes about it. She’s a pretty tough little girl and she never complains about the cold, so we joke that it’s because she was frozen for the first few months of her life and it must be her natural climate.
“But in all seriousness, I hope that she feels God’s love in knowing the faith and trust that it took for her mom and dad to take that step that ultimately led to her existence.”