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Impact of COVID-19 on Fertility Treatment
There is no facet of life the novel coronavirus pandemic—also known as COVID-19—has not touched. Life looks drastically different than it did just a year ago, with masks required in almost all public areas, large group gatherings prohibited, as well as families and friends discouraged from gathering to see each other. Adapting to living socially distant from each other and wearing masks out in public has been a struggle for many people. Due to most states’ restrictions on indoor gatherings, any medical procedure deemed non-emergent has been indefinitely suspended. One such treatment that has been pushed to the wayside is infertility treatments. Although they are emotionally, physically, and financially taxing procedures, they have been deemed non-essential and elective treatments, and therefore are suspended for the foreseeable future due to the ongoing pandemic. As one in six reproductive aged couples are in treatment for infertility, the ramifications of this suspension are not insignificant. Despite the fact that the pause of these procedures is for the benefit of overall public health, it does not make their absence any less difficult for the couples who were in the midst of or looking forward to the treatment.
How has COVID-19 affected infertility treatment?
There are multiple ways in which the pandemic has affected infertility procedures. Most obviously, the couples who were undergoing, or planning to undergo, said treatment have been told that all of these procedures have been paused indefinitely in order to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic. A study throughout the United States and Canada polled ninety-two women whose infertility treatments were suspended. Out of these women, over half of them had their in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments postponed while one-third of the participants had their intrauterine insemination procedures paused.
While many states are loosening their restrictions on social distancing, we very well know things can change quickly and the treatments can be discontinued once again. This delay in treatment, no matter how publicly beneficial, can allow enough time to lapse that force couples to miss their prime window of opportunity for conception. Luckily, the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART) firmlybelieves that postponement of aforementioned treatments will not negatively impact chances for conception in the long term, even in people who are diagnosed with a low ovarian egg supply or are of an older age. However, while this information may be reassuring to some, the procedure suspension may still negatively impact the mental health of other couples. Although these couples are physically healthy and will not face bodily harm or illness as a result of not having their infertility treatments performed, the delaying of these procedures can cause an immense psychological impact for hopeful mothers and fathers. Purposeful or forced delaying of treatment is a big decision that is significantly emotionally impactful on its own, let alone without the added pressures of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
How has COVID-19 affected the mental health of these couples?
COVID-19 has taken an emotional toll on a majority of people. Many Americans have faced social, economical, and medical hardship as a result of the pandemic. Young people in particular have reported feeling particularly “untethered,” “claustrophobic,” and “stressed” during these uncharted times. Couples seeking infertility treatment are no different. They were planning one of the more significant and important life changes, only to be told that their treatments or procedures were “non-essential” and “elective.” Out of the women in the poll listed above, a whopping 86% reported the suspension of treatment having a negative effect on their mental health, while 52% described having symptoms of clinical depression. Even if treatments do resume in the near future, there are many who are worried about the state of the world and the effects of bringing a child into it. Unprecedented times such as these can have some people worrying about how the pandemic will affect their long term plans for a family, while others may no longer be in a stable enough place financially in order to support a child as well as their partner.
What does the future look like for infertility treatments, in relation to COVID-19?
It is difficult to say what the future will hold in regard to the pandemic. While most states seem to be on a downward curve of positive cases, this status can change in the blink of an eye. Due to the success of masking and social distancing, many facilities are resuming their in-person operations and inviting patients back to resume their treatments. With that being said, it may take some couples longer than others to feel comfortable with returning to their fertility procedures. While the facilities may have reopened and the treatments resumed, there is the possibility that the pandemic may have introduced long term financial and psychological strains on hopeful couples. These stressors may place potential families in a bit of a predicament; they may be asking themselves if it is economically and emotionally sound to begin the process of adding a child to the family. Naturally, this answer will be different for each and every couple and will be very individualized, but it is something worth considering if you are going to recommence with your treatments.
No matter what your treatment looks like, it is important to discuss your options with your primary care provider and your liaison from the fertility center. With COVID restrictions loosening, it is important to understand what treatments are being resumed, and which ones are not. In any instance, maintaining a strong support system of friends and family is a key factor in managing mental health and infertility struggles.
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