Since the very first ‘test tube baby’ was born in 1978, would be parents have been exploring a wide range of fertility treatments in the hope of increasing their chances of conceiving. In New Zealand, studies have found that one in six couples experience infertility, with one in eight requiring medical help to become pregnant. With numbers so great, you’d be forgiven on thinking that New Zealand has a lot of free fertility treatments and resources to help couples out. Wrong. There are only limited fertility treatments available to some couples who have met strict criteria. Many couples don’t and instead head down the pay for treatment road.
Today we’re going to look at the treatments available for infertile couples, helping you navigate the emotional pathway forwards.
Entering the Fertility Treatment Pathway?
In New Zealand, a couple is considered as being infertile if they have not been able to get pregnant after 12 months of unprotected sex. There are different circumstances to this, such as if you are older or have a known fertility-related issue.
There are both public and private treatments available in New Zealand for infertility. The way you obtain access to them is pretty similar.
In the public system, your first port of call should be your GP. They will discuss with you what has been happening, trying to identify any issues. From here you will either be treated by the GP, or referred to a fertility specialist, often at a private fertility clinic. Don’t worry though; you won’t need to pay anything at this stage, as the Ministry of Health is simply outsourcing to other doctors. At some stage you will need to be checked if you meet the criteria for treatment, which is done using the fertility Clinical Priority Assessment Criteria. You need to gain 65 points out of 100 to be eligible, and don’t be surprised if you are checked against the criteria again by the specialist.
For a private consultation, you will need to pay, but you also don’t need to meet any criteria either. You will be limited in your choices by your finances though. For both the private and public pathway, things are generally pretty similar at the beginning. During the initial consultation, you will discuss your medical history, previous fertility tests and probably have a physical exam. Blood tests are often done too, with more invasive tests less likely but could happen. From here a treatment plan is made, where the specialist identifies the best fertility treatments moving forwards.
If you having publicly funded treatment, both the drugs and the procedures will be covered cost wise. They are limited though. You can only have a total of two fully funded packages, which contain the most appropriate treatment for your specific circumstances. For private treatment though, your options are wider and as long as your specialist and finances agree, you can keep having as many treatments as it takes.
What Fertility Treatments Are Available in New Zealand?
There are a wide variety of fertility treatments for couples in New Zealand. Your access to them depends on your personal infertility circumstances, your location and your finances. In general terms though, you may be able to access some or all of the following:
- In-Vitro Fertilisation or IVF – this involves using medication to increase the number of eggs you produce. These eggs are removed and sperm added to each egg. The most successful embryo is selected to be implanted into your uterus, with others frozen for use in future months. A single treatment of IVF can increase your chances to around 40-50% of conceiving.
- Ovulation Induction or OI – women with irregular periods or who don’t ovulate are often treated with OI, which is known as fertility pills. They aim to increase your ovulation rate, letting you become pregnant naturally.
- Intra Uterine Insemination or IUI – often combined with OI to increase the number of eggs present, IUI involves the manual placement of sperm into the uterus. The sperm is tested in the lab first, with only the best performers making the trip aided by the doctor. This is successful around 40-50% of the time, achieving pregnancy within four cycles.
- Donor eggs, donor sperm and surrogacy – if your eggs, sperm or any other condition are not conducive to a successful pregnancy, then other options are available.
Considerations Before Starting Fertility Treatment
Wanting a baby but being unable to become pregnant is heartbreaking. Each month waiting to see if your period arrives, then becoming despondent when it doesn’t is tough. As is seeing your friends and family having babies, or even worse, asking when you’re having one too. By the time you can seek medical assistance, your stress levels are already high. Being assessed to see if you meet the criteria for funding simply adds to your stress levels.
But hope remains. The hope that against the odds, you will be the one who becomes pregnant immediately. The hope that in nine months time, you’ll have a little one to hold close. While this can and does happen for many couples, it doesn’t for everyone. The arrival of the month is heralded by yet another period, one of your funded or costly treatments used up. You try again the following month, with all the same hopes and dreams, trying not to think about what may not happen.
The emotional toll on infertile couples when undergoing treatment is enormous and should not be underestimated. Often the woman is taking new fertility medications which affect her hormones. These can make it harder to manage the ups and downs of life. The physical side effects of other treatments can also be debilitating too. If paying privately, finances can be incredibly stretched, with many couples going into debt to try and achieve their dream of having a child.
Then there’s the waiting to consider. From her fertile period until the end of the cycle is around a two-week wait. Two weeks where you both have no idea if your treatments have been successful or not. This can play havoc on your emotional well-being!
Before you decide to investigate having fertility treatment, it’s best to take into consideration the whole picture. This includes your:
- Mental health – do you have a high level of emotional well-being? Is there a supportive team of friends and family who can help you through the tough times? What strategies do you have in place for dealing with stress and managing your self-care?
- Financial health – do you have the additional money to fund private treatment? Can you afford to take time off work to attend treatments, or if you are sick because of the treatments?
For more information on fertility treatments available in New Zealand, or to learn about where you can go for assistance, take a read of the Fertility New Zealand website. As a registered charity, it’s aim is to help people facing infertility through support, information and advocacy.