'Stop asking about babies': IVF patients want you to mind your own business

Sims IVF has provided treatment to couples in Ireland since 1997. Their Cork clinic, located at City Gate in Mahon is described by one of their patients as “more like a relaxing spa than a doctor’s office”, writes Claire Anderson.

The motto that hangs behind the reception desk reads: “Our commitment is to care for you, so that you can realise your dream of having a baby.” Their patients confirm that it is a place where dreams are made real.

If you are concerned that you may have a problem conceiving a child, Sims advises patients to take action quickly. Initial consultations with Sims IVF aim to understand the problems you are experiencing and there is never an obligation to go any further.

This is what two of their patients had to say…

Barbara and her husband had been trying to conceive since they married. After one year, she realised something might be wrong and went to her GP. She had tests to check her bloods and hormone levels, but she was always told that nothing was wrong. “The doctors were telling me for five years that everything was fine. They told me to switch off my mind and stop thinking about it, but how can you stop thinking and worrying about it when all you want is a baby?”

Dr Hans Arce of Sims confirmed that this is a common thing for many people to be told. “It's a vicious circle,” he said. “Patients blame themselves for not being able to conceive because people are telling them it's because of stress or they're thinking too much about it. People suggesting this are essentially blaming the patient instead of helping.”

Dr Hans Arce of Sims IVF Cork.

Barbara attended several different doctors before she came to Sims. Sims was her breakthrough moment. “There's nothing you can compare to Sims, if I had picked this clinic at the beginning my daughter would probably be six today and not one month old,” she said.

A year after walking through the door, Barbara gave birth to a baby girl. “I really wish we found SIMS earlier, but I believe everything happens for a reason.” Dr Arce tells his patients to have patience. “This is not a 100m race it's a marathon, have patience, it will work,” he advises.

At Sims Barbara was given a solution, she wasn't told to stop thinking, but offered a way to progress instead. “Instead of telling me to stop worrying, the doctors at Sims gave me hope.” She underwent three intrauterine insemination (IUI) procedures at Sims and the third was successful. “Thanks to that third IUI, I can today hold my daughter,” she said. However, the experience wasn't without emotional difficulties.

“When I didn't get pregnant from the first IUI I was so disappointed. Tears fell and I fell into a thousand pieces but I had to put myself back together and keep fighting,” she explained. “All women have that in their minds, that you get married and then try for a baby. When it doesn't happen it's so disappointing.”

Dr Arce said what makes the process difficult is “the amount of people who feel like they have the right to ask 'when are you going to have a baby?'” He has seen that question destroy people. “Stop asking about babies,” he said. Dr Arce thinks social stigma “turns the beautiful journey into a hell-ride.”

Barbara said the worst part for her was people asking when she was going to have a baby. “It was annoying us a lot and my husband started telling people 'I don't want to share Barbara with another human'. They were asking silly questions so we gave them silly answers,” she said.

Barbara and her husband tackled the constant questions with humor but there were some things along the way that she couldn't bring herself to be positive about. “It's so difficult for women in this situation, especially when you hear about someone else getting pregnant. I stopped watching the news because I'd hear of someone hurting a baby and I just couldn't listen to it.” Another patient, Niamh*, shared this view. “Kids can be born into horrible situations,” she said.

Niamh said that all her friends and family knew she was going through IVF, and she wouldn't have it any other way. “I was lucky because all my friends and family, they said if that's what you want go for it. There was never any negativity.” She didn’t want to keep it a secret. Dr Arce said not being open about it is damaging and contributes to the social stigma associated with IVF treatments.

Positivity is something that Barbara thinks is essential for anyone trying to have a baby and it is encouraged at SIMS. “They always told me to think positively, which is so important when you are trying for a baby for so long,” she said.

Niamh also knows that staying positive helped her through difficult moments. “I said to myself I was going to remain positive. I was doing it because I wanted to do it. There were some parts that were sore but the time just flies if you stay positive,” she explained.

Dr Arce said positivity and emotional support is an essential part of his job. “I come from the third world where you need to practice the emotional side of medicine a lot more. Telling a mother her child is dying from starvation, those experiences help me to do this job. 50% of it is emotional support,” he said. “It's frustrating sometimes, but it's beautiful.”

