A journey down rocky road of IVF treatment
IVF can be a rollercoaster of emotion and is still very much a game of chance, writes Tanya Sweeney
WHEN Caoimhe Glynn held her longed-for baby son Tiarnan for the first time two months ago, she couldn't quite believe her good fortune.
"I kept thinking, 'is this really happening?'" she says. "It was only a day later when I was on my own with him in the hospital that it sunk in. I turned to my husband Darren and asked, 'how does it make you feel?' I knew that now that we had the baby he felt complete. For years he felt different to everyone else, so it was like something that was missing for him was finally here."
Of course, every set of new parents feels their baby is a miracle, but Caoimhe and Darren have more reason to believe it than most.
After two failed IVF (In-Vitro Fertilisation) attempts – firstly due to miscarriage, then ectopic pregnancy – it was third time lucky as baby Tiarnan finally arrived on April 13, weighing 9lbs.
Already a mum to Seonadh (now 17), the Tallaght-based 36-year-old is happily getting stuck back into the ceaseless grind of nappies, feeding and sleepless nights.
Needless to say it was a joyous birth for both parents . . . albeit one that followed nine months of anxiety.
Despite the emotional rollercoaster the two endured, they are thankful that the ordeal rarely impacted on their relationship. Despite a male infertility issue, Caoimhe never apportioned 'blame' on to her husband.
"I always thought it was my fault, and when Caoimhe had to take injections it was like an injection into my heart," says Darren. "Caoimhe would tell me to stop being so stupid, and would never think it was my fault. It really did bring us closer."
Caoimhe and Darren are the lucky ones. According to Ann Bracken, counsellor at Dublin fertility specialists The Sims Clinic (www.sims.ie), couples experiencing infertility issues – one-in-5.5 couples in Ireland – are besieged by emotional, financial and psychological challenges.
"It's such a significant diagnosis, and leads to anxiety in relation to themselves and in relation to each other," she explains. "What's more, the person who gets the diagnosis feels a sense of responsibility, even though technically infertility is seen as a medical disability. They feel inadequate as an individual, and as a partner."
Social isolation can often occur for a couple or individual experiencing these challenges: "They see their friends all having children and not everyone is sensitive," explains Ann. "A lot of people pull away from these situations as they find them too difficult. Each time a person is asked about why they're not having children yet, it's an emotional challenge . . . and when you socially isolate yourself from people who might be your support network, it enforces that belief that they're different."
Adds Darren: "We got married nine years ago, and six months afterwards we got, 'when is the little one coming?' I'd never made any secret of what was going on, and I found it embarrasses the person asking more so than us."
For many couples, the desire to bear a child of their own becomes such a visceral, overwhelming desire that a struggle to conceive can often become the entire focus of their lives.
"In counselling, we try to bring a sense of balance back to (the client's) life," reveals Ann.
In this economic climate, finance predictably tops the list of obstacles that a couple facing fertility issues must overcome.
A US study found that in terms of cost per child, women at 35 are looking at a spend of $10,000, while 40-year-olds are looking at $30,000 (in Ireland, the average cost per round is €5,000). Despite the cost involved, IVF is still, alas, something of a game of chance.
Although there's an 85pc likelihood an embryo will form, a child will be born in only 45pc of cases.
Painfully aware that tightening finances are what stops many couples seeking IVF treatment, Dublin mums Joanne Donnelly and Fiona McPhillips have recently launched Pomegranate (www.pomegranate.ie), a charity that offers the cash for one IVF cycle to those who can't afford private fertility treatment. The scheme has the backing of the SIMS Fertility Clinic.
Most couples will readily attest that one of the hardest aspects of IVF treatment is the sheer unpredictability of it. After placing their faith in science, it turns out that there are never any guarantees.
"After a positive pregnancy, the idea of a baby becomes very real, and if that is lost, there is a total sense of loss and grief after a period of elation . . . worse again, they have no 'loss' to show for their grief," explains Ann.
For many couples, the arduous process results in a joyous birth, and no small amount of gratitude after going through so much.
"We were so lucky we had Seonadh, and Darren treats her like her own but I knew that Darren felt something was missing," says Caoimhe.
"Nowadays, he says 'he's so special to everyone because he's an IVF baby'. Sure most people think that of their baby, but Darren keeps saying, 'course he's more special. Look at what it took to get him here'."