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Fertility Patient Perspectives During COVID-19

July 1st, 2020 | 8 min. read

Fertility Patient Perspectives During COVID-19
Lisa Rosenthal

Lisa Rosenthal

With 30+ years experience in the fertility field, as well as navigating her own infertility, Lisa has dedicated her life to advocating for and supporting those struggling to grow their families. Her work includes serving as Illume Fertility's Patient Advocate, Strategic Content Lead, and founder of Fertile Yoga, as well as advocating for those with infertility at RESOLVE and other organizations.

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People faced with infertility currently in treatment have had the hardest decisions to make over the last several months, hinging on factors out of their control. Many fertility practices reduced scheduling to only Telehealth consults, others were closed entirely, and almost all had to delay and postpone fertility treatment cycles due to COVID-19. Those decisions posed limitations that were hard for many patients to accept, and sparked conversations on many levels about whether fertility treatment is considered an “essential service.”

Many states (both their Governors and their departments of health) did eventually decide that fertility treatment should continue when deemed necessary by the physician. Still, other states did not classify reproductive health services as essential. Therefore, a patient’s physical location determined their ability to move forward with care, and what treatments were available.

While it is true that knowledge about COVID-19 is increasing regularly, it’s equally as true that there are information gaps. Simply put, there are questions today that nobody has the answers for, including the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM).

Safety In a Doctor’s Office During COVID-19

Practices are responsible for doing the utmost to keep their patients and staff safe. It’s critical to stay up to date and follow the state and department of health guidelines. Each medical practice is responsible for standardizing how they institute new protocols to safeguard the health of their patients and staff.

Fertility Patients Share their Experiences

As fertility practices reopen and people begin new fertility treatment cycles, how do things feel to patients? What are they thinking as they walk into the office, with their hopes and dreams of becoming parents? Does it feel safe? Are they happy to be back in treatment? Are the added protocols designed to keep them safe difficult to follow, or easy and reassuring?

RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association conducted a nationwide, online survey and has published the results. The survey was answered by 576 people. Key results include:

  • 81% Agreed or Strongly Agreed that the clinic closure was stressful on them.
  •  79% Agreed or Strongly Agreed that the clinic closure will have a negative impact on them, with slightly more than half (52%) expressing concern that treatment delay will diminish their chance of having a baby.
  • Of those that had been in touch with their clinic, 80% said their Nurse was their main source of contact.
  • Less than half of patients Agreed or Strongly Agreed that their clinic provided individual outreach to them. (43%)
  • When asked if their healthcare team had provided them with mental health resources, only 24% Agreed or Strongly Agreed, while 58% Disagreed or Strongly Disagreed.
  • When asked if their healthcare team had provided them with ways to stay healthy during the clinic closure, 53% Disagreed or Strongly Disagreed.

In addition to the statistics above, I reached out to the women who participate in Ladies Night In (a peer support group offered by RMA of Connecticut), to provide their real, unfiltered perspective on a few key questions. Those responses can be found below.

You Are Not Alone | Fertility Patients Share Their Experiences with Navigating COVID-19

Question 1 – How did you feel about the COVID-19 precautions your fertility practice put in place?

“I was relieved to see that I didn’t have to touch a thing. Doors were propped open; I didn’t need to stop by the front desk. I went right in for my blood draw, didn’t see another patient, and left.”

“Waiting in the car to hear from my fertility practice to come in for my appointment made me feel a lot safer than waiting in a waiting room, even if it was empty. I didn’t want to sit anywhere that others had been sitting, except where necessary.”

“Silly thing that was comforting to me- the bathroom had a sign “hand-washing only”. It was a detail that made me realize they had tried to think of everything!”

“There was never more than one person at a time with me. Even though it’s impossible to social distance while drawing blood, watching the steps that the Medical Assistant used were obviously so routine to her that I felt sure that surfaces and everything else that was supposed to be had been thoroughly cleaned.”

“Having my temperature taken was the best way I could have started my appointment. I liked knowing that everyone who walked into the office that day had to be checked”

Question 2 – Did you feel safe being at your fertility practice during COVID-19?

“I hated that my husband couldn’t come into the appointment with me. But selfishly, I wanted to know that I was being exposed to as few people as possible.”

“I trust RMA of Connecticut. I always have and I knew that they would do the same excellent job during this pandemic.”

“Plexiglass everywhere. I have been many other places, including other doctors’ offices, and haven’t seen it nearly as much.”

A Fertility Patient’s Journey During COVID-19
Question 3 – How did direction and protocols designed to limit the spread of COVID-19 impact your experience?

“Texts, phone calls, and emails. Step by step directions on what to do, where to go. Just what I needed during a confusing time!”

“I was bummed out when I found out that the IVF teach class wasn’t going to happen in person. That’s when my patient navigator turned me on to the Patient Portal. The videos were helpful. All in all, still would have liked to have done it all in person, but that’s not where we are right now.”

Question 4 – Were you ready to go ahead with fertility treatment during a pandemic?

