Mother's Day is normally a happy occasion, but for women struggling with their fertility, it can be a painful reminder. While it feels like the rest of the world is celebrating, for women who would love nothing more than to become a mother, Mother's Day can be a day of reflection.
Dr Sonya Jessup, an IVF specialist at Demeter Fertility explains, 'For women who've been unsuccessfully trying to have children, Mother's Day can be one of the most difficult days of the year. Fertility is a complicated and highly emotional issue; many factors lead to infertility and sometimes there is no one cause as to why some couples have difficulties conceiving.
'But the positive news is that we live in a time where most women who want to become mothers, can. Women with medical issues, older women, single women and same sex couples all now have the ability to explore their options for having a family, so the chance of becoming a mother still an option for the large majority of women."
Whether it's through diet and lifestyle changes, IVF treatment or natural fertility planning, there are a number of options available for any women hoping to one day celebrate Mother's Day as their own.
Freezing your eggs
More often today, women are deciding to have children later in life. However, this decision to postpone pregnancy comes with the risk of decreased fertility, particularly for women in their late 30s and early 40s. Dr Sonya Jessup, Demeter Fertility IVF specialist and gynaecologist, says there is a growing interest in the area of egg freezing technology for women of all ages.
Approximately 1 in 10 women experience difficulties in becoming pregnant, with half of women aged 40-44 unable to fall pregnant at all
If a woman freezes her eggs at a younger age, they will be stored as the most viable eggs she will ever have
As women age, so too do the ovaries and eggs. However, the uterus does not age at the same rate, and therefore can successfully carry out a pregnancy well into a woman's 40s
NOTE: For many young women with no medical issues, freezing your eggs may not be necessary. Always be sure to seek proper counsel before going down this route
For older women who have not been successful with IVF they may need to consider using donor eggs. Mother's Day is a good time to consider what being a mother is really all about. Is it about the genetics of having a child that comes from your own DNA or is it about caring for, loving and nurturing a baby to explore, grow and to learn to love life? For couples needing donor eggs and/or sperm, Demeter Fertility can assist using their international partners. These services are offered to heterosexual and same sex couples, as well as single women looking to conceive successfully.
You can choose an egg (or sperm) donor to meet the physical characteristics you want, so your child is most like you
You can store donor eggs and use them when you're ready
All egg (and sperm) donors are subject to an extensive screening process. In addition to providing detailed family medical and personal history information, donors undergo semen/egg analysis, a physical examination, extensive blood and urine testing, and genetic screening
Fertility advice from Dr Sonya Jessup
Dr Sonya Jessup knows exactly what it is like to be a woman trying to fall pregnant. Having gone down the IVF path herself whilst in her 40's, Dr Jessup gave birth to a beautiful healthy boy, Samuel, who's now 3 years old.
Dr Jessup and her husband, Dr David Knight are both fertility experts who work at Demeter Fertility in Sydney. The couple managed to conceive using a frozen embryo after three cycles of IVF. Dr Jessup, who has four children from a previous marriage, and Dr Knight who has three older children, said the process was a difficult, emotional rollercoaster but was completely worth it, and gave them both a first-hand experience of what their patients go through.
Sonya's advice to any couples planning to have a family:
Develop a fertility management plan: Having a fertility management plan in place allows for maximising natural fertility, so you give yourself the best chance of falling pregnant on your own. It is also a jointly agreed intention to start assisted treatment if not pregnant by a given time, and therefore having such a plan in place reduces many of the pressures that couples often feel in their relationships when trying to fall pregnant
Don't wait to seek advice: If you have been trying unsuccessfully to conceive and are concerned, regardless of how long or your age, see a fertility specialist. It's important to receive tailored information to your specific situation and to ensure you are making the most of your natural fertility. Then, if any significant problems are identified, they can be dealt with immediately rather than waiting for precious months to pass
Go easy on yourself: For couples having difficulty conceiving, don't be too strict on yourself or make such dramatic lifestyle changes that the quest to fall pregnant takes the joy out of sex, work, socialising and everyday pleasures. Anyone under the age of 35 who has been trying to conceive naturally for 12 months without success, and anyone over 35 who has been trying for six months should consider seeking fertility advice from a specialist
For more information visit www.demeterfertility.com
Question: What diet and lifestyle choices often affect a woman's fertility?
