infertility, IVF

The IVF letter you don’t want to receive during COVID-19

Today marks the end of this year’s National Infertility Awareness Week, an event originating in the States, but which involves people of all nationalities via social media. And it goes to show just how distracted I’ve been that I’ve only just realised. This time last year, I was pregnant, and just about to find out I’d had (another) missed miscarriage. This year, I am deep in the throes of infertility, but unaware of the very week that exists to highlight the circumstances of us women who cannot conceive.  

It seems cruelly ironic that, today of all days, I returned home from my government-approved COVID-19 lockdown exercise to a letter from the reproductive medicine department at my hospital. Not quite sure why they would be writing to me, I opened it eagerly. Maybe they’re doing virtual consultations, I thought. Maybe they have some good news, I hoped. No. The letter said my case has been reviewed and they’ve identified that at this time, I do not require an appointment. They will not contact me for 3 months and I cannot contact them.

Not exactly what I was hoping to read.  

I’d been doing a decent job of putting our IVF delay to the back of my mind, focusing instead on how I can use the time constructively to improve my chances of it working, if and when it happens. You can read more about that in this blog post, and the linked article.  

But today’s letter has thrown me for a loop. Why don’t I need an appointment? By what criteria has this been judged? And by that token, who does need an appointment? It all feels so vague and generic. And the arbitrary three month wait…for what? More waiting?  

Let’s suppose I do actually hear something in three months. That takes me to late July. Assuming any UK fertility clinics are even thinking about opening up by then, how many of us will be in a queue for consultations, for scans, for procedures? I dread to think. But that, I guess, is when a prioritisation process will kick in. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority this week published a statement which talks about the development of an exit strategy, for implementation after social distancing measures are eased. It’s reassuring they are already considering next steps. But for now, those next steps are unknown and that brings with it a huge amount of frustration.  

The main takeaway from today’s hospital letter, as I see it, is that my one funded IVF cycle probably won’t happen this year. When clinics reopen, there will undoubtedly be delays. There will be increased demand for services. And it feels like there’s no guarantee that I will have IVF at all now.  

We keep being reminded that the world will not be returning to normal once the destructive wave of COVID-19 recedes. We don’t know what changes there will be, but it’s realistic to think there will be cuts to NHS services. The cynic in me feels that, as IVF funding has gradually been reduced anyway, this is a nice, neat way to stop it completely. I hope I’m wrong, but it wouldn’t surprise me.  

I could be accused of pessimism with these views, but after 3 miscarriages and 10 months of waiting for IVF (so far), I don’t think my viewpoint is necessarily surprising. Disappointment around being childless is my constant bedfellow.

But then, the guilt inevitably hits. What right do I have to feel sorry for myself? I am safe and I am healthy. I’m employed, I can pay my bills. I don’t have to brave the NHS frontline. But still. Life can feel hard sometimes. When you’re one of the unlucky women battling infertility (and let’s be honest, there are plenty of us), keeping your chin up on the best of days can feel hard. Times like this just make it that bit more challenging.  

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