Niamh, a single woman, had a different journey to Barbara. She had been in relationships, one where she could have ended up walking up the aisle but it didn't work out. She came to the Sims clinic aged 37 after conducting her own research on IVF. “I went about it myself. I did it because I was running out of time.”

Niamh was what Dr Arce describes as a typical patient at Sims, over 35 years old. “We cannot live in a society where you cannot talk about your eggs,” he said. “People having difficulties conceiving either don't say anything or they lie. People think they still have time at 47, when most pregnancies come from egg donation at that age.”

Niamh had a budget set aside for three cycles of IVF treatment with donor sperm and, unsure of what was ahead of her, she decided that no matter what it took she was going to have a baby on her own terms. “What's the alternative? I could have gone into a nightclub and chanced my arm but you don't know what's going to happen there and you're opening yourself to risks. You hear of people doing that but you could be stuck co-parenting for the rest of your life with a stranger. It just wasn't for me.”

Niamh ended up spending two years with Sims before giving birth to a baby boy. She discovered she had a medical issue which she needed surgery to correct. “If I had tried to conceive naturally, I would have likely had a miscarriage, so it was meant to be.”

Going through IVF treatment is costly. Both patients expressed that they needed to save money for their “dream”. Although finance is often one of the main factors that can slow the journey down, in Ireland patients can benefit from having medication paid for through the DPS system and there are tax reductions that are not available in other countries. “It's cost effective for a government to finance IVF because there will be a lot more kids who will end up paying taxes eventually,” Dr Arce explained.

Niamh praised SIMS for offering both an identifiable donor program and an anonymous donor program. “They're great really, they offer both alternatives,” she said. Dr Arce explained that patients can know anything from the donor’s blood type to their hobbies.

Niamh chose the identifiable donor program and gave birth to a baby boy. “If at 18 he wants to meet his dad it's up to him, I don't want to take that choice away from him,” she said. “He may never want to know, but he can. I have photos and everything of his dad.”

For both patients it was a life-changing decision. Niamh describes it as the best choice she has ever made. It was a longer journey for Barbara and her husband, but she's enjoying finally being a mother to her beautiful baby girl. “When you see her little smile, the whole journey was worth it,” she said.

Sims offer a variety of different treatments for different patients. Dr Arce advises that the sooner you can come to Sims the sooner your dreams can become a reality. “If a patient is willing to take all possible routes available to have a baby, there's a 90% chance they will have a baby,” he said. The first step is simply walking in the door.

SIMS IVF is also the first and only fertility clinic in Ireland offering an egg donation programme to patients, without their having to leave the country for part of the treatment.

Egg donation is now an increasingly popular choice in Ireland for couples who have exhausted other options and failed to conceive, according to Dr Hans Arce, Sims IVF Clinic, Cork.

“The chance of successful conception using donor eggs is significantly higher than performing IVF with the woman’s own eggs, especially where she cannot produce eggs, or they are poor quality, which is often the case with older women”, Dr Arce explains.

The Clinic is now delighted to offer this service to Munster patients, with SIMS IVF Cork being the first provider, outside of Dublin, of donor egg fertility treatment, where the patient isn’t referred outside of the country.

The donor egg treatment programme was first introduced in the SIMS IVF Dublin clinic in 2007,where nearly 3,000 patients have been treated.

*Name changed to preserve patients privacy.

Sims IVF provide the following infertility treatments:

  • Reproductive immunology;
  • Ovulation induction and cycle monitoring;
  • Intra-uterine insemination (IUI) - using partner’s sperm or donor sperm;
  • In vitro fertilisation (IVF);
  • Treatment of male infertility;
  • Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI);
  • Intracytoplasmic morphologically - selected sperm injection (IMSI);
  • Surgical sperm retrieval;
  • Assisted hatching;
  • Blastocyst culture and transfer;
  • Semen freezing;
  • Embryo freezing and replacement;
  • Egg donation programme.

They also offer:

  • An online patient resource area;
  • A mind/body programme;
  • Counselling support;
  • State of the art facilities;
  • Financial advice;
  • Donor egg/sperm programme options that range from basic anonymous profiles to detailed profiles including a childhood photo if desired.

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