Dr Sonya Jessup: Being healthy for both women and men improves fertility. Keeping your BMI in a normal weight range improves pregnancy chances and decreases miscarriage rates. Having a healthy diet and or taking pre-pregnancy supplementation tablets will ensure that a woman has all the nutritional building blocks to assist egg development and normal growth and development of a baby.
Having a cup of coffee a day or a glass of wine with some meals will not significantly decrease your chance of conception – it's important that you can lead a normal life whilst trying for a baby. The biggest reason that couples do not fall pregnant with IVF is that the emotional drain is too great causing them to give up treatment too early. Having a normal and fun life is often the key to couples remaining positive and involved in treatment thereby increasing their chances of a good outcome.
Question: How important are a man's diet and lifestyle choices to he's fertility?
Dr Sonya Jessup: It is important for men to be healthy if they want to maximise natural fertility. Eating a healthy balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight and limiting excessive alcohol and smoking is important. This must be balanced however with the knowledge that it may take some months or years to conceive, so having a few beers with mates or a glass of wine with dinner will not significantly decrease male fertility and will make sure the time spent trying to conceive is as normal and fun as possible.
Question: What is natural fertility planning?
Dr Sonya Jessup: Natural fertility planning involves being as healthy as possible, aiming to be in the normal weight range and using the timing of the natural menstrual cycle to predict the most effective time to have sex in order to become pregnant. This works extremely well if there is no fertility problem with either partner. If, however, the woman is not ovulating regularly, if the tubes are blocked or if the partner's semen analysis is not normal, these methods are of very limited benefit. For women in their late 30's or 40's where there is only a small window of fertility left for women, it is important to do checks first to ensure there are no major problems before using the precious remaining months of fertility to try to conceive naturally.
Question: At what age do you suggest a woman freezes her eggs?
Dr Sonya Jessup: The decision whether or not to freeze eggs is a personal one. If a woman knows she definitely wants children and is not in a relationship in her early thirties, having several cycles of IVF and freezing eggs is often a good option. Obviously, the younger a woman freezes her eggs, the better quality the eggs will be and the greater the number are likely to be frozen with each IVF egg freeze cycle. Conversely, however, the younger a woman is, the less likely she is going to actually have to use her frozen eggs as many young women will start families with their partners naturally before the need for frozen eggs is likely.
Question: What is the process and cost involved in a typical scenario of egg freezing technology?
Dr Sonya Jessup: The process of Egg Freezing is essentially the process of IVF without an embryo transfer. A woman has preliminary investigations including blood tests and an ultrasound scan and then starts FSH injections of the third day of her period. These injections continue for approximately 5 days before a second injection is added. A nasal spray can be used to induce ovulation and the eggs can be retrieved by a needle at vaginal ultrasound under local anaesthetic.
The eggs are then checked to confirm they are mature and are then frozen. The woman will then get her next period in two weeks' time. It is recommended that at least 3 egg freeze cycles are performed to give women a realistic chance of conceiving when these eggs are fertilised to become embryos at a later date.
With today's embryology advances, the majority of frozen eggs should survive the freeze/thaw process. The costs involved can be as little as $2500 per cycle if the woman has a medical reason whereby egg freezing is recommended up to $7850 if the full payment is required.
Question: And, can you talk us through the process of using said frozen eggs, down the track?
Dr Sonya Jessup: Should a woman choose to use her frozen eggs in the future, she can either fertilise them with her partner's sperm or can use donor sperm. The costs of the thawing, fertilising and implanting the embryos at this stage is approximately $4000.
Question: What advice do you have for couples looking at the IVF path?
Dr Sonya Jessup: For couples considering IVF remember the main factor determining success is the age of the woman. For any couple doing IVF 'now" compared to 'in two years' time" will give them a higher chance of success. When the woman is in her late 30's or early 40's the decreasing chances of IVF success with every year a woman gets older is dramatic.
Choose an IVF unit where you are treated as an individual and have access to your specialist for the majority of your appointments. You want the best outcomes as soon as possible so choose a fertility clinic who knows who you are and learns more about you and your cycle as you go along to improve every aspect of your care as information comes to light.
Interview by Brooke Hunter