Kati Matuszewski’s fertility treatments have been abruptly canceled due to the novel coronavirus, as the health care system tries to free up staff and resources, and avoid elective procedures. People who recently underwent ovarian stimulation have been left walking around with a cluster of follicles in their ovaries, unable to harvest the eggs; others on medication designed to prepare them for an embryo transfer will have to watch the window for transfer pass by, perhaps more than once.
Matuszewski, a registered nurse in Illinois, has low AMH levels (a prematurely depleted ovarian reserve), so her timing was crucial.
“I have a few months left to get my eggs out of me before I’m left with none,” says the 29-year-old. “And if they don’t open up for months, I’ll never get my chance to have children because of this virus.”
On March 17, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine called for a suspension of all new treatment cycles, including IUIs and IVF (both retrievals and frozen embryo transfers). They also strongly recommended cancellation of all embryo transfers (fresh or frozen) for patients partway through a cycle. Many offices are proceeding with fertility preservation for cancer patients. They’re also able to continue with pregnancy blood tests and ultrasounds. Some fertility centers in New York had already halted their treatments prior to the recommendation, citing concerns about their current patients being exposed.
“The recommendations are to help decrease transmission, as well as preserving limited resources,” says Dr. Tiffanny Jones, M.D., reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist with Conceive Fertility Center in Irving, Texas.
Those guidelines will be revisited on March 30.
While the guidelines essentially follow the same protocol issued to dentists and other procedure-oriented specialties in order to ensure patient safety, social distancing and to conserve resources, patients are understandably feeling the effects of the new orders very deeply, says Dr. Jane Frederick, M.D., an infertility specialist.
Brittany Schultz’s treatment was canceled mid-cycle after her second ultrasound. She spent $700 in ultrasounds, she has a $100 Ovidrel shot waiting in the fridge with no use in sight, and a prescription of Leterozole in her body.
“I’m very depressed, and it’s very hard to pull out of,” Schultz says.
The financial strain feels very real for Mary Kate Benda, who started her medicine only to have her procedure canceled. She’s worried that some of her medicine will expire before she could use it, and her insurance doesn’t pay for any of this.
“I’m 35 and my clock is ticking,” Benda says. “I’m just feeling so helpless and heartbroken.”
I see an hourglass with sand of my fertility time going down.
Heather Sterling is in a similar situation. She recently had an ectopic pregnancy in her right tube that burst following her second IUI.
After waiting three months, she was supposed to start her third IUI, but she received a message that her treatments were canceled.
“I see an hourglass with sand of my fertility time going down,” says Sterling, who has been trying to have a baby for more than five years. Since she needs medicine to ovulate, she’s unable to get pregnant without the help of her doctors.
With all the ongoing changes, even those experiencing miscarriages are having to take coronavirus into consideration.
Jen (she asked to be anonymous) completed her fertility treatment and was pregnant but the heartbeat was too slow. Her reproductive endocrinologist had to advocate to have her husband with her while she was in the hospital for a miscarriage.
“I am so glad for her advocating for me as this was an incredibly tough time as it was, and then the COVID restrictions — although definitely needed — would have taken my and my husband’s stress levels to a whole new world,” Jen says.
Until the coronavirus restrictions are lifted, the doctors are left waiting and attempting to reassure their patients.
Dr. Beverly Reed, M.D., a fertility doctor near Dallas, created a petition asking the ASRM COVID-19 Task Force to reconsider their limitation guidelines. So far, more than 7,000 people signed the petition.
Dr. Aimee Eyvazzadeh, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist who is affiliated with Proov, the ovulation test, is suggesting that her patients take this time to learn about their bodies so that when it’s time to conceive, they’re prepared.
For many, however, the coronavirus may have cost them the chance of ever having a child.
Sydney Hardin, 39, has been struggling with infertility since she was 33. She was about to do her fourth frozen embryo transfer, but she and her husband decided to cancel it due to concerns about needing to access emergency medical services.
While her doctor was willing to allow her to proceed, Hardin says her previous miscarriage required an ER visit, which made her nervous.
“My husband and I ultimately made the decision to halt treatment because we do not feel it’s fair of us to do anything that might put us in the position of having to take emergency medical care away from others at this critical time,” Hardin says. “But we are very sad and a little nervous that this decision may have cost us the opportunity to realistically have a child given my age.”
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.