After more than 3,000 babies conceived using in vitro fertilization, a Winnipeg fertility clinic is celebrating 20 years of helping local couples become parents.

Heartland Fertility & Gynecology Clinic reunited with many of those babies — the oldest of which is now an adult — during an open house at the Children's Museum Sunday.

"We're hoping to see a lot of family faces and there's some of the couples that we've taken care of that I haven't seen for …  almost a decade," said Dr. Gordon McTavish, the clinic's medical director, before the event.

"The oldest will be around 19. I'm sure hoping that they come up and give us a big hug and a smile because it would be really very rewarding. I think that'd be fun."

The clinic got its start in May of 1997, about 10 years after IVF technology first came to Manitoba.

Dr. Gordon McTavish

Dr. Gordon McTavish, Heartland Fertility & Gynecology Clinic's medical director at their open house at the Children's Museum Sunday. (Travis Golby/CBC)

"The [first] clinic only was able to obtain four pregnancies in the first 100 cycles that they did," said McTavish. "Ten years later, when we started in 1997, we had four pregnancies in the first 10 cycles that we tried. So the technology improved."

Twenty years later, thousands of children have been born — and not just through IVF. 

"Well, probably in the 3,000 range for assisted reproductive treatments like IVF. But we do things like artificial insemination, donor insemination, surgical fertility. We help with even just simple fertility pills and medical treatments.

"You have to be willing to know that it could not work. And you put a lot of money on the line for it to not work. You just, you don't quit." - Carrie Taiarol 

"And sometimes we've helped facilitate couples who can't get pregnant and lead them towards some adoptive options, even though we're not directly involved with adoptions."

Carrie Taiarol said Sunday that without Heartland, she would not have children.

"We weren't able to have kids the normal way," she said. "Because of Heartland and Dr. McTavish … we were able to have Kaylee and Cara. 

"It was a long, five-year process," for her family, said Taiarol. "You have to be willing to know that it could not work. And you put a lot of money on the line for it to not work. You just, you don't quit. That's the kicker. My husband and I did not quit."

Carrie Taiarol

Carrie Taiarol with her daughter, Cara, who was conceived with Heartland's help. (Travis Golby/CBC)

'1 in 6 couples struggle with infertility'

Thinking about the number of children who have been conceived thanks to the clinic's help can be overwhelming, said McTavish. 

"Infertility is such a common thing. One in six couples struggle with infertility so it's a large volume of people. So if we can even help a percentage of those achieve those goals, it's great."

McTavish couldn't narrow down a single moment that stuck out in his memory — there are too many. "Patients that have been with you four, five, six, seven years and finally, when you see that ultrasound and a fetal heart beating at seven to eight weeks, at that first ultrasound."

But it's not always a success, he added. 

"Having conversations after [unsuccessful] treatments … sitting down and talking with them, and feeling their sadness and feeling that pain that a lot of them are often going through," is difficult, McTavish said.

"It's comforting when we can sort of try and help them through closure, and help them understand that they've done the best that they can to achieve a goal, but sometimes [the goal is] elusive," he said.

"We've been able to offer a lot more options with egg donation and gamete donation, and even sometimes gestational surrogacy is an option for some couples that haven't been able to achieve those goals. So we're trying to expand the options that we can do to develop opportunities for couples to have families, but again, there's always going to be a percentage of the community that just won't achieve that goal."

Despite the occasional heartbreak, the past 20 years have been worth it, said McTavish.

"It's been very happy for us to be involved in helping a lot of Manitobans achieve the goal of parenthood in a wide variety of ways and it's been enjoyable."

With files from Austin Grabish