No couple expects to be in for the long haul when they start trying for a baby. It is supposed to be a time of great hope and anticipation, when you plan excitedly for your new lives together. It is true that having a baby changes your life, but not having one changes it so much more. Sadly, this is something that one in six couples will find out.
Infertility is a medical condition
Infertility is the label used to refer to couples that have been trying to conceive without success for at least a year. It is an umbrella term for the many different conditions that make it difficult, and sometimes impossible, to achieve or maintain a pregnancy. These conditions can be identifiable, such as blocked fallopian tubes or low sperm count, or can fall into the category of “unexplained infertility”, the medical profession’s way of saying that they just haven’t worked it out yet. Female problems account for approximately 35% of infertility cases, male problems for about 35% of cases also, 20% involve a combination of both and about 10% are unexplained.
Infertility is a very difficult and painful struggle. The research of Dr Alice Domar, professor at Harvard Medical School, suggests that the stress endured by infertility patients is comparable to that experienced by people undergoing treatment for cancer and Aids. A 2004 study found that 41pc of infertile women suffered from depression, while 87pc had anxiety.
Treatment is not a luxury
Fertility treatment is expensive, prohibitively so for most. The media portrayal of the wealthy 40-something career woman, opting for IVF because she has “left it too late” is not representative of the thousands of Irish couples who struggle to conceive every year. Infertility is simply not that selective – it strikes across all ages and income brackets.
Fertility treatment is not available on the public health service and is not covered by any of the Irish health insurers. Although a few clinics do offer a limited service to medical card holders, in general treatment is only available to those who can afford the thousands of euro that each cycle can cost. Unlike most other EU countries, Ireland offers no financial assistance to couples diagnosed with infertility.
Infertility is not a choice. Medical treatment should be available to all. The chance to try for a baby should not be a luxury.