COVID-19 is Putting Their Dreams of Parenthood on Hold. Jubel is Empowering Fertility Patients with the Knowledge They Need Most

Posted by Rachel Bond, CEO and Founder of Jubel Health

When COVID-19 halted infertility treatments, my heart ached for all the couples and individuals I’ve met who are trying to have babies. There’s the cancer survivor who froze her eggs before chemotherapy to preserve her chance to have a family. Now that she’s ready to start an in vitro fertilization cycle, her clinic is closed, and she has to wait.

There’s the 45-year-old woman who decided to become a single mom. Because of her age, every day matters. Her clinic is closed, too. Each story is heartbreaking in its own way.

Who gets to decide who will conceive, and who won’t? Thinking about this keeps me up at night.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), a well-respected advisory board for the field, recommended that virtually all fertility treatments stop in light of coronavirus. Treatments have been on hold for about a month now. It’s especially poignant because this pause intersects with National Infertility Awareness Week, April 19 to 25, 2020.

The rationale is to protect patients and staff from getting the virus. During a typical office visit, patients come into contact with doctors, nurses, sonographers, people who draw their blood and office staff. There’s too big a risk of getting COVID-19 or giving it to someone who works in that fertility clinic. And not enough is known about what happens in the first trimester of pregnancy when the mom is COVID-19 positive.

Then there’s the issue of whether we, as a society, ought to be using up gloves, gowns, masks and other personal protective equipment on non-emergency procedures, while coronavirus is raging. Elective surgeries of all kinds have been canceled; even some chemotherapy.

“We closed our office because we believe it’s the right thing to do,” said Hugh Taylor, M.D. chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale University School of Medicine and a specialist in reproductive medicine. “There’s good data that a couple of months’ delay is not harmful for people trying to conceive. If this goes on many more months, will have to reclassify what’s urgent and what’s not. For someone who has diminished fertility reserve, a year would make a big difference. Those are people we wouldn’t want to put off. Fortunately, we haven’t been in a position to make those hard calls.”

But some offices stayed open and doctors continued to offer treatment. In a conference call among REI providers, 80 percent said in a poll that they supported and abided by the ASRM recommendations to close their offices.

“The ASRM is not a legal body,” Taylor said. “It acts in an advisory capacity, to recommend. People have to consider what’s best for patients. There’s room for disagreement, but I strongly believe we have to consider protecting our patients and the country.”

Taylor added that most of his clinic’s patients were supportive of the decision to stay closed.

In times like these, we all have to make very difficult and personal choices. It can be challenging to balance a woman’s right to receive fertility treatment with her personal safety and the safety of others.

Right now, fertility nurses and doctors are meeting with their patients over the phone or on a video chat, practicing social distancing for the time being. They are listening attentively. They’re providing education, compassion and support to help their patients cope in this crisis and arming them with the latest facts about how to get ready once treatments begin again. And they will.

There is no question that clinics will open.

The question is when and how.

“We paused because we care,” said Andy Huang, M.D., an infertility specialist in Los Angeles and a member of the Jubel Health advisory board. “The decision across the country to put fertility treatments on hold was important because we needed to learn about the state of the pandemic, including the effects on pregnancy. It was critical to figure out how to return to doing treatments safely. Fertility is essential; it’s not elective. We recognize the pause is necessary to flatten the curve of this virus and learn how to do treatment safely.”

The goal is to mitigate the risk of patients and staff being exposed to COVID-19.

ASRM will have recommendations on how to re-open soon. www.reproductivefacts.org

But remember, this pause in treatment is not about stopping people from pursuing their desire to become biological parents, it’s about stopping the spread of this virus.

I sleep easier knowing that.