Nfld. & Labrador

As businesses reopen, hopeful mothers urge government to resume fertility services

On June 8, Vanessa Mayo will likely be able to get her hair and nails done, even get her pet groomed. She will not be able to continue medical services that can improve her chances of getting pregnant.

Vanessa Mayo will be able to get her hair and nails done, but fertility services are still unreachable

Vanessa and Stuart Mayo have been trying to conceive for three years. They had planned on continuing services at the fertility clinic in St. John's. (Submitted by Vanessa Mayo)

On June 8, Vanessa Mayo will likely be able to get her hair and nails done, even get her pet groomed. As things stand, she cannot continue medical services that can improve her chances of getting pregnant.

"We just want answers as to why the fertility clinic itself is not classed as an important service but hair salons and nail salons are," Mayo, 29, told CBC News. 

Mayo is responding to comments from Health Minister John Haggie this week in which he said it was understanding that the fertility clinic in St. John's would remain closed until the public health emergency is over.

"In a sense that has been put in suspended animation until such time as the country comes out of the first wave," said Haggie, who said services were suspended "in other jurisdictions for the same reasons."

But other jurisdictions are reopening sooner. For example, Atlantic Assisted Reproductive Therapies in Halifax has said it will resume in-person treatments on June 1. The Ottawa Fertility Centre began a phased-in approach on May 25.

"A lot of people that don't find it frustrating with fertility clinic obviously haven't been through this themselves," Mayo said.

Mayo and her husband, Stuart Mayo, have been trying for a baby for three years, and — prior to the pandemic — had done three cycles of IUI (intrauterine insemination), without success.

The couple, who live in Burin, are waiting for fertility services to resume to start further IUIs, and if necessary, discussions about in vitro fertilization (IVF) options.

"It makes it very upsetting to not be able to get the services they need and require."

Health Minister John Haggie says the fertility clinc in St. John's is following suit with its counterparts across Canada. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

In a statement, Eastern Health said patients awaiting fertility services will be rebooked at a later date.

"Planning is ongoing for the resumption of fertility services and will be communicated with patients once we are in a position to gradually and safely begin to resume these services. In addition, once confirmed, plans will be communicated with the corresponding COVID-19 service level," said an Eastern Health spokesperson in the statement.

Time is of the essence

For many women needing fertility services, wasted time can further hamper their chances at parenthood.

Kara Carter, 39, wrote the health minister with her concerns, and asked him to hear she and her husband's story.

"After 35 we know, fertility-wise, a woman's ability to get pregnant goes way down very quickly," said Carter, who lives in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's. 

"For someone to tell me it could be another year before I can go to another cycle … that's heartbreaking. I would be close to 40."

Carter and her husband have done two IVF cycles in Calgary and travelled twice to Ottawa.

They were ready for a transfer three days before the clinic in Ottawa shut down due to COVID-19. The clinic told them they could continue the procedure but without knowing if the St. John's clinic would remain open during the pandemic for followup, the Carters decided against it. 

Matthew and Kara Carter have emailed Haggie with their story of infertility. (Submitted by Kara Carter)

Carter said she and other residents of the province are already at a disadvantage because they live in one of two provinces in Canada without IVF technologies. The doctors are here, but the service is not.

Many couples pay tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket — the procedure is not funded by the provincial government, unlike in some other provinces — to travel to IVF clinics outside Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Carter she doesn't feel supported by her government, and said it's evident by a lack of grants or funding for fertility services. She adds the psychologist dedicated to women experiencing infertility is located outside the case room in the Janeway Hospital.

"We understand things have to go slow but look at the priority of things as well," she said.

"If you can prioritize somebody to get their hair done, get their nails done, by all means you can start up appointments like this that are extremely time-sensitive."

Fertility services in St. John's provide assistance before and after IVF treatment as well as other services to help with conception.

In order to travel for IVF, couples needs to use the local clinic for blood work, ultrasounds and other tests. That means even though Canadian clinics are open, women here cannot leave unless they want to spend their entire cycle in another province.

Asked about these concerns Friday, Haggie said it's a difficult decision that he has no control over.

"That goes back to a clinical decision as to what is time-sensitive from the point of view of treatment," Haggie said.

"That is a clinical decision so obviously I have no control and very little insight into what goes on into other jurisdictions."

Haggie said he expects Eastern Health will make an announcement regarding the resumption of services in the next week or so.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's.

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