Montreal

Fertility clinics can't reopen soon enough for anxious would-be parents

At the McGill University Health Centre's reproductive centre, genetic testing and semen analysis are already underway and IVF cycles will begin next month. But for patients anxious for parenthood, the shutdown has been torturous.

CAQ's electoral promise to reinstate some funding for IVF on hold due to COVID-19

Liudmila Markovich and her husband Eugene Rozin are waiting for an appointment at their fertility clinic to have one of their frozen embryos transferred into her uterus. Fertility clinics, closed since March, will gradually reopen services in June. (Submitted by Liudmila Markovich)

Liudmila Markovich said she dreamt about giving her husband the perfect gift for his birthday in April: news that she was pregnant with their first child.

But when the province directed fertility clinics to shut down in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that possibility became unlikely.

At first, she thought her clinic would be closed for a few weeks, but as weeks have dragged into months, she's become increasingly anxious, especially as her 39th birthday in July inches ever closer.

Before her latest IVF cycle earlier this year, she'd already had two failed embryo transfers — the latest, right before New Year's Eve.

When they found out she wasn't pregnant, the couple decided to start from scratch.

That IVF cycle produced 14 embryos. All that was left was an appointment to implant an embryo in her uterus and hope for the best.

Markovich understands COVID-19 has up-ended many people's lives around the world, but it hasn't made the wait any easier.

"Sometimes I am angry. Sometimes I am disappointed. Sometimes I am depressed. It's hard," said Markovich.

Clinics given green light to gradually reopened

A few weeks ago, Quebec's Ministry of Health gave fertility clinics the green light to gradually reopen.

At the McGill University Health Centre's reproductive centre, genetic testing and semen analysis are already underway.

Next month, in-vitro fertilization cycles will begin, and the centre's director, Dr. William Buckett, expects to be able to do intrauterine insemination and both fresh and frozen IVF embryo transfers by June 22.

Dr. William Buckett, the director of the McGill University Health Centre's Reproductive Centre, said some people have had to put off in-vitro fertilization because they were laid off or lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Charles Contant/CBC)

But it will be a different experience for patients. Consultations will be done by phone instead of in person. Patients will only come in to the clinic for treatment.

Appointments will be spaced out to avoid having patients in the waiting room for prolonged periods of time.

"We've removed about three-quarters of the chairs, so everyone is socially distanced," said Buckett.

Before a patient can enter the elevator that leads to the clinic, a security guard will ask health questions, make sure they've washed their hands and are wearing a mask.

Economic stresses

Prior to the shutdown, Buckett said there were 25 patients on the verge of starting an IVF cycle.

Even though treatments are beginning again, not all of those patients are coming back.

Some are still concerned about the virus, said Buckett.

"We've had patients whose parents have died, patients whose husbands have got laid off or who have lost their own job. That also has had an impact," said Buckett.

The average cost of one cycle of IVF is about $10,000. Although some patients had set some money aside for the treatment prior to COVID-19, some have chosen to wait because their economic situation is precarious, he said.

During the 2018 election campaign, Coalition Avenir Québec promised to reinstate a public IVF program, which was cut in 2015, promising to offer at least one cycle at no cost to would-be parents by 2020.

Details on what would be covered were still being worked out when the pandemic began.

Alexandre Lahaie, a spokesperson for Quebec Health Minister Danielle McCann, told CBC the province still intends to follow through on its promise, but the program's reinstatement is on hold due to COVID-19.

Any funding changes would need to be presented as a bill in the National Assembly, then studied and voted on. Until the legislature returns to regular activity, everything is delayed, said Lahaie.

Time running out?

The provincial funding wouldn't have helped Markovich.

She and her husband didn't have time to wait for the government to offer funding because of her age.

Even now, Markovich said, she can't help but feel time is running out.

She still hasn't heard from her clinic about when her appointment will be rescheduled.

It's stressful, but Markovich said she tries to avoid talking about it — so much so that she skipped the last two meetings with a support group of women all struggling with fertility issues.

"I know it's useful to share your feelings, to discuss it, to talk," said Markovich, "but not now."

About the Author

Leah Hendry is a TV, radio and online journalist with CBC Montreal Investigates. Contact her via our confidential tipline: 514-597-5155 or on email at montrealinvestigates@cbc.ca.

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