“Yes! There was very little more frustrating than having my clinic shut down just as I was finally ready for a fertility cycle.”

“I wasn’t sure if I could or would go through with a cycle in the worst of it, but I really resented having that option taken away.”

“I caught a lot of crap from friends and family about how my fertility treatment should be put on hold. Even my partner said it! Easy for them to say, but I’m 43 and every month counts. COVID-19 put a lot of pressure on me and my relationships with my favorite people.”

I was OK about waiting. At least for a little while. But then it was apparent that even when my fertility practice opened back up, I wasn’t going to be allowed to try for my baby for a while. It felt like a double blow. To the back of the head.”

Question 5 - Does connection with others experiencing infertility help?

“One big comfort is being on the RMA of Connecticut hidden FB pages. Reading what everyone else is going through gives me an idea of what to expect when it’s my turn.”

“If it weren’t for the friends that I made through Ladies Night In Online and Couples Night In, I’d be more nuts than I already am.”

“We became patients in mid-March. We experienced delays right in the middle of our journey to IUI. It was disheartening yet understandable due to COVID-19. Thankful to have had weekly Ladies Night In Zoom meetings facilitated by our supportive Patient Advocate. Being able to vent and not feel alone helped sort out frustrations and negative emotions one might have had.”

Question 6 – What was it like to go into the office without your partner?
We are excited to be able to continue treatments through this... but it’s definitely hard that I can’t have my husband by my side through the procedure. I understand why... but it doesn’t make it easier. I hope he will be able to be with me soon to have that support with me and help me to relax while in there.

“It sucked not having my husband present when I woke up from my egg retrieval. I also know it will be so hard to go through a transfer without him by my side, especially for the first time. However, I am so proud of myself for doing this on my own!! We CAN do it! 💪 Also, add in getting tested for COVID ... what's one more discomfort, right?! 😂 All of the staff at RMA of Connecticut have made me feel safe, confident, and strong in this time of uncertainty, and I can't imagine being in the hands of any other practice during this time.”

“They’re not going to want to put their team, their clinical practice at risk. That’s why my partner can’t be with me. I understand that.”

Question 7 – What was it like to connect with your fertility team when wearing a mask?

“I felt the connection, always!! They cater to you and your needs and very understanding. Friendly, warm. You could see their eyes smiling at you.”

“Information was communicated to us responsibly. There were one or two occasions where it was difficult to remember when my patient navigator and nurse were working and therefore immediate responses were not always realistic. However, given the circumstances, everyone at RMA made the best of an unprecedented situation.

“I can’t lie. I missed the warm hugs that I used to get. But there’s no way that’s the right thing right now.”

Surprising how much I liked the Telehealth conferencing. Getting to sit home in my pajamas was great and I felt like I had my doctor’s complete attention.”

Question 8 - Did you find RMA of CT’s procedures reassuring?

Having a routine in place, feels so reassuring, from texting from the car, getting my temperature taken, then going right into the bathroom and washing your hands, no stop at the front desk.”

“AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Patient and staff safety was evident, and precautions were at the top of their priority list.”

“I could see how some of it could cause people anxiety. Even the doctor’s speech, being honest about what we don’t know, was hard to hear. But I feel safer going to RMA of Connecticut than going anywhere else. “

“Why it was the disposable gloves and gowns that reassured me, I don’t know. Maybe because it was both familiar and also what was necessary. Even though I wasn’t surprised by those things being put in place, I was still surprised!”

“Everything became much easier when all the offices were open, adding a long drive made the whole thing more stressful.”

“But having a routine in place, feels so reassuring, from texting from the car. You go right into the bathroom and wash your hands, no stop at the front desk.”

Question 9 – Did you need a COVID-19 test before starting fertility treatment?

“Seems ridiculous, given all that’s going on, but I hate things being put up my nose. The idea of getting tested for COVID-19 was far worse than the reality. It was uncomfortable, but it was only for a very short time. Ended up not being a big deal.”

“I know how careful I’ve been to avoid the coronavirus, but I don’t know about other people. I was glad to hear that my fertility practice was insisting on testing before certain fertility treatments.”

“Having to test before starting a cycle reassured me. I was surprised by that since I was 100% sure I wasn’t positive. It was good to hear that I was negative.”

Question 10 – How do you feel about the potential of getting pregnant during COVID-19?

“I’m so anxious about everything usually. But what a surprise, I am not anxious about getting pregnant! Somehow, I just know it will be fine if I do.”

“No one is telling fertile people not to conceive or to wait. If it’s ok for them, it’s ok for us. I’m ready to be pregnant. Coronavirus may shut a lot of things down, but if our fertility practice is open, it’s not going to stop us from reaching our goal. I’m ready to be pregnant and we’re ready for our baby.”

There’s just one more question that we asked. And here’s the answer.

Question 11 – Are you glad to be back in treatment?

Any additional questions or concerns? Please reach out to our team.

RMA of Connecticut is open and accepting new patients. Call us or click the button below to learn more about our doctors, our team, and our attention to safety.