FER­TIL­ITY SPE­CIAL­ISTS SHARE A REAL KIN­SHIP WITH THEIR PA­TIENTS

CAIRNS DOC­TOR ANNE COF­FEY AND NURSE RE­BECCA AUKER KNOW THE GRIEF OF IN­FER­TIL­ITY AND THE JOYS OF PAR­ENT­HOOD AF­TER TURN­ING TO IVF. THIS KIN­SHIP WITH PA­TIENTS MAKES THEM BET­TER AT THEIR WORK

The Weekend Post - Cairns Eye - - Front Page - WORDS// ROZ PULLEY

The irony of dis­cov­er­ing she was un­able to have a baby was not lost on fer­til­ity spe­cial­ist Dr Anne Cof­fey. “It was not long af­ter I’d made a de­ci­sion that that was the area of medicine I was go­ing to work in. All of a sud­den there was that re­al­i­sa­tion that I was go­ing to have to go through the process my­self,” says the clin­i­cal di­rec­tor of Queens­land Fer­til­ity Group in Cairns.

It came af­ter six years study­ing medicine at the Uni­ver­sity of Ade­laide and another decade of gen­eral, ob­stet­rics and gy­nae­col­ogy train­ing.

Like most women, Anne as­sumed preg­nancy would hap­pen when she was ready. It didn’t. “I used to avoid Muddy’s play­ground — I wouldn’t ever walk through it,” she says.

“It was too painful. I wanted to have a pram. I wanted to have a child run­ning around in the wa­ter and all I could think was I’ll never have that.”

She says so­ci­ety un­der­es­ti­mates the pain of in­fer­til­ity.

“It is a pe­riod of aw­ful suf­fer­ing. It’s a dis­en­fran­chised form of grief, where there isn’t a vis­i­ble loss, but it’s a loss of an ex­pected out­come in life — one of the core things many peo­ple be­lieve their life is for.

“And it’s the loss of po­ten­tial iden­tity as a par­ent — that in­clu­sion into par­ent­hood and, for peo­ple who are child­less, the po­ten­tial losses in later life, such as miss­ing out on be­ing a grand­par­ent.”

Anne had IVF at 33 af­ter three years of try­ing for a baby and mis­car­ry­ing.

“I was very lucky. It was suc­cess­ful early on. The preg­nancy was in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult. Many IVF preg­nan­cies are re­ally dif­fi­cult be­cause peo­ple are of­ten pre­par­ing them­selves for more bad news.

“They’ve of­ten had a long pe­riod of bad ex­pe­ri­ences lead­ing up to it and, as much as preg­nancy is the cure in many ways for in­fer­til­ity, there’s still a lot of bag­gage brought into preg­nancy.

“I ex­pe­ri­enced the nor­mal feel­ings in preg­nancy, but when my daugh­ter was born, for me it was an in­stant fix. It was an in­cred­i­ble thing,” Anne says.

“I will never for­get driv­ing her home from the hos­pi­tal. It was some­thing I never thought I would get to ex­pe­ri­ence. It still shakes me up to this day if we go down that road where I re­alised we had fi­nally got­ten there.”

The highs and lows of her own fer­til­ity jour­ney have helped Anne bet­ter un­der­stand the needs of pa­tients at Queens­land Fer­til­ity Group, which she runs with fel­low spe­cial­ist Dr Suvi Hyyti­nen, in tan­dem with their med­i­cal prac­tice, Eve­lyn & Rose Women’s Health.

“I un­der­stood the med­i­cal as­pects be­fore, but I didn’t un­der­stand the psy­cho­log­i­cal as­pects of in­fer­til­ity.”

Clin­i­cal nurse spe­cial­ist and mother-of-two Re­becca Auker is another with first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence of IVF af­ter con­ceiv­ing her first child nat­u­rally and strug­gling to get preg­nant a sec­ond time.

“We re­ally pride our­selves on the fact that we’ve both been QFG pa­tients,” Bec says. “I’ve got a very en­er­getic three-year-old and Dr Cof­fey has a four-year-old.” She says it can help put pa­tients at ease. “We feel it re­ally makes a dif­fer­ence when you can share a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence with your pa­tients.

“There’s a level of mu­tual un­der­stand­ing — how they might be feel­ing and what their fears are.”

Bec says the all-fe­male team at QFG Cairns is un­usual and the clinic has in­tro­duced a new low-cost ser­vice for women younger than 35.

“We’re try­ing to give peo­ple bet­ter ac­cess to what is an ex­pen­sive treat­ment in a younger age group when they’ve got a bet­ter chance of it ac­tu­ally work­ing.

“Treat­ment that usu­ally at­tracts a $9000 upfront pay­ment is now avail­able for less than $3000 for those who meet the cri­te­ria.

“Nor­mally, pa­tients would have to travel to Bris­bane or fur­ther south,” Bec says.

Anne says IVF is a last re­sort at Queens­land Fer­til­ity Group.

“In the past, fer­til­ity clin­ics have fo­cused on IVF, but most peo­ple never want to do IVF. It’s not part of their life plan.

“There are a lot of peo­ple with fer­til­ity prob­lems who can get preg­nant with­out IVF, so we’ve in­tro­duced a bulk-billed nat­u­ral fer­til­ity ser­vice to en­cour­age peo­ple to ac­cess us sooner when we can as­sist with their nat­u­ral fer­til­ity, not six or seven years down the track. “It’s not all about IVF.” Anne says in­fer­til­ity can be so­cially iso­lat­ing for those strug­gling to con­ceive. Baby show­ers, chil­dren’s birthdays and even fam­ily events can be dif­fi­cult to cope with.

“It’s not only the ab­sence of a child that makes it harder. It’s also en­gag­ing in so­cial things.

“That is one of the great obli­ga­tions we have — to carry peo­ple through that some­what lonely time and try to main­tain their well­ness, so they can re­main con­nected to the com­mu­nity, so their lives are not as shat­tered as they can be by in­fer­til­ity and IVF.”

HELP­ING HANDS: Dr Anne Cof­fey (fer­til­ity spe­cial­ist) with (from left) Dr Suvi Hyyti­nen (fer­til­ity spe­cial­ist), Kris­ten Mete (nurse co-or­di­na­tor) and Re­becca Auker (clin­i­cal nurse spe­cial­ist).

NEW HOPE: Re­becca Auker (far left) with son Archer, 3, and Anne Cof­fey with daugh­ter, Elisha McKewin, 4. Pictures: MARC McCOR­MACK

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