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Fertility Clinics are Reopening. What Happens Now?

February 10, 2021
Nora Tomer

COVID-19 has put countless plans on hold. Whether it’s travel, marriage, or work, we all have made sacrifices in the face of the pandemic. But, some sacrifices weigh heavier than others. Patients experiencing infertility all over the world have been forced to postpone their treatment, leaving them confused, scared, and unsure of what the future holds.  

Now, as clinics are reopening, new guidelines and restrictions are being implemented for the safety of clients and doctors alike. Yet, both groups have unanswered questions and nagging concerns.

To address and relieve some of those concerns, this article will discuss:

  • The experience of facing the initial closures of fertility clinics
  • The struggle of handling infertility over the course of the pandemic
  • The reopening of fertility clinics
  • How to prepare for treatment 
  • How to seek support 

Facing Initial Closures

In 2020, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) as well as the UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) recommended the temporary shutdown of all fertility clinics. This decision came with consideration for the immense strains COVID-19 has placed on the medical system as a whole. Supporting their case, the ASRM cited overcrowded hospitals, exhausted doctors and nurses, as well as a lack of protective equipment. 

At the time of the shutdown, some patients had been on waiting lists for months, investing hundreds of thousands of dollars into their treatment, or had even been in the middle of preparing for implantation, taking doses of potent fertility medication.

Taking fertility boosting hormones, like oestrogen and progesterone, can be taxing on the body. And to face the side effects of these treatments without the pay off of even trying for conception can be devastating. Additionally, these hormones may leave patients feeling mentally unstable, aggravating pre-existing stressors and concerns. 

These factors plus the general turmoil of the pandemic left many fertility patients feeling lost at best and hopeless at worst.

A couple sits on a bed holding one another with a negative pregnancy test in the woman's hand.
Infertility can be a challenge at any time, but the pandemic has only heightened the struggle for some.


Infertility Amidst the Pandemic

In a survey from Columbia University, doctors asked fertility patients how the closure of fertility clinics affected them. While yet to be peer reviewed, the study showed that 85% of women were “moderately to extremely upset” over having to put their treatments on hold.

While infertility is a condition that demands medical attention and can be time sensitive, it is not considered a medical emergency. Many other treatments are facing the same restrictions or delays as infertility, such as orthopedics, dentistry, and ocular surgery.

In some extreme cases, such as with women and men battling cancer through chemotherapy, patients have been allowed to continue their fertility treatment, but most are left with no guarantees that their treatment will pick up where it left off. 

Commenting on whether the ASRM’s moratorium was the right decision, fertility coach Rachel Shapiro said, “Infertility is painful, challenging, and full of grief, but it will not take your life. Covid potentially could, and for me that’s where the line is.” But, the knowledge of whether the ASRM’s move was right or wrong has done little to mitigate the heartache felt by fertility patients. 

Throughout the pandemic, many feel as though they are being bombarded by reminders of their infertility. With mothers doing viral challenges alongside their children, constant talk of children remaining at home rather than attending in-person school, and the prediction of a baby boom following the end of quarantine, patients are undergoing immense emotional and mental stress.

A woman in a cable knit sweater putting a surgical mask over her mouth and nose.
Despite the reopening of businesses, including fertility clinics, it is important to remain cautious and follow COVID-19 safety guidelines.


Tentative Reopenings

With the COVID-19 vaccine rolling out, fertility clinics are beginning to reopen. But, most are not yet providing their full array of services. To comply with federal and state COVID-19 restrictions, clinics are changing the way they interact with patients.

Changes at fertility clinics can include: 

  • Patients and staff being required to wear masks
  • Taking temperatures when entering the building
  • Patients receiving COVID-19 tests before beginning treatment
  • Fewer appointment slots available
  • Receiving consultation via Zoom or another online video platform

But there is no certainty regarding whether the clinics will stay open. Another spike in infection rates could result in more safety restrictions, meaning more cancelled appointments and more lost time, money, and energy. 

If another lockdown does occur, it should comfort patients to know that according to a 2020 study, “there is no evidence that delaying treatment until vaccinated will affect your ability to have a child, even if you have concerns about advanced age and/or diminished ovarian reserve... A delay in IVF treatment up to 180 days does not affect the live birth rate for women with diminished ovarian reserve when compared to women who initiate IVF treatment within 90 days of presentation.” 

A pregnant woman smiles as an ultrasound is performed on her.
Although not all services may be available, fertility clinics can still offer help to those hoping to become pregnant.


How to Prepare for Treatment

When restarting or beginning fertility treatment, there are always important questions for a client to ask their specialist. 

Here are some COVID-19 specific questions you should ask your clinic about ASAP, including:

  • When will the clinic be reopened? Will it be a partial or full reopening?
  • What fertility treatments are available? Are there any extra risks due to the pandemic?
  • How are patients protected during their visit? 
  • What do I do if I am seeking fertility treatment, but become infected with COVID-19?
  • If there is another lockdown and the clinic were to close, would deposits and treatments be honored and continued? What conditions are there when beginning fertility treatment?
  • How should I prepare for my treatments?

Patients should also take the time to research their fertility options. Some clinics may not be offering all services, so understanding the differences in treatments is essential.

In addition, those seeking fertility treatment must weigh the financial, physical, and mental costs of beginning or resuming their treatment in the midst of the pandemic. In times like these, it is important to evaluate your health and consider which step is best. 

If you feel overwhelmed, exhausted, or even confused, it may be time to reach out.

Two women sit on a couch in the midst of a discussion. One holds a notebook and pen while the other has her cellphone.
Professionals are ready and willing to help you handle the stress of infertility.


Seeking Support

As Dr. Philomena da Silva, a fertility psychologist, puts it, “The journey towards parenthood as a fertility patient can be a long, emotionally heightened and precarious experience in itself, and these feelings seemed to increase during the isolation period.”

Her thoughts reflect how many fertility patients have found their mental health dipping over the course of the pandemic. To find healthy coping mechanisms, it is vital that patients discuss their mental health with their PCP, their fertility specialist, and their personal support network. 

Those struggling with infertility can also find resources, including support groups, counselling recommendations, and an emergency hotline, on Resolve.org, courtesy of the National Infertility Association.

Infertility will never be easy to face and COVID-19 has only made the battle that much harder. But, fertility clinics are adapting to their patients needs and are finding ways to provide hope and good health during the darkest of times.

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